When Leo grabbed the doorknob to Counselor Wright’s office, I laid my hand on his forearm. “I don’t think you should come.”
His eyes grew wide. I didn’t think they could have gotten any bigger than the Frisbees they’d become when we’d first found out. Like then, he kept his head level, his tone soft but sure.
“You shouldn’t have to face him alone.”
“He’s going to be pissed enough as it is.” I stroked the bulge beginning to distend below my belly button, the one Ms. Wright had implied would become harder and harder to hide from my papa, my teachers, my classmates, as winter turned into spring.
“I want to be there,” said Leo. “To protect you. To protect our family.”
I faced the door’s frosted glass and the dark letters of Ms. Wright’s name. We became shadows, fuzzy silhouettes void of Leo’s pleading stare or whatever twisted expression my range of emotions created on my face. Hormones, it seemed, could do a number on your brain and your features.
“He’s my papa,” I whispered to our reflections, “and I’m going to tell him myself.” Gathering my nerve, I tightened my grasp on Leo’s arm and pushed him from the knob. “The rest can come later. Today, I need to do this alone.”
Leo scowled. The dark bangs I had brushed out of his face countless times draped his forehead, adding a sullen cast to his eyes. I hope the two swelling inside of me would have eyes like his, ones deep enough you could wade in for hours.
“All right, Ris, but I’ll be right outside.”
He withdrew a step and a gap seemed to grow between us. Grabbing his hand, I yanked him back for a quick kiss. He returned it, our unspoken apologies mixing with warm breaths. Before it became more, I released him to the locker-lined corridor and swept into Ms. Wright’s office.
The door slammed behind me, louder than I’d meant. Glass and wood became a sudden blockade against the world, but at the same time, trapped me in a cage of my own making.
From behind her desk, Ms. Wright smiled, blonde waves framing her peach face. “How are you doing today?”
“I’d imagine so.” She rose amid the folders of other misbehaving students and clumps of potted plants. “Been taking your vitamins?”
Ms. Wright offered a paper cup she filled from her bubbler when I’d perched on her folding chair with its flattened cushion. I gulped down the cool water but my mouth parched at a knock on the door. The pattern, one my papa used on my bedroom when I’d overslept, seemed so out of place.
“We’ll get through this.” Ms. Wright squeezed my shoulder before gliding to the door. “Good afternoon, Mr. Grazino.”
I felt my papa looming in the threshold. He’d have to angle himself through, tipping one suited shoulder before the next. I suspected the office would feel as small, be too uncomfortable even before we started in on the inevitable.
“Afternoon, Ms. Wright,” he said once she’d shut the door. “What’s all this about my little Iris?”
“Why don’t you have a seat?” Ms. Wright pivoted, her stout heel making a tiny squeak.
I hunched in on myself when my papa loomed over me. He eyed me when he sat, his muscular torso making his seat seem like a chair belonging in kindergarten rather than high school.
“Thank you for coming in,” said Ms. Wright. She resumed her post behind an envious wall of folders and ferns. “I realize leaving the office early must be difficult.”
“I don’t think my paralegals will burn the place down in my absence.” Papa chuckled, but I could hear the edge on his voice. He’d doubled his caseload since the accident and many were coming to term. This, I felt certain, was the last place he wanted to be.
“I appreciate your taking the time for Iris.” Ms. Wright smiled at me and I could feel the shift in my papa’s attention. He hadn’t been looking my way for months now, but in that heartbeat, he became intent.
“Ris?” Ms. Wright’s voice poked me.
I looked to the floor. Gathering my nerves, my courage, the last speck of bravery I could muster, I spoke to the tiles peeking out from beneath my papa’s polished loafers.
“I’m pregnant papa.”
I thought I’d gone deaf when silence filled Ms. Wright’s office. I don’t think she breathed. I know I didn’t. My papa seemed to have turned to stone.
“How?” He scowled at the obviousness of the answer and I couldn’t help but flush. He shifted on the seat, the metal creaking. “Who did this to you?”
“That doesn’t matter right now.” I peered at him. “This is about you and me.”
“You wrong. It does matter. I’m going to find this boy and—”
When he stood, so did Ms. Wright. She snatched his shoulder, her hand like a bird on a tree branch but her touch stopped him in his tracks.
“We came together to talk, Mr. Grazino.”
He shrugged her off and glowered over her desk. She didn’t flinch, and after endless heartbeats, he sat.
“Talk about what? My daughter, Iris Evelyn Grazino, has ruined her life.”
“It was an accident.” The pain of his reaction melded with the past months of being ignored while he wallowed in grief and distracted himself with work. “Regardless of how careful you can be, there are always accidents.”
He cringed when my verbal blow hit. He’d taken mom’s sedan to his trusted mechanic every 3,000 miles for a tune up, checked the tire pressure himself, and even gotten one of those automatic dialing devices in case you got into a crash.
That’s how we’d heard about hers. They’d called while we were waiting on her for dinner. Then there’d been the police at our door. The morgue. The funeral parlor. The hours papa has spent between church and the office.
He’d found solace in incense and paperwork. I’d found Benny, then Martin and finally, like a Christmas present you didn’t expect, Leo.
I assumed he meant the due date. “The doctor says August 3rd.”
“You’ve been to the doctor?”
His complex question, one suggesting a sense of care, of interest, gave me a burst of hope. “Ms. Wright helped me find someone. They’re taking good care of me.”
“Have you been to Father Cohen?”
“No, papa.” It didn’t seem right passing through those columned archways with my body germinating unionless children.
“You’re going to have the baby though? You’re not going to—”
He seemed pleased by that decision. I didn’t think he’d be so happy knowing the debate I’d had with myself, with Leo, to reach that conclusion.
“What is it?”
Ms. Wright perked up, her supportive smile easy. “Twins?”
I nodded. “Mom always said I’d be the one.”
“Your grandmothers both had twins,” said my papa. His mouth formed a hard line. “We didn’t. We only had you.”
His stare hung on my face. He then drifted to where my hand covered my burgeoning belly. He seemed to lock on with two powerful hooks.
“You’ll finish your senior year?”
“I’ve been talking with Ms. Wright about some options. She says a lot of colleges let you defer or do things a little different when things don’t go as planned.”
I flinched when his focus leapt back to my face, his gaze smoldering. “I don’t think Harvard or Princeton would understand a freshman with twins.”
“On the contrary,” interrupted Ms. Wright. “You’d be amazed at the changes even Ivy Leagues have made these days. They do their best to accommodate any worthy student.”
My papa wheeled on her, his face flushed. “Better than you, Ms. Wright, although I don’t imagine that’d be very hard.”
Ms. Wright blinked her long lashes and the gentle curves of her cheeks vanished. “Excuse me?”
Papa stood and thrust a finger at her nose. “You’re supposed to keep these kids safe, keep them from getting into this kind of trouble.” He flung his finger at me and barreled on at Ms. Wright. “My Iris is in this…this state because you weren’t doing your job.”
His voice went ragged but Ms. Wright stayed calm and as sturdy as her shoes. “My job is to help these young people transition into adulthood. I think Iris has been particularly thoughtful and responsible in dealing with this matter, as she has in dealing with the other stumbling blocks that have come along. I could only hope that other students who find themselves in the same situation might follow her example.”
“And example of how to screw up your life.”
“No. I’ve heard enough from you.” He spun, towering over me like a tree with its trunk half cut. “You’ll put them up for adoption and move on.”
“No.” When I’d decided to keep them, I knew I was keeping them for good, but telling my papa seemed more difficult than all the rest combined. My voice trembled despite my attempt to sound like Ms. Wright. “I’m not going to give them up, papa. They’re mine. They’re ours. They’re my family, and I am not losing anyone else.”
The red in his face paled. I thought he might be sick. Instead, my papa grasped the back of his chair when he wobbled. He stumbled into Ms. Wright’s shelf of self-help books and his eyes bored into mine. I wanted to look away from the hurt I saw within them, the hurt I’d done, the hurt one drunk driver had delivered. His stare watered in the following quiet and the three—no five of us bobbed on the tense sea.
“Don’t.” He pushed his palm at me like a stop sign.
I cringed when he lumbered for the door and threw it open. His loafers made a slap instead of the usual squeak of sneakers on the hallway’s floor.
Once they’d dwindled, Ms. Wright rounded her desk and shut her door. She put her back to the window with her name and gave me an annoyingly empathetic grin.
“He’ll come around.”
I swiveled in the chair and fingered the fronds of one of her ferns. “You don’t know my papa.”
“I know fathers. You’re his little girl. It’s hard for him to see you as a woman, as a mother.”
“As a disappointment.”
Ms. Wright took my papa’s seat, her hands clasped on the pudgy knees poking out of her pencil skirt. “I don’t think anyone as brave as you can be a disappointment to anyone.”
Rolling my eyes, I let my fingertips slide from the plant to a picture frame. It fell over and I gathering my errant fingers to my chest.
“It’s fine.” Ms. Wright reached for the picture, but instead of setting it back into place, she cupped it. Her gaze settled on the image before she spun the silver frame so I could see who lived inside.
Two adults and one little dark haired girl stood alongside a lanky blonde kid who looked a little younger than Leo.
Ms. Wright tapped her finger at the boy. “My son.”
I checked her left hand, the one white knuckled at her knee. Nothing ringed any of her fingers.
“You’re not married?”
“I’m not a mother either.”
“You gave him up?”
“I did.” She touched the boy’s face, brushed a bit of dust from the frame, and set the photograph back on her desk. “We’ve all had a past with accidents. With disappointed fathers.” Returning into her chair, Ms. Wright seemed to don her counselor cloak once more. “The question is, what are you going to do next?”
The weight of the conversation shifted back to me. Retreating from the picture and plants, I hugged my arms around the three of us.
“I don’t know. I feel like I’ve crossed off all the big things. I mean, I applied to all the places I’d been accepted to see about alternatives. Asked for help with this.” I stroked my bulge. “Found a doctor. Told my papa. What’s left except graduating, and one and a half more trimesters?”
“What about the father?”
“Leo?” I slumped further into the chair, wishing I could duck the question. Ms. Wright, however, wouldn’t be avoided.
“I don’t know what do to about him. I mean, I love him, I really do. Not some gushy puppy dog thing but, I mean, in here,” I stabbed a finger at my heart, “and here.” I poked my middle.
“I don’t know.” I covered my belly with both hands, not wanting them to hear my worry, my indecision. “We might end up on across the country from one another. I won’t let these guys stop me from going to college, from making a future. I won’t let them stop him either.”
“Isn’t that for him to decide?”
“He’s ready to marry me now.”
“But you’re not?”
“It’s a big commitment.”
“So is motherhood.”
I smirked. “I think that means I’ve got enough to deal with.”
Ms. Wright leaned forward and although her gaze stayed on me, the picture of her child reflected in her eyes. “Can I offer some advice?”
“Isn’t that why I’m here?”
She nodded once and her face grew stern. “Don’t feel like you have to do this on your own. Let anyone who’s willing to join you stand in your corner.”
“Like you and Leo?”
“Like anyone, even your father.”
“He might ignore me for good now.”
“Don’t discount him so quickly, Ris. This is hard news to face but your father loves you. You two have already been through so much, I don’t think a pair of grandchildren is going to come between you.”
I glanced at the picture. “Did your parents understand?”
“I never had the guts to tell them.”
“How did you manage that?”
“It was my college year abroad.” She shrugged and then the counselor personal reasserted itself. “Think about what I said about the corners?”
“I will. Thanks Ms. Wright.”
“I’ll see you next week.”
“Week eleven.” With a deep inhale, I rose off the chair.
I kept my feet wide since the doctor had warned about dizziness when standing. It didn’t strike me, but neither had morning sickness. I couldn’t imagine my luck holding out but I hoped nonetheless that I’d have the strength to face the future lying ahead of me, with babies, papa, Leo, college, and whatever else came next.