narrative - 046. monster
the stranger
July 2013

"You're pregnant?"

One week after she'd buried her secret, Karyn dug it up again — albeit strictly in the metaphorical sense. The stick she'd peed on hadn't been a memento she'd wanted to keep, and she'd disposed of it easily, hiding it under layers of used paper towels in a public bathroom at the mall. The unfortunate truth it had uncovered, however, was one she couldn't ignore — and one she'd spent seven long days thinking about incessantly. There were no distractions for her now, no way of denying or forgetting what she knew, and even as she sat with her best friend a week later, confiding in her over lunch at their favorite restaurant, Karyn was hyperaware of the life growing inside her.

"Yeah, I—" she began, cutting her response short when their waitress returned with the chocolate milkshakes they'd ordered. Having lost her appetite as a side effect of the baby talk, Karyn thanked the woman halfheartedly, waiting for her to wander out of earshot before she continued speaking. "I took a test."

"Those things aren't always right," her best friend said, reaching for her milkshake. "False positives happen all the time."

"I haven't gotten my period in almost two months," Karyn replied, following suit. She may not have been hungry, but she needed something to do with her hands, something to help expel her nerves. She settled for stirring. "I'm puking every day. There's no way I'm— there's just no way it wasn't right."

"Fuck," her best friend sighed.

"Yeah," Karyn mumbled, keeping her eyes down. "Fuck."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know," said Karyn, shrugging her shoulders despondently. "I guess I'll have to talk to him about it."

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

Finally looking up from her milkshake, which was melting fast because of her stirring, Karyn furrowed her brow at her friend. "How can you ask me that?" She asked, incredulous. "He's the— you know. I have to tell him."

"Okay," her best friend said, reaching out to place a hand over hers. "I'm sorry. I know. I just don't want you to get your hopes up, you know? Just because he knocked you up doesn't mean he'll—"

"He said he loved me."

"I know, sweetie."

"Maybe it doesn't have to be so bad."

"What do you mean?"

Karyn paused, looking down again and leaning back in her seat. As she spoke, she folded her arms protectively across her chest, her voice barely above a whisper. "I mean… maybe he and I can— we were good together, right? We were always good together."

"Yeah…"

"Maybe we can do this."

"Yeah," her best friend repeated, nodding, though her tone was noticeably noncommittal. "Maybe."

As she sat in her mother's old station wagon, parked across the street from her ex-boyfriend's house, Karyn couldn't decide what was more unsettling: seeing her best friend's car parked in his driveway or not having enough faith in either of them to assume its presence there — and by extension, her presence there — was innocent. There was no moment of dark surprise, no waking hypnagogic jerk at the sight of the BMW, but rather an overwhelming feeling of disgust rooted in a poignant epiphany: this was why her boyfriend had dumped her at her senior all-nighter. This was why her best friend had been so blatantly unsupportive of her delusions in which she and her ex-boyfriend could renew their relationship and start a family together at eighteen. They were the two people Karyn loved most, the two people she trusted most in the world apart from her mother and brother, and they were fucking her over by fucking each other. Of course they were. She was sure of it.

Karyn let out a long sigh as she got out of the car, pocketing her keys and trudging toward his front door, anxious to be proven right or — God willing — proven wrong. Her mother, Manuela, had always taught her to be strong in matters of the heart, and while she walked, breathing deeply, finding her center, Karyn did her best to channel the woman she someday hoped to be: one who prioritized fighting over feeling, who never forgave and never forgot.

Her ex-boyfriend, wearing nothing but his boxer shorts, answered the door when she knocked. "Karyn," he said, looking as much like a deer in the headlights as she had when she'd found out she was pregnant. "What are you doing here?"

Knowing how impossible it would be for her to maintain her composure if she took too much time to think about what she wanted to say, Karyn spoke without thinking, letting her broken heart do the talking for her. "Oh, I just came over to congratulate you."

"Congratulate me?"

"Yeah!" She exclaimed, feigning excitement. "Surprise! You're going to be a dad!"

Karyn's confession made the color drain from her ex-boyfriend's face, giving him the distinct look of someone who was about to be sick.

"How long have you been fucking my best friend, by the way?"

He didn't reply, Karyn suspected, because he couldn't — because she'd instilled genuine fear in him. Narrowing her eyes, she opened her mouth to say something more, only to be interrupted by her unsuspecting best friend as she emerged at the top of the stairs, visible beyond the threshold.

"Hey, who's at the—" When she saw Karyn, she froze, terrified. "Karyn. Oh, God, Karyn. It's not what it—"

"Don't you dare tell me it's not what it looks like!" Karyn cried, losing some of her nerve. There were no distractions for her now, no way of denying or forgetting what she knew. "Don't you dare lie to me again! It's exactly what it looks like! Isn't it? You're such a fucking cliché!"

"Karyn, please…" Her ex-best friend was already weeping.

Her ex-boyfriend could barely choke out a response. "You're pregnant?"

"Fuck you," she replied, shaking her head before turning her back to them and storming back toward her mother's car. "Fuck you both."

"Karyn!"

"Karyn! Stop!"

Only her ex-boyfriend had the motivation — or desperation — to chase after her, hurrying out into the street despite his half-nakedness. "Karyn, we have to talk about this!"

Karyn shook her head again, reaching into her pocket for her car keys, not looking back or slowing her stride.

"Karyn, you can't have this baby," he barked, catching her off guard when she reached the station wagon and gripping both of her arms, pushing her back against the car and forcing her to look at him. "You hear me? If you have this baby, it's going to ruin our lives. I'm not going to let you ruin my life."

With the fortress she'd built around herself finally beginning to crumble, her heart rate accelerating, Karyn yanked herself free from his grasp and — instinctively — slapped him across the face. "Don't touch me," she growled, gritting her teeth to keep herself from crying. "Stay away from me. I never want to see you again."

After that, she got into her car and drove, ignoring him as he shouted obscenities in her wake.

She didn't let herself cry until she ran out of gas on the side of I-80, knowing once and for always that she would never be as strong as her mother.
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