“Oh, thank God.”
I had only taken two steps inside the door when Ben descended upon me. His brown eyes were wild, his dark hair disheveled. Apparently, he’d been worried. Oops.
“Where have you been? I’ve been calling you for hours!”
I had silenced my cell phone before heading to Dr. Gray’s office, not wanting to interrupt what would surely be an emotional appointment. In the strangeness of what preceded and followed the appointment, I’d forgotten to turn the volume back up. I pulled my phone from my bag and saw that I’d missed seven calls and several texts from Ben.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I went to see Dr. Gray, and then I got caught up in some stuff, and I forgot to turn my phone back on, and I lost track of time.”
Ben trailed after me as I hung up my jacket and purse and put my shoes in the closet.
“What do you mean you went to see Dr. Gray? And what stuff?”
“I met these women at the clinic, and they can’t get pregnant either. For the first time since this all started, I didn’t feel alone anymore.”
Ben paused, his brow furrowed. “You do look happier than I’ve seen you in a long time.”
“I am. It felt so good to talk to someone else who knew what this was like.”
“Why did you go see Dr. Gray?”
I shrugged. “I wanted to talk to her. To see what our options are, where we should go from here. In case we want to keep going. I think I do, Ben. I want to keep going. I don’t think I’m ready to give up on parenthood.”
Ben nodded slowly. “Okay. What did she say?”
“That we could go back to what we did to get pregnant, or we could try something new.”
“Different protocol. Adoption. Surrogacy. That sort of thing.”
“What do you want to do?”
I shrugged. “I just wanted the information so that we could talk about it and figure out where we want to go. I’m not ready to give up on being a mom.”
“I’m not ready to give up either. I just...didn’t know how to bring it up. I didn’t want to push you.”
“I’m sorry that I’ve become so useless,” I said. “I couldn’t stop thinking that this was my fault. That my body failed us, kept us from having our son.”
Ben gathered me in his arms. “I’m sorry you’re hurting like that. I certainly don’t blame you for the fact that Daniel isn’t here.”
“How could you not?”
“Because I know you wanted this more than anything. If wanting a child was enough, we’d have millions. You would have given anything and done anything to have our son stay with us. So I know this wasn’t your fault.” He kissed the top of my head. “Come have some dinner. We can talk some more about our treatment options later. For now, tell me about your new friends.”
So I did. I didn’t stop talking about Paige and Julianne until Ben and I were in bed for the night. I told him how much further Julianne had gone in her battle than we had, and how Paige was still at the beginning of her journey.
“She’s like we were three years ago,” I said.
“And Julianne is how we’ll be in another three,” Ben replied. “I’m excited to meet her so I can gauge how much worse it will be.”
“She’s so wonderful to have reached out to me. So be nice.”
“Seriously, El, I’d like to meet these women.”
“We should have a dinner party. You’d enjoying planning one and cooking for it.”
“So we aren’t so much having a dinner party as you’re having your friends over and I’m doing all the work.”
“You know I’m totally worthless at things like cooking.”
“What are you good at, El?”
“PR?” I suggested. “You do all the cooking and stuff, and I’ll make some great invites?”
“Yeah, that’s almost fair.”
“It’s not my fault I can’t cook. Please, Ben?”
“Pick a date, and I’ll make it happen.”
I had to hand it to Ben: he was great at putting a party together. While I sat at my desk at work, Ben would email me menu options or décor ideas. For my part, I had handcrafted two lovely invitations, inviting Paige and Julianne, and their husbands, to a “we don’t have babies, but we can still have dinner” dinner.
By the time the appointed day arrived, Ben had been busy in the kitchen for two days. I was surprised there was still work to be done on Saturday. But he woke early, and I heard him in the kitchen, pots and pans rattling, water running. I tried to go back to sleep, but the guilt of knowing he was hard at work doing something nice for me was too much. I wasn’t much for cooking, but I could definitely help with the cleaning.
Ben and I didn’t spend a lot of time straightening the house on a regular basis. We both had fairly demanding jobs, Ben a chemistry professor at the state university, me the head of marketing for a smallish publishing company. I could throw parties for thousands, as long as I didn’t have to prepare the food. While our busy schedules didn’t leave much time for cleaning house, they also didn’t leave much time for us to make a mess of things. So long before Ben was done preparing the food, I’d gotten the house in order. I set up post in the kitchen, under the guise of helping, but actually getting in his way, mostly. Ben wore an apron over his jeans and t-shirt, a sign of how seriously her was taking the dinner prep. The apron didn’t come out every time he cooked.
“Go away,” Ben said, not looking up from the bowl where he was mixing some sort of sauce. “Surely you can find something better to do with your time.”
“I already cleaned house.”
“And it’s barely noon. Why don’t you go get us some lunch?”
“Oh, all right. This is more fun though.”
Before I could get out the door, the phone rang. I left it for Ben to answer, seeing as I was on my way out the door, but stopped when I heard his end of the conversation.
“Yes, this is Ben....Oh, hi, Julianne.”
I dashed back to the kitchen, planting myself in front of Ben, trying to snatch the phone from his hand.
“Lemme talk to her,” I said, but he turned stubbornly away from me.
“No, thank you. We have everything taken care of on our end. Really.”
“Bring wine!” I called out.
Ben turned back to me and stuck out his tongue. I was spoiling his fun as much as he was spoiling mine.
“Okay,” he said into the phone. “Thank you, Julianne. We’ll see you tonight.”
“Wine!” I called out again before Ben could hang up the phone.
“Good Lord, woman,” he said. “She got the message.”
“I hope so. You only have two bottles for six people.”
“You said Julianne’s still not drinking.”
“As far as I know, she’s not. Okay, two bottles for five people.”
“My research tells me that will be enough. I don’t think anyone’s planning to get drunk or anything.”
“We still might run out. Better safe than sorry.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “I thought you were fetching lunch.”
Before I could get out he door, the phone rang again. It was Paige this time, asking what she could bring.
“We really have everything we need,” Ben said. “Oh. A pie?” His eyes were wide as he spoke to her. “You didn’t have to....Okay. Thank you, Paige. See you tonight.” He hung up the phone. “She made a pie, Elise. From scratch.”
“I didn’t know people still did that.”
“I think she meant she even made her own crust.”
“Does she know that you can buy pies? Ones that are already baked and everything?”
“You know, it might be nice if you made a pie. Once, to see what it’s like.”
“Oh, please, Benjamin. Shouldn’t you be roasting your chickens or something?”
“They’re pheasants, Elise. I wanted to do something classy for your friends.”
“I appreciate that. I should get on fetching your lunch.”
“Would you please?”
I ran to the deli a few blocks away. We went often enough that I knew Ben’s usual order. He deserved his favorite sandwich for all the work he was doing so that I could have my friends over.
When I got back with lunch, Ben took off his apron and we sat down to eat.
“What are you wearing tonight?” I asked between bites.
“What’s wrong with what I have on now?”
“The chicken skin?”
“I was going to wear khakis and a button down shirt. Why?”
“I was curious.”
“What are you wearing?”
“I have no idea.”
“They already like you, Elise. We don’t need to try so hard.”
“Well, we don’t know if they like you yet.”
“Good point. I guess.”
“I feel like I’m in high school again. I want these women to be my friends.”
“It seems like you’re doing okay on that front. They’re coming to dinner. Paige made a pie, Elise.”
“You mentioned.” I set down my sandwich in horror. “What if she expects me to reciprocate? I can’t make pies, Ben.”
“You’ll buy one. It’ll be okay.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Well, I think you’re pretty great. And I have very discerning taste.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
In the end, I made Ben pick out my clothes. He was, after all, the one with discerning taste.