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Pretending to Dance
By Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2015 Diane Chamberlain
All rights reserved.
I'm a good liar.
I take comfort in that fact as Aidan and I sit next to each other on our leather sectional, so close together that our thighs touch. I wonder if that's too close. Patti, the social worker sitting on the other wing of our sectional, writes something in her notes, and with every scribble of her pen, I worry her words will cost us our baby. I imagine she's writing The couple appears to be codependent to an unhealthy degree. As if picking up on my nervousness, Aidan takes my hand, squeezing it against his warm palm. How can he be so calm?
"You're both thirty-eight, is that right?" Patti asks.
We nod in unison.
Patti isn't at all what I expected. In my mind I've dubbed her "Perky Patti." I'd expected someone dour, older, judgmental. She's a licensed social worker, but she can't be any older than twenty-five. Her blond hair is in a ponytail, her blue eyes are huge, and her eyelashes look like something out of an advertisement in Vogue. She has a quick smile and bubbly enthusiasm. Yet, still, Perky Patti holds our future in her hands, and despite her youth and bubbly charm, she intimidates me.
Patti looks up from her notes. "How did you meet?" she asks.
"At a law conference," I say. "In 2003."
"It was love at first sight for me," Aidan says. I know he means it. He's told me often enough. It was your freckles, he'd say, touching his finger to the bridge of my nose. Right now, I feel the warmth of his gaze on me.
"We hit it off right away." I smile at Aidan, remembering the first time I saw him. The workshop was on immigration law, which would later become Aidan's specialization. He'd come in late, backpack slung over one shoulder, bicycle helmet dangling from his hand, blond hair jutting up in all directions. His gray T-shirt was damp with sweat and he was out of breath. Our workshop leader, a humorless woman with a stiff-looking black bob, glared at him but he gave her that endearing smile of his, his big brown eyes apologetic behind his glasses. His smile said, I know I'm late and I'm sorry, but I'll make you happy that I'm in your workshop. I watched her melt, her features softening as she nodded toward an empty chair in the center of the room. I'd been a wounded soul back then. I'd sworn off men a couple of years earlier after a soul-searing broken engagement to my longtime boyfriend Jordan, but I knew in that moment that I wanted to get to know this particular man, Aidan James, and I introduced myself to him during the break. I was smitten. Aidan was playful, sexy, and brainy, an irresistible combination. Eleven years later, I still can't resist him.
"You're in immigration law, is that right?" Patti looks at Aidan.
"Yes. I'm teaching at the University of San Diego right now."
"And you're family law?" She looks at me and I nod.
"How long did you date before you got married?" she asks.
"About a year," Aidan says. It had only been eight months, but I knew he thought a year sounded better.
"Did you try to have children right away?"
"No," I say. "We wanted to focus on our careers first. We never realized we'd have a problem when we finally started trying."
"And why are you unable to have children of your own?"
"Well, initially it was just that we couldn't get pregnant," Aidan says. "We tried for two years before going to a specialist."
I remember those years all too well. I'd cry every time I'd get my period. Every single time.
"When I finally did get pregnant," I say, "I lost the baby at twenty weeks and had to have a hysterectomy." The words sound dry as they leave my mouth, no hint of the agony behind them. Our lost daughter, Sara. Our lost dreams.
"I'm sorry," Patti says.
"It was a nightmare," Adam adds.
"How did you cope?"
"We talked a lot," I say. Aidan still holds my hand, and I tighten my grip on him. "We talked with a counselor a few times, too, but mostly to each other."
"That's the way we always cope," Aidan says. "We don't keep things bottled up around here, and we're good listeners. It's easy when you love each other."
I think he's laying it on a little thick, but I know he believes he's telling the truth. We congratulate ourselves often for the way we communicate in our marriage and, usually, we do a good job of it. Right now, though, with my lies between us, I squirm at his words.
"Do you have some anger over losing your baby?" Patti directs her question to me.
I think back to a year ago. The emergency surgery. The end of any chance to have another child. I don't remember anger. "I think I was too devastated to be angry," I say.
"We regrouped," Aidan says. "When we were finally able to think straight, we knew we still wanted ... still want ... a family, and we began researching open adoption." He makes it sound like the decision to pursue adoption was easy. I guess for him it was.
"Why open adoption?" Patti asks.
"Because we don't want any secrets from our child," I say with a little too much force, but I feel passionately about this. I know all about secrets and the damage they do to a child. "We don't want him — or her — to wonder about his birth parents or why he was placed for adoption." I sound so strong and firm. Inside, my stomach turns itself into a knot. Aidan and I are not in total agreement over what our open adoption will look like.
"Are you willing to give the birth parents updates on your child? Share pictures? Perhaps even allow your child to have a relationship with them, if that's what the birth parents would like?"
"Absolutely," Aidan says and I nod. Now is not the time to talk about my reservations. Although I already feel love for the nameless, faceless people who would entrust their child to us, I'm not sure to what degree I want them in our lives.
Patti shifts on the sectional and gives a little tug on her ponytail. "How would you describe your lifestyle?" she asks in a sudden change of topic, and I have to give my head a shake to clear it of the image of those selfless birth parents. "How will a child fit into your lives?" she adds.
"Well, right now we're both working full-time," Aidan says, "but Molly can easily go to half-time."
"And I can take six weeks off if we get a baby."
"When." Aidan squeezes my hand. "Be an optimist."
I smile at him. To be honest, I wouldn't mind quitting my job altogether. I'm tired of divorce after divorce after divorce. The longer I practice law, the more I dislike it. But that is for another conversation.
"We're pretty active," I tell Patti. "We hike and camp and bike. We spend a lot of time at the beach in the summer. We both surf."
"It'd be fun to share all that with a kid," Aidan says. I imagine I feel excitement in his hand where it presses against mine.
Patti turns a page in her notebook. "Tell me about your families," she says. "How were you raised? How do they feel about your decision to adopt?"
Here is where this interview falls apart, I think. Here is where my lies begin. I'm relieved when Aidan goes first.
"My family's totally on board," he says. "I grew up right here in San Diego. Dad is also a lawyer."
"Lawyers coming out of the woodwork around here." Patti smiles.
"Well, Mom is a retired teacher and my sister, Laurie, is a chef," Aidan says. "They're already buying things for the baby." His family sounds perfect. They are perfect. I love them — his brilliant father, his gentle mother, his creative, nurturing sister and her little twin boys. Over the years, they've become my family, too.
"How would you describe your parents' parenting style?" Patti asks Aidan.
"Laid-back," Aidan says, and even his body seems to relax as the words leave his mouth. "They provided good values and then encouraged Laurie and me to make our own decisions. We both turned out fine."
"How did they handle discipline?"
"Took away privileges, for the most part," Aidan says. "No corporal punishment. I would never spank a child."
"How about discipline in your family, Molly?" Patti asks, and I think, Oh thank God, because she skipped right over the "tell me about your family" question.
"Everything was talked to death." I smile. "My father was a therapist, so if I did something wrong, I had to talk it out." There were times I would have preferred a spanking.
"Did your mother work outside the home as well?" Patti asks.
"She was a pharmacist," I say. She might still be a pharmacist, for all I know. Nora would be in her mid to late sixties now.
"Are your parents local, too?" Patti asks.
"No. They died," I say, the first real lie out of my mouth during this interview. I have the feeling it won't be the last.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Patti says. "How about brothers and sisters?"
"No siblings," I say, happy to be able to tell the truth. "And I grew up in North Carolina, so I don't get to see my extended family often." As in, never. The only person I have any contact with is my cousin Dani, and that's minimal. Next to me, I feel Aidan stiffen ever so slightly. He knows we're in dangerous territory. He doesn't know exactly how dangerous.
"Well, let's talk about health for a moment," Patti says. "How old were your parents when they passed away, Molly? And what from?"
I hesitate. "Why does this matter?" I try to keep my voice friendly. "I mean, if we had our own children, no one would ask us —"
"Honey," Aidan interrupts me. "It matters because —"
"Well, it sounds like your parents died fairly young," Patti interrupts, but her voice is gentle. "That doesn't rule you out as a candidate for adoption, but if they had inheritable diseases, that's something the birth parents should know."
I let go of Aidan's hand and flatten my damp palms on my skirt. "My father had multiple sclerosis," I say. "And my mother had breast cancer." I wish I'd never told Aidan that particular lie. It might be a problem for us now. "I'm fine, though," I add quickly. "I've been tested for the ..." I hesitate. What was the name of that gene? If my mother'd actually had breast cancer, the acronym would probably roll off my tongue with ease.
"BRCA," Patti supplies.
"Right." I smile. "I'm fine."
"Neither of us has any chronic problems," Aidan says.
"How do you feel about vaccinations?"
"Bring 'em on," Aidan says, and I nod.
"It's hard for me to understand not protecting your child if you can," I say, happy to be off the questions about my family.
The rest of the interview goes smoothly, at least from my perspective. When Patti finally shuts her notebook, she announces that she'd like to see the rest of the house and our yard. Aidan and I had spent the morning dusting and vacuuming, so we're ready for her. We show her the room that will become the nursery. The walls are a sterile white and the hardwood floors are bare, but there is a beautiful mahogany crib against one wall. Aidan's parents gave it to us when I was pregnant with Sara. The only other furniture in the room is a small white bookshelf that I'd stocked with my favorite children's books. Aidan and I had done nothing else to the room to prepare for our daughter, and I'm glad. I never go in there. It hurts too much to see that crib and remember the joy I felt as I searched for those books. But now with Patti at my side, I dare to feel hope and I can imagine the room painted a soft yellow. I picture a rocker in the corner. A changing table near the window. My arms tingle with an uneasy anticipation.
We walk outside after showing her the bedrooms. We live in a white two-story Spanish-style house in Kensington, one of the older parts of San Diego, and in the bright sunlight our well-maintained neighborhood sparkles. Our yard is small, but it has two orange trees, a lemon tree, and a small swing set — another premature gift from Aidan's parents. Exploring our little yard, Patti says the word awesome at least five times. Aidan and I smile at each other. This is going to happen, I think. We are going to be approved as potential adoptive parents. Some birth parents will select us to raise their child. The thought both excites and terrifies me.
Patti waves as she gets into her car in the driveway. Aidan puts his arm around me and we smile as we watch her drive away. "I think we passed with flying colors," Aidan says. He squeezes my shoulder and plants a kiss on my cheek.
"I think we did," I agree. I pull a big gulp of oxygen into my lungs and feel as though I've been holding my breath all afternoon. I turn to him and circle my arms around his neck. "Let's work on our portfolio this weekend, okay?" I ask. We've been afraid to take that step, afraid to pull together the necessary photographs and information about ourselves in case we somehow failed the home study.
"Let's." He kisses me on the lips and one of our neighbors honks his horn as he drives by. We laugh, and Aidan kisses me again.
I remember how I'd wondered if our daughter would have his brown eyes or my blue. His brawny athletic build or my long, slender arms and legs. His easygoing nature or my occasional moodiness. Now our child will have none of those things — at least not from us — and I tell myself it doesn't matter. Aidan and I have too much love for just two people. Sometimes I feel as though we're bursting with it. At the same time, I pray I'll be able to extend that love to a baby I didn't carry. Didn't give birth to. What is wrong with me that I have so many doubts?
* * *
That night, Aidan falls asleep first and I lie next to him, thinking about the interview with Patti. There was nothing there to come back to haunt me, I assure myself. Patti's not going to search for my mother's obituary. We are safe.
The lies I told Aidan when we were first dating — my dead mother and her breast cancer, my cold relatives — had been accepted without question and set aside. He knew I meant it when I said I'd laid the past to rest the day I left North Carolina at eighteen. We never revisited those lies. There'd been no need to, until today. I hope the interview with Patti will be the end of it. I want to move on. We need to create our own healthy, happy, sane, and loving family.
I think about our "open communication" Aidan had described to Patti. Our honest relationship. At times I feel guilty for keeping so much about my past from him, but I'm honestly not sure he would want to know. I try to imagine telling him: My mother murdered my father. I'd said those words once and they had cost me. I will never say them out loud again.
Morrison Ridge Swannanoa, North Carolina
Daddy sat across from me in his wheelchair at the small table in the springhouse, a beam of sunlight resting on his thick dark hair.
"Check it out," he said, nodding toward the window, and I turned to see a dragonfly on the inside of the glass. Centered in one of the wavy panes, it looked as though it had been painted there with a fine-tipped brush.
I got up for a closer look. "A common green darner," I said, although I wasn't certain. "There was one in my bedroom last night, too," I added, sitting down again. "I think it might have been a dragonhunter."
Daddy looked amused. "You just like the sound of that name," he said.
"True. It was pretty, whatever it was." I'd forgotten a lot of what I'd learned last summer when I was thirteen and so into insects I thought I'd grow up to be an entomologist. This was the summer nothing felt quite right. One minute I wanted to ride my bike at top speed up and down Morrison Ridge's hilly dirt roads. The next minute I was shaving my legs and tweezing my eyebrows. Even nature seemed confused this summer in the mountains where we lived outside Swannanoa, North Carolina. The laurel was trying to bloom again, even though it was July, and the dragonflies were everywhere. I was careful when I touched the porch railing or the handle of my bicycle, not wanting to squash one of them.
I picked up a chocolate chip cookie from the plate in front of me and held it across the table to him, aiming for his mouth.
"How many calories?" he asked before taking a bite. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain. Copyright © 2015 Diane Chamberlain. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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