When he didn't phone the week after that, Meredith realized she was obviously very forgettable and that he hadn't thought her "exciting" or "responsive" at all. She went over and over the things she'd said to Matt just before he left, wondering if something she'd said was the reason for his silence now. She considered the possibility that she might have hurt his pride when she told him the truth about why she'd decided to sleep with him, but she found that very hard to believe. Matthew Farrell wasn't the least bit insecure about his sexual attraction—he'd carried on that sexual banter with her within minutes of meeting her, when they first danced. It was more likely he hadn't called because he'd decided she was too young to bother with.
By the end of the following week, Meredith no longer wanted to hear from him. Her period was two weeks overdue, and she wished to God she'd never met Matthew Farrell at all. As one day drifted into the next, she couldn't think about anything except the terrifying possibility that she'd gotten pregnant. Lisa was in Europe, so there was no one to turn to or help make the time go faster. She waited and she prayed and she promised fervently that if she wasn't pregnant, she'd never have intercourse again until she was married.
But either God wasn't listening to her prayers or He was immune to bribery. In fact, the only one who seemed to notice and care that she was in a silent agony was her father. "What's wrong, Meredith?" he asked repeatedly. Not long ago the biggest problem in her life was not being able to go to the college she wanted to attend. Now that problem seemed infinitesimal. "Nothing is wrong," she told him. She'd been too worried to argue with him over what happened with Matt at Glenmoor, and too distracted to engage in any more battles with him thereafter.
Six weeks after she met Matt, Meredith's second period did not occur on its usual date, and her fear escalated to terror. Trying to console herself with the fact that she didn't feel sick in the mornings or any other time, she made an appointment for a pregnancy examination and test.
Five minutes after she hung up the phone, her father knocked on her bedroom door. When she called to him to come in, he walked over to her and held out a large envelope. The return address read NorthwesternUniversity. "You win," he said shortly. "I can’t stand any more of this mood you've been in. Go to Northwestern if it's that damned important to you. I'll expect you home on weekends, however, and that is not negotiable!"
She opened the envelope that contained the notice that she was officially enrolled for the fall semester, and she managed a weak smile.
* * *
Meredith didn't go to her own doctor because he was one of her father's cronies. Instead, she went to a dingy family planning clinic near Chicago's South Side where she was certain no one would know her. The harassed physician there confirmed her worst fears: she was pregnant.
Meredith heard that with a peculiar dead calm, but by the time she got home, her numbness had given way to mindless, gripping panic. She could not face an abortion, she didn't think she could face giving the baby up for adoption, and she could not face her father with the news that she was about to become an unwed mother and the newest scandal in the Bancroft family. There was only one other alternative, and Meredith took it: she called the number Matt had given her. When no one answered the phone she called Jonathan Sommers and lied that she'd found something of Matt's and needed to send it to him. Jonathan provided her with Matt's address and the information that Matt hadn't yet left for Venezuela. Her father was out of town, so she packed a small suitcase, left him a note saying that she'd gone to visit friends, got into her car, and drove to Indiana.
In her despondent state of mind, she saw Edmunton as a bleak town of smokestacks, factories, and steel mills. Matt's address was in a distant rural area that, to her, was just as bleak. After a half hour of driving up one county highway and then another. Meredith gave up trying to locate the road he'd written down and pulled into a run-down gas station to ask directions.
A fat, middle-aged mechanic came out, his eyes sweeping over Meredith's Porsche, and then her, in a way that made her skin crawl. She showed him the address she was trying to find, but instead of telling her where it was, he turned and yelled over his shoulder, "Hey, Matt, isn't this your road?"
Meredith's eyes widened as the man who'd had his head beneath the hood of an old truck in the service station slowly straightened and turned. It was Matt; his hands were covered with grease, his jeans were old and faded, and he looked exactly like a mechanic in some godforsaken little town. She was so stunned by how different he looked, and so panicked about her pregnancy, she couldn't hide her reaction as he walked up to the car. He saw it, and it doused the surprised smile from his chiseled features; his face hardened, and when he spoke, his voice was devoid of emotion. "Meredith," he said, acknowledging her with a curt nod. "What brings you here?"
Instead of looking at her, he was concentrating on roping his hands on the rag he'd pulled out of his back pocket, and Meredith had the clutching feeling that he'd just guessed why she was there, and that accounted for the sudden chill in his attitude. She wished, very devoutly, that she were dead—and with equal fervency that she hadn't gone there. He obviously wasn't going to want to help, and any grudging help he could offer, she didn't want. "Nothing really," she lied with a hollow laugh, her hand already hovering over the gearshift. "I just decided to take a drive and found myself heading this way. I guess I'd better be going though, and—"
He lifted his gaze from the rag to hers then, and her voice suffocated as a pair of piercing gray eyes locked onto hers ... cold, probing, speculative eyes. Knowing eyes. Reaching down, he opened the door. "I'll drive," he clipped, and in her state of wild tension, Meredith obeyed automatically, getting out of the car and walking around it. Over his shoulder, Matt glanced at the fat man who was hovering at the hood of the car, watching the scenario with disgustingly ill-bred fascination. "I'll be back in an hour."
"Hell, Matt, it's already three-thirty," the other mechanic said, his face splitting into a grin that displayed a missing front tooth. "Knock off for the day. A classy piece like this one deserves more than just an hour with you."
Meredith's humiliation was complete, and to add to her misery, Matt looked absolutely incensed as he rammed the Porsche into gear and shot out onto the winding county road, gravel spraying from the tires. "Do you mind slowing down a little?" she asked shakily, surprised and relieved when he immediately eased off the accelerator. Feeling that some sort of conversation was demanded, she said the only thing she could think of at the moment. "I thought you worked in a mill."