One Woman's Choice
by Hannah Westman
The sky was clear today, bright blue and cloudless in the afternoon light. Sunshine cast down on the street, filtered through the window to cast thin beams across the floor. The dog lay right in the middle of one of those beams, legs in the air as if she were more cat than spaniel.
It was days like these - where the weather was warm and there was nothing to do - that Olivia liked best. Partly because it was a chance to relax, a rare day where her demanding publishing job didn't demand every second of her time. But it was also because of the peacefulness of it all, where she could simply sit in her favourite chair and enjoy the quiet. She could think, and it didn't have to be about her packed schedule or the demands of her clients.
So here she was, sat by the window, gazing idly out onto the street with no responsibilities for the day. The new neighbours, a young couple with their two toddlers, relaxed in their garden just across the road. Glasgow weather wasn't often nice enough to sunbathe in - but today the entire family had gathered in their garden to soak up the sun.
The two children - two little girls with fiery red hair - sat cross legged as they played with what looked like giant legos. It was cute, how they sat so quietly under the shade of a huge apple tree. Olivia had no children herself, hadn’t ever felt the need to settle down and marry, either.
The mother glanced over, sweeping hair from her shoulders - and Olivia turned away, not wanting to look like she was spying. Although, perhaps Olivia had been. Children had been on her mind a lot lately; more often than she liked to admit. With most of her friends settling down now, some already on their second or third child, it was difficult not to think about it. Just last week her own sister had asked, "so Olivia, when are you going to start dating again? You're not getting any younger, you know". Well yes, Olivia did know thanks, and she didn’t plan on settling down just because it was expected of someone her age.
Internally rolling her eyes at herself, Olivia hauled herself upright and trudged into the kitchen. Hot weather or not, she needed a cup of tea. Another one of those things, just like being single, that Olivia found perfectly normal and her friends didn't. On a day like this, most people she knew would be enjoying cocktails or wine in the garden - and Olivia still chose tea. Flicking on the kettle, she settled back to wait for the water to boil.
Outside, children's laugher echoed through the street. It was easy to forget how easily sound travelled in this neighbourhood - one open window was enough for that sweet laughter to be heard throughout the house. Smiling fondly, Olivia sighed.
She had decided, at twenty-two years old, that dating wasn't for her. Her career was just taking off and she didn't want to ruin her chances, not to mention that after three failed dates in a row, it didn't seem worth the effort. Now, a decade later, and Olivia had stuck to her ideals. No husband, no children - but a perfect job and a wonderful house, as well as dozens of friends she loved dearly. So perhaps it wasn't the route most women took. So what?
The kettle dinged, snapping Olivia from her reverie with a squeak of surprise. She turned, grabbed a mug from the cupboard over the sink, and poured. Only to remember she didn't have milk. Oh well, black tea it was, then. She took a sip, wincing at the bitter taste, and reached for the sugar.
Which, absurd as the connection was, brought her thoughts to something entirely different. Darpan - he married last year, in a beautiful winter wedding that left Olivia breathless. He'd always put a ridiculous amount of sugar into his hot drinks, sometimes enough that looking at it made Olivia's stomach turn. More recently he had gone on a health kick - at the request of his wife, mostly. Something about if we have children, they can't be picking up my bad habits.
Truthfully, Olivia hadn't thought he'd been too excited about the prospect of children. But now, two months later, it was all he spoke about. Olivia sipped her tea thoughtfully - still wishing there was milk to dull the taste - and turned to stare out of the window once again. Even Darpan, who hadn't even spoken about kids until this year, was growing up and starting a family. Or, trying to anyway. So far, there was no news.
Olivia, however, had thought about it in detail over the years, and always came to the same conclusion. She was happy as she was. Yet she had to wonder if there was something she was missing out on. Something that made everybody want to get married and have children, that she simply hadn't realised. Even Nina, her sister, was getting married - and she was hardly twenty-one. Of course, not everyone was organising weddings or planning kids, but it didn't change the fact that it was a focal point in lots of people's lives right now.
Outside, the neighbours had gone inside. Only one of the girls remained, scooping up legos in her chubby hands. A piece fell, landing somewhere in the grass - in her attempt to catch it, all of the other pieces tumbled from her grasp, too. The girl stomped her feet, folded her arms, and stormed off without looking back.
Olivia couldn't fight the smile that crept onto her features. Really, she should have introduced herself by now - it was the neighbourly thing to do. Despite what people thought, Olivia didn't dislike children. She adored her friends' kids and loved to babysit if someone needed a night to themselves. It was just that it had never seemed right for her, specifically. There were a number of reasons that made up that decision, from work to social lives to just not wanting to take that leap. Besides, for kids she needed a husband - or at least a boyfriend - and Olivia simply didn't feel the need.
Carrying her tea back into the living room, Olivia set it down gently on the coffee table. Some still sloshed onto the coaster anyway, and with a huff she reached out to grab a tissue from the box. Her eyes drifted to the book she had been reading earlier - but her brain wouldn't allow her to focus for long enough to remember the page number. Tossing the tissue into the waste paper bin, Olivia sat down. Her short hair blew in the breeze from the open window, although it was pleasantly cool rather than distracting. It cleared her mind somewhat, although she still felt that vaguely uncomfortable heaviness that told her something was still on her mind. Even if she wasn't consciously aware of it.
Glancing outside, Olivia saw the neighbour's garden was still empty. So was everyone else's. On a day like this, few people remained at home. Parks, long walks, the beach - everything was better on beautiful days like this. Well, depending on who you were - for example, she knew for a fact that although some of her friends would enjoy being outside, at least one of them was happy at home. For that, Olivia didn't feel quite so alone in her choices.
Just like her, Elise was single. She hadn't dated since almost as long as Olivia, over ten years ago now. After one awful date with a man from a dating app, Elise had loudly proclaimed she was done with romance. Indefinitely. So far, both of them had held true, and hadn't gone on a single date since. Although, if Olivia really thought about it, maybe dating was exactly what Elise needed to get out of the house once in a while. While Olivia herself had never been much of a party girl, per se, she had always enjoyed a night out every so often. Elise, however, rarely went out unless somebody physically dragged her into town.
So, perhaps Olivia wasn't the only one who had made less... traditional choices. Elise didn't date, which was fine and healthy because it was what she wanted, even if it had somewhat affected her social life too.
Yet sometimes, when Olivia's thoughts ran away with her, she thought that her choices were pushing her away. From family, friends, people she assumed she'd be close with for life. To put it frankly, she no longer had anything in common with the people she grew up with. Most of her friends, she had known since her university years at Caledonian, where she had studied media and journalism. Now, though, those days felt like a lifetime ago.
Outside, one of the girls appeared again. It was the same one as before, storming over to the abandoned giant legos to bundle them in her arms. She teetered on the edge of tripping over, weighed down by the enormous blocks, before finally managing to balance them in her grasp. Smiling brightly, she turned heel and darted back inside - dropping a lego on the way, but apparently oblivious.
Part of Olivia had the urge to help, but she stayed in her seat. She hadn't even said hello yet, and there was no point in looking like she had been watching. Which she sort of had, although not entirely on purpose. Her mind just kept drifting back to the same old topic, and with it, her eyes wandered too. The more she saw, the more Olivia had to wonder if having children would be so bad. Not because she wanted any, per se, but because it was interesting to wonder where her life could have taken her, had she made different choices.
Looking after someone else's children and having your own was entirely different. For one, you couldn't simply hand them back at the end of the day. They were your responsibility. All the time. Hell, sometimes she wondered if she was even capable of looking after her dog, Apricot.
Speaking of, Apricot had rolled onto her belly and was now looking up at Olivia with big, dopey brown eyes. She yawned, mouth stretched wide, and turned to look pointedly at the door.
Ah. Time for her afternoon walk. Olivia wasted no time in fetching the lead, clipping it onto Apricot's cute yellow collar. She pulled on her shoes, which were, unfortunately, boots and yet the only thing comfortable enough to walk in. Already knowing her feet were going to melt, Olivia resigned herself and stepped outside.
The heat hit her. It was a hot, breezeless day that left her skin dry almost immediately. Apricot didn't care, tugging on her lead to nudge Olivia in the right direction. "All right, I'm coming," she murmured, rolling her eyes fondly. For such a small dog, she was certainly strong. Perhaps it was fortunate, though, that Apricot had such a knack for timing. Maybe a walk was exactly what Olivia needed to get her mind off of... everything.
No such luck, apparently. She had barely made it three feet before the neighbour's door flew open, and a tiny bundle of child threw herself across the road. It was only a cul-de-sac, and no cars came up here - but even so, Olivia's heart clenched in fear. Yet the girl was fine, dropping to her knees to scratch Apricot behind the ears.
In true Apricot fashion, she dropped to the ground and barked happily.
A moment later, another figure left the house. "Dani, you can't go running across the road like that!" the woman scolded, "I am so sorry, she isn't usually like this."
Well, Olivia couldn't avoid it now. Two of her four new neighbours were now standing right in front of her - one currently hugging her dog like it was a soft toy. Smiling shyly, Olivia introduced, "it's fine, honestly. I'm Olivia by the way - I live across the street?"
The woman's eyes brightened. "You can call me Eva. This little rascal here is Dani. Her twin sister, Melody, is inside."
Dani and Melody? Pretty names. She glanced down at Dani, who was still occupied by Apricot. Not that the dog minded. In fact, she looked absolutely blissed.
"Again, sorry she ran over to you like that. She's not usually so careless, but I suppose she's excited to see another dog on the street." A pause, a laugh. "You know how kids are. Two is enough for me, thank you."
Awkwardly, Olivia smiled. It wasn't that she didn't want to stop and chat - any other time she would have loved to. It was just that there was so much on her mind and she had hoped for a quiet day to herself. A day to reflect, perhaps.
"Kids of your own?" Eva questioned, "I only ask because the girls could do with more friends. There aren't many kids in the street, and they don't get on with the kids in their class."
Olivia shifted uneasily under Eva's intense stare. It wasn't actually that intense at all, but she could see the hope in Eva's grey-blue eyes. "No, I don't have kids," she answered truthfully, "just me and Apricot here."
"Oh," Eva replied, the disappointment clear in her voice, "what a shame. I'm sure there's someone out there for you."
That's nice, she thought sarcastically, why do you assume I'm looking? Instead of voicing those - admittedly harsh - thoughts, she only smiled. "Thank you. I should be getting on - Apricot here likes routine."
Apricot didn't care at all, too busy getting belly rubs from Dani. Yet her head popped up at the sound of her name, and she let out a gentle bark before rolling to her feet. She looked up as if to say time to go?
"Well, I won't keep you." Oblivious to the tension rolling from Olivia, Eva offered a bright smile and stepped away. "Enjoy your day! We don't get sunshine like this often. Especially not in spring."
"Bye-bye, Olivia! By Apricot!" Dani called as she crossed the road. She turned back to wave, a beaming smile across her face.
Olivia smiled and waved, then turned to trot down the street with Apricot in tow. She heard Dani calling goodbye even as they turned the corner, and Olivia smiled. Even if she didn’t want any of her own, children were just so sweet, weren’t they?