Creative Loafing Tampa Fiction Contest 2019: "Due Date"

Morality is in the eye of the beholder. Years later, I still have no regrets about this event or anything that happened after it. Shit happens. More to some than to others. I think you’ll understand when I’m finished.

It’s a day that I had looked forward to like everyone else who is anticipating the birth of his or her first child. Sure, we were too young to be having kids, but we were in love. A young love, but a love, nonetheless. We met in ninth grade English class and I had dreamt of her every night since then. I still do sometimes. A dream named Amy. Amy was popular. I was not. This is not something that neither bothered me then nor bothers me today. I had long decided that high school was not going to be where I peaked.

While I dreamt of Amy all those nights, she spent them with the Point Guard (9th grade), an All-State Outfielder (10th grade), and eventually the Quarterback (11th grade). With all our varsity sports covered, maybe she felt she could finally explore outside of her species.

That summer, before our senior year, she walked into the coffee shop where I worked. It was one of the three summer jobs I had so I could afford a decent set of wheels for that final year of high school, but more importantly, a set of wheels that would get me as far away from this place as possible. To where didn’t matter. It was only one more year, listen to a lame-ass speech about how bright all our futures are, toss hats in the air, tell friends you’ll see them again soon, kiss parents, and head out on the road. That’s how it was supposed to happen. And most of it did. But Amy walking in that day changed more than the storyline that I had decided upon for this final stretch of life in the middle of nowhere, America.

“Hey Zach. I didn’t know you worked here,” she said as she approached the counter. Her outfit revealed whatever I had left to imagine of the outlines of her body and her perfume triggered my heart to race like I was in the middle of a track and field event and not standing idly behind the counter of a chain coffee store selling over-roasted and overpriced coffee drinks.

“Yup. Just something to do over the summer,” I said as coolly as I could, though all the dreams of the last three years came crashing back into my conscious after being locked away in the box of never-gonna-happens. It was the same box where I kept my dreams of throwing a no-hitter (couldn’t pitch for shit) and dunking (got no vertical).

“Cool. Just picked up the last of our pre-reading for Senior Lit,” she said. I had read everything listed already but knew that I would be skimming over them again before they came up in class just to make sure I still had all the relevant details. I knew my ticket was already punched academically, having been accepted for a full scholarship to a small liberal arts college in the foothills of the Appalachians. It was to be a nice transition into a life that never again saw this place.

“Cool,” I said again, because it was the only thing that I could say with my brain drifting all over and my mouth on autopilot. “I’ve read a few of them already,” I admitted. “Which ones did you get?”

She held up the Orwell double-header, Animal Farm and 1984, as well as Othello. I didn’t think I could be any more infatuated with her. I was wrong.

I continued with the Cool Hand Zach charade. “Those are great. Let me know what you think of them when you finish.”

Hoping that the closing there didn’t sound too desperate. I was saved from being embarrassed when she simply said “sure” in the sweetest way possible, finishing with, “I think I’m gonna hang out here a bit and read while the storm passes.”

I hadn’t noticed the blackening clouds that trumpet the arrival of summer storm systems, until the thunderclap. If I’d been paying closer attention, I would have taken this as a sign but, as I said, I was young. And Amy was hot; hotter while she was reading those books.

I finished her order as she sat down in the corner to drink whatever skinny girl bullshit latte frappe thing was popular those days. A sprinkle of this. A splash of that. Three pumps of high fructose corn syrup flavored like faraway lands, but use the low fat milk because, you know, skinny. I wasn’t very good at my job but making coffee isn’t exactly a skill that I cared too much about.

The storm system had scared all the other potential customers away so instead of staring out the window watching the sheets of rain wave on the clothesline of the clouds, I glanced over at Amy and noticed she was looking at me. “Fuck it,” I thought. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

I walked over to her table and instead of sitting down in the chair like I had been taught and was accustomed to, I flipped the chair around so I could lean on the back and stare into majesty.

She recognized my awkwardness and smiled with a kind of warmth that I knew would be the end of me. But it was too late. A few minutes into the conversation, she giggled about something I had said. I could have been saying anything. I couldn’t recall what it was that I had said, only her laugh. That was what did it for me. Not her perfect body, and perfect hair, and perfect teeth, and perfect pedigree. She’d been perfect the whole time I had known of her but had never laughed as a result of something I had said and I wanted to make her laugh for the rest of my life.

We chatted for hours. No customers to interrupt thanks to Mother Nature. It wasn’t until the 4th or 5th clang of the bell at the front counter that I was brought back to reality. The storm had passed and, with its passing, hungry and hurried customers who wanted their afternoon fix. I’d seen junkies wait more patiently for their vices.

I jumped out of my seat and almost fell as I went to play my barista role. She giggled again. That sound.

Amy came back the next day, which, sadly, was busier, but she stayed through the rush and waited until we were the only two people in the coffee shop to ask me why I hadn’t asked for her number.

I tried to explain but offered lame reasons. It was strange having this girl be so forward. Before I could finish, she slid her number across the table.

I smirked on the outside but felt like doing backflips on the inside. The hard-on I was getting would prevent me from moving from that spot without some adjustment, but I was happy.

The next few months went by like all teenage romance movies make it out to be — steamy, energetic, and full of angst only the tail end of puberty could provide. Young love is dumb and driven only by how much sex you can have and how crazy you can drive each other. We were good. Really good. At both.

We’d fuck (or make love, as she would say), fight, break up, have make-up sex and then do it again. We were careful, though, to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. Her parents were bible thumpers, but allowed her to be on the pill. To add another layer of protection, I layered my little lovemaker with a condom. Every time. Sure it didn’t feel the same but the point was to prevent ‘this.'

'This' being what happened next. As summer ended, so too did our ideas of carefree days, with a little purple line. Two, actually. Two lines that sealed our fates. It was way more than two lines, because when Amy had hinted that her little friend had come up missing that month, I had driven thirty minutes to a CVS where no one would know me and bought out the store’s stock of pregnancy tests. I’d filled my basket with those and condoms but figured with Amy being preggers, I wasn’t going to have to waste more money on condoms, so I put them back. The kid checking me out was about my age, based on the stubble on his chin and the random pimple he still had from his days of glorious pubescence. We exchanged looks of understanding about how my world was about to go to shit and he was going to make extra sure his didn’t by joining the priesthood or some other place where they pretend to be celibate.

Every single one of those tests was positive. Totaling 26 lines from the 13 tests. We were pretty sure that a false positive on one or two was one thing but a hundred percent of the tests couldn’t be wrong.

I stared at them; heard them taunt me. When I finished staring at them, I stared at Amy. All she could do was stare back with eyes that asked What? The? Fuck? My eyes couldn’t answer and neither could any other part of me.

If I thought the fighting we did before was bad, pregnancy brought a whole new element to the fighting, which can best be summed up with this math equation: Amy’s pro-life plus I’m pro-choice equals we are having a baby.

I fought to pay attention to what was happening in class for the first month before remembering that my grades barely mattered at this point. I started reading every parenting guide out there in preparation for the due date.

My parents — both remarried after the divorce — now numbered four. So I had four people telling me what a fuck-up I was for getting my girlfriend pregnant. I wanted to tell them that our hyper-sexualized society is to blame, but really it was because I put my penis in Amy’s vagina. I knew that. I got an A in Biology, but an F in Preventing Unwanted Pregnancies.

As bad as my parents were, her parents were worse. Jesus this and God’s plan that. You’d think she’d conceived it immaculately the way they were treating their daughter. Maybe it was because her mom had miscarried so many times before Amy and their only child was about to give birth to the next generation of bible beaters. Who knows?

I waited for her water to break and for graduation so I could make my break. I’d do my part, but my part wasn’t going to be late-night feedings and early morning diaper changes. It was going to be monthly transfers from my account to hers because high school was almost over and that’s when high school romances end.

Three days before graduation, her water broke. Seems that baby did not want to walk across the stage inside his teenage mom.

Thanks to my senior year reading list of parenting books and the many conversations with Amy’s parents, I knew all about the miracle of life and how beautiful it is. But the real deal is messy. And nasty. And sounds like this: Holy fuck. Eeeeehhhhhh. Need drugs. Bullshit cause I can still feel it. Holy mother of shit this hurts. On repeat. For hours. Eighteen, to be exact. While the baby appeared to be ready to leave, he was not making a fast escape like his sperm donor father was planning.

Our collected parents, numbering six, and I took shifts through the night to make sure that someone would wake everyone else so we could all bear witness to the damage that Amy’s lovely lower half was about to experience. I was crying for that more than I was for the fact I now owed 18 years of payments to this experience.

I was tired of waiting, of being in a room with all these people that I didn’t really like who had come to witness this “beautiful” moment, of hearing Amy scream her doped up profanities. I was about to push the doctor aside and pull this kid out myself, if only to cause an end to the bickering and finger pointing that comes with babies having babies, even though all life is precious and it’s a woman’s right to choose.

And that’s when Zach Jr. crowned. For all the fighting and tension this little man caused, I looked down at the beautiful baby boy I was holding and thought “Wow, the doc must have a wicked sense of humor and is playing a joke on me." Here I am, so white I’m almost translucent, holding a healthy baby boy with dark brown eyes and ebony skin to match.

I blinked a few more times, my brain trying to register what was unfolding before me. I might have blinked another thousand times, but I finally snapped out of it when I realized the parent council was finally quiet and staring at the baby in my arms.

I was about to ask Amy why Zach Jr had a healthy afro when Amy asked to see the baby. And those were the final words she spoke, right before she flatlined.

The doctors would later say that the stress of the experience can sometimes cause this even in healthy young mothers.

The next few days were a blur best left to the recesses of my mind, filed away under shit I’ll deal with at some future never date. I still went through with my plan, leaving my home, my parents and step-parents, my friends and everything I had ever known to pursue my dreams elsewhere. I stopped by Amy’s house one last time on my way out of town. Surprisingly, this fucked-up moment bonded me closer to them and I wanted to say goodbye. They had decided to name the boy who was supposed to be Zach Jr. Gabriel. They’d always liked the work he did in the bible and since this kid was going to be running around thumping on, why not a strong biblical name. I was off the hook for child support and they hadn’t even bothered with a paternity test. No one ever came forward as the father so the birth certificate listed the father as unknown. Another kid who will grow up to hate his sperm donor of a father. Oh well, wasn’t my problem.

I stayed on the east coast after graduation. I fell headfirst into the rat race and then, just as easily, head over heels with another woman named Amy. I wished she had been named something else but laughed at the enormous sense of humor the universe has.

We courted and wed and tried to have babies so we could fuck up our offspring as only parents could. We tried and tried and while there were no complaints there, something was amiss. We saw a specialist for her and a specialist for me. Funniest part about it all is that it turns out I’m sterile. Doctors say a childhood baseball injury did it. Looks like Zach Jr. will be my legacy. That and having your girlfriend give birth to a black guy’s baby and then die on you the day before graduation.

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