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Br o wn fingertips raced across my swollen belly as raindrops made a pitter-patter sound on the windowpane. It was the first rain in weeks, and I was grateful for it. Atlanta's heat in the summer made the days miserable and the nights were even worse. And being pregnant didn't make things any better. However, Vance had been my knight in shining armor. He'd been by my side from the very beginning—going along for my prenatal appointments, stopping by Publix to pick up whatever strange food I was craving at the moment and taking me for long walks at night just to keep my ankles from swelling. So far he'd kept his promise.
He'd promised that I wouldn't have to do this alone—this teen pregnancy thing. After all, it was both our responsibility, even though he was in denial in the beginning. At first, he questioned whether or not he was actually the father. Then, he all but insisted that I abort the baby—he had hopes and dreams and a scholarship to play ball in college. He thought we were too young to be parents and that a baby would destroy our future. His parents weren't too happy about the idea, either. Vance's dad, Dr. Armstrong, was ready to write me a check and drive me straight to the abortion clinic. They didn't understand that abortion had never been an option for me. My plan was to have this baby regardless of what anybody else wanted. It was my choice, and I had chosen life.
In a few days, Vance would be headed for college. He'd received a full basketball scholarship and classes would be starting soon. Soon, he'd be loading his belongings into the backseat of his car and driving the five hundred miles to Gram-bling, Louisiana. His best friend Jaylen would be tagging along to college. Jaylen wasn't fortunate enough to receive a scholarship but he was going anyway. The two of them were going to be roommates, despite everyone's advice that they shouldn't share a room. Becoming roommates would destroy their friendship. Everyone could see that. But that was something that they would have to learn the hard way.
As for me, the fall semester would be awkward—wobbling through the halls of our high school would be embarrassing. I would be a spectacle for my friends, teachers and those who were just plain nosy. I dreaded the upcoming school year; got depressed every time I thought about it. It wouldn't be anything nice. The hardest part was quitting the dance team—it was as if someone had stomped on my dreams, picked them up and then stomped on them again.
I wouldn't give up, though. The plan was still to finish high school and graduate as planned. And I was still going to college. Spelman was just around the corner, so I could still go there. I'd work a part-time job and everything would be fine. No worries.
Who was I kidding? I had become a worrier. I woke up every morning with tons of things on my mind—weighing me down like a ton of bricks. So many questions—so many what-ifs. What if this pregnancy was too hard for me to handle—what if I got sick or the baby got sick? What if my grades dropped because I was too busy taking care of the baby? What if Vance got to Grambling and met someone new? What if he forgot about the baby and me? So many questions, but the answers weren't so clear.
Vance, on the other hand, didn't have such worries. No one would even know that he had a baby on the way. He could still live in his cozy little world without worries—nothing would really change for him. He'd still play basketball—still chase his dreams. His grades wouldn't suffer because of the baby. He didn't even have to get a part-time job because his parents had already agreed to support the baby and me financially while he was in school. All he had to do was make good grades and play ball.
"This is just as much my responsibility as it is yours," he said. "You're not alone, Tameka, I promise. You and the baby can count on me."
Those were his words, as he stroked my swollen belly. I just hoped that he was for real.
"Did you see that?" I asked, grinning as I stuffed a spoon filled with chocolate ice cream into my mouth.
As the baby kicked his tiny feet underneath my brown skin for the first time, Vance watched with amazement.
"Yeah, I saw it." Vance smiled. "Did that hurt?"
"No, it just feels funny," I said.
"That's so amazing." His eyes were as wide as saucers. "He's really alive in there."
"He?" I asked, with attitude. "Don't you mean she?"
"She can't play ball."
"She can do anything she wants to do. Don't be limiting her," I told him.
"So it's a girl?" he asked. "You cheated, didn't you?"
We had decided to keep the sex of the baby a mystery. I didn't want to know until the baby was born. But the truth was I had cheated. I'd waited until Vance left the room during one of our prenatal visits and begged the doctor to spill the beans. Once he told me that my baby was a girl, I never shared the news with Vance. If he knew, he might not have been so excited. When he talked about having a son there was a gleam in his eye that I couldn't risk losing. There was a chance that he might lose interest if he knew it was a girl. And we couldn't afford that. Not right now. Not ever.
"I didn't cheat!" I lied. "We'll both find out when the baby's born."
"Cool." He rested his head on my stomach. "Whatever the baby is—a girl or a boy—I'll be fine with it."
"You serious, Vance?"
"I can't wait until the three of us can be a family," I said, my eyes becoming dreamy as I stared into Vance's light brown ones.
"Don't get sidetracked, though," he reminded me—snapped me back into reality. "I have seven years of school, and depending on what you decide to major in, you might have just as many. So it'll be a while before we can think about being a family."
"I don't care how long it takes, Vance. It's what I want."
"Don't get all serious on me, Tameka. We're still young, and we still have our whole lives ahead of us. Let's just take it one step at a time. Get through this pregnancy—get through college. That's the most important thing."
He couldn't stop me from dreaming. I couldn't help hoping for the day that the three of us would be together—Vance, me and our baby girl. Lately, it had become my reason—the one thing that kept me going, even when I wanted to give up.
"I know that school's important," I told Vance, "but so is the baby."
"I know the baby's important, Tameka, and I'm here for you. But we gotta stay focused on our goals. And right now, mine is to play ball in college. That's all I'm sayin'."
"Cool, Vance." I nudged for him to remove his head from my lap. I was becoming irritated and needed some air. "Let me up."
He sat up and I stood. Wobbled my way through the kitchen and to the back patio. Whenever he avoided the conversation about our future, I pouted. As a matter of fact, I pouted about a lot of things. Pregnancy was like having PMS every day of my life. One minute I'd be laughing and then in the next minute I'd be on the verge of tears. It was a constant roller coaster of emotions, and I was ready to get off the ride.
I plopped down onto a lawn chair.
"I'm sorry, Tameka," Vance said, and then sat in the chair next to mine. He grabbed my hand in his. "I'm here for you. But I wanna take it one step at a time."
"I'm not trippin'," I lied. I was trippin'. That's what I seemed to do on a regular basis.
"I gotta get home. Gotta finish packing." Vance pressed his lips against my rosy cheek. "I'll call you later."
I stretched my legs out, checked out my swollen feet. The straps from my flip-flops rested between my toes as I looked at the polish on my toenails. They needed to be redone.
I heard the sliding glass door shut and knew that Vance was really gone. I missed him already, but not nearly as much as I would miss him when he was gone for good. Five hundred miles would be too many miles in between us. Too many miles for him to hold me in his arms when I felt scared. Too many miles for him to feel the kick from his daughter's feet. Too many miles…too many miles…too many miles!
As the sounds of Tyga bounced through my speakers, I loaded the trunk of my car with plastic containers filled with clothes, my Timberland boots and every pair of Jordans I owned. A box filled with CDs and DVDs, sheets, comforters and a small refrigerator fit perfectly onto the backseat. Jaylen hopped into the passenger seat, let the window all the way down and then adjusted the volume on my stereo. I was happy that he'd chosen to attend Grambling, too. We'd been together since elementary school and there was no need in separating now. He was family, and it would be great to have him around for the next four years. Besides, he needed me. Jaylen struggled in school and I'd always been the one to help him maintain passing grades. Without me, college for him would be a train wreck. And he didn't need that.
Choosing Grambling had been an ordeal, in and of itself. I'd had my eye on Grambling State, and they had their eye on me, too. But it was my father who had insisted on Duke. He wanted nothing more than to see his son attend his alma mater and carry on his legacy. It was no doubt that Duke was a better school all around for sports and academics, but Grambling seemed like it would offer more socially. And if you have to spend four years of your life somewhere, you might as well have fun doing it. It was my mother who convinced me that with a baby on the way, fun was no longer my priority. She argued that I should choose the school that offered me a better future as well as someplace where I would be happy. I decided that happiness was the key word, and I would definitely be unhappy at Duke.
My father also wanted me to go to medical school and become a dentist, like him. And for that career, Duke on a full scholarship was the right choice. Not to mention Duke had always been a top ten basketball school and I definitely wanted to be where the winners were. But I wasn't interested in med school—not even a little bit. Since I was a little kid, my mother's career as a lawyer had always sparked my interest. It was law school that I was most interested in. I was definitely not interested in pulling anybody's rotten teeth for a living. I had plans of following in my mother's footsteps and was headed for law school. Dad wasn't happy about my college choice, but eventually he started speaking to me again.
As I stood next to my car, the Atlanta heat beaming against my face, I wondered what the next few years would be like. Mom ran out of the house carrying a plastic Wal-Mart bag, and Dad was behind her carrying a red-and-white cooler.
"We packed you some things for the ride," Mom said and handed me the bag. It was filled with sandwiches, snack cakes and fresh fruit.
"Some Cokes and bottled water." Dad held the cooler into the air and then looked for a spot on the backseat for it.
"Thanks," I said and wanted to keep the conversation light. Mom was on the verge of tears, and she'd already cried twice.
"You call us every hour and check in," she said. "Is your phone charged?"
"To capacity," I told her. I'd made sure it had a full charge before I loaded my things into the car. "Plus I got my car charger just in case. And if mine goes dead, Jaylen's got his phone, too."
"And you got a full tank of gas?"
"Yes, Ma. You're worrying again," I told her.
"Sweetheart, the boy will be fine," Dad interjected and then wrapped his arm around Mom. "Ease up a little."
"He's my baby! I can't ease up." She pushed him away. "And he's going away…for real. Not just for a weekend, but for real."
"Christmas will be here before you know it," Dad said, "and he'll be home."
"Okay y'all," I interrupted, "I wanna go ahead and get on the road. I want it to be daylight when we make it on campus. You know, so we can check things out a little bit."
"Be careful on that road, Vance," Mom said and then grabbed me; hugged me tightly. "Do the speed limit…you know the highway patrol don't play."
"I know, Ma." I kissed her forehead.
"Love you, sweetie," she said and caressed my face, tears in her eyes. "You, too, Jaylen." Mom leaned her head into the car's window. "Did you tell your mama goodbye?"
That was a stupid question. Did she think he just ran out of the house and didn't say anything to his parents?
"Yes, ma'am, I did." He smiled at my mother. "She cried, too, Mrs. A."
"Let me give the boy a hug so he can go," Dad said and pulled me into an embrace. "Love you, son."
"Love you, too, Dad."
"Take care, Jaylen," Dad said.
"You, too, Dr. A," Jaylen said.
"Goodbye, stupid!" Lori yelled from the porch. "I get your room now!"
"In your dreams," I told my little sister.
"I'll be moving my things in as soon as you pull off." She grinned.
"You better not go anywhere near my room, and I'm so serious." I gave her a mean mug. "Ma, please don't let her go in my room."
"She's just messing with you, baby," Mom said.
"Get over here and give me a hug with your big head," I said to my sister.
"Ewww! No," she said and then flipped open her pink phone; pretended to be calling someone.
I rushed toward her anyway, picked her up and threw her over my shoulder and twirled her around in the air.
"Let me down, Vance!" she yelled.
"Bye, ugly," I said as I let her down. I messed up her hair before running to my car and hopping into the driver's seat. "You know you're gonna miss me."
"Ooh, I hate you!" she yelled. "Don't ever come back."
"I'll be back for Christmas. Maybe even Thanksgiving." I smiled at my mother and started my car. "I'll call you in a little bit, Mom. Please don't cry. It's not as bad as it seems."