Had she been this touchy at that age, Nell wondered.
“Love for your parents is part of your makeup from the moment you’re born. Having that love—or need—reciprocated means survival for a baby. You’re barely reaching the age when that same kind of attachment between you and a man is part of your biological drive.”
Kim rolled her eyes. “You sound like a sex-ed film.”
“Are they necessarily wrong?”
Her daughter shrugged, staring moodily at the television again. “People used to get married by my age. Romeo and Juliet weren’t even sixteen.”
“Maybe physical development was compressed. Remember, they were old by their thirties.”
Interest sparked on Kim’s face. “You mean, you’d be an old lady?”
“Hey!” Nell protested. “I’m only thirty-two.”
“Okay.” She made a face. “Yeah. I’d have passed my prime childbearing years, assuming I hadn’t died in childbirth. For sure, you’d be giving me grandkids.” She couldn’t suppress a shudder.
Kim chortled. “You are so paranoid! You couldn’t even say that without freaking!”
“You know,” Nell said quietly, “I do have reason to be paranoid.”
“You think no teenager should ever fall in love or have sex, just because you got pregnant. Lots of my friends have sex, and they don’t get pregnant.”
Lots of her friends. Nell almost whimpered.
“Do they use birth control?”
“I guess.” Kim shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. “You’re just so old-fashioned! It’s not like I’d be ruined if I turned seventeen and I wasn’t a virgin anymore.”
Nell had always tried to be honest with her daughter. Now she admitted, “No, of course you wouldn’t be. But what if you did get pregnant? Remember, no method of birth control is one hundred percent effective. Would you be comfortable getting an abortion? Maybe some of your friends have.”
Kim was silent, head bent, a curtain of hair hiding what she knew.
“Is Colin prepared to marry you?” Nell continued relentlessly. “To pay child support? Are you willing to drop out of school, or switch to the alternative school, so you can be a mother?”
“It’s like, all you think about is pregnancy!” Kim burst out, lifting her head defiantly.
Familiar fear cramped Nell’s belly. If only Kim knew. This morning, three weeks and two days had passed since Nell’s drunken idiocy. Three weeks, and no period.
Don’t think about it, she ordered herself. Not now. Right now, think about Kim.
Holding her daughter’s gaze, Nell said, “I can’t change who I am. Grandma wasn’t ready to be a mother when I was born. I always knew that. And then I had you, which changed my life profoundly. You know I’ve never regretted having you, but I won’t lie—I’ve wished I’d been ten years older. That I could have finished high school like my friends, gone to college, dated. I missed all that, because I had a baby. If I seem obsessed, well, there’s a good reason.” She silenced Kim with a shake of her head. “Yeah, okay, I’m worried. That’s because you and Colin are spending so much time together, and because you ask me things like, ‘How do you know when you’re in love?’ But, see, I know what happens when you get pregnant at sixteen. I know what you feel when Colin is kissing you, or when you’re afraid he might find someone else if you keep saying no. And I love you. I want you to have what I didn’t.”
Kim flung herself off the couch and onto her mother’s lap, her face wet. “I’m sorry, Mom! I hate knowing that I worry you!”
Her own eyes damp, Nell kissed Kim’s forehead. “That’s what being a mother is all about.”
Sniff. “Am I crushing you?”
Nell gave a watery chuckle. “Yeah. But that’s okay.”
Kim burrowed deeper. “I just get confused. Sometimes I feel older than you were at sixteen!”
Wasn’t every teenager positive that she was more mature at every age than her parents had ever been? But Nell said gently, “I remember feeling that way, too. It’s part of believing the bad stuff won’t happen to you. But it does. It can.”
Kim was silent for a moment. Then she gave her mom a convulsive squeeze and wriggled off her lap. “Can I go on birth control, just in case?”
Nell’s heart sank. She tried not to show the intensity of her dismay. “I’d rather you did that, if you’ve decided to have sex.”
Chin defiantly high, Kim asked, “You’d give permission?”
“Yes. Which doesn’t mean I think you’re ready.”
The teenager pressed her lips together and gave a jerky nod. “Okay.”
“Just…let me know. If I need to sign something.”
Kim nodded again, averted her face, and went back to the couch. A second later, the movie blared into life.
Nell waited for a few minutes, staring blindly down at her book, before she set it down casually and stood. Not until she had left the room did she hurry. At the back of the house, in her own bathroom, she crumpled onto the toilet seat and buried her face in her hands.
She couldn’t be pregnant. Please, God, don’t let me be.
Her period had always been irregular. Just because she’d vaguely thought it was due didn’t mean anything. She didn’t pay that much attention. It might start tonight, tomorrow, next week. She had no cause to panic yet.
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