Ashley Spinelli let out an exhausted sigh as she entered her home—the exhaustion coming from both the long day and her mother's annoying personality. She could hear her mom singing along to oldies in the kitchen. A whiff of something awful reached her nostrils and she resisted the urge to barf.
"Mom, did Teej call?" she called out, letting her arrival be known.
"Well, hello to you too," replied her mother, turning down her music.
"Hi," said Spinelli, irritation in her voice. She threw her bag onto the couch and slumped down next to it. "Did T.J. call?"
"No, he didn't call," said her mother. "Let that boy be—he's under enough stress as it is." Spinelli rolled her eyes at that; why was her boyfriend suddenly the favorite in the family? It wasn't like she got pregnant alone. "How was school?"
"It was fine, mom," she said, grabbing the remote and turning on the tv. She had no interest in watching anything—only to block the sound of her mother and that God-awful music.
"And work?" continued her mother.
She groaned. "Fine, mom." She placed the remote on her expanding stomach and watched as the baby made it wobble. T.J. told her the other night it would grow up to be a kickball star, and she was inclined to agree.
"We're having meatloaf for dinner," said her mother.
She said nothing in response, but the smell of it told her she would be skipping dinner that night.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you. I ran into Muriel the other day at the supermarket."
"Who?" asked Spinelli, raising an eyebrow.
"Muriel Finster," said her mother, leaving the kitchen and entering the living room. "Your fifth-grade teacher, remember? I invited her to dinner tonight." She glanced at her daughter, specifically the remote on her stomach. "Ashley, sweetie, get the remote off your belly. That can't be good for the baby."
Spinelli clicked the tv off and threw the remote next to her bag.
"You did what?"
"Don't worry," said her mother, walking back into the kitchen. "I explained your little... situation. She was very understanding about it all."
She groaned and pulled out her flip phone. Since telling her mom about the pregnancy, all she did was gossip to her friends about it. She hated T.J. for making her tell her parents about the pregnancy. 'SOS,' she texted T.J.
'?,' T.J. texted back. And then quickly right after: 'R U OK? Is bby OK?'
She groaned, lifting herself off the couch, and dialed his number into her phone. "Hey—yeah, I'm fine. I just... could you come over." As she entered her bedroom, her mother began to sing again, turning up her tunes on the radio. "Yeah, Flo's bugging again. And get this, she invited Finster over for dinner—yeah, how is she not dead yet?" She kicked her shoes off and plopped down onto the bed. "Well, when do you get off work—what do you mean an hour ago? I thought you said you'd come over right after." She felt the baby kick and she mindlessly placed a hand on her belly. "No... I don't need anything. Yeah, okay."
The doorbell rang and she heard the crackly old voice of her fifth-grade teacher greet her mother in the distance.
"Oh, Ashley," called her mother. "Come out here and say hello."
"She's here. I gotta go," said Spinelli to T.J. "Thanks, I'll need it."
"Ashley, sweetie," called her mother again.
"Get here fast," she begged T.J. before hanging up.
She glanced at her swollen ankles as she stood. Her body ached and all she wanted to do was lay in bed until she fell asleep. When she arrived back into the living room, she noticed her mother had moved her bag off the couch and onto the hanging rack near the door, and Finster now resided in that seat. She and her mother were distracted, laughing about one thing or another.
Her mother caught sight of her first. "Nice of you to join us," she said. Spinelli felt like screaming.
Finster turned to her. First looking at her pregnant teenage belly, like everyone else did, and then at her face. "Spinelli," she greeted, "or do you go by Ashley these days?"
"Spinelli's fine, Miss Finster."
"Oh, you can call me Muriel," she said. "I'm not your teacher anymore."
"I'd rather die, thanks, Miss Finster," she said.
"Ashley," said her mother, shooting her a disapproving look. "Well, dinner's just about ready. Shall we head to the kitchen?"
"Great, I'm starved," said Finster as they both stood and quickly made their way into the kitchen. Spinelli trudged along behind them.
"Ashley, sweetie, would you be a dear and set the table," said her mother. "Bob won't be able to join us. He got held up at work."
"Oh, that's unfortunate," said Finster.
"Yeah, really unfortunate," mumbled Spinelli, grabbing the silverware out of the drawer. She reached the table and began aggressively placing forks and butter knives down. "Guy finds out his daughter isn't the Virgin Mary and suddenly he gets held up at work all the time."
"You cut that attitude right now, young missy," said her mother. "I don't want to have to tell you again."
"Sorry," she mumbled, rolling her eyes.
She kept quiet during dinner, mostly playing with her food and resisting the urge to barf all over it, while her mother and Finster talked themselves silly. Midway through dinner, though, while Finster was going on about some boring story, the doorbell rang, and Spinelli sprung from her seat to answer it.
"I'll get it," she said.
She opened the front door and kissed the man behind it. T.J. found her passionate greeting most enjoying.
"Who's at the door, Ash?"
"It's T.J., mom," she said, taking him by the hand and dragging him to her room.
"Hello, Mrs. Spinelli," T.J. called out.
"T.J., come join us. We've got plenty of food."
"We're not hungry, mom," said Spinelli. "We're just gonna hang out in my room, okay?"
"Well, okay. I guess that's alright. But keep your door open."
"What're we gonna do, mom? I'm already pregnant."
Still, she abided and left the door wide open. She flopped onto the bed and lifted her foot. "Rub my feet will ya, I've been on them all day." T.J. grabbed her foot and obliged. "What'd I miss today?" she asked.
"Nothing really," he said. "We had a pop quiz in 4th... And some freshmen kids got into a big fight in the cafeteria. Nearly put the place on lockdown because of it. How was work?"
She shrugged, emptying her pockets. "I'm making better tips now that I'm showing. I guess they take pity on the rowdy teenage pregnant waitress."
"About ninety, give or take," she said. "I spent seven of it on a coke and some chili fries. But I get paid Friday."
"Even with all that, we'll still be two hundred short," he said.
"Damn," she muttered. "Can't you talk to the guy—explain what our situation is?"
"I did," said T.J. "He said, 'Welcome to the real world, kid.' And hung up on me. If we don't come up with the money by tomorrow, he's giving the place to someone else."
"Man," she said with a groan. "Bob can't even be in the same room with me, let alone look me in the eyes. And Flo's constantly breathing over my neck, nagging at every little thing I do. Honestly, I'd rather live in your busty old van than here."
"How fitting. He can be born in the exact same car he was made in."
Despite herself, she laughed, but then her expression turned serious and she grabbed his hands firmly. "Promise me something, Teej. Promise me we'll be out of here when my eighteenth birthday comes around. I think I'll go insane if I'm here for much longer."
He brushed a loose strand of hair away from her eyes and kissed her. "I promise, Ash," he said. "But apartments aren't cheap. It'll take a few months."
"I've already quit school and started working full-time," she said. "And once you—"
A knock on her open door interrupted her and they both turned to see Finster, in her large form, standing at the doorway.
"Say, you kids happen to know where the bathroom is?" she asked awkwardly. "Your mom gave me directions, but I kinda got turned around."
"Next door on the left," said T.J.
"Thanks, Detweiler," she said, rubbing the back of her neck. "I, uh, couldn't help but overhear your little conversation..."
Great, thought Spinelli. Now she was going to tell her mom their plan about bailing and ruin the whole thing. "Yeah, so?" said Spinelli.
"If you're looking for a pad, I got an extra room in the basement I'd be happy to rent out."
"What? Really?" said T.J., taken aback. "How much?"
"Oh, I'm thinking about two fifty a month."
"The other place is asking for three times that, Ash," he told Spinelli.
"What're you doing?" said Spinelli, crossing her arms. "This is clearly a trap—look whatever trick you have planned for us… we're not buying into it. Just go tell my mom already."
"If you ask me, I think this should be on the down low for right now," she said. "You can scope out the place Friday. It's poker night, so come with your wallets full and your stomachs empty."
Spinelli gaped at her.
"We'll be there, Ms. Finster," said T.J.
Finster nodded and headed for to the bathroom.
"What're you doing? Are you crazy?" said Spinelli. "I don't want to live with Finster. That's worse than both our parents combined!"
"It wouldn't hurt to check out the place," said T.J. "Two fifty a month—you gotta admit that's a pretty good deal."
"Yeah, well... I guess." She lifted her foot and he began to massage it again. "But if she makes me do another luau while we're there, you're getting punished for it, mister."
"Wouldn't have it any other way, Spinelli," he said. "Wouldn't have it any other way."