One Woman's Choice
by Hannah Westman
Despite Olivia's concerns over what people thought of her, she at least knew she wasn't entirely alone. Connor and Darren had met at university and were already dating by the time Olivia met them. Even after all these years, though, they didn't have a child.
There were options for gay couples now; surrogacy and adoption came to mind, although Olivia wouldn't have been surprised if there were other options she'd never even heard of.
Olivia drank her coffee quietly as she thought. Then poured another cup. Her cafetière could hold something like five servings of coffee, and she was going through it quickly. Each time she poured a new cup, she inevitably wandered back into the living room, perching on the seat by the window.
Of all her friends, it was perhaps Connor that surprised her most. He'd never mentioned kids before, in a good light or otherwise - and then all of a sudden, two years or so ago, he'd brought up wanting to adopt. Olivia had been unable to help but wonder if it was his husband's influence, that perhaps he was only agreeing because Darren wanted it. Something that had never been brought up before was suddenly a central part of Connor's life, and Olivia wasn't the only one who found it odd.
It had been just one more thing that set Olivia at odds with her friends. The one person she had thought felt the same as her, and now it was all he spoke about. Now, two years later, the couple were actively looking for children to adopt. To foster, too, because apparently, they wanted an entire house full of children.
And sure, Olivia could see the appeal. It was helping young children find families, giving them the one most important thing. When Connor suggested that she could foster too, however, it had ruined the moment. It seemed even he couldn't understand that children, in any shape or form, was a no for her.
Sighing, Olivia leaned back in the chair and took another long drink of coffee. It had started to go cold, which wasn't surprising considering how long she had been lost in her thoughts, unmoving as she sprawled across the armchair. Somehow her feet had ended up resting on the coffee table, which she didn't even remember doing, but it was a familiar pose of hers that usually only happened when she was deep in thought. Sliding her feet back onto the ground, Olivia frowned.
Outside, cars rolled past. People were starting their day, heading out to work or visiting family or whatever her neighbours usually did on Sundays. Olivia peeked outside to see a motorbike speeding past, kicking up dirt and dust. That must have been her neighbour, Carly. Another single woman in the street, although Carly lived the adrenaline-fuelled life and didn't want to be bogged down by family. At least, that's what she'd told Olivia.
So okay, Olivia wasn't the only thirty-something year old without children. There were actually quite a few out there. Yet she couldn't help but feel that her case was unique, if only because she was surrounded by so many people who acted as if having or raising children was their sole purpose in life.
Take Darren, for instance. From the first time he and Connor spoke of adoption, it had occupied his thoughts every moment. It was almost the only thing he spoke about for two solid years while they went through all the background and finance checks, and all of the other things that came with needing to prove they were capable.
In fact, Olivia remembered the very first time either man had brought it up. It had come out of nowhere, almost, and she wasn't the only one who had been surprised.
It was a beautiful day, the sun beaming overhead and casting a warm glow across the sunroom. It was actually almost too hot, and so Connor had left the door open so that the gentle breeze could drift through the house.
Beside him, Darren pressed his glass of orange juice to his forehead. Condensation dripped down the glass and onto his shirt, but Darren either didn't notice or didn't mind.
"So," Connor said softly, wiping damp hair from his face. He'd dyed it blond recently in an attempt to relive his youth, but he was pretty sure it just looked silly. Especially now with his dark, suntanned skin. He shifted his gaze to look at Olivia, and then Rose, who were both regarding them with intrigue. "We're thinking about adopting," he managed to get out, feeling his chest stutter at the very mention of it. "Not right away, we're not in a rush, but... someday."
Brow quirked, dark eyes sparkling, Rose grinned. "No way! You've never mentioned this before. I mean, Darren sure, but it never struck me as your kind of thing."
Connor shifted awkwardly in his chair. At first, the little wicker seats had seemed like a cute idea, but they were horribly uncomfortable. Biting down on his lip, he replied, "I'd never really thought of it before. I suppose I'd always assumed kids weren't a possibility, but then Darren mentioned adopting. Why not? Plenty of other people do it."
"So it was Darren's idea?" Olivia questioned, and Connor couldn't figure out if it was with cheerful teasing or something more accusatory. She was smiling though, so he supposed it wasn't bad.
Darren chuckled. When he smiled, he had little dimples in his cheeks. Even after all these years together, Connor thought it was sweet. "Honestly, I've been thinking about it since I was in high school. Before I even had my first boyfriend, I knew I wanted kids. It's just a bit more difficult when you're a less conventional couple."
Connor's stomach lurched. He was right. Even though it was perfectly legal for gay couples to adopt, it wasn't as easy. People were biased, sometimes outright homophobic, and perhaps that was half of the reason why Connor hadn't warmed to this idea as quickly as Darren. Darren had always been able to brush off what people thought of him. Connor, not so much.
"I think it's great," Rose was saying now, "I think it's brave, and sweet." She was fanning herself with her hand, her deep brown skin glistening with sweat. Connor knew how she felt. Yet she was grinning at the two of them, the delight etched into her features. "Do you know what you're looking for yet? You know, a girl or a boy, a baby or an older kid, that sort of thing."
"We haven't got that far yet," Darren admitted with an easy laugh, "but I'm thinking an older kid, maybe. I've heard it's difficult for them to find a family. The older they get, the less likely they are to be adopted."
Connor cast his gaze away. He wanted a young child. Perhaps a toddler, or even a baby. Was that selfish of him, for not giving an older child a chance? Or was it all irrelevant anyway, because they hadn't even started thinking about it seriously yet? Regardless, Connor felt his stomach twist.
Olivia caught his eyes, then, her dark brown boring into his blue. For an absurd moment, he suddenly thought that somehow Olivia knew what he was thinking and he felt a jolt of panic - but then her gaze drifted to Rose and she laughed, and Connor realised that of course, she couldn't read his mind. How stupid.
The sunroom only seemed to be getting hotter. Whereat first it had been pleasant, now it was so overbearing that Connor felt sweat sticking to the back of his neck. Tugging at the neck of his t-shirt, he said, "I'm going to get more drinks. Does anyone want anything?"
"I'm good," Darren replied, gesturing to his glass.
"I'll have anything, so long as it's cold," Rose replied with a smile, "a soft drink, if you've any."
Connor managed to smile back, and it didn't feel as forced as he feared. This whole adoption talk was overwhelming and honestly, he wished they'd never brought it up. Friends and family often acted like he and Darren were the same person, with the same thoughts and desires. The truth was, Connor was too indecisive, and it was easier to let Darren take charge.
Unfortunately, this was no different.
"I'll help," Olivia chirped, tugging at her summer dress as she heaved herself upright. "Maybe it'll be cooler in the kitchen."
"I doubt it," Darren replied with a smile, "we're in for a scorching summer this year."
If she wanted to help, Connor wouldn't stop her. They wandered through the hall together, arriving in the kitchen a minute later.
Just like Darren predicted, it was just as sweltering. If not worse. He cracked open a window, then another, hoping it might help. Then he turned to ask Olivia if she could get ice from the freezer.
Only to find her hovering by the door, a stern expression on her face.
Olivia scowled - but a moment later, her tough expression melted. "Connor," she said seriously, "this is the first time you've ever mentioned kids. It's as if it's never even entered your mind until now. Do you really want this?"
He fell silent. Eyes darting away, he tugged nervously at the sleeve of his t-shirt. How could he answer that one? No, he hadn't ever mentioned it before, because to him it had been a non-issue. Then Darren had started talking about it and he'd thought hell, why not? It had just been with slightly less enthusiasm than Darren had wanted.
"You don't have to do everything he wants. Just because you don't hate the idea doesn't mean you like it, either."
Turning his back, Connor reached for clean glasses from the cupboard above the sink. He saw Olivia in the window's reflection, though, staring him down. Right. She was persistent, anyway. "I don't know what I want," he admitted, "but Darren really wants kids and I think it would be good for both of us, you know? He already works with kids every day at work. He sees what happens to the ones whose parents can't look after them."
"Being in social work and having children of your own is totally different," Olivia argued. Her reflection shifted from foot to foot, her eyes narrowed.
"Sure, but I think that's why he's thinking of adopting."
"What you want is important too."
The glasses clinked as he set them down, rougher than intended, on the kitchen counter. Freckled hands gripped the glasses, and he forced a deep breath from his lungs. "I want us to be a family," he shot back, "and we are one, with or without children. I don't know what I want, but I do know that if Darren wants it, then it can't be a terrible idea."
Olivia said nothing. For a long, tense moment there was only silence - and then the gentle click of her heels on the tile floor. She came to stand beside him, nudging him gently in the shoulder. "Fine," she agreed reluctantly, "It's your choice, and I won't be nosy."
That was all that was said on the matter, but Connor knew that she wasn't convinced.
So, a man who at first had never even considered the concept of kids, goes along with it because he wants to make his partner happy. Then why, some might argue, could Olivia not do the same? Well for one, she didn't have a partner that she had to please. That, and the fact that Olivia had never compromised her ideals for anyone in her life. Not even her own mother, who constantly complained about her lack of grandchildren.
Resting her head against the back of the armchair, Olivia stared out at the street outside. The sun was almost blinding, and already the warmth was seeping into the house. It was going to be roasting, perhaps as hot as it had been that day with Connor. Sinking deeper into her seat, Olivia sighed.
Connor was a sweet guy, but a pushover. Once, when she'd told him as much, he argued that Olivia could have done with being more of a pushover. They'd laughed about it back then, and she'd said something childish and teasing in return. Now, though, she wondered if he had a point. Not in the way of kids, but more in general.
Then again, being a pushover hadn't gotten her numerous promotions at work, or a beautiful house for less than the asking price. She wouldn't have been nearly so successful if she hadn't fought for it. If anything, Olivia thought, she could do with fighting a little bit more.
Like when people teased her for being single, or told her she would end up as a weird cat lady by the time she was forty. That had been said in jest, but it stung. Perhaps, when people judged her for her choices, Olivia could have done well to stand up for herself instead of laughing it off and rolling her eyes. When it came to work she fought tooth and nail to make her point; in her personal life, not so much.
Without even realising, Olivia had finished the last of her coffee. With a huff, she hauled herself to her feet and padded back into the kitchen. She had hoped that the buzz of the caffeine might have distracted her from her thoughts, but no luck. If anything, it had only made things worse.