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Pomelo

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Chapter One...

My eyes are half-open and half-shut.
I lie on my bed with my knees against my chin and my fingers laced somewhere around my shins.
The only sound is the ticking of the clock on my dresser and it’s driving me insane—winding up every muscle in my body and making me feverish. When the hands of the clock are stretching out to reach 7:30 I finally get up. It has been nine hours since Mom said goodnight but I feel like I have barely blinked once. The night passed like a second, but somehow it feels like an eternity has gone by.
The light in my room is dim, slanting in from between the window blinds, falling in slices onto the carpet. I pull open my dresser drawer and feel around the tangle of clothes for a pair of blue jeans and a warm sweater. Once I find them I tug them on over what I’m wearing and step into my brother’s old boots that are sitting against the wall.
It takes five minutes to ease the window open enough for me to squeeze through. It squeals and grates something terrible if you pull to fast, and the risk of someone finding me out is already not in my favor.
I lower myself onto the wobbly pile of red bricks that I set out yesterday afternoon. My fingers clutch the window sill tight for balance, strained white. Once I’m safely on the ground I force myself to walk. It isn’t easy. Every part of me aches for the rhythm of a sprint. Even after spending the night curled stiff with a lump in my throat and my eyes glued to the wall I am alert and tireless.
But I don’t run. I walk—quickly—but I walk.
The air is crisp and clean with the spice of drying leaves and freshly mowed grass. My mind registers these smells, but I don’t really notice them. Usually I would breathe in and smile and just stand still for a minute. Today I couldn’t care less.
Caleb’s boots are two sizes too large, they clunk and thump the pavement with each step. As I walk along the lip of the road I feel like I’m waking up everybody within a mile. But honestly, I don’t give it much thought. Most of my brain is occupied with my own worries right now, not whether the neighbors get to sleep in.
The local CVS is only half a mile away and soon enough I’m standing in front of the glass doors trying to overlook my disheveled reflection. The place opens at eight and the doors are still locked. I tap on the glass and cup my hands around my eyes, peering in. At first I don’t see anybody but after a few seconds an obese, gray-haired woman walks up and glances at me crossly. She’s mean looking—not one of the friendly blonde girls that usually stand at the cash register. I stare at her red shirt and listen to the key turn in the lock. The door swings open and she stands there looking at me.
“It’s 7:45. We open at 8:00.” Her voice is scratchy.
The lump in my throat burns hot now. I try to swallow but it’s no use. I’ve never felt so exposed, so ashamed and small and ugly. I dig my nails into my palms but my nails are too short--I don’t even feel the prick of them.
“Please.” I say in a desperate voice that doesn’t sound like my own.
The woman steps aside to let me in, pursing her lips so that they turn down at each corner. I move in past her, feeling clumsy and odd with my untamed hair and clunky boots.
The store is silent and empty. As I walk through the deserted aisles the squeak of Caleb’s boots are the only noise. It makes me feel even more alone. The lump in my throat has turned into a mountain and it hurts so bad that tears squeeze out of the corners of my eyes.
I find the little purple box at the end of a long aisle. It’s on the shelves with pads and tampons and panty-liners. My fingers tremble as I reach up to pull it down, and once it’s in my hands I nearly drop it. My eyes scan the words “Pregnancy Test”. There is a picture of a woman on the front who has a toothpaste-ad smile and long blonde hair. I breathe in shaky and walk to the check-out.
The gray-haired woman is waiting there but I don’t look at her as I set the box down. She picks it up and looks from me to it and back, like she’s comparing me to the lady on the front or something. Before she can ask questions I blurt, “It’s for my Mom.” Except my voice cracks on the word Mom and I know I’m not fooling anyone.
I watch the little red strands of light dance over the bar code and listen to the scanner beep. I grab my wallet out of my back pocket.
“That’ll be eight dollars.” The lady says.
I count three crumpled dollar bills and the rest I set out in pennies and quarters and dimes. As she counts the money I can’t help but stare at her. I wonder if she’s ever had a baby. How old was she? Did it hurt?
She rips off the receipt and hands it to me with the change—a penny. I take it in my palm and grab the box and mumble thank you as I shoulder open the entrance door. She just stares as I leave.
Once I’m outside I stuff the change in my pocket and shove the box up my sweater. I can feel my heartbeat thumping inside my chest and after half a dozen paced steps I can’t contain it any longer. I break into a run. I don’t even realize that I’m running, I just do. Almost no one’s out, and if anyone does see me than they’ll think I’m out for an early morning sprint.
When I finally arrive under my window I step up on the bricks and scramble through the crack. My throat is raw and sweat fringes my hairline with tiny beads. My pulse throbs in my ears. I sink to the floor gasping and for a moment I just sit there, then I get up and walk to the bathroom, locking the door behind myself.
The bathroom smells like Zest and stale hairspray. It’s small, but it has a toilet and a sink with mirrored cabinets above it. It’s not officially mine, but since it’s right outside my bedroom I’ve claimed it. The rest of my family share the bigger bathroom down the hallway.
I set the box down and stare in the mirror, digging my fingers through my hair. I look pale and cold and most of all I look scared. Hell, I am so scared.
I tear open the box and peel the foil wrapper off one of the dipsticks. It’s small and plastic, a little larger than the thermometer Mom uses to check my temperature when I have a fever. I set it on the edge of the sink and pick up the plastic cup that I use for washing my mouth.
I’ve never pissed in a cup before and as I do I feel strange. I’m fifteen and I’m taking a pregnancy test. My hands shake as I stick the thing into the half-full cup. Two lines mean a baby, one line means no baby. Two lines mean shame, one line means the lump in my throat will go away and I might be able to look my parents in the eyes again.
The seconds pass fast. I whisper them to myself as I wait. Two whole minutes. At one hundred counts I can’t stand it anymore. I snatch the thing out and look at it. And look, and keep looking because my mind is numb. Two lines. I hurl the used one into the tin trashcan in the corner and tear open another dipstick’s package. I’m praying hard now. God, I’m sorry. God, please no. When another two minutes are up I pull out the test. Two lines. I’m pregnant. I’m fifteen and I’m pregnant. I go through two more but by then I already know. Oh, Hell. I look at myself in the glass and notice the tears streaming down my face. I hadn’t even realized that I was crying. I’m frantic, I’m crazy. And I am so, so scared.
I wedge myself in between the edge of the toilet and the wall. This is always the place that I’ve considered the grossest. Used q tips sit in piles of dust against the floorboards. But no I belong here—I’m trash. I cry. I cry so hard that I think I’m going to suffocate because I can barely breathe. And when I can’t cry anymore I stuff the dry cloth of my sweater sleeve into my mouth, clamp it between my teeth, and I scream.




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