Excerpt from The Distance

Around 3 on Sunday afternoon, Meredith called Annie. Can you come over, Chica?

Oh…my…god! Annie stretched the three short words into twice as many syllables. Are you wasted?

What? No! Why do you say that?

Um, you never call me on Sunday. That’s Gordie time. You only call me Chica when you’re wasted. And you sound a little spacy. A lot spacy.

I just need to talk to you. Can you come over or not?

When Annie arrived she knocked and waited and knocked again. After three rounds of knocking she went back down the stairs and found the key that Meredith kept stashed under a smooth river rock in the sparse and scraggly landscaping under her bedroom window in case Gordie forgot his key. Which he never did, so Annie was the only one who ever used the hidden key. She unlocked the door and opened it a bit and called out. Merf? There was no answer and Annie knew that the apartment was small enough that even if Meredith were in the bathroom with the door closed, she’d hear Annie calling. She swung the door open and looked around before stepping inside.

She checked the bedroom and bathroom and had come back out to pull a diet soda from the refrigerator when she heard a key in the door. She watched from around the corner as Meredith pushed the door open with her foot, arms wrapped around a plastic basket full of laundry, then she sprung out and grabbed Meredith and kissed her on the cheek. Did I scare you?

I saw your car.

Damn it.

Why do you want to scare me, anyway? Meredith dropped the basket onto the floor in front of the sofa and sat down.

Don’t know. Annie turned away and picked her soda can off of the table and took a long drink. You scared me.

What? How?

You call me all suicidal and I rush over here and you don’t answer your door. I thought you swallowed pills or something.

Meredith smirked. I’m not suicidal, you freak. She picked a pair of Gordie’s jeans out of the basket and folded them. And you didn’t rush over here.

Annie feigned indignant, but walked over to sit down next to Meredith and started folding clothes. I had to take a shower. I did my step workout this morning and I was smelly. She sipped her soda. I was a little scared.

I’m sorry, baby. I wouldn’t leave you like that.

Good. Annie pulled a pile of laundry out of the basket and onto the sofa next to her and leaned back to get comfortable. So what’s up?

I’m pregnant.

Annie’s head jerked so fast that her ponytail whipped all the way around her head and slapped across her face. Shut up!

I am.

Oh god, Merf. Annie studied her friend’s face for a clue to what she was thinking, and she found it in the tensed muscles of Meredith’s jaw.

You’re not going to have it?

Meredith nodded. I want to have it.

You do? Are you sure?

I’m sure.

Annie pursed her lips and drew a long audible breath. I don’t know, Merf.

What can I do, Annie? What else can I do? Tears started down her cheeks, but she seemed composed. Gordie’s a great kid. She paused and thought about this. He’s a fucking unbelievably great kid. But it’s all I can do to earn enough to take care of him. And make the time to take care of him. I mean, he doesn’t need much, but just to spend time with him. And forget having a life. I barely ever get a minute just to relax. She laughed with a short sound that resembled choking, and held up a fistful of laundry. This—she shook the clothes in her hands for emphasis—is all the relaxing I get. And I only have one friend, because I don’t have time for any others.

Annie started to protest, to say that she was all the friend that Meredith needed, or that Meredith had lots of friends from work and from the club, but she didn’t bother. Instead she leaned in and lay her hand on Meredith’s arm to calm her, quiet her for a moment. Wait, she said, are you saying you do want to have it, or you don’t?

Meredith shook her head. I’m sorry. I know. I’m not making sense. I’ve been thinking a million miles an hour since I found out. I do want to have the baby. She paused. I have to. But I don’t think I can keep it.

Oh! Annie thought about this for a moment. Oh god, Meredith. That’s…

I know. It’s crazy.

Crazy? It’s fucking nuts. Annie grinned and Meredith started to giggle, sputtering laughs interrupted by sharp sounds of sucking in air, sobs or gasps. She picked up a sock from the pile and wiped her eyes.

I know, Annie, but jesus. Look at Gordie. That kids’s a goddamn miracle. I can’t see myself having an abortion, knowing how amazing that kid is. I can’t.

Oh god, yeah. I love your kid. But how are you going to do this? I mean, you know what it’s like to be pregnant. I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, but you do. I can’t see how you can go through that and then give it up.

Meredith slumped sideways onto the pile of unfolded clothes. I know. She shook her head vigorously, burrowing under the laundry until her face was covered. She was quiet for some time, Annie softly stroking her legs. Suddenly Meredith flung her arms upward, hands balled tightly into fists, body tensed from neck to pointed toes, and screamed. Fuck! Then she slumped again, her face still covered, and Annie could hear her soft sobs.

Annie pulled her feet up under her on the couch, then lay down slowly, gently, next to her friend, one leg over Meredith’s outstretched legs, an arm over her softly heaving stomach, and tucked her head in next to the exposed side of Meredith’s neck. They lay this way for five minutes, ten minutes, until Annie felt a calm settle into Meredith’s body. Still she lay silently, her left hand moving almost imperceptibly slowly over Meredith’s stomach, making a circle with the light pressure of her palm.

When Meredith finally spoke, her voice again sounded deep and calm, full of the quiet confidence that Annie had always admired in her friend, whether she was talking to a cute guy in a bar or giving Annie advice on negotiating her rent. Annie, she said, and from the tone Annie knew she was being asked to accept something she wouldn’t want.

Yeah, baby, she whispered into Meredith’s neck.

I have to go away.

Annie felt a shudder travel from the small of her back to the base of her skull, and she was shaking her head in defiance even as she felt herself resigned to acceptance.

Why, Merf? Why not stay here where I can help you?

Meredith sighed, a long breath pulled in, held, and released slowly as she reached to pull the clothes away from her face. She turned and tilted her head until her forehead pressed against Annie’s. It’s Gordie. I can’t put him through this. Watching me get bigger and bigger, knowing that he’ll never get to see his new brother or sister. It’s cruel.

So what are you saying? Annie was trying not to cry, but her voice wavered. Meredith twisted from her back to her side, never moving her face from Annie’s. She wrapped an arm around Annie, pulling her close, and interlocked their folded legs.

Please don’t cry, sweetie. Please don’t.

I won’t. I’m not.

But Meredith could see the effort in her friend’s eyes.

I’m going to ask my dad to take Gordie, and I’ll go somewhere, Rosado maybe, until I have the kid.

I don’t get why you have to leave. If Gordie’s gone.

It’s not just Gordie. It’s everybody. I don’t want Luis to know. I don’t want them to know at work.

Nobody would care, Merf. It happens. People will get over it. And don’t you think Luis would want to know?

Probably, but I don’t want him to feel responsible. And he’s not the guy I want to be with, which is exactly what he would want if he knew.

He’s a sweet guy, though.

Yeah, the sweetest guy ever.  And he’d insist on doing the right thing – she gave the words a grand emphasis – but he’s not…

She dropped off, and Annie gave a small nod in acknowledgement. I know, she whispered.

Annie?

Yeah?

I love you, baby. I’m sorry I have to leave you. But I’ll be back. She saw the tears fill the corners of Annie’s eyes. She rolled forward and kissed Annie’s cheek, feeling it quiver.

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