Derby, CT – February 2020
Dylan wakes to a pounding in his head. Finally gathering the energy and ambition to open his eyes, he sits up and takes in his surroundings. For a second, he doesn’t know where he is, but panic doesn’t set in; it wouldn’t be the first time he’s waken up in unfamiliar surroundings after spending a night on the floor.
A quick survey of the room, and Dylan knows exactly where he is. A Bob Marley poster above the bed, a black sheet over the window, and a thick mixture of marijuana and alcohol in the air give away his location: Dante’s bedroom. The only thing missing to complete the picture is the seventeen-year-old himself.
Dylan is just about to call out to his friend, but closes his mouth when he hears voices down the hall, at the front door he assumes. One is deep with a slight Italian accent: Dante. Before he hears the second voice, he wonders if some recruiters have come in search of supporters, but then he immediately recognizes Anna-Marie’s soft soprano voice. But the thought of her being here, at Dante’s house, makes him believe he’s delusional.
Before Dylan can move to join his friend and girlfriend in the hall, there is the slamming of a door, and Dante returns to his room and falls on the bed. “What happened last night?” Dante asks.
Still sitting on the floor, Dylan stares up at his friend. “Was she just here?” As soon as the words come out, he realizes he’s already answered this question. “What’d she say?”
Dante shakes his head, reaching for darts on the desk beside his bed. “She just wanted to know if you were here.” He throws a dart at the board across the room. “What’d you do?”
Dylan shakes his head as he rubs his eyes with his palms. “Oh, what didn’t I do?” He reaches for the box, sitting in plain sight, that’s usually hidden beneath Dante’s bed. “She’s probably just pissed about this.”
Throwing another dart, Dante laughs. “Why are you with her? She’s more controlling than your own ma.”
Dylan says nothing about his mother, a wave of sadness washing over him. He loves her despite her being oblivious to anything that goes on in his life. He doesn’t blame her, though, knowing she has enough to worry about with trying to keep the family clothed, sheltered, and fed during this time of political reform, while dealing with an alcoholic husband. About still being with Anna-Marie, all he has to say is, “You wouldn’t understand.”
Dante throws an empty can from his desk at his friend’s head. “Whatever. Don’t try that ‘it’s love’ shit with me. You only slept with her because she was a virgin. But that doesn’t mean you have to marry her.”
The mention of sex triggers something in Dylan’s head, and as his mind races to remember what happened before passing out at Dante’s house, he tunes out the rambling sound of his friend’s voice. He rubs his eyes again, and then runs his hands down his face.
“You need water.”
“No, no. Last night…”
Dante looks at Dylan expectantly. “Yeah?”
Shrugging, Dylan doesn’t look up from the spot on the floor he’s been staring at, and his hands remain still as he presses down on the stained carpet beneath him. “I was already hammered by the time she came over last night. I remember her sitting on my bed. And there was something about sex.”
Dante loses interest at this point, and it’s quite obvious in his tone. “So you fucked her. Big deal. I think we’ve established that you’ve done that before,” he says before pushing himself off his bed. “I’mma get you some water.”
Dylan slowly shakes his head, his eyes still unmoving. “No. We didn’t last night. She was upset or something.”
As Dante leaves his room, he mutters something over his shoulder. Dylan hears none of this as his eyes widen and his focus shifts from the floor to the wall and the muscles in his hands relax.
“Oh, you’re already drunk,” Anna-Marie sighs as soon as Dylan opens his bedroom door, the old piece of wood creaking as it moves. “But it’s Friday night, so I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, I guess.” She pushes past him, walks right over the articles of clothing covering the linoleum floor and sits on his bed, crossing her ankles and resting her hands in her lap.
Despite the tingly warmth spreading over his body like rushing water, Dylan sees the worry in his girlfriend’s eyes as she stares at the large bottle of Smirnoff on the dresser beside his bed. “Baby, don’t worry about that,” he says, cutting off her view of the bottle as he sits beside her. “I’m here for you.” He tries to sound sincere, but he doesn’t realize how hard this is when his words reek of alcohol and slur together. When Anna-Marie remains still, he leans in for a kiss, but she looks down and gently pushes on his chest to keep him at arm’s length. “What’s the matter?”
“You’re drunk.” She pauses for a moment, her focus not shifting from a spot on the floor. Dylan follows her gaze before she speaks again. “And I’m pregnant.” Her tone is weak and quiet.
He knows he couldn’t have heard her correctly, and his head snaps back in her direction, but he quickly regrets moving so quickly. She slowly meets his gaze. “What?” he breathes. Anna-Marie closes her eyes and looks back down. He puts his hands on either side of her face. “Look at me,” he demands, but almost as soon as he says it, his mind can’t decide if the words came out or not. Regardless, she opens her eyes slowly.
“Dylan, I’m pregnant.”
When he shakes his head, not only does the world sway with each shake, but Anna-Marie turns her body away from his, adding to the motion blur. She lies on her side, pulling her knees to her chest. “Why am I even bothering to tell you this now?” she mutters under her breath.
Dylan slides off his bed and puts both hands on his wall in an attempt to stabilize himself the spinning world. After a moment, he turns and rests his back against the wall and looks back at the beautiful mess on his bed. She looks comfortable as if she were on her own bed. He presses his hands to his head and wishes he were sober.
When his eyes open again, Anna-Marie is beside him at the door. There’s something else in her eyes now, but he can’t decide what it is at this point in time. He tries to speak, but isn’t sure if anything comes out.
“You won’t remember this in the morning anyway,” she says before leaving.
A glass of water in each hand, Dante returns to his room and sits back on his bed. “Here, drink up.” When Dylan doesn’t take the cup, Dante sets both on his desk. “Man, what is wrong with you?”
“Pregnant,” is all he can whisper.
“For real?” Dante asks as his arms fall to his side. When Dylan just barely nods, Dante’s eyes widen. After a moment, his hand rises to his face, and as he stares at nothing, his fingers drum his lips. “That ain’t good, man. Not in this world. Money’s tight, the gov is falling apart.”
Dylan doesn’t even blink, and his tone is as spacey as his gaze. “I know.”
“But you got options. My honest suggestion? Abort it. Tough, I know, but think of that baby’s future. You’re too young. And the country is shit. You don’t want to bring a kid into this. We’re all gonna be hobos soon, fighting each other for a scrap of rotten meat.”
His voice trails off, and he’s quiet for a long moment as his hand rubs the back of his neck. Dylan finally looks up at him. There’s a glimmer of fear in Dante’s eyes, but he pays little attention to it. He pays even less attention to what his friend says about the future state of their country. In his opinion, everyone should grab a drink and a joint and just forget everything.
When Dante speaks again, his voice is distant. “Something has to be done, man…” He shakes his head, and then looks at Dylan. “It’s not the end of the world. You and Anna, you guys can get through it.”
Dylan stands, his head protesting the sudden movement, but before his friend can say another word, Dylan is out the front door and down the street. Despite the short distance between him and Anna-Marie’s house, he decides to take his time. For a mid-February day in Connecticut, it’s relatively warm and he embraces the fresh air.
As he passes a poor excuse for a park, he hears a group of voices calling for support. In the center of a handful of people are the three leading the rally. The female waves her arms animatedly while the taller of the two males hands out pamphlets to the few individuals who seem to care.
“This government is single-handedly taking down our nation,” the young woman calls. “Republican Greshen now, and Democratic Obama before him, have done nothing good for America.”
“We need real change. Not empty promises,” the shorter male continues. His voice is less intimidating than the woman’s despite being louder.
Dylan meets the young woman’s eyes, just a few yards away. She has waist-length black hair and, from what he can see, large light blue eyes. She seems mature, confident; the kind of person who would get whatever she wanted in whatever way she could. As she continues with her speech, her focus shifts to others passing by. “And we start by throwing out the people that are taking our money for themselves. Independent Robert Graham is the answer to get us out of the new depression.”
Dylan’s heard of this independent party that’s running for office, but this is the first he’s seen them. Around him, people mutter their disapproval or concerns, and he wonders if the party will really amount to anything. As he shakes his head and continues on his way, a large man in his twenties beside him starts yelling and Dylan stops again.
“Bitch, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man says, his arms in the air.
The woman seems to take offense, and crosses her arms. “Excuse me?” She takes a step in the direction of the man, but her taller partner, a slim man with short dark brown hair, places a hand on her shoulder. Her other partner, with shoulder-length chestnut hair, watches with a smirk on his face.
“I think you heard me,” the man says. “You stand there spewing bullshit that will never actually amount to anything. I don’t think you even know what your Robert Graham really wants.”
Shaking free of her partner’s grasp, the woman takes another step closer, anger clear in her eyes. “Who the fuck are you to tell me what I do and don’t know?”
“Ryan!” Her partner reaches for her, but she holds out her hand to stop him. “Ryan, please don’t.”
Dylan, shoving his hands in his pockets, watches out of the corner of his eye as a police officer inches closer. Probably just in case, Dylan assumes, but he can’t help but hope things will get interesting.
“You really think this guy’s standardized, government-controlled everything is the answer for America?” the large man continues.
“Robert Graham doesn’t want to control everything!” Ryan raises her arms as if to put the town of Derby on display. “Greshen is ignoring the people. Robert Graham wants to bring the government back to the people. He’s one of us, not a corrupt politician.”
The man shakes his head, taking a step towards Ryan. “This guy is a fraud with a thirst for power!” As he inches closer, someone beside him grabs his shoulder, warning him to not get too close and start something.
He retaliates by shaking the guy off and swinging at him. Dylan immediately steps forward and grabs the man’s fist before it can connect with the guy, who backs away with most of the people. “Woah, calm down,” Dylan tries, but the man doesn’t listen.
“Who the fuck are you?” he yells as he shoves Dylan.
Dylan stands tall and claims his space to avoid falling. “Fighting will prove what, exactly?” The man towers over him, but he doesn’t back down. “If you need violence to prove yourself, you’re a weak man.” Much like his step-father, he thinks.
After a minute of staring Dylan down, the man pushes past him and grumbles something as he sulks away. It takes him a moment to process what had just happened as the adrenaline courses through his body. He isn’t sure what just happened, but he knows he likes it. He looks around, hoping someone else would dare challenge him.
“Look at that,” Ryan says as she walks up to Dylan. He looks over at her, so close to him. She seems to exude confidence as she stands tall, almost in a Wonder Woman pose. “You know, I always say that if violence isn’t solving your answers, you’re not using enough of it,” she laughs.
Dylan smiles but remains silent. She’s so close to him, he can smell her perfume, something feminine without being girly. He shakes his head, walking away, realizing he’s been distracting himself. “Hey, wait,” Ryan calls after him, her alto voice sultry. Before Dylan is too far, she has caught up to him. Grabbing his arm, she stops him. Her hand is warm on his bare skin; once she removes it, he misses her touch.
“We could really use a guy like you. He’s shockingly not the first to try and start a scene,” she laughs as she holds out a hand. “Ryan Graham.”
“Dylan Johnson,” he says, shaking her soft hand. “You want me to join this?” he asks.
She smiles and takes a step closer. “Of course!” She doesn’t try to hide her enthusiasm. “That guy back there? I’m fairly certain you’re the only one who could’ve calmed him.”
Several feet away, her shorter partner shakes his head and turns away. The taller still hands flyers to the thinning crowd.
Dylan knows she’s exaggerating, but the thought of being needed, of having a skill no one else possesses, piques his interest. She must sense this, because she pulls out her phone and hands it to him. “I know you want to join the campaign,” she says, her smile only growing wider.
Slowly, he takes her phone and enters his number, not questioning why she doesn’t hand him a flyer or business card. As he hands the device back, he looks into her eyes—the lightest, most mesmerizing shade of blue he’s ever seen—and convinces himself it’s just for the cause.
She looks around. “I think we’re finished here now thanks to that jackass.” She looks back at Dylan. “But if you’re not busy, come back to the office with my brothers and me.”
Adrenaline still courses through his veins and he almost agrees before remembering Anna-Marie. “Actually, I gotta be somewhere. Text me,” he says as he turns away.
“I absolutely will,” she says, her voice sultry again.
He doesn’t stop walking until he’s at Anna-Marie’s door. When she answers, Dylan can’t decide if she looks comforted or angered by his presence. “Hi,” she mutters sheepishly as she stands to one side, tucking her light brown hair behind an ear. Once he’s standing in the small but clean foyer, she shuts the door behind him.
“Can we talk?”
She shrugs, avoiding eye contact. She seems so small, her arms crossed over her chest and her head down. “So you’re ready now?”
Dylan opens his mouth to apologize, but she turns around and heads up the stairs to her bedroom. He follows quietly, greeting parents in the living room as they pass.
“The door stays open,” her mother calls, her voice cold as always.
Usually, Dylan would give the woman some charming comment about being wise and respectful towards her daughter; now, all he can think is, Too late, Mrs. Thomas.
“Yes, Mom,” Anna-Marie says. Once in her room, she climbs onto her bed and pulls her legs to her chest, wrapping her arms around them.
Dylan sits at her desk, afraid to be too close to her. “Are you sure?”
She nods. “I tried three different tests.”
He looks around the room, not sure what to look at, afraid to meet her eyes. He hates being here. The scuff-free light blue walls, the polished hardwood floors covered only by a green plush carpet in the center, the matching white furniture neatly arranged around the room; the cleanness and perfection of her room always makes him as if he’ll leave dirt behind when he leaves.
He knows this isn’t the kind of girl he should be with—or more specifically, he knows he’s not the kind of boy she should be with—but when he looks at her, he wishes that were different. “Have you told your parents yet?”
She shakes her head. “Have you…” she starts, but her voice trails off.
Dylan quickly shakes his head, his step-father’s voice coming to mind. I shudder to think of that boy passing his genes on. Carl had made this comment after his mother found condoms in his room. Condoms that apparently weren’t to be trusted.
Anna-Marie nods, and they sit in silence for a long minute. She taps her fingers on her knees as if playing a tiny piano. Dylan plays with pocket lint.
“What are you going to do?” he finally asks.
She closes her eyes. “I don’t know.”
A few things that Dante said before Dylan left comes to his mind, things he doesn’t realize he had heard until now. “Abortion?” he whispers, staring at the floor.
“I don’t want to kill it.” Her voice is small.
She shrugs. “It’s probably best.” She releases the tight grip her arms had made around her legs, and picks at the nail polish on her toenails.
Although Dylan knows they’re too young, a part of him wants to propose the third option, one Dante hadn’t suggested. He doesn’t feel like he has much of a family, with an over-worked mother and an alcoholic step-father. Having this child, with someone like Anna-Marie, might give him something in the world he doesn’t feel like he has now.
Anna-Marie looks up and studies the expression on his face. “You don’t think so?” There’s a glimmer of hope in her voice, and he wonders if she’s already considered the third option.
Should he be honest with her? He shakes his head. “I don’t know. Your parents probably wouldn’t let you keep it anyways.”
“It’s not up to them. It’s up to me and you.”
He looks up at her and they lock eyes. He isn’t sure how he does it, but he feels her gaze in the deepest, most reserved part of his heart, a part he never knew existed until she came into his life. His head still pounds, but the swelling in his heart takes command of his body. He pushes himself out of the chair and takes his hands out of his pockets. Settling beside her, he pulls her into his arms, and breathes in the strawberry scent of her hair as he kisses the top of her head. She wraps her arms around him, and he whispers into her ear. “I love you.” The words rush out before he can stop them, before he realizes what he’s saying.
Her body stills for a moment, then she leans away just enough to look at his face. “What?” she breathes.
He can’t repeat the words as the reality of what they mean is settling into his mind. Loving her means giving her that part of him he just recently discovered; it means that for the first time in his life someone actually means something to him; above all, it means trusting her and giving her a power over him that no one else in the world possesses.
His body stiffens and his arms fall. He knows she’s waiting for him to repeat the words, and if he doesn’t, she’ll believe it’s a mistake. The fact that it wasn’t is what keeps him from being able to say it again.
“I…” he begins, but his voice trails off and he looks away from her.
She sits up, tucking her feet under her and positioning herself in front of him so that he’s looking at her again. “Do you mean it?” Her voice is so soft, so delicate, so soothing, so innocent.
He nods slightly, but she must see something in his eyes, because she gently places a hand on his cheek and kisses him. When they pull away, he watches her, subconsciously waiting. She looks away, and his heart sinks.
“You know how I feel about you. You’ve seen your name all over my notebook, made fun of me for it. But you know how I feel about the drinking and smoking, too. It’s not good for you, and it won’t be good for our baby.” She puts his hand on her stomach, and they both stare at it.
For the slightest moment, he wonders what is inside there. He wonders what it looks like, what sex it is, what it can hear, what it’s doing now. He thinks of this, and it occurs to him that she’s asking him to give up alcohol and marijuana for the baby. Slowly, he looks back into her eyes, and she meets his gaze.
“You won’t stop for me. So, maybe you’ll stop for the baby.”
It’s not the words but the pleading, sad tone of her voice that gets to Dylan. He pulls his hand away. If he didn’t love the girl sitting before him, her sadness wouldn’t hurt so much. And if this baby is going to be half her, then he knows he’ll love it with all his heart. But the thought of giving up something that he feels sustains his life is just as terrifying than the thought of creating a whole new one.
“Dylan, please… I can’t raise it alone if you… if you…”
He rests his hands on hers, curled up in her lap. “I’m not leaving you,” he states weakly, still focused on her previous request.
“I know you won’t, Dylan. Not willingly anyway. But drugs. They do things to people. You could end up in a hospital. Or worse…” her voice trails off at the end.
His hands uncover hers. “You can’t overdose on pot.”
“But alcohol poisoning?” Her voice raises slightly and her back straightens. Her hands press on her knees. “You could die of that. And pot leads to harder drugs. Didn’t you pay attention in Health class?” She stops herself, turns away from him so that her back is against the wall. “No, of course you didn’t. You don’t care about anything. You pretend to. You act all charming and sweet, but it’s just an act. You don’t care about anything but yourself.”
With a deep breath, Dylan looks back into Anna-Marie’s eyes. He doesn’t believe her words; he knows he could care about their child, and he knows there’s only one way for that to happen. His mind made up, he grabs her hands again and pulls her closer to him. Placing his hands on either side of her face, his eyes connect with hers before he leans in for a kiss that will give her the reassurance for which he knows she searches.
Before the kiss turns into anything more, Anna-Marie breaks away and scoots to the edge of her bed. She then swivels her body to face him again. “I need to tell them, don’t I?”
Dylan nods. “Do you want me to leave?”
“You’re already here. Besides, if you’re with me, it might show them that we’re both committed.”
With another deep breath, Dylan follows Anna-Marie back down the stairs and into the living room. Her parents sit on the sectional that takes up most of the space, their eyes focused on whatever is playing on the television. In the back of his mind, he envies the Thomases for still having cable, be it the basic package that it is. So few people can afford such luxuries, especially in such a poor city as Derby. He doesn’t even begin to wonder how adding a baby to the mix would upset their financial status.
Anna-Marie approaches her parents which immediately catches their attention. Dylan braces himself for whatever reaction they might have, but as Anna-Marie delivers the news, a realization washes over him. His girlfriend is pregnant—the word wraps around him and creates a vise that nearly leaves him gasping for air—and he’s just agreed to raise the baby with her.
|Chapter II »