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”Fuck,” Gwen said, a little louder than she would have liked. Her hands were already shaking before she began physically thrusting her clinched hand there and back, as if it would wipe that tiny pink plus from existence. Tears stung at her eyes, but she refused them. She wanted to feel the heat on her cheeks. Why? She didn’t know. “…Fuck…” she whispered.
There was a knock at the door. “Gwen?” It was Grandpa Pat, “You’ve been in there a while. Uh, you alright?”
“Fine, my stomach’s just upset,” she cringed at the thought of morning sickness. “I’ll be out in a minute, Grandpa.”
“Do you got the runs?”
“No, Grandpa…” the brief, embarrassing thought of her Grandpa asking about diarrhea almost made Gwen smile. That moment of levity was quickly smothered by the reality of it all. She quickly, and all too happily, threw the test back into its box and stuffed it into her purse. She flushed the toilet and resolved to wash her hands of this situation, literally and figuratively. Nothing much she could do about it right now, she told herself.
She stepped out with her bravest face, arms outstretched. “Ta da!”
Grandpa Pat chuckled. “Glad you’re feeling better, just in time for dinner.” He lead the way through a narrow hallway to his tiny kitchenette. Grandpa Pat lived on the ground floor of his triplex right off the Turnpike, almost directly situated on what was left of the New Jersey wetlands. If Gwen looked out the screen door that led to the back stoop, she would see the brown reeds flanking board screams of water that emptied out into the Passaic River, but not tonight. It was cold and humid and a thick fog lingered outside.
The old man pulled the tin foil back from the casserole dish and moved to pull out a chair for his granddaughter. “Ladies first!”
Gwen smirked. “Age before beauty,” she replied.
He winked. “Then you still sit first.”
Gwen’s mouth opened in pretend shock but she obliged. She had been coming to visit her Grandpa every weekend since she was five and though common thinking would dictate that a seventeen year old girl would have much more fun places to be than her Grandpa’s for the weekend, her parent’s recent divorce made her visits a welcome distraction.
The drop-leaf table barely fit in the tiny kitchen but Grandpa Pat always insisted he was only one man and didn’t need much room. He preferred renting the larger, nicer, upstairs apartment to the Lopes’ who worked two jobs each to feed their three kids.
“So how are things?” Grandpa Pat asked, stuffing his face. “Anything new?”
Gwen scooped up a large spoonful and dug in. “Nope,” she said plainly.
After Grandpa Pat went to bed, Gwen sat out on the back porch swiping through her phone restlessly. Her thumb kept bringing her back to the Rodney’s face in her contacts list but each time she returned to the home screen. She’d already texted him goodnight, there was no point in waking him; he had class in the morning, then he’d go straight from campus to work. Wouldn’t be home until eight at night. Besides, something like this was best to say in person. Maybe.
The light from her screen faded and Gwen was left in the dark. An orange streetlight flickered on the street and only cast shadows into the yard. The Lopes’ had finally gotten their kids to bed and all that was left was silence. Silence and the taste of the fog that hung in the air. Gwen let her head sink between her knees. “…Fuck…”
The soft shifting in the reeds caught Gwen’s ear and she glanced up. She squinted, not sure what to make of what she saw. Phone in had she woke up the screen and shined what little light she had in front of her. A fully grown stag walked out from the reeds and approached the porch. Gwen gasped. Did deer even come out this far onto the wetlands? She’d seen cranes and ducks before but never such a big animal. Grandpa Pat once said he accidently ran over one up in the Catskills and it messed up his truck real bad. Gwen stood up, slowly, making her way inside to put the house between her and the wild animal.
“Please don’t go.”
“I need your help.”
Gwen’s mouth fell agape as she turned to look at this creature again. It was closer now, within arm’s reach. It’s bright blue eyes stared intently at her, and being so close, she realized that a beautiful blue moss grew on its antlers. Its black nostrils flared as it brought its muzzle forward and let it hang here, like a hand, extended in greeting. Gwen couldn’t help herself, her hand reached out and gently rested on the cool, wet nose.
And then they were gone.