WARNING: SURVIVORS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ABUSE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT MAY FIND CONTENT TRIGGERING. READER’S DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
LAUREN RAE TYLER, 18
Okay, it’s the seventh of January, and I can’t avoid this anymore. I have to take a test. Drew T was disappointed we couldn’t make our courtship debut at the wedding on New Year’s Eve. Melissa didn’t waste anytime. She broke it off after she left my house. She saw J.P. finishing up his ranch duties
, ; celebrating Christmas put him behind schedule. J.P. has taken an undeclared vow of silence against Melissa as if he’s forgotten the friendship their relationship was built on, but Melissa has managed to hold her own.
Rachel Mercy Russell entered the world on the first of the year, just before dawn. Melissa’s cleverly figured out how to dodge the wailing of a newborn babe. She’s been at my house for the past six days. We sleep in my bed together. We’ve been doing everything together all day long, from our devotions in the morning to our evening devotions. At lunch, when the guys come into the house to eat, Drew T and I cannot stop ourselves from staring at each other like two toddlers in love. I know we are not in love and toddlers are incapable of falling in love. But the way we act around each other, the way we gaze into each other’s eyes, something is brewing between us and it’s a lot like love.
Melissa complains that J.P. is a stone statue during lunch. He won’t make simple small talk with her. But, at least he isn’t completely rude by talking to others but her. He talks to no one during lunch. For a while, we thought he wasn’t talking at all to anyone, but Drew T told me he’s only statuesque in Melissa’s presence.
I thought being around Melissa would take my mind off of everything, but the morning sickness continued. At the worst hours too! Three in the morning to five in the morning and whenever I eat or smell certain things, usually anything oily or peppery, it all comes back up and into the mouth of the porcelain god known as the toilet. Melissa hasn’t badgered me to take a home test, only my own mind. I keep hoping that somehow my instinct is wrong. That I’m not carrying a child in my womb; but I keep thinking about my homecoming party. Rachael Mercy danced inside Janie when her mother saw me. Which makes me think about Luke 1:41, when John the Baptist noticed Jesus in his mother’s womb. Okay, I know a child of mine could never be divine− I can only pray not inherently evil− but the whole thing made me wonder if budding life can recognize other budding life. That maybe babies in their mothers’ wombs can sense other babies in their mothers’ wombs. It’s a ridiculous thought, but it has haunted me since Christmas.
Melissa drives to the store after lunch. Drew T says a surprise awaits me after he gets off work. After he runs a couple of errands, he’ll swing back to the ranch and I must be prepared to be amazed. I’m not sure I’ll be up for whatever it is, then again, once I know for sure, I’ll be free to have a little fun.
I’m incredibly nervous to buy a pregnancy test unmarried and as young as I am. Melissa gave me her old engagement ring to put on my left ring finger for courage. I was hesitant to do it. If people think I’m married, that would be a lie. Then again, I haven’t been completely honest with my mother. I actually told her a lie the other day. She commented on how my boobs look bigger, and they do, because they’re swollen. I said I was wearing a push up bra, that Gina, my highly eccentric, sex crazed roommate got for me as a Christmas gift. I can’t believe I lied to her! She gave me a five minute lecture that I didn’t need help to look attractive or beautiful, that I’m already beautiful living for Christ. The lecture is nothing compared to the sea of tears she’ll shed when she learns how I wound up pregnant and that I waited as long as I did to tell her.
Why in the world did J.P. let her keep the ring? I’m sure Elaine wanted it to stay in the family. I asked Melissa and she said she tried to give it back to him. He wouldn’t take it. Pastor Paul hasn’t asked for it back. She told Drew T, if he happens to propose to a woman before J.P. does again, to get the ring from her. I asked Melissa why she just didn’t give the ring to Drew T. She said that was a good idea. She’ll give it to him the next time she sees him.
I ask if we can go to her house so I can take the test. Her eyes nearly fall off her face. Then she thinks about it. Her dad’s at work, her mom will probably take advantage of getting a nap in, and Melissa can watch Rachael. The rest of the brood is at preschool. Therefore, we head to her house.
As we cruise the winding two-way road, Leeland’s Pure Bride sounds loudly from my phone. Makayla is calling me. I pick it up and she is hysterical. I can barely hear her. The wails of her cries drown out her words. Melissa immediately makes an illegal turn and heads for the highway.
I’ve only been to her house once, around the early days of her Christianity. Her mother was at work, but her father was home. She hadn’t told me who the monster here was yet. But I didn’t need her to. The Lord gave me discernment in terms of his spirit. He’s a handsome Navajo man. He reminded me of Benjamin Brat even though he didn’t look anything like him. He avoided making eye contact with me. I could only catch little glimpses of his dark eyes, but from what I did see, I could sense the cruelty, which was weird. I’ve met many Navajo, and they at least pretend to be nice, but most I’ve met are genuinely nice.
The day I met her father, my parents and I were just picking Makayla up for church and I had gone to the door to get her. Corrin Isley answered the door. He invited me in. Makayla was finishing up getting dressed. The five minutes we waited together gave silence a loud presence. I felt extremely uncomfortable around him. I was nearly jumping for joy when she emerged from her room, and then hooked my arm, and together we practically ran to my mother’s Camry.
Today, we pull into Makayla’s driveway behind an ambulance and the sheriff’s squad car. Now we’re worried. Did Makayla finally do it? Did she kill her father? She has jokingly said she would one day, and people say that people joke about what their true desires or thoughts are.
I hurry into Makayla’s front door to find her running to conceal me in a hug. Sobbing as if her world has come crashing down all around her, she clings to me. I take her in my arms and find comfort I haven’t felt in days. Maybe, the comfort stems from the new understanding I have of her world. Granted our pain isn’t the same, but we both suffered the curse of a stolen virginity.
Makayla drags me into the living room as the paramedics rush her father on a gurney out the door. Barely alive, he looks like he’s on the brink of death.
Melissa now consoles Makayla in a compassionate embrace. Sheriff Silversmith, a Navajo, tells Makayla not to worry, that her father is in good hands. Apparently, Makayla’s father is more than a drunk and pot smoker. Smack has coursed through his veins. He’s finally had his first overdose.
Makayla is heartbroken to see her father close to death. Why does she care? With everything he’s done to her? The way he’s treated her? How can she have any love for that man?
Knowing Makayla should avoid the fury of her mother, the crazy woman who will blame this whole ordeal on Makayla, we pack her a bag. Makayla will come stay at the ranch for a few days. We have plenty of room. Melissa could sleep in a room to herself, but I think she can sense I don’t like spending nights alone. My nightmares aren’t such a horror when someone shares the same room as me. When Gina spent the night with her boyfriend, I barely got any shut eye back at school.
First we go to Melissa’s doublewide trailer. The Russell’s are the only ones in the neighborhood to have one. Am I supposed to refer to her community as a trailer park? It just doesn’t feel right. It has more of a neighborhood feel than a trailer park. It’s a little run down, but it’s not trashy. Her trailer, or as Janie calls it, a modular home, has a porch.
Makayla doesn’t even question why we’re here. She somberly follows us as we head inside. We’re stopped on the porch when J.P.’s truck pulls into the gravel driveway behind Melissa’s Nissan. What is J.P. doing here? I question.
Only it isn’t J.P., it’s Drew T. He opens the backseat door and stands on the side step as he leans inside. One at a time, he pulls Jodi and Jordan out from the back. Jodi, I think, chases after Jordan in the spirit of a spontaneous game of tag. My heart warms watching the twins giggle and bask in joy as they play their simple game.
Carrie Underwood’s Jesus Take Wheel alerts me that my mother is calling. I don’t want to answer the phone.
“Hi mom,” I sniffle. The cold air has caused the cool nip in my nose to start the workings of a drip.
“Are you alright sweetie?” Mom asks me in that motherly tone.
I don’t want to lie, but I’m not going to hand over my worries to my mother. I force her to get to the point.
“Why are you calling mom?”
“Someone put the tude in attitude
. ,” She chortles.
I roll my eyes in pure defiance.
“Your father and I have some business in Albuquerque for a few days. We need you home to watch your brother. Melissa and the Russell broods can visit, but no one spends the night. We want to take off ASAP. See you in twenty
. ,” Mother demands, and hangs up before I can say anything.
If I want a plane ticket back to school, I better be home in twenty. But how am I going to get there? Now that the twins are home, Janie might sucker Melissa into staying on kid watch. Drew T isn’t done delivering kids. The last child he brings forth from the Crimson Ram is Dwight. Either he had no room for Gabby, or she stayed home to get better acquainted with Rachel.
As he shuffles up the porch steps, Dwight reaches out to Melissa. He cries like he’s afraid if he doesn’t end up in her arms, she’ll disappear into thin air. Placing Dwight into Melissa’s loving arms, Drew asks if Phoebe needs picking up from the Stevenson house. She must have spent the night there as a play date with Darlene, who matches her in size, but not age. Darlene is a small, feeble 9 year-old. She’s an only child and enjoys Phoebe’s company.
Dwight has Melissa’s neck locked in the fold of his tiny arms. His head is pressed against Melissa’s cheek. How can she go to Africa and leave Dwight home in Gallup?
Melissa finally answers Drew T after she gives Dwight an affectionate hello. “We’ll get her back tomorrow at church.”
She then turns to me and asks, “What’d your mom want?”
I tell them. Makayla whines, breaking out into a mature tantrum and complaining that she can’t stay at the ranch. I didn’t even tell her what my mom said about no guests spending the night
, ; all my friends know like it’s an unspoken norm. Melissa plans to ask Janie if she can run me home, but Drew T clears his throat, interrupting Melissa. “I’ll take her home,” he offers.
Uneasily, Melissa stares me down. By the spirit in her eyes, I can tell she wants to ask if I need her around to take the test. At this point, the test is to confirm what I already know. I’m afraid of how knowing will alter my reality. Right now my pregnancy is a what if… real, but not totally real. There’s still the faintest chance I’m not, a type of chance that kindles a type of hope that gives me a comfortable outlook of my future. Whereas being pregnant with the child of a rapist— the future can’t get grimmer than that!
I’m way too calm about this. It’s always calmest before the storm. I need something to make me feel anxious. Riding in a vehicle with Drew T and Makayla should do the trick.
“Thank you Drew T. Makayla’s coming with us.”
Makayla’s and Melissa’s faces fixed with a perplexed look. My parents don’t have to know Makayla is going to spend the night. I understand their expressions of confusion are coming from different places. Makayla doesn’t understand why I’m defying my parents’ house rules. Melissa is surprised I’m willing to risk letting the biggest gossip in church know my business. Normally, I wouldn’t take the risk, but Makayla and Janie butt heads, and neither of them needs the added stress in their lives.
Drew T, the man who does not question, fires up the Crimson Ram. I do make an effort to beat Makayla to sitting shotgun. The crush I have on Drew T gives me the urgency to sit in close proximity of him. Makayla amazingly doesn’t ask questions, and she doesn’t complain about sitting in the back.
I expected once we took off that Makayla would swoon over Drew T, flirting with him in her ditsy girl routine she normally flaunts around testosterone. But she keeps her eyes out the window, watching the view.
Drew T pulls up by the porch of the main house. I think it’s foolish to have a white house in the desert or a desert-like area, but my dad refuses to paint it another color. The two story is more like a farmhouse than a rancher’s house
, in my opinion. A brick house is more ideal than hardwood, but my daddy’s Oklahoma roots run deep. I like Pastor Paul’s former house; it’s made of brick and only one story, far more practical than the Tyler house.
“Do you miss your old house?” I ask Drew T randomly.
“A house is just a house. The people in the house make the home,” Drew T says, pulling his keys out of the ignition.
Makayla quietly jumps out of the truck, which has to be a first encounter for me. She heads to the house and will possibly confide in my father about hers. She’s in a dark place right now.
“You don’t remember living there, do you?” I question.
That isn’t true. In his mind, he remembers shooting hoops with his brother. The hoop hung on the side of the house. There wasn’t any pavement to dribble the ball, but the rocks in the dirt made him a better ball handler.
“Is the hoop still there?” He asks.
I, however, can’t recall ever seeing a basketball hoop. I assume that’s what he means by hoop.
“What hoop?” I ask.
Drew T chuckles. I think I’m observant, but I’m not as Matthew and Gina point out often. They say I only see what I want to see nine out of ten times.
“What are you laughing at?” I ask, playfully nudging him in the shoulder.
Drew T shrugs his shoulders as his chuckling roars into hysterical laughter. Now I’ve caught the laughter bug. I allow the laughter to tickle my spirit. Joy begins to pool in my heart and worry at the root of my calmness gets lost. I don’t know where worry went, but I’m grateful to be liberated from it. True happiness finally found me this winter break. I could get used to spending lots of time with Drew T. Too bad I have to go home next week.
Our laughter settles and a comfortable silence builds. I could continue to sit in the truck all day and all night without speaking, but my parents are expecting me home. The moment is disturbed when the song Get Back Up by tobyMac sounds to signal Melissa is trying to reach me on the phone. I’m not sure why, but I dig in my purse to get my phone. I answer it slightly agitated as I toss my purse beside me towards Drew T.
Melissa says she can come back to the ranch after dinner. The banter of the kids playing fills the background. I can tell by the way Melissa is fumbling over her words she’s trying to inquire about the pregnancy test. Why does she care about being present for the test?
I say, “I can wait for you.”
She says she’ll come between 6:30 P.M. and 7 P.M.
Worry’s back and stronger than ever. Cottonmouth forms almost instantly. My mouth always gets dry when I’m nervous. We say goodbye as I reach for my purse.
A tinge of panic makes my stomach flop. The pregnancy test box slipped out. I look at Drew T to see him starting at it on the seat. For the first time, I spot fear in his teddy bear eyes. I hurry to hide the test back in my purse, but what’s been seen can’t be undone. I open the door and I try to get out, but Drew T grabs my left hand− the hand that still has his mother’s ring on it. Holding my hand in his, he won’t peel his eyes off Elaine’s ring.
“Lauren−,” Drew T begins to say, but he falls silent.
I stare at him. I watch him search for words to speak, but he just keeps saying my name over and over again. As the front door opens, and I see my parents walking out, I retract my hand. I try to pull off the ring, but my fingers might as well be thick sausage links.
As I slam the truck door behind me, Drew T gets out of the truck to follow after me. He asks me to wait, but I rush to join my parents on the porch.
Dad asks, “Is everything alright?”
“I…” Drew T falls speechless again.
“He was just leaving,” I say for him.
“Lauren isn’t allowed to have unapproved guests while we’re away,” Dad says with his booming fatherly voice.
“If I could just have five minutes, so I−,” Drew T stammers. I walk inside, forcing Drew T to cut his request short.
Mom follows after me. She asks me what happened, but I don’t know how to explain that nothing happened really. I answer my mother as honestly as she can, “I don’t know.”
Drew T must have done some smooth talking to dad. He crosses the threshold of the front door, but he keeps a safe distance from me. I look around the foyer for Makayla but I don’t see her. He explains he’s been granted two minutes alone with me. Mom excuses herself, going back outdoors.
I don’t want to hear anything Drew T has to say. Melissa’s certain my test is going to read positive. I’m hoping all my symptoms are a case of hypochondria or side effects of a hysterical pregnancy. But regardless of the plan brewing in Drew T’s head, which I have a good guess as to what it is (being a good ole Christian boy), I don’t need his help.
I attempt to flee from Drew T up the stairs, but he practically leaps across the foyer to catch me midway up the stairs. He gently takes my hand again to stop me in my tracks. Nervously, he licks his lips. He takes a few deep breaths.
He leans forward and whispers in my ear, “Will you marry me?”
No! I’m not getting married because I’m pregnant. I don’t even know if− God I have to take that test! Melissa better be here when she says, or else I’m taking it without her.
Glenn Jr. races through the front. I can’t let dad see the ring. Scared someone would notice, I retract my hand and hide it the pocket of my sweater. Glenn Jr. must be tired of playing outside. He squeezes by me and Drew T on the stairs acting like a race car driver.
“Your two minutes are up, Drew T,” Dad says firmly stepping inside.
Cautiously, Drew T walks down the stairs. Like a man with something to hide, he rushes past dad without looking at him to say goodbye. He says goodbye loudly and clearly, he can’t be completely rude. Dad keeps his eyes on Drew T. He leans against the inner post of the threshold and watches him fire up the Ram’s engine. It speeds off within a couple of minutes.
How romantic? The propose-and-ditch method… What will the wedding vows be? For better only and may we part when our feet get cold…
Dad pivots on one foot and glares at me. In full-fledged father mode, he says, “I have eyes everywhere. I’ll know if he’s been back while we’re away.” He clears his throat and adds, “Makayla can stay as long as she needs to while you’re here.”
I assure dad I won’t allow Drew T to come back. I’ll call Pastor Paul to come drag him home. Or perhaps call God to send a pillar of fire to take Drew T away. Glenn Jr. comes down the stairs with his remote-controlled race car. His engine mimicking noise is as loud as it was when he raced up the stairs.
I stop him halfway down by taking the controller out of his hand. He whines, asking me to explain my actions.
“Homework first. Then play.” I say sternly.
“I don’t have homework. It’s the weekend,” He argues.
“I had Mrs. Gangly for second grade, you have homework. Car please,” I say with my hands out.
I hated that Mrs. Gangly assigned a book report every weekend. The simple chapter book, if fully focused on, could be read in four hours. Two hours tonight and two hours tomorrow won’t kill Junior.
Dad smiles proudly. He says goodbye and that he or mom will call when they’re safely in Albuquerque. He tosses me the keys to mom’s Toyota Camry and I catch them amazingly, even with Junior’s toy clumsily nestled in my hands. Hopefully, he didn’t notice the ring. If he did, his ability to keep his mouth shut amazes me.
My parents have to be halfway to Albuquerque. I whip up my mean batch of mac and cheese from the box. I let Glenn Jr. take a break from his homework to eat an early dinner. The one thing Glenn Jr. loves more than Jesus at this stage of his life is eating. He’ll eat anything. He just loves food. I love home-cooked meals. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at cooking. I have learned to cook a few things without burning the kitchen down, and mac and cheese from a box is one of those things.
Normally, I can eat my not-so-fabulous mac and cheese, but the smell alone is encouraging my stomach to empty its contents. Makayla grabbed a guest bedroom. Unlike Melissa, she likes a full bed to herself. She’s been in there since my parents left. I texted her, since I was too lazy to go up, if she wanted to come down for my boxed perfection – crafty mac and cheese
, – but she politely declined. I stare at my bowl of the yellowish orange goop. I know if I bite into it, I’ll puke. Junior will stay busy eating. He loves food so much he eats slowly. Plus, he doesn’t want to finish his homework, so he’ll eat his mac and cheese like an inmate on death row.
Melissa sends me a text that she’ll be late. She probably won’t arrive until eight now. Forget that! I need to know. While Junior eats, I go upstairs to get the test over with already.
Peeing on a stick wasn’t as gross as I thought it would be. It was still gross, but not uber gross. The box says to wait three minutes for the test to read positive or negative. I went to my room with the test clutched in my hand so Glenn Jr. or Makayla couldn’t sneak up on me.
Now I sit on the corner of my bed staring at my bedroom door. The timer I set on my phone goes off. Allowing the alarm to continue sounding, I close my eyes and inhale softly. I’m trying to clear my mind before looking at the results. Exhaling slowly, I open my eyes and hold the test at eye level.
Fool. How un-Christian of you to go to a party? Idiot! You’re pregnant and it’s your fault. You should have gone to study abroad like the Lord told you. My thoughts feel foreign created, but they personally relate to my soul. My nose begins to tingle and my eyes burn like salt got sprinkled on my eyeball lenses. Tension builds around my temples because I’m trying to fight my tears. I don’t want to cry now. Barely able to stay grounded outside of my head, I throw the test at the door. It smacks it and slides to the floor in place.
Go ahead and cry idiot. If you have never gotten in that cab, you would have never gotten raped. God! I can’t take my own thoughts. I yell, “Shut up!” at the top of my lungs. Anger dances on top of my chest. I pick up the pillows on my bed and throw them one by one. I don’t pay attention to where I throw them. With each pillow, I try to throw away my anger fueled by this pain.
I run out of pillows and my anger seethes. The fury takes root in the pit of my gut. The urge to scream blatantly takes over. I begin screaming as I destroy my nicely made bed.
The patter of heavy footsteps rushing upstairs and down the hall meets my ears. Two different sets of feet are racing for my bedroom door, neither set possibly belonging to my brother. Drew T flings the door open with Makayla behind him. He races to comfort me with an embrace
, while Makayla just stands in the doorway, but I push him away. I feel ashamed and unworthy to be held by anyone. Glenn Jr. joins Makayla by astonishingly staring at me.
They’re staring at you. Why are they staring at me? They won’t understand. Kick them out. Get them out! I side with my destructive thoughts.
“Get away from me!” I yell. “Leave me alone!” I shout with a screech in my tone. Despair settles in my spirit. My nose is clogged from crying and it throbs. My throat burns with a constant scratch from my yelling. Worst of all, my heart aches. I broke my own heart…
My breath becomes shallow. I begin to hyperventilate. My knees buckle and I fall on them to the floor.
Dumb, dumb girl! Like my hand has a mind of its own, I begin slapping myself in the forehead. My slapping hand turns into a fist and I begin pounding it into my forehead. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! I yell back to battle my own thoughts.
Drew T grabs me by the arms and stops me from hitting myself any longer. In one long tug, he pulls me to my feet. “Stop it, Lauren!” He barks.
Longing for a hug, I cling to Drew T. I cry with my face pressed against his body. With one hand firmly on my back and the other holding the back of my head, Drew T uses a soothing voice, hoping to help me calm down. I nearly laugh. Earlier I was calm and my skin crawled uneasily from the stillness of my spirit. All because a part of me knew this moment was coming. He tells me not to worry. That he’s not going anywhere.
“What’s wrong with her?” Glenn Jr. asks. I can hear the fear in his voice.
“Could you get her a glass of water? It might make your sister feel better
. ,” Drew T says.
I hear Makayla footsteps creak along the floorboards in my room. She walks closer to Drew T and me. Sighing she says, “You didn’t break your purity vow… I misread the look on your face Thanksgiving break.”
Suddenly, Drew T’s embrace feels like torture. I long for a hug from Makayla. Like Dwight reaching out desperately for Melissa, I switch moral supporters with arms reaching for Makayla. Her hug goes beyond comfort. The hug carries a part within me to peace. True peace… Knowing she knows my pain, far more than I want to know this pain, is a peacemaker to my spirit. A wave of relief consumes me from the deepest dwellings of my soul. Finally, someone gets it without me having to say anything− without me having to explain anything…
*Edited by Aly Fry