It was the year 2000 in Derry, the second-largest city in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement had gone into effect two years earlier, bringing the Troubles to an end. The city seemed to be full of hope. But Abigail Aiken was full of dread. An academic star, she should have been focussed on the G.C.S.E.s, a set of exams that determine whether a sixteen-year-old in the U.K. will advance on a university track or end her education in high school. But as the exam date approached, Aiken’s mind kept wandering to something else: her period, which was more than a week late. Recently, her long-distance boyfriend had come to town for a weeklong visit, which had resulted in an unplanned romantic incident. Could she have gotten pregnant after her first time? That would be just her luck. She wanted to know, one way or the other, but this was Derry, a place where everyone knew everyone else’s business. What was she supposed to do, walk into the pharmacy and ask for a pregnancy test?
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