Read an Excerpt
"There are four stages of mourning. Denial. Sadness. Anger. Acceptance. Becoming pregnant in your teens means that some dreams have to be put away, others altered. It's a death of one future. You have to mourn that loss before you can move ahead and plan a new future… one that includes the baby you're carrying."
—Pregnancy, Childbirth and Parenting for Teens, by Mary Jeanne Lorei
There was something completely undignified about peeing in a cup. It took a certain knack that Elinore Cartwright didn't feel she had acquired and, to be honest, she didn't know that she wanted to be presented too many more opportunities to develop it.
Despite the fact she was nowhere near a master, she managed the fill the little paper cup. She washed her hands and then, clutching the paper gown at the back, hurried across the hall to her assigned examination room. She hoisted herself back onto the table.
Sitting on paper, wearing paper, covering herself with a square piece of quilted paper. Every movement was a festival noise.
The only nonpaper item she was wearing for her less-than-happily anticipated annual checkup was her wildly striped toe socks. She'd left them on partly because now that it was the end of October, her feet wouldn't be warm again for at least eight months, and partly because she felt they dressed up her paper ensemble.
She sank back onto her paper-shrouded shrine and waited. Right on cue, as her body relaxed, her thoughts picked up steam, tumbling over themselves. There was no flitting involved, just a terrible tangled twist of to-do items and worries.
To-do: Call Zac Keller and set up a meeting for the end of the week.
Ariel Mayor. She replayed their talk from earlier this afternoon. It had seemed to go well. She saw a lot of potential in the girl. As a matter of fact…
To-do: Pull together Ariel's information and see if Zac would agree that she'd make an excellent test-run for the new Community Action, Teen-parent Apprentice Project.
It had been almost fifteen years since Eli had started the George County School District's teen parenting program. George County was a large, primarily rural county just south of Erie, Pennsylvania. Her job was to find ways to cut the county's number of teen parents, and help those who were pregnant or already parents graduate and go on to be worthwhile members of the community.
The statistics said her program was working. She experienced that warm glow of pride she always felt when she thought about the inroads she'd made.
The number of teen mothers in the county was falling, the number of teen moms who graduated was climbing. And there had been a nice bump in the number of her mothers who went on to college or some type of vocational training after graduation.
This new project was just another way of helping her girls. Partnering local businesses with the students in the program. Giving the teens jobs with flexibility, jobs that would provide crucial work experience.
It sounded as if Ariel was already working hard, too hard, at that restaurant. This program might be just the ticket for her.
And despite Ariel Mayor's slight bump in the road, Eli was determined that this girl would be one of her successes.
Her to-do list was replaced as a niggle of worry crept into the forefront of her thoughts. She'd figured passing so easily from fertility to menopause was a good thing. After half a year of erratic cycles, her periods had just stopped a few months ago with no other problems arising. No hot flashes, mood swings, trouble sleeping.
Eli took this as another sign that her life was pretty much perfect. She had Arthur, who, although he was a little less than exciting, was good company and a dependable boyfriend. She had a job she loved, a great family and good friends. And now, she'd had a pain-free transition into menopause at the ripe old age of forty-four.
At least, that's what she thought until Dr. Benton had asked to run a few tests. One of which involved peeing in that stupid cup.
How long did it take to do whatever voodoo test he was doing? And what did he think was wrong?
That horrible C word.
Cancer of what? Cervix, uterus, ovaries? Maybe that was it, cancer had eaten all her eggs, so her periods had stopped.
She tried to force her thoughts back to her long to-do list. It was much more pleasant.
Her mind was blank. She was saved from trying to fill it though when Dr. Benton opened the door.
"Go ahead and just tell me. Cancer has eaten all my eggs, right?"
Hmm, doctors didn't normally laugh when telling someone they had a cancer, right?
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling better. She sat up and all the paper crinkled merrily. "I have an active imagination. So what's the news?"
"You're not in menopause—"
"Then it is cancer. Cancer of the uterus? That's why my period stopped."
"Cancer of the cervix?"
"Pregnant. As in going to have a baby."
She laughed. "Funny. Ha ha. You can tell me. Just say the words, I can take it."
"Eli, you're not sick, there's nothing wrong with you that I've found. Although you are pregnant."
"But…I can't be. I mean, Arthur always uses condoms, and…" She paused, trying to process what Dr. Benton was saying. "You can't get pregnant if you're in menopause, so I'm not pregnant."
"You're not in menopause. You're pregnant. Some of those missed periods were because you're going to have a baby, not because of menopause. You're going to have a baby in around six or seven months. Somewhere around May or June would be my guess. We'll have to do some tests to be sure."
"Listen, Eli, I've been your doctor for a long time, and I know this comes as a shock. Why don't you go home, take some time and process it all, then come see me again next week and we'll talk? We'll do a few more tests. I want to do a sonogram so we'll have a more accurate idea of your due date since you have been experiencing erratic cycles."
"And here." He reached into his pocket and handed her a prescription. "Prenatal, prescription vitamins. Get it filled and start taking one a day."
He patted her hand. "It's going to be all right."
Eli went into a type of brain-fogged automatic pilot.
That was the only way to explain how she managed to dress and check in with the receptionist. She agreed to the first appointment that was offered without consulting her calendar, bundled into her jacket, and made her way to her car—her brand-new MINI Cooper. A more nonbaby car couldn't be found. She drove a MINI, so there was no way she was pregnant.
The fog started to clear.
Dr. Benton, bless his heart, was wrong. That was the only explanation. She'd seen one of those news shows about doctors and their inaccurate tests. That's what this was. The test was faulty.
Or, since Dr. Benton was getting on in age and probably needed reading glasses, he'd misread the results.
Either way, he was wrong. She was not pregnant.
With a newly found, albeit fuzzy, plan, Eli put her foot to the floor and hurried to her neighborhood pharmacy. While she waited for them to fill the prescription that she probably wouldn't need, she grabbed a basket, then walked up and down the aisles until she found the pregnancy test section.
There were six different brands of pregnancy tests.
She read the boxes. Digital tests. Plus or minus tests. One box had three individual tests in it… for people who thought they were pregnant frequently? There was no way she would want to go through this sinking feeling more than once.
She studied the boxes. All claimed to be ninety-nine percent accurate.
She took the first box and threw it in her basket.
Just to be on the safe side, she grabbed a second brand and added it.
She started down the aisle. Surely, the tests would prove Dr. Benton was wrong.
But what if they were faulty as well?
She turned back and hurried to the display. She put one of each brand of test in her basket.
There. She'd take all of these and when all six told her she wasn't pregnant, she'd call Dr. Benton and insist he either check the expiration dates on his tests at the office, or that he make an appointment for an eye exam.
He was going to be embarrassed, she was sure. But she'd laugh it off, and make certain he understood she didn't blame him.
Yes, tell him no harm, no foul.
By the time she got home she was feeling a surreal sense of calm. Everything would be fine once she peed on the six small wands. All of them promised results in three to five minutes.
She glanced at the clock. Dr. Benton would probably still be at his office. She'd call him right away so he could figure out what the problem was… faulty test or aging eyes.
She hurried into the bathroom and discovered peeing on sticks was infinitely easier than peeing in a cup.
She lined them all up on the counter and left, determined not to watch them. She didn't need to. She knew what they were going to show—she wasn't pregnant.
She stood outside the bathroom door, trying to decide what to do while she waited. Aimlessly, she went down the hall and thumbed through her mail that she'd set on the antique washstand she'd found last summer on her New England vacation with Arthur. They'd meandered with no real destination in mind, stopping in small towns and villages along the way.
She ran a finger over the stand, and couldn't help it if her sleeve slipped up, exposing her watch. She didn't mean to check the time and was disappointed to discover that only one minute had passed.
She walked through the house, feeling slightly removed—as if she were a visitor seeing it for the first time. She remembered every item, its history and any sentiment it carried.
Everything was orderly in her tiny, perfect-for-one-person, but not-for-a-baby house. There was her bedroom, with the froufrou pillows on the bed. Arthur hated them and felt that the few seconds she spent putting them in place every day were wasted time. It probably added up to an hour or more a year, he'd told her. Arthur was a big fan of time management, and try as she might, she couldn't seem to convince him that time spent on aesthetics wasn't wasted at all. She liked how the pillows looked on the bed, how the entire room's decor came together. That was worth an hour of her year.
She peeked in her equally neat and appealing office. She'd spent three weekends stripping, then refinishing the oak floor. She'd used a high gloss on them and they truly shone. The deep red walls, the pulled back curtains… her office was an oasis.
This time she didn't try to convince herself that glancing at her watch was an accident.
Two minutes to go.
She went to the kitchen, hoping she'd left a glass or plate in the sink, something she could rinse, but there was nothing.
Her house was too small, too settled for a baby.
She couldn't be pregnant because she'd built a single person's home.
She glanced at her watch again.
Finally knowing beyond any doubt just how Marie Antoinette had felt as she marched toward the chopping block, Eli opened the bathroom door, then one by one picked up the wands.
Her hands trembled as she picked up the last one. One little stick of hope, which was the only branch she had left to hang on to.
Eli wasn't sure how long she sat on the bathroom floor staring at that last stick. It was long enough for the realization to begin to penetrate, long enough that the ramifications of that stick, along with the other five, hit home.
She was pregnant.
Her feet were numb and tingling. One of the changes she'd noticed since hitting her forties was that she could only kneel for so long before all the blood stopped pumping into her legs.
She was well beyond her blood pumping limit.
And she was pregnant.
She wasn't sure what to do. Who to turn to.
She wanted to cry, but had preached to her girls that news of a baby should never be greeted with tears. She'd had so many young moms in her office, crying their eyes out. She understood their feelings, but it struck her as a very sad way to welcome a child into existence, so she wasn't going to cry.
But if she wasn't going to cry, that left her nothing to do with the huge lump that was sitting squarely in the center of her throat.
What to do?
She made her wobbly feet walk into the living room and dialed her friend's number. "Could you come over? I need you." She'd known that would be all it took.
Tucker didn't ask any questions, didn't hesitate. "On my way," she replied. That was like her friend. Tucker never expected anything from anyone, but gave unhesi-tantly to everyone.
Angelina Tucker was Eli's inspiration for starting the teen parenting program.