One Woman's Choice
by Hannah Westman
With nothing to do for the entire day, Olivia figured it made sense that she would retreat into her own thoughts. What she hadn't expected, however, was to be curled up on the couch with Apricot snoozing by her side, eating a dinner she couldn't taste because she was too focused on her thoughts, instead of what was physically right in front of her.
At university, Olivia and Molly had been in the same Journalism class. They'd made fast friends, mostly thanks to Molly's quick humour and her ability to bring even the most introverted person out of their shell. At that time they had both been happy and single, and although Molly had experimented with relationships she had never seemed too invested. That changed as they got older, though.
Molly was, it turned out, one of those people that wanted to settle down early, have their life figured out as soon as they left uni. It was while she was moving in with her first real partner, that Molly realised she couldn't have children.
Olivia shifted on the couch, legs tucked neatly underneath her as she balanced her bowl on her knee. She wasn't even hungry, not any more, but she would only get cranky if she didn't eat. Besides, Apricot would end up begging for food if she woke up, and Olivia hated that. Stomach stirring, she forced herself to take a bite. Pasta with pre-made sauce was hardly cuisine, but the easiness of it allowed her to drift back to her thoughts.
Sometimes, Olivia wondered if she was selfish for her refusal to have children. The thought never failed to make her wince, guilt swimming in her gut, but time and time again she had shoved those thoughts away. It's your choice, she had always told herself, and it isn't your fault that those who want kids, can't have them.
Usually, that was enough to make her forget all about it - but it had been different, with Molly. Especially when she had been the one Molly went to with her concerns. It had been late, and Olivia hadn't expected to see Molly on her doorstep, face ashy pale with fright.
Molly hovered by the doorstep, clutching her handbag to her chest. Would Olivia be mad? It was almost nine o'clock, and Olivia always went to bed early on Tuesdays, because Wednesdays were her busiest. Sucking in a breath, Molly blinked back the beginnings of tears and rang the bell.
The scuffle of feet. A dog barking in the hall. Was it Apricot, Olivia's new dog, or old Sadie? Molly tried to peek through the patterned glass panels in the door, but couldn't see a thing. Then the hall light flicked on and Molly jumped, frantically trying to get a hold of herself. She took a breath, tried to calm her thudding chest, and wiped tears from her eyes.
The door clicked open, revealing Olivia in a dark red jumper and pyjama bottoms. The chocolate lab, Sadia, peeked from between Olivia's legs. "Hey Molly," Olivia said, and she ruffled her messy hair, "I wasn't expecting you to stop by."
"I know," Molly replied quietly - and oh, her voice sounded terrible. She had cried most of the afternoon, and part of the evening, only stopping once she had grown too tired to carry on. Biting down on her lip, Molly dropped her gaze. Her coily black hair was shoved up in a careless puff at the back of her head, her eyes were red, and she must have looked absolutely awful.
Olivia must have caught on, because her eyes went wide and then she was stepping aside to let Molly slink past. "Come inside where it's warm," Olivia said quietly, "what's wrong. Is it Jason?"
Jason. If she never heard that name again, she'd be glad. She slipped inside the hall, and the burst of warmth brought her some relief. Sadie watched her from beside Olivia - and if a dog could look sympathetic, she did. "I told Jason about the test results," she spoke, but she fixed her gaze on Sadie, not Olivia. "We've been trying for kids for almost a year, I think he knew something was wrong. This confirmed it, and he said..." she trailed off, words catching in her throat.
Olivia didn't need to hear the rest. Nudging past Sadie, she reached out to envelop Molly in her arms. Usually, Molly didn't appreciate hugs - but Olivia had this strangely keen sense of knowing exactly what it was that Molly needed. Their arms tangled as Olivia looped them around Molly's shoulders, and for a long time, the two of them just stood there.
"You don't need to tell me the details," Olivia said, squeezing her close, "but was it bad?"
The words refused to come out. Molly's throat felt as if it was closing up as if so much as thinking about what happened might clog her throat and suffocate her. Instead, she only clung tighter, feeling her heartbeat thud against her ribs, and buried her face in Olivia's shoulder.
"He knew it was a possibility," Olivia murmured, "that was the whole point of seeing a doctor. Give him time and I'm sure he'll come around."
Molly's hands clenched as she thought of Jason, the man she thought loved her. The words, previously stuck, spilling out all at once. "He broke up with me," she snapped, "said he wasn't going to be with someone who couldn't give him the one thing he wanted. Like I'm not even a person to him, just some kind of baby machine that's failed its purpose." Her breath hitched, and all she felt was a strike of anger that someone - someone she loved - could have been so horrible.
Sadie whined, and it was as if she sensed that something was wrong. The old girl dropped by Molly's feet, curling up with one gigantic paw resting on her leg. She was warm and soft, a reassuring presence at Molly's side.
It was enough for her to detangle herself from Olivia, fighting back a fresh bout of tears. "We spent three years together. We just moved in together two months ago! And he ditched me, all because I can't have his children? I said we could adopt, or try IVF, but no. He decided I'm not worth the effort and tossed me away like a used napkin."
Olivia's expression softened. She took Molly's hand in hers, squeezing softly, offering a sympathetic smile. "I know it doesn't help, but if you ask me it's him who wasn't worth the effort. You're better off finding somebody else."
"Yeah," Molly replied bitterly. She hadn't meant for it to sound so rude, but the words fell from her lips without thought, "and the exact same thing will happen all over again. Not all of us are lucky enough not to care about kids."
Olivia winced. Retracted her hand. Hurt flashed across her brown eyes but vanished as quickly as it came. Shifting from one foot to the next, Olivia offered, "there are always other options like you said. If Jason doesn't want to try, that's on him. There are plenty of other men out there."
Small hands rhythmically clenched, then unclenched. It was all Molly could do to keep herself grounded, to keep herself from sinking into the well of emotions opening up inside of her. She wanted to vomit, but she hadn't eaten since breakfast and there wasn't enough to throw up. Swallowing thickly, she muttered, "men only care about what they want, and I can't give them the most important thing. Couldn't give Jason the most important thing."
Olivia sighed, a gentle sound that echoed through the quiet house. They still stood in the hallway, right beside the living room door, but neither of them had made the move to go inside. "I could say something like it'll get easier," Olivia replied, "but that wouldn't help right now, would it?"
"No, I don't think so."
"Then I won't patronise you with nonsense. I've never been through a difficult breakup, but I can imagine it. You have to stay strong, prove to Jason that he can't break you."
Somehow, Molly managed a smile. It was weak, lips trembling, but it was genuine. Dark eyes flickered up to finally look at Olivia directly, and her smile even managed to grow. "He said some awful things. It would be pretty good to prove I don't need him any more."
Olivia scoffed. "You never needed him. He just made you think so."
Well, maybe. It was true that she had done so much for Jason. Put her journalism career on hold in favour of a rubbish desk job, so he could pursue his love of music. Sold her childhood home so they could move into a beautiful new place together. Now, what was she left with? A big, empty house she couldn't pay off on her own and a boring, soul-sucking job with a boss that personally hated her. To top it all off, Jason had bailed at the first sign of something he didn't like. It didn't reassure Molly at all. If anything, it opened up a hole in her chest and left her feeling even emptier than before. She had done everything for Jason, and what had he done in return? Nothing.
Maybe she was better off without him.
Molly scowled - but when she caught sight of herself in the hallway mirror, her dark skin grey and her eyes puffy, she paused. Realising she looked even worse than anticipated, her stomach dropped. Why was she crying over Jason? She hadn't been this upset when she saw her test results, the letter that said sorry Molly, but kids are out of the question. Who knew that celiac disease could also cause infertility? As far as she had known, it had only affected her digestion and ability to eat gluten.
Turning away from the mirror, Molly let out a deep, drawn-out sigh. Well. It was too late to do anything about Jason. Anyway, Olivia was right - he wasn't worth the effort, not any more.
As if sensing her inner thoughts, Olivia reached out to squeeze Molly's shoulder. "I know it's late, but stay for tea? I'm not saying that tea fixes everything, but it'll help to have someone to drink it with."
Managing a watery smile, Molly nodded. "Thanks. And I'm sorry, for the way I snapped at you."
An easy shrug, a twinkle of dark eyes. "It's fine. I've heard worse, trust me. We all say stupid things when we're upset."
"It still doesn't excuse it," Molly replied, but Olivia was having none of it. She took Molly by the hand and led her into the kitchen, before forcibly plopping her down at the table. Molly let her, mostly because she didn't have a drop of energy left to refuse.
"It's fine," Olivia repeated, already turning to fetch two huge mugs from the cupboard above the sink. "You've every right to be angry; I couldn't blame you if I tried." She turned on the kettle, which immediately began to whine. Somewhere in the hall, Sadie whined in response, too.
Now that she was sitting, exhaustion hit her like a physical force. It was only nine, hardly late even if the world outside was dark, and yet Molly felt as if she hadn't slept well in weeks. Dropping her head into her palms, she squeezed her eyes shut. "I just feel like everything is so hopeless, you know?"
A soft hand on her back. Olivia's soft voice saying, "I know." It was enough to make her relax, just a touch, and let out a heaving sigh. Bit by bit the tension drained from her, until she managed to raise her head with a small nod of thanks.
"You'll be just fine," Olivia replied kindly, "you're one of the strongest people I know, and this won't ruin you."
Somehow, Molly managed a weak laugh - because she knew that if Olivia believed it, then it had to be right.
That had been five years ago, and while Molly had dated since, she still hadn't found the one, as she called it. There had been boyfriends, even a brief engagement, but nobody that stuck around. Olivia's heart ached for her, knowing that she wanted so desperately to settle down, but had never managed.
It seemed that men were intimidated by a woman who couldn't conceive. Or, perhaps, intimidated by a woman who was so confident despite it. It had taken Molly a long time to get to that point, but now it was clear to everyone that she had overcome her greatest obstacle - worrying about what other people thought.
Olivia smiled at the memory. Her meal had gone cold but she hardly cared. Even so, she took a small bite, chewing thoughtfully. Cold pasta was honestly gross, but it was better than no food at all. Beside her, Apricot stirred, and Olivia hastily moved the bowl away in fear she might snap up to shove her face into the pasta. She didn't, continuing to sleep soundly with her snout smushed against the pillow. Cute.
Turning back to her dinner, Olivia's mind drifted to Molly once again. Jason had been awful from the beginning, Olivia had always thought, and Molly was better without him. Still, it was clear that she wanted somebody else to fill his place. Someone to have kids with.
While she sought out the perfect man to spend her life with, Olivia was happy on her own. Childless and husbandless. Did that make her a bad person, choosing the very life that so many people feared? There was one friend, not unlike Molly, who wanted children and couldn't have them. They didn't talk much any more, not since what Olivia only referred to as the incident, and thinking about her always had a swell of anxiety rising in Olivia's chest.
Christine and Noah had been trying for children for five years, and nothing worked. Not even IVF. Once, they had considered a surrogate, and that had been a disaster. A disaster, namely, because of Olivia.
Sinking down into the sofa, Olivia let out a sigh. Out of everybody, it was perhaps Christine and Molly she felt worst for.