I knew there’d be a ubiquitous plethora of tests to take my senior year—tests with vocabulary words like ubiquitous and plethora. But I never expected to need to take a pregnancy test, too.
“You go inside and buy it,” I said to my best friend Brittany as we sat in my car in the parking lot outside the drugstore. “It won’t be as embarrassing for you.”
“Yes it will.”
“You’re not the one who might be pregnant.”
“The cashier doesn’t know that,” Brittany said.
“But you do, so you won’t be overcome by guilt and shame when they give you that smug look. You can say, ‘It’s for my friend.’”
“You could say that, too.”
“But you’d be telling the truth,” I said. “Please?”
“Fine.” She opened the car door. I handed her some cash.
Brittany walked toward the store. She wore her favorite outfit: a loose black dress that fell to mid-thigh, colorful leggings with a print—today it was “cats in space”—and chunky sienna-colored boots. She planned to major in architecture but hadn’t decided on a school yet.
MIT had been my first choice since forever. I wanted to work in robotics. The fact that a robot was driving around on the surface of Mars collecting data at that moment thrilled me. Seriously. How cool was that? And the uses of robotics here on Earth were pretty amazing too, like helping people with paralysis to walk again. I’d even seen an Internet video of a robot building a bridge using a 3D printer. That could open up all kinds of possibilities. The technology was no longer science fiction. I could be part of that. I could do something positive and worthwhile that would change the world.
But not if I was pregnant.
I leaned my head against the driver’s door window and turned the key so the radio would play. Idina Menzel was singing “Let It Go” with her amazing voice. Frozen was one of my favorite movies. I loved that scene where Elsa threw caution to the wind and allowed herself to be herself, the freedom of it.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel.
Don’t let them know.
I imagined some point in the future when all the schooling was over and all the pressure to perform well was behind me, and I could just live. I could just be. I could let it go! Sometimes that point seemed as distant as the farthest stars.
I squinted through the glass. A steady breeze tossed the branches of nearby trees and sent showers of dry leaves cascading to the pavement. The sky was as blue as I’d ever seen it.
I wanted to fall asleep and rewind to September so I could erase this mistake. But the hands of the clock kept creeping forward, and after several minutes, Brittany returned to the car with a plastic bag in her hand.
“I owe you big time,” I said.
“It was no big deal. No one was in there. You could have done it.” She tossed the test and her purse on the floor beside her leg.
“Where should we go?” I asked.
“The bathrooms are clean in that new Walmart. Let’s go there.”
“You want me to take a pregnancy test in Walmart?” Had I really fallen so low? Me, Kansas Jones, straight-A student, class president, top female swimmer on the varsity team, member of a local student robotics club, and hopeful future attendee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, peeing on a stick in a public restroom, struck down by Biology 101.
“You have any better ideas?” Brittany asked.
“Why not your house?” she countered.
I didn’t want a pregnancy test anywhere within five miles of my house. The statistical probability that one of my twin younger brothers would discover some shred of garbage from the pregnancy test packaging, question me, and expose my secret was ninety-eight percent. “Fine, we’ll go to Walmart.”
I started the car and backed out of the parking lot. There were actually two new Walmarts to choose from now. They seemed to sprout up across the city like toadstools overnight in the flower bed. I drove to the one farthest from our school so we’d be less likely to run into anyone we knew.
Once there, we went to the restrooms in the back of the store. The area was empty, and I went into the handicapped stall in the corner. Leaning against the wall, I pulled the package out of the plastic bag and read the instructions. Pee on a stick. Place stick on a clean, level surface and wait for results.
I glanced around. There was a narrow lip on the top edge of the toilet paper holder that could serve as the level surface, but clean? The shiny metal ledge no doubt represented home for entire colonies of bacteria and viruses. I unrolled some toilet paper and made a quasi-sterile surface. Then after re-reading the instructions again, I did the deed.
Wait 3 minutes.
Someone else came into the restroom. I paced inside the handicapped stall and stared at my watch. A toilet flushed. A lock clicked. A metal stall door banged against a wall. Water ran in a sink.
The secondhand ticked around the numbers. My period was never late. Ever. My body kept perfect time.
For my eighteenth birthday, my mom had taken me to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean for fall break. It was supposed to be just us girls, a special trip together for my senior year. Turquoise blue water, palm trees, white sand, balmy weather, and the soothing sound of waves against the beach greeted us when our airport shuttle dropped us off for the week. Yet even in paradise, I was a control freak about my schedule. I wanted to experience everything, so for the first few days, it went like this:
6:45 a.m. – Wake up
7:00 a.m. – Sunrise Yoga
8:00 a.m. – Breakfast
8:30 a.m. – Walk with Mom to the point at the end of the beach and back
9:45 a.m. – Snorkeling
11:45 a.m. – Water aerobics in the pool while Mom showered
12:45 p.m. – Meet Mom for lunch
1:30 p.m. – Sea kayaking, or windsurfing, or sailing
2:45 p.m. – Afternoon snorkeling
5:00 p.m. – Swimming in ocean
6:00 p.m. – Reading and napping by the pool
7:00 p.m. – Shower
7:30 p.m. – Meet Mom for dinner
9:00 p.m. – Evening show
The problem was that the resort had Wi-Fi, and Mom had brought her laptop from work. That meant afternoons on my own—until I met Foster, a twenty-year-old Australian windsurfer. He taught me how to stand on a board and sail a catamaran. He was gorgeous, funny, and persuasive. Come on, live a little. His accent sounded exotic. We were in the most wonderful place on Earth. I wanted to experience everything.
Let it go.
The three minutes were up. I looked at the results indicator. Checked the back of the box again. Looked at the results.
The next morning, a Saturday, I woke up early and went to the pool to swim laps as if everything was fine. Mom hadn’t even looked up from her computer when I passed through the kitchen on my way to the garage. She just said, “Bye, honey,” and kept typing.
What would she say if she knew about yesterday’s test results? That I had failed to meet everyone’s standards.
I’m disappointed in you. That’s how she would respond. Then she’d give me that look.
Was it really true? Even with the missed period, a tiny part of me didn’t trust the test results. Those things weren’t always accurate, right? Maybe I should take it again. Maybe it was too soon to know for sure. If I vowed to never even look at another guy until I was thirty, could it be made untrue?
Doubtful. I didn’t have that kind of luck.
I slid into the pool and began swimming. I needed to stop being such an idiot. There were no fairy godmothers granting wishes. I was on my own to take care of myself—like always. Foster was already out of the picture. We’d exchanged contact information at the end of vacation week and promised to Friend each other, but this news wasn’t exactly something to share on social media. Anyway, I didn’t even want him in the picture. What would be the point? To marry me? To send money for an abortion? Child support? Just to let him know that he was a father so he could share the news with all his friends and family?
No one could know. Not Foster, not anyone.
I knew what I had to do. There was only one option for me. I had three months… twelve weeks—no, ten—to take action. Beyond that was the point of no return.
I didn’t have time to deal with this! I didn’t want to deal with this. Not right now. Next Saturday was the October SAT test date, and this was my last chance to improve my verbal scores because the following day was the MIT Early Action deadline for submitting my application. This week I had to focus on studying for the SATs and polishing my essay. At least I’d already written a draft.
Then next week, my local interview was scheduled. I still hadn’t compiled a list of questions to ask, nor had I rehearsed my answers for the standard ones I expected to be asked of me.
And there were finals for this grading period, too. All due at the same time.
MIT was the most important thing of my whole entire life. All my hopes and dreams for the future depended on it. I had to concentrate on pulling everything together for that first. Then I’d figure out a plan for the other. Ten weeks was plenty of time.
Huntsville, Alabama, was a mix of high-tech and old south. My friend Taylor lived near historic Old Town, where most well-kept homes displayed plaques in the front yard to boast the year they were built: 1828, 1880, 1929, a long time ago.
Taylor’s parents let us have a whole stall in their garage for working on our robot. His dad was a neurosurgeon, and his mom owned her own company. Sometimes when we got stuck, she consulted. She seemed to know everything about everything—or at least be able to figure it out. She’d helped us find a few sponsors for raising money, as well as some UAH professors to review our design concepts.
Everyone in the club collaborated on all aspects of the robot, but each of us specialized in certain areas. Taylor and Claudia understood electronics and controls the best. Whitney and Sanjay handled mechanics. I was the programmer. All of us were designers and builders.
We were building a robot to compete in the southeast annual R2-RoboCon competition in December. In addition to bringing their robots, people wore elaborate costumes for the parade. Some people dressed up as characters for the entire weekend. It was basically like Dragon Con for tech geeks and automatons.
Taylor was the only one there when I arrived. He was a giant hulking guy with thick glasses and messy reddish-brown hair. His massive hands seemed like the wrong tools for handling delicate electronics, though he was a master craftsman.
“Where is everyone?” I asked. “I thought I was late.”
“You are.” He swiveled on the stool, away from the board he’d been working on, and looked at me.
For a moment, the double meaning of the phrase I’m late struck me, and I had this awful feeling. He knows. Everyone knows. But that wasn’t true. Rational brain kicked in.
“I forgot to bring food,” I said. Candy was the group punishment for tardiness.
“It’s okay. No one else is coming anyway.”
“Finals. SATs. I’m surprised you’re here.”
“We have eight weeks left to finish.” I glanced at our robot. “And WALL-E doesn’t have a fully-functioning brain yet.”
“By all means, Great-and-Powerful Oz, you should get to work on that.”
I pulled up another stool beside him at the bench and unpacked my laptop from my backpack. I held it in front of my face. “Pay no attention to the girl behind the keyboard. No attention at all.”
“I sit amazed by your wizardry. Would you build me another heart while you’re at it?” he asked. “I lost mine to a pretty mermaid with long golden hair.”
I ducked my head so a blonde curtain hid my face while I typed my password. I never knew how to respond when Taylor said stuff like that. He’d been flirting with me since last year, but I’d always made my priorities clear. School. Robotics. Swimming. Smart girls stayed away from relationships. Nobody was allowed inside my personal space. Stay outside the bubble, please. College came first. Always.
I knew of girls who’d compromised on their first choice college because of boyfriends and girls who’d left college without graduating because they met someone and got married. That wasn’t for me. I had big plans.
Tears suddenly stung my eyes. I’d made a promise to myself that I would never… I’d kept everyone at a distance so I wouldn’t even be tempted to slip up. Every day I focused on the things that mattered, on my future, and in one instant, I’d ruined everything. No condom, no thought about consequences, nothing but tan muscles and that sexy voice whispering in my ear. Strong arms pulling me close, experienced hands exploring, warm lips pressing against mine. I surrendered to the moment. I was weak. One time. One stupid, lousy time.
For a second I allowed myself to linger on my memory of Foster. His sandy blonde curls were messy from the morning wind. We were in a beachfront bungalow, and I could hear the ocean outside the window. Palm trees cast shadows on the wall behind his shoulders and along the ceiling, and it felt a little startling to be touched by someone, especially so intimately. His hands went everywhere. My skin came alive under his fingers, his lips…
“Kansas?” Taylor asked. “Are you all right?”
I jumped and blushed. “Yeah, why?”
“I asked if you were ready for the Calculus final this week.”
“Oh! Yeah, I think so. That’s not the one I’m worried about.” I made a face. “Social studies. Mr. Hyback gives killer essay tests.”
“Those are hard to study for.”
I knew how stupid I’d been. Beaches turned smart girls into idiots. What did I think would happen? I’d taken sex education. I knew condoms were always required because it only took one time to get pregnant. How many? Count them: one.
I launched the software for programming. If…then. Case statements. Variables. The logical result was right there. An inner join and union followed by a system crash.
“By the way, two of the sensors came in,” Taylor said.
“The others are still on back order.”
I leaned forward, elbows on the counter and face cradled in my hands. Every time I thought about those sensors, I wanted to choke Whitney all over again. “Can we get them somewhere else?” I asked, speaking through my fingers. “We’re running out of time.”
“They’ll get here, Kansas. Don’t panic.”
“We have no robot without those parts.” I began poking my pinkie fingers into the corners of my eyes and rocking side to side.
“That’s not a good look for you. Oh, wait! Are you testing costume ideas? Because I thought we might go as replicants from Blade Runner.”
“Blade Runner? Are you kidding? This is serious.”
“I agree. Costume selection for R2-RoboCon is extremely serious.” He gave me a sideways look and wiggled his eyebrows. “You could be Princess Leia, and I could be Jabba the Hut. You have to wear the gold bikini.”
I dropped my hands. He did not just go there. “How about characters from this century?”
“I appreciate the classics. Star Wars, Deep Space Nine, Short Circuit—”
“You still think Short Circuit qualifies as a classic?” Johnny Five had been his suggestion for the name of our robot. When none of us knew what he was talking about, he’d made the whole team watch the movie.
“I bet you can’t find five people at school who’ve even heard of it.”
“As many adults attend R2-RoboCon as kids. Maybe more. Believe me, they know this movie. They know Buck Rogers.”
I smiled a little because he was right. It was last year’s R2-RoboCon where I first met a character named Alf.
“About the sensors though,” I said, “I still think we should—”
“You are.” Taylor switched on a light and leaned over the circuit board in front of him. “Focus on the things that we can do right now. You can’t always control everything.”
His words reminded me again of the pregnancy—something that felt very much out of my control at the moment. A fresh pang of panic rose up inside me. This couldn’t be happening! It was too awful to be real. I just wanted it to go away.
No. I took a deep breath and placed my fingers on the laptop keyboard. I wasn’t the kind of girl who crumpled in the face of adversity. I was swift, decisive, and strong. My life had a plan, and nothing about that had changed. This was simply one more obstacle in a long line of them, but I would reach my goal.
I could fix this. I could fix anything.
I began writing code for our robot’s brain.