By the time 22-year-old Molly Eleanora Hooper realized she was pregnant, it was too late to do anything about it. Far too late for a Morning After pill, too late for an abortion, too late for anything except keep it or give it up. She was nearly five months gone and her father had been in the ground for three of them before she finally realized her missed periods weren't due to stress, that her lack of appetite and tiredness weren't entirely depression-related.
If she'd known the name of her baby's father, she'd have gotten in touch with him and let him know. If she knew anything about him other than that he had lovely dark curls and eyes that reminded her of the ocean – an ever-changing mixture of blue and green with tiny amber flecks – and cheekbones to die for, that he was studying chemistry at one of the universities in London and smoked more than just cigarettes, she might have had something more to go on. But she'd known hardly anyone at the party, had been standing alone at the foot of the stairs with her third vodka tonic in a red plastic cup, and he'd come up behind her and deduced pretty much everything about her, from the reason she was standing apart from the crowd to her recent break up with her last – well, technically her only – long-term boyfriend, and she'd turned and seen him and her only thought had been, Fuck it, Molly – go for it.
So she had. She'd leaned up on her tiptoes and pressed her lips against his, ignoring the lingering scent of marijuana – who was she to judge? – for once in her life not fretting over consequences. His mouth had opened beneath hers, deepening the kiss, and at some point she'd completely lost track of her red plastic cup as they began groping one another right there on the stairs.
Things could have gone so differently, she reflected as she stared numbly down at the pregnancy test with its bright blue plus sign. Someone had come clattering down the stairs, muttering, "Get a room, Jesus you two!" before squeezing by them. She could have taken that moment to break away from his arms, murmured an excuse and made her escape. Done the right thing, the smart thing, but the lazy smile on his face as he tilted his head and flicked his eyes upward in a definite question had done something to her, temporarily caused her to abandon common sense and doing the right thing and caused her to nod her response before slipping her hand into his and allowing him to tug her up the stairs to an unoccupied bedroom.
So here she was five months later, a medical student about to enter the pathology program, paying for that lapse in judgment and suddenly pregnant. Well, not suddenly, nearly five months along, but it still took her by surprise. Even seeing the results of the pregnancy test (a very definite positive) still couldn't entirely cement the reality in her mind. How could this have happened? She was on the pill, she wasn't promiscuous; Christ, it had only been once! And he'd worn a condom, hadn't he? The details were hazy, but she was pretty sure she'd insisted on it and that he'd complied without a murmur. Yes, she remembered now; she'd dug it out of her handbag, a leftover from her relationship with Tom Higgins…and proceeded from there to have the best sex she'd ever had in her life, drunk or sober, bar none.
As soon it was over, however, she'd panicked, grabbed her clothes, gabbled something about having to go, and bolted as soon as she was half-way decent, knickers stuffed into her handbag, shoes in one hand, stockings in the other. She'd met no one she knew, although a few of the blokes gave her knowing leers and a few of the girls gave her disapproving scowls (jealous cows, had been her thought at the time, even in her panic). She'd made her way back to her flat and immediately passed out.
The next morning, before she could begin to process what she'd done and who she'd done it with (how could she have had sex with a guy who was obviously high, no matter how gorgeous – and not even get his name!), her mobile had rung. It had been her mother calling with the grim news about her dad's prognosis. It was the beginning of the summer break and the end of Molly's life as she'd known it.
She didn't wait to call her mother; still sitting on the cold tile floor of her dorm bathroom, she laid down the pregnancy test and dug her mobile out of her pocket and pressed the speed dial. As soon as her Mum answered, Molly blurted out the devastating news. "Mum, I'm so sorry. I'm pregnant."
There was a moment's silence on the other end before her mother responded. "Are you sure, love?"
Molly glanced at the discarded test, fighting an urge to burst into hysterical laughter. "Oh yeah, pretty sure. Actually, very sure."
Karen Hooper sighed softly, and Molly squeezed her eyes shut, picturing her mother's disappointment and bracing herself for her next words. "Well, dear, have you talked to Tom about it…oh, sorry!" she exclaimed, interrupting herself. "You broke up with him ages ago, I'm sorry, darling, I forgot…wait, you haven't said anything about a new boyfriend? Who's the father?"
"It's a boy I met at a party. Right before…right before you called to tell me about Dad."
Another long silence as her mother processed Molly's words. "Molly, that was…that was five months ago! Sweetheart, why did you wait so long to tell me? Oh, love..."
Molly broke in to explain how she'd missed the signs, how she'd dismissed them as emotional symptoms rather than what they actually were. "So anyway, Mum, I guess I'll be coming home soon." Her throat started to close up and the tears she'd been fighting fell as she struggled to get the next words out. "I—I'm so sorry, Mum, I can't believe I disappointed you and Dad like this! I'll…I'll find a job and try to f-find a place on my own to live as soon as I…"
"Molly Eleanora Hooper," her mother broke into her unhappy babbling, her voice as sharp as Molly had ever heard it. "What are you going on about? You're talking as if you're going to give up your education!"
"But Mum, what else can I do?" Molly sniffed, rubbing her hand across her nose. She shifted her phone to her other hand and reached up to blindly grope for the box of tissues sat on the back of the toilet. "In four months I'll have a baby to take care of, I can't finish my programme and take care of a baby and get a job and…"
Karen once again cut through her daughter's welling panic. "We'll figure it out. Come home for the week, darling, never mind your classes for now." Her mother sounded quite firm, not at all emotional or angry, certainly nowhere near as upset as Molly had expected her to sound. "Come home, charge the train ticket to my credit card – you have the numbers, right?" Molly nodded, then squeaked out a yes as her mother continued speaking. "Come home, Molly. We'll sit down together and we'll make up a plan. You get in touch with this boy so he knows what's…"
Oh God. The worst part, she still hadn't told her mother the worst part. Molly felt positively sick as she whispered, "I don't even know his name, Mum, or which university he goes to. I'm sorry, please don't hate me, I…"
"Darling, I love you," her mother interjected softly. "Come home. Right now. We'll work things out. Your father wouldn't want you working yourself up over this, and neither do I. Just…just come home," she said, and Molly found herself agreeing without further demur.
Her mother had always been a rock, always available for her two daughters and her husband, always putting their needs first but always so cheerful about it that it was obvious that was what made her happiest. It didn't alleviate Molly's raging guilt one small bit, but she did find comfort in the fact that her mother hadn't screamed at her or thrown blame or done any of the other horrible but justified things she could have said or done in the course of such a conversation.
No, Karen Hooper had been exactly what Molly needed: a loving mother reaching out to comfort her child.
Molly just hoped that, no matter what else the future might bring, she would be as good a mother to her own child as hers was to her.