“I’ll drop you here,” Chris says, parking his blue pick-up next to a meter, three buildings down from the clinic. Downtown has few skyscrapers. Instead, most streets look like this one, with rows of older two-story brick buildings, iron fire escapes hitched sideways against the windows. As a child, Shayla imagined running down them as they lowered to the ground.
“Okay,” she whispers, “but I’m scared.”
He has cheated on her more than once, but she chose to stay. She tries to find something resembling love in his eyes, but he remains focused on the crumbled road. Crews had yet to patch the streets after the harshness of the winter, leaving it broken, like their relationship.
“Go. And call when you’re done,” he says. Shayla brushes a tear from her eye and climbs out of his truck, shutting the door behind her. Chris drives off without a second glance, and the rush of June air his truck leaves behind smells of river water and exhaust fumes. A wave of nausea sweeps over her body.
She grips her stomach and turns in the direction of the old warehouse. A dozen angry protesters separate her from her future. With no one at her side, she swallows hard, never feeling more alone. Her heart begins to palpitate.
“Why didn’t I tell my mom?” Shayla asks herself. She exhales and steadies herself before walking towards the door. Her pale fingers clutch her purse close like a shield against the name calling.
Baby murderer! Killer!
Somehow, she pushes past the protesters, and pulls the door open. Its heaviness reminds her of the consequences she would face for this mistake.
After checking in with reception, a small boxy room with messy stacks of paper piled up in every corner, the clerk points her towards the waiting area. Pine floors stretch the length of the old warehouse, and vintage flower-patterned couches and Venetian rugs placed at odd angles attempt to create definition. She finds a spot on an over-sized beige couch full of soft lines and maroon flowers, and settles deep into its broken cushion. There, she finds a familiar comfort of home.
Shayla looks up, adjusts her cross-body bag nervously, and smiles at the girl standing in front of her. She glances at the nametag – volunteer. She stands and follows the girl back to a small room with nothing but an exam table and a strange looking machine.
“Change into this. The doctor and I will be back shortly,” the volunteer hands her a hospital gown.
After she closes the door, Shayla changes, and watches the clock.
“Come in,” Shayla says, startled.
The doctor and the volunteer file in quietly, and shut the door. The doctor explains the procedure, but Shayla can’t seem to comprehend what she is saying. Everything sounds muffled the way it does after a snowstorm, distant.
“Would you like me to stay and hold your hand?” the volunteer asks. Shayla looks down at her hand, outstretched; her caramel-colored skin looks soft and inviting.
She slowly nods yes, and the volunteer smiles warmly.
“I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”
“Thank you,” Shayla manages to say.
“You’re welcome. And you’re going to be okay,” she says. Her eyes are hot chocolate with a sprinkle of cinnamon, bringing warmth to Shayla’s numbness.
The doctor turns on the contraption and a loud hum fills the room. Shayla closes her eyes, grips the volunteer’s hand, and stifles a scream through gritted teeth.
The volunteer rubs Shayla’s shoulder like an old friend and ushers her back to the couch.
“Remember, you are worthy of more,” she says, catching Shayla by surprise. Her cheeks flush.
Shayla sits and dials Chris. He answers right after one ring.
“Meet me at The Twisted Hanger,” he tells her.
“Three blocks away?” Shayla hisses.
“I’m grabbing a beer. Meet me out front in ten.”
“You are unbelievable.” Shayla hangs up.
No longer afraid of their words, Shayla easily walks past the protesters. What’s done is done. Rays from the June sun warm her shoulders, and the words from the volunteer replay in her head. Worthy of more.
One foot goes in front of the other until she reaches the blue pick-up. But instead of stopping, she keeps walking, fishing around in her bag until her fingers find her phone.
Shayla dials and listens to the rings.
“Mom? I really need you. Can you come get me?”
Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io/Ashton Bingham