It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you go to the supermarket in your hometown to buy a pregnancy test, you are guaranteed to run into one of two types of people; the town gossip, or your parents. If you’re from a town as small as Haverhill, North Carolina, even if you go to the new store on the outskirts of town, even if it’s a slow Tuesday afternoon, even if you haven’t been back in over a year, you’ll probably run into both. That is precisely what happened to me on my way to Aunt Ralph’s.
Ever since I had looked at the calendar this morning and realized just how long it had been since the start of my last period, it had been all I could think about. Well, that and exactly who I might have been with three weeks ago, and how my birth control might have failed. That might have been a good thing, because it provided a surefire distraction from the crushing grief of losing Aunt Ralph, or the recriminations I knew would come from my family for not coming home often enough. Even though storms had left me stuck in Boston after my mother first called to tell me that my great aunt was in the hospital following a heart attack. I had no doubt that my mother probably blamed me for not being able to control the weather.
After an anxious flight obsessively reviewing my calendar and contacts, and several minutes staring blankly at the different brands and boxes in the pharmacy aisle of the store, I finally slipped one into my basket next to the travel sized toothpaste, hair conditioner, and tampons. Please, oh please, let me need those tampons. Please.
My new silent mantra was interrupted by a shrill and distinctly accented voice saying. “Amy Monroe! Well, hey girl.”
I looked up and immediately had to clamp down on rising panic. I shifted the basket behind my hip and hoped that something in it would fall down to cover the long, narrow box with bright pink lettering. “Hey, Heather. How are you doing?”
Heather Aycock, Haverhill High School’s answer Perez Hilton tottered down the aisle on a pair of three inch heels. Her hair looked like she’d put so much hairspray on it in the early 1990’s that it got stuck in a permanent pouf, and her hot pink skirt suit perfectly matched her lipstick, which I had no doubt was Mary Kay. “I’m doing great. Keeping myself out of trouble. What have you been up to?”
I twisted a little more to keep the basket behind my hip while Heather’s eyes scanned me from head to toe as if she was trying to sniff out any tidbit of information that might be passed along. Something inside me recognized the alternately clipped vowels and drawn out r’s of the Carolina Piedmont and my own accent woke up, stretched and started to creep out of the cave that I kept it in most of the time and back into my speech. “Not much. Working a lot.”
“Now, you’re in sales. Right?” Heather cast her hook fishing for information.
“Something like that.” I kept it short, not wanting to prolong the conversation by correcting her.
“I do a bit of sales myself. I’ve been selling Mary Kay for years now, but I’m working on getting my real estate license.” She pulled her shoulders back and turned to the side like the head shots that could be seen in most realty ads.
I nodded approvingly, “That’s great.”
“I heard about your Aunt Ralph. I’m so sorry for your loss.” Heather put on an appropriate condolence face. “I reckon everyone is gathering for the funeral.”
“Yeah, I just got in. I’ve been traveling and I need to pick up a few things before I went to the house.” I waved to the other side of the aisle where the shelves were full of hair care products. I stepped away from the incriminating shelves hoping that Heather would follow.
No such luck. She stayed where she was but turned toward me before asking. “Is Will going to be coming home for the funeral?”
That caught me off guard. I couldn’t remember Heather having a thing for my big brother. “I don’t know any reason why he wouldn’t. He’s most likely a pall bearer.”
Heather rolled her eyes and made a pfft sound while her cheeks turned a little pinker under the already generous blusher on them. “Of course, he is. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Well, I ordered a sandwich tray for the house. I better go pick that up.” I backed down the aisle careful to keep my basket on the opposite side of my body from Heather’s prying eyes.
“Alright. Well, you tell that brother of yours that I said hey.” Heather said with a too sweet smile.
For the few steps it took to get to the end of the aisle, I thought I might have gotten off without Heather picking up on what I’d been shopping for. At the end of the aisle, I glanced back to find Heather looking directly at the display of pregnancy tests with her head cocked to the side in question. Then she turned and her gaze met mine. One of her perfectly plucked and penciled eyebrows shot up. Well, wasn’t that just perfect?
I didn’t run into my father until I was trying to balance the sandwich platter in one hand and open the trunk with the other. I was so focused on the task that I didn’t notice anyone else was there until the platter started to tip off of my hand. Just in time, someone caught it and lifted it to safety. I looked up in to my dad’s smiling brown eyes. “I think the jet lag is affecting your coordination.”
His smile pressed my mental panic button. The pregnancy test wasn’t on the top of the bag full of stuff was it? Did that even matter? These bags were thin. Could he see those bright pink letters right through it? It wasn’t much different from the feeling I had when I got caught trying to sneak back into the house after sneaking out to make out with Bradley Henderson when I was in high school. By some miracle of subterfuge, I managed to give him my sweetest Daddy’s girl smile. “I was never that coordinated to begin with.”
I leaned in to buss his cheek before opening the trunk of the car, hoping that he couldn’t see the way I shifted the bag behind me. Wade Monroe was good-natured, but he was very perceptive and not a man to be trifled with. He angled the platter into the trunk trying not to disturb the sandwiched inside. “This was good thinking,“ He nodded to the tray as he straightened up. “Not everyone is going to want fried chicken and barbecue.
Of course there would be fried chicken and barbecue. It was practically a Southern reflex for folks to provide food at a funeral, and it wouldn’t be Carolina without barbecue. “There have to be some casseroles and corn pudding in there too.”
“And pies. Always pies. There any Alka Seltzer in that bag?” He nodded to the plastic still dangling from my wrist, and my pulse shuddered.
I laughed nervously before sliding my wrist out of the loop handles and wrapping the top part of the bag around the bottom before putting it in the trunk. I quickly closed the lid on the evidence, and tried to act I wasn’t hiding anything. What me? “I should’ve thought of that. I should’ve called the house to see if y’all needed anything.”
He grinned, “And deprive me of the chance to get out of the house? You know better.”
That had me laughing. Running to the store was my father’s favorite escape hatch when all the Keith women got together. The women in my family were a force to be reckoned with in Haverhill. We were never short on opinions about everything from parenting, to preaching, to politics. When three or more of us got together, it was safer to stay out of the line of fire. My father, who was rarely short opinions of his own, managed to stay on most of our good sides by avoiding conflict and running errands. “What did they send you out for this time?”
“Ice, and more jugs of tea. The funeral home supplied some, but your mother is worried that it won’t be enough. Guess I’ll add Alka Seltzer too.” He said with a shrug. “You’d best get on to the house. I’m sure your mother is wondering where you are.”
And no doubt quietly fuming about my tardiness. I gave Dad a quick hug. “We can’t have that. I’ll see you back at the house”
I got in the car and watched him stroll off through the rear view mirror. He didn’t look back or seem suspicious. I was entirely too old to be worried about getting caught…what…being an adult? I mean really, I was thirty. They had to know that I wasn’t a virgin anymore. Hell, that ship had sailed a long time ago.
I pulled the car out of the space and pointed it toward Aunt Ralph’s. Giving myself a mental pep talk, I tried to ready myself for the days to come.