Margaret was sleeping soundly in her bed. She’d been released from the hospital that morning. She was still on antibiotics to treat her gonorrhea, but it was slowly starting to clear up. As soon as she stepped out of the hospital and had to face real life and the consequences of her actions, Margaret wanted to drown herself in drugs and alcohol again, but her doctor’s sobering news made her resist.

It was a miracle her baby had survived a vicious beating, an STD and a drug overdose, but there was still a large chance that Margaret’s child had suffered severe developmental and brain damage. It was too early in the pregnancy to determine anything for certain, but given the amount of drugs she was on and how much she was drinking, the odds weren’t good. If her baby had any chance at all of developing normally, it depended on Margaret staying clean throughout the rest of her pregnancy.

“Margaret, Honey,” she heard her mom whisper to her, waking her up. “Marina’s here. She wants to talk to you. Are you feeling well enough?” she asked, worried. Matilda was terrified of Margaret having a miscarriage like she had and was always on Margaret’s case to rest and not stress over anything at all. So far, Margaret felt okay, apart from the withdrawals, but she was still tired.

“Is it okay if she comes in here?” she asked, rubbing her eyes and sitting up. “I still feel totally shredded.” Matilda smirked. Her daughter may be trying to turn her life around, but she’d always have that daredevil, in-your-face streak in her. She nodded and went downstairs. A few minutes later, Marina walked in. Looking around Margaret’s room, she whistled.

“Man, this place has really changed,” she muttered, remembering the dark labyrinth of skulls and bones that decorated almost every surface of Margaret’s room. It was now light and airy, with baby blue patterned wallpaper to match her bedcovers, rug, lampshades and chair cushion. All her furniture had been stripped and repainted a light cream colour. Margaret shrugged.

“I got tired of the black and shit. Thought I needed a change. Mom says a change of environment can help encourage a change in a person’s lifestyle… or some other kind of jargin her therapist told her,” she grinned. Marina laughed, too and hugged her cousin tightly.

“I’m sorry. This was all my fault,” she whispered. Margaret shook her head.

“Nah, all you did was offer. I was the moron who accepted it. It was my choice to do what I did,” she assured her. “How’ve you been?” she asked. Marina sighed.

“I told my parents everything. After I saw what VJ did to you, I didn’t care about lying to them anymore. They were really mad, but they told me they were proud of me for stepping forward to help you. I’m still grounded for like, ever, but they’re not as pissed as they would be otherwise.” Margaret nodded and then sighed.

“I’m sorry I had sex with VJ. He was your boyfriend. I shouldn’t have done that to my cousin,” she muttered. Marina scoffed.

“Forget VJ! He nearly killed you! I hate him. I broke up with him as soon as you stumbled off after he beat you. I smacked him across the face and told him I never wanted to see him again. He’s a hot-headed, evil guy. Who knows if he’d done the same thing to me somewhere down the road, you know?” Margaret nodded. She was glad her cousin had the sense to pick herself up and leave.

“Did you see Mom arrest him?” she asked with a grin. Marina laughed.

“Oh yeah. It was pretty awesome. Talk about payback. Miraj says he’ll be in juvie for the next year, then community service for another year.”

“He won’t change,” Margaret said darkly. Marina nodded in agreement. Suddenly, Margaret’s brows furrowed and she gave her cousin a quizzical look. “Miraj told you that?” Miraj? The kid who both of them always thought was annoyingly goody-two-shoes? She had warmed up to him slightly for taking care of her while she was living with him and VJ, but he was still a little too perfect and poise for her liking. Marina blushed.

“Well, I saw how well he took care of you and seeing him try to pull VJ away from you like that was so selfless, you know? He asked me to be his girlfriend a little while ago and I said yes. He’s not like VJ at all, Margaret. He’s polite and considerate and respectful… he wants to be a World Renowned Surgeon someday, did you know that? He makes me want to be like, a better person. I’ve stopped doing drugs and hanging out with those thugs. It feels good to have a clear head and Miraj is really proud of me. That makes me feel good, too,” she told her cousin. Her cell phone rang and she picked it up. “Hello? Oh, what’s up Mel? No, you cannot borrow my halter top! It’s the only one I have! What do you need it for, anyway? Well wear your own damn clothes, geeze! Don’t you dare touch my makeup or I’ll burn your Edward Cullen poster!” She hung up the phone and sighed. “I gotta go home before my sister raids all my stuff. She thinks she owns everything in the house just because she’s a teenager now,” she grumbled.

Margaret came home from the hospital with Matilda a few weeks later, rubbing her belly with a frown. Thaddeus met them in the foyer, looking concerned. “What’s wrong?” he asked. Matilda sighed.

“The doctor said the baby’s growing, but at a much slower rate than what’s normal,” she explained to her husband. “It seems to support our fears that Margaret’s baby has developmental problems.” Thaddeus sighed and shook his head. He gave a sideways glance to his daughter. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t need to. Margaret knew what he was thinking. This is your own fault, you know. You ruined an innocent baby’s life because you wanted to get high and fool around.

She went up to her room and curled up on her bed, brushing tears away from her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to the baby inside of her, patting her stomach gently. “I’m so sorry I did this to you. I love you.”

Though Margaret was pregnant, Matilda and Thaddeus didn’t excuse her from going to school. “My Aunt Marcie went to school while she was pregnant and you will, too,” she had said sternly. She’d become much more strict since Margaret’s year-and-a-half long escapade doing drugs and sleeping around. She felt ashamed to go to school. She could imagine all the whispers and pointing fingers. Her family was famous, after all, and in a town like Sunset Valley, the rich and famous were the most fun to gossip about.

She stepped onto the schoolbus feeling uneasy. Sure enough, heads turned to stare. Some were glaring and exchanging rude whispers, but others were smiling encouragingly at her. She didn’t expect that. She sat by herself near the front of the bus, ignoring her old gang of thugs she used to sit with at the back, rubbing her swollen belly. A girl sat down beside her and tossed her brown hair back. “Hey. Margaret Charm, right?” she asked. Margaret raised an eyebrow. As if she didn’t know. The whole world knew who she was. Literally. The girl blushed and laughed nervously.

“Guess that’s a pretty dumb question. Of course you are. I’m Sandy French,” she told her. Margaret nodded and looked behind her.

“Nice to meet you. Uh… why are people smiling at me? It’s creepier than the people glaring at me,” she muttered. Sandy shrugged.

“We all heard about what VJ did to you. Most of us feel bad for you,” she told her. Margaret rolled her eyes.

“Fan-fucking-tastic. I have my own pity party,” she sighed.

“So… is it a boy or a girl?” Sandy asked, changing the subject. She nodded to Margaret’s stomach.

“No idea.”

“Are you going to keep it?”

“No idea.”

“Who’s the father?” Margaret glared at her and Sandy looked down at the floor. “Sorry… it’s none of my business,” she apologized.

Despite Margaret’s dull attitude at the beginning of the conversation, Sandy’s cheerfulness won Margaret over soon enough. She was friendly and pleasant and didn’t seem to judge Margaret at all for her situation. She didn’t try to suck up to her for being a wealthy, famous heiress, either. It was like she was just a regular teenager from a regular family who wasn’t pregnant and didn’t have gonorrhea and wasn’t struggling to stay clean. By the end of the day, Margaret had invited Sandy over to her house after school to do their homework together. Margaret also wanted to try to bring up her grades, despite always having had difficulty in school, but Sandy helped her out a lot and never treated her like she was stupid or slow. It reminded Margaret of when she was homeschooled and Juliana would teach her.

Sandy was a good influence on Margaret, too. She was captain of the debate team and school Prime Minister. She was on the Student Council and sang in the school choir. It made it much easier for Margaret to refuse to hang out with VJ’s group of lowlives when she knew she had someone better to spend time with.

“Is it hard? Quitting drugs?” Sandy asked her friend one afternoon. Margaret sighed.

“Yeah. The withdrawals are torture. You break out in a cold sweat and can’t stop shaking and your head feels like it’s going to explode. All you can think about is once you get your fix, it’ll all go away. I’ve almost fallen off the wagon a few times already,” she admitted.

“What kept you on the wagon? What stopped you from doing drugs again?” Sandy asked, curious rather than judgmental. Margaret gave a small smile and rubbed her belly, which had grown a few more inches since the two friends had met. Sandy nodded, immediately understanding what she meant.

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