Sally knew that no one was staring at her. It had been seven months since she'd found out she was pregnant, and at least three since everyone else began to notice. There were plenty of things to gossip about in Whoville — why would anyone still be looking at her?
Not that she really cared. She was in too much of a rush to worry about a few stares.
A group of girls bolted around the corner, late to class and overcome with giggles. One of them almost bowled her over; only by grabbing onto the edge of the water fountain did she keep from falling. The girl put her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide with horror as she took in Sally's bump. "Oh my gawd," she said, "I am sooo sorry. Can we like help you get to class or —"
"Come on, Em!" one of her friends said. "We're late." Her eyes traveled down to the soft curve of Sally's stomach, and she at least had the grace to look embarrassed. "I mean, unless you really need help . . . Our teacher's just kind of a jerk . . ."
Sally held up a hand. "I'm fine, don't worry." She wasn't headed to class, anyway. As she remembered why she'd excused herself from class, her stomach lurched and she squeezed her eyes shut, waiting until she heard the girls' footsteps fade away before breaking into a sprint — at least, as much of a sprint as she could muster, considering how unbalanced she now was.
Her desperate waddling was clearly not going to carry her to the bathroom, which was still down the hall and a set of stairs. Veering to the left, she pushed with her shoulder at the door that led to the parking lot, making it three steps before collapsing to her knees and vomiting up her lunch, barely managing to push her hair out of her face with trembling fingers.
The door swung open behind her, its hinges scraping together with a squeal that made her shudder. "Ugh!" There was moment where all she could hear was the sound of him fiddling with the door, trying to close it without making that awful noise again. While he was preoccupied, she ran a sleeve across her mouth, wiping it on the grass and trying to steady her breathing.
He put a hand on her elbow, gentle and tentative. "Was it the teacher's ham sandwich?"
She nodded, exhaling in a long shudder and allowing herself to be pulled to her feet. "Yeah," she said, her stomach twitching in displeasure at the mere word.
"I thought so. I've already told him, and he said he'd put it away, if you can come back."
"Thanks, Pat." For a moment she just stood there, leaning against his arm with her eyes closed. Even though it hadn't snowed all winter, the air was bitter, and it felt wonderful against her sweaty face. Why does it have to be Patrick? she thought. Not like he wasn't a great friend or anything, but where was Ned when she needed him? Of all the days to not show up to Whostory. . . .
Patrick's hand tightened on her elbow. "You should get inside," he said, gently pulling her through the door and into the warmth of the hallway. She mumbled a thanks and lowered herself to the floor carefully, still brooding. After a moment — and with a lot less trouble — Patrick plopped down beside her. "I'm sorry he's not here," he began, fiddling with his shoelace awkwardly. "But you know that he has to go to those council meetings if he ever wants to be mayor full-time. It's only once a month."
She knew all that. Of course she did; Ned repeated it hundreds of times every time he had to leave, each time more apologetic. But there was a difference between knowing that and accepting it. "I hate the council," she muttered. "When Ned's the mayor, they better not be such boobs."
"Oh, Ned will keep them in line. Don't doubt that." They both chuckled at the thought, and Sally rested her hands on her stomach, hoping she would feel a kick, a wiggle, something. It seemed to move all the time, especially when she needed to concentrate, but for now everything was still.
"He will, won't he?" she finally asked, shifting her weight in a desperate attempt to get comfortable. (The joke was on her; when you're going on your eighth month, "comfortable" doesn't exist, at least not on a tiled floor.) "I mean, they can't just keep bossing him around . . . forever."
Patrick shrugged. "Sure they can. What would stop them?" He shot her an amused glance and added, "Not that you'd let them, of course."
"That's a lot of responsibility to put me, isn't it? I have to manage Ned's life now, too?" She and Ned hadn't talked much about what would happen when the baby was born and they graduated, and just the thought of the future made her nervous and sick. But that was no reason to take her frustrations out on poor Pat. When she noticed that her friend's eyes had grown huge at her outburst, she nudged his arm with her elbow. "I'm just in a bad mood because of hurling all over the place. Don't feel bad."
They sat in silence for a while, listening for the harsh clop-clop of a teacher's hard shoes on the floor. Deciding they were safe, Sally struggled to a half-squatting, half-kneeling position, almost tumbling before Patrick's hand closed, iron-tight and damp with sweat, around her arm. "Where are you going?" he asked, alarmed. "Do you wanna get back to class?"
She shook her head. There was no way she could stomach another hour of Whostory, even if the dreaded sandwich was nowhere in sight. What she really wanted was to get out of there, into the fresh air and . . . "I need ice cream," she declared, wriggling until she had her feet under her.
Patrick's eyebrows shot up. "You just hurled." Still, he loyally helped her up and led her out the back door with only a single longing glance back in the direction of their classroom.
Sally could only shrug. Ham made her nauseous; ice cream made her mouth water. "Chocolate, I think," she said. "Or coconut. Where can I get that?" Suddenly it was the only thing she could even imagine eating.
"Sarah would know." Or she would find out; as soon as she had heard the news, Sarah had appointed herself Sally's personal assistant and pregnancy coach, and had embraced the task with an alarming ferocity. So far, she had read more books on the subject than Sally and Ned combined, leaving little notes in their backpacks whenever she found useful information — there was now a shoebox in their closet full of these little comments — and she would show up at all hours of the day to make sure that she didn't need anything.
Patrick had been a different story. As they made their way back outside, stepping around the bumps in the ground where the football and soccer teams had kicked up clods of dirt, Patrick kept one hand locked tight on her elbow and the other hovering near her lower back, prepared to use all of his meager strength to catch her should she stumble. While Sarah's nervous energy had manifested itself in a manic determination to help, Patrick fluttered nervously around Sally as though Ned would murder him if he let anything happen to her or the bump. "Speaking of our favorite psycho," he said, "don't you think she'll freak when she can't find us at lunch?"
"I doubt it," she replied, waving her hand dismissively. "She's eating with Erik today, right? She probably won't even notice we're gone until the end of the day." She winked at him. "As long as we're at my house by about 3:30, we'll be able to meet her before she panics and calls the police. Or worse, Ned."
Patrick didn't even crack a smile. "Right," he said, his shoulders slumping. "Forgot about that." From his glum expression and deflated posture, Sally guessed that he hadn't wanted to remember. "She really likes him, huh?"
She sighed, wishing that she wasn't so round and unsteady on her feet. If she wasn't afraid of toppling over, she would have wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulders. "I'm sorry, Pat," was all the consolation she was able to offer.
He tried his best to look surprised at her sympathy. "What? Don't be. It's all for the best, really. I mean, Sarah and I? We would've killed each other."
Sally realized suddenly that she hardly knew anything about Patrick and Sarah before she met them in sixth grade. She knew all about them individually — Patrick's mother was overbearing and a little scary, and he had an older sister that pretended in public that they weren't related; Sarah had four legal guardians: her dad, his boyfriend, and a mom who lived across Whoville with her boyfriend, and she'd tried to run away at five years old because she'd wanted to marry a circus performer that had stopped in town ("I was going to be a clown, I think" she would say, laughing, whenever the story was brought up. "Or maybe a lion tamer"). However, she had no idea how they'd become friends, or even how long they'd known each other. "You guys have been friends for a long time," she guessed. They just had that kind of chemistry.
"We lived next door to each other for . . ." He scrubbed his hand across his face, messing up his fur, "eleven years? Since I was born, anyway. My parents moved when we were in fifth grade, but before then we would hang out in the front yard every day. She had a tree house, and we would pretend we were pirates, hiding from the police." He noticed her skeptical glance and shrugged. "We were maybe six, Sal. How would we know that pirates didn't live in tree houses or get chased by the police?"
"Fair," she agreed, remembering that she and Ned had done something similar with astronauts and ninjas.
"Besides," Patrick continued, "Mom didn't let me read books with anything interesting in them until after we moved. I think it was guilt that kept her from trying to take away any books that weren't The Whordy Boys or anything with a fluffy animal on the cover." He was getting caught up in his story, his eyes lighting up the way they always did when he started talking about books. "That was when I got really into reading. Well, what else was I supposed to do, play sports? But that's not important," he said, shaking his head and waving his hand as though to brush away the digression. "Anyway, Sarah and I had to work a lot harder to hang out after that. We actually met at Who Park a lot, like you and Ned."
Who Park saw a lot of action, it seemed. It amused Sally to think that she and Ned might have been climbing trees just yards away from where Patrick and Sarah were throwing rocks into the pond. It really was a small world. "You guys grew up just like brother and sister," she commented.
He grimaced. "She would definitely say that, but I never really thought of her that way. I have a sister, even if she's embarrassed of me. Sarah's always been . . . special."
You were special, too, she thought. For a little while. If only their crushes had coincided. But she supposed that not everything could work out exactly as planned. As the familiar sign of WHOVILLE'S FINEST ICE CREAM! (COME ON IN AND GIVE IT A TRY!) appeared around the corner, she once again brushed her fingers over her thin shirt, feeling the warmth of her little bump.
Things definitely didn't always happen as planned.
But there was ice cream in her future, a good friend at her side, and an unseasonably warm sun on her face, so it seemed to balance out. Speaking of which . . . "Oh!" She patted her pockets, cursing. "I left my wallet at home today."
"Don't worry. Ned would kill me if I made you pay for your own ice cream, anyway." He pushed the door open for her, and a whoosh of warm air hit her full in the face. She waddled over to a booth while he went to order, tapping her foot as she waited. Coconut ice cream. . . . Every nerve in her body seemed to be sending that one signal to her brain. She needed some coconutty goodness soon or she would tear the restaurant apart.
When Patrick finally sat down across from her and handed her the cone, it was all she could do to keep from shoving the entire thing into her mouth in one bite. (She knew it wouldn't work, but she was still tempted to try.) Instead she took a small, ladylike lick and said, "So you must really hate Erik, huh?" He and Sarah weren't technically dating — if they had been, he would have officially joined their table, rather than hopping around to visit his various groups of friends — but they had been nigh inseparable since prom.
He shrugged, biting off a corner of his ice-cream sandwich. "Not really."
"Seriously? When I was in your shoes, I hated Jamie."
Patrick held up one finger. "First, consider the difference between the two." He had a point; Jamie's charm was only appreciated by a select few — her friends, Ned for a little while, presumably her mother. Everyone else just thought she was really annoying. Erik, on the other hand, was and always had been pretty difficult not to like. Sally herself remembered harboring an intense crush on him when she was in middle and high school, one that was only shoved to the side when she'd met the odious-but-attractive Tom Birch. "Second," he continued, another finger popping up to join the first, "he makes Sarah happy. Have you seen her recently? When she's not being your personal drill sergeant, I mean."
"It's pretty annoying," she conceded with a smile. Her ice cream was gone already, so she began sticking her fingers in her mouth and sucking the drips off them, not caring how she looked. She had fast learned that once her stomach was visible through T-shirts, people stopped complaining about her manners, and she was going to take advantage of that for as long as she could. Especially since coconut ice cream had been the only thing she'd eaten all day that hadn't come back up.
"It is. But I'd be a pretty awful person if I hated him, dontcha think?"
Sally was about to agree, until she realized what this said about her and Jamie. "Are you calling me an awful person?" she asked.
"No! That was totally different! This is . . . well, it's much more . . . I mean, she's a lot . . . and they're . . ." He stammered and struggled for words, his face turning a strange, mottled color as his skin peeked pink between strands of pale green fur. The sight was so funny and endearing that Sally couldn't help but laugh, though her smile faded immediately as she felt something trickle down her leg.
"Sal?" Patrick's face was still a little red, but his eyes were wide as he watched her face. She had no idea what she looked like, but her heart had clenched into what felt like a marble-sized ball in her chest, making it hard to breathe. "Are you okay?"
"Be right back," she replied, her voice strangled. She staggered to her feet and hurried to the bathroom. Not yet, she thought, shoving into the first stall. Not yet, not yet, not yet.
Sally knew that it was early, but she had taken to reading about labor and delivery. Sarah and their doctor had both told her not to think much about that yet. "Your water shouldn't break until your thirty-fourth week of pregnancy," the doctor had said soothingly, and Sarah had concurred. "It's way too early to be freaking out about that, Sal," she'd said, pulling the book out of her friend's hands. "Let me tell you when it's time to start freaking."
She'd read them anyway, of course. The books had said that it was likely that she would pee her pants as the bump got bigger, but as she leaned forward and inhaled, she realized that this didn't smell like urine. Any suspicions were further confirmed by a stabbing pain in her lower back, causing her to double over with a small moan. It was more out of fear than pain; if these really were contractions, they were only going to get worse.
And if they really were contractions, then her bump was going to become a baby a lot earlier than it was supposed to.
Barely remembering to hike up her skirt and button it around her, she burst back into the restaurant, gritting her teeth together as another wave of pain clenched her abdomen. "Pat!" she gasped, reaching a hand out to him. It was shaking, and she felt weak and helpless.
This was wrong. None of them had suspected this, not Ned, not Sarah, least of all herself. None of them had prepared for what would happen if she went into labor almost two months early, and she had no idea what would happen next. All she knew was that the spasms weren't going away, and they weren't hurting any less. She was vaguely aware of shouting, of arms lowering her to the dirty floor, of hands spreading her knees as someone (presumably the leg-spreader) cried, "It's okay, I'm a doctor!" in a voice that sounded low and dreamy to her panicked mind.
Suddenly Patrick's face was over hers, sweat matting his fur and making it shiny. He took one of her hands in both of his, and she used her free one to clutch at his sweater. "Get Ned," she pleaded.
Their baby was coming.
A/N: I hope no one finds this one too gross or unpleasant; pregnancy isn't always pretty, and I had trouble working through this one, especially since my knowledge on the process is VERY limited. But I thought it was time to get the show on the road, and the next chapter should be quite exciting!
Hope you liked it (I have some problems with it, but don't I always? ;P), and let me know what you thought!