Read an Excerpt
By Robert Whitlow
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Robert Whitlow
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRutland, Georgia, 1974
Sandy Lincoln nervously twirled her long blond hair around her index finger. A magazine with a picture of Olivia Newton John on the cover and a feature article about Cher's recent breakup with Sonny lay unopened in her lap. Her mother stared unseeing across the waiting room.
"Why is it taking so long?" Sandy asked.
Her mother checked her watch.
"It's only been thirty minutes. Do you want to go home and let the doctor call?"
"No," Sandy replied immediately. "What if Daddy answers the phone?"
"You're right," her mother answered with a heavy sigh. "I don't know what I was thinking."
A dark-haired nurse in her thirties stuck her head in the room.
"Miss Lincoln, you may come back now."
As soon as the nurse spoke, Sandy instinctively grabbed her mother's hand for a second and then released it. The two women followed the nurse down a narrow hallway to an examination room.
"What did the test show?" Sandy asked anxiously.
"Dr. Braselton will be with you in a few minutes," the nurse said as she held the door open. "He'll discuss it with you then."
There was one chair in the room. Sandy hopped onto the examination table and let her feet dangle. The white paper that covered the table felt cool against the back of Sandy's bare legs. She repositioned her short skirt. The queasiness that had greeted Sandy each morning for the past two weeks returned. She put her hand to her mouth to stifle a burp.
"Stomach upset?" her mother asked.
"I'm scared," Sandy replied in a voice that sounded more like that of a seven-year-old girl than a seventeen-year-old young woman. "The test is positive, isn't it?"
Before her mother could answer, Dr. Braselton swept into the room. The white-haired doctor was older than Sandy's parents. His two children had already graduated from Rutland High, and one now attended medical school in Augusta. Sandy's mother started to get up from the chair.
"Keep your seat, Julie," the doctor said with a wave of his hand. "I just saw Bob at the Rotary lunch a couple of hours ago."
"Did you tell him we were—"
"No, no. I didn't know Sandy was coming in until I checked my schedule when I got back to the office."
The doctor turned to Sandy and opened a thick folder in his hand. Dr. Braselton had been treating Sandy since she was a baby. Her chart contained a record of everything from childhood vaccinations to follow-up care after an emergency appendectomy. He rubbed the side of his nose and looked at Sandy with a depth of kindness that made tears suddenly flow from her eyes. The doctor grabbed a couple of tissues from a box and pressed them in her hand.
"Sandy, you're pregnant," he said. "And based on the information you gave my nurse, you're about eight weeks along."
Sandy wiped her eyes with the tissues. Through blurred vision she could see her mother was also crying.
"I'm going to write a prescription for prenatal vitamins until you can see an ob-gyn," Dr. Braselton said, then turned to Sandy's mother. "You go to Bill Moore, don't you?"
"I can set up an appointment, or—"
"I'll do it," Julie said with a sniffle.
Dr. Braselton waited until Sandy's tears slowed to a trickle and her mother's natural stoicism reasserted itself.
"I'm here to help you in any way I can," he said. "Do you have any questions?"
Sandy looked at her mother, who shook her head. Dr. Braselton was a good man who'd served two terms on the city council and was the head of an important committee at the church. Sandy didn't want him to have a bad impression of her or her family.
"I know who the father is," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "There's only one person it could be. I didn't want to do it, but things got out of hand, and I didn't think I would get pregnant. I mean, I know it can happen, but—" She stopped in midsentence.
"Does the boy know you're here?" the doctor asked.
"No." Sandy paused. "Not yet."
"You have a lot of important decisions to make," Dr. Braselton said, closing his folder. "If you want to talk to me about anything, call Patricia and tell her you want an appointment."
Tears stung Sandy's eyes again. The doctor patted her on the shoulder. Sandy saw him glance at her mother.
"Julie, that goes for you and Bob too."
"Thanks," her mother mumbled.
* * *
Outside the office, Sandy opened the passenger-side door of the car and shifted her cheerleading outfit to the backseat. Embroidered on the uniform front were four stars, signifying the number of years she'd been on the varsity squad.
"You won't be needing that," her mother said as she started the engine.
"But Friday night is the Caldwell County game," Sandy protested. "As long as I don't do any stunts, there's no reason why I can't cheer. And Brad and I are going out with a group for pizza after the game. I told him before I left school today that we need to hang out with other people instead of always being off by ourselves."
"You should have thought about that eight weeks ago."
Sandy didn't answer. She was guilty and without any excuse.
"Do you remember the talk we had about premarital sex?" her mother asked as she backed out of the parking space.
"Yeah, when I was fourteen."
"When did you decide to forget about it?"
Sandy stared out the window and didn't answer. They turned onto Campbell Street and passed her father's insurance agency. A sign in front of the one-story, red brick building read Lincoln Insurance Services.
"Are you really going to make me quit cheerleading?" Sandy asked in a subdued voice.
"Did you hear what Dr. Braselton said about big decisions?"
"That's not one of them."
Not sure what her mother meant, Sandy kept her mouth shut during the remainder of the short drive home. Her mother pulled into a garage that a previous owner had added to the 1940s colonial two-story, wood-frame house. Sandy's car, a bright-yellow VW Beetle with flower decals on the fenders, was parked at the curb. Carefully maintained bushes in rows across the front of the house reflected the orderliness inside.
Sandy went upstairs to her room. From her window, she could see the symmetrical maple tree that she and Jessica Bowers had loved to climb when they were little. Beneath the tree was a gabled Victorian-style playhouse built by Sandy's father. The playhouse was still in good shape. Sandy kept it free of cobwebs, and every few years she and her father applied a fresh coat of pink paint. Her mother told her friends the playhouse was waiting for grandchildren. Sandy regretted that her mother's wish was about to come true much sooner than she'd expected.
Sandy slipped on her favorite pair of jeans and sucked in her stomach to button them. The jeans had been snug the previous week. Now they were downright uncomfortable. Sandy took off the jeans and put on a pair of baggy gray sweatpants with Rutland High School printed in large red letters down the sides of the legs.
She heard the front door slam as her little brothers, Jack and Ben, came bounding into the house. The boys, ages ten and thirteen, shared a large, airy bedroom across the hall from Sandy's room. She stepped into the hallway as they raced up the wooden stairs. Ben slowed down and crouched low as he approached her.
"Hey, let me show you the move I learned in wrestling today. I flipped Andy onto his back like a turtle."
"Not now." Sandy held up her hands. "I'm not feeling well."
Ben stood up. With his brown hair, dark eyes, and broad shoulders, everyone said he looked like his father. Jack was still a skinny towhead. Sandy could hear Jack banging around in the boys' bedroom.
"Is that why you went to the doctor?" Ben asked.
"Did he give you any medicine?"
"You already take vitamins."
"But you don't," Sandy replied.
Ben flexed his right bicep, which seemed to have doubled in size the past year.
"Can you imagine how huge my muscles would be if I did?"
"Yeah, but who beat you in arm wrestling last week?"
"As soon as you feel better, I want a do-over."
Sandy left Ben and walked downstairs to the kitchen. Her mother was on the phone. She looked up as Sandy entered.
"I'll call you back later," she said, returning the receiver to its cradle.
"Who was that?" Sandy asked.
Julie Lincoln's older sister, Linda, lived in Atlanta. Sandy glanced over her shoulder. Her brothers weren't in sight.
"Were you telling her about, you know—"
Sandy's mother sat down at the rectangular table where the family ate their meals. Behind the table was a bank of windows. Sandy could see the maple tree, the playhouse, more flower beds, and the expanse of green grass carefully maintained by her father.
"Because I'm confused and need her advice."
Sandy wasn't used to her mother admitting weakness.
"I don't know how to talk to your father about what you should do with the baby, what we're going to say to Brad's family, your schooling. You're thinking about cheerleading. I'm worried about the rest of your life."
Sandy plopped down and rested her head in her hands.
"I'm worried about talking to Daddy the most and Brad and his family second," she said. "Mrs. Donnelly is a nice lady. I think she'll understand when—"
"You have no idea how Kim Donnelly is going to react," her mother said, cutting her off. "They moved here less than a year ago. Who knows what the Donnellys believe? Someone at the beauty shop told me they've both been divorced."
"That was a long time ago," Sandy said, avoiding eye contact with her mother.
She'd not disclosed to her parents the background information revealed so casually by Brad. Divorce in small Georgia towns in 1974 still carried a significant social stigma.
"It happened before Brad and his brother were born," she said.
"Were they married when Kim conceived Brad?"
"Sure," Sandy replied, then realized she didn't actually know the answer. "I mean, they were adults."
"Do you think that makes a difference?"
"No, ma'am," Sandy admitted. "I don't feel grown up."
"Because you aren't, except in the way that got you into this mess."
Tears stung Sandy's eyes again. She'd never been so emotionally fragile.
"That sounds harsh, but it's true," her mother continued. "You're not ready for life on your own, much less the responsibility of a child."
"I know." Sandy sniffled. "But it helps that Brad loves me. He told me so at the dance after the first home football game. Together, we can work things out."
Her mother covered her face with her hands for a moment, then looked up.
"Sandy, please don't say things like that. A high school romance isn't something you can build a future on."
Sandy didn't have the strength to argue. Shame had sapped her normal spunkiness.
"I'm going outside," she said.
"Go ahead," her mother replied. "It's not a good time for us to talk. I'm as upset as you are and need some time to think before your father comes home. I'm disappointed in you, but I don't want you to take the brunt of his reaction."
Sandy went into the backyard. Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees. Her brothers had raked them into the compost pile at the rear of their property. The grass was a rich green following the fall dose of fertilizer.
Sandy opened the tiny door to the playhouse and crawled inside. She leaned against the bare counter that had served as a make-believe stove, sink, and changing table. A young girl's imagination can be as strong as her childhood reality. Sandy pulled her knees up to her chin and closed her eyes. When she opened them, nothing had changed. She felt trapped. Imagination had lost its magic. Her present reality left no room for pretending.
She was still pregnant.
Chapter TwoCoach Cochran came by the office today to increase his life insurance policy," Bob Lincoln said as they sat around the supper table. "Did you know his wife is pregnant again?"
"No," Julie replied.
Sandy kept her eyes focused on the lasagna on her plate. She'd nibbled around the edges but wasn't hungry. Her mother often prepared meals from scratch, but this supper had gone directly from the freezer into the oven and then to the table.
"He's not going to give up till he gets a boy," her father said. "One more girl and he'll have enough for a basketball team. I'm going to talk to some guys in the booster club and see if we can't scare up some extra cash for him by the end of the season. It'd be a shame to lose him to a big-city school over a few bucks. He's doing a great job."
"The players like him," Sandy offered in a soft voice.
"And they play their hearts out for him," her father replied. He took a quick sip of sweet tea and leaned forward. "Do you know what else Coach Cochran told me?"
Not waiting for anyone to guess, her father clapped his hands together.
"He believes Brad Donnelly is a bona fide Division I prospect at wide receiver! Cochran has been getting calls from coaches at a few SEC schools." Sandy's father raised his hands as if signaling a touchdown. "Including Auburn. War Eagle! Sandy, if Brad gets a scholarship offer, you could go to Auburn and try out for the cheerleading squad. I'm not trying to pressure you, but wouldn't it be a blast if Brad made the team and you were on the sidelines? Cheerleading in college is a huge commitment, and your studies would have to come first, but being part of that would be something you'd be proud of for the rest of your life."
"Would we get to go to the home games?" Ben asked.
"Every single one of them," his father answered. "And we might go to a few away games too. The whole thing got me as excited as a kid."
"Your lasagna is getting cold," Julie said.
Sandy's father looked down as if suddenly discovering there was food on his plate. He took a big bite.
"This is great, honey," he said, his mouth partially full. "Better than what they serve at Mama Rosario's."
After supper, Sandy helped her mother put the dishes in the dishwasher. The two women worked in silence. The males in the family went into the den to watch TV for a few minutes before the boys did their homework.
"When are we going to tell him?" Sandy whispered as she rinsed Jack's plate. "I sure didn't think about college all afternoon."
"I did," her mother replied. "But not, of course, like your daddy. It's a forty-minute drive to the community college in Carteret. You could probably schedule classes two days a week or go at night after the baby is asleep."
Her mother's words made Sandy's head spin. She suddenly pictured herself in her bedroom with a crying infant in what had once been her grandmother's yellow wicker bassinet. Sandy and her brothers had each spent the first few months of their lives in that bassinet.
"I would stay here after the baby is born?"
Her mother pressed her lips together tightly for a moment.
"Sandy, this is a bad situation, but we're not going to put you out on the street."
A moment later, Bob Lincoln walked into the kitchen and placed his hand on Sandy's forehead.
"Feels fine to me," he said. "Ben told me you went to the doctor today, then mentioned something about getting a prescription for vitamins."
Sandy backed away from her father until the kitchen counter stopped her.
"Yes, sir," she said.
Her mother looked toward the den.
"Where are the boys?"
"There wasn't anything decent on TV, so I sent them upstairs to do their homework. What's going on?"
Julie dried her hands on a dish towel. Sandy held her breath. The queasiness she'd felt in the doctor's office returned, only worse. Her mother wrung the towel tightly in her hands for a moment before laying it on the edge of the sink.
"Sandy's pregnant," she said.
No preamble. No buildup. No effort at damage control before dropping the bombshell. Sandy had watched her mother handle her father for years. Sometimes she could change his mind and make him think it was his own idea. This was a radically different approach. It was her daddy's turn to step back. Sandy and her father faced each other across the kitchen with her mother standing in the middle.
"How?" he managed after a few seconds passed.
"I think you know the answer to that," Julie replied matter-of-factly. "She's about eight weeks along. It explains why she hasn't been feeling well when she first gets up in the morning."
"You've had morning sickness?" Sandy's father asked with a bewildered look on his face.
"I threw up today, but you'd already left for the office."
Her father's face suddenly turned red. His mood could shift in seconds. Sandy braced herself.
"Who did this to you?" he sputtered.
"Brad Donnelly," Sandy replied. "It happened toward the end of summer. Do you remember when we went to the lake—"
Sandy's father swore and slammed his fist against the countertop.
"I'll get him kicked off the team and expelled from school! He rides in here from Houston and takes advantage of you." Sandy's father looked wild-eyed at her mother. "Do the Donnellys know about this?"
"No," Sandy responded. "I didn't want to tell Brad until I saw the doctor and talked with you."
Excerpted from the CHOICE by Robert Whitlow Copyright © 2012 by Robert Whitlow. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.