Eating for Two ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Carla picked up one of her lesser teddy bears and examined it carefully, front and back. It was pink with little red overalls and white snout, ears and feet. Its eyes were open wide in delighted greeting and its mouth formed a little cupid’s bow, as if delivering a kiss to the world. She shook it vigorously for dust and put it in a pillow case and left for school.
All morning long, everywhere she went, in class after class, people were talking about one thing above all others: Marlene Bowen, just turned sixteen, was dropping out of school because she was going to have a baby. Most of the speculation centered on who the father was, which had not yet been revealed. Carla pretended she wasn’t interested and contributed nothing to the discourse, but she was as titillated by the subject as anybody else.
At lunch she was sitting at a table by herself, wishing it was time to go home, when Jeddah Godric sat down across from her. She had known Jeddah since first grade and had never liked her very much. She had an annoying manner and a funny smell like a closed-up basement.
“Have you seen her today?” Jeddah asked, eyes glinting with excitement.
“Seen who?” Carla asked.
“No, why should I?”
“Today is her last day in school. She won’t ever be back.”
“How do you know she won’t be back? She can come back after she has the baby.”
“I heard she won’t be back because she’s getting married.”
“Who is she going to marry?”
“The father of the baby, silly. It could be the janitor or the football coach. Maybe even the algebra teacher. There’s reason to suspect.”
“It isn’t any of them,” Carla said.
“Do you know something I don’t know?” Jeddah asked, specks of food spraying out her mouth.
Carla shrugged as if she might know something but wasn’t telling.
She was about to leave and go to her fifth period science class to go over some notes before a test, when there was a stir at the entrance to the lunch room. People stepped out the way to let somebody through and a hush came over those already seated.
“Oh, my god!” Jeddah said, turning all the way around to gawk. “It’s her!”
Marlene Bowen had just come into the lunch room alone. Everybody was looking at her but she didn’t look back. She picked up a tray and started moving down the line, not taking her eyes off the food behind the glass. She had a little smile on her lips that seemed frozen on, as though part of a pose.
“How can she be so brazen?” Jeddah said. “How can she hold up her head?”
When Marlene sat down at a table, a couple of boys at the other end got up and left quickly, as though they might be contaminated by being near her. Marlene leaned forward over her tray and began stuffing food into her mouth. She was hungry, eating for two as she was.
The afternoon dragged on exactly like all the afternoons that had come before it. Finally the bell rang to go home. Carla put her books away in her locker and took the teddy bear in the pillow case and went down to the first floor and waited near the door. In a little while she saw Marlene Bowen coming toward her.
“Hi, Marlene,” she said cheerily, as if they were old friends.
Marlene stopped and raised her eyes and looked at Carla. “Oh, hello,” she said.
“Where are you going?” Carla asked.
“I’m going home. Where do you think?”
“I have something I want to give you.”
“What is it? Do I know you?”
“We’ve never met but I feel like I already know you.”
Marlene started to brush past Carla, as if to bring the conversation to an end, but Carla stood between her and the door.
“I just wanted to give you this,” Carla said. She took the teddy bear out of the pillow case and held it out.
Marlene eyed the bear and huffed with impatience. “Is this some kind of a joke?”
“No, it’s just something I wanted to give you. A little present because today is your last day in school.”
“Why would I want that stupid thing?” Marlene said. She grabbed the bear out of Carla’s hand and threw it in the direction of the trash can and went out the door.
The bear hit the wall and missed going into the can. Carla picked it up and ran out the door after Marlene.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” she called to Marlene. “I just wanted you to have it for your baby.”
Marlene turned around and faced Carla. “Today has been the worst day of my life,” she said. “Everybody is laughing at me. I thought I could keep it a secret but when I said I had to quit school, I had to give a reason. When one person found out, then everybody knew. The people in this school are cruel and hateful and I hope they all rot in hell!”
“Do you want a boy or a girl?” Carla asked. “What are you going to name it?”
“You’re the only person who has been nice to me all day,” Marlene said, crying. “I’m sorry I was so rude.” She grabbed the bear from Carla and, holding it to her breast, ran off very fast. Carla watched her down the street until she was out of sight.
When she started to walk away, she saw a shiny object on the sidewalk where Marlene had been standing. She bent over and picked it up, seeing it was a little locket worn around the neck, the kind of locket to keep a person’s picture in. She opened the locket with her thumbnail and saw the face of someone she recognized, a person that anybody in the school would know. It was the face of the new, bowtie-wearing English teacher, Mr. Truex, just out of college. That must mean that Mr. Truex was the father of Marlene’s baby. What else could it mean? He would probably lose his job over impregnating Marlene and might even go to jail since she was legally a minor. It had the potential of the being the scandal of the year.
That evening at the dinner table, Carla said to her mother, “I know a girl at school who’s going to have a baby. They say she doesn’t know who the father is, but I think she does know.”
“How awful!” Carla’s mother said. “What is this world coming to?”
“I gave her a teddy bear.”
“Why in the world would you do that?”
“Today was her last day. I wanted to do something for her.”
“I don’t want you to be seen talking to a girl like that. Do you understand me? You’re not to have anything to do with her.”
“Why do you say a ‘girl like that’? You don’t know anything about her.”
The phone rang and Carla’s mother got up to answer it, ending the conversation. Carla looked at her father but he stood up and went out the back door, suddenly remembering something that required his attention in the garage.
Left alone at the table, Carla took the locket out of her pocket and ran her fingers over it. She opened it and looked at the picture inside, as she had done a dozen times since finding it. Mr. Truex was so handsome and it was so romantic that he and Marlene Bowen were having a child together.
She would wait a few days before she let Marlene know she knew her secret. It must be worth something. Maybe it would open the door to friendship. She could see herself standing by Marlene during the difficult days ahead when everybody else, even her family, abandoned her. For the first time in her life she knew the power of a secret knowledge. She planned on finding a way to use it to her advantage.
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp