JUST IN CASE • by Tamara Miller

My first thought was to lie, and spent a few moments dreaming up common household emergencies like an overflowing washing machine or a broken refrigerator.

But Marla was one of those sympathetic-but-also-kind-of-nosy bosses and usually would look the other way when you need to leave work early as long as you shared why.

So, I typed the truth into the Skype message box: “OMG! Eliza got her first period today. She needs a change of clothes. I need to run up to the school.” Then inserted an open-mouthed emoji before hitting send.

Marla messaged back immediately. “Oh, such a big day for a girl. She needs her mom. Go ahead and take the afternoon off! I remember when my eldest …”

I didn’t even bother to read the rest of the message. I closed my laptop and ran up to my daughter’s room to grab a clean pair of jeans and underwear, then quickly ducked into my bathroom to grab some pads. “Don’t look in the trash. Don’t look in the trash,” I repeated to myself. I looked, anyway. The pregnancy test was still positive. Of course it was. There is no such thing as a false positive pregnancy test. I turned the stick upside down and shoved it further down.

James was on a call in the kitchen, so I texted him that I had to leave. I considered telling him about Eliza, marveling over the irony of his stepdaughter getting her first period on the same day his 44-year-old wife finds out she is miraculously pregnant. Two women in the house, book-ending female fertility. Then I thought better of it.

Gotta get Eliza. She’s not feeling well. Don’t worry, it’s not corona! Be back in a few.

Eliza was in the nurse’s office, wearing an unfamiliar pair of jeans that looked about two sizes too big and holding a plastic grocery bag with what I assumed to be her stained jeans and underwear. She wore a purple mask that day to school, putting all the focus on her round, wet brown eyes. The nurse nodded at me when I told her that Eliza would be out the rest of the day.

Eliza didn’t say a word until we got into the car, then burst into tears.

“Mom, I’m so embarrassed!” she said. “I freaked out when I saw the blood and went straight to the nurse’s office!”

I patted her leg, noticing that how long her legs had gotten, how her knees come up awkwardly when she sits. At 11, she’s already taller than me. I could tell the moment she was born she was going to take after my ex. She even has his wavy brown hair and round, brown eyes.

“Totally normal,” I reassured her. “It’s a big deal, your first time. But it’s also cause to celebrate. How about we go to Sunny’s for a cupcake?”

Finally a smile. “I guess I just needed to get my period for you to stop obsessing about sugar so much, huh?”

I responded with some stereotypical aphorism about women needing chocolate during that time of the month.

It was quiet in the car the rest of the way. Eliza looked out the window and periodically glanced at her phone, probably waiting for school to let out so she could text her best friend the news, I figured. My phone buzzed a few times. Since I showed James the pregnancy test, he had been sending me texts in-between his calls.

Check this out: Manly baby carriers! (-:

Guess sushi is out for a while, huh? {web link}

Have you made an appt with your doctor yet? Let me know so I can mark my work calendar.

“So, how was your day?” I asked, trying to make conversation.

Eliza shrugged.

So many times I couldn’t wait until she got older, could do things for herself, stop asking questions all the time, just give me a minute of peace. Now, getting her to say anything is like the saying. Pulling teeth.

I won’t be in such a hurry for this one to grow up, I thought. I won’t waste so much time worrying.

Once parked in front of the cupcake shop, I handed a pad to Eliza. “Put this in your pocket. You should probably have some in your backpack all the time, just in case.”

We got in line behind another couple, obediently standing on an X six feet behind them. Eliza tried to peer around them at the display case.

I handed her a $20. “Get me that one with the toasted marshmallow frosting. I’ve gotta go to the bathroom.”

I hadn’t even stopped to pee before leaving the house and my bladder was about to burst. As soon as I swung upon the door to the ladies’ I started to unbutton my pants. Glad it was a oner.

I sat down on the toilet, closed my eyes and sighed out relief, listening to the strong stream. When I opened my eyes, they landed on the scarlet circle on the underwear between my knees.

I sat there a bit, staring at it, trying to comprehend it, not ready to let go of that bubble of thought that had the audacity to enter my head that morning. That bubble that I didn’t have the will to keep small, that had already formed the outline of soft cheeks and milky breath. A bubble of air-brushed hindsight with the promise of a do-over.

Done peeing, I wiped as well as could and grabbed my purse for the emergency supply that I always keep in there. Just in case.

Tamara Miller writes from her sailboat, which is usually anchored somewhere in Puget Sound, Washington.

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