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Reality Check

Chloe stared at Angela's narrowed eyes, at her mouth flattened into a thin line of displeasure and thought, why the hell did I tell her anything? I knew she'd be upset, but I didn't think she'd turn into a bitch like this. Like somebody I don't even know.

"Your parents are going to shit themselves," Angela said and shook her head. "Remind me to leave town for a couple of days when they find out."

"What the hell am I going to do?" Chloe asked.

Angela flicked a piece of grass from her jeans and said nothing. The two girls sat cross-legged on the front lawn of the high school. Most of their lunch had been examined and discarded. Between waves of nausea, Chloe nibbled on soda crackers she clutched in a small bag while Angela took precise, thoughtful sips from her soda.

"Angela. Talk to me. Why are you so pissed off?

"Maybe because I don't want to see you flush your life down the toilet. You want to end up like Carla Swanson from last year, living in her parent's basement? And who's that loser waddling around in algebra? Tanith something? Wow, she's certainly got a full, exciting life ahead of her. Changing shitty diapers and enjoying her life-time membership at Weight Watchers."

"It doesn't have to be like that. My sister's doing all right."

"Your sister got lucky, that is if you consider clipping coupons and watching Oprah lucky. I mean, she had a ton of help from your parents and what's his name's parents. He finished college. He makes good money. And the bottom line is he married her."

Chloe tucked a strand of long blond hair behind one ear and leaned forward. "Well, maybe Randy," she said and paused.

"Will marry you? Yeah, sure, and I'm getting a Corvette for graduation. Shit, Chloe, what planet did you leave your brain on?"

Chloe's vision blurred as her eyes began to burn and the crackers settled into an indigestible sodden lump in her stomach. She took a deep breath and put her head in her hands. "I phoned this clinic in Richmond. They told me I need my parent's permission and at least three hundred dollars."

Angela reached over and touched Chloe's shoulder. "Hey, you don't want to marry that twit. You don't want to marry anyone right now. He's a nice looking guy with a great car who knows how to have a good time, but guaranteed, he's going to spend the rest of his life down at Marshall's asking people if they want their groceries double-bagged. Have you told him yet?"

"No. I already said you're the first person I've told."

"Well, don't bother."

"What do you mean?"

Angela held up her thumb. "No way, it's not mine." She lifted her index finger. "You must have been screwing around with someone else." She waved her middle finger in the air. "And it can't possibly be mine 'cause you told me you were using something."

"Randy's not like that."

"Oh, really?"

"Okay, then tell me why you're so sure that's what he'd say."

Angela sighed. "Let me put it this way. Someone I know really well had a scare earlier this year. She panicked and told him. That's exactly what he said to her."

Chloe opened her mouth to ask and then closed it. She watched as Angela, her brow furrowed with feigned concentration, began pawing through the contents of her pack. "Damn, I wish we could smoke out here," she said and stood up. "Come on. Let's go around back and have a cigarette."

Chloe shaded her eyes and stared up at Angela. "I don't think you have any interest in the contents of my stomach, and if I have a smoke, I'll puke for sure." She gave Angela's pant leg a tug. "Sit down and tell me why you're giving me such a hard time when it's obvious you're the one who had the scare. And I'd also like to know why you were fucking Randy and didn't tell me."

Angela's pack landed on the ground with a thump and she slumped down beside it. She put a cigarette in her mouth and pretended to take a drag from it, exhaling with a loud, dramatic sigh. "Because my dear, we only went out that one time, it was before you dated him, and I didn't think you needed to know."

Chloe gestured to the cigarette. "Put that thing away before you get suspended."

"It's not even lit," Angela said, but she slid it back into the package. "Truth is, I was too humiliated to tell anyone what happened. I mean, he went out with me once, talked me into doing it right there in his car over at Saxton's point. You know, right in front of the lighthouse? Told me about some fantasy of his to make love to a beautiful girl there." A tear slid down Angela's cheek and she gave her head an angry shake as if denying the tear's presence. "Not only did I fall for it, but then my period was ten days late."

Chloe shifted over and put her hand on Angela's knee. "Don't feel bad. I fell for the Saxton point, lighthouse thing, too."

Angela sniffed and blinked hard. She stared at Chloe for a moment and grinned. "You did? No shit. I don't believe it."

Chloe jumped as the buzzer rang. "Oh great. No way I'm going back in there for two hours. I'm going to get a note from the school nurse and go home. I feel like crap." She looked down at her stomach and wondered when she would start to show. "And I still don't know what I'm going to do."

Angela slung her pack over one shoulder. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. Are you sure? I mean, absolutely sure?"

Chloe thought of the slender stick with two pink lines hidden under a pile of sweaters at home and nodded. "I'm sure."

Angela grabbed Chloe's arm and began to pull her towards the school. "Come on. I'll go with you to get your note. We'll think of something." At the bottom of the front steps, she stopped. "Hey, why don't you talk to your sister? She's been through it. If anyone would understand, she would. Maybe she'd even break the news to your parents for you."

Chloe shook her head. "You don't know how many safe sex lectures she's given me. My parents will probably kill me, but my sister would make sure it's a slow, painful death." She shrugged. "I don't know. I'll think about it."

Chloe's sister, Patty, smiled when she opened the door. "Hey, you. Skipping school, huh? Come on in." She opened the refrigerator door and took out two sodas. "Sit down. I was just going to take a break. I'm exhausted."

"You look great." You always look great, Chloe thought. It suddenly occurred to her that no one had ever remarked on her resemblance to Patty. No surprise there. Patty had always been the swan, and Chloe had resigned herself a long time ago to being the ugly duckling with no hope of transformation. Even the swan thing wasn't completely true, because swans were nasty creatures, and everyone was always saying what a sweetheart Patty was. She could even take a crisis like an unplanned pregnancy and turn it into something out of a magazine article on the perfect life.

"Thanks," Patty said, "but I only got about two hours sleep last night. I think Lizzie's cutting molars or something, but she was miserable, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that when baby's miserable, then Mommy's miserable." Her smile made Chloe feel like misery was the next best thing to winning the lottery.

"Where is Lizzie?" Chloe asked. As if in response, a small child's voice called out. "Mommy, mommy."

Patty sighed. "She was napping, and it was blissfully quiet for awhile. Hang on, I'll get her."

Chloe ran her fingers up and down the sides of her soda can, making lines in the beads of condensation. She thought about the night about two months ago when Patty had phoned and asked her to baby-sit. "I can't," Chloe said. I've got a date with Randy."

For once, Patty sounded less than affable. "Oh God, I don't know what you see in that creep. Well, bring him along. I can't find anyone else, and we have to go to this thing."

Randy said he would show up after a few games of pool with his friends. Chloe put Lizzie to bed at eight and wandered through the house, bored and impatient for Randy to arrive. Maybe it was the glass of wine she drank earlier on an empty stomach, or maybe it was just a bad case of wanting something she thought she'd never have, but she found herself daydreaming. Wouldn't it be great if this was their house, hers and Randy's, and she was waiting for him to come home from work -- waiting while their child slept in the nursery down the hall.

At the bedroom door, she stopped and stared at the dresser covered with photographs in matching silver frames. She kicked off her shoes and padded across the thick carpet to take a closer look. She didn't hear Randy sneak up behind her. "You left the door unlocked, you naughty girl," he said and slid his hands up her shirt.

Without her fantasy as partner to his persuasion, she would have protested and pushed him away as he lowered her onto the bed. But as she sank into the burgundy comforter with the rose colored sheets and embroidered pillowcases, she wasn't a senior in high school anymore, and he was the man who meant every whispered word.

"You're not wearing anything," she said.

"I'll pull out in time," he said.

Now staring out the window in Patty's kitchen, Chloe knew it wasn't nausea making her stomach rebel and the room spin. It was the sickening realization that only one part of her stupid, childish daydream had come true. There would be no beautiful home, no loving husband, but there would be a child.

A child like Lizzie, who had just come into the kitchen, hanging on her mother's hip and clutching Patty's shirt like a tiny orangutan. I'm glad you're not old enough to know what a complete idiot your aunt is, Chloe thought and burst into tears her first tears since she had found out. "Oh, Patty, I really need to talk to you. I'm in trouble."

Patty nodded once in a moment of instant understanding. She sat Lizzie on the floor and wrapped her arms around Chloe. "Shh," she said. "We'll figure something out. It's okay, sweetie, everything's going to be all right." She stroked Chloe's hair and let her cry.

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