The line always seemed to crawl on testing day. But the news tablet in my hands was so distracting, the lady in line behind me nudged me to step forward when it was finally time to move.
Right below the announcement I was looking for, the one I wanted to see, was an article that made all the nerves in my body fire at the same time. I jumped past shaking and right to frozen.
For the first time in generations, since the testing was put in place and any interventions were outlawed, someone was caught breaking the rules and they awaited their life sentence.
“Charlotte, is that you?”
Her voice called from across the street behind me and it was everything I could do to suppress the unladylike words that wanted to pop off my tongue.
I turned around wearing the beatific smile I had long perfected for moments just like this. There was time enough to watch her waddle her way to me, one hand on her back, leading with her pregnant stomach.
She reached me and grinned, breathing heavy, while I tucked the tablet under my arm.
“Whew, I will be so happy in a couple weeks when doing that much doesn’t leave me so winded.” She laughed and fanned her face with one hand, the other still braced on her back.
The July sun shining down on her made it clear that my oldest friend had officially reached the glowing phase of pregnancy. Her dark skin was radiant and at least in that I knew she must find some happiness.
“Felicity, what are you doing out on testing day? And where are the kids?” I asked, taking a step sideways to keep up with the line. Only two people away from my turn now.
“Oh,” she said, her grin widening as she looked down the long line of women outside the facility, “I completely forgot it was today.”
She shook her head and giggled, a tinkling sound I hoped one day I would believe and her eyes grew large as she said, “Believe it or not, George has all seven of them on his own today.”
Part of me wanted to remind her that he should. They were his kids too. But instead I said, “That’s nice. And that makes sense, you certainly don’t need to think about testing day. For a while yet anyway.” I winked down at her belly and tried to make my smile real.
Hers faltered on her face, but she recovered and laughed.
Leaning in close to my ear she said, “Honestly, as hard as this is, I kind of wish I was able to stay pregnant a little longer. I’m sorry you still haven’t conceived.”
There it was. The pity I knew most people felt for me, or pretended they did, that grated on me and left all the muscles in my jaw clenching.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure I will when the time is right.” I took one more step closer to my turn.
“Yes,” she said, grabbing my arm and giving it what I was sure she meant as a reassuring squeeze.
We needed to talk about something else.
“Have you picked up tickets for Kevin’s concert at Mizzou yet? I’m so happy for him,” I said, turning to look at the building, trying to will the last person between me and the door to get out of the line.
“I can’t go.” Her voice was thin and it pulled my attention back to her.
No one else would see the tightness around her mouth or the fraction her eyes narrowed.
Of all the things I could have forgotten about, the fact she was considered high risk now and the maternal mortality rate was rising wasn’t one I should have. I cringed at my own selfish carelessness.
I knew Felicity better than I knew anyone else, including my husband. It was this, her missing our friend’s concert, more than the fake happiness, that made the guilt crawl up my back like it had so many times before.
“Kevin will perform there again. I know he will. And next time we can go together.” Now it was my turn to squeeze her arm. My pale hand looked even more stark white in the bright sun against her rich dark skin.
She smiled and nodded, but I saw the lie.
“Although,” she said with a lift of her eyebrows, and a sly edge to her grin, “Maybe next time you won’t be able to go.”
I smiled and nodded too.
Mine was even more a lie than hers had been.
What a pair we were, my closest friend and I who barely spoke anymore.
Another woman left the building and the person in front of me scooted their way inside.
“It’s almost your turn. I should go, but it was good to see you. We need to get together again soon.” She wrapped her arms around me, the vanilla scent of her lotion engulfing me and causing a strange homesickness to rise up within me while I hugged her back.
“Good luck today,” she whispered in my ear.
“Thank you, and we do need to see each other soon.” I said as she turned to head back across the street.
Her whole way down the sidewalk, until I couldn’t see her around the people in line, she didn’t look back.
Maybe one day I would be able to ask her which outcome she meant would be lucky.
“It’s your turn,” the woman behind me said.
“Oh.” I grabbed the door handle and hustled inside.
Just beyond the entrance, the elderly man who would be my escort for the testing, handed me my charging paper.
“Follow me,” he said.
He walked down the long corridor of bland beige lined with doors, while I trailed after him, until we got to one that was open.
The doctor inside the tiny room, tapping into his computer, looked up as we entered.
Unlike so many other times I came for testing, I recognized him.
“Hello again. I so rarely get to see a patient twice, this is nice. Especially since this means I already know some of your results.” He patted the table and smiled.
I smiled back, handing him the charging paper, and climbed up.
There was no point bothering to engage in inane chatter with him since he probably didn’t want to hear what I had to say anyway.
“So, I assume you’re still a married thirty year old?” He laughed at his own unfunny joke and I was forced to play along.
“Of course.” I laughed too. If he heard the brittleness in it, he didn’t let on.
“And still sexually active?”
“Well, let’s check then, shall we?”
I nodded and lifted up my shirt to expose my stomach while I laid back on the table.
He grabbed the squirt bottle and squeezed some of the cold gel on me, without even bothering to warn me about the temperature first like they usually did.
Next came the paddle of the machine being pressed against me and moved around until he got it where he wanted.
For some reason the strangely specific pressure always made me imagine my internal organs running around inside me to avoid being caught and viewed.
The screen of the ultrasound machine was small, but it was still clear enough for me to see that nothing was on it.
“You’re not pregnant yet. But don’t worry. It will happen eventually. All your other tests say everything is fine,” he said, tucking away the ultrasound paddle and wiping off my stomach with practiced and efficient movements.
While I sat up and righted my clothes, he wrote on my charging paper.
“Here you go. Give this to your husband, and don’t forget to come back next month.” He smiled and turned his full attention to his computer.
I walked down the hall, inhaling and touching a hand to the heart shaped locket hanging around my neck. The one with the grain of rice sized pill in it that would allow ovulation if I wanted it. The one with the five remaining sets of illegal purple pills that stopped ovulation and white ones that started it again. In case I ever had daughters and they had daughters. So they would always know what to expect on testing day too.