I’m pleased to share the first chapter of EVERY SECOND WITH YOU. This contains spoilers! Don’t read this unless you have read THE THRILL OF IT!
The moonlight streams across his beautiful face, but I can’t bear to look at him. I stare out the window; the slats of the blinds chop silver streaks from the moon that shine through my room, and I wish I were anywhere but here, on top of the covers, in bed with the man I love, on the night of my twentieth birthday. I don’t know how to be false or fake with Trey, but I don’t know how to tell him the truth right now, either.
“Hey,” he says softly, brushing strands of hair from my forehead. “Are you feeling better?”
I wince inside, but put on a brave face for him, adjusting the pillow to busy myself, as if it’s absolutely vital to find the perfect alignment for my head. Anything to avoid eye contact as we lie side by side, the pinball machine sounds of late-night New York City mingling with Sara Bareilles playing on my phone.
“My head still hurts,” I mumble, rubbing my palm roughly against my forehead to exorcise the headache I don’t have. I couldn’t very well tell him that my stomach hurt. That I’d thrown up my birthday cake. I might as well put an advertisement on my forehead saying “I’m preggers.” And that’s the one thing I can’t tell him. Not yet. Not tonight.
I claimed I had a migraine from the stifling August heat, and it had made me nauseous. I only wish I had a migraine. I’d welcome a headache from hell with open arms, because a headache would go away.
Instead I will spend the night in this strange twilight state of hiding the truth from Trey on the outside, while on the inside I’m grappling with the massive detour my future just slammed in front of me. And it’s so damn unfair. I’ve been running a race for so long, an endless, ragged one, and I finally crossed the yellow tape of the finish line, triumphant on the other side of love, and hope, and possibility. And now it’s as if an invisible hand has plucked me from the ground and sent me straight back to the starting line.
Only this time I have even more to lose. I have everything to lose.
“Do you need an ibuprofen?”
He believes me. Of course he believes me.
“I took one already. Just waiting for it to kick in,” I say, but there’s nothing true in those words.
I want to be honest with him, but I don’t have an earthly clue how to say the only words that could scare him off. Not just far, far away, but to another time zone. Another continent. And not for the usual reasons a guy would be freaked out to have a pregnant girlfriend, but because of what it means to him.
I cling to the faint hope that the test was wrong, that I can retake it tomorrow morning. I exhale hard, wishing for one pink line so desperately I feel as if I’m clutching the possibility of it in my hands, a precious, fragile thing.
Trey skims his hand along my bare arm. “I hate that you don’t feel well. Not just because it’s your birthday, but because I don’t want you to ever hurt,” Trey says. His touch feels so comforting and reassuring, and yet I don’t deserve it because I’m lying to him. I shift my gaze around the dark room to the closet door, the open window, and the sky blue dresser I snagged from a woman in the building next door when she was moving out.
“Hopefully it’ll be gone in the morning,” I say; and that’s more than a hope, it’s me begging the universe.
He leans in and kisses my forehead, pressing his soft lips against me in the most tender, caring way. “But I’ll take care of you. You know that, right?”
“Sure,” I say, but I don’t actually know that. That’s what people promise to each other, but words are easy. Backing them up is the hard part. Will he take care of me if he knows why I don’t feel well? Will he take care of me when I’m big and round and fat? Will he take care of a kid?
“Because, you know, I could be a really good nurse, don’t you think?” he says with a sly smile, then raises his voice, affecting a high-pitched tone. “Do you need a cold compress, sweetie? How about a sponge bath?”
Despite the ominous feeling in my chest, I manage one small laugh. I try not to let on that I’m withering inside. I play along with him instead, making eye contact finally. I nearly melt when I look into his beautiful green eyes—eyes that know me inside and out, that make me want to spill everything to him. But I know how to pretend, so I fake happiness. “Nurse Trey now, is it?”
He lowers his voice, making it deep again as he runs his hand along my hip, tugging me close. “I’ve got just what the doctor ordered.”
I want to laugh. I want to be fun and silly. I wish we were having just a normal night, so I try it on for size. “What did the doctor order?”
“The doctor says you need another birthday present,” he says into my ear, his breath hot against my neck. He presses his lips to my skin, and I’m tempted to let my mind go blank, to drug myself in the moment as he burns a trail of kisses to the hollow of my throat. His lips find mine, and he brushes me softly, then in seconds, he deepens the kiss. I nearly cry because I want terribly to stop time and kiss like this all night long, and all my life, too, but it feels like an injection of a false reality, and I know it’ll all fade by morning.
I break the kiss.
“I think I just need to sleep,” I say, and then I turn over, and stare at the shadows crawling across the wall, my companions in furtiveness.
He kisses the back of my neck gently, easily shedding the heated potential of a moment ago. “Feel better, Harley,” he whispers. “I loved spending your birthday with you. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I say as I close my eyes.
Then he tucks the covers around me. He spoons me, his strong body curving around mine. For the first time since we’ve been together, we’re going to bed to sleep. In minutes, his breathing turns slow and rhythmic. He’s never had trouble falling asleep, nor have I.
But tonight, I don’t sleep. I lie awake, my mind both a speedway and a traffic jam. I’m racing, darting, but I keep returning to the same stalled-out shoulder on the road. Replaying how this could have happened. Trying to pinpoint the time when the condom failed.
The night in his tattoo parlor? Or maybe the time after we all went out to see a band? Or the quickie in the bathroom at the coffee shop a few weeks ago? Because we don’t hold back–we come together. Over and over, bodies slamming into each other, lips joining in a frenzy, consumed with need, and want, and heat.
But when it happened is irrelevant.
What matters is what’s next, and where we go from here. I don’t have a clue how to be a mother. Hell, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. I’m only halfway finished with college, and having a baby isn’t anywhere on the curriculum. But this is the real kick in the pants—I can’t think of two people less equipped to be parents than Trey Westin and me. The former sex addict, and the ex-call girl. We’re the butt of a joke.
* * *
When the sun blares through the window the next day, it might as well be shouting Life’s a bitch, sucker. Try to hit this curveball.
I shower and dress quickly.
Trey stretches languidly in bed, his arms rising above his head, the covers snaking down to his waist. His beautiful chest is on display, his body a canvas for art, from the birds on his pecs to the sunbursts on his shoulder.
Usually, I savor this sight. Now, as I stand in the doorway, I want him out of my bed so badly. I want to kick him out of my apartment with my combat boots, and then run, run, run like a madwoman to Duane Reade.
He smiles lazily at me as if this is just another day. Not Judgement Day. “Want to get some bagels?”
I shake my head. “I forgot I had a paper due. I need to go turn it in.”
He sits up. “Summer classes suck, huh? I’ll go with you.”
I shake my head. “No, it’s okay. I really need to take care of it. Can I meet up with you later?”
He narrows his eyes at me. “Um. Sure. But do you even have to ask that question? Don’t we meet up every day?”
I force a laugh. “Yeah. Of course. I just don’t like to take anything for granted.”
That’s the truest thing I’ve said to him in the last twenty-four hours.
I lean in to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Bye. I need to run. You can hang, or let yourself out. Or whatever.”
He loops his arms around my neck, holding me close, and I resist the desire to squirm away. “Is your headache better?”
“Getting there,” I say, as I slip out of his embrace, and furrow my brow, affecting my best I-still-have-a-headache look.
I dart into the bathroom, close the door and grab the plastic bag with the test in it. I hid it under the sink last night; I wasn’t about to leave the evidence in the wastebasket. I jam it to the bottom of my purse.
Then I’m gone. Out the door, down the stairs, around the block, heart pumping wildly, feet pounding the concrete, the high summer heat relentless in its assault. Beads of sweat drip down my back.
Two more blocks. One more block.
I toss the plastic bag into a trashcan on the corner, and it nearly slips onto the sidewalk from my sweaty palms.
I wipe my hands on my skirt and grab the door of the drugstore. I yank it open, glancing once behind me. I don’t see anyone I know.
I find the aisle with the pregnancy tests, snag two, and rush to the counter. I tap my foot as I wait for the woman in front of me to buy gum. Spearmint or cinnamon? She lifts each pack, considers them. My heart jerks with sick envy. Spearmint, I want to shout. See? It’s easy to make that decision. But she picks cinnamon, unwrapping it and popping in a piece as the clerk hands over her change.
When it’s my turn, I plunk the boxes on the counter and scan the perimeter, hoping Trey doesn’t have a sudden need to buy gum or anything else. The woman at the register looks exceedingly bored as she rings me up, and I want to reach across, shake her shoulder and say, “Don’t you know my life is about to change? And I just want spearmint, okay?”
Instead, she dumps the tests into a plastic bag without a word and thrusts it at me.
“Thanks,” I mumble, then swivel around and march to the restroom at the back of the store. I lock the door and press my hand against it, trying to steady myself as a wave of fear tackles me. I breathe out hard through my nostrils, offering a plea to anyone who’s listening to tell the universe to stop mocking me.
But ten minutes, two more tests, and a fresh wave of morning nausea later I have my answer – and it’s neither spearmint nor cinnamon.