The Big One-Seven
The condom broke.
“Shit,” Santi said. “Shit!”
“What?” said Meg, rolling over.
“It’s broken. Shit, Meg.”
“God. Okay. You sure?”
“Yeah I’m sure.” He felt sick all of a sudden, dizzy. The room didn’t spin, but it swayed slightly, like his head was a couple seconds behind the rest of the world.
“Santi?” Meg’s voice sounded fuzzy. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” He forced his eyes open, got to his feet. “It’s fine. I’ll go get you something now, okay? CVS is open until nine.”
“Now? Can’t we just—”
There was a slight screech as a car rolled into the wide gravel driveway.
Santi glanced at his alarm clock. “Jesus Christ, it’s seven. Jenn’s back.” He threw a t-shirt over his head, slid back into his jeans. Meg did the same. He grabbed a couple of notebooks off his desk and tossed them onto the whitewashed floor. “Here. If she comes in, we’re studying, okay?”
They heard Jenn’s heels click unappealingly on the wooden staircase. Then a knock. “Santi?”
“Come in,” Santi said, yanking his American History II textbook open to a random page.
Jenn opened the door gently. “Hi, honey-oh, Meg! What are you two studying?”
Meg said Algebra a half second before he said Vietnam.
Jenn opened her mouth as if to say something, then closed it. She was a nervous woman, blonde, thirty-eight, and waspy, Mayflower heritage on both sides. Santi had been lying to her since he was nine. She’d learned to pick her battles. “I see.”
Santi coughed. “We’re going to the library now. To get a book on, uh. Vietnam.”
“Oh, honey, not tonight,” Jenn said. “We’re having a nice dinner to celebrate. I got you a cake and everything.”
“Oh, wow,” Santi said weakly. “Now?”
She knew she was missing something, but she wasn’t sure what. Her smile wavered slightly. “Yes, now.”
“I can just run out and—”
“No, Santi,” she said firmly. “Your dad came home from work early to see you. The library will still be there tomorrow.”
“Right,” said Santi mumbled, then had an idea. “Hey, Jenn, can Meg stay for dinner?”
She brightened. “Of course she can! You’re welcome any time, Meg. I’ll see you two in a minute.” She shut the door behind her and clicked her way back downstairs.
Meg turned to Santi, miffed. “And why am I having dinner with your dysfunctional forever family?”
“C’mon, Meg,” Santi said. “You don't have your permit. We get through dinner as fast as possible, I give you a ride over, you get what you need, and then this whole thing’s over, okay?”
“God, Santi, can you calm down a little?” said Meg, frowning. “I’ll go tomorrow, all right?”
Santi stared at her. “The longer you wait, the less likely it works, Meg.”
“Oh,” said Meg. “That’s a thing?”
“Better eat fast then.”
“Not funny,” Santi said.
The Kings lived in Belmont, about half an hour from downtown Boston. They owned a nice house on the slightly less nice side of an already very nice town, a two-story white colonial with green shutters and a narrow yard.
The dining room was small with a high ceiling. Mark was already at the long wooden table, squinting at the broken screen on his iPhone.
“Hey, Santi,” Mark said, without looking up. “Happy birthday. Sorry I missed you this morning. Early meeting.”
“Meg’s joining us as well!” called Jenn, from the adjoining kitchen. “Say hi, Mark.”
“Yeah, I can see that, Jenn,” Mark said, shutting off his phone. “Nice to see you, Meg.”
“Thank you,” said Meg.
Mark gave her a nod. He was a tall guy in his late thirties, thin with thinning hair and patience. “How’s school going, Santi?”
“It’s okay,” he said.
Mark furrowed his brow. “Just okay? How’re your grades?”
“They’re okay,” Santi said. He saw Mark twitch.
Jenn placed a bowl of salad on the table. “Did you tell your dad about soccer, Santi?”
“Yeah,” said Santi, emptying another can of seltzer into his glass. “I made captain.”
“Yeah?” asked Mark. “How’s it going?”
“Fine, I guess,” Santi said. He was a good player but he wasn’t sure he was a great captain. He’d been voted in on the merits of popularity, not ability. Jacob Kokwaski, for example, would’ve done a better job, but he wore his hair down to his shoulders and smoked under the basement stairs. No one knew who he was. Santi didn’t have that problem. He had a lot of friends, a lot of girlfriends, dark hair and straight white teeth with a tiny gap in the middle. He sat in the cafeteria during lunch, at the centermost table, with the kids who liked being on display.
“Either way, it’s a big deal, Santi,” Mark said, squeezing half a bottle of Italian dressing onto his plate. “Colleges like to see that, especially if your grades aren’t great.”
Santi snapped the tab off the Polar can.
“I got fresh pasta,” Jenn said brightly, setting down the blue ceramic dish. “Well, I don’t know how fresh. From Stop and Shop. But it said fresh on the package, if you can go by that.”
“Looks good, Jenn,” Mark said, helping himself to a heaping serving of possibly fresh spaghetti before passing it on to Santi.
“I still can’t believe you’re seventeen,” Jenn said, handing the dish to Meg. “You were nine when you first came to us. The cutest kid I’ve ever seen. Those big green eyes. You weren’t shy, that’s for sure. You came right in and started messing with the foosball table. Remember, Mark?”
“Yeah. I offered him a beer and that social worker flipped out. Some people can’t take a joke.”
Santi shifted in his seat. “Can you pass the water?”
Jenn handed it to him. “I was trying to tell them how old you were at the bakery and they couldn’t understand a word. Guatemalans, I think. I had to count it out on my fingers for them. I should have brought you over to translate, Santi.”
“I’m in French,” Santi said.
Jenn gaped at him, fishlike, then laughed nervously. “Oh, of course. I didn’t mean—they’re both Romance languages, you know, a lot of words in common—”
“I’m in Spanish III,” Meg offered. “Honors.”
Santi stabbed at a cherry tomato. It burst, splattering the table cloth with red juice.
“Where’d you go, the place on Cedar?” Mark asked. “They’ve got a full staff of idiots over there. I got a coffee there on Election Day then went to the polls and voted against the minimum wage.”
Meg choked into her ginger ale.
“No, Marley’s,” Jenn said. “I went by on my way back from Cambridge.”
Santi looked up. “What were you doing in—”
“Just errands, honey,” Jenn said. “How’s the pasta?”
Mark twisted a particularly long strand around his fork. “How many bottles of sauce did you put in this, five?”
Jenn’s laugh sounded forced. “Just one.”
“Christ, the whole thing? It’s drowning.”
Jenn’s smile stayed plastered on her face. “Well, next time you can add your own sauce, Mark.”
Meg laughed and tried to pass it off as a cough. Santi took another bite. There was rather a lot of sauce. The landline rang in the next room.
“I’ll get it,” Santi said quickly, who would’ve dropped into a volcano to get out of there.
“No, honey, let me,” said Jenn, rising, but Santi beat her to it.
“Hi Mrs. King, I have the results ready from your test today,” said a low female voice as he picked up the phone. “I can either fax them to you or you can swing by and pick them up, if you’d like a physical copy. My office hours are seven to six.”
Santi checked the caller ID. Rose McKinley, MD.
“Mrs. King?” asked the voice.
Santi hung up.
“Who was it?” asked Jenn, as he sat back down. “Santi?”
Santi stared down at the table. The spaghetti stared back. “Why were you at the doctor today?”
Jenn’s mouth fell open for a split second before she smiled. “Just a checkup, honey.”
“Can you be honest with me for a second?” Santi asked, his voice rising. “You went to Cambridge and lied about it. Your doctor said you took some kind of test. I’m not stupid, Jenn.”
“Oh, Santi, honey, I know,” Jenn said. “I just—”
“I can take it,” Santi said, voice strained. “Okay? I can take it. You’ve been treating me like a little kid since I got here. It’s stupid. It’s like you can’t accept that I had a life before you. I don’t know what you’re trying to protect me from, but it’s not working. You think I haven’t—that I’ve never—”
“Santi, no,” Mark said. “Your mom isn’t sick. Not at all. I promise.”
Santi looked back and forth between them. “Then what—why’d you—”
Jenn smiled, a small, tentative one that hung close to corners of her mouth, as if afraid to come out until it knew things were safe. “I’m pregnant, honey. Your dad and I—we’re having another baby.”
Santi didn’t move. The world was speeding up again. “What?”
“We didn’t want to tell you until we were sure,” Jenn said, as Mark feigned interest in his spaghetti. “I’m forty-two—we didn’t want—well, anyway, we’re sure now. We didn’t want to tell you on your birthday, but since you were so upset—well—”
“You can’t be serious,” Santi said. “You actually—you’re joking.” He watched the smile slide off Jenn’s face. “You guys can’t have—that's the whole reason you—“
“It’s more common than you’d think, honey,” Jenn said. “After an adoption, when the pressure’s off, so to speak, well—even so late in life—it happens all the time.”
Santi shook his head. “There’s no way. I can’t—”
“I know what you’re thinking, Santi, but it’s not like that,” said Jenn, reaching towards him. He jerked away. “You’re still our son, Santi. This won’t change anything.”
“It won’t change anything?” Santi repeated. “I’m getting really sick of you lying to me, Jenn, okay?”
Jenn’s eyes started to fill. “Santi—sweetie—”
“I’ve gotta go,” Santi said, getting up. “C’mon, Meg.”
Mark stood too. “You don’t just walk out of this house, Santi. Where are you—”
“The condom broke so Santi’s taking me to CVS to get a Plan B pill so I don't have a baby,” Meg said.
Jenn made a sort of squeaking noise. Mark sat back down again.
“You’d better take care of that, then,” he said finally.
Santi’s car was parked in the church lot across the street. He twisted the key in the ignition.
“Lot to unpack there,” said Meg, after a while. “You wanna talk about it?”
“Not really,” Santi said. He made a sharp turn, sending Meg sprawling into the window.
“I’m serious, Santi,” Meg said. “With me or someone else. Maybe not now, but you have to—”
“I said I don't want to fucking talk about it,” Santi said.
“Whatever makes you happy,” she said, and looked back out the window.
Santi turned onto the highway. Some birthday.
Caroline Sheppard is a Canadian-American writer. Alongside short stories, scripts, and music, she also writes for the question-answer site Quora. Though from Manhattan, her favorite city is Cambridge by far.