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??The damn florescent lights seem to shine with extra brilliance. My fingers tightly gripped the crunchy paper spread across the examining table.
??What is the point of this stuff anyway? Will this thin sheet of paper really protect future patients from my potential germs? I quickly glance to the wall clock for the hundredth time. It keeps ticking in the most irritating way. Fourteen minutes have passed since the nurse left.
??How long does it take to fetch the doctor?
??I can faintly hear someone coughing down the hall. Another person sneeze. Doctors’ offices have always grossed me out. Visiting is pointless, anyway. Anything he prescribes I can pick up at the drug store, over the counter, for way cheaper. If Jason hadn’t talked me into coming here, that’s what I would’ve done. I tried to explain it was just the stomach flu, I would be fine, no need to bother a doctor. His response was to give me his puppy-dog face which, unfortunately for me, is irresistible.
??Swinging my Converse-clad feet back ‘n forth impatiently, I fiddle on my iPhone. Maybe playing Candy Crush will distract me. I check the clock again (eighteen minutes) before absorbing myself in the game. Just when I’m about to break a new level, the door opens.
??About freaking time.
??Rain is pelting down when I leave the doctor’s office. Normally, this would cause thoughts of a warm bed at home, Jason at my side, coffee in my hand, and our favorite movie playing while we absently pay attention. Not today. I barely notice as I cross the parking lot to my isolated car. A screaming “All Time Low” greets me when I twist the key in the ignition which I immediately mute. I should be the one screaming right now. Instead, I cry. I sob. I bawl my damn eyes out. Gaining my composure, I square my shoulders. I turn the music on softly, allowing myself to concentrate. Half an hour must have slipped away before I left the lot.
??I drove past the movie theatre. Jason and I had gone there on our very first date , years ago. We saw some horror film, it was probably terrible and not at all scary. I only remember having a fantastic time with this boy. A mutual friend of ours had introduced us, insisting we’d hit it off. I’d been set up before, so I was skeptical. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by how wonderful Jason was.
??Oh, if only life were still that simple.
??Stopping at a red light, I noticed the Walgreen's. Last January I caught strep throat from a girl in my Economics class. What idiot goes to class when they’re sick? Her poor judgment left me home alone, huddled under blankets and sucking on sore throat drops. Not expecting company, I was startled to hear a knock at the front door. At first, I assumed it was a salesperson or a Jehovah’s Witness, so I ignored it. The knocker was persistent, though, much to my aggravation. My irritation melted away once I opened the door and saw Jason standing before me, Walgreen’s bag in hand. He brought me the yummy-flavored throat drops (strawberry), my favorite brand of tea, a box of tissues, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. That was the day I told him “I love you” for the first time.
??I can’t lose him now. I can’t.
??There were so many new things to think about now. How would I finish college? What would I do if Jason left me? Would he leave me? If not, does this mean we have to get married all of a sudden? What about my parents? His parents? My mind was going into overdrive, information overload. Too much to process, not enough time.
??I was so busy reminiscing I didn’t realize I had reached my destination: Jason’s apartment. He was the only one I could talk to about this. I inhaled a deep breath, mustered my courage, and ran towards the shelter of his building.
??Jason’s apartment was one of my favorite places in the world to be. Although it was tiny, and abundantly masculine, it was like home. Unaware of my visit, he didn’t have time to gather up his strewn clothes or throw away old pizza boxes. The TV screen showed a paused video game, textbooks lying forgotten next to the ottoman. Soda cans, beer bottles, and coffee mugs were in various places around the room. His pals must have been over last night for a “study session”. His bed was unmade, as usual. There was a basketball hoop hanging from the outside of his closet door, cracked open to reveal sweatshirts, sneakers, and his backpack. I breathed in the scent of cologne and pizza.
?? God, I love it here.
??“Hey, hon.” Jason greeted me with a kiss. He’d recently showered; he smelled of shampoo and aftershave. “How was the appointment?”
??“Fine.” I lied. I tried to smile, but he knew me too well to pull it off.
??“Steph, be serious. What did he say?”
??I wasn’t ready. All my nerve had left me at the threshold. Instead, I went to the fridge in his little kitchen. Habitually, I grabbed a beer before remembering what the doctor said.
??I needed something to numb my brain. Settling for a Sprite, I plopped myself down on the faux leather couch and pretended to be interested in his game. “Call of Duty again? Don’t you ever get sick of playing this all the time?” I teased.
??“Steph, cut the crap. Tell me what happened at the doctor’s.” He sat next to me, wrapping his fingers around mine. “Please, babe, you’re scaring the hell out of me.”
??I stared at him, drinking in his messy brown hair. His green eyes, full of concern. His faded University of Tennessee T-shirt, splattered with stains of barbecue sauce, ketchup, and God knows what else.
??Please God, don’t let me lose him. I need him now more than ever.
??“I’m pregnant.” I blurted. Of all the ways I could’ve broken it to him--gently, easily, slowly--I had to choose the blunt. Typical.
??His eyes. Oh God, his eyes. They flitted from one emotion to the next: shock, disbelief, understanding, concern, panic, and finally, fear. I couldn’t bear it. I tried to choke back the tears, but it was useless. I covered my face, hiding my shame. I hadn’t wanted to believe it myself, however seeing Jason’s reaction brought down the full force of reality. I felt sick.
??Without another word, I rushed to the bathroom, locking the door behind me. I heaved and coughed my breakfast into the toilet, emptying myself completely. Even after I finished, I stayed on the tile floor, feelings of humiliation plaguing me. Several minutes passed before a soft tap at the door came. I rose to my feet dejectedly and let Jason enter.
??“I’m sorry--” I began until Jason cut me off with a hug. I clung to him desperately. His strong arms enveloped me, giving me a sense of safety and peace.
??“I love you.” he whispered.
??I started crying again, whispering “I love you, Jason.” back. He held me tighter and I thought he might never let me go. I didn’t want him to.
??“We’re going to figure this out. And Steph,” he pulled me out far enough so he could look into my eyes. “I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”
??This only made me cry harder. He led me back to the living room, sat us both down on the couch, and stroked my hair until I was calm enough to speak.
??“What will our parents think?” I ventured.
??“They’ll be surprised, that’s for sure.” Jason said, in attempt to play it off. Seeing my disapproving face, he tried again. “I guess they’ll be upset at first. After the shock wears off, my mom will want to go buy every vitamin known to mankind, and your parents will be searching for the best possible hospital in the state.”
??I laughed at that, wiping away my remaining tears. “I don’t want you to feel obligated to stick around, Jase. You are allowed to live your own life. I know this isn’t what we planned, or even wanted.”
??“Wait a second.” he replied, putting a finger to my lips to shush me.
??Jumping up, he strode over to his dresser. Rummaging through the top drawer for a minute, he found whatever he was looking for and came back to me.
??“I had been waiting for Christmas to do this, but now is as good a time as any.” He bent down to his knee while my jaw dropped. He held in his hand a ring, the diamond small, elegant and perfect in every way.
??“Life is an adventure with you, Steph. There is never a dull moment, including today.” he chuckled. “When I look at you, I see everything I want in the world. There is no one I’d rather be with; you truly are my other half. There is also no one else I’d rather raise a baby with. You might not realize it now, but you’re going to be one hell of a mother. You’re the strongest woman I’ve ever met and I know we can do anything together. This may not be the most convenient timing or ideal story, but it’s our story. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Stephanie Tyler, will you marry me?”
??Tears gently roll down my cheeks as I say, “Yes!”
Jason slides the ring onto my finger and wraps me in another embrace. For the first time, I smile. Everything is going to be okay.