By the time his father got home, Belle had long gone. Neal
was back in front of the TV, not really paying attention to a thing on the
screen. He was trying to stay calm, but inside he was freaking the fuck out.
His best friend was pregnant. Not only
that but she was just barely 18 and they hadn’t finished high school. They
would be graduating this year and there wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Belle would be
valedictorian. He wondered briefly how much she would be showing by the time she gave
her speech. He realized that he really didn’t know that much about pregnancy –
besides the cause, of course. Health class had not prepared him for the reality
of a person he loved carrying a new life she didn’t intend to create.
The first thing he asked had been about the father. In
retrospect, that had been a mistake because it almost led to another crying
jag. The only intel he’d been able to gather was that she wasn’t going to name
a name and that they were not currently on speaking terms.
He was still trying to wrap his brain around this new information
when he heard his father’s key in the door.
Oh thank God. Someone who actually knew something about life
and reproductive cycle. He practically ran to the foyer.
“Poppa? Can I talk to you?”
“Of course, Neal. You can always talk to me. Do you mind if
I step inside and take of my coat first, though?”
Thaddeus Gold had had a long
day and the last thing he needed was another plea from his son about how ‘cool’
it would be to get a motorcycle for graduation. He had hoped the threat of
losing access to the car would put a kibosh on the subject, but no such luck.
The catalogs being left in his office and on the dining room table were about
as subtle as Neal got.
“Ok, thanks. This is, um… it’s really important,” Neal’s hands
twisted in front of him.
So, perhaps this was about more than some deathtrap with two
wheels and a souped-up engine. Well now Neal really had his attention. “Alright,
let’s go sit down and I am all ears for you, lad.”
They settled on the sofa in the parlor (incidentally into the
same exact places Neal had been sitting with Belle less than an hour ago). Neal
chewed on his thumbnail, not exactly sure how to start. He and Pop had done the
‘birds and the bees’ talk ages ago. But besides the occasional chat about a
girl Neal liked and the box of condoms that had mysteriously appeared in his
nightstand, sex was not a topic often breached in this house.
“Ok, so don’t freak out or anything but, um, one of my
friends told me that she’s pregnant.”
Thaddeus blinked at his son, his heart suddenly ready to
stop at any moment. “Oh God. Is it… you’re not telling me I’m to be a
grandfather, are you?”
Neal’s eye flew wide. “No! Oh man, no. Not at all. I mean
Belle and I aren’t like that. I mean, I sorta thought about it a few years ago
but you know…”
“Belle?” Does the father know?” Thaddeus felt the world going
bright and dark by turns. His mind was racing.
Neal shook his head again. “Doubt it. She said they aren’t
speaking. She said it happened about a month and a half ago, which means it was probably
at the… um….” Neal broke off that train of thought with a grimace. The last
thing he wanted to do was remind Pop of the after homecoming party debacle.
“The party.” Thaddeus’ voice was a hoarse whisper. This
was it. His heart was definitely going to stop.
Thaddeus Gold had loved little Belle French for years
because she was sweet and kind and practically family. And then she had gone away one summer to stay
with relatives in Australia. When she returned, the awkward skinny bookworm
with braces had been transformed. In her place stood a confidant, radiant young
woman with modest curves that struck a chord in all the right (wrong!) places
for Thaddeus. He had barely been able to keep his eyes off of her. He’d lost
count of how many times, after a day spent with her, he’d ended up fisting his
rigid cock in the shower, cursing himself for a pervert.
And then there had been that damnable party. He’d
had more than a nip or two on the plane ride home and taken a cab from the
airport. Perhaps he should have let his son know he’d be home early. But the
disciplinarian in him wanted to see if Neal would abuse the privilege of being
allowed to have friends over. Thaddeus had been drunk and livid as he made his
way into his house. The place was trashed. There was loud music pumping from
his backyard and the shouts of teenagers – drunk on his liquor, no doubt.
But then there had been Belle. Belle in that strapless dress that hugged her curves like a lover and left little to his
imagination. Belle who had told him she wasn’t drunk, that she wanted to help
him.. .what was the word she used? Oh yes, unwind. Belle who had straddled him
on the carpet, right over there, in fact and ridden him as though the world was
ending. And perhaps it was. Had he seen four horsemen on the way home?
“Birth control,” Thaddeus blurted out.
“What?” Neal looked at him strangely.
“Belle’s a… a sensible girl. Surely she was, um, on…” The Pill. She’d said she was on The Pill. He
remembered at least that. Otherwise, he’d had stolen a condom from the stash he’d
“Oh yeah, that. Apparently, it’s only like, 98% effective.
Which is kinda crazy if you think about how many people probably rely on that.
I mean, why take that 2% chance? Right? Use a rubber. See, Dad? I’ve already
learned a lesson from all this.” Neal laughed nervously.
“Right,” Thaddeus agreed absentmindedly. He needed to talk
to Belle. He’d been avoiding her since the day after the party. He had seen her
that morning at Granny’s nursing a coffee and decided to come over and join
her. Before he had the chance, Jefferson Madden slipped into the seat beside
her and kissed her cheek. She had wrapped her arms around the young man and
hugged him with a look of sheer joy. It had made his stomach turn to the point
where he canceled his order of pancakes. Whatever she had going on with Madden,
Thaddeus had obviously been no more than a diversion, a passing fancy, a thrill
He had stormed out of the Diner and hadn’t wanted to see or speak
to Belle since then.
Now… he had to at least know. If there was a chance the baby
was his (and with that timeline and the fact they hadn’t used a condom, there
was a very good chance), he would do right by it. She was a high school student
with a working class father and no other family in the country. The baby would need someone to provide for it, so
Belle could still afford to go to college. And there wasn’t a doubt in his mind
that Belle must go to college. She was far too bright to be extinguished by
this one dalliance.
Belle might never be his again, but he would be damned if he
saw a child of his go without.