It’s the Sunday before Samhain and I am tending the shop when Laurie Bradford, also known as Artemis, comes in. She pokes around but doesn’t seem to be in a buying mood. I keep an eye on her and take care of the other few customers. When they are all gone, I stand at the register and watch her move like a wraith through the clothes. She is paler than usual and seems—well, for lack of a better word, worried. I can tell by the varying expressions on her face that she is thinking about something and not sure if she wants to discuss it. She finally seems to reach a decision and comes over to me.
“Mattie, if I ask you for something and you have it, will you not tell anyone I bought it?”
I’m confused. What have I got that she can buy that would concern anyone else? I slowly nod.
“Do you have pennyroyal?”
I am immediately suspicious. There is very little call for its use and it has such dangerous side effects that I keep it locked up. There is only one ritual I know of that requires its use in incense form; the other use is to induce abortion, although there is no medical proof of that. Mostly it just causes liver damage or death.
“Laurie, why do you want it?” I just cannot bring myself to call her Artemis. I am not a part of their group and I don’t know how she’d feel about my using what could very well be a secret name. I only know it because Rhyssa has told all of their craft names to me.
“Never mind.” She turns and heads towards the door.
“Hey, I need to know. Hon, it is so dangerous that I keep it locked up. Tell me why you need it and if it’s for a good reason, I can sell it to you.”
“Oh it’s for a very good reason.” To my shock, she begins to laugh and cry together and I realize that she is borderline hysterical. I push the button that signals Zeke I need help and go over to her, taking her by the arms.
“Laurie! Take a breath and stop it!” I shake her to make her pay attention to me.
“Laurie! Look at me!” Zeke has appeared at my side and he takes her from me. Vader is running around us, and he looks at me and then at the girl, now crying softly in Zeke’s arms. He gently leads her back to the conservatory which puzzles me for a minute until I figure out that he does not want her in our private space. I follow them and grab up a tea cup. I hold it up to catch his eye and when he nods, I pour some hot water onto a chamomile tea bag. He sits her in a chair and kneels next to her, murmuring low to her and she sniffles a little. I hand her the tea and she smiles up at me wanly, taking a sip of it. Zeke grabs a footstool and sits by her knee, still holding onto her hand.
“I’m sorry. I don’t usually break down like that. But I didn’t know where else to go. I don’t know what to do.” She mumbles so low that I almost miss it. But Zeke is looking very thoughtful and he glances at me. I barely shrug and he looks back at her.
“Laurie, please tell us what’s wrong. Maybe we can help.”
Vader sits next to Zeke and looks intelligently at her. He puts his paw up on her leg and she gives a little laugh through her tears.
“Oh, do you want to help me, too?” She pets him and he accepts her touch but I can tell that he is a little upset that she isn’t taking him seriously. She takes another sip of her tea and then sighs, a shuddering breath that seems to strengthen her.
“I’m pregnant and I’ve got to get rid of it. I just have to!” Her voice rises on the end of her astonishing announcement and Zeke grips her hand tighter.
I am flabbergasted. All the rumors indicate that she is not interested in men—or women, for what that’s worth. She has turned down offer after offer and there has been no mention of someone who was intimate enough to have gotten her knocked up. At least Zeke is able to keep his head and ask practical questions.
“Are you sure? Have you been to the doctor?”
“Oh god no. I can’t go to the doctor…he’d tell my parents for sure. I’m pretty sure. I haven’t…you know. Um.” She stops, embarrassed and red-faced. I suspect where she’s going with that and step in.
“You haven’t had your period?”
“No…I’m usually really um regular. And I’m late.” She seems relieved while still a little shy about Zeke hearing all of this. He tries very hard to look as non-male and harmless as he can. It must work because she settles down and sips some more tea.
“Sweetie, you need to have a pregnancy test done to make sure that you are. Planned Parenthood can do that without contacting your parents, and they can help you make your decisions if you are.” I sit down next to her. “Pennyroyal is not proven to cause abortions and it can kill you. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”
“But it’s known to—do that. I know, I read the herb book.” She leans towards me, all youthful insistence and righteousness.
“I know what the herb books say, but I am telling you what the medical books say. It may help expel a dead fetus, but there are no recorded cases of it actually inducing abortion. And if by some chance you are not pregnant, you would take a horrid chance with dying if you took it anyway.”
She sits and looks at me. I can tell that she is torn between believing me and not. I throw in my trump card.
“I would be happy to go with you to Planned Parenthood. I would even be happy to buy a home pregnancy kit and let you use it here.”
Zeke nods. “What can we do to help you?”
The tears trickle down her face again. We both make noises and she holds up a hand.
“No, it’s tears of happiness. You don’t even know me, I mean really know me. And you’re offering to do this for me without any hesitation…” she trails off. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Let us do this. Do you want the home kit or do you want to go to Planned Parenthood?” asks Zeke.
“Not go! I’d like to do the test here if I can.” She looks at us and we both nod. “Can we do it now?”
Zeke glances at me and I imperceptibly nod. He stands up and pushes the footstool back into place.
“I can go get a kit now. Am I going alone, or do you ladies want to go with me?”
“I think we’ll stay here, love. Make sure that it’s not one that requires first morning urine.” I tell him.
“Right. Ok, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
He walks out and I wonder what I’m supposed to do with her while he’s gone. I decide to take her out in the garden. The frosts have come and there’s not a lot going on as far as greenery, but we can at least walk and look at the statuary he’s put out there. Anything is better than sitting here listening to the silence. I suggest the move outside and she almost leaps up.
“Oh yes, I’d like to see the garden. Rhyssa has talked about it and I’ve wanted to come over before.” She moves with the grace of youth and I follow her, feeling much older than my physical years.
Vader trots at my side as always. We wander through the garden and she is appropriately awed by all the work that Zeke has done. She stops dead in her tracks and I almost walk into her.
“What’s the matter?” I ask her.
She is staring at the wolf statue that he just added two weeks ago. As with most of his work, it doesn’t look like a new part of the garden but gives the air of having been in that place since the beginning of time. I ask again and she starts, like she has forgotten I am with her.
“Oh! I thought it was real. I mean, just for a minute. I thought it looked at me.”
I know what she means. It’s very lifelike even if it is made of stone. I love it because it looks like the wolf in my dreams and I know that that is Zeke. She walks up to it and lightly touches its muzzle. She examines the shape of it and runs her hands over its head like she’s petting it.
“It makes me feel safe.” She says with amazement in her voice.
I know exactly what she means. I just wonder why she would feel that way, but I don’t say so to her. Vader plops down on the grass and I take that as a signal to do the same. We watch Laurie continue to roam a bit, but she keeps coming back to the wolf and finally she sits down next to it, too. We sit in silence, but not an uncomfortable one and this is where Zeke finds us.
“Here we go…it can be done any time of the day and has a very high rate of accuracy.” He holds up a bag and I am pleased to see that he shopped at a drug store away from the house. I don’t want to have to field questions about little bundles of joy from my pharmacist.
Laurie takes the bag from him and looks at me. “Where is the bathroom?”
“Back in the house, in the entryway by the register…you’ll see it.”
She heads in and Zeke reaches a hand out to help me up. Vader has run in with Laurie, so I’m not worried about her. We follow them far enough into the house to sit in the library. We know that the dog will bring her to us when she comes out of the bathroom.
Zeke reaches over and takes my hand. “Any idea who the father could be if she is pregnant?”
“None. And I think who he is, is going to be a big problem.” I say before I can think about the words I’ve just said.
He quirks his eyebrows at me. “Oh? Bigger than unwed motherhood with parents who sound less than sympathetic?”
“Much bigger. And don’t ask me how I’ve come up with that answer.” I try to go through the thoughts in my head to see where I managed to pull that from but come up blank. At that point, Vader walks into the room, followed by Laurie.
“What a good dog!” Vader perks on the word “dog” and looks pleased with himself. “I asked him where you were and he led me straight to you!” She is holding a little cup with a plastic stick poking up out of it. Apparently we get to share the magic moment.
“What time is it? This is supposed to sit for 10 minutes.” She looks at both of us.
Zeke nods and pulls his watch out to mark the time. He lays it on the table between us. Laurie also sets the cup on the table and then walks over to the bookshelves.
“I can’t watch it. Can we talk about something? Please?”
He and I glance at each other and both of us shrug. I am thinking fast to come up with something to distract her. Somehow, I don’t want to talk about the upcoming ritual with the Pagan group but I don’t know what else to talk about. I don’t know her well enough to know what will distract her from thoughts of babies.
“I was noticing your sign out front.” She says. Thank the gods. I can talk about that for hours.
Zeke seems relieved, too. “That was painted by our friend Gustaff. He did an amazing job.”
She burbles on about the sign and we let her. I notice that Zeke is keeping fairly close track of the time and when it’s been the required 10 minutes, he nods at me. He stands up, casually stretching and motions behind his back where she can’t see that I am to check that little plastic stick. I reach over and pull it out. The control has its line, but there is a big “yes” on the test pad. A chill goes through me. Just about this time she realizes what we are doing and goes stark white. Zeke helps her sit down in a chair and she stares at me and the stick in my hand.
“Laurie, it’s positive. You are pregnant.”
Her face is blank for a moment while her brain processes this information. She bursts into tears and we both reach over to try to comfort her.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She gasps and manages to stop the crying. “I just don’t know what to do. My dad will kill me.”
“Somehow I don’t think that your father would actually kill you.” I say.
She gulps. “No, of course not. But he’s going to be so pissed. I don’t know what I’m going to do!”
“Surely you can expect some help from the baby’s father?” Zeke asks delicately.
She stares at him with eyes like a deer caught in the headlights. “Oh NO! I can’t tell him I’m pregnant. I have to do something. I have to get rid of this.”
“Laurie, can I take you to Planned Parenthood and you talk to them? They deal with this all the time and they can help you make your choice and then do whatever you decide.” I touch her arm and she looks at me.
“Make my choice?” Her voice rises on the question and sounds like she’s headed back into hysteria. “There’s no doubt about my choice.” She takes a deep breath and blows it out through her mouth. “I have to get rid of this.”
“Ok, do you want to go to Planned Parenthood?” Zeke draws her attention to him. “One or both of us can go with you. When do you want to go?” This reminds her of the time and she looks at his watch.
“Oh my god, I have to run. I’m late for dinner and Dad will be pissed.” She jumps up and Vader also leaps to his feet. I stand next to Zeke and then she startles both of us by coming over and hugging us. “Thank you so much for your help. You’ve been really kind. I’ll have to let you know about…you know, going to the clinic and stuff. I have to go.”
She jumps up and heads out the front door. I shake my head as we follow her and once she’s out, I flip the sign so that it says “Closed” and we lock the door. I cash out of the register while Zeke takes care of the shutters and turns out lights. I put the day’s take into the safe and we decide to go out to dinner. We don’t talk about the drama until we are lying in bed that night.
“So who do you think is the father?” Zeke asks me, pulling me against his warm body. I snuggle up to him and think about the answer.
“I think…It just seems to me that it is a married man.” I say slowly. “Why else would she say that she can’t tell him? And why else would she be so adamant about an abortion? The whole thing reeks of secrets.”
“I think you’re right. She’s awfully desperate. I hope that she will let us take her rather than do something…on her own.”
“Well, I’d suggest she tell her parents, but apparently that’s not even an option.” I run a hand over his hips and down over his butt to cup the cheeks and pull him even tighter against me. “I just wish I had some idea of who the father could be. She won’t tell us but he needs to take responsibility for what he’s done.”
“Hmmm. I agree. Even though you are trying your best to distract me with your womanly wiles…” he buries his face in my neck and starts the biting and kissing that makes me insane. We stop talking.