The Third Alternative©



Every time I made a decision for myself, the odds had never been in my favor. Every choice I made for my personal satisfaction for as long as I could remember ended in some sort of detrimental disaster.

For example, when I was a junior in high school, my parents demanded that I enroll in Honors Calculus and Advanced Placement Anatomy. They claimed it would open better scholarship opportunities when it was time for me to enroll at Washington University in St. Louis and become a surgeon. They didn’t seem to grasp the fact that I wanted nothing to do with the medical field. When I had gone behind their backs and enrolled in Honors English III and Business II, the disappointment on their faces had been like a hot dagger going through my chest.

“You’ll never get into the medical program with classes like these, Meredith,” my father had said.

“Is this a phase you’re going through?” my mother had inquired. “It isn’t cute, Meredith. This is your life we’re talking about.”

I e-mailed my advisor and changed my classes that same night. After all, they were my parents. They only wanted what was best for me. Surely as long as I listened to them, everything would work out just fine. That was the theory.

But I had to make things complicated. I just had to keep making my own decisions. This particular time, it was five o’clock on a Friday evening. The early autumn sun was beginning to creep below the horizon as the temperature went from chilly to frigid outside. Normally I would be sitting at the dinner table with my parents, finishing up a light dinner of fish and a garden salad while I waited for my boyfriend Leroy to pick me up for movie night. Instead I was pacing around my bathroom, running my shaking hands through my strawberry blonde curls as a sweat broke out on my forehead. Instead of following the rules, Leroy and I had gone on to the next step on our four year anniversary as we began our senior year, a decision I had made while my parents were out at a business dinner. As I looked down at the stick on the sink, I felt as if my heart had swallowed me whole.

“Mom?” I shouted from the bathroom.

The room around me began to spin as it faded in and out of focus. I could feel my forest green eyes starting to water, and I shook the frustration away. Now was not the time to cry. I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and ran a hand down my face before pulling my hair back into a messy ponytail. One time, it only happened one time. What were the odds of this happening after one time? One in ten, I hear Leroy say in the back of my mind. Lucky me…

My mother threw open the unlocked bathroom door and stared at the stick in horror. My father came in, stood behind her, and turned corpse white. His cobalt blue eyes bulged out of his skull, similar to the way his belly was beginning to bulge out from underneath his shirt.

“I can’t believe this,” she said, fiddling with the buttons on her rose colored blouse. I swallowed hard.

“I’m sorry.”

***

“I’m going to call Leroy,” I said as I stepped out of my mother’s red Honda Civic. We had just gotten home from my doctor’s appointment. My father’s silver Chevy was in the garage beside us. Apparently he had taken off work. I wondered what the bankers would do without their CEO breathing down their necks. Mom shot a side glance at me, looking sharp with her auburn locks pinned back in an elegant bun. Her eyes were dark with exhaustion and frustration.

“You haven’t told him yet?” she asked. “I thought you called him after you took the stick test.”

“I wanted to wait until we knew for sure,” I muttered, pulling the ponytail band out of my hair. My curls tumbled down my shoulders, falling to the center of my back and protecting my neck from the chilly autumn breeze.

“Well, a blood test doesn’t lie,” Mom sighed. “Get on it.” She shut the driver’s door firmly and stomped into the house, calling for my father to give him the updates.

I ran a hand down my face as I shuffled heavily down the driveway and along the sidewalk. I rubbed the exhaustion from my eyes as I pulled my cell phone out of my jacket pocket. I noticed that the leaves on the trees were finally turning orange and yellow on my street, looking like a fiery sunset that I could reach out and touch with ease. The sky was an insane tint of cloudless baby blue, and it hurt my eyes to stare for too long. Despite the fact that there were no clouds in the sky and the breeze was easy, I could still smell the sharp tang of winter in the thinning air. The fact that it was late September meant nothing in Florissant. An early winter was around the corner. The baby was due in late June, according to the doctor. Summer seemed so far away.

“Not far enough,” I muttered, and I hit Leroy’s speed dial: number nine. I held my breath as the phone lines connected. The other end began to ring once, twice, three times. On the fourth ring, just before the voicemail, he answered.

“Meredith?” Leroy said. He sounded worried. I didn’t usually call him on Wednesday afternoons.

“What’s up?” I said, trying to sound normal.

“Gas prices,” he said flatly. “Where were you today?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “We need to talk.”

Leroy was silent for a moment, a rare feat for him. My heart pounded wildly in my chest, and I found myself struggling to swallow.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he muttered. I heard him shut a door, probably locking himself in his room to get away from his three older brothers and his baby sister.

“Leroy…” I sighed, sitting down on the sidewalk, the chill eating through the fabric of my jeans. My voice caught in my throat, and I prayed he hadn’t noticed. Unfortunately for me, he heard.

“Have I done something?” he asked. “I swear I’ll kick my own ass.”

I couldn’t help but laugh and I felt my spirits lift a little. It was impossible to be upset around Leroy. My loveable Leroy, the darling of my life since the eighth grade, had always been there for me. He was the one who often encouraged me to make my own choices. He was also the one who was there when all Hell broke loose because of those choices. Surely he’d be here for me now, especially since this was something both of us had to take responsibility for.

“It’s nothing you—” I began, but I stopped myself. “Well… It’s something both of us did.”

“What’s going on, Mer?” He sounded nervous now. His voice was wavering slightly.

“Lee…” I swallowed hard. “Lee, I’m pregnant.”

The other end of the line was silent. I couldn’t even hear static. I pulled the phone away and checked my minute counter. It was still going. He hadn’t hung up. Not yet anyway. I gulped and pulled my jacket closer as the breeze got sharper. I glanced behind me and saw my father’s eyes on me from the front door. His golden blonde hair was brushed back neatly, making his stare seem sharper than usual. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

“Leroy?” I said softly, curling my knees to my chest as I turned around to face the street. He cleared his throat, and I could imagine him running a hand through his chocolate brown hair, the waves curling around his fingers and falling almost flat when he let go.

“Three weeks along, right?” he muttered. I nodded before I realized he couldn’t see me.

“Yeah. It’s due in June,” I said, twisting one of my curls around my finger. “What do you think?”

He was silent for another minute, but I could hear him breathing. My heart raced like a wild stallion in my chest. Despite the chill in the air, I was sweating. A silent Leroy was a lethal Leroy.

“I can’t be a father,” he grumbled. My heart stopped.

“What?” I rasped.

“We’re too young for this, Meredith,” he said. “We still have an entire semester and a half left of school. We can’t get jobs. We’re not old enough to be parents. We can’t do this.”

“Yes, we can,” I pleaded. “Please, Lee, I need you. This baby needs you. Mom and Daddy want me to give it up for adoption once it’s born. They’re already looking at agencies. I can’t, Leroy. It’s not fair. Please. We can figure this out.”

Leroy sighed. “I can’t, Mer. We can’t do this. Maybe your parents are right this time. Maybe we should look at some agencies too.”

“Leroy…” I said, a tear slipping down my cheek.

“I have to go,” he muttered. “I’ll see you later.”

“I love you,” I said, wiping my eyes before my father could see my tears. He frowned upon crying, even when it could be considered appropriate.

“Love you too,” he sighed.

I opened my mouth to ask him to think about it, to consider what it would be like to be parents, but he had already hung up as the words left my lips. This was going to be another one of those disasters.

***

“Girl, I’m telling you,” my best friend Quinn said as we drove through the city. The plazas and highways were always busy on Saturdays, and the buildings seemed to glow white in the afternoon sun. “You need to break up with Lee. He’s an ass. Everybody knows it.”

“Not now Quinn,” I grumbled. “Not now, not ever. We’ll figure this out.”

It had been three weeks since Leroy and I had spoken easily. He still called, and he still walked me to each of my classes. We still ate lunch together, and I was still graced with his clever sense of humor. However, he hadn’t been over to the house during the week, despite the fact my parents had allowed me to remain ungrounded under the condition that I choose an adoption agency, which of course I had. Leroy also hadn’t called me or sent me any messages after school other than his “goodnight” texts. Things were tense. He was insistent. I had invited him to accompany me on my six week checkup; today was the day I would see the baby on the ultrasound monitor for the first time. He hadn’t returned my call.

“I know one way to solve your problem,” Quinn said, veering right onto the highway exit. Her raven black hair fluttered in the chilly breeze from her open window.

“Oh lord,” I groaned, leaning on the window and watching as the doctor’s office came into view. “What?”

“Why not get rid of the baby?” Quinn said after a moment, her coffee brown eyes digging into me. “Seriously.”

My stomach suddenly felt as if it had been filled with bricks, and my heart rose into my throat until I thought I might choke to death. Adoption was one thing, but abortion?

“Quinn…” I said, pulling my curls into a ponytail at the base of my neck.

“Think about it, Meredith,” she said as we pulled into the parking lot and into a spot by the door. Her thin fingers gripped the wheel loosely. “An abortion would make things so much easier on everyone. Plus if you get rid of the fetus, you won’t have to be a teenage mom after your first lay.”

“Quinn!” I snapped, jumping out of the car and slamming the door. “I don’t want to talk about this. I can figure it out myself. Let’s just get this appointment over with.”

“Just trying to help, darlin’,” she said. “It’s an option. Think about it.”

As I walked into the lobby of the doctor’s office, my stomach churned to the point of nausea. Abort the baby, an innocent life? How could anyone take the life of someone who hadn’t yet gotten a chance to live? Sweat broke out on my forehead as I took my sign-in sheet and sat down in one of the stiff-backed chairs. The room was painted pale yellow with a gray linoleum floor. In an attempt to sooth the patients, soft music played from the speakers above. The ruse did nothing for me.

It didn’t seem fair. None of this seemed fair; not Leroy’s distance, not my mother and father’s demands, not the adoption, not any of it. Something had to be done. I took a deep breath and began to fill out the forms.

***

“I saw the baby today,” I said to Leroy that evening after I had gone to bed. For once, he had decided to answer his phone. “It looks like a little jelly bean.”

“Hmm,” he said. I could picture him lying in bed, his lights off as he threw his arm over his face. He would probably be wearing his camouflage sweatpants and a black hoodie now that it was late October.

“Can I ask you something?” I mumbled, keeping my eyes on the space between my bedroom door and the floor in case my parents happened to wander by.

“Sure,” he said, sounding exhausted. I felt bad. It was after midnight, and he wasn’t a night owl like me.

I fiddled with the edges of my white bed sheets, tucking my feet close to me under the lavender comforter. The room around me was black as pitch with the exception of the light from the moon and a dim streak of lamplight from under the door. I had never felt so alone.

“What would it take to get you to accept this baby?” I asked softly. He sighed and was silent for a moment. I held my breath.

“Didn’t you and your parents already pick out an adoption agency?” he asked, sounding irritated.

“That’s not the point, Lee,” I said.

“Isn’t it? You’ve already filled out the paperwork. Everything is set. We don’t need this. And it wouldn’t be good for the kid to have parents that aren’t ready to be adults yet.” Leroy said. I clenched my jaw as a few tears welled up.

“How do you know what I’m ready for?” I snapped. “How does anyone know what I’m ready for? For that matter, how does anyone know what I want?”

“People just want what’s best for you. And what’s best for the baby.”

“My ass,” I grumbled.

“You’re not listening to me, Meredith,” Leroy sighed.

“No, you’re not listening to me,” I retorted. “I’m not doing this. I’m not doing any of this.”

“What?” he muttered after a moment’s pause.

“I’m not giving this baby up for adoption. And I’m not aborting it. I’m not letting my parents tell me how to deal with this. And I’m not letting you make decisions for a child that’s equally mine,” I said, my heart pounding against my chest like an angry ape on glass at the zoo. Was I really going to try this decision making thing again?

“So, what, you’re going to drop out of school with a semester left before graduation? You’re going to be a teenage mother with no education and no income?” Leroy asked.

“I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep this baby,” I mumbled. “And if that means you’re not in the picture, so be it.”

“Meredith…” Leroy choked. “You can’t be serious. You know I love you. I just—”

“I have to go to bed,” I said flatly. “I love you. Goodnight, Leroy.”

***

“Be careful driving,” my mom said as I adjusted my hoodie and sweatpants. Although the baby wasn’t that big, my body had begun to grow to accommodate it, and my clothes had gotten snug. Thanksgiving had passed, and it was now early December. The blazing colors of the leaves had turned muddy brown, and the sky was now covered in thin grey clouds. The wind was sharp enough to tear through any protective clothing layers, and the air had grown bitter and frigid, a sign than snow was coming. It was also time for my twelve week checkup. “Yeah, I know,” I sighed, unlocking my little blue car and leaning on the door while she spoke.

“Maybe you should ask Doctor Gunn about some other adoption agencies,” she said after a moment, “just in case you change your mind. There are several options.”

“I won’t change my mind, Mom.” I searched my purse for my insurance card and my new camera phone I’d bought with my babysitting money. Both were accounted for. I hoped Doctor Gunn would allow me to tape the ultrasound. I wanted to be able to remember what my baby had looked like before birth. I suppose I wanted to show Leroy too, if he ever came around to accept it.

“Are you sure? Maybe you just haven’t found—”

“I said no, Mom.” I looked up and stared at her, my eyes burrowing under her skin. A piece of her hair flew out of its bun.

“But…” she said.

“Mom, I really need to—”

“Meredith!”

I turned around to see Leroy running up the street, his dark brown locks flying around like wild birds. His baby blue eyes were sparkling like sapphires, despite the lack of sun in the sky. His cheeks were windblown, and he was only wearing a thin jacket, yet he looked more excited than a toddler at the carnival. I glanced at my mother. Even she looked shocked to see him. He hadn’t been around much since that dreadful phone call a month ago, though we still talked at night and at school.

“Leroy,” I said, a little smile forming on my face. My heart filled with little fireflies at the sight of him, my stomach doing a happy dance.

He stopped just before colliding with my car, leaning over on his knees to catch his breath. I was surprised that he hadn’t brought his car, but then again, he only lived over in the next subdivision.

“Zachary Edward,” Leroy gasped, standing up straight and staring me in the eyes.

“What?” I said, the breath leaving my lungs.

“If the baby is a boy,” he said, “I like the name Zachary Edward.”

I stared at him for a moment, tracing his face for any signs of a joke. There were none. I cast a last glace at my mom and smiled a little wider, grabbing Leroy’s hand in mine as I gestured to the car.

“Were you hoping to come with me to my appointment?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Leroy nodded, a wide smile forming on his face. “Yeah, I was.”

“Excellent,” I replied, getting into the driver’s seat as he walked around to the passenger’s side. “We should be able to hear the baby’s heart today.”


Copyright © Kat Jenning//Shade Shadows 2012-2016