“We’re gettin’ married. We’ll stay with my parents at first. I’ll work on the farm, go to night school—we’ll save up. You’ll have to put off nursin’ school for a little while. Eventually we’ll get our own place. I’ll take care of you.” I put my hand on her still-flat stomach. “Both of you.”
Her reaction isn’t what I imagine.
Jenny steps back out of my arms, eyes wide and head shaking. “What? No! No, you’re supposed to leave for New York right after graduation.”
“You gave up your Ole Miss football scholarship to go to Columbia. It’s Ivy League.”
I shake my head. And lie.
“Jenn, none of that matters now.”
There’s not a single guy in this town who wouldn’t give his eye teeth to play ball at Ole Miss . . . but not me. I’ve always wanted different—bigger, brighter, farther.
Jenny’s flip-flopped feet kick up sand as she paces on the riverbank. Her white sundress flares as she turns a final time to me, finger pointing. “You’re goin’ and that’s all there is to it. Just like we planned. Nothin’s changed.”
My voice rails with resentment she doesn’t deserve. “What are you talkin’ about—everything’s changed! You can’t come visit me once a month with a baby! We can’t bring a baby to a dorm room.”
Resigned, she whispers, “I know.”
I take my own step back. “You expect me to leave you here? That was gonna be hard enough before, but now . . . I’m not gonna fucking walk away when you’re pregnant. What kinda man do you think I am?”
She grasps my hands and gives me a speech that rivals “win one for the Gipper.” “You’re the kind of man who’s gonna go to Columbia University and graduate with honors. A man who’s gonna be able to name his salary when he does. You’re not walkin’ away, you’re doin’ what’s best for us. For our family, our future.”
“I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
“Oh yes you are.”
“And what about your future?”
“I’ll stay with my parents—they’ll help me with the baby. They’re practically raising the twins anyway.”
Jenny’s older sister, Ruby, is the proud mother of twins, with baby number three on the way. She attracts losers like cow shit attracts flies. The unemployed, the alcoholic, the lazy—she can’t get enough of them.
“Between them and your parents, I’ll still be able to go to nursin’ school.” Jenny wraps her slender arms around my neck.
And, God, she’s pretty.
“I don’t want to leave you,” I murmur.
But my girl’s mind is made up. “You’ll go and come home when you can. And when you can, it’ll get us through until the next time.”
I kiss her lips—they’re soft and full and taste like cherry. “I love you. I’ll never love anyone the way I love you.”
She smiles. “And I love you, Stanton Shaw—there’s only ever gonna be you.”
Young love is strong. First love is powerful. But what you don’t know when you’re young—what you can’t know—is how long life actually is. And the only dependable thing about it, besides death and taxes, is change.
Jenny and I had a whole lot of change headed our way.
She takes my hand and we walk to my truck. I open the door for her and she asks, “Who are we gonna tell first? Yours or mine?”
I blow out a breath. “Yours. Get the crazy side over with first.”
She’s not offended. “Let’s just hope Nana never finds the shells to that shotgun.”
• • •
Seven months later
This can’t be normal. Dr. Higgens keeps saying it is, but there’s no way.
I grew up on a farm. I’ve seen all types of births—cows, horses, sheep. None of them sounded like this.
This? This is like a horror movie. Like Saw . . . a massacre.
If this is what women go through to have a baby, why would they ever risk having sex at all?
I’m not sure I want to risk having sex again. Jerking off looks a lot better now than it did yesterday.
Jenny screams so loud my ears ring. And I groan as her grip tightens on my already tender hand. The air is thick with sweat—and panic. But Dr. Higgens just sits there on a stool adjusting his glasses. Then he braces his hands on his knees and peers between Jenny’s spread, stirrupped legs—the way my mother squints into the oven on Thanksgiving, trying to decide if the turkey’s done.