“I can’t tell you,” Gail whispered.
Gail paced faster, then faster across my kitchen floor.
“Then don’t,” I laughed and pretended to get up from the kitchenette.
“Sit right back down there, Miss Cynthia, Cyndy Ghaworski!” she whispered.
“Why the whispering?” I used a mock loud whisper. This had to be serious. She never used my full name. AND—she never, ever used my maiden name. I could think of only a handful of times she had done so since we were small girls in elementary school.
“I can’t … I can’t tell you.”
“THAT, you already said,” I countered, I thought, logically.
“But, you don’t understand.”
“I really don’t. Gail, I really, really don’t. And, I won’t unless you start giving me at least a clue to what you’re getting at.”
“It’s about me,” she said. More pacing.
A muffled cheer came from the family room in the basement where Ned, my husband, my son, Doug, and Gail’s husband, Vance were watching the basketball game. Our team finally got in the playoffs, and tonight was crucial, just like every other game the guys rooted for.
Gail had literally jumped when that cheer arose.
“Whatever it is, it’s got you spooked,” I said.
“You have no idea,” she whispered. She was back to whispering. As if anyone could hear her even if she shouted.
The boys’ cheer had barely reached us from below.
“So, it’s about you,” I said. I had found sometimes you can prime the pump by repeating someone’s words.
“Right … right,” she said more to herself than to me. “You see … I don’t know if I can tell you. I don’t know if I can tell anyone.”
“If you can’t tell me, then you REALLY can’t tell anyone. C’mon—we tell each other everything. No matter how tough, no matter how embarrassing: we always have each other’s back. You know that. From that first day in school to—”
“To about three weeks ago,” she added.
“Oooohh-kay…” I said. “At least that’s something. What about three weeks ago?”
“That’s when IT happened.”
I hadn’t really thought about it, but Gail had been oddly unavailable for about a week back then, and things had gradually gotten back to normal. I had hardly noticed because we gave each other space without even thinking … usually.
Gail and I were the same age, 42. She had twins, Matthew and Patricia (Matt and Pat) when she was 20 and had to drop out of college. Vance had married her while working in his dad’s plumbing business, and had since taken over ownership of it.
Because Gail hadn’t finished college, she was especially proud that her twins were going to graduate from the college on the other side of the state in a few weeks. The first college graduates in either Gail’s or Vance’s families.
I thought maybe it was the upcoming graduation that had her busy back then. Now, by her jumpy behavior, I knew it was something else. Something that had frazzled the usually unfrazzlable Gail.
“IT …” I left it hanging out there. More priming.
“Cynthia, sit down,” she said. Again, my full name.
I spread my arms out with my palms up, and with my scrunched up WTF face on. “Gail, I AM sitting.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said while pulling out a chair and sitting on the slimmest edge of it. She looked hard at the basement door, making sure it wasn’t flying open, and then looked around her for any other lurkers.
She leaned close to me and, barely in front of a torrent of tears, she blubbered:
Gail kept splashing water from the gushing faucet onto her face. Then she would look into the mirror, assess the redness of her eyes, and repeat the process.
We had adjourned to the bathroom when even I thought she might be loud enough to impinge on the sports fans below.
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it …” she chanted over and over again.
I gave her time to react, process, mull—whatever she was needing to do. My patience was rewarded by a new chant:
“Stupid, stupid , STUPID!”
“Come. Sit,” I soothed.
We traded places. She sat on the edge of the tub and I wet a facecloth at the sink. Then I sat beside her and gently washed her face.
“Ready to tell me how this happened. You know I won’t judge you.”
Gail grabbed the facecloth from my hand and, with eyes as wide as I’ve ever seen, croaked: “Oh, but you will. You will!”
“Let’s take it one step at a time. I’ll ask easy questions. Little ones. And you … all you have to do is answer.” I lifted her chin in put my forehead against hers. “Okay?”
She nodded and took a deep breath, then blew it out.
“First thing: are you definitely sure you’re pregnant. You know your period had been irregular for the past year.”
“Yes! Yes! I’m sure! I’ve bought so many of those goddam pregnancy tests my car can drive itself to every drug store in town! Every piss I’ve taken in the past three days has been onto a piece of plastic.”
“And every single one had a big, clear plus sign or the friggin’ word ‘pregnant’ on it. So yeah, I’m sure. Very sure. And I can feel it. Something told me—just like I knew immediately with the twins. I knew then, and I know now! I’m knocked up—but good.”
“Does Vance know?” I thought that was a good and logical question. Gail differed.
“Vance? Are you shittin’ me! Be serious! You know Vance. You know we haven’t … He hasn’t been interested in a long, long, looong time. And besides, all those years ago, after the twins were born and he said ‘Good, we got one of each’ and he went out and got—”
“A vasectomy,” I added.
“Yeah, a vasectomy. Shooting blanks for over twenty years.”
I sighed. Without the aid of the “snip, snip,” Ned had also been “shooting blanks” for all of Doug’s life. We had been trying to get pregnant all those years, and now, I didn’t know if it bothered me more that we had failed, or that I knew I had finally given up.
“So Vance isn’t …?”
“No Vance isn’t. He isn’t. He isn’t,” she said in a mean and mocking tone. “He isn’t the father.”
Then she cried again. I cradled her face into my shoulder, as much to muffle her sobs as to comfort.
A light knock on the door startled us both. Ned’s voice drifted through the wood: “Game’s over and Vance is ready to leave. Everything Okay in there?”
Gail lifted her head off my shoulder, and sounding like she was half under water blurted loudly: “Woman problems”
“Uh-oh!” came from the other side of the door, then footsteps getting fainter.
“You want to tell me anything? Like who the father is?”
She shook her head. “I want to. I need to. I ache to—but I can’t.”
“Gail, you know we tell each other everything. You know I—”
“Not this. I shouldn’t have even told you this much. I wish I had been strong enough to handle this myself. I wish … I wish so many things now. Now that it’s too late.”
“It’s not too late. You have me to share this with now. We’ll get through it. But, first I need some information so we can sort this out. Gail, tell me who the father is.”
She made a pained face and shook her head “no.”
I knew Gail better than anyone on the planet. I knew unless she had been forced, it had to be someone she knew and trusted.
“Was it rape?”
Her eyes got wide again: “NO! That would at least make it easier in some ways. I could at least be angry with someone else—and not just myself!” More tears.
I waited, and then asked, “Is it someone I know?”
Again, her eyes strained to pop, this time accompanied by her mouth working open and closed, but with no sounds audible.
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,'” I said.
She nodded ‘yes’ and lowered her head. “How could I …? How could I be so damned stupid?”
“Does the father know yet?”
“NO WAY! NEVER!”
“Don’t you think he should? Don’t you think he should take responsibility?”
“You don’t understand, Cyndy. It’s all on me; it’s all my fault. I should have know better. It’s all MY responsibility!”
Another knock on the door, a real loud one made us jump. It was Vance’s high voice:
“Hey! Stop the gabfest in there! Gail—let’s get goin’! Chop! Chop! Tout suite! I’ll be in the car!”
“Nice,” Gail whispered. She got up and looked in the mirror, sighed, and wiped her eyes dry. She made for the door, but I grabbed her wrist—tight.
“Let me go!” She twisted and struggled, but I was stronger than her. Always have been. She couldn’t break free. This made her frustrations and anger come to a head.
“Gail, you’re not leaving here until—”
“Yeah—until! So, you want to know? You REALLY want to know! It’s DOUG! It’s DOUG! Your SON got me pregnant!”
I pulled into Gail’s driveway and rested my head on the steering wheel. I wondered if I would pass out right there.
I hadn’t slept all night. I had studied the ceiling instead. But, I really never saw anything. All I did was go over our conversation again and again. I wasn’t even sure any more that I had heard her right.
Could it be true? My best friend? My best friend all my life? The Godmother of my only child? My son? Could he? Could she?
It seemed impossible.
But here I was. I had called earlier and said, “We gotta talk.” She had just said “Nine thirty after Vance leaves” then hung up before I could ask a million questions. The million out of the ten million I had.
I could barely look at Doug. I did out of the corner of my eye and tried to disbelieve that he could be a father at his tender age. The father of my best friend’s baby.
He must have sensed something was different. It was almost like he avoided me for the rest of the night, and our only interactions were one-word questions and answers for the most part. Quite a departure from our usual joking and playful physical contact.
I peeled myself out of the car, it was another unseasonably hot day. Not unusual for May in Texas. In fact, we had above average temperatures for about a month.
I didn’t even knock like I usually did. Not even my courtesy knock because I felt no courtesy in my heart at that moment.
Gail sat, spotlighted by the sunlight coming through the kitchen window, at the kitchen table. She had a mug of coffee in her hand.
I poured myself a cup and pointed with it at the words on her cup: World’s Greatest Mom!
Gail absentmindedly looked at it, shook her head and said, “I didn’t even…”
Obviously she hardly had the will or strength to finish the sentence. I didn’t have the energy to even start our conversation, but, after a descent void of silence, I said: “Gail—”
She held up her hand to halt any vague ramblings, questions, or accusations I could feebly muster.
“Please, Cyndy, I’ve been thinking about what to say to you, to tell you, to plead with you … whatever. And I think the best way is to start from the beginning and get all the way through it in one piece. That will give you all the perspective I can generate. Then we can have that next level of conversation. Is that okay with you?”
I took a big breath and let it out while nodding. Gail began:
“You remember about three weeks ago? It was that Saturday? At the end of that first really hot week we had?”
She was asking questions that didn’t need answers. Questions in tone only. Her eyes weren’t on me, and it was like she was staring right through that far wall.
“Vance was still away on that overnight in Dallas, and he had given me about a thousand things to get done before he got home the next day. You had volunteered Doug’s services for the morning. Our internet service was down and I had the cable coming to fix it at three in the afternoon.”
“I remember,” I said. She didn’t even hear me.
“Doug got here at 9 a.m. and I offered him some breakfast. He said he already ate, but would have a nice cold apple because he was in training. He talked a little about staying in shape and his track scholarship and how he was looking forward to going to the same college as my twins. I had been still thinking of him as a little boy and realized how he had slipped into being a well-built young man of 18.”
“I worked inside, and he did the yard work in that blazing sun. I went out to him at 11 with some ice-cold lemonade and watched him guzzle down two big glasses. He needed it because he had taken his shirt off and his chest was covered with sweat. I mentioned it, and he said I must be working hard too because my blouse was almost soaked.”