Jed Dewhurst lived in the center of town, just a block away from city hall. He was hunchbacked and gray; the shoulders of his suit were broader than his actual structure. Jed Dewhurst never missed a day of church but couldn’t tell you a thing about the parts of the Bible Jesus wasn’t in. He worked for a small law firm, was a die-hard college football fan, and a regular political maniac. He voted against marriage equality and Obamacare, all the usual conservative hot buttons, but nothing made the voter in Jed Dewhurst angrier than those damned pro-choice nuthouse lesbian-anarchist fetus-killing baby-butchering pro-choice idiots put into place under Obama’s watch. Any time a Democratic nut stood up to lift the restrictions on abortion clinics, Jed Dewhurst was the first to write to his senator to push them back down.
Once, at a pro-life rally, a woman with dreadlocks had called Jed a misogynist, and this downright baffled him. Jed Dewhurst had a wife, a small and soft-spoken woman whom he adored, and he had five sons too. Jed Dewhurst was against abortion, but not against women. He just thought it was wrong for girls stupid enough to get themselves pregnant to bring their innocent babies down with them. Utter nonsense. Mrs. Dewhurst didn’t seem to have a problem with Jed or any of his ideals. She was content caring for her boys, and they were all happy.
Alex Dewhurst was Jed’s youngest child at only sixteen. He didn’t read the Bible much, but he did help his mother with the dishes, and he made mostly good grades. Sometimes he thought about becoming a musician, or an author, maybe, but wouldn’t dream of admitting it. He was quiet, more sensitive than his brothers, and they often teased him. Mrs. Dewhurst was very protective of Alex, and she was thrilled the day he came home and announced he had a new girlfriend.
Jed Dewhurst would never forget the day he met Wendy Wright. She came over for dinner on her three month anniversary with Alex, and informed them upon her arrival that she could not eat the meatloaf Mrs. Dewhurst had prepared because she was a vegetarian. Wendy and Alex sat at opposite ends of the table, Alex surrounded by his brothers, and Wendy between Mr. and Mrs. Dewhurst. Jed spent dinner eyeing the holes in Wendy’s ears—too large for any earring he had ever seen—and the way she towered over Alex when they stood. Wendy Wright was nearly 6’3” and muscular, too. She was opinionated and seemed more interested in getting a word out of Mrs. Dewhurst than getting to know Jed.
Later that night, Alex had asked his father what he thought. Jed shrugged, said that Wendy was strange, and he wondered if that was really the kind of girl Alex should be associating with. His brothers informed him that Wendy had a nice ass and asked if he’d gotten any action yet. Mrs. Dewhurst assured Alex that Wendy was sweet, and that she was happy if he was happy. Wendy started staying for dinner often. Jed was always uncomfortable when she was around and was quick to comment on her new nose piercing or her bulky beaded necklaces, or to casually mention that liberals were the decay of society at the dinner table. But Wendy got along with the rest of the family, and she soon grew very close with Mrs. Dewhurst. She played football with the Dewhurst boys, always on the winning team. Jed worried that Alex, who had never scored a single point, was becoming a pansy.
On a sunny Thursday, Wendy drove Alex home after school. Mrs. Dewhurst insisted that Wendy once again stay for dinner, and Wendy graciously accepted. She and Alex met Jed in the den, where he was reading the paper with Fox News on the TV set.
“Hey, Mr. D.” Wendy’s grin crinkled her nose, and she playfully punched Jed on the shoulder. He looked up over his paper and attempted to smile. His grip on the paper tightened.
She sat on the floor next to Jed’s recliner, legs crossed and chin resting in her hands. It was silent then, but for the racket of the paper and the droning of the politicians on the TV set. Alex and Wendy locked eyes, each daring the other to speak up.
Alex was first. “What’re you reading, Dad?”
“Same old stuff. Feel good story about kids at the hospital. High school football scores. I’m mostly done with this.” Jed folded the paper in his lap then jerked his thumb toward the TV screen. “I’m more interested in that.”
A judge was discussing the passage of a new bill that would further restrict abortion clinics in the state. The judge was rambling on about how feminists were going too far, now coming after our children, too. Jed rolled his eyes. Alex grabbed Wendy’s hand in apprehension.
“There isn’t a damn reason not to limit those baby butcher shops,” Jed said with a disappointed sigh. “Not a single damn reason.” He looked towards Wendy. “What do you think about all this nonsense, huh, Wendy?” He gave her a taunting smirk. He was ready for an argument and a reason to kick her out of his house.
Wendy looked at Alex with her thick eyebrows furrowed, not a look of anger but pity. Alex mouthed the words Please don’t. Wendy squeezed his hand, then said to Jed, “I don’t really know about all that. What’s for dinner, Mr. D?”
Later that night in the Dewhurst driveway Alex thanked Wendy for not starting a fight in the den. She said it was no problem and agreed that it was best she stay on Jed’s good side as well as she could. She kissed him goodnight then climbed into her truck. He watched her back out and drive away, then turned around and went through the garage door into the kitchen. Mrs. Dewhurst was cleaning up dinner, and Jed sat at the table, hunched over a crossword puzzle. “What were you talking about out there?” he asked without looking up.
Alex took the seat across from his father. “Nothing, I guess. The usual stuff.”
Less than a month later, Wendy took Alex’s virginity while the rest of his family slept. She was slow. She kissed him gently and stroked his shoulders. She had to help him get the condom on. They were on Alex’s bed, and Wendy was lying back guiding his hips. When she turned her head, she caught sight of a Dewhurst family portrait hanging on the wall. She locked eyes with Jed’s red face, squinted eyes. When it was over, Alex fell asleep curled up in Wendy’s arms. She snuck away at sunrise.
At church that Sunday, Jed and Mrs. Dewhurst were discussing the morning’s sermon and town goings-on with the pastor and his wife. Jed felt good and tall in his Sunday suit, and he was sure all this schmoozing would do him good in the church hierarchy. Mrs. Dewhurst played her part and laughed at all of his jokes.
As the small talk died down, the pastor’s wife spoke up. “Jed,” she said, “I’ve seen your boy Alex around town with this real tall girl. She’s just about the strangest thing I’ve seen, and I wondered if you knew about it.”
Jed clenched his jaw. He thought about Alex prancing about town on Wendy’s arm, and he chewed on his lip. He was just sure that soon they’d be burning bras and Bibles all in one pyre. “Yeah,” he said, “That’s Wendy. Her and Alex been dating a few months. She’s different.” He pulled out his handkerchief and began wiping at his forehead.
“Wendy’s a nice girl. Very polite,” Mrs. Dewhurst added. “She doesn’t get along with Jed—different opinions and all—but we like her.”
Jed looked at her in disbelief, and bit down on his lip until it bled. He lectured both Alex and his wife on the way home. He swerved erratically between cars, and kept looking back and forth between Alex and Mrs. Dewhurst, to make sure they were listening. “I have never been so embarrassed,” he said. “You,” and he jerked his head in his wife’s direction, “made me out to be a jerk—when I know good and well what I’m doing not trusting that girl. And you,” he looked back at his son, “are spending way too much time with Wendy. She makes you look like a fool.” He locked his eyes on the road. “She makes us all look like damn fools.”
Alex sat between two of his brothers, who were looking out their respective windows, trying to stay out of it, and he kept his head down, looking at his hands in his lap. He mumbled quiet Yessirs and promised to stop going out so much with Wendy.
“I don’t think we should have her at dinner anymore,” Jed barked in addition. “She’s distracting the boys with those short dresses, and she’s keeping Alex from doing his homework.” He turned to Mrs. Dewhurst. “Don’t you think so, honey?”
Mrs. Dewhurst didn’t look at Jed. “I’m not gonna stop cooking for that girl.”
Alex didn’t keep his promise of spending less time with Wendy. He told his parents that he had started Wednesday night Bible study and Thursday night study groups. Jed was proud of his boy for taking his studies so seriously, and he hoped this time apart from that feminist Goliath would teach Alex to man up, but Wendy always picked him up after they dropped him off. She told him she didn’t like lying to his parents, but he insisted that he was dying to touch her again. She told him she was worried they were having too much sex, but he begged her to kiss him hard in the back of the church parking lot. Wendy was always left holding Alex after it was over, counting the days of her cycle in her head. They were always careful. She never missed a pill.
Mrs. Dewhurst still invited Wendy over for dinner. Jed refused to sit near her at the table, and usually didn’t acknowledge her presence at all. He was hoping Alex’s studies would eventually lead him to dumping her, and dinner often led to family arguments. One Tuesday, Wendy was over, and after dinner, Alex went to help his mother with the dishes, but Jed grabbed him by the shoulder. “The girls can take care of that,” he said. “Why don’t you come watch the game with me and your brothers?”
Wendy instead washed dishes with Mrs. Dewhurst. When asked, she insisted that she loved Alex, and she was doing her best to look after him. She confided in Mrs. Dewhurst that she was worried that all of this fighting with Jed was making Alex love her for all the wrong reasons. Mrs. Dewhurst squeezed Wendy’s hand and hugged her goodnight. Later, Wendy met Alex in the backyard shed, and their hips bumped together against Jed’s gun rack. Alex whispered over and over again that he loved her, and he curled his head into the crook of her neck. Weeks later, Wendy missed her period.
They bought the pregnancy test together. Wendy disappeared into the convenience store bathroom for a while; not a sound came through the door. She came out with tears on her face and an apologetic smile. They sat on the curbside together in silence while Wendy ran her chipped nails through Alex’s hair. He didn’t say a word to her when she dropped him back off at home.
They waited a while to tell Mr. and Mrs. Dewhurst. Wendy wanted to get it over with. She wanted Alex to take responsibility for his actions and stand up to his father. Every time she brought this up, Alex started crying, saying it was all her fault. She must have skipped a pill, and now his parents would hate him forever. She would kiss his knuckles, and whisper that sometimes, even when you used protection, it messed up, and that they would be okay. He grabbed tight on her hands until her rings left imprints in his palms.
On a Friday afternoon, Jed Dewhurst had just gotten off the phone with a client, effectively finishing his work for the week, and settled in his recliner with a glass of sweet tea, He was reaching for the TV remote when his wife knocked on the den door.
“Jed,” she said, “Wendy is here. Her and Alex said they need to talk to us.”
Alex and Wendy waited at the kitchen table—Wendy in a baggy t-shirt and Alex in his nicest Sunday slacks. They kept a chair in between them. Mrs. Dewhurst seated herself across from Wendy, then reached over and placed a hand over Wendy’s. Jed was hesitant to sit at first, but a stern look from the missus convinced him quickly enough.
“What’s this about?” he asked. A pause, then—“Hi, Wendy.”
She gave a weak smile back. “This is gonna make both of you really mad. I just want you to know before anything else that you can hate me all you want, but please don’t hate Alex. He loves you both a lot.” She looked over to Alex. He avoided her eye.
“I screwed up,” he mumbled, “I screwed up big time. Me and Wendy screwed up, and now—and now—“
Wendy held tight onto Alex’s hand. “We’ve been sexually active. We’ve both been using protection. I’ve been on the pill. Alex has worn a condom every time.”
There was a soft Oh from Mrs. Dewhurst. Jed was silent for a bit, jaw set, mouth working. He put a hand against his temple, before finally speaking. “Is that all?” he asked with a raucous chuckle. He got up and placed a proud slap on his son’s back. “Didn’t think you’d ever lose it, son!” He grinned hard at his boy. Alex laughed nervously.
“Actually, that’s not all,” Wendy said. She took a breath and swallowed. “I’m pregnant.”
That night, Jed Dewhurst used language he swore he’d never use in front of his own son. There were vein-popping screams and flying scriptures and countless threats. “How did this happen if you were so goddamn protected?” Jed screamed.
“It’s super unlikely, a one in a million chance, but it can happen,” Wendy said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but I swear we used protection.” Then, she added, in a small voice, “I did some research. With both there’s only a three-hundredths of a percent chance of failing. But it happened.”
Jed really started in an uproar, then. He knew that they had to be lying about the condom. It was probably some plant-skin hippie condom Wendy had talked Alex into wearing. Wendy and Alex remained seated—tried their hardest not to lose grip of each other’s hands. Finally, between quiet sobs, Mrs. Dewhurst stood. In a still voice, she asked Jed to sit, then turned to Wendy.
“I can take you to your appointments. I know a good a doctor. We’ll buy anything for the baby you need us to. Don’t worry about money. We’ll take care of that baby.”
“Actually,” Wendy said, “I wasn’t planning on keeping it.”
Wendy Wright was quite nearly thrown off the face of the earth. When Jed pulled her away from his son, she tried to keep hold of Alex’s hand, but Alex let her go. Jed ordered her to never speak to his son again, and ordered Alex to attend every Bible study he could. Mrs. Dewhurst held Alex against her chest, and they both sobbed. Wendy begged them to go easy on Alex. As she stood there in the carport, looking through the doorway at the chaos she had caused, she caught Mrs. Dewhurst’s eye. Then, Jed closed the door, and Wendy left for home.
A couple of weeks later, Jed called Wendy’s father to discuss what to do. He didn’t answer the phone or call Jed back, even though Jed had left a message. “Idiot doesn’t even care his daughter’s pregnant,” he complained to Mrs. Dewhurst over breakfast. “He’s just as crazy as she is.” He got fed up with waiting, and eventually dragged Alex over to Wendy’s house so they could talk directly to the Wrights. They brought a Bible with them. Wendy was home alone, and she saw Jed pull into the gravel driveway from her bedroom window. She listened to them knock, and she bit the insides of her cheeks, plugged her ears with her fingers until they went away. Jed banged on the door and let her know she was going straight to hell before driving off.
Jed stayed up late that night, talking to Mrs. Dewhurst in bed. He went on and on about how disrespectful Wendy was being. Mrs. Dewhurst rolled over and fell asleep without saying a word. They argued a lot, mostly about how tight a leash Jed was keeping on Alex. He accompanied Alex nearly everywhere. He worked late more often, too, and ate dinner in the den. Mrs. Dewhurst tried to talk to him into lightening up. “Wendy’s not so bad,” she said, “I don’t really agree with the decision she made either, but it’s her baby, Jed. It’s her decision.”
“It’s Alex’s son!” Jed roared. “It’s my grandson. Alex gets a say, too.”
“Alex doesn’t seem to care all that much one way or the other,” Mrs. Dewhurst muttered before storming off. She knew that Alex had switched out of every class he shared with Wendy, and deleted all pictures of her off his phone. Jed had gotten to him.
Mrs. Dewhurst sat alone on the bed she shared with her husband. She pictured Wendy’s small breasts swelling and her stomach stretching with the weight of a baby. She pictured Wendy giving birth, and Alex at her feet. She thought about Alex and Wendy’s grades dropping and their patience growing thin. She pictured her son with premature bags under his eyes. She pictured her husband with an infant in his arms, his red face glowing. She heard him speaking to the child, and she thought of the child learning from Jed. “God forgive me,” she said, and she took a small jewelry box out of her bedside table. She had a good bit of cash saved there. As she sat on the bed counting the bills, she picked up the phone.
Later that week, Mrs. Dewhurst was at Wendy’s house early in the morning. They drove into town in silence. Wendy slept in the passenger seat. Mrs. Dewhurst placed a hand on Wendy’s shoulder when they pulled into the abortion clinic parking lot. Wendy gave her a sleepy nod, and Mrs. Dewhurt’s heart beat against her stomach. She knew Wendy would never be ready. They grasped each other’s hands, and walked across the parking lot together. The sun was feathery bright; it warmed the small of Mrs. Dewhurst’s back. As they reached the door, Wendy turned to Mrs. Dewhurst.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I just—I realized, after all this time, I still don’t even know your first name.”
Mrs. Dewhurst opened her mouth to speak, but she was cut off by the grating screech of tires. She and Wendy turned around to find the Dewhurst sedan haphazardly parked behind them. Jed was driving, and Alex was in the passenger seat, looking down, looking away. Jed stuck his head out the window.
“Both of you climb into this car right now. Not a one of you is gonna murder my grandson today.”
Mrs. Dewhurst tensed. “You never wanted to claim that baby as your own anyway,” she said.
Jed climbed out of the car, then, and grabbed Mrs. Dewhurst by the wrist. “That is our boy’s child she’s carrying. This is disgusting, and we are going home right now.” He started dragging Mrs. Dewhurst towards the car. “You should learn to talk a little quieter the next time you try to keep something from me.” He shot her a hurt look, “Where did you even get the money for an abortion?”
Mrs. Dewhurst jerked away from her husband. “I have savings.” Then, after a pause, “It wasn’t right for us to shut Wendy out like that.”
Wendy backed away. “I’ll be okay,” she said, “You should both just go home.” She looked at Mrs. Dewhurst. “I don’t wanna cause you any more trouble. Just—stop this. Please.” There were hot tears on her face. Mrs. Dewhurst reached out to her.
It was then that Jed lurched forward and pulled his wife away. Mrs. Dewhurst cursed him and fought back, but he was stronger. He advised Wendy to forget her plans and come with them. It wasn’t too late to deliver her from her sinful ways. It was very loud and red in her chest, and she called out to Alex to please help her fight off his father, but Alex was making himself look away. She gave Wendy a pleading look and whispered, “I’m sorry.” Wendy ran forward and jumped onto Jed, screaming for him to stop. Jed instinctively shoved Wendy away, and she fell onto the ground, facedown, clutching her stomach.
It all froze, then. The Dewhursts pulled away from each other. Wendy’s eyes were glued shut, her face twisted with pain. By then, a small crowd had gathered from inside the clinic to see what was going on, including a couple of nurses. One of them stepped forward and crouched by Wendy’s side. “We need to get her to a doctor,” she said.
Wendy was in the hospital for hours before they heard any news. Mrs. Dewhurst had driven Alex home before meeting Jed at the hospital to wait on Wendy. They didn’t speak to each other. Jed muttered desperate prayers under his breath. In His name I pray, in His name I pray, in His name I pray… Mrs. Dewhurst stepped outside of the room before his voice could drive her mad. She tried to call Wendy’s dad, but there was no answer. Back in the waiting room, Jed flexed and unflexed his fists. He played the scene over and over again in his head until he was sure he was in the right. It was all in self-defense.
When the doctor finally stepped out to talk to him, he asked for a parent. Mrs. Dewhurst stood without thinking. The doctor spoke to her in a soft whisper. He said if Jed had been any smaller of a man, the fall wouldn’t have been so bad. Mrs. Dewhurst gave the doctor a solemn nod. She said she would take Wendy home and give her plenty of bedrest. Then, she sat next to Jed and let him know the news. Jed’s breaths quickened and he reached for his wife’s hand. She pulled away and left to get Wendy.
Alone, Jed’s chest heaved. He thought over and over again It was her fault. She jumped on me. It was her fault. It was her. He dug his nails into his palms until he drew blood.