Authors: Debbie Fuller Thomas
Rain pulled into the parking lot at Steele, VonTrapp, and Evers and squeezed her Hyundai into a narrow compact space near the front of the building. She shimmied out the door, barely grazing the Honda Civic parked beside her, and hurried into the air-conditioned lobby.
She slid into her cubicle and shoved her purse beneath her desk with her foot. Then, she quickly logged on to her computer and spread her papers around to give the impression she'd been in the middle of a project instead of arriving twelve minutes late to work. She glanced down the row and saw Lisa shaking her head in playful disbelief over the top of her cubicle.
Her morning consisted of reviewing new legislation and forwarding updated information regarding mortgage lending and foreclosures to the attorneys. She drafted letters to clients whose contracts were pending and set appointments to review the contracts of others. Twice, she visited an Internet site for discounted baby furniture.
Rain stayed inside out of the heat at lunch and bought a deli sandwich from the food cart to eat at her desk. She tilted her computer screen just enough so that passersby wouldn't get a full view as she Googled “donor catalog search.” She pulled up a blank questionnaire for a sperm donor and played around at filling in the blanks. A tall Caucasian with brown hair and eyes and medium skin tone who was an athletic Stanford grad with an engineering degree would cost her just $15,000. Fifteen thousand dollars. Rain slowly chewed her sandwich. Wow. A mental calculation revealed she was two thousand dollars short in her savings. And that didn't include any fertility procedures.
She'd had no idea how much a sperm donor could cost. But until Hayden left, she'd had no reason to know. She could settle for less than
the perfect donor, but would she regret it? If she spent all her savings, how would she pay for child care?
What was the perfect baby worth in terms of dollars and cents?
By rights, it shouldn't be costing her more than a room remodel to transform their extra bedroom into a nursery.
empty bedroom now.
She should have seen it coming with Hayden. Over the past year she'd dropped subtle hints about wanting a baby. She dragged him to their friends' baby showers, and finally, when they were the last couple in their group to be childless, she came right out and announced that it was time. He disagreed. The more she pushed, the harder he dug in his heels and grew distant, and when she more or less gave him an ultimatum, he left. Just like that.
She couldn't understand his problem with having a baby. He'd had a normal, happy childhood, and even his mother had mentioned that she looked forward to being a grandmother. Maybe that was it. Maybe his mother's interference had tipped the scale.
Rain never would have brought up the subject of grandchildren to her own mother. Jude wasn't the maternal type. Rain had been a mistake, herself.
A baby planned and wanted isn't a mistake
. Rain picked up her cell phone, scrolled down her list of contacts to the number of her ob-gyn and hit
Bebe heated her leftover pizza in the staff kitchen microwave and sat down at her desk to leave Rain a voice mail. She was surprised when Rain answered on the first ring.
“What's up, Bebe? I can't talk long. I'm waiting for a call-back from Dr. Lazenby's office,” Rain said.
“Why, are you sick?”
“No, that's my gynecologist.”
Bebe took a moment to dab pizza sauce from her mouth. “Your yearly checkup?”
“Not exactly.” Rain paused, and her voice level dropped dramatically. “I've been checking out this sperm donor site and I want to get things rolling.”
Bebe sat back in her chair and sighed imperceptibly at Rain's doggedness.
“Maybe you could give me some advice,” Rain said. “You know a lot about assisted reproduction.”
“For animals, not humans. You'd better stick to your gynecologist,” Bebe said. “I called to remind you about Scotty's going-away barbeque at Mom's a week from Saturday before he leaves for boot camp.”
“Sure, I'll be there. But I need to go. I don't want to miss the callback from the doctor's office.”
“Rain, aren't you jumping the gun a little here? How long has Hayden been gone?”
Rain was silent for a momentâa clear sign of annoyance. “Three weeks. And, no, I'm not jumping the gun. He's not interested in having kids. Period. He made that very clear. And I'm not interested in having kids with him, anyway. He's out of my life.”
“But you two were together for a long time. Sixâseven years? Maybe in time this will work itself out.”
“He's coming by to pick up the rest of his stuff when he gets back from his vacation in Mexico.” Rain paused. “He's practically allergic to tropical sunshine. I don't think it will work itself out.”
Bebe hung up and sat for a moment processing everything Rain had said, and the things she had not. Clearly, Rain was not addressing the real issue. It was just like her to become immersed in something to avoid facing the truth that she loved and missed Hayden, and that there could possibly be other reasons for his leaving. Maybe even that she needed him more than she cared to admit. She remembered Rain telling her sometime in the past year that Hayden had actually brought up the idea of marriage, and that Rain had flatly told him no. When it came to marriage, she was more like her mother than she knew.
They had known Hayden for a long time. Maybe she could talk Neil into meeting him for coffee and working a little magic.
Bebe woke up the next morning to an orange glow and the acrid smell of smoke. She reached over her head and slid the window shut, then rolled over and turned off the alarm before it rang. She'd caught the late news about the fires on the coast and hoped their clients would be smart enough to keep their pets inside on days like these when the smoke from the coast bumped up against the foothills and settled into the cracks.
She fed and watered Jimbo and Suzie, the two retrievers they had acquired five years before when a desperate owner tied their leashes to a light pole in front of the clinic in the dead of night and bolted. The incident had prompted Neil to install a surveillance camera on the front of their clinic. They'd tried to find someone to adopt the dogs, but ended up keeping the gentle pair after Scott and Dylan grew attached. Now the dogs were showing signs of age and she hoped that nothing would happen while Scott was away at boot camp. She let them out to do their business and put them back inside for the day. She or Neil would have to slip away at lunchtime to give them a potty break.
Her Toyota sat in the driveway lightly dusted with ash like an unexpected snowfall. She resisted the urge to look up at the vibrant sun colored neon orange by a veil of smoke and haze. She dug out her sunglasses and slipped them on.
It was her day in surgery, but she took time to check in with Mr. Woofles's owner as soon as she got to her desk. He was keeping the dog inside out of the smoke and things were going well.
After two castrations and the removal of an abdominal tumor, Bebe took a break at her desk. She called her mother to firm up the menu for the going-away barbeque and to remind her mother of her offer to contact all the family in the area, which was a task Bebe didn't have the time to do. Besides, it would give her mother the opportunity to brag on Scotty for joining the Marine Reserves. Bebe also told her about Jude's illness.
Neil had to work late againâa consequence of being one of the
few large animal doctors in the area. Bebe left work and swung by the Colonel's for chicken on the way home.
Standing outside her front door with her arms full, she could hear music pounding inside and feel the door vibrating. She rang the doorbell several times with no response, and after juggling her bags, finally managed to open the door for herself. She came in, irritated, and found the boys in the family room engrossed in Rock Band. They didn't even hear her come in.
“Guys, turn it down please,” she shouted, setting down a tub of fried chicken on the kitchen counter.
Dylan grabbed the remote and quickly lowered the volume. “Sorry! We didn't hear you.”
Scotty's fingers flew to match the frenetic pace of the notes scrolling down on the TV screen. The guitar rested against his stomach and connected him to the TV by an umbilical cord of cable. Dylan wailed on a drum set. As the song ended, the virtual crowd cheered and their scores appeared on the screen. The room buzzed with silence.
“Why aren't you playing this downstairs in your room?” she asked, pulling cans from her grocery bag.
“This screen's bigger. The sound's better, too.”
Another song began, which Bebe recognized as “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. She frowned. Turning away, she popped the lid on two cans of green beans and dumped them into a pot on the stove, splashing juice onto the burner. The words of the song were haunting and familiar, and she watched the liquid sizzle until it evaporated. She set the oven for broil and wrestled with a stubborn baking rack to position it closer to the flame. She chipped a mug unloading the dishwasher and mixed up the forks with the spoons in the drawer. By the end of the song, she found she was gritting her teeth and forced herself to relax her jaw. “Won't Get Fooled Again” by The Who started up. She pulled out a loaf of French bread and messily slathered more garlic butter onto the soft middles than was necessary. Midway through the song, Bebe turned to the boys with her hand on her hip, pointing the buttered knife at the TV.
“Don't they have anything besides this old stuff?” she said, raising her voice to be heard over the music.
Scott called over his shoulder, “Yeah, but the oldies are great. You and dad probably know them. Grateful Dead, CCR, Guess Who.”
Bebe turned back to her bread and stretched her neck, side to side. She placed the loaf on a cookie sheet buttered side up and slid the pan into the oven, slamming the oven door a little too hard.
The Guess Who started playing “American Woman,” and Bebe's stomach tightened. Amazing, how a song can transport you back to one distinct moment in time, to a place you don't want to be.
Scott called over his shoulder without breaking rhythm, “This was a war protest song. Did you know that, Mom?” He played a riff. “She's the Statue of Liberty.”
“Yes, I heard that somewhere,” she said. “Scott, shouldn't you be working out?”
“Already did,” he called without looking up. “I'm up to eleven pull-ups, and I ran three miles.”
When the bread and green beans were done, she set the table and they reluctantly took a break to eat.
“Do these songs bring back the good old days, Mom?” Scotty asked as he dug in the bucket for a chicken breast.
Bebe stabbed a few green beans with her fork. “I wouldn't exactly call them the good old days. And I wasn't crazy about some of the songs because I disagreed with the message.”
“But this is great stuff. They're classics.”
“They're classics now. You can listen to them because you like the style and the impact the era had on rock music. You can detach yourself from the lyrics. But if you liked this kind of music back then, you were pretty much aligning yourself with the artist and his message.”
He shrugged. “Anyway, that was then.”
After dinner, the boys picked up Rock Band where they'd left off. Neil came in at 8:30 and wolfed down his warmed dinner. He became interested in the music, and was soon planted in front of the television with them. It was still loud, but how could she complain when in just
one week Scotty would go to boot camp and in four weeks Dylan would be away at college? They would both be changed, and she couldn't cheat them out of this time together.
Bebe took her cell phone into her bedroom to the relative quiet at the back of the house. She closed her bedroom door and tuned the radio on her nightstand to a classical station. Then she called Mare and Toni and broke the news about Jude. Both were sorry to hear that her cancer had returned and were concerned about Rain. Bebe didn't feel like it was her place to share Rain's bad news about Hayden, so she kept it to herself. She considered inviting them to Scott's going-away party, but decided against it. Except for Rain, who had practically been a member of the family, she couldn't very well invite one of her old roommates without inviting them all. And that would be a mistake.