Excerpt: Plus One

“Chica, you okay?” my mom cried from outside the bathroom, knocking furiously at the door. I had lost track of time, but she snapped me back to reality. I gasped suddenly and wiped the tears from my eyes—odd, because I didn’t remember crying—and flushed the toilet.

“Yes, Mami,” I told her, trying my very best to sound nonchalant. But thinking about my mom and how I had let her down, I broke out in a fresh set of tears. I looked around for somewhere to stash the test when my eyes landed on a box of tampons. Ironic, I thought. I wrapped the wand in several sheets of toilet paper and stuffed it in the box. I put the box in the closet, dried my eyes, and quickly ran out of the bathroom to greet my mom.

“Chica mía!” Mami cried before I could even say anything. How does she know? I thought to myself, panicked. But before I could explain myself my mom was yelling. “Lex, I didn’t hear you wash your hands! Were you raised by wolves? How do you expect to keep a house in order when you can’t even keep yourself clean? Dios míos, I don’t want to touch you until you’ve gone back in there and washed yourself. Then come downstairs to help me set the table, dinner is ready. Now go,” she said, pushing me back toward the bathroom.

In all the commotion I had forgotten to wash my hands. Typical Latina mama to worry herself with that, but I was glad for the distraction. I hurriedly washed my hands and rushed down the stairs to help set out the food, careful to keep a carefree smile plastered on my face like my biggest worry was forgetting to wash my hands, not forgetting to use a condom.

I moved quickly through the halls, finding my way into the kitchen before scooping up bowls of different vegetables and putting them on the table. I went back into the kitchen a few times more to grab the chicken, the plates, silverware, and glasses. My mind was going over a million miles per hour in at least as many directions, but I tried to remain focused on my task. I had been setting the table since I was a little girl after all, being the oldest.

Today though, the task seemed gargantuan. My hands shook as I arranged the bowls of food, and I put the kid forks in the wrong spots. I stepped back and looked at the table, examining my errors, and rearranged who got which forks. My two baby sisters liked to use little forks, though my six-year-old brother thought himself big enough to use an adult one. I made sure everything was in the proper order before heading back to the kitchen to fill up a pitcher of water.

“Chicos, vamanos!” my mother cried, calling her children to the table. I rushed to fill the pitcher with water and ice as the little ones buzzed past me and into their seats. Hungrily, they began munching even before we said grace. As I brought the pitcher back to the table and started pouring water into the glasses, Papi appeared in the doorway.

“Hey,” he snapped at my siblings. “I didn’t hear you thank God. Do you think he heard you?” The children mumbled vaguely as we all sat down, and my father led us in prayer with our hands intertwined. “Jesus, thank you for all that you have given us,” he began solemnly. “Thank you for caring for these vegetables as they grew and ripened, for this chicken as it hatched and grew, and thank you for Mami who took what you gave her and made us this meal.” There was a chorus of hungry “amens” as we dropped hands and began eating.

It was as if nothing was different. To them, I guess nothing was different. Not so far as they knew, anyway. Some say that ignorance is bliss, so maybe not telling my family would help for now, help keep us blissful.

I pushed around the food on my plate, contemplating the pros and cons of eating. If I ate, I would gain weight and start showing sooner. On the other hand, if I didn’t eat, my parents would grow suspicious, and my baby would grow weak and small. I opted for the health of the baby and brought a forkful of broccoli to my mouth. Although it was one of my favorite foods, even opening my mouth to take a bite made me gag. Maybe this was morning sickness, or maybe I was nervous.

Although, nervous didn’t seem to be the right word for this feeling. You get nervous for a test. You get nervous for a concert. You get nervous when you get a call saying, “We need to talk.” This wasn’t that. This was a cold terror, ripping me inside out yet remaining unsatisfied and looking around for more to destroy.

Pushing aside my nausea, I continued to eat. I fed myself forkful after forkful of broccoli, carrots, and chicken. As far as I knew, none of this could hurt the baby. I made a mental note to look up what I could and could not eat once I got up to my room and could go online. Again, Mami’s shrill voice pulled me out of my thoughts and back to the real world.

“Someone is being quiet,” Mami announced, suddenly breaking the silence. She looked at me. “Tell them the good news, chica!” My mind drew a blank. What was she talking about? And then I remembered.

“I got a 100 on my math test,” I told my family. I received smiles from all around the table, but inside I felt nothing but dread. I had told my mom about the test earlier that day, before I had taken the other test. It seemed like a dream, almost, only a few hours before. That was back when my life had been my own, when my body had been my own, or at least so I had thought. Now math was the farthest thing from my mind. “Mami, Papi,” I began, clearing my throat. “May I be excused to my room please? I have a chemistry test tomorrow and I want to prepare for it, please?” I looked at them pleadingly. I wasn’t sure for how much longer I could stay at the table, pretending that everything was the same. Pretending that anything was the same.

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