“Stay the hell out of my life!” I whisper-shouted toward James, walking up to his locker. I couldn’t believe that not only did he have the nerve to threaten Levi at the party, but to also tell my dad lies about Levi as if he knew him. “And stay out of Levi’s life. He has done nothing to you.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” he whispered back, glancing down the hallways, making sure no one was watching us. “I’m sorry that I care about the kinds of people who are messing with you.”
“Stop it, James. You have nothing to do with this. You have no say in who talks to me and who doesn’t. Your girlfriend is Nadine. Not me. And you are seconds away from really pissing off a pregnant girl.”
He reached to touch my shoulder, and I stepped back. “And really? I’m like a sister to you? Because that’s not really disturbing and awkward,” I sarcastically remarked.
“I’m not in love with her anymore,” he blurted out, making my stomach twist.
He stepped toward me.
I stepped away.
“You’re always on my mind. I find myself thinking about you when I shouldn’t. When I’m with her, you’re crossing my mind.”
“Probably because you feel guilty about lying to her.”
“No.” He shook his head. “Well, yes. But that’s not it. I just think her and me—
“Let me guess, you two are growing apart? If I had a dime for every time I heard that.”
“Aria, I want to help you. I want to help take some of the pressure off of you. It’s not fair that you’re going through this all on your own and I just want to help.”
“Fine. Then tell everyone at school that you’re the father,” I said.
His mouth tightened. His shoulders dropped.
That’s what I thought.
“Just leave me alone, okay?”
He nodded. “But it’s true. I’m not in love with her anymore.”
“Who you’re not in love with is none of my business. Just like Levi is none of yours.”
I left him standing there dumbfounded. I wished the father of the baby was a stranger. Seeing James on a daily basis was a complete mess.
* * *
I wondered how people fell out of love. James made it sound as if falling out of love was so simple. Was it one big event that changed the way their hearts beat or was it the little annoyances that built up over time? Mom and Dad fought every day lately, but I tried my best to not overthink it. People in love fought sometimes.
Whenever one of us kids walked in on them arguing, they went mute. Then they would talk about some mundane thing like the weather or politics. They were professionals at pretending to be happy, even though we all knew they weren’t. Once we left the room, the screaming would start up again.
Then, one day everything changed. The fighting stopped. They both grew tired. Sometimes they would whisper things to one another, other times they moved right past each other as if neither one of them existed.
I missed the fighting.
* * *
“I read something interesting,” Dr. Ward said, leaning back in his chair. I was confused by the sudden change to the start of this meeting.
“Where’s the candy bowl?” I asked.
“Oh. No candy today.”
I didn’t like that. I didn’t like the change. The pens on his desks weren’t blue anymore. They were red. I didn’t like that, either. The couch had new yellow throw pillows. His office was the same, but…different.
“As I was saying,” he continued. No. You’re only supposed to say two things. “I researched some more on Salvador after last week’s conversation. He had a painting called My Dead Brother. He used pop art to create it actually, did you know that?”
Of course I knew that.
“Of course you know that. Anyway, Salvador said something that struck me. He said, ‘Every day, I kill the image of my poor brother…I assassinate him regularly, for the ‘Divine Dali’ cannot have anything in common with this former terrestrial being.’ Interesting, huh?”
I wiggled in my seat, uncomfortable with the quote. “Ask me what’s on my mind,” I ordered.
He shook his head. “Not today.”
Why? Why did he have to be so difficult today? Why did he have to break the normality that we’d fallen into?
Why did things have to change?
“You’re about sixteen weeks pregnant now, right?”
My eyes welled up with tears because he was seeing me, even when all I wanted to be was invisible. “Seventeen weeks.”
“You’re not the same person you were a few months ago, are you? That girl’s gone now, isn’t she?”
I nodded again.
“But maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to no longer be the person we thought we were meant to be. Maybe it’s okay to just be who we are now and accept that.”
“But I messed up. I messed up my family’s future.”
“That’s the thing about the future, and the past even. They don’t exist in this moment. We only have the here and now. If we focus too much on the past or too heavily on the future, we miss out on our present desires, the things we want right now.”
I cried in his office for the first time, breaking down because I was no longer the person I used to be. I was someone new, someone that my father didn’t love and my mother pitied; I worried too much about what that meant for our future.
Dr. Ward handed me a Kleenex, and I blew my nose in it.
He crossed his arms, studying my every broken down movement. “What do you want, Aria?” he asked.