One Woman's Choice
by Hannah Westman
Connor and Darren weren't the only couple in Olivia's life who hadn't gone the traditional route of having children. Joseph had been a university friend of Olivia's, and he had never seemed interested in starting a family; until he met Lauren. It had been a whirlwind of a relationship, and they married only eight months after meeting.
Olivia couldn't imagine marrying someone so fast. Even now, years later, she found it difficult to believe. Standing in the kitchen, idly staring out of the window above the sink, Olivia frowned. Some of their friends had even made bets on how long the marriage would last, and the longest anyone guessed was a year.
Well, it had been over a decade now and they were still so clearly in love.
A blackbird hopped over the wooden fence encircling the back garden. It was a warm day and the sun beat down on the grass, the sunlight filtering through the trees. Well, Scottish sunshine was rare, and she should probably try to enjoy the weather while it lasted. Still, it was impossible to enjoy anything when Olivia was in a mood like this. She cracked open a window anyway, allowing the breeze to spread through the kitchen. With it came the delicate chirp of birds.
Speaking of, hadn't Lauren added another canary to her growing list of beloved pets? They had two daughters now, adopted together, and Olivia had to wonder how they coped with so many animals and two children running through the house. The girls had to be old enough to cause havoc by now.
That, at least, earned a fond smile. As much as Olivia didn't want children of her own, she could at least appreciate them. Perhaps that was the reason she hadn't completely pushed away from her family-obsessed friends. If she'd detested children, Olivia couldn't imagine people like Joseph or Lauren would have put up with it. Olivia was at least glad that she wasn't one of those people; the kind who made disliking children into their whole personality.
With a sigh and a roll of her eyes, Olivia collapsed at the kitchen table. Her laptop had been sitting there since Friday when she last took it home from work, and now she found herself sliding it across the table to flip open the lid. Although she'd promised no work today, emails didn't count. Right? Besides, she needed a distraction.
No distractions came, and of the two dozen new emails since Friday, only one was important. It was just a reminder of work due by the end of the month, and Olivia had already submitted that particular article a week early. Finally accepting that there was nothing to do, she slouched down into her chair and scowled.
Inevitably, her mind drifted back to Joseph and Lauren. How were they doing? Had the girls settled into their new home? How was their oldest child doing with new siblings to look after? Olivia felt a swell of guilt as she realised how long it had been since she'd last checked in.
Olivia still remembered when they'd adopted their first child, Ruth. They'd been young, newly married, and eager to start their new life together. Now they had four children - Ruth, the oldest, fourteen-year-old Ryan, and the two newest girls. Twins, Amelia and Georgia.
Already, they were thinking about adopting another.
As if summoned by the very mention of their own names, Olivia's phone chimed. When she glanced down, it was a text from Lauren herself. Want to meet up? it asked, say, Tuesday at two?
Strange. Lauren wasn't the type to make plans of her own, and usually left it up to her friends to decide. So it was something important, then? Lifting her phone, Olivia momentarily forgot about the emails sitting in front of her as she reread the text. Sure, she replied, where?
Ichiban Noodle Bar?
It was one of Olivia's old favourites, inexpensive but delicious. Now Olivia was really curious, because not only did Lauren never plan days out but she especially never suggested restaurants. She preferred the casual atmosphere of cafes or coffee bars.
Sure, Olivia texted back, brows furrowed in confusion, I'll see you there.
At five minutes to two on Tuesday afternoon, Olivia climbed the narrow steps to the second floor of the restaurant. It was quiet at this time of the afternoon, mostly empty save for a family sitting by the far bench. The place was set up like a traditional Japanese noodle bar, with long tables and backless wooden benches for seats.
Immediately, the rich scent of seafood hit her from the open kitchen. She took a minute to admire the familiar restaurant, before catching sight of Lauren and Joseph in the corner.
Joseph waved as Olivia approached, but there was something almost hesitant in him.
"Hey you two," Olivia said as she settled across from them. She shrugged off her coat and set it aside because it was always too warm in here. "Not that I'm not glad for the meetup, but what's the occasion?"
Joseph and Lauren glanced at each other. Joseph's eyes were so dark that in the low lighting they were almost black, and Lauren's were a rich chestnut brown.
"We should order first," Joseph suggested, passing over a menu. "I hate talking on an empty stomach."
Unwilling to argue when her own hunger was climbing, Olivia agreed. It was a few minutes before a waitress arrived, all smiles and white teeth. Joseph ordered sushi, like he always did, while Olivia and Lauren both ordered a serving of the seafood ramen.
"So," Olivia said as she leaned forward against the table, "now we've ordered. What's up?"
Joseph stammered out something that Olivia couldn't understand, his olive face suddenly turning beet red. He looked to Lauren for help, and for a moment they shared the kind of look that only couples did.
"We want you to be the girls' godmother."
Olivia felt herself go pale. Had she heard that right? Surely not. They wanted her to be their children's godmother. She parted her lips, but no words came out.
Lauren physically deflated. "See? I knew she wouldn't want to," she murmured to Joseph, who only shrugged helplessly. To Olivia, she said, "I'm sorry. We shouldn't have asked. It's just that we've been talking about it recently and we decided that the young ones need someone, in case something were to happen to us."
"You're the most sensible and dedicated person in our whole friend group," Joseph added, "so it made sense. But you don't want children, so we should have realised-"
"Wait," Olivia cut in, feeling her own cheeks heat up, "I said I don't want children of my own, not that I don't like other people's." Hadn't she babysitted Ruth when she was younger? Hadn't she offered to look after Darpan's baby once it was born? Olivia had never meant to give the impression that she disliked children, only that she didn't want her own.
Lauren's eyes went wide, a smile creeping onto her delicate features. "So you will?"
Olivia shifted. Cast a glance toward the kitchen, where their meals were being prepared. "I'll think about it," she answered, managing a small smile, "it's... kind of an honour, actually."
Now Lauren and Joseph were both beaming at her with identical looks of joy. "Really?" Joseph asked, "that's great! Ryan and Ruth already love you, I'm sure the girls will too."
"And it's good to know that they'll be in safe hands if we go first," Lauren cut in. They were both healthy adults in their mid-thirties, but Olivia understood the need for a safety net. She was nothing if prepared for everything herself.
The thought of being a godparent, though? That made her stomach twist in anxiety. Looking after a child while their parents were away and being in charge of them full time were two different things. Olivia had to remind herself that this was only a possibility - and one far in the future, at that.
"You're food," a cheerful voice spoke, snapping Olivia from her thoughts. The waitress put a steaming bowl of ramen down in front of her, and it smelled fantastic. It was salty and savoury and delicious, with all kinds of seafood and vegetables mixed amongst the broth and noodles. "Anything else for you?" the waitress asked. When the answer was no, she smiled and disappeared back toward the kitchen.
The first mouthful of broth was just as good as Olivia remembered. It was almost enough to make her forget her concerns until she looked up and met Lauren's eyes.
"You know," Lauren mused, "you don't have to say yes because you feel obligated. If you don't want to-"
"I'd love to," Olivia answered in a heartbeat. The thing was, it was true. Although the idea made nerves climb in her gut, it also gave her a strange, warm feeling. It was comforting, somehow, that they'd chosen her. Maybe she wasn't quite as hopeless with children as people thought.
"We just weren't sure if you would want this or not," Lauren confessed, "since, you know, you don't have kids of your own."
Ah, back to this again. Olivia frowned, staring into her bowl. She took another bite just to give herself something to do, mulling over her words. "I know I don't give the impression that I like kids," she said softly, "but not wanting them for myself isn't the same as not liking them at all. I've just always had this mental image of where my life would go, and kids never fit into that picture."
"Because of your career?" Joseph asked around a mouthful of sushi.
Olivia tried not to laugh, stifling it with the back of her hands. "I mean, yeah. I've had to work hard to get where I am, and it's not been easy. Maybe bringing up a kid in that kind of busy environment wouldn't have been fair. I wouldn't have been there for them, working long hours and then off the clock, too." Not to mention that journalism was a tough industry, and having to bring up a child would have severely limited her chances of making it. Olivia shrugged, not quite meeting their eyes. "I've had my life planned out since I was fourteen, and I chose my career when I was sixteen. I haven't deviated once from that big plan in all these years."
Joseph hummed under his breath, setting down his chopsticks so he could pay Olivia his full attention. That in itself was unusual for Joseph, because the man lived for food. Even stranger, though, was how he fixed her with a stern glare. "Have you ever thought that maybe this big plan for yourself is actually hindering you? You made it when you were a child yourself for God's sake."
It was said without menace, but it still stung. Olivia scowled, her appetite waning. "I knew what I wanted in life, that's all."
"But what you want at sixteen doesn't always stick. Maybe it's about time that you deviate from the plan and try something new. Step out of your comfort zone."
Like what? Olivia wanted to snap, get married and have kids? No thanks. And yet, maybe he was right. Maybe she did need to step away from these rigid expectations she had set for herself.
Maybe she needed something to help reconnect with her friends again. The problem wasn't that she didn't have children and her friends did. The real problem was that her life simply didn't align with theirs. Perhaps, if she let herself really think about it, that was of her own doing. Olivia's entire life, she had followed a strict plan. Become a journalist, climb the ranks, move into a nice city house. Start a journalism firm of her own someday. Do what she loved.
And Olivia did love her job, but it dictated her life. Maybe she did need to try something new, even just to see. Olivia hadn't dated for years, having decided it was too much of a distraction from her career, but... well, maybe it was worth a try. Just to say she'd tried.
Lauren blew into her ramen, the steam billowing around her. "What Joseph is trying to say," she clarified gently, "is that you don't know what you want unless you give it a go. So think about it, see what there is you'd like to do that doesn't include work or your small circle of friends. Be brave. Go on a date or call in fake sick or, you know, become a godmother."
She cracked a smile, and Olivia did too, but doubt had crept into Olivia's heart. It had been happening more and more over the last few days, but now it was undeniable.
Maybe she did need to revaluate herself. As painful as it was to admit, it was true.