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Jul/Aug 2005 fiction

The Way You Make Me Feel

by Caroline Kepnes


The pregnant teenager looked up at Mr. Farnham with fat, glossy eyes. She wore a half shirt in spite of the frosty conditions, and her belly ring sparkled, catching what light permeated the classroom blinds. "So what do you think I should do?"

Jeffrey, Mr. Farnham, feared she was never going to stop talking. She and her boyfriend had been going at it for some time, and she had watched a Lifetime movie about date rape, about boys thinking that because they slept with you once they could sleep with you anytime, a notion she thought was true, yet in the movie, a boy wound up in prison for thinking that way. And so when her pregnancy test came out positive and she thought of the night they last slept together, the fact that she had said no, she wondered, did this mean she'd been raped?

"Of course it does."

"Don't call my boyfriend a rapist."

"I'm not, Christy. You're saying that."

"Fuck me."

"Christy, please. Language."

And then it was what to do now? Should she go to the police? Would the cops make her break up with him? Did Mr. Farnham know the Lifetime movie she was talking about?

"I don't watch much television."

"But you made us write all those essays last month about TV."

"Those essays weren't about television, Christy." Lose the tone, Jeffrey. Nice begets nice. "What I mean is, those essays were about the September 11th tragedy."

"Yeah, but our homework was to watch TV."

He's going to pick up Christy by the throat and twist her head off and the baby is going to come up through her neck and he's going to cut the cord and take the baby home and raise it right.

"Christy, the homework was to learn about the tragedy." It was only a month after the towers had collapsed, and Jeffrey still cried every day for those people. Sometimes he thought it was an excuse, that he was crying because he was sad, because he didn't think his wife loved him, because so many girls got pregnant nowadays. He hadn't known anyone personally who died. But he wished he did. He even made a pilgrimage to the West Village and sat on a stoop where 14th Street and 7th Avenue come together, next to St. Vincent's Hospital. The bus stop window was covered with heart-breaking photographs and messages. HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN? DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN? One time, one of those classic New York women on the go came along holding a bag of groceries. She glanced at the collage of outcries and then did a doubletake. She dropped her grocery bag, and a jar of red tomato sauce spilled onto the street. She wept, right there, in the light of day.

"Can we get back to talking about me?"

"Of course, sorry, I was just thinking about you. Thinking about your options."

Christy had questions. If she kept the baby, would she have to quit smoking, like, right away that morning? Did he know of a good doctor? And all the while, as Christy talked, Mr. Farnham found himself fixated on her belly ring. He remembered in that vague, music video kind of way that there was a time before belly rings, when he didn't know what his female students abdomens looked like. Not most of them anyway.

"If I have an abortion, I can't undo it."

"Well, no."

"It's so fucking final. Damn it, I wish I could just freaking go back in time."

He responded, on reflex. "So do I."

She continued, in spite of his eyes glossing over. "But if I have a baby, how am I gonna go to college?"

He snapped back into it and looked at her. "You can still go to college. Lots of schools make accommodations for single mothers."

"I hate condoms. I can't believe I went off the pill."

"It's gonna be okay."

"I was on the pill since I was thirteen. But Katy Miller told me that that's probably why I'm always so fat."

"You are not fat, Christy. That should be the least of your concerns."

"What should I do?"

The girls always asked that question. And Jeffrey Farnham answered it the same way every time. "What does your heart tell you to do?"

"Jake gets angry and he doesn't like to be told no. But what guy likes to be told no? Especially when he's been getting it for like three months?"

"What does your heart say?"

This girl shrugged her shoulders. She opened her mouth, and he put his hand on hers, cold on hot.

"I've got a doctor's appointment to get to. But you'll be okay, Christy. You will."

He was so tired of lying at that moment that he thought he might die or faint. She wouldn't be all right. She wouldn't get it together. If he had learned anything in twenty-two years of teaching, it was that girls who get pregnant in high school are generally not all right.

"Is it okay if I just sit here for a while?"

"Yeah that's fine."

"Are you doing your Michael Jackson thing today?"

He nodded, took his keys out of his pocket, and locked his top desk drawer. Twenty years ago he wouldn't have done that. But twenty years ago he was only in this position once, maybe twice a year. The possibility existed of this nice, "C" student stealing his pens, his stash of emergency cash, his Teacher of the Year pin.

"I remember when you did that from when I was in 7th grade," she said. "It seems like a wicked long time ago."

They stood there for a minute, and then Jeffrey gathered his things and left the pregnant girl alone in his classroom.

 

The first time Jeffrey Farnham ever dressed up as Michael Jackson and addressed an English class at the middle school, he'd wound up on the cover of the local paper. Some teachers had gotten together and rented an actual red carpet for his arrival. All the kids in school were permitted to leave class for ten minutes and gather and watch him emerge from a limo—the school had paid for the limo—and scream and cheer as Michael Jackson (wink, wink) emerged. That was March 21, 1984, the week that Michael appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Farnham didn't look like him; Farnham was white, Irish and lanky. But he knew how to work with pancake makeup, and he'd been worshipping Jackson since he was a small boy. The kids threw out their questions.

Where were you born?

Where do you get your inspiration?

Which brothers are you closest with?

Jeffrey could answer every question in Michael's falsetto voice. He had the information, he had the passion, and he won Teacher of the Year.

The year after that, Jeffrey cried as he discussed "We are the World." There was no red carpet in '85, but the kids still gathered. In '86, more of the same and in '87, when Bad was released, the kids were great, except too many of them asked if he knew Weird Al, whose nasty covers of Jackson songs offended Farnham, a purist. The next four years were a blur. There was The Awful Thing; a girl accused him of doing something horrible. But people believed in Jeffrey, and he'd been cleared without so much as a trial. Still, he could link his own dark time to something afoot with Michael's life.

There were signs that the most talented man alive was losing hold of the children. People called him "Wacko Jacko" and talked more about his friendship with child actors and monkeys and old booze bag actresses than they did about his music.

And then in 1991, when Dangerous was released, something different happened. Farnham arrived at the school in his car as usual—the limo days were long gone—and he walked into the school, down the halls, into the men's room where he transformed himself. But when he appeared before the students, they burst out laughing.

Over the next nine years, Jeffrey still dressed up as M.J. He figured out how to handle the bad press. When television news magazines aired their grievances against the King of Pop, he played old tapes of The Ed Sullivan Show for his ignorant students. When allegations against Michael stormed the headlines, Farnham passed out statistical sheets of Michael's charity work. He got older in the '90s. He watched MTV let go of all the original talking heads and bring on people with eyeglasses who snickered and played rap music so dirty that parental warning labels had to flash on the screen. He chaperoned proms and watched the hemlines on dresses eek higher and higher until taffeta eventually gave way to slinky nylon fabrics. He watched the girls get skinnier and skinnier, and he looked at old yearbooks with chubby milk-fed prom queens, and he thanked God that those girls had had the good luck to be born when they'd been born.

He watched Amy Hiplin win Homecoming Queen even though she was three months pregnant, and he watched the school board fight for her right to ride on the float because forcing her to stay at home would be insensitive to the Teen Mother Club. He mowed his lawn on Sundays and wore a walkman and listened to rockin' robin tweet tweet, and one time he got so lost and so angry that he mowed down a bed of roses.

The roses came back, slowly, because he replanted the buds, and he kept up with Michael's life. But now he had to learn about terrible things. He had to learn how to defend himself, his Michael self. He had to tolerate jokes. He had to go to PTA meetings and explain why what he did was in fact politically correct. He had to take a lie detector test and prove that he was not a pervert. Still, he persevered. He got older, and Michael got lighter, and he bought new pancake makeup in a different shade, and he found that his nose was now too broad where always it had been too narrow. He had to not scream at these kids when every year, they seemed a little less taken with Thriller. He watched the kids' pants widen and fall low. He watched the big New Hampshire hair that girls favored collapse. He watched as little silver hoops emerged on their ears and nipples and noses, little silver bolts protruding, reflecting rays of light onto chalkboards. He listened as phrases like sexual harassment and metal detector and grunge and Wacko Jacko slithered their way into the vocabulary of the teachers and students in their little Cape Cod mecca. He didn't leave, though. Never left. Even when he had to defend himself to school boards and follow trials on the news and field questions like Why are you such a sicko? from a particularly unlikable kid in a NO FAT CHICKS T-shirt, he stayed. He learned how to ask his students to shut off their cell phones. He learned how to Google phrases in term papers so that he could prove when work had been plagiarized, and he learned that neckties had become an option. He learned to shut up about skateboards and not bark at the students who asked him Why do you even care about Michael Jackson?

 

Jeffrey Farnham parked the car in the visitor's lot at Barnstable Middle School and left his Teacher ID on the dash.

He will go back inside and start over, he decided. He will pretend that the school never called him and told him not to come in today and dress up like Michael Jackson and let the kids interview him. He will fantasize that there is no 20/20 and no trial and no disrespect and no reason that today is any different than any other year. He is a high school teacher and they are the middle school.

He walked tall through the vacated parking lot. The mid-Cape smelled like a gas station, always had.

He approached the front desk and waved at the ladies in reception, greeting them by name, asking Mrs. Harris, who'd been with the school since Farnham was a kid, how she was liking that book he recommended.

"Well my eyes aren't so good, but I get through a few pages each day or so. It's so sad, though. I don't see why they all have to be so unhappy. It reminds me of that American Beauty in a way. Nobody's ever happy," she sighed, her ample breasts rising, causing the battery operated pumpkin pins on her orange sweater to move, too. "Anyway, enough already with books. How is Kim?"

Farnham glowed, his cheeks red from the cold, from the Michael stuff in his bag. "Wonderful. She's absolutely wonderful." It still threw him off when someone asked about his wife. Such an odd thing, marriage. Half the time it was like she's on another planet. The morning of September 11th, she went into the room that they were fixing up for the baby and rode the exercise bike. He hadn't really touched her since that day. He kept telling her that he had a cold, didn't want her to catch it.

"We're going to have a baby, you know."

"That's terrific, Jeffrey. Hey, did you meet our new gal, Ronnie?"

A youngish woman with bags under her eyes and a gray sweater in need of a wash approached, her feet scuffing the ground, making that annoying slush sound as if raising them with each step would be too much trouble. She was chewing gum, in a school. This woman chewed bubble gum, snapping, "Are you that guy who dresses up like Michael Jackson?"

Farnham smiled. This was the upside of being married. What a relief that he didn't have to deal with that frustration every time a new secretary or teacher arrived in town, and you met her, and she was this gray, imagination-less young old maid. "Jeffrey Farnham." He extended a hand.

She raised both her hands as if surrendering. "I got a cold. All these friggin' kids, you know." She looked him up and down. "You're that guy."

"Guilty as charged." It was the wrong thing to say.

The new girl, who some say was fired from her last job outside of Boston, looked away, "Nice to meet you."

"Mr. Farnham is one of the town's best teachers," said Mrs. Harris, who was present in the front row at that first talent show in '82. "Kids love him."

"Yeah, I just think Michael Jackson is a freak."

Farnham nodded his head quickly. Best to just walk away from this one. "Well, he's also one of the greatest pop stars of all time. Okay then. Good to see you, Mrs. Harris."

Everyone always thought Farnham was gay. He could hear her laughing as he made way for the faculty men's room.

"Call me Betty!" Mrs. Harris called after him, then turned to the new girl. "Twenty years now he's been on staff, and he still calls me Mrs. Harris."

He missed what Ronnie said in response. But he did catch Mrs. Harris' comeback. "Oh no, no. Didn't you hear me ask about his wife? He's married. He's not..." The last word of the sentence she whispered. He didn't have to hear it to know what it was. Then he heard Ronnie ask, "Really?"

There were perky female teachers, and no one ever presumed them to be lesbians. He forged on, inhaling the middle school's scent of mildew, French fries and pungent perfume, of bodies rambling through puberty at 90 mph. A boy lumbered by in loose jeans. Farnham had tried to instigate an addendum outlawing baggie wear. It never happened.

 

"Oh, excuse me," a bald man in wrinkled pleated khakis stood with keys jostling, unnecessarily attached to his waistband by a plastic loopy chain. He seemed to be thinking of a reason to back out of the P.M.S. Faculty Men's Room. He looked like a math teacher, the kind of man who fights the administration when they introduce a new textbook.

"Hiya. Come on in. I'm Jeffrey Farnham. I teach over at the high school."

"Matt Odem," came the uncertain reply.

Jeffrey reached out a hand, sticky with pomade.

Odem, Matt. Jeffrey knew who this was. Hockey coach. Nickname "O.D." Kids on the team called him that, but the teachers called him Matt. Beware the grown man who goes by "Matt." The fact that this guy never became Matthew disturbed Jeffrey. At a game last winter, some overexcited mother waved a sign that read O.D. IS G.O.D. Jeffrey didn't care much for sporting events.

"Hockey, right?"

Odem shook Jeffrey's hand, openly reluctant, "Right."

"It's the sport of kings."

"Yeah, no. That's football."

Jeffrey apologized and handed this Odem creature a paper towel. He caught himself in the mirror and realized that O.D. had a right to be disturbed right now. Jeffrey's red hair was slicked tight with pomade. He wore black leather pants adorned with his studded belts. He might have been the first man O.D. had ever seen in person with eyeliner on.

"Oh yeah," Odem's broken capillaries flared. "I heard about you. I can't believe they're still letting you do your little show in the wake of the tragedy."

"Life has to go on." Jeffrey wished he could clock this guy. "We can't let the terrorists stop us from doing our thing."

"Amen to that. We gotta get those fuckers." Odem entered a stall. Two grown men can't properly share a restroom in a school. Whenever another man surprised Jeffrey in the men's, he became undone, as if waking up from a dream and finding he had overslept.

"Tell ya, though. That Jacko's one hell of a freak. I wouldn't wanna dress up as him." A stream of Odem urine, undoubtedly dark yellow, rattled in the toilet.

Mr. Farnham bit his lip and removed a black studded cuff from his knapsack. "Michael Jackson has given an endless amount to this world. It's not right to discount him just because he's not like you and me."

The stall door opened. "Michael Jackson is a freakazoid child molesting sicko."

"He's been accused of doing some terrible things. Innocent until proven guilty."

"He's a lying pervert. These kids are messed up enough. They need to get lessons from him? Not probably, not probably."

Mr. Farnham bit the inside of his mouth. "How old are you, if I'm not intruding?" In his masters of education program, he'd learned that anger was enlightenment's worst foe. It was better to ask questions. That was how you got a mind to open.

Odem turned on the faucet. "Thirty-five."

"Okay. Well, I'm about your age. Don't you remember hearing Thriller for the first time?"

"Yeah. So?" Odem washed his hands. No soap.

"So think of Michael the way we thought of him then. A hero. A God. Nobody had done anything like that. And go back to the early days. He was a child prodigy. A gifted musician. It was good for us to grow up with artists we could respect. I give these kids that. They shouldn't be stuck with low-lifes." The cuff had made imprints on Jeffrey's palm. He set it on the sink. If his wife were here, she would tell him that he was lecturing.

Odem yanked a wad of paper towels, carelessly tossing the bulk of them at the trash bin. "These kids are lowlifes. Besides, we were all better when we were young. Jacko. He's a sicko now, and that's what matters."

"You know, some of his accusers admitted they were trying to extort money from him."

"All that plastic surgery. That sleeping in the bed with the boy business." Jeffrey swore that if you looked closely enough, you could see a mind close. Odem looked him up and down. "Listen you uh, you do your thing here, and I'll get outta your way."

As Odem walked out the door, Jeffrey could hear him mumble the word "freak." He picked up his wig, but his hands were shaking too much, and I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life. There was nowhere to sit down. He thought of 1984, of the Where's the Beef lady and Benetton shirts and plastic charm bracelets and hair sprayed high and colorful hair scrunchies that were so popular with the girls and the Go-Gos, so happy about wanting a vacation and the nice, bland contempt most of the teachers had for Ronald Reagan, the gentleness of it, how sexless Ronnie was. He thought of proms. Everything so puffy, soft around the edges. Puffy paint and puffy prom dresses and puffy leg warmers and the intoxicating puff of Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney riding together above a haystack and "Billie Jean," its upsetting but scandalous, polite innards, the lyrics about an unwanted baby that nobody really heard. He craved proms and If you leave, don't leave now and a limited girl peaking, not knowing it, not needing to know it, the long, taffeta dresses that showed so little skin, and pearls and big New Hampshire bangs, girls then almost all of them had bangs, and Halloween and Thriller at parties and nobody around these parts, in this unknown town did heroin, or if they did, you certainly didn't hear about it. And rockin' robin, tweet tweet because there were no roofies, are you kidding me, roofies? Tweet, tweet! And girls wore shirts splattered with puffy, neon paint, and the dog gone girl was mine, mine mine. She was just a girl and even your mom loved Michael Jackson. Everyone loved Michael Jackson, and video games, there were so few of them, and The Breakfast Club paid homage to stereotypes and there was no sex in it and no navels, enough with the God damned bellies because Molly Ringwald, a girl boys liked, how warbled she was, how rounded, how clothed, and there were Smurfs where now there's South Park and vacation, all I ever wanted, vacation how do you get away? Michael Jackson, an idol instead of American Idol and Dirty Diana and who said he didn't have range? Dirty Diana dammit! And now the skin and belly rings and nose rings and cell phones and the girl is mine, mine, mine and Jackson sang about love above sex, a consummation of souls and not body parts, and Jeffrey didn't care what anybody said. It was not getting hot in here so he would not take off all his clothes. It was fuzzier back then and today the kids would laugh at him. Just admit it. They wouldn't take Jackson seriously. He was a freak. Michael Jackson was a pervy freak. Michael Jackson was not could not be what he was. Mr. Farnham heard the bell ring and he thought, this is the part in the movie where the disenchanted teacher tosses the wig in the trash and goes home and maybe pulls his wife out of the Michael Jackson room, and cries in her swollen belly and that works and they never talk about it and the next day everything is fine, except still, the world is so without puff. With Puff Daddy instead of puffy sleeves, doesn't anyone ever want to be loved by you just you by nobody else but you? This is the part in the teacher's life where he chases a school bus, where he just goes with it, ABC as easy as 1-2-3. So cracked by the unanswerable questions. Did I change or did they change? Did the world let me down? The kids are going to mock him. How he became so white, Michael, so bleached. Mr. Farnham chuckled. He and Michael were looking more and more alike every day and he wondered why in God's name you can't think yourself backwards in time, vacation all I ever wanted, and he tasted 1990, things changing, and then Jackson was wrong that you are not alone because here, Farnham most certainly was alone. And he was bad, not in the good bad way and he lived here, now and it was all I ever wanted, vacation—

The door opened. Principal Don Vicks, well known to have beaten his always forgiving New Englander wife a couple of times, stood there like a prison guard.

"You, uh, you all transformed and whatnot?"

"Just about," Jeffrey slapped the glistening afro wig onto his head, fastened two clips so that they held the Jeri curls to his hay-straight red hair. "How do you do today, sir?"

"Look Jeffrey, I didn't come in here accidentally. We spoke this morning."

"That we did, but Principal Vicks, I think what I do here is important. I think we can't let rumors about the past stop us from respecting the past achievements of someone."

"Jeffrey I think I made it pretty clear that it wasn't going to happen today. Especially so soon after those attacks."

"But don't you see, Prinicipal Vicks? Michael Jackson is a consummate American hero. We need to do this now more than ever." It was a phrase clogging the airwaves, now more than ever, and Jeffrey intended to jump on that bandwagon.

"What we need to do now more than ever is to comfort ourselves."

"Exactly."

"And Michael Jackson isn't comforting."

"Principal Vicker."

"The name is Vicks, Jeffrey."

Be calm Jeffrey, talk slow, pretend you're talking to Christy. "History is comforting. And the history of music we have thanks to him, there's nothing more comforting than that."

Jeffrey knew he'd lost his case when the Vicker laughed. "It's a simple thing, Jeffrey. There's no place for Wacko Jacko in this school. September 11th aside, we still don't want his image here. Not with those allegations."

"But that's all they are, allegations."

"So you don't think he did it?"

"I think the press and the cynics did it to him. I think Michael Jackson provided the music that shaped lives and hearts for generations. That's what I think he did."

The Vicker dropped his trousers, and Jeffrey was left standing behind him, listening to an endless stream of pee roar into the bowl.

"Is something wrong?"

The Vicker flushed. "Well, Jeffrey, we want you to go."

Jeffrey couldn't speak. The Vicker buckled his belt.

"Listen, Mr. Farnham, with all due respect and kudos, I think you're all done here. Maybe you can think of someone else to do, someone these kids could look up to."

"Like who?"

The Vicker shrugged. "Britney Spears?" And he laughed at his own joke, very hard as he washed his hands without soap. Then he spat on his right hand and rubbed it under his eyelid.

"Wife says your own spit keeps bags from coming out under your eyes," he laughed. "Women, right?"

"Women," Jeffrey said, obediently, because it was so important to the niceness of the world that he not grab the Vicker's throat and cast him headlong into the toilet. "Women."

"You're okay then? Things change. You know? Gotta move on, gotta move on. We all have to live in the world. That's our job."

 

The ride home, at this hour, would take approximately nine minutes. Barnstable, Massachusetts was defined by an ever growing list of nots. It was not the thriving mecca that it was in the '60s. It was not a destination for college kids who wanted to work and play. It was not, never had been, the capital of Massachusetts. There were days when Barnstable was defined by what it was, and Jeffrey saw it for its elms hanging protectively over small streets, its NoMan's Pizza Shop, which some said had the best pie in the state. Some days Barnstable was a gorgeous paradise, a place in a bottle, less addled by tourists in Range Rovers than the islands. Today was not a day where Barnstable was defined by what it was.

He pulled a cassette out of his pocket. Free Willy. Time to start the car.

Once Jeffrey did think of killing himself. In '94, when pretty boy Peter Wilkes' death was announced over the loud speaker, Farnham looked around the gym and imagined it full of people mourning his own departure. He took in the sobbing student body, the boys from the football team all stunned, their letter jackets so stiff. The Free Willy CD case was in his sweaty palms, and he saw them one by one, the limitations of each person. Through death, you united people. Through living, you only seemed to alienate them. Each kid was a snowflake in the worst possible way.

Alan Watts, a Beatles fan whose family lived in a house without electricity, the butt of many jokes, his guitar gently weeps even now, probably. A snaggletooth, an inability to read aloud without emphasizing all the wrong words.

The one pregnant girl in the entire school—imagine that, just one, whereas now there were six, enough for a department of education funded club—Rebecca somethingorother, in the front row, staring, wearing a long shirt with George Michael's face, George Michael who was straight then, giving sex eyes from atop Rebecca's unborn child.

A boy he'd never taught, who cried because it was permitted so in this situation. A boy with red hair, on the fringe of the bleachers, slips of stained math homework falling from his folder, gliding to the floor. A kid doomed.

The deceased Peter Wilkes had been a good kid, and Jeffrey had envied him. Death brought the kind of acknowledgment Jeffrey liked, the kind that was truly about you and not about the compliment giver's ulterior motives. He'd addressed the class.

"Now, again, You are Not Alone." He'd played the song, watched it draw tears from teenagers. Even the kids who picked their noses publicly and appeared to have no feelings cried, thanks to MJ mainlining regret into their nervous minds. You could actually help those kids. And Farnham wanted to die that day because somewhere deep inside, he suspected that something was going to change. He didn't know that Michael Jackson would befriend Marlon Brando. That kids would come forward claiming the king molested them, and that the album Invincible would one day be released, panned, and sell so poorly. How could he have known that?

Farnham knew about the problem with the future. It was why he became a teacher. If you couldn't predict the future, you could at least help mold it. Michael had betrayed him. And he heard a little voice that day, a flash of an impulse, just baby steps above the subliminal. Get out now. Get out now. He gunned the engine.

 

He idled in the parking lot like a pervert. When Christy emerged from the school, the first thing she did was light a cigarette. He beeped. She put it out, looked around and walked to his car.

"Want to go for a ride?"

"Did you decide what I should do?"

"Just come on."

She got in, threw the tapes into the backseat, and he started to tell her about Aaron Cosby. Aaron was this bad kid who mocked this girl because her face was swollen from an accident with an at-home hair removal waxing kit. Jeffrey told him to get the hell out of his room and never come back. Weeks later, the Cosby boy came to Jeffrey crying, said he was sorry, that he had been knocked around by his abusive dad. For a few weeks, Farnham helped the Cosby kid with homework and watched him soften. The Cosby kid even admitted that he owned Dangerous. But a few weeks after that, the Cosby kid was arrested for beating a student everyone thought was gay. They shipped him away to a juvenile prison. But Farnham had changed that kid, at least for a few weeks. Change was fleeting.

"I'm gonna have my baby."

"You're gonna do whatever you want."

They rode in silence, listening to Michael Jackson. They went for burgers at 7-11, standing together and watching the burgers cook in the microwave as the scent of barbecued meat overwhelmed them.

"A fucking miracle, you know Mr. F? I mean, microwaves. They rock don't they? Like, how do they even do that?"

Jeffrey laughed and they ate the cheeseburgers in the car. They spilled burger juice on their chins, and she had to go in twice for more napkins. They were a teacher and a student, and he got to tell her about his day, and she decided to keep the baby and drop out of school. When Jake the asshole boyfriend showed up at 7-11 and confronted her, she resisted. Jeffrey watched it all from his car. He could have gone inside and interfered, but instead, he turned on the car and went home. This was how you saved yourself from other people. You left them before they could leave you.

When he told his wife that he was leaving her, she cried a little, but her first words wiped the hesitation from his soul.

"I gotta say, Jeffrey. I'm kind of relieved. We were something once but, well, I don't know what to say to you anymore. You stare at that television day in day out, and you cry about those people, and I'm pregnant and maybe I'm selfish but I'm pregnant, and we're gonna have a baby and that makes me happy, and I'm happy I don't live in New York and I'm happy I don't fly on airplanes and I'm happy my baby is safe. You know?"

He did know. And he left that night.

 

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