If you’re just joining us, you may want to start with part one to put this post in context. Those of you who have read up to this point, what do you think so far? If it needs more volcanoes erupting or anything, let me know!
She kept her eyes cast down on her hands for a few seconds, fiddling in her lap. I thought she might just ignore the question and try to change the subject. Instead she looked up at my face with an embarrassed expression.
“That was my boyfriend, Karl. And he was mad because I just told him I was pregnant.”
I pulled the car over to the curb and stared into her face.
“Jesus! I’m taking you to the hospital. There is no way you or I can tell how much harm he might have done to the baby. That should have been the first thing you told me, not…”
“I’m not pregnant. I just told him that to see what he would do. Obviously, I didn’t expect that.”
I regained control of my breath, which had somehow gotten caught in my throat at her initial revelation. I pulled the car back out into the street.
“Well, it seems like that was a pretty bad idea.”
We drove in silence the rest of the way home. I led her up the stairs into my apartment. I sat her on a chair in the dining area while I went to fetch my first aid kit from the bathroom. She took out the hydrogen peroxide solution, some cotton swabs and a Band-Aid.
“Do you have a mirror?”
The only mirror in my apartment was the one attached to the wall in my bathroom, so instead I brought her a butcher’s knife from my kitchen. It had a shiny enough surface that she could fix up her brow if I held it in front of her face.
“Isn’t this funny? Using a knife to help fix a cut?” I asked as lightheartedly as I could muster.
“I’ll let you know once this hydrogen peroxide stops stinging.”
She finished cleaning the gash and covered it up with the Band-Aid. She inspected her handiwork in the knife’s reflective surface before nodding her approval, then seemed to get lost in thought. I put the knife and the first aid kit back in their respective spots, then returned to the dining area and sat in a chair diagonally opposite from…
“I never got your name.”
She snapped back to the present. “I’m sorry, yes. My name is Max.” She noticed my poorly-concealed quizzical look. “It’s short for Maxine. I just find the full thing a bit dated. What about you?”
“No, I think Maxine is a fine name.” She scowled slightly. “Oh, you’re asking my name. Johnson. Johnson Jones. Feel free to call me whatever combination or abbreviation thereof that you can imagine.”
“So I’m a girl with a boy’s name and your first name is a surname?”
“Aren’t we quite the pair?”
She seemed to be warming up to the conversation. Now that I got a chance to look at her properly, I realized that she was probably even younger than I had guessed in the car. Her eyes gave it away; they were still filled with such hope and wonder that I was sure that I was sure life hadn’t yet had a chance to chew her up and spit her back out.
“So, what’s your story, Max? Are you just a regular heart-breaker? Or some special kind?”
She half-snorted. “A heart-breaker, huh? That’s a good one! The only heart I seem to be good at breaking is my own.” She stood up and walked into the kitchen. After a few cupboards had banged open and shut, I heard the tap sputter into life and run for a second, then Max walked back in with a glass of water.
“What about you?” she asked. “What is it that you do for a living, that you live in such a shitty apartment?”
“Matter of fact, I’m unemployed.” She gave a knowing nod, as if this was all in line with her assumptions. It irked me, so I continued. “But only as of yesterday. Before that I made quite a tidy salary as a web developer for Home Depot. This ‘shitty apartment’ is what I like to call frugal. More than sufficient for my needs.”
“Yeah, I guess you don’t bring a lot of women here,” she chuckled. “I suppose I should be flattered.”
I knew I should give her a little leeway, considering her earlier ordeal. But she was rubbing me the wrong way — particularly considering I’d gone out on a limb to help her. I shot back:
“Don’t be. I wouldn’t want to end up being the next Karl: lied to in a parking lot. Why did you tell him you were pregnant when you really aren’t? I won’t condone his reaction, but I would hardly say it was unprovoked.”
She looked stung for a moment, then righteous indignation flooded her face. She looked as if she was going to either respond with something equally insensitive or bite my head off. Instead her manner changed again to something almost apologetic.
“I’m just unlucky in love. I’ve been burned before; I wanted to make sure that what I had with Karl was real. I know it was stupid, but I wanted him to tell me he loved me even after something as ground shaking as an unplanned pregnancy. Instead he…”
I nodded. We sat in an embarrassed silence. I really shouldn’t have lost my cool. After a little while, I was the one to extend the olive branch.
“I think you dodged a bullet with that guy, frankly. But maybe in the future, you just need to trust that your boyfriend means it if he says he loves you. Without trust, your relationship isn’t going to go very far.” I thought of the night before, and chuckled. “Don’t prove that self-fulfilling prophet son of a bitch right.”
“Nothing. Just a crazy thing I heard from a guy yesterday. He said that when we set our selves up to fail, we’re playing right into the hands of this guy who calls himself the self-fulfilling prophet.” She stared at me skeptically. “Funnily enough, I was so upset last night over losing my job—and maybe I’d had a few beers—but I was just about ready to hop in my car and go to confront that bastard.”
Her face broke out with mirth. “And just where did you think you would find this guy? He doesn’t seem like your everyday Atlanta kind of prophet.”
“I don’t know. New Orleans? Doesn’t that sound like some voodoo shit?”
I laughed, but she didn’t join in. Instead her eyes opened wide. She turned to face me full on, and a smile played at the corners of her mouth.
“So you don’t have a job, right?”
I stiffened. I wasn’t sure I liked where this was going. “Right.”
“And you must have a ton of cash saved up, since you live in this… exceedingly adequate apartment. Am I right?”
The smile was now consuming the entirety of her face.
“Let’s do it. Let’s go to New Orleans and see if we can find this guy. I think I’d like to have a word with him myself!”
end of part five