Shannon visibly swallows, her eyes growing round. “Well, you, ah… apparently yelled at her about your relationship being just a hook up, and, well, she walked away all hunched over, clutching her stomach, so…”
So, no proof of Anna being pregnant. Just fools jumping to the wrong conclusion and sticking their noses in places they have no business being. Even though relief swamps me, the ringing in my ears grows to a clamor. “So, you all think that I would get a girl pregnant, then publicly dump her when she tells me?”
In the relative darkness, I can see the flush stealing over her cheeks. “Ah… well…”
Prickles break out over my skin. “And believing this, you still wanted to go out with me?” Okay, I might be yelling. Shit, it’s a miracle that I’m not shouting to the clouds at this point. That’s what people think of me?
Shannon backs away a step. “I didn’t blame you.” As if this supposed pregnancy was all Anna’s doing.
“Well you should,” I snap. “If it were true. You should stay far away from any ass**le who would do something like that.”
She just stares at me like I’ve gone insane, and the rage within me surges. What the hell is wrong with this girl?
I take a breath, not wanting to scare her any further. I’m much bigger than her, and even if I can’t wait to get away, it isn’t cool to make her afraid.
“Look,” I say with false calm, “whatever you’ve heard, it’s wrong. Yes, that was the girl, and yes we broke up. But it was a mutual decision.” I wince a bit with that one, but it isn’t really a lie. Anna didn’t want a relationship, and I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t the only thing I wanted. “She’s a nice girl. And it makes me sick that people would think otherwise.”
Wide-eyed Shannon nods as if her life depended on it. She’s clutching her arms over her chest. I put that fear in her, and guilt clenches my stomach.
“I’ve got to go. Sorry.” I’m not sure what else I can say. I just need to get out of here.
By the time I get home and manage to turn on my laptop, my hands are shaking. Nausea rolls around in my stomach as a Twitter search for my name pulls up hundreds of tweets. And there they are in 140 character groupings of pure evil. Speculation on why I was arguing with a curvaceous redhead. Hate-filled comments about Anna that make my heart ache and my blood boil, and then I find the pictures.
My teeth grind. There I am, looming over Anna, who looks so tiny in comparison. I’m a monster with muscles bulging and a vein sticking out on my temple. I’ve never felt so ashamed. Anna’s pale, her chin lifting in defiance. That I remember. But I never saw the aftermath. There’s a pic of me walking away, humiliating because it captures my own pain. My face is twisted with it. And then one of Anna.
She’s leaning against the tree, clutching her arms around her middle, her gorgeous eyes looking up toward the sky as if it holds some answer. Pain etches her features. With shaking fingers, I nearly touch the screen. Pain that mirrors my own.
Have I done the wrong thing by ending it with Anna? Does it matter? She’s currently on a date with Mr. Yuck. And I can’t overlook the fact that one public argument with me has brought the ugliness of public opinion down upon her head. I never wanted that for her. After reading through the hateful tweets, how can I blame her reluctance to be seen with me?
For the first time in my life, I dread going out on the field and playing again. Because they’re all watching for the wrong reasons.
I’M SO GRATEFUL for the fall break I could cry. Not only will it spare me from having to face Drew in class, but I need to get away. For the first time in years, my mother’s home is a haven to which I want to run as fast as I can.
Better still, I won’t have to see Terrance when I get there. Last month, when my mom voiced second thoughts on selling her childhood home, Terrance went ballistic, telling her that she had no right to keep them from their dream by being a coward. Mom realized that it wasn’t her dream, but his. Two weeks later, old Terry was sailing off to the Bahamas with his chow-chow’s groomer.
Thanksgiving dinner is subdued. Mom often invites people to spend it with us, single friends, those who couldn’t make it home to families of their own. When I was younger, I would protest because I didn’t want to share her with other grownups. Not when I only saw my working mother at dinner.
As I got older, I grew to appreciate the sound of laughter and interesting conversation during those meals. Unfortunately, this year, my mom hasn’t invited anyone. I know it’s because they’ll ask about Terrance, and the breakup is too fresh for mom to deal. I empathize. Entirely. Only I’d rather have the distraction. Now it’s just Mom and me. And a quiet house.
We cook together, and I try to find something to talk about. Conversation usually isn’t a problem, but since the only thing I want to do is curl up in bed and cry, I’m finding it a struggle.
My mother fills the void and talks. About her practice. About her friend Silvia, who she thinks might be bulimic. About the new moisturizer she’s found and loves to pieces. And it’s fine. If only this aching, gnawing hole within me would fill up with each bite of food I take, instead of growing larger. If only I’d feel warm instead of cold. My walls are no longer shored up. I could topple at any moment. Right onto my mom’s plush Turkish carpet.
Dessert, as always, is taken in the living room, while tucked up in front of the fire on the old Chesterfield sofa that Mom had reupholstered last year in cream linen. In the frenzy of redecorating, Mom also converted the wood-burning fireplace into gas, and though the flames dance and look cheery, I miss the scent of burning wood.