Previously, on A Young American…
To start at the beginning, go here.
I stared at her, and she stared back. There was a fear in her eyes. I shouldn’t have come, she probably thought, I could leave right now and he’d probably chalk it up to a hallucination. She broke the silence, “Hi.” And waved. I thought the wave was a little ridiculous.
“Hi.” I angled my bed up and grabbed my side as that stupid heart monitor beeped a bit faster. We were back to the silence. I scratched my face, “I look like shit, don’t I?”
She laughed, “No. You look like a guy who’s lucky to be alive.”
“Sounds like that guy would look like shit.” She sat at the foot of the bed. I looked at her; she was so much older than when we last spoke. Her face was still young and beautiful but those green eyes had aged years ahead of me. Her hair was shorter now, and tied back in a Tie-die bandana, which clashed with her red leather jacket over a white T-shirt. “How did you know I was here?” I asked. She smiled, pointing at my scarred hand.
“I’m still your emergency contact.” I started to laugh uncontrollably, but it soon turned into grunting as I was suppressing the pain.
“Well,” I said, “How about that?” She held my disfigured hand. I grabbed hers back, “So, what made you come? Your parents get some random call that said I was in the hospital?” She let go of my hand and stood back up, pacing around the room. “Why travel halfway across the country?” Her eyes darted to the floor.
“Well, this is kinda hard.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Shut up.” She laughed, “I’m serious.” She took a deep breath, and that’s when I began to get an idea of why she was here.
“You remember when we broke up?”
“Well, remember we had sex before that, and then you freaked because there was no condom and ran down the road to get that pill?” The heart monitor doubled its speed. “You came back and gave the pill to me.” She leaned against the wall. She grabbed her face with her hand.
“Britney, what are you saying.” She didn’t bother to wipe away the tears. Wasn’t worth the effort.
“Well,” She held her forehead, as if feeling for a fever, “I don’t know what I was thinking, but when you went to get the water I switched it.” I didn’t say anything. “I grabbed a mint and just pretended that was the pill. I’m so sorry Logan. It was stupid. I thought we were fine and I didn’t want those kinds of chemicals running through my body and…and…”
“You didn’t want those kinds of chemicals in your body?”
“I know, it was dumb. But I was-” She couldn’t finish her sentence because the look on my face brought her tears out full force. The monitor was getting faster, and I was surprised the doctors weren’t rushing through the door. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come.” She turned to walk out.
“Hey, stop.” I said. She turned and looked at me, rubbing the mascara off her face, still sniffling, “Don’t come in here and lay something like this on me and walk back out the door. I wanna know the whole thing.” She hesitated, and I’m sure she was contemplating bolting out the door. After all, what could I do about it? Eventually, she grabbed a seat and pulled it close to me.
“Well, when I missed my period I didn’t think anything of it, but when I found out I was pregnant the only possibility came to mind. My mom and I sat and talked about what we were going to do. She thought it was best if I didn’t tell you. She thought you’d just say, ‘well I told you so’ and brush me off. ” Her mom was a smart lady.
“So what makes you think I won’t say that now?”
“That’s not why I came.”
“Wait,” I said, “you didn’t bring the kid here did you?”
“Of course not! I’m not going to use her as some sort of sympathy tool.”
It was a her.
It had to be a her.
“But I’ll bet you brought pictures.”
She scoffed, “Well of course I brought pictures. I thought you’d at least want to see your daughter.”
There was another awkward silence before I realized I was the one who was immobile, “All right, let’s see ’em.” She quickly pulled a small photo album out of her purse and handed it to me. She leaned on my shoulder while I opened it. The cover was a piece of pink cardboard paper that had the name Claire written all over it, some in fancy girl writing, and others in scribbled attempts at English. The first page was that picture everyone has that makes all children look exactly the same.
“That was taken right after she was born.”
“Okay, I’m not gonna turn the page to hear the footnotes of every picture am I?” She pouted as she looked down on me, “You’re lucky I’m agreeing to look at this.”
Her head dropped to my shoulder, “Fine.” She grunted. I skimmed through as several pictures were just of the baby laying in a certain pose. Then I got to the part with her walking, and wearing different girl outfits, her first Halloween outfit, which was Jasmine from Aladdin, and pictures of Britney, as well as her family, taking turns holding or playing with her.
“Do you know what her favorite song is?” Britney asked.
“The theme to Teletubbies?”
She shook her head, “Hungry eyes.”
I snickered, “She sure knows how to pick ’em.”
“Yeah, we were watching Dirty Dancing on TV and once that part happened she got this huge grin on her face. She was clapping and laughing. It was the cutest thing.” I got to the end of the book, and there was a card. It was a get well soon card. I reluctantly opened it, and I felt Britney’s eyes on me, wanting to see my reaction. Bubble letters throughout the page read I hope you’re feeling better. They were colored in, poorly, with different crayons. At the bottom a Polaroid was attached that was of Claire coloring in the bubbled letters.
I felt cheated. I didn’t want a kid for so many reasons, and now it seemed as if the stork just got fed up with it and forced one on me. Every instinct inside me was telling me something, but I couldn’t figure out what. It was either take the kid, you’re already at rock bottom, at least you’ll have her, or it was fuck that. You didn’t want it; she deceived you and ended up with it. It’s her problem. Two dead ends and I still had to choose.
After all, I did warn her and do everything in my power to prevent this from happening. It was her fault entirely, no question about that. But now the problem had to be dealt with. I spent an awful lot of time staring at that card, and Britney eventually moved back to her chair. “Did you finish school?” I asked.
She nodded, “Well, kind of. I finished my Bachelor’s. Couldn’t go into the Masters for obvious reasons, though.” She sounded defeated saying that, “Look, Logan. I don’t want you to think that I came here for anything more than to see you.”
“And why would I think that?” I asked sarcastically.
“What did you want me to do? My mom got that phone call, and started going off, saying things like ‘what if he dies, and he never even gets to meet his own daughter. And she’ll never see her Dad’?”
“I thought you said you didn’t come here for anything other than to see me.”
“Oh, God!” She grabbed her head, “I didn’t come here for that. I was worried, yes, that you would die without getting a chance to know her, but that’s all I wanted to give you! The chance.” She got on her knees and held my hand.
“I never stopped caring for you. I wanted to call you, message you, just to see how things were going. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue about Claire, and so I never bothered. But when we got that call, I got so worried. I hopped on the first plane here.” My monitor had dropped back to normal levels. The doctor came in by this time.
“Ma’am, I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.” He said.
“No, doc. She’s staying.”
“Mr. Richardson, I know you want to talk to her, but in your condition-”
“I’m the one paying you, and if you give us another 15 minutes I’ll give you an extra 500 bucks.”
He paused, “Ten minutes. But that’s it.” I was lying about the bribe. He was a doctor, what did he need 500 bucks for? Did he run out of tissues to masturbate into?
“Now,” I said, “what were you saying about me being your only reason for living?”
She smiled, “Someone else took that title.” I put my cold hand on her warm cheek.
“Listen. Britney, I just don’t think-”
“Logan, I already said I wasn’t here for that.”
“But you are here for something other than to see if I’m okay. You could have done that over the phone.”
“I wanted to show you that photo book. I wanted to tell you about our daughter.” She put her purse back over her shoulder and left the photo album on the desk. “I wanted you to know. I wanted to tell you that you can still be a father to her, but you don’t have to be. I realize you never wanted a child, and I know why. But I’m telling you that whether you go and see her every weekend, once a year, or never, I’ll understand. I don’t require anything from you. I just ask that you give our daughter a place in your heart. I know it’s big enough for her. I’m fine with any time you want to spend, as long as it’s not all the time. Even though she was a mistake, and my mistake, I don’t think I could go back now. Ultimately I have you to thank for that.”
“Couldn’t have done it without me.” I said.
She laughed, “That’s right.” There was another brief silence, and she rubbed my forehead before pressing her lips to mine, and we embraced each other.
“I’m glad you’re okay.” She whispered.
“Thanks for coming.” I whispered back. She nodded and then walked out the door. I sat there for a while, listening to the radio in the background. There was a big decision to be made. I knew I wouldn’t be a good enough father to that kid, no matter how hard I tried. Not to mention the amount of money I would have after I left this place would essentially amount to nothing. I couldn’t hold up my end of the presents and the trips. Flying back and forth to Colorado at least twice a year? I would have to start worrying about expenses. Budgeting and saving. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth. I picked up the photo album again and flipped through it.
She was cute, though. Looked just like Britney in certain ways. I watched as she blew out her first birthday candle, and how happy Britney looked as she nuzzled Claire’s face, Britney’s mom holding Claire in the air like she was a plane. I could do that, I thought. I placed the book back on the shelf and pointed my eyes back at the raining window. My heart sank and floated at the same time. The more I thought about it, the cons of one decision were the pros of the other. I was never much of a thinker, or a doer. I was a reactor. Things happened, and I found a way to adapt to them.
Maybe the best way to adapt to this situation was to ignore it, which was something that I could do.
Or maybe it was to embrace it.
What to do, what to do? I thought.
Aw, fuck it.