"Uh, Maya's mom?"
Surprised and confused, Naomi stopped walking. The tone and the phrasing told her already that a young girl was seeking her attention, and that if this person knew her as "Maya's mom" then likely she would know who was calling her.
Feeling happy, perhaps just because she knew it wasn't a patient calling, and it was the end of the day, Naomi Bennett turned around quickly, both curious and hopeful.
When she recognized who she was seeing she gave a gasp and a squeal, immediately holding her arms out for a hug.
"Michelle, baby! Ooh, come give your Auntie Nae a big hug! I haven't seen you in ages!" She gushed, not noticing that the skinny tow-headed girl wasn't running for the hug, but walking hesitantly.
The Turners Naomi and Michelle's mother, Madeline had been the Bennett's 'next door friends' since she and Sam moved to the neighborhood. Longing to be a mother, but resigned to wait for "the time of God's choosing" Naomi remembered just then how elated Madeline had been to learn she was pregnant. Maya was five when Michelle was born, and was almost as excited about the baby as Madeline herself. She and Maya practically lived with Madeline and Michelle (with Sam and Matt Turner 'living' at the Bennett's). Naomi'd been crushed when Madeline broke the news that Matt's job had relocated them. Only about a half hour away, but it was enough. The last time Naomi remembered seeing Michelle, she'd been missing both her front teeth.
Naomi hadn't seen Michelle or her mother in about five years. Though even before the move, Naomi saw less of Michelle the older Maya got, naturally she still recognized her.. Naomi remembered when Maya realized that Michelle was "just a baby" compared to her, and stopped going over to play. This of course upset Michelle very much. She didn't understand why she suddenly wasn't a good enough friend to play with Maya. Michelle had had other friends to play with, but heart-aching, Naomi had often seen the girl looking over the fence more than once, when Maya had a new older friend over to play.
She and Madeline were still friends of course, but when your child doesn't want to play with your friend's child things become awkward.
"Hi sweetie," she smiled again, squishing the girl in her embrace. "Look at you! The last time I saw you, you were up to here," she put a hand to her waist.
"What are you doing all the way out here? Where's your mom?"
Michelle looked at the floor.
It hit her suddenly that something was terribly wrong.
Naomi wasn't sure if the child was about to cry, or vomit.
Her heart jumped into her throat as her mind said "What if Mad's dead?"
"Is your mom still around? And your dad? Is everyone doing okay?"
Wordlessly, Michelle nodded.
"Then, honey, what's wrong?"
"Mom doesn't know I'm here," she whispered.
All of a sudden Naomi's mom alarms were going off like crazy. She shut her eyes.
Please don't be pregnant! Please dear God don't let this child be pregnant.
Naomi put an arm around Michelle's shoulders, and realized that she, not Michelle, was shaking with fear.
She took a deep breath, forced her fear down and asked her, "Do you want to talk? We can go up to my office, if you want."
Michelle nodded, still not looking at her.
"It's been a long time since I've seen you," she made mindless small talk as she steered Michelle towards the elevator. "How old are you now?"
"I'll be tweleve in a couple of months," she whispered.
The distant tone made Naomi's stomach clench.
Please God, don't let this girl be pregnant.
Naomi nodded then, remembering the exact age difference between she and Maya. "Oh, that's right," she grinned at her, faking happy now, as worried as she was that this baby was following in her old friend's footsteps. "Maya's about to be sixteen."
Michelle's eyes said, "Duh", and Nae could just hear her saying in her head, "I know how old my best friend is". She knew Michelle would still think that way. She used to. But Michelle's mouth said, "How is Maya?" as they stepped into the elevator.
Naomi let out a long sigh, then plastered on a smile. "She's had some difficult times," she answered, feeling her teeth grit with the words she held back, "but she's doing well."
Michelle nodded, and under her arm, Naomi felt the girl's shoulders tighten in stress.
"That's good," her voice still distant. Scared.
Naomi closed her eyes as the elevator rose. Please, please, please,she prayed.
When they entered Naomi's office, and Naomi offered the ever ready chocolate and was refused, Naomi knew something was horribly wrong.
They sat in silence for a while before Michelle quietly began talking to the floor beneath her feet.
"I remembered that you're a doctor, and well I can't tallk to my mom, and if I talked to the councelor at school I'd get in trouble, so..."
"I'm glad you came to me," she lied. "Everyone needs an adult they can talk to."
"Dr. Bennett's a doctor too, I know," Michelle was speaking faster with each word. "It's just that I don't know him that well, and I don't know if he'd know what I was talking about."
She nodded. It was true. Michelle and Sam had almost never been in the same room together, unless it was Maya's birthday. The Turners had moved away when Michelle was nine. It had been a while, probably decades in 'child time'.
"Michelle, sweetie," Naomi sat down next to her, "what is it that you came to talk to me about? What's wrong honey? I promise you I'll do everything I can to help.?"
Michelle licked her lips and swallowed.
"Well," her voice was shaky, "it's just about some stuff I don't know." The statement sounded like a question.
"Uh huh," Naomi encouraged her.
Well, this magazine I read said I'm supposed to ask my dentist about this, but that just doesn't make sense to me."
Michelle stopped talking and began to squirm in her seat.
Naomi stayed silent, knowing it would be the easiest way to get the kid to crack.
"Well," the word came out as a squeak and was dragged out as if she were falling down one.
Michelle cleared her throat, whether as a stall tactic, or not Naomi wasn't sure. "Um," she faltered, "well, I think I need to get something called a dental dam."
She looked up at Naomi quickly, concerned. " Do you know what that is?"
Her eyebrows were question marks, and Naomi could see that Michelle was now considering that Naomi Bennett, the doctor, wife and mother might not know as much about sex as she did.