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Книга Third Degree. Страница 4

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Laurel wasn’t even sure whether a fetus conceived while you were on the pill was viable or not. She would have to look it up on the Internet. She should already have done it, but that kind of practical act didn’t square with her strategy of intense denial. She still couldn’t believe she was pregnant. She was on the pill, for God’s sake! Ninety-eight percent effective! How could she be in the unlucky 2 percent? She’d had some bad luck in her life, but never the worst luck. It was the rotavirus, she knew. Last month, she had somehow contracted the same gastrointestinal virus that had required the quarantining of major cruise ships. CNN had said the virus was sweeping the country: people were simultaneously puking and pooping from coast to coast. Three to five days of that, Laurel had learned, could eject from the system the progestin contained in a woman’s birth control pills. Since she’d had sex almost every other day last month, pregnancy must have been a near certainty.

She laid her forehead against the steering wheel and allowed herself a single sob. She’d always believed she was a strong woman, but now fate had colluded with chance-and stupidity-to make the prospect of raising an illegitimate child in her husband’s house a reality.

And that she could not face.

There are probably women doing it, said a rebellious voice in her head. Right here in this town. Desperate to avoid thinking of her impending meeting with Starlette, Laurel spun through the possibilities. If you were going to be stuck in a loveless marriage for the rest of your life, that “love child” might be your only link to sanity, or at least to the life that might have been. But could she live a lie for the rest of her life? She had found it difficult enough to lie about even small things over the past year, to bring off the thousand tiny deceptions that an extramarital affair required. The thrill of the forbidden had lasted about three weeks for her, and after that, the lies had begun to produce a sort of psychic nausea. Every lie generated the need for a dozen others-lies and sub-lies, Danny called them-sprouting like heads on an endlessly replicating Hydra. Yet she had worked hard to maintain the charade of normalcy. She’d even become good at it-so good that lying had become automatic. She felt the dishonesty corroding her soul, yet still she lied, so desperately did she need the love that Danny McDavitt gave her.

Yet what she was contemplating now was no simple deception. She wouldn’t be the only one lying. She would be forcing her unborn child into a lie from the moment of its birth. Its very life would be a lie. And what about Warren? He would try to love this baby, but would he actually feel love? Or would he sense something alien in the little interloper in his house? Something inexplicably but profoundly wrong? A disturbing scent? A genetically dissonant sound? A shiver at the touch of skin or hair? And of course, the baby wouldn’t look like Warren-it couldn’t-except by the merest chance.

Laurel actually knew one woman who had done it. Kelly Rowland, a sorority sister at Ole Miss who had become pregnant by a one-night stand while engaged to the boy she had been dating for three years. Kelly’s fiancé had been a good, stable, somewhat bland boy of medium attractiveness and excellent financial prospects; in short, the ideal husband for a sorority girl at Ole Miss. Kelly had always insisted that her fiancé wear condoms religiously during sex, so it struck Laurel as odd when Kelly allowed one of the house-boys-a devastatingly hot soccer player-to screw her brains out sans protection one night after a candlelight ceremony for one of the other sisters. But when Kelly learned she was pregnant, she had simply moved up her wedding date, scheduled her own candlelight ceremony, and never looked back. That was thirteen years ago, and the couple were still married and living in Houston.

Laurel drew no inspiration from this memory. But what was the alternative? Abortion? How could she abort the child of the man she truly loved? And even if she convinced herself she could bear that, how could she tell her husband she wanted an abortion? You get the abortion without telling him you’re pregnant, said a cold, Darwinian voice. With dread she pictured herself running a gauntlet of antiabortion protesters to sit alone in the waiting room of some distant women’s clinic. She’d have to go at least three states away to avoid any possibility of being recognized, and even then the physician might-

A fist rapped on the window beside Laurel’s head.

She jerked away from the noise like a woman being carjacked, then looked back to see Diane Rivers, the third-grade homeroom teacher, mouthing her name with obvious concern. Diane was a bighaired Southern belle with a heart of gold, almost a throwback to Laurel’s mother’s generation, though she was only forty-three. Laurel had seen pictures of Diane in a glittering sequin unitard as she twirled two batons at a national college competition. Diane made a cranking motion with her hand, meaning that Laurel should roll down her window, though almost no cars had window cranks anymore, at least not in the parking lot of Athens Country Day.

Laurel wiped her tears on the shoulder of her blouse, smearing mascara on the white silk, then pressed the window button. The glass sank into the door with a low whir.

“What’s the matter, honey?” Diane asked. “Are you all right?”

Do I look all right? Laurel silently responded. But what else was someone supposed to ask when they found you crying in a parking lot? Some teachers would have derived savage ecstasy from finding her in this state, but Diane wasn’t one of them. She really meant well.

“I think I’m getting a migraine,” Laurel said. “I’m getting that aura, you know?”

“Christ on a crutch,” Diane said with empathy. “Seems like a long time since you had one.”

“Over a year.” Since before Danny and I got together, Laurel realized.

“Do you think you can handle your conferences? If it was just classes, I’d sit with your kids, but I wouldn’t know what to tell special-ed parents.”

“I’ll be all right,” Laurel asserted, leaning down to lift her purse and computer off the floor. “Sometimes I just get the aura but not the headache. They call that a silent migraine. I’m hoping this is one of those.”

Diane shook her head. “Oh, honey, I don’t know. You don’t have one of those shots with you? The stuff that heads it off?”

“Imitrex? It’s been so long since I had a migraine that I stopped carrying the kit.”

Diane gave her a look of maternal reproach.

“I know,” Laurel said, getting out of her car. “Stupid.”

“You should run to Warren’s office,” Diane suggested. “Get that shot, you know? What’s the use of having a doctor for a husband if you don’t take advantage now and then? I could cover for you till you get back. My homeroom knows I’ll skin them alive if they misbehave.”

Laurel almost laughed. Diane had a glare that could paralyze a mischievous boy from a hundred paces. After locking the Acura, Laurel started toward the Special Students building. “I’ll be all right, Di, seriously. I saw some spots, that’s all.”

“You were sobbing in pain, girl.”

“No…I was just overwhelmed. I really believed I might be over them. That’s why I was crying. Facing reality.”

“Reality’s a bitch, all right,” Diane said under her breath. Then she giggled like a 1950s wife who’d accidentally said shit.

She squeezed Laurel’s wrist as she left the door of the Special Students building. Her touch was oddly comforting. Laurel felt an irrational urge to pour out her heart to the older woman, but she didn’t say a word. Diane couldn’t possibly help with her predicament, even were she so inclined. And Diane was unlikely to feel sympathy for the deranged slut who was cheating on her husband-Diane’s personal physician-and was stupid enough to get pregnant while doing it. Laurel nodded once more that she was okay, then walked down the short hall to her classroom, easily found by the raucous chatter of special-needs kids in the grip of their morning energy.

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