I Know It's Over | Chapter One

The first time Sasha lay spread across my bed, I felt like the world had changed. She was wearing cutoff jean shorts and a plain white T-shirt, not the tiny, cropped kind lots of girls wear—Sasha never wears that kind of stuff. "So it has to be my rules," she repeated, propping her head up and peering steadily into my eyes. I stared at her long, tan legs and thought: Don't screw this up now, Nick.

"Your rules," I agreed, and I didn't screw it up, not then anyway. We went on like that for nearly five months, stretching her rules, rewriting them together, until she told me we were getting too serious, that I was too much of a distraction and she had her whole future to think about.

"I want to worry about school," she said, crossing her arms and frowning like only Sasha can—like the world was coming to an end. "Not about trying to get on the pill."

Now I know she was wrong about the world, though—either wrong or early—because I can live without Sasha. The past month has proven that. But I don't know how to deal with what she's telling me now.

"Say something," she says urgently, grabbing my arm and squeezing hard. "Don't do this to me, Nick."

I glance up the driveway towards my house, at the icicle lights everyone but my mom continually forgets to switch on, and wrench my arm away. Dad will be here to pick me up in less than an hour. Christmas at his place with Bridgette—that was my big problem until thirty seconds ago.

"Nick," Sasha repeats. Snow is falling on her hair and she's wearing the leather gloves her mom bought her at the end of October. She still looks beautiful to me, or at least I know she would if I could feel anything.

I run a hand through my snow-crowned hair and say,"This has to be a mistake." It's what everybody says and now I know why.

"Don't you think I checked?" Her hands close into fists. "You think I'd come over here to tell you if I didn't know for sure?"

"I don't know what you'd do, Sasha." I squint in her direction. The sky is filled with white as bright as sunshine. "I don't know you anymore, remember?"

Sasha laughs like she hates me. She turns in the direction of the road and stands there, motionless. She's prepared to wait, to become some kind of ice princess at the edge of my lawn. Not a nice fairy tale—the pregnant ex-girlfriend—but then I guess most of them aren't. Not in the beginning anyway. I glance at the dark hair spilling down the back of Sasha's coat and shiver. My heart stopped beating at the beginning of this conversation.

"So what do you want me to say?" I snap, taking a step back. Sasha laughs again, shakes her head, and stares down my street. What has she done to deserve this, that's what she's thinking, no doubt. There's snow on her lashes, her cheeks are red from the cold, and suddenly I feel like a complete asshole."Does anyone else know?"

"Lindsay was there when I took the test." She swivels to watch me from the corner of her eyes. It's not safe to look at me yet. She doesn't know who I'll be.

"What about your parents?"

Sasha doesn't laugh this time. Her parents aren't a joke to either of us. We spent five months arranging meetings behind their backs and coaching Lindsay and Sasha's other friends on alibis. We never even came close to getting caught. Or so I thought.

So what happened? Okay, I know what happened, but it barely qualified as a mistake. And it was once, that's all. I reach out and touch Sasha's arm—she doesn't pull away, she's more mature than I am maybe, at the very least she's had more time to think. "We should've gone—" I begin, but Sasha's way ahead of me.

"I know we should've." Her cheeks hollow out as the cold steals the word from her lips. "I wish we did. It's too late now." Our eyes lock. Freeze. Dart away. "Shit!" Sasha exclaims, her eyes on the road.

Mom is motoring up the street towards us, waving, with her extreme happy face fixed firmly in place. If there's one thing I can't deal with now, it's that lame happy holiday face. The real thing is bad enough, but Mom's imitation sucks any real life out of the holidays and reminds me of a time when they used to mean something besides trying too hard. Or maybe back then I was too impressed by stuff like company Christmas parties where the boss would dress up as a skinny Santa Claus and dole out cheap board games and action figure knockoffs. I mean, I know it wasn't perfect. I remember the arguments as well as anyone, but I also remember the four of us driving around looking at Christmas lights for weeks beforehand and my parents taking turns bringing my sister, Holland, and me shopping for each other's presents. Some of that was real. I can feel the difference.

"Sasha, I have to go," I say. "My dad's picking me up soon."

Sasha shoots me an incredulous glare. "This is important."

"Yeah, I know." I take a step back as Mom pulls into the drive. "I'll call you when I get there, okay?"

Sasha doesn't wait for my mom to get out of the car. She storms off, kicking up snow and folding her arms in front of her. I know that's a shitty thing to do—just let her go like that—but I can't help it. Well, I could, but I don't want to have to try. I keep thinking maybe she's wrong about the whole thing. Those tests can't be a hundred percent accurate—nothing is.

Mom opens the car door, ducks down in front of the passenger seat, and emerges with a collection of bags. "Nicholas, give me a hand," she says, handing me half her stash. That stupid stale smile is stretched across her face so tight she's practically mummified. "Get the door, please," she sings, all nursery rhyme like. I'm glad I'm not going to be here for Christmas, if you want to know the truth. All the pretending gives me a massive headache, but whenever Holland or I decide to stop, Mom withdraws into a catatonic state.

I pull my keys out of my pocket, unlock the door, drop the bags down by the wall, and prepare to sprint upstairs before Mom can question me about Sasha's former presence on our lawn. Holland zooms around the corner towards me, her rainbow-colored hair back in a ponytail and her legs drowning in baggy pants, before I can make my escape. "There's a message from Babette on the machine," she mutters. "They're going to be a little later than expected due to the inclement weather." I laugh in spite of everything. If you knew Bridgette, that's exactly how she sounds, like she was born in a country club.

"Lights,"Holland says abruptly. She rushes past me to flick on the icicle lights, nearly colliding with Mom in the doorway.

"Just once I'd like to come home and find the Christmas lights already on," Mom complains. "It's Christmas Eve, for heaven's sake." She turns towards me, her lips on the verge of a new sentence: "Nicholas—"

"It's not even dark yet," I cut in, doing my best to distract her. "It's too snowy to really get dark."

Mom nods and hands her bags to Holland. "What are these?" Holland asks. Thank you, Holland. I kick off my shoes and rush upstairs to start packing, Holland's voice wafting up through the vent under my desk. Sometimes I wonder what Mom would do without Holland and me. Maybe she'd be that sleepwalker person all the time if she never had to pretend.

I start emptying my closet into my backpack. Way too many clothes—I need a bigger backpack. I'll have to carry Dad's present. He'll be disappointed that there's only one; he's hinted often enough about buying Bridgette something too. I told him he was lucky I was coming in the first place. Look at Holland, she hasn't spoken to him since she found out about Bridgette—or Babette, as she prefers to call her—last March.

Bridgette's not really the Babette type, though; for one thing she's too old, and for another she's got too much class. Too much class for her own good actually; she's plenty stuck-up. Still, Holland has a point. She always does. Holland's fourteen and a half going on thirty, or so she likes to think. She'd never get herself into Sasha's situation.

Shit, my hands are shaking. I drop the backpack on my bed and fan the fingers on my right hand out in front of me. I look like some kind of freak who talks to his multiple selves on the street. I don't know if I can go through with this. How could this happen to me?

I sit down in front of my bed and try to calm down. I can't think about anything, not right now. No, that's wrong. I need to think about something else entirely, something distracting. But that makes me think of Sasha too. I was just beginning to deal with the fact that I was an unwanted distraction. Do you know what it feels like to be an unwanted distraction? It was worse than never having been with Sasha. I'd sit there in law class, staring at the back of her head and thinking about all the things I would've changed about us. Things could've been right, I think. We just needed another chance. But I guess now I'll never know for sure.

There's a rapid-fire knock at my door and before I know it, Holland's bursting into my room. She wrinkles her nose and looks down at me with wide eyes. "What're you doing?" she asks. "You look like you're praying."

"Right," I say sarcastically. "I'm a closet fanatic."

"Okay, I don't want to know," Holland grumbles. "Mom sent me up to ask if you want anything to eat before you go."

"No," I say, scowling. "Get out of here." Holland studies the pile of clothes half stuffed into my backpack and furrows her eyebrows.

"Are you deaf, Holland?"

She gawks back at me like I'm certifiable. "You know it's only a day and a half, Nick. You don't need all that stuff." She tries her X-ray vision out on me, but I guess it doesn't work because she says, "You are coming back, aren't you?"

"Of course I'm coming back. You think I'd stay there with Dad and Bridgette?"

"What's with all the clothes, then?" she asks suspiciously.

"Nothing." I shake my head at her like the idea is ridiculous. It is too. I'd never leave Mom and Holland behind. The guilt would tear me up. Anyway, Dad wouldn't want me with him and Bridgette all the time. They're practically living together these days and I would spoil the romantic atmosphere. Nothing like a sixteen year-old with a pregnant ex-girlfriend to provide a reality check. How would I even tell them?

"My mind was on other things," I add. "That's all." I don't tell Holland what other things and she doesn't ask.

"Okay," she says. I guess she sounds relieved. "So no food, right?"

"I'm not hungry." I want to add that I wouldn't go anywhere like that, not without telling them first and probably not at all, but I don't. It seems like I can't say any of the right things today.

I jump up, shaking hands and all, as Holland closes the door behind her. She's right about the clothes. I don't need a bigger backpack after all. I scoop a bunch of shirts into my arms, fling them into the open closet, and collapse onto the bed. Where's Sasha now, I wonder. Will she tell her parents? I'm not ready for that. I'm not even ready to know myself.

I switch the stereo on, notch up the volume, and lie facedown on the pillow, listening to Beanie Sigel. The same thing happened to one of my so-called friends last year. Actually, the guy's pretty much an asshole. He talked his girlfriend into having an abortion. He told her it was better because no one would ever have to know and they could just keep going the way they were. I don't know what she wanted to do, but she did it and they didn't keep going either. He broke up with her two months later and then everyone knew.

I lie there thinking about that and about last summer and the months before I became a distraction and Sasha realized she had to get serious about her future. "I don't want us to get too heavy," Sasha said at the time. "Do you know what I mean?"

Sure, Sasha. But it so happens that I can't control my feelings. I still can't figure out how she did it, how she could pull the plug on us so fast that it made my head spin. We could've worked this out last month. I would've helped her if she'd given me a chance. But none of that matters now. What's done is done.

I force myself out of bed and fix my hair in the mirror. I don't want any questions, any weird looks. I have to be extra normal—the uneventful son. "Everything's fine," I'll say, and save the bad news for a phone conversation. Of course Mom won't be any easier. Will she pretend it's okay or stare through me like I've disappeared?

My hands aren't shaking anymore. I sit on the end of my bed, my backpack slung over one shoulder, and wait. The music helps a little but not enough and finally it's time to go downstairs. If I stall too long, Mom will show up here anyway, wrap her arms around me like she's drowning, and wish me a merry Christmas. I know she doesn't want me to go. She wishes I could be like Holland—solidly on her side—but I can't.

"He broke Mom's heart," Holland said to me when they first split up two years ago. "How can you even look at him?"

But what he did has nothing to do with me. I don't want to be anyone else's conscience. "Don't drag me into it!" I shouted at her. "You're not the moral authority of this family." We said a lot of worse stuff after that and spent a long time not talking to each other. Holland doesn't talk about my father at all anymore, just Bridgette.

My phone rings at the bottom of the stairs. I wrestle it out of my backpack as Mom sidles up to me and hands me three packages wrapped in candy cane paper, each one topped with a different-colored bow. I let the phone ring, plant a quick kiss on Mom's cheek, and balance the presents under my left arm.

"Thanks," I say. "Do you want me to open them now?" My presents for her and Holland are already under the tree, waiting for Christmas morning, but Mom's always had a thing about watching people open their gifts.

"You can open them with your father," she says. "Stick them at the top of the pile." That's a jab at Dad's money, which, yes, he does have plenty of.

"Really? We can leave them till I get home if you want—open them together."

"No, no." She purses her lips as she glances through the open French doors at the Christmas tree. "It's not the same if it's not on the day."

This is news to me, but I don't have the energy for head games. "Okay, then," I tell her. Outside, a car honks. Last chance, I think. Last chance to come clean and tell her what's happened. "That's Dad," I say. "I better go."

Mom shouts for Holland to come in and say goodbye to me. Holland shuffles into the entranceway, leans against the wall, and waves. "Good luck," she calls as I step into the freezing air. She has no idea how much I need it.

Now you'd think my dad would be a modern guy, what with the mid-life divorce and new girlfriend, but he's not. He has all the old expectations, and as soon as I get into the car, he says, "What has Holland done to her hair? I could barely recognize her."

"That's the style now," Bridgette coos in an aloe vera voice. "Body piercing and tattoos."

"It's not a big deal," I say with a scowl. I hate when Bridgette tries to sound helpful, like she has a clue about what's going on. If I want to know what fork to use, I ask Bridgette; that's about all she's good for. Sometimes I wonder what the old man could've been thinking, running off with Bridgette. Was this what he was missing his whole life—a decent plate setting?

"So how are you, Nicholas?" Dad asks, wisely dropping the subject.

Here's where things get tricky. My concentration isn't too good right now. Then again, my dad isn't the most perceptive guy in the world. What does he know about normal teenage behavior?

"I'm all right," I tell him. "Pretty tired. Busy day at work. I might have a nap on the way." The busy part is true enough: crowds of last-minute parents crammed into Sports 2 Go looking for in-line skates, snowboards, and team jerseys. I can never sleep in the car, though, not since I was about seven years old.

I slouch down in the backseat, letting my head flop to the side. It was Sasha who called me before. I know without looking. Why doesn't she understand that I can't talk to her now? I will call her back . . . later. She's bound to call Holland and get Dad's number if I don't.

Sasha's dad was never a big fan of mine. He wasn't loud about it, but he didn't hide it either. He'd come in and stand by the TV at nine-thirty, announcing that it was time "for Nick to return to his place of residence." It could've been funny if he'd said it in the right way, but he never did; he said it like I'd been holed up in his living room for the past seven years, living off his groceries and puking behind his couch.

I ran into him at the beach once, back in August, when Sasha was giving sailing lessons. I'd planned to hang out with her that day, in between lessons. The beach was swarming with kids baking in the sun. A bunch of them in dripping swimsuits were crowded around Sasha on the pier, waiting for her to dismiss class. They scurried off towards shore when she said goodbye, and I weaved through them, calling her name.

"Nick, my dad's here," Sasha warned, looking swiftly over my shoulder.

And there he was, striding towards us in a golf shirt and cotton pants. "Sasha, did you put on sunscreen?" he asked, handing her a tall paper cup filled with water.

"Yes, I put on sunscreen, Dad." She said that with a wad of impatience, but smiled as she raised the water to her mouth.

"And you're here too." Her father bunched his eyebrows as he scrutinized me. He always spoke to me in that same pinched nasal voice. "Does that mean we won't have the pleasure of your presence at dinner this evening?"

Let's get things straight, I avoided Sasha's family and house as much as possible, but this was a girl with a nine-thirty curfew who was under strict instructions not to enter my house without an appointment personally confirmed by my mother.

"Dad, stop being such a pain," Sasha lectured. Apparently she could get away with saying that kind of thing every so often as long as she played by the rules.

"So sensitive." Her father sighed, his thin lips drooping into a frown. "Don't be late for dinner." He turned and strode towards the parking lot, not looking back.

"So sensitive," I repeated sarcastically, once he was out of earshot. "What's his problem?"

"You know what his problem is." Sasha beamed at me like she used to, like I'd done something amazing. "Us. There's only one thing we can do to make him happy." Break up. Wasn't going to happen anytime soon. I can tell you, his attitude was really starting to piss me off, though. The rules were bad enough.

My towel was hanging around my shoulders, waiting to hit the sand, and I knew I should let it all go, but I couldn't. "I get that he doesn't trust me, but he doesn't have to be a total dick about it," I said.

Sasha sipped her water. "Not everybody is like your parents, Nick. Some people can't even have boyfriends at sixteen. You probably just don't know them."

No, I don't know them. I just know Sasha and how much she'd hate to disappoint her father. Will he want to protect her from this too, or will it change the way he feels about her? I don't want to be the one that changes her life like that.

I burrow into the seat, listening to Dad and Bridgette discuss Christmas dinner. Her parents are going to be there, apparently, and some old uncle of Dad's. Too many people. I don't think I have a performance like that left in me.

"Shit." I clench my fists. Bridgette and Dad glimpse back at me, my first clue I've said it out loud. My backpack is ringing again. It won't quit. It rings and rings and rings. She's redialing and redialing and she won't stop. I dig into my backpack, grab my cell, and press it to my ear.

"So you finally decided to pick up," Sasha says in a low voice.

"I'm in my dad's car. I told you I'd call you when I got there."

"You weren't very convincing. Do you know what it's like sitting here waiting for you to call me back, Nick? Every second is . . ." Her voice breaks on the last word. She swallows, pauses, and begins again, stronger: "Don't make me call you back again."

"I can turn off my phone," I threaten, and for a moment that makes me feel good. I'm not completely powerless; I can still hurt her.

"You'd do that?" Sasha asks, her voice sinking. I imagine her lying on my bed like she did that first day, only this time she's shriveling in front of me. What happened to her rules?

"No, I wouldn't," I tell her, but it's too late—Sasha's hung up. Whatever power I have can only be used in bad ways. Nothing good will happen anymore.

Bridgette and Dad are polite enough to pretend that nothing's happened. They resume their conversation, their voices more animated this time, but I can't do it. I can't pretend. "Dad, we have to stop," I say.

"We have quite a distance to go," Bridgette declares, flashing me her own special brand of irritation. "We're already behind schedule."

I'm still holding the silent phone in my hand. It won't ring again, not tonight, but I can't fake it a minute longer.

"Dad, we have to stop somewhere," I plead. "Now."

Dad looks over his shoulder at me, frowning. "What is it, Nick?"

"There." I point to the Burger King up ahead.

"What is it?" he demands. He veers into the fast-food parking lot and that's it—I throw my backpack over my shoulder and head for the door. I rush through Burger King, past the two waiting cashiers, and charge into the washroom, where I punch Sasha's phone number into my cell and pace the littered floor.

You'd think she'd be waiting for my call. You'd think she'd snap the phone up right away. But no, not Sasha. She knows I'm bad news. "Hello," a voice says at last. "Hello?" Her father's voice. If he doesn't hate me already, he will very soon. I'll always be the one who ruined everything for Sasha. He won't understand that she's the one too—the one who ruined everything for me.

"Can I talk to Sasha?" My voice doesn't even sound normal. I sound like a 911 call, but what difference does it make?

There's silence on the other end of the phone for a long time, then a click as though someone's hung up. The line doesn't go dead, though; Sasha's been on the line, listening to me, for some time.

"Sasha," I say. "Talk to me."

"What for?" she asks, sounding light-years away. "You have nothing to say, Nick. All this time I've been sitting here waiting for you to call and the problem didn't go away once. I'm still pregnant." She laughs and falls silent. "You see. You still have nothing to say."

"Sasha," I begin. My stomach is churning and my mind is in knots. I'm not somebody's father. This isn't how it's supposed to work. I have a part-time job in a sports store and another year and a half of high school. I don't know how to make anybody happy. I remember Sasha's father that day on the beach, bringing her water. His rules were in my way. That's how stupid I am.

The door bangs open behind me and I swing around, the phone still glued to my ear. I'm not hanging up on Sasha this time—not for anyone.

Dad stares over at me like I'm a complete stranger, the guy behind you in line at the ATM. "Nicholas, what are you doing here?" he asks, unnaturally calm. "Why don't we get back in the car?" He must've decided that I'm on drugs. He's read some article, or Bridgette has, and this is the way you're supposed to approach the whacked-out addict. No sudden movements.

"Go on," Sasha says bitterly. "Why don't you call me back later?"

"No." I clutch the phone harder and lower my backpack to the floor. "I'm not hanging up."

"Nicholas, what's going on here?" Dad repeats.

"We have to go back." I'm shaking on the inside, speaking through a fog. "I have to see Sasha."

On the other end of the phone, Sasha sighs. "Okay," she says slowly. "Okay, come." And I know she knows. Yes, I finally got it.

"She's pregnant," I say, looking him in the eye. "I have to see her now."

Dad's face falls. His eyes pop open and he rocks back and forth on his heels, speechless. This is a book he hasn't read. I know how he feels—I haven't read it either. "Dad, please," I say. "Please." This is the best I can do. I don't know what comes next.

Dad's lips bite the air, forming an unspoken word. The lines in his forehead deepen as he takes a stranger's step towards me. His right hand reaches down for my backpack. He lifts it up, slings it over his shoulder, and nods into the space between us.