Whatever else could be said about the ship, it was big. Bigger than the sailboats you found normally in a marina this large, bigger even than two of them put together. She had to shield her eyes from the sun and tilt her neck forwards to even look at all of it, it was so big.
And it screamed at her, too. The kind of big that was proud to be noticed, the kind of big that used its size to whatever it wanted, because nothing could stop it. It wasn’t sweet and clumsy big. It was bellowing, loud big, and drew eyes and soft gasps. Problem big.
About the same size as the problem growing inside her right now.
Despite her knowledge that it was too early, she laid a hand on her stomach, wondering if she would feel the tiny lump sure to come in a few weeks. She didn’t. Relief nearly brought tears to her eyes.
Being pregnant was terrifying. She spent sleepless nights thinking about it, imagining the labor, the discomfort, the obstacles dead ahead.
Hopefully, a little break on her family’s yacht would provide some relief before she had to really let her panic set in.
“Hurry up!” Dad called, waving her over. “Grab your stuff and let’s get moving!”
Sixteen-year-old Carmen White shouldered her bag and took a deep breath.
He’s sweet, Mother, and I care about him. I’m sorry. Please let us try to work this out. Or maybe, I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. Maybe if you met him… Or perhaps just, Well, now you know why I never fell for Mrs. Ahuja’s hot daughter.
He played the scenarios over in his mind, but none of them seemed to come to a good outcome. No matter what he said, he was still going to get the same shock flitting into their eyes- if he was lucky, it would last long enough for him to escape- and then the disgust. He hated their disgust. It sunk into his brain and seeped into him, cowing him, making him feel tiny, foolish, like he was the anvil and they the great thunder god in the clouds smashing down the hammer.
These worries nagged into him, nibbled down to his soul. He knew he didn’t exactly have to tell his parents about his sexuality or his secret American boyfriend, but he still felt obligated to. After all, he’d met Jacob’s parents. And what was life without a little honesty?
Maybe this trip would be good, softening them up nicely before he brought the hammer down. If only Jacob could have come. He grabbed his suitcase and handed it to the chauffeur driving them to the marina. Jacob would have made him feel better.
Inside the car, Mother was dabbing red paint onto her mouth. Father scrolled through his phone. The silence was oppressive. Nehal half-wanted to tell them, just to hear his own voice.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, he thought. Tell them now, and I can get the pain over with for the whole week.
Wow, she thought, walking into the yacht’s dining area. She’d been on it before, but it still managed to take her breath away. Like glass raindrops thrown into a fire, she thought. The line made her feel a little shivery and she itched for a pen.
The interior was large and warm. A ring of scarlet couches made up half of the room, a fire pit in the center. Paneled wood ran along the floor, and at the back a bartender washed glasses.
The lampshades glittered with crystal droplets, reflecting off each other. At their backs, the sea twinkled underneath the pale pink sky.
When she saw the other family waiting for them at the end of the hall, she stopped short. There was a boy her age with them.
She was feeling extremely jumpy around boys. They were something to be mistrusted. They were dangerous. They were good looking sometimes, but they could hurt you. And once they got what they wanted, they would. Fear washed over her.
“What’s that face?” her father demanded, poking his head around to stare at her. “You’ve met them before!”
Before I got knocked up, Dad, she thought, irritation quickly overcoming her fear. Before your precious flower finally realized that men are really not so great.
The family came from India, and while her mother normally disapproved of foreigners, she liked them because they were rich and because the first thing they said to her parents was that they loved their Lamborghini.
The son was nice, as far as she could tell. Handsome. Quiet. He’d seemed completely normal to her before, but now as she walked over she wondered if his eyes lingered on her a little too long, or if he liked the fact that the top button of her shirt was open. You’re not getting me, she thought, alarmed, and crossed her arms over her stomach fiercely.
The adults made polite chit chat, complimenting each other on everything while Carmen ignored her mother smacking her lips and toying with her hair, which was code for Say Something To Be Polite And Snobby Like Me, Carmen. She simply watched the boy carefully.
And as she went to her bed that night, after filling her wine glass with grape juice, she came to a decision. Nobody would ever touch her again, man or boy. She had a baby now, and she needed to protect it, no matter how scared she was of it.
The girl watched him like a hawk all throughout dinner, and it alarmed him a little. He wondered if he had somehow offended her, and ran over the brief list of every word they had ever said to each other in his mind. He couldn’t think of anything he had done.
It was almost a little cute because she was so tiny. She barely cleared five feet, with porcelain skin and blonde hair. She’d never seemed terribly frightening, but the hard glare of her eyes at him was something that made him very nervous.
They set off the next day. Carmen watched through the window as the boat steadily cleared the marina in what seemed like a few minutes. She held a glass of water loosely in her hand, rubbing her stomach repeatedly. It was an odd little habit she had found herself doing lately, gently touching the spot where her child was.
She sighed. It didn’t quite seem real yet. Even after the days of repeated tests, even after the trip to the doctor’s office settled the matter.
She wasn’t sure when she was first really, truly afraid, but she thought it might have been sometime at the doctor’s. He had stuck his head out into the waiting room to call, “Who’s next?” and she had raised her hand to answer him.
“Are you waiting for someone?” he asked in surprise.
She frowned. “No,” she answered. “I’m almost certain that I’m pregnant.”
His face… she could never forget it. The sheer, absolute horror when he looked at her, saw just a child, telling him that she was pregnant. It chilled her.
During the appointment he kept asking her if she wanted an abortion. She had spent days thinking about it, and she answered back with a firm “no” each time. Carmen was not a person who let her fear control her. She also didn’t want to be someone in the future who told people that she had gotten knocked up in high school. “But I killed the baby,” she would add, leaning back into her chair to take a draught from her wine glass, pretending not to see their horror.
No, Carmen was not doing abortion. She had decided that she was going to offer her baby for adoption, and meet candidates during the pregnancy months. It was better for everyone.
That boy was coming up to her, his head bent and his face shy, and she watched him warily as he approached her.
“Morning,” he says. He gestured at the seat next to her. “May I sit down?”
“Go ahead,” Carmen said. She didn’t trust him. But there was nothing wrong with being polite.
“Um,” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I, um, I don’t know if you’re… mad at me for something, but I am very sorry about it. Whatever I did. If I did do something…” He cleared his throat nervously.
Carmen hadn’t quite considered that he would be aware of her that way. She felt a little bad for assuming the worst of him. Just because Tomas was a jerk didn’t mean all men were. Hopefully. “What makes you think I’m mad at you?” she asked casually. She wanted to know how closely he had been paying attention to her.
“Uh, you just seemed pretty… mad last night? At me, specifically. I’m not really sure why, but I guess you have a reason of some sort. So whatever it is, I’m sorry. If you are mad at me.”
“It's okay,” Carmen said. His accent was cute. Wait, no it wasn’t. “It’s not your fault men suck.” she added with a sigh.
He squinted at her. His eyes were dark, dark brown, almost black, and his curly hair was pushed to the side. “Wait… you’re mad at me because relationships suck? What kind of logic is that?”
Carmen scowled up at him. “It’s personal, okay? I’m just having a small- big- problem right now. Men aren’t very appealing at the moment.” Even to her ears that sounded weak. She suddenly wished she could take back her actions of the night before. He didn’t deserve that. She sighed again. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” he said, watching her closely. “What happened with your boyfriend?”
Carmen shook her head. “Nothing important.”
He shrugged. “Maybe it doesn’t seem that important in your head. But getting it out of there? Vital to your wellbeing.”
“Maybe, but I’m fine. Stop asking,” Carmen snapped.
“Okay.” He raised his hands in the air. “Sorry.”
“No, you’re…” Ugh, she had to stop making this boy apologize. “Sorry again. I've just not been very nice recently.”
“We all have off days,” he said sympathetically. “But, uh, maybe you could bite off someone else’s head instead. You’re very scary.”
That startles a laugh out of her, and he grinned, his face warm. His eyes met hers for a moment and she gazed back at him.
Carmen jerked to her senses. Whoa. No. NO. “No flirting!” she said sharply, then froze, realizing she’d said that aloud.
“What?” He staggered upright, staring at her. “You thought I was… what? No. No! I mean, really no. Really, really no.”
Carmen frowned. She got that she was rude, but boys around this age tended to think with their eyes. Did she really look that bad? Wasn’t pregnancy supposed to make women glow? She sniffed her shirt, wondering if she smelled.
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said quickly, mistaking her sniffing for tears. “I didn’t- you’re very- I just- I’m gay,” he said finally. “I’m gay, I have a boyfriend, and, uh, I don’t really know how to flirt. I’m also not out yet, so maybe don’t tell my parents. Very deep in the closet, actually. Closet surfer, that’s me,” he said, then winced like he’d said something stupid.
Carmen barked a laugh, feeling an enormous wave of relief crash over her. He wasn’t a predator! He wasn’t someone interested in her body and nothing else! She ran over, and hugged him tightly. “Oh, good!” she shouted. “You’re gay! Oh, that’s wonderful!” She bounced up and down a little, full of excitement. “That’s perfect. Oh, thank God. Thank God. Thank God.”
“What?” he spluttered. “Wait- what? You’re happy? Why?”
“Because it means you don’t want to have sex with me!” Carmen told him. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Well, I think we’re going to be very good friends.” She stood back, hands on her hips, to look at him proudly. What a delightful, perfect boy. Gay. Beautiful! Shining. He was her gay knight in shining armor, yes.
“Anyway, I’d better go,” she told him. “I have a serious craving for shrimp all of a sudden. Bye!”
She ran off, leaving him completely flabbergasted behind her.
Nehal took a hot shower, had a long phone call with Jacob, tried to find Carmen again to ask what the hell she was talking about, and sat down to dinner feeling like his day had been productive, if a bit confusing.
All throughout dinner, Carmen would wink at him or smile if he looked her way, and briefly tried to engage him in a conversation where they half-shouted at each other (they were at opposite ends of the table) before her father shut that down.
He liked her, but he wasn’t totally sure what her deal was. It had really weirded him out when she hugged him and shouted something about sex, then ran away to eat shrimp. He wanted to find a way to talk to her and ask her about it, but he was also kind of scared to.
Jacob had laughed when he confessed this. “Nehal, she’s just a girl,” he said. “Maybe a little crazy, but that could be hormones. She won’t kill you or anything.”
“I’m not sure about that,” Nehal said, crunching on a Dorito. He chewed for a minute, thinking. “She had these weird mood swings too. Like, one minute she was all angry and intense, the next hopping up and down. I feel like she’s energetic no matter what, uh, body state she’s in.”
“Hormones,” Jacob said wisely. “It’s just hormones. No reason to be so scared.”
Nehal made a face and he laughed. “Okay, got to go.” Nehal said. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
“You can do it!”
Nehal groaned and he laughed again before hanging up.
The courses came on silver platters carried by servants, while wine was floated in and out through the entire meal. The adults talked and argued about the economy and money, while Nehal studied Carmen carefully, trying to think of a way to get
Nehal sat by the window after he was done, watching the sea drift by and envisioning new ways to tell his parents he was gay. He knew it would be hard, but he wanted to. At least, he was pretty sure he did.
“Hi there!” Carmen said cheerfully, sitting down beside him. “How’s my knight?”
“Nothing. Inside joke.” She smiled.
“Oh. Uh, I'm good. Kind of wondering what all the hugging and screaming was about earlier.” He hoped he was being polite enough- he really didn’t want to make her mad again.
“Oh, right,” she said. “Well… I kind of have a big secret too,” She hesitated, staring down at her hands. "Please don't judge me or say anything, but... I’m pregnant.”
The fact that she confessed this so calmly alarmed him. He stared. “What?”
She winced. “Yeah, I know. Crazy.” She sighed and rested her chin on her hands. “I’m almost at my second trimester, and still haven’t told my parents. I can’t imagine how they’ll react. I’m really scared to find out.” She glanced up ruefully at Nehal.
“Oh,” he said after a moment. “Wow. If you don’t mind my asking, why tell me?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “I think because I haven’t told anyone yet besides my doctor. I owe you an explanation for yesterday. And I’ve noticed that lately my mouth says things my brain doesn’t catch.”
“‘No flirting?’” he quoted, grinning.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each absorbed in their own thoughts. “Wow,” Nehal sighed. He reached over and squeezed her hand. “I can help out whenever you need it. I know how scary this must be.” She smiled at him gratefully. Nehal leaned backward. “I guess Jacob was right. Hormones.”
“Ooh!” She sat upright and turned to face him. “Spill. Spill now!”
“What?” he said, laughing.
She leveled a finger at his face. “I want details. Everything about the two of you, how you got together, how cute he is, etc. Don’t leave out a thing!”
Grinning, Nehal did his best to paint a picture for her. His sweet smile, his messy hair, his eyes that crinkled at the corners.
They talked for hours. She kept interrupting to ask him about something else, which he might have normally minded, but she was so sweet with it he laughed instead.
The conversation got deeper as she started telling him about her ex, Tomas. Her eyes glowed with anger as she spoke of him getting her drunk at a party by sneaking moonshine into her cup, and he pitied Tomas a little. Wherever he was now, Nehal doubted he’d escaped Carmen uninjured.
They ended up becoming friends for years. He planned her baby shower, and she was his best woman at his wedding. He even set her up with her future husband, a sweet, quiet med school student, who took her mood swings with all the vigor of a captain manning his ship at sea.
And after confessing their secrets to each other, what else was there to fear? At the end of the week, he took her hand and she squeezed his, and they stepped inside the drawing room to face their stunned parents.