Rain pelted the car, battering the windshield in great sheets that the wipers could barely handle. But Justin trounced the gas pedal and hurtled down the wet streets, because he was angry. Just home from work, just finished with his fast-food meal, he’d been ready to chill for a few hours, maybe play a couple of computer games. And Megan had called, sounding like she was sick or in pain.
“Justin, I need to talk to you... now...”
“I can’t tell you over the phone...”
“I just can’t!”
And then she’d started sobbing, and he’d growled, “Oh, all right!” And he’d slammed down the phone and headed out.
He cranked up the stereo to compete with the pounding rain. When he screeched and slid to a halt at a red light, the middle-aged hag in the car next to him glared, and he answered with a rude gesture.
At Megan’s apartment complex, he parked slantwise, taking up two spaces. He leapt out, ran up the stairs, and hammered the door with both fists until she opened it.
She’d been crying... of course. She was a pretty girl, a green-eyed redhead, but crying made her pale face blotched and ugly. He slouched in and slammed the door.
Another wave of anger coursed through him, and found a voice.
“What, you forgot to take those pills?”
“It doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“Yeah, it matters! You got yourself into this mess. How much is it gonna take to get out of it?”
“I don’t know,” Megan said hoarsely. “I’m not getting an abortion, if that’s what you mean.”
“Guess you’ll just have to sort it out yourself, then,” Justin jeered, though something in him screamed, NO, NO, NO! If she has the baby, you’ll still be a father even if you never see her again, she can’t do that to you...
“I thought you would—” She choked on the words she couldn’t say.
“Well, you thought wrong. If that’s what you want, go home to your Mom and Dad, then. It’ll be great for your Dad’s ministry at that big church of his...”
Justin slammed the door as he went out. The rain had slacked, but a few rivulets slid down the windows like tears as he climbed inside the car. He gunned the engine and backed out; then he hesitated, straightened the wheels and re-parked, this time between the lines. He turned off the stereo, so that the only sound was the throb of the engine.
He couldn’t drive away; Megan wasn’t like the throw-away girls he’d dated in college. There was something real and solid and... well... moral about her. It had hurt her to sleep with him, he knew that. Their tentative discussions about moving in together had hinged on this: it was too great a commitment for Justin, but too little for Megan.
Every year at Christmas and Easter, his parents had stuffed him into a new dress suit to visit church, the way they visited Great Aunt Hazel. There had been talk about commandments and doing the right thing—vague concepts, unreal.
But this was real, and he fought it as he had once fought his mother when she forced his arms into a stiff velvet jacket and clipped a bow tie at his neck.
I’m twenty-three, okay, not thirty or forty. I want to live. I don’t wanna get stuck, bound, tied down, committed...
...but I guess I am. Already. No matter what I do now.
A strange thought, that. It seemed to come from a part of him that he didn’t recognize, almost another personality. And it was that part of him—flabby and unexercised though it was—that pushed him out of the car and back up the stairs.
She’d been crying again; but she was beautiful, even with a blotched face.
“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry I acted like a jerk. I didn’t mean all that. I love you, I want to marry you, as soon as we can get a license...”
Megan came to him and he held her, imagining a suburban living room with Megan beside him on the couch and a small child playing at their feet. He might have sneered at that a couple of hours ago, but now it seemed... well... not so bad. Comfortable. Peaceful. Real.
He stroked Megan’s hair, murmured comforting words, and wondered if this was what it felt like to be a man.
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