Although Darcy didn’t have a boyfriend, she wasn’t about to sit around pouting about that fact on Valentine’s Day. She had invited her single girlfriends over to her house to eat snacks and watch a romantic comedy. It wouldn’t be as romantic as a date with a cute boy, but it was the best she could do.
Darcy filled a red paper plate with candy hearts and chocolate-dipped strawberries that her mom had helped her prepare for the party. Squeezing between two girls on the sofa, she put her feet up on the ottoman and pushed Play on the remote control. As the previews played, Darcy thought about how happy she was to have made the decision to invite friends to her house tonight. Her church friends were getting together at Becca’s house, but that would be a different kind of party. They had continued to drink even after learning about the horrible tragedy that had happened to her sister, but Darcy never wanted to touch alcohol again.
A phone rang in another part of the house, and Darcy heard her mother answer it. Soon, her mom rushed into the room and tapped Darcy on the shoulder, motioning for her to come into the next room.
Darcy followed her mom into her dad’s office. Darcy’s father, who was sitting at his desk paying bills online, swiveled in his chair to join the conversation. “What’s going on?”
Her mom’s forehead was creased with worry lines. Darcy had seen that expression on her mom only one other time—the day she found out Audrey was pregnant. A lump formed in Darcy’s throat.
“I have some bad news. We need to pray.”
Darcy’s mouth went dry and her fingers trembled. Audrey was working at her nanny job. Darcy panicked at the thought that something may have happened to her sister or the baby. “Is it Audrey?”
“No, Audrey is fine. But Pastor Mitchel was in a car crash.”
Darcy and her dad simultaneously gasped in horror.
“He’s at the hospital in a coma. Apparently, he hit his head pretty hard.” Her mom brought her fist to her mouth, stifling a soft cry. “They’re not sure if he’s going to make it.”
Darcy’s heart sank, and she was at a loss for words. She thought about what an amazing role model Pastor Mitchel had been for all the teenagers at their church. Then she thought about how most of the youth group was partying at that very moment, ignoring his warnings about teenage drinking, while he lay in a coma.
“Darcy, are you okay?”
She tried to process the situation. “I’ll be okay.” An idea formed in her mind. She would gather the youth group kids together to pray. It was something Audrey would do. Darcy needed to stop relying on her sister to be the leader. It was time for her to step up. “I know what I need to do.” Then she told her parents her idea.
Audrey drove straight to the hospital as soon as she could get away from her job. The mother of the children she babysat for arrived home from work moments after Audrey received Darcy’s text that Pastor Mitchel was in the hospital. Darcy had sent out a group text to all of the youth group kids, asking them to meet in the emergency room. Only family members were allowed to visit him, but the kids could still gather to pray.
Audrey rushed into the ER waiting area and found Darcy, Jake, Becca, and Gavin in a quiet corner, seated in a circle on the floor. They were holding hands and had their heads bowed in prayer. Audrey squeezed in between Darcy and Becca, sitting cross-legged with her back against a wall for support. Sitting on the floor was not an easy thing to do these days with her belly the size of a basketball. But she wouldn’t miss joining this prayer circle for anything. She closed her eyes.
Darcy prayed, “Dear heavenly Father, please save Pastor Mitchel. Heal his brain and wake him up from the coma. We need him. He’s taught us so much, and we still have so much more to learn. And Mrs. Mitchel needs him. They make such a cute couple. We know you can do anything, Father. Please let him walk out of this hospital completely healed.”
Kids took turns praying as they felt led. Despite the dire situation, Audrey’s heart soared. The same kids who had meant to spend the night consuming profuse amounts of alcohol were instead pouring their hearts out to their Savior. And she was so proud of Darcy for organizing the prayer meeting.
A long silence followed Becca’s turn, signaling closure to their prayer time. Audrey peeked open her eyes just enough to take inventory of all those present. Jake was the only person not to have prayed. She waited a moment, and just when she was about to close in prayer, Jake finally spoke.
“Dear Lord.” His voice cracked. “Pastor Mitchel doesn’t deserve this. He’s a good guy.” An awkward silence followed while Jake tried to compose himself enough to continue. Audrey peeked around. Becca put her arm around Jake. Tears were breaking free from his eyes, despite his obvious attempt to hold them back. “Don’t take him, God. You don’t need him up there.” He coughed. “We need him down here. Amen.”
Everyone stood up and hugged. Except for Audrey. She remained in prayer, thanking God for this circle of friends she had the privilege of growing up with. She silently prayed that they would stay close forever. She also prayed that her friends would listen to Pastor Mitchel’s advice and stop partying so much. She shuddered at the thought of gathering at the hospital to mourn the loss of a friend after a drunk-driving accident.
Darcy sat next to Audrey, wrapping her arm around her shoulders. In the comfort of her little sister, Audrey bawled like a baby. She had become close to Pastor Mitchel over the last several months. He called to check in with her regularly to ask how she was doing, often times on Sunday nights—her former T-time. He mostly just listened to Audrey vent, offering advice only when she asked for it. She told him about how the pregnancy was taking over her body in weird and frightening ways—without going into too much detail. She talked about the flashbacks that kept her awake at night. She even told him about her feelings for Trevor. She couldn’t imagine Pastor Mitchel being ripped from her life right now. She laid her head on Darcy’s shoulder. “He can’t die, Darcy. He just can’t.” Her body shook with grief and fear.
Darcy stumbled over words, struggling to express encouragement that he would survive. But she came up short. She couldn’t promise that. She sighed. “Trust in the Lord, right?”
A smile tugged at Audrey’s lips. “Definitely.”
The group stayed at the hospital for quite some time, reminiscing about the years gone by with Pastor Mitchel as their leader. A mingling of laughter and tears filled their time until late into the night when cell phones began to ring with parents beckoning their teens to come home. Audrey hated to leave, but she was hopeful that God would answer their prayers.
As she climbed into bed late that night, her body ached. Six months into the pregnancy, the baby was growing like crazy, making her feel heavy and fatigued on a normal day. This day had been downright exhausting. She was relieved to finally lie down, but her enormous belly made it difficult to get comfortable. She rolled onto her side and tucked pillows behind her back, between her knees, and under her belly for support. Once settled into her cocoon, she grabbed her phone off of her nightstand to check the Hope Church Facebook page for updates on Pastor Mitchel. A post from Maggie Mitchel popped up—a selfie of her and Pastor Mitchel at a restaurant, their heads tipped together, smiles lighting up their faces. The caption read, “Hard to believe that a few hours ago we were celebrating Valentine’s Day at our favorite Italian restaurant, and now he is in the ICU. Please pray.”
Dozens of people had already liked the post and left comments. Most people promised to pray; some quoted Bible verses. Audrey decided to write some words of encouragement but was unsure what she could say that hadn’t already been said. Nothing profound came to mind. She rubbed her eyes; they burned from all the tears she’d shed. After much deliberation, she conceded to borrow advice from Pastor Mitchel himself. She typed Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
Instantly, someone liked her comment. Her heart warmed with all the love people were showing Pastor Mitchel. With all of Hope Church praying, he would definitely pull through. Curious, she checked who had reacted to her comment. Her eyes lit up at the sight of the name. Trevor Hayes.
Excitement twirled in Audrey’s stomach as she drove back to campus. She was relieved that winter break was over and was anxious to see her cute little dorm room, her teammates, and even her chatty roommate. A warm fuzzy feeling washed over her as the campus came into view. She turned onto Bethel Drive and flashed her ID at the security guard. He smiled and waved her through. It felt good to belong here. To be just another student. Coming back to college would serve as a welcome distraction from her problems and restore a sense of normalcy to her life.
Loaded down with her bags and a basket of freshly laundered clothing, she managed to open the door to her dorm room. “Audrey!” Destiny barreled toward her, pouncing on her with an enthusiastic hug. “Let me help you with all this stuff.” The hyperactive roommate grabbed the laundry basket and proceeded to hang the articles of clothing in the tiny closet. “How was your Christmas? I didn’t hear from you all break. I had so much fun in Colorado. The snow was perfection—like powder. Nothing like the ski hills around here. Do you snowboard?”
Audrey dropped her bags on her bed and unbuttoned her coat. “Um, yeah. I love snowboarding.”
“We should go sometime. I mean, it won’t be anything like Breck, but maybe we could go up to Lutsen. Those slopes are pretty sweet, for Minnesota anyway.”
“Maybe.” Unlikely. Audrey squeezed past Destiny to hang her coat in the closet.
Destiny stood back, looking Audrey up and down. Audrey held her breath, hoping Destiny wouldn’t comment on her weight gain. She decided to beat her to it. “I think I gained like ten pounds over Christmas. My mom makes the best Christmas cookies. I need to get back to running.”
Destiny laughed. “You can afford to gain ten pounds.”
Phew! Bullet dodged.
Destiny checked her own reflection in the full-length mirror, straightening the collar of her emerald green sweater and fluffing her red hair. “Anyway, I’ve been dying to tell you that I signed us up on a broomball team. Everybody plays broomball in January so I knew you wouldn’t mind. I know you’ll be great.”
“I love broomball!” Happiness bubbled inside Audrey, spreading a huge smile across her face. “I bet you’re good too. I’ve seen you play soccer.”
“I hope so. I’ve never played. I guess it’s like hockey but with a different stick and a ball instead of a puck. B-T-W, I have a surprise for you.”
Audrey sat on her bed, her giddiness dampened. “I don't like surprises.”
Destiny held up her phone and snapped a selfie, her lips pursed. “You only have to wait until our team practice tonight to find out.”
Audrey groaned. “This better be a nice surprise.” She lay back on her bed and closed her eyes. “I can’t handle anything drastic.”
“It’s a very nice surprise.”
A few hours later, Audrey was driving herself and Destiny to the ice rink off campus for their first team practice. The snow covered roads sparkled under the full moon’s light. Audrey’s feet were sweating in her boots and two layers of socks. Good thing it was a short drive.
Destiny was in the passenger seat, munching on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that matched the shade of her hair. “How’s the neighbor boy?” she asked before licking red-orange salt off of her fingertips.
Audrey’s heart squeezed. “We’re not talking right now.”
“That’s so sad. What happened? I mean, he was like your best friend, right? Oh, turn here.” She pointed a Cheeto toward a parking lot.
Audrey veered into the lot, thankful there wasn’t much time for further discussion. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Destiny turned the corners of her orange-stained lips down into a dramatic frown. “That bad, huh? Well, my surprise will cheer you up.” Her frown transformed into a gleaming smile. She pointed—a finger this time—to the ice rink. “Ta da!”
It was a surprise alright. In the middle of the rink, under the bright lights stood Matt Cook. He was holding a clipboard in his gloved hands, studying it. A couple other guys ran past him, racing to shoot the ball, sticks in hand. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Matt is on our team?” Audrey groaned. “I should’ve known that was the surprise.”
“He’s team captain. He’ll be so stoked that I brought you. We needed one more girl. Our team is going to dominate!” Destiny grabbed her stick from the back seat and ran out of the car. She joined Matt in the middle of the rink, leaving Audrey in the car, suddenly shivering.
Her escape from reality had been brief. It had been nice for a few hours to pretend that she was a regular college student, but seeing Matt—who knew her dark reality—brought everything back into perspective. She was living this fantasy life on borrowed time. Soon everyone around campus would know her secret. Soon she’d big as a beluga whale. Soon she wouldn’t be just a college student. She’d be a mom.
Her throat swelled with emotion. She shook her head. There would be no crying tonight. Tonight, she would play broomball and have fun doing it. She had nothing to be ashamed of. She grabbed her stick and joined Matt and Destiny out on the ice.
“Hi. Matt.” Audrey held her head high.
Matt stared at her, a confused look on his face. He wasn’t as cute as Audrey remembered. His sour personality somehow dimmed his beauty. “Are you sure you should play?” He flicked his eyes down to her abdomen. “In your state?”
Destiny put her hands on her hips. “What are you talking about? Aren’t you so excited to see each other? Do you know how hard it was for me to keep this a secret?”
Matt scoffed. “For one day? Good job, Destiny.”
Destiny squealed. “I know, right?” Matt’s sarcasm had somehow eluded her.
A couple other players ran over. “Hey, Audrey’s on our team. Sweet!” A guy from Audrey’s and Matt’s psych study group high-fived her.
“Matt doesn’t think she should play. Why shouldn’t she play, Matt?” Destiny said in a whiny voice.
Audrey gave Matt a look meant to convey that if he spoke a word about the pregnancy he’d be sorry. To her relief, he didn’t answer, so she did. “Matt is worried about me getting hurt before the indoor track season starts. Don’t worry, though. My coach encourages her athletes to play broomball. To stay in shape.” It was a lie that tasted salty on her tongue. Saltier than those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Truthfully, she was pretty sure her coach wouldn’t want her to play.
Of course track hadn’t been Matt’s concern. She knew his comment was in reference to the baby.
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s practice,” the guy from study group said.
Matt shook his head, “Whatever.” He listed off all the positions he wanted everyone to start in. Matt, Destiny, and the guy from study group would be forwards. He listed positions for all the remaining players except for her. Everyone ran to take their place as they would for a game.
“What about me?” Audrey glared at Matt.
“Oh, you can be an alternate in case someone gets hurt or something.”
She wanted to punch him. “I know what an alternate is.” She trudged across the ice to the outside of the rink and propped her elbows up on the wall, watching her teammates practice.
A van pulled into the parking lot, dispensing a team of broomball players sporting various shades of neon green. A second vehicle followed suit. “You guys ready to scrimmage?” one of the green players asked Audrey.
A guy carrying a girl piggy-back sidled up next to her. “We’re short a player. Mind playing with us, just for tonight?”
Audrey’s spirits lifted. “I’d love to.”
The game started out pretty low-key. A couple kids could barely stay on their feet, and the worst player on the green team turned out to be a ball hog. As Audrey stood her ground as right wing, she considered Matt’s question. Are you sure you should play? Ally had said it was safe to run. Audrey hadn’t thought to ask about playing broomball. A hard fall on the ice probably wouldn’t be good for the baby.
No worries. She’d grown up playing broomball and was solid on her feet. The rest of the scrimmage, she surrendered to the game. Well, the game wasn’t much to surrender to, but she put all thoughts of the baby, the party, Trevor, and Matt out of her mind. She scored the only two goals for the green team, but they still lost by three points.
They wrapped up practice with a team huddle. Matt announced new positions for next week. Audrey was pleasantly surprised when he named her as right winger. She mouthed the word “thanks” to him, but he pretended not to notice. The cold shoulder act was getting old. Her blood ran hot; she felt her face flush. She waited until the huddle closed with a cheer, shouting their team name--The Psychos, since most of them had been in psych study group together—and then she called out to Matt. “Hey, Matt. Did you drive?”
Caught off guard, he answered, “No.”
“You can ride with me.” She flashed him a sappy smile. “Destiny, do you mind catching a ride with someone else?”
Destiny complied. “Sure, I get it. You two look like you could use a little alone time. You need to kiss and make up.” She winked, instigating laughter and whistles from the rest of the team.
Matt agreed to ride with Audrey, but he looked like he wanted to kill her. She let the engine idle so the car could warm up and because she was too angry to drive. As soon as they were both situated with their equipment tossed in the backseat and their seatbelts buckled, Matt started ranting. “Did I not make myself clear? I’m not interested in you anymore so quit stalking me.”
Audrey was glad she was sitting on her cold hands to warm them. Otherwise, she would’ve slapped him across the face. “Stalking you? Really?”
“First you join my team, and then you corner me into riding back to campus with you.”
“Look, buddy. I didn’t know Destiny set me up to be on your team. Stop being such a narcissist.”
“I’m a narcissist? You’re the one risking the life of your unborn baby to play a childish game of broomball.”
“Childish? You were taking the game pretty seriously out there when you checked that girl who is half your size.”
Matt stared out at the rink, shaking his head. “So you dragged me into your car to call me a narcissist. Is there anything else?”
The other players had left the park, heading back to campus. A tingle of fear ran down Audrey’s spine. She was alone with a fuming Matt Cook. She decided to calm things down a bit. “I’m sorry I called you a narcissist.”
This guy was really a piece of work. “And I want us to act amiable with each other.”
“I was trying. I put you at right wing.”
“I appreciate that.” Audrey sighed. “Here’s the thing. Stop treating me like crap. I trusted you enough to tell you something deeply personal. Because I thought we were friends. I thought you’d support me. Instead, you’re treating me like a disease. It’s not fair.” She unfastened the top button of her coat. The heater seemed to have kicked up the temperature to one-hundred degrees. She turned the fan down a notch.
“The whole story sounds far-fetched. Am I really supposed to believe that you were drugged?”
“It’s far more likely that you got so wasted that you don’t remember what happened. Maybe you wanted it.”
His words were so hurtful that her heart physically hurt. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, but she blinked them back. She put the car in gear and drove out of the parking lot. She could hardly tolerate another minute with this guy. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me. All I ask is that you treat me with respect, and please don’t tell anybody. I’ll tell them when I’m ready. Fair enough?”
“In return, all I ask of you is that you stop associating with me. I’ll let you play on the broomball team, but that’s it.” Matt made a big huffy breath. “People might think it’s mine. You know how everyone talks about us. It was no secret that I had a crush on you.”
It was hard to believe she’d actually been friends with this self-centered jerk. “Don’t worry, Matt.” She patted his knee, seething underneath her syrupy exterior. “I made it clear that I was never interested in you.”
She parked in the student lot, turned off the ignition, and waited in the car until Matt was in his dorm, out of sight. Then she allowed the tears to rain.
Audrey woke with a horrible ache in her back. With her eyes still closed, she stretched, slamming her knee into something rigid. Straining to open her eyes, she tried to remember where she was. It definitely wasn’t her comfy bed. A streetlight hovered above her, shining through the windshield of her car. She rubbed her eyes, feeling the salt of dried tears on her fingertips. She’d fallen asleep in her car, and the bone-chilling cold of January had stiffened her every joint. She checked the time on her phone. Ten-thirty. She’d only slept about thirty minutes. Good thing she woke up. She could have frozen to death out here.
Shivering, she started the car and turned the heater on full blast. She anticipated the scenario that would likely ensue when she entered the dorm. She would tip toe around, avoiding Matt. Once safely in her room, Destiny would bombard her with questions. Audrey couldn’t fathom living out that scenario. Not now. Not ever. Exhaustion was getting the better of her—physically and emotionally.
Maybe she could just sleep out here in the car tonight. She could wake up and run the engine for a few minutes every couple of hours to warm up.
She rolled her eyes. That idea was pathetic.
Who was she trying to fool? As long as she was pregnant, the college-scene was too much to handle. Picking up her phone, she decided there was only one thing to do. She needed to make a phone call. As the phone rang, she restrained herself from crying again.
A quiet sob escaped Audrey’s throat. “Mom, I’m coming home.”
“There it is,” Audrey said to Becca, pointing to the brick building tucked between a consignment shop and a law office. The same sick feeling she’d had the last time she’d been here flooded back.
Matt’s vile reaction to Audrey’s predicament was enough to convince her that she was in over her head. People weren’t going to rally around her and support her. They would place blame on her. Matt’s icy glare had sent shivers down her spine. She imagined getting negative reactions from more people when she’d go back to school—dirty looks, whispers behind her back, and false rumors. She didn’t think she could take that kind of judgment.
And how could she raise a child? She didn’t have the know-how, and she didn’t want to burden her parents. For the first time, she understood how people could feel backed into abortions. In the least, she needed to get more information on her choices.
Becca parked on the street and cut the engine. “Do you want me to wait here?”
“Are you kidding me? You better not leave my side for one minute.”
Becca smiled warmly, “They’re not going to do anything today. You’re just getting information.” She unbuckled her seatbelt. “I promise I won’t leave your side.”
“Let’s do this.”
Half an hour later, Audrey felt more confused than ever as she and Becca exited the clinic. Her life felt like a big hopeless mess.
“Audrey?” A man called out to her from the sidewalk. He was running toward her.
Terrified, she looked up to see who this man was that saw her exiting the crisis pregnancy center. She feared it was her dad. Blinking away tears, she recognized the man to be Pastor Mitchel.
He ran to her and placed an arm around her shoulders. “Are you okay?”
“What are you doing here?” She looked to Becca in search of an explanation. “Did you tell him?” she asked Becca, backing away from her friend and shrugging off Pastor Mitchel’s arm.
Becca shook her head. “I didn’t tell anyone.”
“But you’re the only one I told about this appointment. How could you tell Pastor Mitchel?” Audrey crossed her arms across her abdomen, widening the distance between herself and Becca. “You promised to support me.”
“I texted Darcy. I’m sorry. I was trying to be supportive. I was just…I don’t know…scared that you’d have an abortion and regret it. I got nervous when the doctor asked to talk to you privately. I was starting to feel like an accomplice or something.
“Ladies, we’ll sort through all of this later. I’ll give you a ride to my house. We’ll talk there,” Pastor Mitchel took control of the situation.
Audrey looked up at him. She’d never felt so much shame. “Is Mrs. Mitchel there?” She didn’t want to have this conversation in front of Mrs. Mitchel.
“She is. Would you rather talk at your house?”
Audrey sniffled. “Are you going to tell my mom and dad?”
“Do they know about the pregnancy?”
Audrey shook her head. “I only told Becca and Darcy and Trevor…and a college friend. Make that ex-friend.”
“You need to tell your parents. I’ll drive you home. I’ll stay with you, if you’d like, but you can do the talking.”
She’d have to tell her mom and dad eventually. Having Pastor Mitchel by her side would give her courage. Anyway, she didn’t really have a choice at this point. She nodded.
Audrey deliberated between strangling her sister for opening her big mouth and thanking her for the same. Withholding her state of affairs from her parents had become a burden she could no longer bear. Darcy kept a safe distance from Audrey, sitting across the room from her. Wise decision.
Audrey sat in the corner of the couch with her knees pulled up to her chest. Her mom sat next to her, still oblivious to what all the fuss was about. She was worried all the same, rubbing her temples and glancing furtively at Audrey. Her dad was on the couch next to her mom. Pastor Mitchel sat on a chair adjacent to Audrey.
Pastor Mitchel was the first to speak. “Allow me to open in prayer.” He bowed his head, and everybody followed his lead. “Heavenly Father,” his voice shook. “Where two or more are gathered in your name, you promise to be present. Meet us here today, Father. Fill this home with your Holy Spirit.”
Audrey, although her eyes were closed, felt her mom’s gaze.
“Let us speak honestly and in love. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Everyone looked around at each other, not knowing how to proceed.
“What is this all about?” Audrey’s mom asked.
Audrey wanted to tell her mom, but she couldn’t find the words. Didn’t know where to start. She looked to Pastor Mitchel for encouragement. He nodded at her. “Take your time,” he said.
So it was on her shoulders. But she was at a loss for words.
“She had an abortion,” Darcy blurted out.
Her mom and dad gasped simultaneously. “Audrey?” Her mom demanded an explanation.
Now Audrey really wanted to strangle Darcy. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” she yelled at her sister. Audrey covered her face with her hands, sobbing. Her mom knelt in front of her, placing her gentle hands on Audrey’s knees.
“Honey, tell us what happened.” Her mom’s voice was soothing, devoid of the resentment Audrey had expected. “Tom, grab a box of tissues.”
Audrey wiped her face, discarding the tissues on the floor. She drew ragged breaths, wanting to tell her parents the truth. “Remember the party I told you about?”
Her mom nodded, still at Audrey’s feet. She was trying to be strong, but fear radiated from her blue green eyes. Fear that would soon be justifiable.
“I was raped.” The words spilled hastily from her quivering mouth. “I don’t know who did it. It was dark, and I figure someone drugged me. A guy was dragging me to another room…I passed out so I don’t even remember much. But…I’m pregnant.” She covered her eyes in shame. “I don’t know what to do.” Sobs racked her body again.
Her mom sat next to her on the couch, cradling her, rocking her, crying with her. “Honey, I’m so sorry.”
Her dad paced the floor. He was also crying and murmuring under his breath. Audrey didn’t know if he was praying or cursing. Or a little of each. He joined Audrey and her mom circling his arms around them. His strength and vulnerability commingled.
“Wait a minute.” Darcy stood up. “You said you are pregnant. But didn’t you have an abortion?”
Audrey pulled away from her parents, mopping her wet face with her sleeve. “No, Darcy. Becca drove me to the clinic to get more information.”
Darcy’s face paled. “Oh. I assumed—”
“You’ve said enough!” Audrey didn’t want to hear another word from her little sister.
Darcy shrank into her chair.
“You did the right thing, Darcy.” Of course her dad would say that. He turned to Audrey. “Why didn’t you tell your mom and me about this? We could’ve helped you.”
“You know you can tell me anything.” Her mom swept a lock of hair out of Audrey’s eyes.
“I’m sorry. I knew you guys would be disappointed so I just wanted to figure it out. I didn’t want you guys to worry.”
Her dad sat next to her. He regarded her with untainted love. “It was not your fault. We are not disappointed in you.” He spoke slowly so that she’d fully grasp the message in his words. And she did. “I love you. We love you.” He clutched her mom’s hand. “We’ll get through this together.”
At one o’clock in the morning, Audrey hugged Pastor Mitchel goodbye. She was finally able to look him in the eye after talking things over with him and her parents over the last few hours. The humiliation and anger she’d felt when he’d first approached her outside the pregnancy center were diminished by a sense of relief. It felt good to unharness the secrets she’d been harboring for so long. “Are you going to tell Mrs. Mitchel?”
“Only if you want me to.”
Audrey thought about it. Soon everyone would find out one way or another. She’d rather Mrs. Mitchel heard it from her husband. “I want you to tell her for me.”
Pastor Mitchel nodded. “I’ll let her know. And don’t worry. I’m sure she’ll understand. Call me if you ever need anything. Even just a listening ear or someone to pray with you.”
She promised to call him if she ever needed someone to talk to. She’d done enough talking for tonight.
As she brushed her teeth, the discussion from the night echoed in her mind. It was not your fault, her dad had said. His words washed over her. This was a new concept to her. Of course she knew it wasn’t her fault that someone raped her, but it was her fault that she chose to attend the party and that she drank alcohol. So, she’d felt responsible for the horrific crime.
But now she saw it through her dad’s eyes. His daughter had been hanging out with friends she trusted. Someone had taken advantage of her. Violated her. She remembered the feel of the guy’s disgusting hands on her waist before she blacked out.
Her stomach lurched. She spit toothpaste into the sink and rushed to the toilet. Kneeling on the floor, she heaved into the toilet until her stomach was emptied. She didn’t know if the vomiting was a result of morning sickness or being grossed out by the repulsive crime that she suffered. She ripped toilet paper off the roll, wiped her face, and lay on the rug, her energy depleted.
None of this was her fault. She had just wanted to spend time with friends before moving to college. She hadn’t done anything to justify what that guy did to her. It was completely unfair. She lay on her side, hugging her knees to her chest. Tears streamed down her face, soaking into the rug.
Now her life was completely messed up. How was she supposed keep going to school when she was pregnant? The indoor track season would be starting soon. Could she compete? Would she be able to run at all in a few months? Probably not if she was ginormous, puking all the time.
Audrey pounded a fist on the tile floor. The jerk even stole running from her that night. That made her blood boil. If only she could rewrite the story of her life, deleting the party scene and inserting a relaxing night at home with her family. Then her life would be normal. But her story had been written in ink. Etched into stone. There could be no deleting or ignoring the fact that the party happened as long as this fetus was growing inside of her.
There was a way to undo the pregnancy. Abortion. She let the idea percolate in her mind. After an abortion, she could resume life as usual. She’d always considered herself to be pro-life. But the way she saw it, there was no other choice. She peeled herself off the bathroom floor, splashed cool water on her face, and went to her bedroom.
With her phone in hand, she slid between the sheets and propped herself up in bed, leaning against the headboard. Her hands trembled as she searched for the crisis pregnancy center. She needed to call the 24-hour hotline to set up an appointment for the procedure before she’d have a chance to change her mind. The sooner she had the procedure, the sooner she could get back to being her normal self. She couldn’t stand this dismal person she’d become.
She searched for the local crisis pregnancy center and clicked on the link. A photo of the familiar brick building appeared. Below the picture it read Closed now. She clicked on the website and searched for a 24-hour hotline number. All she found was a number to call to leave a message. She dialed the number and listened to a recorded voice reminding her of the hours of operation, directing her to leave a voice message, and telling her to hang up and dial 911 in case of an emergency. Frustrated, Audrey hung up. This was an emergency, but she didn’t need an ambulance. She needed to make an appointment. Now!
Maybe there was another local crisis pregnancy center that understood crises don’t only happen during business hours. A list of women’s clinics in Minnesota filled the screen. She skimmed over the results. A place called “Zoe’s Place” caught her eye.
Honest information about your health, your baby, abortion, and adoption. Our counselors will assist you by answering your questions, supporting you throughout your pregnancy, and providing aftercare no matter what path you choose.
The part about supporting clients after the pregnancy sent shivers down Audrey’s spine. Why would she need support after the baby was out? Wouldn’t she just be able to get on with life? She clicked on the word Aftercare. Testimonials of women who had undergone abortions were posted. Women talked about feeling sad and guilty because they ended their babies’ lives. Some even struggled with depression and suicide.
Audrey clicked on a page titled Birthmothers. A picture of a teenaged girl named Camille appeared on the screen along with her testimonial. “The free ultrasound changed my life and saved my baby’s life. When I saw my baby’s beating heart, abortion was no longer an option for me. ”
The other clinic hadn’t offered Audrey an ultrasound. She placed her hand on her belly, imagining what her baby might look like at this point. The information from the doctor at the crisis pregnancy center had described it as tissue. But Camille said it looked like a baby.
Audrey read every testimonial on the entire website, and then she re-read them until her eyelids would no longer stay open. She put her phone on her nightstand and snuggled under the covers. Before making an appointment for the abortion, she needed to get an ultrasound. If the results showed nothing more than tissue, she’d get the abortion, move on with her life, and never look back. On the other hand, if the ultrasound revealed an actual baby…she sighed…then God would have to show her what to do. Because she didn’t have a clue.
First thing in the morning, Audrey called Zoe’s Place. She wasn’t sure if anyone would answer since it was Sunday. She held her breath, waiting for someone to pick up. “Zoe’s Place. Ally speaking. How may I help you?” The woman’s voice was warm and friendly.
“Hi.” Audrey’s voice was gravelly from just waking up. She cleared her throat. “I need an ultrasound. I mean…I’m pregnant, and I want an abortion. Except if it’s really a baby and then I don’t know—”
“I’m glad you called. That’s exactly what I’m here for. Would you like to come in today or would you like to schedule a time for later in the week?”
Audrey was relieved the lady had interrupted her rambling. She took a deep breath and relaxed a bit. “As soon as possible.”
“No problem. Can you be at Zoe’s Place in thirty minutes?”
Audrey checked the time on her wall clock. Her family should be leaving for church in just a few minutes. They probably assumed she was sleeping in after the late night talking with Pastor Mitchel. “Thirty minutes will be perfect.” Audrey ended the phone call and breathed a sigh of relief. Soon she would see for herself what was growing inside of her and be able to make a decision that would change the course of her life.
Audrey lay on her back with her shirt pulled up enough to expose her lower abdomen. Ally, a middle-aged woman who was just as warm and friendly in person as she’d been on the phone, squirted a jelly-like substance onto Audrey’s belly and began moving a wand slowly over the subtle bulge below Audrey’s belly button. The room was dark except for the soft glow of light coming from the ultrasound machine’s screen. Audrey closed her eyes, preparing herself for the moment of truth.
A scratchy noise sounded from the machine as Ally moved the wand back and forth. “That sound is like a microphone,” Ally said. Gradually, the noise morphed into a steady beating rhythm.
“Is that my heart beat?” Audrey was embarrassed at the fast pace of her heart. As a runner, she’d prided herself on her low resting heart rate. Her nerves must have multiplied her heart rate exponentially.
“That’s your baby’s heart.”
Audrey gasped. Her eyes flew open and she looked at the screen for the first time. The black and white picture was fuzzy and hard to make out; she squinted in concentration. Ally pointed to the screen. “This is the baby’s head. Here are the arms, and here are the legs.”
“I see the heart.” Audrey fixed her eyes on the pulsing spot in the baby’s chest, flashing in sync with the sound filling the room. Awestruck, Audrey stared at the screen while Ally took a few measurements.
“The baby is about two and a half inches long. That means you are almost twelve weeks along. The baby has fingernails and is starting to grow hair. Oh, look. Someone has hiccups.”
Audrey saw the baby making jerking movements. “Hiccups already? Wow.”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Ally smiled. “I can print off a picture if you’d like.”
“Yes, please.” Audrey decided she’d need the picture as proof that this was real. That a baby was growing inside of her. A real baby with fingernails and a beating heart.
Ally wiped the jelly off of Audrey’s belly and turned on the lights. Audrey straightened her clothing and sat up. “This is really happening.” She was numb. Overwhelmed.
Ally handed her the printed picture of the miniature baby. “Do you have any questions?” She sat down on a stool, holding her folded hands in her lap.
Speechless, Audrey studied the picture. One of the baby’s arms was extended, almost as if the baby were waving. Tears welled in her eyes. “I have so many questions. I just don’t know where to start.”
“Take your time.”
“For now, I just need to go home and think about everything.”
“I understand. Is it okay if I call you tomorrow?”
Audrey nodded. “I would appreciate that.” She hopped off the exam table and put on her coat. She slipped the ultrasound picture in her coat pocket.
Ally led her to the door. “Was the ultrasound helpful?”
Audrey fingered the picture in her pocket. It took her a moment to sort through her thoughts enough to answer. “To be honest, I came here looking for proof that an abortion was my best solution. I didn’t expect to see a cute little baby hiccupping and waving at me.” She expelled an incredulous laugh. “Abortion is no longer an option.”
“I’m glad it was helpful. Feel free to call me anytime. Day or night.”
Audrey thought back to last night when she was making a phone call in the middle of the night. “You might regret telling me that.”
They exited the building, and Ally locked the door. “Can I give you a hug?”
Audrey was amazed at Ally’s genuine interest in her case. So far, this pregnancy center’s care far surpassed the other center. Audrey accepted the hug and thanked Ally for everything.
On the drive home, Audrey thanked God that she hadn’t killed the cute little baby rapidly developing inside of her. She never would’ve believed it was already a baby had she not seen it for herself. She also thanked God for Ally. The sweet gentle woman was exactly the confidante Audrey needed. However, the morning’s events were taking her on an emotional rollercoaster that made her sick to her stomach. Now that abortion was ruled out, Audrey had to face the fact that she was a mom. An eighteen-year-old, unwed, college-bound mom.
“Trust in the Lord,” she reminded herself in effort to ward off a panic attack. “Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Mall security guards directed Matt to park all the way up on the top level of the jam-packed parking ramp. After driving around for ten minutes, dodging shoppers loaded down with bags, they finally found an open spot.
“Don’t these people know Christmas is over so they don’t need to shop anymore?” Matt had apparently never shopped on December twenty-sixth.
“They’re here for the after-Christmas sales.”
“You’d think they’d be sick of shopping.”
“You’d think.” Audrey and Matt climbed out of the car and headed in the direction of the ramp elevator. “Brrr. It’s freezing out here. Let’s run.” She sped to the elevator with Matt following close behind and pushed the down button. “What does your mom need from Nordstrom anyway?”
“A sweater.” He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read, “Michael Kors chenille sweater.”
“Couldn’t she order it online?”
Matt chuckled. “That’s right, I forgot. You’ve never met my mother.”
“What do you mean?”
“She hates computers and avoids them at all cost. She’s completely challenged by all forms of technology. Let me put it to you this way. She’s never sent an email in her life.”
“Yeah. And she doesn’t own a cell phone. My mother must be the last person on the planet to only use a land line.”
“That’s funny. At least you don’t have to worry about her posting embarrassing pictures of you to her Facebook page. So why didn’t you order the sweater for her? Or why didn’t she call in her order and have it shipped to your house?”
“That would’ve been easier, but she wanted me to check it for flaws.”
Audrey laughed. “You’re making this up.”
The elevator arrived just when Audrey thought her fingers would get frost bite. They stepped in, and she pushed the button for the ground floor.
She looked up at Matt and noticed his rosy cheeks. Although the cold air could’ve been the source, she was sure he was blushing. “You are making this up, aren’t you?” she said, giving him a playful shove.
“Okay, so I offered to pick it up for her, but she really does hate technology, and she really doesn’t own a cell phone, and she really did tell me to check the sweater for flaws.” He gave her a light shove back, knocking her into the poster of Nickelodeon Universe hanging on the wall of the elevator.
“So what’s your real reason for needing a trip to the mall?”
A sheepish grin lifted the corner of his mouth. “The after-Christmas sales.” He winked.
Audrey laughed. So he had really just been looking for an excuse to spend some time with her. She would have to find a way to make it clear that she wanted only to be friends, and she would need to do it soon. It would be cruel to lead him on.
The inside of the mall was bustling with bargain shoppers. Audrey led Matt to Nordstrom, where they asked a sales clerk for help finding the sweater his mom had requested. After carefully inspecting it for flaws, they made the purchase and wandered back out into the mall.
“Your mother has exquisite taste.”
“Yeah, she does. Everybody says so. She always looks like a million bucks.”
“Aw, that’s so sweet.”
“I didn’t say it was a good thing. I mean, sometimes I think she cares too much about what other people think of her. You know what I mean? Sometimes I wish she could relax and be herself. It’s like she thinks she has to be perfect.”
“Mmm, does she put those same expectations on you?”
Matt blushed. “You can read me like a book.”
Audrey said nothing, letting him know she was listening.
“Yeah, it’s been tough living up to her standards, but she’s a great mom.”
“I’m sure she is.”
“I just wish she didn’t put so much pressure on herself. Nobody’s perfect.”
Audrey could sense that he was not only talking about his mother, but also himself. She guessed that would explain why he put so much effort into his grades and even sports. When she really thought about it, she saw the flaw of perfectionism in herself.
They walked side by side, checking out the kiosks on the first floor. Audrey tried on sunglasses and ended up buying a pair. Matt purchased a Twins baseball cap. He put it on and stood back to get Audrey’s opinion. “What do you think?”
“I’m not sure it suits you. Maybe we better head back to Nordstrom to find something more sophisticated.”
He turned it backward, the way Trevor often wore his hat. “How about now?”
A lump formed in Audrey’s throat as she suddenly missed Trevor with every fiber of her body. “It’s totally you.”
She knew she needed to talk to Matt about just being friends. He had pretty much admitted to the fact that today was more of a date than not. She was afraid of losing his friendship, but that was a risk she needed to take. But before she had time to decide how to tell him, he interrupted her thoughts.
“Do you want to catch a movie?” Matt pointed up to the theater, visible on the fourth floor.
That was her cue. She had to say something now. “Um, I don’t think so.”
“I know we just saw one last night. You probably don’t feel like sitting through another one already. I just thought since we were here—”
“No, it isn’t that.” Audrey inhaled, held the air, and then blew out slowly.
“Nah, I get it. You’re in love with Trevor Hayes, aren’t you?”
Audrey shook her head. “That’s not it.” She sighed. Here goes nothing. “I’m not in a position to be dating anyone right now.” Her heart pounded in her chest as she contemplated telling him exactly why. No better time than the present. Soon school would resume and rumors would start to fly. She’d rather that he heard the truth from her.
“C’mere.” She took him by the arm, leading him over to a bench that was out of the way of foot traffic. “I have something I need to tell you. I’ve hardly told a soul, but I can’t keep it a secret forever.”
“It sounds serious.”
“It is.” She rubbed her forehead, dreading the words she knew she had to say. “This is so awkward. Okay, um, well, I went to a party with some high school friends back in August.” She knew even that much would be surprising to Matt. He didn’t drink at all. “It was a really crazy party, and there was a ton of drinking going on.”
“Did you drink?”
Shame flooded through Audrey’s veins. “A little. It was my first time, and I didn’t even want to be there. I was just trying to fit in, as stupid as that sounds. But nobody’s perfect, right?”
Matt didn’t say anything.
So Audrey continued. “To make a long story short … I was raped.”
Matt was speechless except for an audible gasp. He leaned forward on the bench and let his head fall into his hands. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, there’s more. When I was raped, I became pregnant.” There. She said it. She had no idea how Matt would respond, and she sat waiting for his reaction. When there was none, his head still in his hands, she nudged him. “Say something.”
“I don’t know what to say. I’m shocked. I guess I thought you were different.”
“What?” His words cut her like a knife, tearing at what was left of her dignity. So he had thought she was different—special. But now what did he think of her? That she was less of a person? “What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying I didn’t think you were like those other girls, running around partying. I thought you were more into school and sports and making something of yourself.”
This wasn’t the reaction she had expected. She’d expected him to at least say that he was sorry for her and give her a hug. Show some kind of sympathy. He was acting as if this was her fault. Tears sprang to Audrey’s eyes and poured down her face.
He picked at an invisible piece of lint on his coat and flicked it on the floor, refusing to look at her. The images of shoppers passing by blurred and the sound of their indistinct conversations became eerily muffled. She wished she were anywhere but here—on a bench in a mall. Why had she chosen this public place to tell Matt something so personal? Why she had told him at all?
“Why did you come here with me today?” Anger colored the tone of his words.
“Because you asked me to come. I thought we were friends.” She wiped her wet cheeks with her sleeve, but fresh tears continued to flow.
“You knew I wanted to be more than friends. Everybody else knew it too. And now I look like a fool.”
What a selfish jerk! After that huge confession she gave, he didn’t show any compassion. He only thought of himself. “You look like a fool? For what? For hanging out with a slut like me?”
Matt finally looked up at her, showing a hint of remorse. “I didn’t say that.”
“Think about it, Audrey. You’re in love with Trevor Hayes, you’re knocked up with some other dude’s baby, and now you’re here with me. You have to admit that’s messed up.” Matt stood up and started to walk. “Let’s just go.”
Neither said a word as they made their way back to Matt’s car up on the roof. The biting cold couldn’t even compare to the iciness she felt from him. It was a long, quiet drive home. Audrey could not believe how rude he was acting. She couldn’t believe that he had actually said she made him look like a fool.
“So are you gonna keep going to Bethel?” Matt broke the silence.
Audrey’s defenses rose. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Soon you’re gonna be, you know, bigger, and people will figure out that you’re pregnant.”
“Of course they’ll find out. That’s why I wanted to tell you now—in person—before you heard it through the grapevine.”
He stared ahead at the road, covered with packed down frozen snow. “Thanks.” His voice dripped with sarcasm.
“You know, I thought you were different too.” She knew she should hold back and not express her next thoughts, but Matt was being so unfair. “Maybe you’re not so unlike your mother, being all concerned with appearances. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
Matt faced her, his angry eyes saying enough to convey his feelings. He opened his mouth to say something, but stopped himself, and fixed his eyes back on the road. Audrey had a feeling that she wouldn’t have liked whatever it was he was going to say. Not another word was uttered until Matt pulled into her driveway where they exchanged a curt goodbye.
Audrey looked at her phone and reread the text from Matt. She needed to respond. Honestly, she would like to go to a movie. The idea of hanging out with friends who knew nothing about her current situation and getting lost in a fictional story was very inviting.
She thought about Trevor’s suggestion of inviting him to come along. She would love to share an arm rest and a bag of popcorn in a movie theatre with Trevor again. He would get along really well with her friends too. For sure he would have a lot in common with Matt since they both played football.
But it would be impossible to hang out with Trevor just as friends, especially after he’d confessed the depth of his feelings for her. As much as she would like him to come along, it just wouldn’t work out. It would be better to keep her distance from him.
Plus, if she was honest with herself, she had to admit that it seemed like Matt had a crush on her. It could be awkward having Trevor there even though Matt never flirted or treated her as anything other than a friend. But she could see it in his eyes when he talked to her. Even as they were studying psychology, discussing Pavlov’s theories about dogs salivating at the sound of a bell, his eyes would sparkle.
She made sure to never spend too much time alone with him. She didn’t want to give him the wrong idea about their relationship, and she didn’t want him to fall for her. Her heart was definitely falling for Trevor.
But in his text, Matt made it clear that it would be a group hanging out tonight. It’s not like he was asking her to go on a date.
There was no reason not to go.
She texted him back, and soon they had the details worked out. They were meeting at a theatre close to Bethel since that was a central location for everybody. Matt lived about twenty minutes further south of Audrey’s hometown, so he suggested that he’d pick her up on his way.
“It doesn’t make sense for both of us to drive,” he had reasoned. She knew that he was just being logical—not looking for an excuse to spend extra time with her. But she felt uncomfortable about it just the same. She didn’t want it to feel like a date. So she invited Darcy to come along.
Audrey looked out the window for what felt like the hundredth time in the past fifteen minutes, watching for Matt’s car. She peered over at Trevor’s car parked in his driveway next door. She wondered what he was doing at that moment, wishing she were with him, cuddled up next to him on the couch watching TV or down in their game room playing video games. She hoped he wouldn’t look out his window to see her climbing into Matt’s car. She especially didn’t want Trevor to get the wrong idea about her relationship with Matt.
Darcy came bounding down the stairs bringing with her a light scent of perfume. She looked pretty. Her light brown hair fell in soft curls around her freshly made up face. Darcy was an expert when it came to make-up, and she had done a professional job tonight at making herself appear to be at least three years older than her actual age of sixteen. “I’m ready. Is he here yet?” she asked, breathless.
“Not yet.” Audrey left the front window to put on her boots and coat. As she buttoned up her coat, she wondered when her growing belly wouldn’t allow her to button it up all the way; she hoped it would be a long time. She couldn’t hide her baby bump forever. She needed to tell her parents soon, and then she would tell her college friends. She dreaded that day. But this night was all about relaxing and having fun.
Headlights shone into the front window. “He’s here.”
“Cool. Is he as cute in person as he is in his football picture online?”
Audrey rolled her eyes. Her sister was as bad as every other girl at Bethel. She laughed and then answered honestly. “That picture doesn’t even come close to doing him justice.”
Darcy squealed and it reminded her of Destiny.
“Now compose yourself. No more squealing.” Audrey opened the door and hollered to her parents that they were leaving. They called back telling them to have a good time.
It was freezing outside. Even all bundled up, Audrey instantly began to shiver. She ran to the passenger door and let herself in.
Darcy climbed into the back seat. “Hey, Matt. I’m Darcy.” She didn’t waste any time on introductions.
Matt grinned at her in the rearview mirror and Audrey noticed how his eyes twinkled. He seemed amused by Darcy. The exchange put a smile on Audrey’s face. She glanced over at Trevor’s house and was relieved when she didn’t see him looking out the window. She was being paranoid. Of course he wouldn’t be lurking by the window, watching Audrey’s every move.
“Is that where Trevor lives?” Matt seemed to read her mind. He knew all about Trevor. Audrey had told him about how the two of them had grown up next door to each other. There had been a few times that she’d stepped away from their study group on Sunday nights for T-time.
“Yep.” She didn’t offer too much information and hoped he wouldn’t ask for more. Tonight was supposed to be about forgetting her problems with Trevor and just having fun.
“Do you wanna see if he can come with us? Sorry I didn’t think of that sooner.”
“No, that’s okay. We talked about it, but he’s not coming.”
Matt accepted her answer without probing. The subject quickly changed to football, with Darcy asking question after question about what it was like getting hit so hard or deciding which play to run. She was clearly enamored.
The movie theatre was packed. A lot of great movies had come out over the holidays. It took the group a while to agree on which movie to see, but they finally settled on a comedy. Their group included eight people, five guys and three girls, including Audrey and Darcy. They were all Bethel students, with the exception of Darcy, and Audrey knew them all very well.
She was so thankful for the great friends she had made so far her freshman year. This particular group was an especially easy bunch to laugh with. Besides Matt, Audrey knew two of the guys and the girl from psychology class. One of the other guys also played on the Bethel football team, and the other guy was Matt’s roommate. A fleeting and very depressing thought came that she may not finish out the year with them, but she quickly brushed the thought away. Tonight was about having fun.
Audrey found seats a few rows from the back of the theatre. She scooted all the way to the end of the row, and the rest filed in behind her—first Darcy, then Matt, and then the rest. Audrey was sure that Darcy was ecstatic to be sitting next to Matt. She did little to hide her emotions. As soon as they all sat down and were situated, Darcy reached over and squeezed Matt’s arm. “I get to share an arm rest with a handsome quarterback.” She wasn’t flirting, just being herself, lightheartedly joking around. Matt joked right back. “I apologize in advance if my rippling biceps take up too much room.” They all laughed. Darcy fit in perfectly.
The movie started a few minutes later. Darcy leaned over and whispered that she was going to get popcorn and candy. “Do you want anything?
Audrey dug a ten dollar bill out of her coat pocket. “Just a Coke.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
Darcy stood up and shuffled out of the row, squeezing past everyone.
Matt stood up. “I’ll go with you, Darcy.”
For a reason Audrey couldn’t put her finger on, she felt a twinge of jealousy as she watched Matt and Darcy walking off together. They would only be gone a few minutes buying snacks. And what did it matter to Audrey anyway? It’s not like Matt belonged to her. Audrey had to admit that in a way it was flattering to have Matt pining over her, although her heart definitely belonged to Trevor. It had to be stupid pregnancy hormones messing with her emotions. She shook her head in an attempt to shake away her irrational thoughts. Soon Matt and Darcy were back, and Audrey chided herself for her fleeting jealousy.
The movie was hilarious; Audrey couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed so hard. It was good to find respite from her dismal problems. It was great to reconnect with her sister too.
Laughter filtered through the hallways of the theatre as the group made its way out to the parking lot. Audrey suddenly realized her bladder would never last the thirty minute drive home. “You guys go ahead; I’ll catch up with you.” She turned toward the restrooms.
“Wait for me.” Darcy darted to Audrey’s side.
Matt, continuing to walk with the rest of their friends, called over his shoulder that he would pick them up outside the front of the theatre.
Audrey rushed into the rest room, feeling a sudden sense of urgency, and claimed the nearest stall. She wondered if this was also a symptom of pregnancy.
After washing her hands, Audrey touched up her lip gloss. Darcy stood beside her and did the same.
“Your friends are great.” Darcy rubbed her lips together, evenly distributing the shiny gloss.
“Yeah, they’re fun.”
Darcy crossed her arms and a sly smile crept across her face. “You didn’t tell me that Matt has a thing for you.”
“What?” Matt had done nothing all night to show any special interest in her. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t act so surprised. This can’t be news to you.”
Audrey tried to play dumb. “What makes you think he has a thing for me?” She looked at her reflection, combing her fingers through her hair.
Darcy smiled and shrugged. “Because he told me so.”
“What? He told you?”
“Well, not in so many words.”
So Darcy was reading into things, just like everybody else. Oddly, Audrey felt slightly disappointed. “Okay, what exactly did he say?”
“So when we left to get snacks he asked me if you were okay. I asked him what he meant, and he said you didn’t seem like yourself tonight.”
Audrey didn’t like where this was going. She held her breath, hoping Darcy didn’t say anything about her pregnancy. She’d be mortified!
“I said you were fine.”
Audrey breathed out a sigh of relief. So far, so good.
“Then he asked me if you’re interested in Trevor.” Darcy raised an eyebrow. “You know there’s only one reason a guy asks that question—when he wants to know if your heart is available.”
Audrey’s palms became moist with perspiration. “What did you tell him?”
“The truth.” She winked at Audrey. “I said you guys are just friends.”
Audrey didn’t know what to say or how to feel. “Then what did he say?”
“Then a smile spread across his gorgeous face and he said, “Audrey’s a great girl.””
“Well, it doesn’t matter. Obviously, I’m not interested in dating anyone right now.”
“You’re such a heartbreaker.”
“Let’s go. He’s probably waiting for us.”
Matt pulled up just as Audrey and Darcy exited the theatre building. The cold air took Audrey’s breath away.
“Shotgun.” Darcy raced to the car. She opened the front door and hopped in before Audrey had a chance to respond.
As Audrey slid into the back seat and buckled her seat belt, she caught Matt’s eye in the rearview mirror. He smiled, and Audrey caught a glimpse of that familiar sparkle in his eye. “Now I know why you’re so competitive. You have to keep up with this pistol of a little sister.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Darcy feigned insult.
“Not at all. It’s … endearing.”
“Endearing? That sounds like a word my grandpa would use.”
“That’s because I’m so mature.” Matt puffed out his chest.
“Whatever!” The girls said in unison.
The night continued with a lot of friendly banter and easy laughter. As Matt pulled into the Chapmans' driveway, they all seemed reluctant to let the night come to an end. Matt turned to Audrey. “Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”
Caught off guard, Audrey wasn’t sure how to answer. Was he asking her on a date? No, he wouldn’t do that with Darcy sitting next to him in the front seat.
“I’ll be driving practically right past your house on my way to the Mall of America. My mom needs me to pick something up for her at Nordstrom. I thought maybe you could come with if you’re not busy. I mean, I’ll feel a little awkward in the women’s clothing department. You can help me navigate my way around.”
“Oh, um …” Audrey searched her mind momentarily and was unable to come up with a reason not to go. “Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll be around.”
“Well, thanks for the ride, Matt. It was nice meeting you.” Darcy unbuckled her seat belt and jumped out of the car. “C’mon, Audrey. It’s late, and you need your beauty rest.”
Audrey guessed Darcy wanted to get her in the house to ask why she agreed to a date with Matt. She wasn’t sure that it was a good idea either, but Matt was a friend. Friends hang out at the mall together. No big deal.
Matt waved. “Bye, Darcy. See you tomorrow, Audrey.”
Audrey rushed into the house ahead of Darcy. She wanted to get up to her room before Darcy would have a chance to tell her again how stupid she was.
But Darcy wouldn’t let her get away that easy. She stepped between Audrey and the staircase. “You’re leading him on, you know.”
“Whatever, Darcy. We’re going to the mall. It’s not a date.”
“To him it’s a date. He didn’t invite me.”
She had a point.
“You can’t deny that he likes you. He inquired about your relationship with Trevor, and then he asked you to hang out with him again—two days in a row. You need to set him straight. Let him know you’re not in the market right now.”
“Nice, Darcy. And I suppose you want me to tell him that you are.” Audrey regretted it as soon as she said it. She knew Darcy was just being honest. But she didn’t want to hear it. “Fine. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”
Darcy stepped aside, allowing Audrey to pass. “Thanks for letting me tag along tonight. I had fun.”
“I had fun too.” Too bad it was time to get back to reality. Audrey turned to go to her room.
“Audrey?” Darcy’s voice wasn’t more than a whisper. She breezed up the few steps separating the girls. “Did you tell Mom and Dad about…your situation?”
Panic surged through Audrey’s veins. “No, and you better not even think of—”
“Calm down. I won’t say anything. As long as you tell them soon. They need to know. You need their help.”
“I’ll tell them when I’m ready.” Audrey shot her a warning look.
“I’m only agreeing to keep quiet because they should hear it from you.”
Darcy was right. Her mom and dad needed to know. But not tonight. Maybe tomorrow after she’d get home from the mall. Or whenever she had things figured out.
Nothing good was on TV. Darcy pressed the power button on the remote and stood up from the sofa. Being cooped up in the house was making her stir crazy. She needed to get out of the house. A trip to Caribou Coffee was in order. She found her mom in the kitchen and asked if she could take the Durango, which she rarely got the chance to drive.
Having her driver’s license less than a year, she hadn’t yet fully earned her parents’ trust when it came to driving. Darcy assured her mom that she was only going to Caribou Coffee and would be home in less than two hours. After much deliberation with her dad, her mom finally agreed to let her go. But there was one condition. She would need to take Audrey.
“You’re not used to driving on snowy roads. Plus, I think it would be good for the two of you to spend some time together.”
Darcy didn’t argue with her mom. She missed her sister and was sick and tired of all the secrecy in the house. She wanted to have a heart to heart talk with Audrey to get the full story on how she got pregnant.
Audrey also thought it was a good idea and was ready to get out of the house for a while. They each carried their overpriced hot cocoas to leather chairs situated opposite a fireplace. The small coffee shop had an extra cozy feel on the chilly winter day with its woodsy, up-north decor. It was the perfect place for a sisterly chat.
“So what’s going on with you and Trevor?” Darcy removed the lid from her cup and slurped some of the whipped cream.
“What’s so complicated? You’ve been best friends since forever. He’s the perfect match for you.”
Audrey shook her head. “It’s not that simple.”
“Well, I don’t know if you’ll ever find a guy as good as Trevor Hayes. You’d regret it if you let him get away.”
Audrey thought about that for a moment. “I know he’s a good guy. That’s just it. He’s too good for me … I mean, I don’t know if I’m good enough for him. You know … after everything that happened.”
“What did happen anyway? You never told me.”
Audrey sipped her drink. Darcy waited.
“I’m in trouble.” Audrey stared at the paper cup in her hand.
Darcy thought back to Becca’s words she’d overheard. She told Audrey about the night she overheard her and Becca talking. “I figured it was you and Mom having one of your normal girl talk sessions. You know I’m always up for a chat. So I started for your room to join in when I heard Becca say that you’re pregnant. That’s all I heard. Then I went back to my room.” Darcy’s cheeks reddened and she shifted in her seat. “I figured you and Trevor had gone all the way.”
Her heart thudded in her chest as questions filled her mind. She needed to find out if her sister was in fact pregnant. If so, who was the father? But she was afraid to learn the answers. She couldn’t stand to hear that her sister had been hurt in any way. She took a sip of her hot cocoa, stalling. Then she summoned the courage to ask. “That’s not what happened, is it?”
Audrey swept her eyes around the room, making sure nobody was listening. There were a few people who had stopped in for an after-dinner cup of coffee, but most seats were empty. No one was in ear shot, but to be sure, Audrey spoke in a hushed voice. “Trevor and I went to a party at Jake’s house. We weren’t going to stay long.”
Audrey blew across her hot cocoa and steam rose into the air. Instead of taking a sip, she set the cup down on the wooden table separating the two girls. Darcy was surprised at how composed Audrey was. It was as if she was talking about someone other than herself. “Trevor was outside playing basketball with Jake and some other guys. Becca drank too much and was puking, so I took her into the house to get cleaned up.”
Darcy listened, keeping her thoughts to herself. She was shocked that Audrey had gone to a party like that. She’d never told Audrey that she had tried alcohol a couple times with the youth group kids.
“We joined this dance circle, and soon…I don’t even know what happened. Next thing I knew, I felt sick all over—I figure someone slipped a drug into my drink—and I was dragged off into the guest room. I blacked out before it happened. I woke up early in the morning, and I knew I had been raped. And now I’m pregnant.”
Darcy was unable to stop the tears from flowing down her face. People were probably staring but she didn’t care. She probably had mascara running down her face too, but she didn’t care about that either. Her sister had been raped.
And now there was a poor little baby, her niece or nephew, who would grow up without a daddy. These types of things didn’t happen to people she knew, especially not her sister. She watched reality shows about other teenage mothers on TV. She saw how they struggled to raise a baby on their own. It pretty much ruined the teenage mother’s life half the time, and it usually even ripped her whole family apart.
This was even worse than what Darcy had seen on TV, because this baby wasn’t a result of a boyfriend and girlfriend having unprotected sex or even a one night stand. This baby was a result of a horrible crime.
Darcy felt sick to her stomach. She put her half-empty cup down and excused herself. She went into the women’s restroom and sank down into a heap on the cold tiled floor. Sobs racked her whole body. She sobbed for her tiny niece or nephew who was so innocent and precious and was so undeserving of coming into the world this way.
She sobbed for Audrey who worked so hard to do everything right and to the best of her ability. She made bad choices one night and would be punished for them the rest of her life. That didn’t seem fair.
And she sobbed for herself. Her world was shaken. Darcy had always looked up to her big sister as a role model. She wasn’t jealous of Audrey and all she had accomplished—her good grades, her athleticism, her perfect life. Audrey seemed to have it all and Darcy was nothing but proud. Audrey had set a great example of how hard work and living for Jesus paid off. But now, look where that had gotten her. It scared Darcy that life could be this unpredictable.
Darcy also cried because of the guilt she felt. She knew that the other youth group kids had been partying. She knew first hand because she had gone to a couple parties herself. They weren’t big parties like the ones Audrey experienced.
Once a few of the kids had gone to a movie and then hung out at Jake’s house for a while. They each had one or two beers, nothing more. Darcy knew it was wrong, but she didn’t want to look like a goody-goody, so she went along with everyone else. She had reasoned that there was no harm in drinking one or two beers. She was with church friends after all.
Another time—the time she felt most guilty about—was the night of the Fall Festival at church. Pastor Mitchel had brought them to a corn maze that night, and then the youth group came back to the church to carve pumpkins. It was a fun night. Darcy was proud of the cool designs she had carved into her pumpkin. Everybody complimented her on her artistic flare.
But after Pastor Mitchel went home, the teens lingered in the parking lot for a while. When Becca opened the trunk of her car to put her pumpkin in, she found a case of beer that her parents must have bought. So the youth group kids waited until the end of the festival, and when the last family had buckled their little one into the car seat and pulled out of the church parking lot, Becca started handing out cans of beer.
So there was the Hope Church youth group, sitting in the church parking lot drinking beer. Guilt stabbed at Darcy’s chest as she remembered back to that night. She realized at that moment, on the bathroom floor of a coffee shop, why drinking was so wrong. She had never really understood what was wrong with getting a buzz and acting silly with friends. But now it made sense. Bad things happened when people drank that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Nothing good came from it.
Darcy wondered if Pastor Mitchel knew that they’d been drinking behind his back. Now she considered confiding in him about it. But for now all she could concentrate on was the situation with her sister. Look where drinking had led her.
There was a knock on the door.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” she called in the most controlled voice she could muster.
“Darcy, open the door.” It was Audrey.
Darcy stood. She wiped her fingers under her eyes and saw black smudges on her fingertips. She looked in the mirror and saw that she had a hopeless case of raccoon eyes from her running mascara. There was nothing she could do to fix that now. She opened the door and saw Audrey in a similar state. Darcy pulled her sister into the bathroom and gave her the biggest and longest hug of her life.
They finally composed themselves enough to walk through the shop and into the parking lot without drawing too much attention. On the way home, Darcy asked if Audrey had told Trevor yet that she was raped. Darcy was relieved that she had. He needed to know.
“So tell me again why you’ve been brushing him off. I mean…why haven’t you admitted you love him?”
Audrey stared at the road straight ahead. She looked emotionally drained. “Because it’s complicated.”
“Whatever.” Darcy knew she sounded sarcastic, and although Audrey deserved sympathy right now, she also needed someone to tell her how stupid she was to turn Trevor away.
“I have too much to work through right now. I’m not in a position to be dating and finding romance. And Trevor deserves to be able to put his heart and soul into school and enjoying college life. He doesn’t need to be doting on a pregnant girlfriend. That would be so messed up.”
Darcy needed to set her sister straight. “No, your thinking is messed up.”
Audrey looked shocked at Darcy standing up to her, but that didn’t stop Darcy from speaking her mind.
“You’re a smart girl, Audrey, but you’re really being stupid. You need Trevor, and Trevor needs you. Plain and simple. Sometimes in life it’s better to think with your heart instead of your mind. Sure, maybe it doesn’t make sense for you to have a boyfriend when you’re pregnant or for Trevor to be dating a pregnant girl, but look how miserable you two are without each other.”
She paused, waiting for her words to sink in to her sister’s hard head. After a minute she continued, “I know you miss him and I saw how much he misses you. You should’ve seen the way he looked at me, Audrey. I know he was thinking of you, wishing I were you.”
Darcy thought she saw Audrey’s eyes glisten with tears, but Audrey quickly looked away. Maybe Darcy was actually getting through to her. She softened her tone of voice. “So what did Trevor say when you told him everything?”
“That he still loves me.” Her voice was barely a whisper, but Darcy heard it and she understood how difficult it was for Audrey to accept that he would still love her despite the rape and pregnancy that resulted from it.
“If Trevor loves me as much as he thinks he does, and if he is the man that God has set aside for me to marry, then he will wait for me. We can be together when the time is right. This just isn’t the time.”
That reasoning made sense, Darcy had to admit. They didn’t talk the rest of the way home. Darcy thought about how much she admired her sister. She really was smart. Darcy understood now that she wasn’t just punishing herself by keeping away from Trevor. She was doing what was right. There was no need to rush into a relationship. There were more important issues to deal with right now. Their mom had taught them that boys could wait. Darcy just hoped and prayed that Trevor literally would wait for her sister. They were a match made in Heaven. Darcy was sure of it.
“Darcy, Mom and Dad don’t know that I’m pregnant. Let me tell them.”
Rounding the corner to the front of the Chapman’s house, Audrey’s Toyota Camry came into view. She was home. Trying to calm down, he took deep, slow breaths. When Mrs. Chapman answered the door, Trevor faked his best smile, which he guessed she could see straight through.
“Hi, Trevor.” Sympathy colored her tone of voice. “You’re looking for Audrey, I presume?”
“Mrs. Chapman, I really need to see her.”
To his surprise, she opened the door further and told him to come in. “I’ll see what I can do. She’s up in her room.” She started up the stairs. Trevor shook off his wet boots and followed Audrey’s mom up the steps. Mrs. Chapman paused in the middle of the staircase and turned to him. “You can wait downstairs, Trevor. I’ll send her down.”
Trevor didn’t budge. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Chapman, but you know just as well as I do that she won’t agree to speak to me. Please, let me go up there.”
Mrs. Chapman hesitated, but finally moved aside, letting him go up on his own.
He tapped lightly on Audrey’s partially open door.
Trevor’s heart melted at the musical sound of her voice he had waited so long to hear. Pushing the door open, he saw her sitting on her bed with papers spread out before her. She was busy reading something, so she didn’t look up right away. He soaked in the sight of her. Her blond, curly hair was gathered into a messy bun at the top of her head. A loose fitting T-shirt was draped over her small frame, and she wore a pair of Capri sweat pants. She looked exactly the same as the last time he’d seen her, except that her face was slightly more filled out and he couldn’t help but notice that her breasts seemed larger.
Her natural beauty made him so weak in the knees that he had to put a hand on the door frame to hold steady. The anger he had been feeling minutes ago dissipated in her presence. He cleared his throat. “You’re not supposed to have to study over Christmas break.”
She looked up. Dropping the paper she held in her hands, she covered her mouth, clearly surprised by his unannounced visit. “Trevor, what are you doing here?”
Ignoring her question, he asked if he could come in, but didn’t wait for an answer. He entered her room and sat on the end of her bed. If he wasn’t forward, he wouldn’t get the answers he came for. “I’ve missed you, Audrey.”
“I’ve missed you too.” Her warm response took Trevor by pleasant surprise.
“Did I do something wrong? Because if I did anything to hurt you or make you hate me, I’m sorry.”
“No, Trevor. You didn’t do anything wrong. I promise.”
“Then why have you been giving me the cold shoulder?”
“It’s not like that.” She closed her eyes momentarily, before continuing. “I just think you’re better off without me. You deserve more. You deserve …” She couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.
“I want to be with you, Audrey. You know that. Nobody is better for me than you.” He felt tears well in his eyes and was helpless to stop them from spilling onto his unshaven face. It didn’t matter that the world thought of him as strong and tough—a six-foot-four-inch football player. His resolve was completely broken.
“But you deserve…a virgin.”
The confirmation straight from her mouth cut him like a knife.
“You don’t want me anymore. Look at me, Trevor.” Audrey smoothed her shirt over her abdomen, revealing a subtle bulge. “I’m pregnant. I might have to drop out of school and move back home with my parents. You don’t want a girl like that. You deserve so much more. Just move on, Trevor. It’s over between us.”
Trevor wiped his nose with the back of his hand, realizing he was blubbering like a baby. How was he supposed to win her heart back like this? He kept his gaze down as he tried to get a grip on his emotions. Through blurry eyes, he caught sight of the papers she had been studying. They were pamphlets of some kind, something one would get at a doctor’s office. He looked more closely and read the heading on one of the brochures. Your Body, Your Choice, it read.
“Are you getting an abortion?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think so. Let’s not talk about this, okay?” She swept the papers into a pile and stuffed them into her bedside table drawer.
“You’re pro-life.” Maybe she had changed after all. He would address this issue later. Now he needed to get the answers he came looking for. “So who’s the guy?” He kept his voice gentle, not wanting to sound accusatory.
Audrey shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Trevor felt his face flush with heat and his temper began to rise. “You don’t know? You’re going to sit there and tell me you don’t know? All I’m asking for is a simple answer to a simple question.” He looked her in the eyes, letting her know he wasn’t backing down. “Who is the guy?”
Silence was her answer.
Trevor shook his head in disbelief.
Breaking the silence, her phone signaled that a text message had come in. The phone was on the bed between Audrey and Trevor, where they could both read the name Matt Cook displayed on the screen.
Was this his answer? Trevor looked at Audrey. Her eyes were huge as saucers, as if she too couldn’t believe the timing of this text.
“It’s not what you think, Trevor.”
“You don’t know what I’m thinking, Audrey. Because I won’t know what to think about anything until you tell me what’s going on.” He picked up her phone. “Tell me what I’m supposed to think about this.” He read the text aloud. “Some of us are going to a movie tonight. Wanna come?”
“I’ve told you that Matt and I are just friends, and that’s the truth.”
“So how about if you text him back and tell him you’ll go, and Trevor’s coming with you. I wouldn’t mind going to a movie.” He was testing her.
Audrey shook her head. “That would be too weird.”
That was exactly the answer he’d expected to hear … was afraid to hear. “Why? Because he’s your boyfriend and I’m some other guy who’s in love with you?” He knew he was jumping to conclusions, but all the signs seemed to be pointing in the same direction. Audrey must have been seeing someone behind his back and it had to be this Matt Cook. He hated using this harsh tone of voice with Audrey, accusing her of things. If only she would be open and honest with him.
Audrey’s bottom lip quivered, and she hugged her knees to her chest. She seemed sad, not defensive or angry like he expected. “Matt is not my boyfriend. And you …” she stopped mid-sentence, and a tear left a trail of mascara down her cheek.
“Go ahead. Finish your sentence. I want to hear what you were going to say.”
She didn’t answer.
“What am I to you?”
Audrey looked down. “I don’t know anymore.”
She might as well have ripped his heart right out of his chest. But he wasn’t giving up that easily. “Do you love him?”
Audrey looked confused. “Love who?” She thought about it for a moment, and then she shook her head. “No!”
“I don’t get it.” Trevor was honestly baffled. He was getting nowhere.
Her words caught Trevor off guard. “Because you’re pregnant?” He spoke tenderly, finally feeling like he was getting somewhere with her. She was finally letting her guard down.
“It’s not that.” Audrey shielded her eyes with her hand. “I’m not a virgin anymore. I’m sorry.”
Trevor kept quiet, willing her to tell the whole story.
“We all make mistakes, Audrey. You don’t have to punish yourself for the rest of your life for slipping up once or twice. Of course I’m upset about it, but I know that we’ve been apart a lot, and I understand if you fell in love with someone else. I just want an explanation from you so I can have some kind of closure. I know we weren’t even dating, but…I just thought…I guess I thought you had feelings for me too.”
“I didn’t fall in love with someone else. I didn’t slip up once or twice either. I was raped.”
There it was. The answer he had been searching for. The reason she had withdrawn from him. And now he almost wished she hadn’t told him. It was the devastating scenario he hadn’t wanted to consider. It was easier to be angry that she was in love with another guy, but to hear that she had been raped was too much to bear. His gut twisted at the thought of some punk taking advantage of Audrey, the girl who’d always occupied a special place in his heart. “He’ll pay for this.”
“Trevor, I told you I don’t know who did it. I never even saw his face.”
She told him the whole story, up until the moment she passed out. He knew it was difficult for her to tell him, and his heart ached for her. “We have to find this guy, Audrey. He can’t get away with this.”
“That’s impossible. I’ve thought about it, believe me. There were so many guys there and I didn’t even know a lot of them. I bet Jake didn’t even know all of them.”
“You have to report it.”
“I told them at the pregnancy center. They reported it to the police, but there wasn’t any evidence of rape because I waited so long to see a doctor. They said it would be next to impossible to prove it was rape at this point.”
“Unless there was a witness.” Trevor was hopeful.
“I suppose you’re right, but I don’t know how to go about finding a witness. It was dark and crowded; I bet no one even noticed.” Audrey stretched her legs out and crossed her arms over her mid-section. “I want to just forget about it because finding him seems so hopeless.”
“There’s a good chance he bragged about it to his buddies, and he’s maybe doing it to other girls too. Someone has to stop him.”
“I don’t know.” Audrey didn’t appear to have any fight in her.
Trevor thought back to the papers Audrey had stuffed into her drawer. “Are you going to keep the baby?”
Audrey bit her lip. “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it much. I was just looking at being pregnant as some sort of disease or something. You know, something bad that happened to me that needs to be fixed.” Thoughtfully, she continued, “I’ve always thought abortion was wrong, but now I’m not so sure. I mean, who wants to know that they were conceived by rape? Is it fair to bring a person into the world under those circumstances? And I can’t raise a baby right now. I don’t know what to do.”
Trevor didn’t know either, and he didn’t feel equipped to offer advice.
“Do you understand now why I didn’t want you to have to get involved in this mess?” she asked.
“I get it. But did you forget the lyrics to our favorite song?” He sang softly, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong.” He knew it was corny, especially considering how heavy the conversation was, but they had sung that line to each other too many times to count. The cheese factor was what made the song so great. It had never failed to make them smile. And it worked this time too.
Audrey chuckled. “Don’t you think that’s a bit childish, considering the circumstances?”
“I think there is a lot of wisdom in that catchy little song. Seriously, don’t you feel better now?”
Audrey smiled. “Yeah, I do.”
“Except now I feel like crap.”
“Sorry to break it to you, but you look like crap. Ever heard of a razor?"
Trevor laughed as he rubbed the stubble on his face. “I decided to stop shaving until you talked to me.”
“And that’s all the further you got?” Her lips curved into a devious smile.
Trevor couldn’t help but laugh. He leaned over and rubbed his scratchy face on her cheeks.
“Stop!” She giggled.
Audrey’s laughter was medicine to his soul. He kissed her on the cheek. He sat next to her, their arms pressed against each other’s. He leaned his head against the headboard. It felt so good to be here next to Audrey again.
“I’m glad you hunted me down. Even though you didn’t groom yourself first.” She touched his stubbly chin.
Trevor lightly tickled under her arm.
She squealed. Trevor tickled her sides. “Uncle.” She screamed and laughed at the same time. Trevor dug his fingers in deeper until she laughed so hard she cried. His fingers traveled to her belly.
“Don’t!” Audrey squirmed out from under him and stood up from the bed. She wrapped her arms around her midsection and turned her back to him.
Trevor immediately felt like a complete jerk. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. It just felt like old times and I got carried away in the moment.”
“It’s okay.” She sniffed, holding her arms tight around her waist.
There was an awkward silence. Completely at a loss as to what to do or say, Trevor waited for her to break the silence. He sat on the edge of the bed, resting his elbows on his knees.
After several minutes, she sat down next to him. “Do you see now why this isn’t going to work?”
Frustration reared its ugly head once again. “You’re saying we can’t be friends because something terrible happened to you, and you need to survive it on your own? Is it so bad that you laughed for a minute?”
“You need to move on, Trevor. Please just live your life. I don’t want to hold you back.”
“I can’t believe we’re back to this, Audrey. Stop being so stubborn!”
Audrey jumped up from the bed. “I can handle this. This isn’t your problem. I don’t need you.” Regret seemed to darken her features the moment the words escaped her mouth.
Trevor knew she didn’t mean it, but it hurt just the same. Maybe he had no business being there after all.
Audrey slinked into a ball on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest. “I have too much to figure out.” She sighed heavily. “Just because my life is ruined doesn’t mean yours has to be ruined too.” She looked up. Her eyes were bloodshot. “Please, Trevor. Please leave me alone.”
Anger and frustration grabbed hold of Trevor once again. She left no room for negotiation. “If it’s really what you want, I’ll leave you alone. But only until you figure things out. Don’t you get it, Audrey? I love you. I have always loved you, and I always will. I waited my whole life for you. A little more time won’t hurt me. I’m not giving up on you, Audrey Chapman.” He stood up and walked out the door, not waiting to see her reaction. He was crushed that the conversation had ended like this. Although she wouldn’t admit it, he knew she loved him too.
He’d wanted so badly to hold her and tell her that everything would be okay. But truthfully, he couldn’t promise that. Only time would tell.
Mrs. Chapman met him by the front door. “I’m glad you came by, Trevor. If anybody could pull her out of her shell, it would be you.”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Chapman. That is one hard-headed girl you got there.”
“Strong willed her father and I like to call it.” Lydia laughed.
Trevor wondered if Lydia knew what had happened to Audrey. He considered asking her. But Darcy knew about the pregnancy, and no secret was safe with Darcy. Surely she had apprised her mother of the situation.
“Bye, Mrs. Chapman. Merry Christmas.”
Back at home, Trevor went into his dad’s office and closed the door. He would honor Audrey’s request for space while she figured things out. In the meantime he would find the jerk that violated her and get him locked away for good.
But two hours later he found himself at a standstill, having run into one dead end after another. The police department said the same thing that Audrey had told him. It would be nearly impossible to prove that she had been raped because by now the only evidence was the pregnancy.
The officer Trevor spoke with wasn’t convinced that Audrey had been raped. “So she’s running around partying. Sounds to me like she was looking for a good time. It’d be tough to prove that she wasn’t a willing partner.” How dare the officer suggest that?
Trevor realized just then how difficult it would be to catch this guy if the police department wasn’t even convinced it was rape. Trevor decided he would try to figure things out on his own.
He called Jake and got the names of every guy he could think of who had been at the party. “I have reason to believe that someone at your party used a date rape drug. Do you know anything about that?”
“Are you serious? Not that I know of. I mean, there were a couple of girls passed out on the sofa for a while, but I’m sure nothing happened to them. I sent everyone home after that. It wasn’t that kind of party. No drugs of any kind here … unless you consider alcohol a drug.”
Trevor talked with him for quite a while, and was well convinced that Jake really didn’t have a clue about any date rape drugs or know of anyone who would use them. Trevor’s investigation was a complete fail.
Infuriated, he decided a mental break was in order. He went into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. Lucas was sitting on the counter top eating handfuls of chips straight from the bag. Trevor slumped against the fridge as he gulped down the cold water.
“So what’s the scoop on your girlfriend?”
Trevor clenched his jaw. He wasn’t in the mood for joking around. “She was raped.”
Lucas swallowed the chips in his mouth with obvious difficulty. He tossed the chip bag on the counter and wiped greasy hands on his pants. “I’m sorry.” He jumped off the counter. “Who is he? I’m gonna pound the creep.”
“I wish I knew. Audrey doesn’t even know. It happened at a party. She was drugged.”
Lucas trudged the few feet it took to reach the kitchen table and slouched into a chair.
“It gets worse.” Trevor’s lower lip trembled. “She’s pregnant.”
Lucas shook his head in disbelief. “What’s she gonna do?”
“She might have an abortion. Can you believe it? I mean, she’s always been pro-life and now she might abort her own baby.” Trevor hoped his older brother would offer some wisdom.
“I can believe it.” Lucas shrugged.
Trevor felt his defenses rise. “But it’s her own flesh and blood.”
“Her’s and some disgusting creep’s. Plus, it’s not like she would’ve bonded with it at this point.” Lucas straightened. “I’m not saying she should have an abortion. I’m just saying that I get why she’s considering it.”
Lucas had a point. It’s not like Audrey would feel all maternal after something like this happened. Yet for a reason Trevor didn’t quite understand, he felt protective of the baby. “I care for Audrey so much. I guess it’s just that I love every part of her. No matter what.”
A corner of Lucas’s mouth lifted into a lopsided smile. “You are so whipped.”
Trevor was helpless to stop his own grin. “Yeah, it stinks.”
“Nah, it’s beautiful.” Lucas winked.
A couple hours later, Audrey held tight to Becca’s hand as they waited for the doctor to report the findings. The pregnancy center wasn’t creepy as Audrey had feared. It was decorated for the holiday season with twinkle lights and snowman figurines. The waiting area was cozy enough with sofas and plush chairs. However, the leaflets in the waiting area describing gonorrhea and chlamydia served as an unwelcome reminder that she wasn’t there for a friendly visit.
Then there was the exam—being poked and prodded, not knowing what the doctor would discover. She shuddered. She couldn’t have been more relieved when the exam was finally over. The doctor had told her to get dressed; she’d be back in a couple minutes to discuss the results.
“I’m so scared,” Audrey whispered to Becca. She was trembling.
The two of them sat in silence for a minute or two. Becca squeezed Audrey’s hand, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”
A tear rolled down Audrey’s cheek and splat on the white linoleum floor. “And lean not on your own understanding.” Audrey looked at Becca through blurry eyes. “That’s the verse I’ve been focusing on. I think God keeps reminding me of it.”
The door creaked open, and the doctor entered the room with a serious look on her face. She sat down on her swivel stool and began clicking away on a computer.
Come on, lady. Spit it out, Audrey wanted to scream.
The doctor cleared her throat and hesitated before looking up from the screen. “The good news is that you are healthy. There are no signs of disease or infection, although we do need to wait for a few test results to be certain. It would have been better for you to come in right afterwards for a more thorough assessment and preventative measures.”
Audrey exhaled. What a relief. Becca hugged her, and the stress of the past couple of hours drained away. She turned to the doctor. “Thank you so much.” Audrey could’ve hugged her too.
The doctor took a deep breath. “Audrey, there was one other test.” Bad news was written all over the lady’s face.
“What other test? You said I’m healthy.”
“You are pregnant.” She paused to let the news sink in. Then she stood and opened a cupboard, retrieving a selection of pamphlets and a small bottle of pills. “There are options. I’ll give you this information to take home and look over. When you make a decision about how to proceed, give the office a call to make an appointment. In the meantime, take one of these prenatal vitamins daily. Do you have any questions for me?”
Audrey wanted to scream that it couldn’t be true, that they should take another test to be sure. But she couldn’t find her voice. She looked at Becca who was staring blankly at the pamphlets in the doctor’s hand. She was shaking her head, also apparently at a loss for words.
The doctor’s eyes softened. “I’ll leave the literature here on the desk. Take as long as you like.” She stood and left the room, letting the door close quietly behind her.
Becca wrapped her arms around Audrey. Their tears mixed as they streamed onto their shoulders. Audrey clung to her friend, weeping until she finally found the energy to stand up. “I want to go home.”
On wobbly knees, Audrey leaned against her friend as they walked out of the clinic.
Audrey slid into Becca’s car, moving on autopilot. Numb. Numb to the chill of winter biting her fingertips. And numb to the myriad of emotions whirling through her head.
“Audrey, your phone is ringing.” Becca said. She sat behind the steering wheel, breathing warm air onto her hands.
Audrey’s phone vibrated in her coat pocket. She read the caller ID through blurry eyes. Trevor. Every fiber in her body screamed at her to answer his call. She missed him in a way she hadn’t known was possible. She wanted so badly to hear his voice. To hear him say everything was going to be okay. To know he still cared about her.
But she wouldn’t answer his call. As much as it was ripping her heart into a million pieces, she had to be strong and resist. He didn’t need her with all her baggage. Or maybe he was calling to yell at her for being so rude. Her heart just couldn’t take that. The ringing eventually stopped, and she returned the phone to her pocket.
“That was Trevor, wasn’t it?” Becca maneuvered the car out of the parallel parking space and onto the street.
“Why don’t you talk to him? He’s miserable without you.”
Audrey couldn’t find the words to answer.
When Becca dropped her off at home, she made her promise to keep in touch. “I will. Thank you for coming with me today. I wouldn’t have done it without you.”
“No problem.” Becca smiled.
“Please don’t tell anyone about this.” Audrey knew she could trust Becca.
“Cross my heart.”
Audrey tried to sneak in the house unnoticed but her mom came running to the door, holding the home phone to her ear.
“Just a minute, Trevor. She just walked in the door.”
Her mom held out the phone. “Trevor is asking to speak with you.”
“Tell him I’m busy.”
Her mom continued to hold the phone out, pleading with her eyes. Audrey shook her head and ran upstairs to her room.
She heard her mother’s voice. “I’m sorry, Trevor. She can’t come to the phone right now.” There was a pause. “I’ll tell her. Bye, hon.”
Audrey lay face down on her bed and put a pillow over her head. Soon she felt the bed sink down as her mother sat beside her. Her mom’s gentle hand rubbed light circles on Audrey’s back. “Trevor wants me to tell you he’ll be home all day if you want to talk.”
Trevor’s tenacity was unbelievable. After the unfair way she’d been treating him, he still wasn’t giving up on her. A part of her wanted to reach out to him. It was possible that she could get through this with Trevor by her side.
She considered calling him back immediately. She’d tell him that she was sorry for shutting him out. But just as quickly, she decided against it. He deserved better than her.
“I can’t talk to him, Mom.”
“Listen, Audrey. I don’t know what’s going on with you two, but you need to talk to him soon. He needs to hear that you still care about him. Even if it’s just as a friend.”
Audrey didn’t respond.
“To be honest, I think you’ll feel better after talking to him.”
“I’ll think about it,” Audrey uttered under her breath. It was all she could think about.
Her mom’s hand stilled. “Is there anything you’re not telling me? Did you and Trevor have a fight?” Audrey knew that her secrecy was breaking her mom’s heart.
“I’m not ready to talk about it.”
Her mom sighed. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.” Before leaving, her mom kissed Audrey’s temple. It was a gesture meant to demonstrate her mom’s unconditional love. But her mom didn’t have a clue how serious Audrey’s troubles were. Would her mom’s love be able to stand the test of public humiliation of her daughter’s teen pregnancy?
She sat up and took off her coat, removing the stack of brochures she had balled up in her coat pocket. Taking a deep breath, she started to read.
The first brochure briefly explained a medical procedure to remove the fetus. Medical terminology was used to disguise the fact that it was simply describing abortion. Audrey had always been opposed to abortion. God created life and it was up to Him to take it away.
On second thought, did God really create this fetus? God wouldn’t use rape to create a baby. Would He? Besides, the brochure didn’t use the word baby. It said a doctor would remove the “tissue” from the lining of the uterus. That didn’t sound like ending a life. Audrey set the brochure aside, tucking this option into the back of her mind. She would have to think about it more.
She moved on to the next pamphlet, describing the changes a woman needs to make in her daily life to support the needs of a growing baby. There were vitamin supplements to take and foods to avoid. It advised against going in hot tubs and saunas. It suggested taking naps and avoiding carrying heavy loads.
Information overload. The whole pregnancy thing was way too much to deal with.
At this point, the medical procedure to remove the tissue seemed the most logical solution to her problems.
Trevor slammed his phone down on the coffee table and slumped into the living room chair. It was torture not being able to see or talk to Audrey when she was in the house next door. It bothered him, what Darcy had said about Audrey being pregnant. But he tried not to let it weigh too heavily on his mind. Obviously Darcy didn’t have her facts straight. He and Audrey hadn’t even come close to having sex.
He looked out the window, past the backyard. The pond was frozen over, and snow was piled knee deep. His mind wandered back to yesteryear, when he and Audrey would shovel a crude ice rink and spend hours shooting hockey pucks or playing broom ball one on one. His head fell in his hands.
Lucas walked up from behind and gave him a brotherly kick in the shin. “Hey, how ya holding up?” Lucas sat on the adjacent chair, a pile of frosted sugar cookies in one hand and a tall glass of milk in the other.
Trevor rubbed his eyes before looking up at his brother.
“Dude, you’re looking rough.” Lucas eyeballed the phone on the coffee table. “She’s still not taking your calls?”
Trevor fixed his eyes on the pond. “Nope.”
Lucas followed his brother’s gaze out the window. “So what are you gonna do about it?” He bit into a sugar cookie cut out in the shape of a Christmas tree, green frosting coloring his lips.
Trevor rubbed his head. “One minute I’m done with her. She doesn’t want me in her life so why waste my time trying? The next minute, I can’t live without her, and I’d do anything to get her to speak to me.”
“And where are you at right now?”
Trevor sighed and laughed in spite of himself. “I’m desperate, man. Pathetic as that may sound. I’m completely desperate. I’m planning to march into the Chapman’s house and pin her to the ground until she gives me answers.”
“You might wanna try a more subtle approach.” Lucas wiped a hand on his jeans, sending crumbs sprinkling to the carpet.
“Ya think?” Trevor helped himself to a cookie from the pile in Lucas’ hand. He stuffed the cookie into his mouth all at once. “Hey, I’ve got an idea.” Bits of cookie fell from his mouth when he talked.
Lucas raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah, what’s that?” He took a swig of milk.
“How about we go out and shovel off the pond? For old time’s sake. We could play a little broom ball.”
Lucas downed the last of his milk. “That’s the spirit! No more moping around, crying over girls.”
Trevor didn’t tell Lucas he came up with the whole idea while reminiscing about the days of old with Audrey. He grabbed the last cookie from his brother’s hand. “Loser shovels the driveway.”
Once snow pants, boots, hats, and gloves were on, the guys trudged out to the pond in the deep snow. Lucas tried to keep the mood light with his witty banter, but Trevor’s disposition remained as heavy as the snow they pushed to the side of the pond. They piled up snow at opposite ends of the pond for goals, and played an aggressive game of broom ball. It felt good to pour his energy into a game. It was a much needed break from racking his brain about what had happened between him and Audrey.
A biting breeze blew across the ice as the sun began its descent. It was a tie game. Trevor could outrun Lucas on the football field, but their athletic ability was a match on the ice. Lucas had grown up playing hockey, and he could shoot a mean puck.
“Next point wins the game.” Lucas charged toward Trevor’s goal.
Trevor guarded his snow-piled goal, eyes fixed on the ball, when he heard rustling behind him. He turned around to see Darcy making her way over to the pond.
Lucas took advantage of Trevor’s quick glance away, scoring the final goal. “Woo hoo!” He raised his stick in the air. “Undefeated, baby!”
Trevor, ignoring his brother’s lack of humility, approached Darcy. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she echoed, looking down at her boots, buried in the snow.
Trevor waited for her to say more, but when she didn’t, he asked if she wanted to join in the broom ball game.
“No thanks. I can’t compete with you guys. It just looked like you were having fun out here, and I was bored out of my mind sitting inside.” She traced circles in the snow with the toe of her boot. “I wouldn’t mind shooting around with you for a while though.”
Trevor tried to hide his surprise. Since when did Darcy develop an interest in sports of any kind? He wondered if Audrey had set her up to this. But what harm could it do to play a little broom ball with her? Even if it was some sort of a game Audrey was playing. Or maybe Audrey sent Darcy as a messenger to fill him in on what was going on with her. Or maybe she just wanted to play broom ball.
“Sure. You can use Lucas’ stick. He needs a break anyway. He needs time to let that big head of his deflate.”
Darcy walked onto the ice and reached for the broom ball stick Lucas extended to her. She squealed as her feet slid out from under her, landing her on her bottom.
“Yeah, you might not be quite ready for a game.” Trevor helped her back onto her feet. He showed her how to walk flat-footed on the ice, keeping her weight over her feet. Soon she was able to run with short strides and make feeble attempts at stick-handling the ball. As she approached the goal, she swung the stick back and struck the ball with all her might. Her momentum from the back swing threw her off balance, landing her back on the ice with a thud. Her scream echoed across the pond followed by her laughter, as she rubbed her butt.
Trevor and Lucas couldn’t hold back their laughter. This time when Trevor extended a helping hand, she grabbed it and pulled him onto the ice next to her. His stick went flying and sent the ball bouncing into the goal. Soon they were all doubled over in laughter.
Trevor noticed how good it felt to laugh. He looked over at Darcy, silhouetted from the darkening sky. Her frame resembled Audrey’s. For a moment, he let his mind wander back to times when he laughed with Audrey over a game of broom ball. He wondered if he would ever laugh with her this way again. He shook his head, shaking his thoughts away. He stood up and dusted the snow off his jeans. He looked down at Darcy, still on the ice. “You’re on your own this time. No more help from me.”
Darcy batted her frozen eyelashes at him. “Come on. You can’t leave a girl on the ground.” She dramatically lifted her gloved hand delicately in his direction. “Please? I really need a big strong guy to help me.”
Trevor reached for her hand, pulling her to a stand.
Lucas walked over to them, a curious look on his face. “I’m gonna head in. My fingers and toes are frozen.” He looked at his brother. “You coming?”
Trevor realized he had his eyes fixed on Darcy as his mind wandered back in time. He had never noticed the strong resemblance Darcy had to her sister. It was almost like looking at Audrey a couple years ago, back when their friendship was untainted. Darcy seemed to squirm under his gaze, snapping Trevor back to reality.
“Yeah, I’m coming. You can head in without me. I wanna talk to Darcy for a minute first.”
Lucas gathered the broom ball sticks and walked back to the house. Trevor looked at Darcy who seemed to be squirming more than ever now. “I better go in now too.” She turned to leave.
Trevor grabbed her coat sleeve. “No!” He pleaded with her to stay. “Please talk to me, Darcy. Tell me what’s going on with Audrey.”
“Trevor, I told you everything I know.”
“But why won’t she talk to me?”
“I don’t know, Trevor. That’s between you guys.” She put her hands on her hips. “It’s your own fault, you know. You were supposed to wait until you got married. You got yourself into this mess, so don’t keep looking to me to get you out of it.”
Trevor took off his stocking cap and rubbed his sweaty hair. “Darcy, we never did it.”
“Never did what?” Darcy looked confused.
Did he really have to spell this out for her? “We never had sex. Audrey and I were both waiting for marriage. Anyway, she just sees me as a friend.”
“Then she can’t be pregnant, right?”
Trevor put his hat back on to cover his ears that were stinging from the cold air. “Not by me.”
“That’s not possible! You are definitely the only guy she would have sex with.” Darcy’s face was deadpan as she put the pieces together.
Trevor laughed at the bluntness of Darcy’s statement. Soon Darcy was in stitches along with him. “It’s true, you know. She totally knows you’re the one for her. Any other guy would have to—”
Darcy’s laughter stopped abruptly. She gasped and covered her mouth with her hand.
Trevor fought to regain control. “What?”
Darcy’s eyes were wide. “I think I figured it out. I bet she was raped.”
Trevor felt like the wind got knocked out of him. He clutched his chest, struggling to breathe.
“I’ve heard date rape happens on college campuses more than people realize.”
Trevor’s blood ran hot. “Talk to her. Find out what happened.”
Darcy nodded. She was stunned, looking like a deer in the headlights. She rubbed her arms, shivering.
“Let’s go in.” Trevor turned toward their houses. He linked his arm in Darcy’s as he carefully guided her off the ice.
“Me and my big mouth. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything out on the porch that day.”
“It’s not your fault. I made you talk.”
It was time to go their separate ways as they approached the back of their houses. Their arms were still linked as they faced each other. They were each experiencing a new understanding of the situation with Audrey, and sadness filled both of their eyes.
“I hope things work out for you and Audrey.” She looked down at the snow now sparkling in the moonlight, before looking up into his eyes. “I really like you.”
Trevor pulled Darcy into a hug. It felt good to have Darcy to talk to. He had never paid much attention to her in the past as she always had seemed so young. But she was maturing now. “I like you too, Darcy.”
Trevor released her and walked into his house feeling better than he had when he went out. At least he wasn’t as worried about Audrey being in love with another dude. He dropped his wet gloves and hat onto the tile flooring just inside the sliding door of the walkout basement.
Lucas was hanging his coat on a hook. He had a disgusted look on his face. “What’s up with you and Audrey’s little sister?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know what I’m talking about—the way you were hugging on her and stuff. Dude, I know you’re upset about Audrey and you’re all confused, but you better watch yourself.” Lucas shook his head as he walked away. “You’re losing it, man.”
Lucas was right. Trevor was losing it. The whole situation was ridiculous. How did Audrey expect him to react anyway? Was she expecting him to chase after her or did she really want him to leave her alone? Did she really think he could just move on suddenly, forgetting all the years of memories they had made together? Impossible! Especially after he had just poured his heart out to her. How could she ask that of him?
Frustration grew so strong inside of him he thought he would burst. Taking a steadying breath, he pulled the door open and trudged through the snow to the neighbor’s house. This time he wasn’t leaving until he got some answers straight from Audrey.
Trevor stood in front of the jewelry counter with his hands propped on the glass, staring into the brightly lit sea of gold and diamonds. The choices were endless.
“How about that one?” Lucas pointed to a gold tennis bracelet. “I don’t think Mom has a gold bracelet.”
The sales clerk removed the bracelet from the display case and set it next to the gold chain, chandelier earrings, and mother’s ring. Her long red fingernails clicked on the glass as she drummed them impatiently. It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and there were many other anxious customers she was eager to help. Trevor and Lucas had been mulling over jewelry for the better part of an hour.
Trevor took off his hat and rubbed his head briskly. “I don’t know what to choose.”
Lucas was losing his patience now too. “Dude, why can’t you make a decision? I vote for the tennis bracelet.”
Ready to close the deal, the sales clerk picked up the bracelet. “Shall I box it up for you?”
“Yeah, the bracelet is fine.” Trevor’s indifference was obvious. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about his mother’s Christmas gift. He was just too preoccupied to make a decision about anything.
Why had Audrey been avoiding him? Was it about that Matt guy who Destiny had mistaken him for on the phone? It frustrated Trevor to no end.
He wished she would’ve called him and told him that she wanted to see somebody else. Of course he wouldn’t have liked the idea, but he would’ve given her space. It sure would’ve been easier than suffering the silent treatment.
“Hey Trev, snap out of it,” Lucas snapped his fingers in front of Trevor’s face as they stepped out of the department store and into the mall.
Trevor unclenched his jaw. He took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. “Sorry, man. It’s time to get my mind on the festivities, huh?”
Lucas gave him a sympathetic smile. “Maybe just for a couple days. It’d be a shame for your whole Christmas to be ruined.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Have you thought about talking to her?”
“You have no idea how hard I’ve been trying to talk to her. She won’t have anything to do with me. And we never had a fight or anything. I can’t think of one thing I did to make her hate me.”
“Maybe it has nothing to do with you. Maybe she fell for some smooth talker, and now she feels too guilty to face you.”
“You’re probably right.” Trevor sighed. “I’m ready to forget about it and have myself some Christmas cheer.” Trevor forced a smile.
Lucas patted him on the back. “Atta boy.”
They picked up a gift card at the golf store for their dad, and then stopped at the food court for a drink.
Trevor spun around to see Becca and Jake, hand in hand, heading toward him and Lucas. He looked past them, expecting to see Audrey trailing behind them, but she was nowhere in sight. He wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or relieved. “Hi, guys. Merry Christmas.” He pasted on a smile.
“Merry Christmas to you too,” Becca eyed the small shopping bag Trevor held in his hand. “I see you’ve been doing some last-minute jewelry shopping. Is that a special ring for a special someone?” Becca raised her eyebrows.
Trevor fidgeted with the bag. “Nah, this is a gift for my mom.”
Becca frowned. “I thought Audrey was getting a ring on her finger.” She nudged Trevor with her elbow. “Or are you just trying to keep it a secret?” She winked at Jake. “Your secret is safe with us.”
Trevor, put in an awkward situation, looked to Lucas. The only support Lucas offered was another sympathetic look and another pat on the back. Apparently, Becca was even more in the dark than he was. Had Audrey shut all of her hometown friends out of her life? A chill ran down his spine. Maybe the guy she was seeing was one of those control freaks who tried to keep the girl all to himself. “There’s not going to be a ring this year, Becca. She hasn’t talked to me in weeks.” He tried to act like it was no big deal.
“Me either.” Jake shrugged. “She hasn’t even been posting on Instagram.” The coincidence was uncanny.
“I swear she’s avoiding me.”
Becca crossed her arms. “It’s worse than I thought. I knew something was wrong, but she promised me she’d talk to Pastor Mitchel. Lately, I thought she’d been busy with school and cross-country. I thought that’s why I hadn’t heard from her.”
Trevor stepped over to a nearby table and sat down, mulling over this new information. “Cross-country season ended a while ago.” He slapped his hat on the table.
Becca slid on the bench next to him.
Trevor put his hat back on his head and tried to regain control of his emotions. “Is it about a guy?”
Becca shrugged. “She never mentioned a guy…except for Matt something or other.” She laughed. “I swear that guy is crushing on her.”
Trevor winced. “That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“Am I sensing some jealousy Trevor Hayes?” Jake sipped his pop, making slurping noises. Normally Jake could force a smile out of Trevor in any situation. Not today.
Becca patted Trevor on the back. “Don’t worry. She didn’t seem interested.”
Trevor wasn’t amused. Everyone knew he had a thing for Audrey, and he didn’t care that they knew. Right now he was just worried about her as a friend.
“Dude, you’re probably over-thinking this. You know how busy college can be,” Lucas said.
“Yeah, probably. I’m so sick of trying to guess what’s going on in her head.” Trevor stood up. “Time to get home and wrap some presents.”
Trevor said goodbye to his friends and headed home with his brother. He wished he could move on from his childish obsession with Audrey. Obviously, she had found somebody else and wanted nothing to do with him. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t forget about her. How could he forget a lifetime of memories?
Audrey and Darcy trimmed the tree with their dad as they did every year. Christmas music hummed in the background and the smell of Christmas Eve dinner wafted through the air. Audrey lost herself in the moment, hunting for the perfect branches on which to hang her favorite ornaments. But when she came across a glittery star hanging from a string of silver yarn, she felt a tug on her heart. She turned it over and read the scrawl, From Trevor. She tucked the ornament in the back of the tree.
The doorbell chimed, and Audrey’s heart leapt into her throat, helplessly hoping it was Trevor. “I’ll get it.” She practically skipped to the door.
It wasn’t Trevor. She opened the door. “Hi, Becca.” She could do little to disguise her disguise her disappointment at her unexpected guest. “Come in.”
Becca wrapped her arms around Audrey, practically knocking her over. “Merry Christmas! How are you? I’ve missed you.” Her enthusiasm was contagious. So maybe Becca was just the person she needed to see.
“Merry Christmas. I’ve missed you too.”
Becca dangled a shiny red gift bag in front of Audrey’s face. “I brought you something.”
Audrey’s cheeks grew hot. “I didn’t get you anything. I mean, we don’t usually—”
“We don’t usually exchange gifts. I know. But I needed an excuse to see you. It’s been too long.”
The last time Audrey had spoken to Becca was at the Fall Festival when she’d promised to talk to Pastor Mitchel. Prickles crawled up Audrey’s spine. She hoped Becca wouldn’t quiz her on why she’d been distant lately. She forced a smile. “Let’s go up to my room.” Leading the way upstairs, she asked Becca about her senior year of high school.
“School is fine,” she sighed. “But youth group isn’t the same this year.”
Becca sat on the window seat, hugging her knees. Audrey lounged on her bed. “In a bad way?”
“Yeah. It’s not the same without you, and Pastor Mitchel is all weird this year. It’s like he’s detached from us. Like he doesn’t want to be there.”
That didn’t sound like Pastor Mitchel. Audrey’s defenses rose. “Are you sure you guys aren’t pulling away from him?” Considering the partying and Becca and Jake hooking up.
Becca scoffed. “I don’t know. But that’s not what I came to talk about anyway.”
A pit formed in Audrey’s stomach. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Why were you crying at my house that night? What’s going on with you?”
There it was. Straight up. She played up the innocent act. “It was nothing. I was just hormonal. It was that time of the month or something.”
Becca crossed her arms. “Why have you been avoiding all of your best friends?”
Audrey was dumbstruck by Becca’s boldness. She sat with her mouth agape, trying to form a response.
“Jake and I talked to Trevor and Lucas at the mall today. Trevor says he can’t get in touch with you.” She held up her arms. “Spill the beans, Audrey.”
Audrey’s heart rate tripled. “You talked to Trevor?”
Becca’s demeanor softened. “He looked so sad. His brother was trying to cheer him up. It was kinda cute.”
Audrey let Becca’s words sink in. “Because of me?”
She nodded. “You’re breaking his heart. He asked if you’re seeing another guy.”
“What? That’s absurd.” She hadn’t meant to mislead Trevor that way.
Becca crossed the room and sat down on the bed next to her. “It isn’t another guy, is it?” She’d always been intuitive. “Something is wrong. Please talk to me.”
Becca deserved an explanation, and Audrey needed to get things off her chest. She told Becca everything she remembered from the night of the party, ending with waking up in Jake’s guest room.
Tears streaked down Becca’s face as the story unfolded. “I’m sorry, Audrey. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have dragged you in there.”
Audrey shook her head, wiping her own tears with the back of her hand. “It’s my own fault. I should’ve been more careful.” Audrey wrapped her arms around herself in attempt to suppress a sudden wave of queasiness. “I don’t feel so good.”
Becca’s eyes grew huge as saucers. “Are you…sick?”
Audrey knew what her friend was thinking. “I’m gonna throw up.” Audrey pointed to the waste basket, and Becca handed it to her.
As sickness overtook her, Becca rubbed her back and handed her tissues. Audrey was grateful to finally have a confidant.
“Girl, you are pregnant.”
Audrey deflated. That comment she could’ve done without.
Darcy couldn’t believe her ears. Audrey was pregnant! She crept back to her room and closed the door. When she’d heard voices coming from Audrey’s room, she’d assumed Audrey and her mom were having a girl talk session. Darcy didn’t want to miss out. But just as she was about to knock on Audrey’s door, she heard the puking sounds. And then Becca said Audrey was pregnant.
Darcy flopped down on her unmade bed. She couldn’t believe Audrey and Trevor had gone all the way. For one thing, Audrey had told Trevor she just wanted to be friends. For another thing, Audrey was saving herself for marriage. They must’ve slipped up. I always knew Audrey liked Trevor as more than a friend.
This was definitely the juiciest girl talk Darcy had ever heard, but it also made her feel sick to her stomach. It had been so important to Audrey that she maintain her purity until she got married, and usually when Audrey made up her mind about something, she followed through. And what about track and field? Would she be able to compete if she was pregnant? Audrey lived for running.
Hopefully, she wouldn’t be pregnant. Hopefully, she and Trevor slipped up one time and it would never happen again. This must be the reason Audrey was keeping her distance from Trevor. She didn’t want to let it happen again.
There was the possibility that the stomach flu was going around campus. Maybe Audrey just had a stomach bug.
There was one thing Darcy was sure of. This was going to be an interesting Christmas. For the first time in her life, she needed to keep her mouth shut. She stayed in her room the rest of the night except for a speedy trip to the bathroom to get ready for bed.
Darcy took her time getting ready Christmas morning. The only plans being a few church friends coming over later to visit with her parents. She relaxed in a bubble bath, spent extra time curling her hair, and carefully applied her make-up. With Audrey’s secret heavy on her heart, threatening to spill off tip of her tongue, the more time she spent by herself, the better.
She heard the front door open and close. Peering out the window, Darcy saw Audrey jogging down the sidewalk, her blond ponytail bouncing behind her. It was a beautiful winter day. Large snowflakes floated down, blanketing everything in white. Although travelers wouldn’t appreciate the snow, it made for a picture-perfect Christmas.
Darcy eased open her bedroom door, peering into the hallway. No one was in sight. She ventured down the hall, tip-toeing. Her mom and dad spoke in hushed tones in their bedroom. She wondered if they were aware of Audrey’s predicament. Her mom had been forgiving when Audrey said she got drunk and passed out at a party. Darcy made a little huff. Audrey could get away with anything. Let’s see how understanding they would be about her getting knocked up.
She went downstairs and was pouring a bowl of cereal when there was a knock at the front door. Peering out the sidelight window, she saw Trevor pacing on the porch. She gasped and hid behind the door, hoping he didn’t see her. What would she say to him? She stood still behind the closed door, willing him to go away.
He knocked a second time. There was a pause. “I saw you, Darcy.” He knocked again, more loudly this time.
He wasn’t going to leave. Darcy looked upstairs at her parents’ closed door. They must be too deep in conversation to notice the knocking. Well, she couldn’t just ignore him and leave him standing out in the cold. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Hi, Trevor. Long time no see. Merry Christmas!”
The lines etched in his forehead told her that he was not in a joyful mood. “Is Audrey home?”
Darcy folded her arms across her chest to keep warm. She leaned against the doorframe, attempting to act casual in spite of the knot in her stomach. “No.”
Trevor glanced over his shoulder at Audrey’s car in the driveway. “I know she’s home. I can see her car right there. She probably told you to say that, but she can’t avoid me forever.”
Darcy couldn’t help but feel sorry for Trevor. He clearly loved Audrey. He loved her so much that he gave himself to her fully. Darcy wondered if he knew that Audrey was pregnant.
Trevor took off his cap and smacked it on the porch railing, clearly frustrated. He clenched his jaw, trying to maintain control. “Just tell her I miss her.” He put his hat back on his head, and he stepped off the porch.
“She’s really not here,” Darcy called out to him. “She’s running.”
Trevor stopped and stared into the falling snow. After a moment, he turned around to face Darcy, his blue eyes intense. “What is she running from?”
Darcy shook her head. “No, I mean she’s literally out for a run.”
Trevor stomped back onto the porch and stood less than a foot from Darcy. She could see his breath in the cold air and felt it on her face. He wasn’t backing down this time. “Please tell me what’s going on.”
Darcy’s heart pounded in her chest. How could she tell him when she wasn’t even supposed to know? When she didn’t answer, he stepped back, widening the space between them. He pulled himself up onto the porch railing.
“I’m not leaving until I get an answer. I’ll wait for her.” He looked out at the sidewalk, watching for Audrey to come around the corner, but she was nowhere in sight.
He was leaving her no choice. Darcy had to say something to him. She didn’t think it would be a good idea to bring him into the house since her father may or may not know about the situation. If he did, he might not be real happy to see Trevor just yet. “Just a minute. Let me grab my coat.” She went in the house and put on her coat, hat, and mittens before heading back outside. Audrey would be home soon. She could at least keep him company while he waited for her to return.
Trevor looked at her expectantly as she leaned on the railing next to him. “So?” He wasn’t interested in her company; he just wanted answers.
“Trevor, I don’t think it’s my place to tell you. That’s Audrey’s responsibility.”
“But she won’t talk to me. Just give me a clue. Is she mad at me? What did I do?”
“You know what you did.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Trevor looked puzzled and slightly irritated at her remark.
She expelled a nervous giggle. “Well, I know about you guys.”
“What do you know? Tell me because you obviously know more than I do.”
Darcy blushed. “I know that you guys went all the way.”
“What?” Trevor spat the word.
“Trevor,” Darcy looked him squarely in the eyes. “Audrey is pregnant.” Oops. She spilled the beans.
Trevor’s face turned rosy pink to ashen white, then slowly changed to red, bright red. It was freaky. His right eye began to twitch and his chin began to quiver. He balled his gloved hands into fists.
Darcy’s heart rate quickened even more, and she was suddenly afraid that she had said too much. She backed away because she didn’t want to be in Trevor’s path if he were to explode. She tried to think of something to say to calm him down.
“She might not be pregnant though. Maybe she just has the stomach flu. And even if she is, you guys can get married, right?”
Darcy was trying to help, but the more she said, the more it fueled his fury. He turned and trudged through the deep snow across the yard to his house. Darcy wished she wouldn’t have been the one to have to tell him, but she didn’t have a choice, did she? He had demanded an answer.
Darcy went back in the house with her heart still thudding nervously in her chest. Hopefully Audrey wouldn’t be mad that she told Trevor. Darcy decided that just in case, she’d better retreat back to her room.
With Christmas behind her, Audrey knew it was time to face the reality of her situation. She and Becca hovered over Becca’s computer, searching for a clinic. “Let’s try that one.” Audrey pointed to the screen. “Crisis Pregnancy Center. We care for you.”
“I know where that is. It’s downtown. In a little brick building. Looks nice—quaint.”
Audrey drew in a shaky breath. “I never thought I’d go to a place like this.” She wiped sweaty palms on her pants. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“You might not be pregnant after all. They’ll give you a pregnancy test, and maybe it will be negative.”
“Good point.” A touch of optimism brightened her outlook. Then she had a revelation. “I can buy a home pregnancy test at the drugstore. I don’t need to go to a creepy pregnancy center. I mean, what if they tell my parents? I’d be mortified.”
Becca thought about it. “You’re eighteen—an adult. I doubt they could legally tell your parents without your permission.”
“Hmm. I suppose you’re right.”
“Plus, I think you should get checked out at the center. You know…in case you have…an STD or something.”
Somehow Audrey had failed to think of that. The idea of being pregnant was bad enough. She burst into tears. “That’s disgusting,” she coughed out between sobs.
Trevor worked the problem over and over, but it never came out right. Physics was one of his favorite subjects. He loved the satisfaction of solving a difficult problem, but tonight he was stumped. Such had been the story of his life lately, with Audrey being the source of his puzzlement.
He hadn’t been able to get in touch with her in weeks. She hadn’t even answered her phone the last few Sunday nights at their sacred phone time. She was obviously avoiding him. But he wouldn’t give up. They hadn’t had a fight or even so much as a disagreement. He couldn’t think of anything he could have said or done to make her quit speaking to him. He dialed her dorm room number for at least the hundredth time that week. Please, Audrey. Please pick up.
“Hello?” It was her roommate.
“Is Audrey there?”
“Hey, Matt. She’s not here. I thought she was with you.”
“Um, this is Trevor,” he said, annoyed.
“Oh … sorry, Trevor. That was awkward.” She cleared her throat. “Audrey is at the library with her study group. They have a psych exam tomorrow. She probably has her cell turned off in the library.”
“I’ll just try again later.”
“Okay. I’ll let her know you called.”
Trevor ended the call.
He shook his head as he went over the phone conversation in his head. Hey, Matt … I thought she was with you. Trevor shuddered to think that Audrey could be seeing another guy, even though she had every right to do so. She claimed they were just in a study group together, but Trevor knew what freshmen study sessions were like. They were about twenty-five percent studying, and seventy-five percent goofing off while munching on microwave popcorn and pizza.
An uncharacteristic pang of jealousy coursed through his veins. He threw his phone against the wall of his room and slammed his text book shut. His own studying would have to wait. Right now he had more important things to think about.
He couldn’t get ahead of himself by assuming that Audrey was seeing this guy. It made sense that she would be studying tonight. She worked hard to keep her grades up. Matt really was in her study group, along with a few other kids. He knew that much for a fact.
The thing that really bothered him was that she was clearly avoiding him. She hadn’t so much as sent him a text in weeks. Then there was the night he drove to her dorm to see her. He was sure it was her peering from behind the curtain as he called her room and finally drove away. Why would she do that?
Maybe this is what people are talking about when they say women like to play games with your head. Maybe this was some kind of hard-to-get maneuver. “Forget it,” he said aloud. “I’m not playing any games.”
He went out to the kitchen where his buddies were playing cards. “Hayes, grab a beer and come join us. You’ve studied enough for all of us.”
Trevor opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water. “No thanks, guys. I’m turning in early tonight.”
“Suit yourself, Hayes. I can read your poker face like a book anyway. You’re probably better off just going to bed.”
Being known for rising to a challenge, Trevor turned on his heel. “We’ll see about that.” He marched over to the table and pulled up a chair, consciously deciding to dismiss all thoughts about Audrey. She was going on with her life; he could too. Christmas break was just around the corner, and they’d have a couple weeks to work things out. Living next door, it would be impossible for her to avoid him.
Audrey pulled the Toyota Camry into her parents’ driveway. It was good to be home. She couldn’t wait to be under the safety of her Mom and Dad’s roof, to sleep in her childhood bedroom. At the same time, she was tempted to back out of the driveway and run away. She could drive aimlessly through the night. It didn’t matter where she’d end up. As long as she wouldn’t have to face her parents and tell them what had happened. In reality, it was impossible to outrun her problems. They would follow her wherever she went. Eventually, her parents would find out.
She looked over at the neighboring driveway. At the sight of Trevor’s parked car, butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Flashbacks of all the times she sat next to him in that car ran through her mind. Forget about him, she told herself. He’s no longer a part of my life. Just let him go. Nausea chased the butterflies away.
It was time to stuff thoughts of Trevor deep into the recesses of her mind and concentrate on facing her family. She could only hide what had happened to her that awful night for so long. Audrey was sure her mom knew something was wrong. Her mom had been calling just to check in, just to see how she was doing several times a week. Each time, Audrey promised her mom that she was fine, school was good, and she was looking forward to Christmas. But the lies tasted bitter on her tongue. Up until now, she’d always been truthful with her mom. Until something so gross and horrifying happened that the truth would break her mom’s heart, shattering her mom’s image of her innocent little girl. She’d simply have to put the ugliness out of her mind and put on a merry smile.
Summoning courage, she closed her eyes and dropped her head back against the head rest. She drew in a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. God, please be with me.
A rapping noise on the window made Audrey’s heart leap into her throat. Darcy was jumping up and down with excitement outside the car. She opened the door and nearly pulled Audrey out, enveloping her in a tight hug. “I’ve missed you so much, big sis.”
Audrey returned the hug, feeling just as happy to see Darcy. “I’ve missed you too.” Audrey drew back slightly so she could get a good look at her sister. Darcy’s eyes sparkled with childlike joy. Her skin shone with the vibrant glow of youth, with rosy cheeks and a porcelain complexion. Not long ago, Audrey had that same vibrancy, but she’d lost it when her innocence was stolen away. She shivered. “It’s freezing out here. Help me carry some stuff in?”
Darcy lugged a basket of dirty laundry out of the car while Audrey grabbed a suitcase and a backpack, stuffed with text books, that was nearly bursting at the seams. The front door, adorned with an evergreen wreath and red velvet bow, opened just as they stepped onto the front porch. Audrey’s dad greeted her with a warm smile and a tousle of her hair. The aroma of freshly baked sugar and spice cookies wafted out the door. It was like a living Norman Rockwell painting. And she was a smudge—an imperfection that, once discovered, would mar the entire work of art.
“Merry Christmas, Audrey.” Her dad slid the backpack off her shoulder. “Wow, this thing is heavy. So this is where all my money has been going.” He placed the backpack in the coat closet and then hugged Audrey and kissed her cheek. “We’re so happy you’re home.”
Her mom appeared from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her homemade gingerbread-print apron. Audrey hugged her, savoring the warmth and softness of her embrace. Would her mom be so eager to hug her once she found out what had happened?
Stupid! It was so stupid of her to get in that predicament. Her parents were spending so much money to send her to a private Christian school, and she threw it all away. Her grades had slipped from A’s to B’s, and she hadn’t qualified for Nationals in cross-country. It seemed the harder she tried to put the assault behind her, the more it haunted her and interfered with her life.
The only thing to keep her sane was running. The only time she felt free, almost invincible, was while running. Indoor track season would be starting after Christmas break. She couldn’t wait to pound out all her frustrations on the track. That is, if she would be able to run.
Her mom drew back slightly from the embrace and studied Audrey’s face. Audrey avoided eye contact, feeling as if her mom would somehow see the truth in her eyes. “Come sit down and have cookies. They’re still warm from the oven.” Her mom smiled as she spoke, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Audrey looked down at her shoes, avoiding her mom’s probing gaze. She almost wished her mom would come out and ask what was wrong instead of pretending it was a merry Christmas, just like any other. She would tell her mom every detail, and cry in her arms. Her mom would hold her, and tell her that it wasn’t her fault and that everything would be okay. But her mom didn’t ask, and Audrey didn’t offer the information. Instead, she slipped off her shoes and coat, and then sat down to eat cookies.
The family sat around the white round dining table, creating small talk about the weather and school. When there were nothing but crumbs on the plates, Audrey excused herself. “I think I’ll turn in early tonight. I’m exhausted from finals week.”
Her mom looked at her dad, hinting that he needed to say something, to keep her up talking a while longer. He held out the plate of cookies. “Want another cookie?” He was so awkward that it was cute.
Her mom stood from the table and protested, “It’s only eight o’clock, and you just got here. Stay up and visit for a while.” Her moist eyes were pleading.
Audrey’s heart ached for her mother, but she couldn’t possibly sit here making small talk about the latest snowstorm while a storm of her own was consuming her thoughts. “Mom, we’ll have plenty of time to talk.” Audrey kissed her mom, dad, and sister on their cheeks before making a hasty exit to her bedroom.
Closing her bedroom door, she let out a long breath. Scanning the room, she noticed what a child she had been before leaving for college. Stuffed animals and dolls sat propped on her bed. Pink curtains, embroidered with delicate yellow flowers, hung daintily over the windows. Her favorite childhood books filled the bookshelves, intermingling with pre-teen romances and mystery novels. She plopped down on her bed and held one of the teddy bears. Why did she have to grow up? She was so blessed to have a childhood filled with beautiful memories.
It wasn’t so long ago that she fit into this childhood world. It was only a few months ago, in fact. But now her world was turned upside down. It no longer seemed beautiful and happy, full of promise and love. Now it felt ugly and cruel.
Nausea swept over her. She tightened her grip on the bear, squeezing it to her chest as she had done many nights throughout the years after scary dreams would awaken her. But the bear no longer gave her comfort. It wasn’t enough to erase the past, to overturn events of that party. Although she had little memory of what had happened that night, she was still disturbed by it. Somebody had taken advantage of her.
She had always felt in control of her life, believing that she held the key to her own future. She had lived conscientiously; getting good grades, excelling in sports, attending church regularly, and choosing friends wisely. God, are you punishing me for going to that party? Please forgive me, God. Please. She sat quietly, her heart searching for an answer. “Lord, I need to know you’re here. I’m trying to trust in you.”
Her eyes rested on the canoe paddle Pastor Mitchel had given her as a graduation present. She’d lugged it to and from college. She let the scripture etched on the back simmer in her mind. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. What did the verses even mean? So if she acknowledged God, he’d make her paths straight. That probably meant that if she looked to him for guidance, he would show how to do the right thing. Right?
What would God want her to do right now? She stared up at the ceiling, wishing the answer was written across it in bold letters. She could hear her parents’ voices downstairs and clanking dishes. They were probably cleaning up after their little snack. She felt a tug on her heart, wishing she were down there with them. She loved spending time with her family. She especially cherished the late night talks she and Darcy and her mom would share. Now she felt like an outsider, hiding up here in her room.
Audrey gasped. That was it. The answer she was looking for resonated in her heart. The power of God’s response swept through her heart. He wanted her to tell her parents.
Her eyes flooded with tears. “Thank you, God. Thank you,” she cried, rocking back and forth still clinging to the teddy bear. The God of the universe, the Creator of the world was speaking directly to her. And His voice wasn’t punishing, but loving. He knew exactly what had happened that night. He saw it all. He was there when she made the decision to stay at the party. He saw how she was defiled. Yet he still loved her and wanted her to trust him.
Would her parents still love her too? Would they stand by her and help her? Or would they be ashamed of her and angry that she had put herself in a compromising position? Maybe she didn’t need to tell them. She could forget it ever happened and just move on with her life. She didn’t even remember the rape, so what was holding her back? Trust in the Lord. The words rolled through her head.
If God wanted her to tell them, then he would be there to hold her hand through it. She felt empowered by his presence. She made the decision to tell her parents tomorrow. After a good night’s rest. But the nausea still lingered in her stomach. It seemed to be there permanently these days. She cracked her door open and peered into the hallway. The voices of her family drifted up from downstairs. She tiptoed to the bathroom, and turned on the shower to muffle the sounds of her vomiting.
It was still dark outside when Audrey woke the next morning. She tossed off the covers and stretched, contemplating going out for a run before everyone else got up. A chilly draft seeping through the window persuaded her to snuggle back under the covers. Her bed was extra cozy in comparison to the dorm room bunk. She pulled the quilt up to her chin, breathing in the familiar scent of her mom’s fabric softener.
Her stomach turned.
A wave of nausea coiled in her stomach, reminding her of the time at the State Fair when she was on the tilt-a-whirl after pigging out on cheese curds. She’d thrown up all over her new sandals.
Stumbling out of bed, she reached the waste basket just in time. Her body heaved violently again and again as she knelt on the floor, staring into the garbage. Finally, her energy depleted, she was able to rest, curling into a ball on the floor. Was it possible that bottling up this secret was making her physically ill? The nausea was intolerable. She needed to tell her mom soon.
Pulling on her running tights and slipping on her pullover, another thought plagued her. She tried to force it from her mind because it was simply too horrific to consider. She ran her hand along her lower abdomen. For a couple months, she’d felt bloated, although her period never came. That happens to runners though. Too much running and not enough nutrition can make runners stop getting their periods. With all of the nausea and vomiting, she definitely wasn’t getting enough nutrition. But now, beneath her hand, there was a bulge, like a grapefruit was inside her. She stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror that hung on the back of her door. Despite this so-called lack of nutrition, her belly and her breasts were fuller. There was no denying the notion that she was pregnant. Tears filled her eyes.
God, please don’t let me be pregnant.
She wiped her eyes on toilet paper in the bathroom. Crying wouldn’t change anything. Running would make her feel better. She crept down the stairs and laced up her running shoes. As she was about to open the door, she noticed her mom curled up in the living room chair. The electric fireplace gave off a cozy glow. Her mom’s Bible was on the coffee table; she must’ve woken up early to do her daily devotions.
Audrey swallowed. This was her chance to talk to her mom privately. As she approached her mom, she saw that her eyes were closed. To Audrey’s surprise, her mom wasn’t praying; she was sleeping. She tapped her mom’s shoulder.
“Mom, are you awake?”
Her mom strained to open her eyes.
The cat, curled up in her mom’s lap, sprang from the chair and scurried off.
“I am now.” She stretched. “Audrey, is that you? What time is it?”
“Yeah, it’s me. It’s only six o’clock. Dad and Darcy are still sleeping.” She spoke in a whisper, hoping to keep this conversation exclusively between the two of them. She sat on the ottoman next to her mother’s feet. “I was on my way out when I saw you sitting down here. I thought maybe you were doing your morning devotions.” She fell silent for a moment and then looked down at her trembling hands, willing her nerves to settle. She looked up at her mother through glistening eyes. “Why are you down here? Were you having trouble sleeping?”
Her mom sighed. “Yes. I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
“Is it because of me, Mom?” She stared into the fire, her back to her mom.
Audrey felt the delicate weight of her mom’s hand rest on her shoulder. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She nodded, fixing her gaze on the dancing flames. Her chest was rising and falling, almost unnaturally as she dug deep for courage to relay the horrific account. Her mom’s comforting hand on her shoulder encouraged her to speak. “I made a mistake.” Her voice came out in a faint whisper.
Her mom gulped audibly. “Honey, whatever it is, your dad and I will always love you.” She gripped Audrey’s hand in hers, squeezing her fingers for reassurance. Audrey saw goose bumps raise the delicate hairs on her mom’s wrist. Her mom was worried. Justifiably.
She needed to just say it and get it over with. “I went to a party. There was alcohol there. I knew there was serious partying going on, and I stayed anyway. That was my mistake.” She sniffed. That part wasn’t so hard.
Her mom brushed a loose curl from Audrey’s forehead and tucked it behind her ear. “Honey, of course we don’t want you drinking when you’re underage, but …”
“That’s not all, Mom.” She finally looked her mom in the eye.
Audrey shook her head, “I don’t know…I felt sick, and I passed out.” She hugged her arms to her chest. “I don’t remember—”
Footsteps sounded on the steps; she and her mom looked to the staircase simultaneously. Darcy appeared, rubbing her eyes. “What are you guys talking about?”
Oh great. Conversation over.
Audrey stood up, somewhat relieved that she didn’t have to tell the worst part. “Nothing, Darcy. I was just going out for a run.” She kissed her mom lightly on the cheek. “Thanks, Mom. I feel better now. I won’t do it again.”
Audrey booked it out the door.
Read a chapter a day from Bittersweet Goodbye right here on this blog, beginning September 1st, 2019.