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From Baby Safe

by Elizabeth Searle

  • STEPSON

See, I might be pregnant, Sarah almost blurts out, refusing her usual wine at their usual Greek restaurant. Their corner table feels crowded, 16 year old spiky-haired PJ seated between her and Paul with his SOLDIER OF FORTUNE t-shirt and brand new broad shoulders, jiggling his knee so hard the small table shakes. Paul’s ex had kept PJ’s visits so infrequent he is like a different kid each time. Paul Junior. PJ keeps fidgeting with the olive oil saucer, the candle, squeezing the flame between his fingertips, bragging he feels no burn. Sarah keeps urging him to take a sample Karate lesson, see if he likes it.

Now, as their usual waiter pauses at Sarah’s refusal of wine, PJ raises his oversized candlelit eyes. “Yo, Step Mommy, you can drink ‘round me.”

Sarah hesitates, flushing so hotly she wonders for the hundredth time since the LHRH injections whether she might, at last, be pregnant.

“Ah . . .” The Dukakis-lookalike waiter who dotes on her arches his greying caterpillar eyebrows. He is studying her giveaway face. “Can it be you are–?”

“No,” Sarah rushes to say as subtle disappointment, maybe even disapproval, creases the waiter’s face. Though he is the shorter man, the Dukakis waiter seems to tower above Paul, who sits slumped over his placemat, eyes fixed on the menu he knows by heart. “Or anyhow I don’t, don’t think I–” Sarah finds herself adding to her waiter in a foolishly lowered voice.

Paul and PJ in their different ways stiffen, the tabletop stilled.

“Ah; I see.” Duke gives a nod, a flash of the fatherly approval Sarah craves. His warm gaze flickers between flustered Sarah and stone-silent Paul. Sympathy in those wry moist eyes, just what Paul hates most. Is her heated flush a sign? Have those LHRH injections done something besides clear her infection-blocked Fallopian Tubes and raise her Cancer risk?

Sarah shifts in her seat, the injection bruises on her thighs finally faded. Her tubes finally clear. Now it is, if Paul would agree to have his sperm tested, Paul’s turn. To submit to the men-over-50 tests. Sarah slides her gaze from Paul to PJ, his eyes frankly bulging.

“So you guys’re, like, trying?” PJ asks, so loud the table behind Dukakis stills its silverware. PJ rubs his no-doubt burnt fingers together.

“No, well, yes. But I mean nothing’s happened,” Sarah stumbles out, not daring to look Paul’s way. The waiter is nodding, the sympathetic glints in his eyes threatening to spill over. Sarah and Paul have been coming here since they were dating; Duke knows she’s into her thirties.

Tall straightbacked Paul rises so abruptly the candle quakes. Dukakis steps aside, nods at Paul with his unwelcome sympathy. Paul mutters, Excuse me.

He and the waiter turn their separate ways: Duke ducks toward the kitchen, Paul strides toward MEN’S. Grape leaves stapled on the walls flap in his wake.

At the table, Sarah feels her flush deepen, doubly spotlit. By the candle, by PJ’s widened glittery eyes. It’s the first time she’s acknowledged in front of her stepson what he must have instinctively known for years. From her clingy Step Mom hugs, her anything-to-please manner with him. PJ, more than anyone, must know how badly she wants a baby.

A new complicity flickers between them. PJ leans toward her, table wobbling and candleflame flaring. PJ puffs up his lips, blows it out.

“Yo, Sarah,” PJ stage-whispers into the hush of intimate dimness he’s made between them, the candle smoking. “You want to, I could get you–”

“What? A drink?” Sarah keeps her shadowed face blank, pretending that she doesn’t know PJ means (he can’t really mean it) I could get you pregnant.


copyright 2012 Elizabeth Searle


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