Molly hadn’t been the only friend whose relationships suffered due to her inability to have kids. Olivia knew others who couldn’t have children, and their experiences were as varied as anyone else’s. Unfortunately, it also made it abundantly clear to Olivia that she was the odd one out.
The problem with not wanting children wasn’t so much to do with the decision itself but other people’s determination that her decision was somehow wrong, she thought. Olivia could be as comfortable as she liked in her life choices, but that didn’t mean other people liked it. And sometimes, people made their opinions known.
Take Molly, for example – the two had argued a lot over the years. Most of the time it was about how Olivia would just love kids, if only she gave it some proper thought. Molly didn’t seem to take into account the fact that Olivia had thought about it plenty, and come to the same conclusion each time. Other times it was about how unfair it was, that Olivia – with her good looks and smart attitude – could have men falling at her feet if she gave them a chance. Meanwhile, Molly, who wanted a family so badly, couldn’t.
Then there was Christine and Noah, married for years now, who wanted nothing but a family despite the fact that Christine was, like Molly, unable to conceive. Her eggs were fine, that wasn’t the problem, but Christine had said once that her body just couldn’t deal with the stress of pregnancy. Endometriosis – damage to the uterus – had made kids impossible.
So maybe that was where Olivia had gone wrong. She couldn’t understand Christine’s desperation for children, and that had been the beginning of the end of their friendship. Christine had always tried to be supportive of Olivia’s choices, but it was still painfully obvious that she didn’t understand. Even those who were supportive, still thought her decision was strange. Or that there was somehow something wrong with her. Even if nobody wanted to admit it.
Guilt swelled in Olivia’s chest at the thought. Christine had been a good friend, and Olivia was as guilty of that friendship breaking up as Christine was. She moved into the kitchen, just for something to occupy her hands, and dumped her dirty dishes in the sink. Then she made tea, if only because tea made everything that bit much better, and it would occupy her – for a few minutes, at least.
Across the street, neighbours were beginning to come back from their shifts at work. Next door had children of their own, and both parents worked late. She could hear them through the open window, shouting and laughing as their dad came home.
The knot in Olivia’s stomach grew tighter. It wasn’t that she regretted her decision – not at all, her life was exactly how she liked it – but sometimes she wondered if going down this path was unfair to the other people in her life. To her parents, who wanted grandchildren and asked about it every time Olivia visited. To her sister, Nina, who would never have nieces or nephews. And to friends like Christine, who would never have children of their own.
Well, Olivia thought as she reached for the teabags, that isn’t strictly true. Christine could have kids, if she found a surrogate. Not so long ago, that could have been Olivia.
“We had high hopes this time, but nothing ever turns out good for us, does it?” Christine stood outside on Olivia’s little back porch, soaking up the sunshine – but she wasn’t smiling or enjoying the warmth. Instead, she was glaring out across the garden at nothing in particular, as if the old oak tree in the corner had done her personal harm.
Olivia winced. Ran a hand through her short hair. “You’ve passed all of the background checks and been approved, right? That’s the first hurdle. And I thought you’d already found the perfect surrogate? You said you were meeting her next week.”
Christine’s dark eyes narrowed. She had graduated university in the same class as Olivia, but that felt a long time ago now. They’d both gotten older and wiser to the world. Christine especially – she had learned that the world was cruel, sometimes. All the time, maybe.
“Tell me what happened,” Olivia urged, “you know I’ll just ask Noah if you don’t.” She tried for a smile, but it looked as awkward as Christine felt.
Christine wanted a cigarette. She’d quit when she married Noah, at his request, hoping that perhaps that was what was stopping her from getting pregnant. No luck. It wasn’t the fault of anything she did, but just the way her body was made. “We were supposed to have our last meeting with the surrogate next week,” Christine snapped, “you know, to make sure everything was right before the hospital appointment.” Just thinking about it made a hollow feeling open up in her chest. “Yeah well, so much for that. She dropped out on us – she had a change of heart.”
Olivia cringed, and that only made her feel worse. Christine didn’t need pity. She needed someone to be on her side for once. “I’m sorry,” Olivia said awkwardly, “can you find someone else, or..?”
“And start from square one?” Christine cut in. Her laugh was humourless, sharp in the quiet evening. Even the kids that lived next door to Olivia had gone inside for the night, their laughter leaving with them. Christine couldn’t say she was unhappy about it. Hearing them laugh was just another reminder of what she couldn’t have.
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said again, “is there anything I can do?”
“Become my surrogate,” Christine replied.
Even in the darkness of evening, Christine saw Olivia physically recoil. “I’m serious,” she replied with a frown.”
“So am I.”
She saw the smile slip from Olivia’s lips, the realisation click. Even though it was a warm evening, Olivia shuddered. “Come on, Christine. I know you’re having a tough time right now, but that’s not funny.”
Who said she was trying to be funny? She turned to glare back out across the garden again. Where another house might have had baby’s toys strewn across the grass, Olivia’s garden was littered with dog chews and squeaky toys. “Why would I joke? Think about it. Finding strangers to surrogate turned out to be a waste of time, so the obvious thing is to ask a friend.”
“Why me, though?”
Wasn’t that obvious? All of her friends wanted children, and were either trying themselves or knew they couldn’t at all. Any other person might grow too attached to the baby, might not want to give it up – but not Olivia. Out loud, she said, “you’re the only person I know who wouldn’t want to keep the baby for themselves.”
Olivia scoffed. She had been leaning against the porch beam but now she pushed away, turning to regard Christine with narrowed eyes. “So I’m heartless, is that what you’re saying? That I’m so opposed to kids there’s just no way I could become attached to one?”
“I’m not doing it, Christine. You can’t just drop this on someone out of the blue and expect them to agree.” She took a deep breath, then, before blowing it out in one big huff. Arms folded stiffly, she marched back inside. “This has to be a joke.”
Christine’s stomach dropped. But worse than that was the anger that bubbled just beneath the surface of her skin, threatening to break through. How dare Olivia talk to her like that? It was as if she expected Christine to just be fine, after she had come so close to success. Didn’t she understand how horrible this felt?
Of course not, because Olivia was so detached from any sense of desire for kids that she couldn’t hope to understand. That was obvious now.
Olivia had stormed through into the kitchen. Christine followed, but Olivia didn’t turn around to meet her gaze. Instead, she clattered about making tea, as if she hoped the sound might drown Christine out.
She wasn’t going to give up so easily. “Think about it, Olivia. You’re the only one I can ask, and I’ve always been able to rely on you-“
Olivia halted mid-step, still holding onto the empty teapot. Her hands clenched, then unclenched, a low sigh escaping her lips. “Not for something like this. I’m sorry, but I can’t – I’m up for a big promotion at work, and it would mean longer hours, maybe travel. I can’t do that if I’m pregnant.”
Cruel words rose in the back of Christine’s mind. Words that stung to even think about – words that Olivia didn’t deserve, not really, but that didn’t stop them from rising, unwelcome, from her lips. “You’re just selfish, that’s what you are. You don’t care about anything except that damn job of yours, do you? This is all I’ve wanted since I was a teenager and you won’t even consider helping me? Because of a damn promotion!”
Christine saw the rage flash in Olivia’s eyes, but it was too late. She slammed the teapot onto the kitchen counter with enough force that the stack of mugs shook. Her eyes were dark, like a warning. “It’s not because of work, Christine. It’s because I don’t want to be pregnant – even if I’m not keeping the baby – and you can’t just drop this on someone without any warning! I’m sorry that I don’t want to be your baby machine and just spout out kids at your leisure.”
Her chest heaved, her breath came in heavy gasps. Christine saw red, her whole body lighting up with bright, hot fury. “I just want a friend in my corner, for once in my life, and if you can’t see that then maybe we shouldn’t be friends any more.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Olivia snapped, “if you can’t seem to grasp the fact that I’m in charge of what happens to my own body.”
They stared at each other for a long moment. Christine glared, harsh comments rolling over and over in her mind; but this time, they never left her lips. Not for lack of desire, because she itched to scream at Olivia, to say everything that went through her mind at that moment. She just couldn’t.
Eventually, Olivia straightened. She folded her arms, tilted her head toward the kitchen door. “You should go,” she said coolly, eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. “I know you’re hurting, but that’s no excuse to come into my house and start shouting at me because I won’t do what you want.”
The shouting, the harsh words, Christine could deal with that. She was a journalist, for God’s sake, she was used to harassment. It was the cold, silent glare that made her stomach turn. Made her wish she could shrink away and disappear. Yet she forced herself to hold Olivia’s gaze, lips pursed into a thin line. “Fine,” she finally snapped, “I’m leaving. I don’t want to be here, anymore.”
Without another word, Christine stormed out. Her boots clicked in the hardwood as she walked, echoing throughout the silent house. When she reached the front door – unlocked since her arrival – she made sure to slam it so hard it rocked in the frame.
Outside, the warm air hit her again. It was humid, uncomfortably so, and as Christine stalked across the street her jacket began to cling to her skin.
There was a corner shop just around the corner. One of those cheap places that sold just about everything. She needed cigarettes.
Christine glanced down at her watch. Two-fifteen. Olivia was late – something so rare she couldn’t even remember the last time it had happened. Had she decided not to come? Decided that actually, meeting up wasn’t what she wanted? Truthfully, Christine couldn’t blame her for such a decision. It had been months since they’d even spoken, let alone met in person.
Two-twenty. Forget it. Christine reached for her purse, fumbling for the cash since she had already had a coffee just waiting. It had fallen under the table, so she reached under to grab the straps of her bag and haul it up.
When she looked back up, Olivia was sitting across from her. Her hair was longer, bleached strawberry blonde by the hot summer that had faded into a pleasant autumn. “Hey,” she said softly, a frown spreading across her lips, “sorry I’m late. I… well, I considered not coming, to be honest.”
Christine’s heart jumped. She looked down at her empty coffee cup, wishing she’d waited for the caffeine hit. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” she said softly, “for what I said. Noah and I found another surrogate – a woman called Juliette. We uh, have an appointment next month.”
Olivia managed a small smile. “Good. I’m glad.”
“Do you want a coffee?”
The smile faded. “No, I… well, I can’t stay. A work thing came up and I thought about using it as an excuse, but I have just enough time to stop by.”
“Right.” Christine fell silent. She had hoped for heartfelt apologies and a teary reunion, but the reality was much less exciting. Now, with Olivia right in front of her, Christine didn’t know what to say. Tugging on one of her dark curls, she dropped her gaze. “I mean it when I say I’m sorry. To just drop that on you, and then get angry, it was uncalled for.”
“Maybe,” Olivia replied with a shrug, “I didn’t exactly help matters.”
More silence. Christine shifted, gripped her handbag between her hands. She took a deep breath, forced herself to look up, but still words wouldn’t come.
Olivia was standing. Brushing down her jeans and smiling awkwardly down at Christine. “It was nice seeing you again, but I have to go. You know how it is in our industry.”
With nothing else to say, Christine only nodded. “Yeah, I understand.”
Olivia hesitated. She tilted her head, lips parted as if she wanted to say something – but all that came out was, “take care.”
Christine let her go. What else was there to do? There was nothing to do, nothing to say, and perhaps their relationship could never be fixed.
Maybe she had only made it worse by trying.
That was the last time Olivia and Christine had met. Perhaps they had left it too long to make up, or maybe the damage was just too great. Either way, they hadn’t so much as texted since. As much as Olivia hated to think it, perhaps they were better off having gone their separate ways.
They hadn’t shared anything in common in a long time, since long before Christine had asked Olivia to be her surrogate. Guilt swelled in her chest at the thought, but she shoved it down because a part of her knew she was right. Hands scrunched into fists, Olivia frowned. That had been years ago, and Olivia thought she was long over that disastrous time.
As always, though, it wasn’t that easy.