Straydog (The Straydog Trilogy #1) – $2.99
17-year-old Remie Winters dreams of graduating high school, marrying her boyfriend, and starting a family of her own, so when she ends up pregnant, she’s ecstatic. Sure she’s young, but she wants this baby more than anything—but upon spilling the news, her world is flipped upside down. Her boyfriend dumps her, her dad flips his lid and kicks her out and nothing seems ease the ache in her heart.
Until Torsten Stone comes back into her life—charming, gentle, and oh, so sweet, he’s exactly what she needs.
Torsten’s loved Remie his entire life, but he was never brave enough to tell her. Now he has the chance to make up for lost time, to hold her fragile heart in his hands, and as he falls deeper in love with Remie and the little life growing inside of her, he knows he wants her. Not just for a little while; he wants her by his side, forever.
But Torsten has a secret—one that could shatter their newfound relationship if she ever found out. Because Remie’s all too human and Tor isn’t human at all…
The thought rings through my head clear as a bell, over and over again until I’m standing in the middle of the feminine aisle at 12:23 am on a Friday night. I shove my hands in my jeans pockets as I stare up at the row of home pregnancy tests, feeling dumbfounded and elated; excited and terrified. It could mean nothing, being late. But it could also mean everything and I have to know.
My stomach in knots, I grab three different boxes, three different brands, off the shelf and tuck them under my arm and make a beeline for check-out lane twelve. The girl standing behind the counter looks half-asleep as she chews her bubblegum; it smells so strongly of fake watermelon that my mouth floods with saliva and I back up a step to ward off the nausea.
I drop the tests on the counter and she glances at them, lifts a pierced eyebrow, because she’s probably thinking, “Damn, this girl’s younger than me,” then rings them up and stuffs them into a plastic bag. I dig in my purse for my wallet, pull out my card, hesitate. “Debit or credit,” she asks, lazy as she pops a bubble.
She punches a button and I slide the card, enter my pin number, and a minute later she hands me a receipt. I stuff it in my wallet. “Thanks,” I say, trying to smile but it feels fake, and then grab my bag and hurry away before she can blow another watermelon-scented bubble. Gross.
I pause at the restrooms, glancing left and right, afraid my dad or Jason or someone I know might pop out at any given minute. I bite my lip—I need to know—then duck into the ladies’ bathroom. Every stall I pass, my heart thuds a little louder, my pulse races a little faster, until I’m shut up inside the handicapped stall at the end of the line. I hang my purse on the coat hook and dig the first pregnancy test out of the plastic bag.
Sucking in a deep breath, I rip the box open and skim the directions. Basically, pee on the stick and wait a minute for the results, but a minute seems so long. My jeans and panties around my ankles, I sit on the cold porcelain seat and with trembling hands, do what the directions say to do. I place the test on the back of the toilet and take the other two, lining them up as I finish. Three little tests in a row, three little answers to my questionable fate.
I zip up my jeans and walk in tiny circles in the stall, my sneakers scuffing over the tile; back and forth and back and forth as my mind spins. I’m terrified, my fear is like snakes writhing and coiling at the pit of my heart, but I’m also excited, giddy, hopeful. A baby… Squeezing my hands together and working up the courage, I march over to the toilet and look down at the three tests.
Holy. Freaking. Crap.
My stomach plummets so sharply that I feel sick. I place a hand on my belly as heat spreads across my skin, prickling across my nerves—I’m pregnant—and a wave of elation hits me so hard that, before I know what I’m doing, I’m squealing out loud, high pitched and echoing off the metal toilet paper dispenser. I clap both hands over my mouth and squeeze my eyes shut and try and breathe.
I pull up my shirt and look down at my belly, flat and soft, and I touch it, imagining it growing round with a tiny soul growing inside of me. My heart flutters. Is it a boy or a girl? Does it even matter? I’ve wanted kids my whole life. I spent my childhood playing with baby dolls, nurturing them and pretending they were real. When my best friend’s twin brothers were born, I helped out whenever I could, changing diapers, cuddling them, and feeding them. And then there was the week I spent in health class, wearing the weighted pregnancy-belly. That was the week that Jason and I sat down and talked, really talked, about our future together, about pregnancy and children. We even picked out names. Addie and Aidan.
And now it’s real. It’s really real; sure, a couple years earlier than I expected, but it’s not like I have big college plans or anything and I’ll be eighteen in a couple of months. That’s not too young. Sidney Hall was pregnant in eighth grade and—
I nearly jump out of my skin as my phone rings, sharp and shrill and shit! Dad will flip out if I tell him. I can’t tell him, not yet, not until I’m ready. I’m supposed to be at Chaz’s house right now and it’s nearly one in the morning and I’m out past curfew. If he found out I lied… I snatch my phone out of my pocket, ready to fake my way through the call, but relax when the number isn’t his.
“Hey, what’s up?” I sag against the bathroom stall wall. Suddenly it’s too hot in here, stuffy and suffocating.
“Your dad called like, two minutes ago. I told him we were watching Disney movies and that you were in the bathroom. Please tell me that’s what I was supposed to say.”
Chastity Cromwell has been my best friend since eighth grade, when we were both dumped by the same asshole jock and decided to create an “I Hate Garret Mosley” club. The club didn’t last, but our friendship did. She’s like my best friend, my partner in crime, and my slightly-older-but-still-cool sister all rolled up into one awesome person. Her place is my home away from home.
Thank you, God. “You’re a lifesaver, Chaz.”
“Sweet. You know I love saving lives, but where are you? You’re obviously not here.”
“Wal-Mart.” I bite my lip, my gaze flitting over to the pregnancy tests on the back of the toilet. I stick one in my pocket and throw the other two in the trash, where they land with a clunk. “I’m on my way out right now.” I grab my purse and head for the doors. “Can I stop over for like, two minutes? I have to show you something.” Dammit, I can’t keep my voice from wavering at the end.
Chaz notices. “Remie, are you okay?”
“I’m okay. Really. I’ll be over in a little bit. Can you meet me out on the porch? Alone?”
“Promise. The ‘rents are in bed already. You’re just lucky I was awake and answered the phone before Mom could. That could’ve been a disaster.”
“Agreed. See you soon.”
I stuff my phone back in my pocket and find my keys, unlock the car, then get in and start it. The engine revs to life, rumbling beneath the hood of my blue Ford minivan, and for a moment I just sit there, hands on the steering wheel, and it sinks in all over again. I’m grinning from ear to ear as I drive to Chaz’s place.
Her house is on the outskirts of Dawson, right where the town meets the woods, up a winding driveway and sitting on a couple acres, most of it fenced in dog runs. The Cromwells are huge animal lovers—Chaz’s mom is head of the Dawson Animal Shelter and Chaz works there part-time—so they’re constantly bringing in rescues. Chaz says she understands dogs sometimes more than she understands people.
I hate dogs. Okay, hate is a very strong word, but I don’t like them. They smell, they shed hair everywhere, and they bark too much. I’ve always been more of a cat person.
I park in the drive, a little ways from the house to keep the dogs out back from going crazy. I gently shut the door and creep towards the house, which is all dark, but Chaz is sitting on the steps of the porch, the cherry of her cigarette burning red against the night.
“Hey, chica. Sit your ass down and spill.” She scoots over and I plop down next to her. She offers the smoke to me and I reach for it, then stop with a jolt—I can’t smoke. I shake my head, dig the pregnancy test out of my pocket and, without a word, I hand it over. She holds it for a moment, staring at it. Her face is scrunched up, confused. She gets her cell out of her pocket for more light and her expression quickly changes.
“Shit, girl.” Her voice is a bark in the quiet and I shush her, flailing my hands as my heart speeds up. She frowns. “Seriously? You know these things can fake you out, right?”
“Yeah. That’s why I bought three of them. Different types, you know, and…yeah.”
We sit in quiet for a moment, Chaz blowing smoke through her nostrils like a dragon. As good as she is with animals, she’s just as bad with children. Part of that is the fact that she has twin brothers who just turned five and are complete demons. But part of it’s just Chaz—she’s never liked kids. Where I grew up playing with dolls, she had a bunch of dog figurines and a love affair for Disney movies.
“No. I’m just not ready to tell him. He’s busy with show choir and stuff.”
“Rem, this is Big with a capital B. Bigger than dancing and singing on a high school stage. He needs to know.”
I huff. “I know that and I’m going to tell him! But I need to process it and accept it first. Like you said, this is Big, but…Chaz, God, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted. You know that.”
She lowers her voice, husky with smoke, and snubs out the cigarette, “You’re seventeen.”
“I’ll be eighteen before it’s born.” I sigh and place my chin on my knees, wrapping my arms around my legs. We lapse into silence and listen to the tree frogs sing a minstrel’s tune. “I’m keeping it.”
“I know that. You wouldn’t be Remie if you didn’t.” She smiles.
“You’re still the god-mom.” My heart squeezes. We’d made this deal long ago, that she would be the godmother of my children, so that if I died the way my own mom did, the kids would still have a mother figure. Even if Chaz didn’t particularly love kids, it would be better than them growing up without a mom at all.
Without a word, she reaches her arm out and snags me in a side-hug. “I know that, too.”
“Don’t tell your parents. Or my dad.” I already know his reaction, anger and yelling and imploding in on himself and me being grounded until I turn thirty. Chaz is quiet and my chest tightens, heavy. I grab her hand, squeezing it. “Promise?”
She sighs, long-sufferingly because she hates keeping secrets, and then holds out her pinkie, waggling it. I hook my pinkie with hers and we shake and the weight on my shoulders lifts slightly. “Thanks.”
“Anytime, chica. You wanna stay the night? You can call your pop from my phone and just say yours died. Tell him you had explosive diarrhea or something, I don’t know.”
A laugh escapes me in a burst of sound and I grin. “I love you, Chaz. Yeah, I wanna stay.” Even though I’m not tired and it doesn’t feel like I’ll ever be tired again. I touch my stomach again and catch Chaz’s smile. “You wanna watch a movie?”
“Tragic love story? Romantic comedy?”
“Balto?” I need something that I won’t have to focus too hard on.
“Bingo, we have a winner. We don’t have popcorn, but I’ll grab the chips. Go call your pop and I’ll get everything started.” With that, she darts into the house and I’m left sitting on the porch, the world a tilt-a-whirl of reality, but I’m smiling.
It’s a good feeling.