"Are you planning on destroying that hard copy, or would you like to have something to salvage for our one o'clock staff meeting?" Hank asked as he walked up to where I had been daydreaming. Shit. I'd been inadvertently clenching the hard copy of the final print to be used for my latest project.
"Sorry. I didn't even realize I was still holding it. Art department just sent it up," I replied absently.
"What's up with you this week? You're even more distracted than usual. I'm taking it the date didn't go so well last night?"
The cringe was barely noticeable, but of course, Hank would pick up on it. He'd known me for more than a decade. Fine Arts for undergrad and MFA with a business minor immediately following didn't allow for much socializing, but Hank had been on the same career track that I'd been. It'd been platonic love at first sight during freshman orientation. The two of us just clicked.
"Oh, come on, D. This one at least showered regularly," he teased. "Better than the last one."
I'd always seemed to attract the wrong type of guy. They may have looked like grown men, but lost boys were my type. Jacob had been last year's mistake. A rock-climbing instructor. Tall. Tan. Late 20s. Built like a Greek god... IQ that rivaled a 6 yr old. He was adventurous and kind, but the only place we'd connected was under the covers. A girl can only survive on amazing orgasms for so long. Anything outside of my bedroom was painfully dull.
"Jacob showered. He just hadn't cut his hair in 5 years. Not all men with long hair are dirty."
Hank rolled his eyes and smirked. "Oh, my bad. Maybe it was the fog of axe body spray and chalk that threw me off."
Whacking Hank in the stomach, I glared at his smug expression. His dating record wasn't exactly pristine. He left a trail of vapid interns in his wake, probably because he had no interest in settling down any time soon.
"At least my dates are old enough to drink legally."
"Enough avoiding the topic. Let's go get lunch, and you can fill me in why the young, dumb and hung of Seattle aren't doing it for you anymore," he insisted as he rescued my copy and placed it on my desk.
We walked down the block to our favorite deli and settled into a corner booth before I whispered the sentence that would change the course of our future.
"I want a baby."
"I'm sorry...what?" he looked at me from across the table, sandwich midway to his mouth, his jaw practically unhinged.
"Don't make me repeat it," I whispered.
"Sorry," he shook his head and set down his sandwich. "I didn't realize you were seeing anyone. And definitely didn't know it was that serious already."
"I'm not." If I weren't so nervous talking about this, I probably would have laughed at his facial expression.
"So...um...how exactly do you plan on...you know?" he raised an eyebrow and nodded at my stomach.
His mouth screwed up like I'd said something offensive. I didn't realize this topic would make him so uncomfortable. "Well...uh..." He ran his hand over his face and up through his hair.
"I'm not sure. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I've still got my inheritance from Aunt Sarah, so I guess I've got options?" My voice didn't even sound convincing to me.
"Like, buying donor options or paying for companionship options?" My eyes widened as his mouth dropped open.
"Gross. I'm not paying for a male hooker to impregnate me. What is wrong with you?" I hissed and watched his face relax a little.
He let out a nervous laugh and ran his palms down his suit pants. "I don't know how this all works; I mean, do they have Tinder for baby daddies?"
I couldn't help the eye roll. I may not have planned out the logistics, but I knew I wasn't the only single woman in their thirties that wanted to have a baby but didn't have any prospects.
"I was thinking more along the lines of looking at a sperm bank and a fertility specialist." His eyes squinted at my tone, but I felt like he was judging me for all of this. I knew it wasn't conventional, but I needed his support.
"You're seriously giving up on the whole white picket fence scenario?"
I'd always been the one with more romantic notions about the future, but that path had been a bust. I was no closer to finding a life partner now than I was ten years ago.
"I mean, not completely. If I happen to meet someone I want to settle down with in the future, it's not completely out of the picture," I shrugged. "I just don't want to look back on my life in ten years and regret never having a child."
Logically, I knew that I was young and still had a few years left before my biological clock stopped ticking. I just couldn't shake the feeling that if I didn't do this, I would never stop wondering.
"And what's going to happen when this future mystery guy wants to know why dad isn't in the picture? Are you going to tell them you picked someone out of a catalog because you were tired of waiting? That's a lot of pressure to put on someone."
"What if I'm fifty when I meet this guy and kids are no longer an option?"
We sat in a charged silence for a few minutes before either one of us said anything.
"Fine. I'm in," he nodded, looking equally resolved and nauseous.
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
To say I was shell shocked as I sat there and looked at Hank didn't cover it. I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that statement. He was in...
Did that mean he supported my decision, or was he offering his services? That last thought made heat blossom in my cheeks as I felt his hand slip into mine.
"You still in there?"
I shook my head to release the fog and squeezed back. "I'm here. Just lost. What exactly do you mean?"
He was quiet for a few moments as his eyes searched my face for something. I tried not to squirm under his scrutiny, but I was sure I failed. Eventually, he released my hand and looked down at his watch.
"We need to get out of here if you're planning on having another copy sent up before our meeting."
Knowing that I couldn't push him, I chalked his silence up to being a little shell-shocked. Talk about an intense lunchtime conversation.
"Yeah. Um. Ok." I cleared my throat and slid my chair back to stand up. Running my hands down the back of my skirt, I reached down to grab my handbag from under the table. Hank was quietly waiting next to my chair, hovering just outside my personal space.
Was this going to make everything weird between us now?
"We can talk later," he whispered into my hair as his hand pressed into my back and guided me towards the door. "I'm coming over tonight. We'll... talk."
My focus was off for the rest of the day. I'd opened this can of worms, and now I wasn't sure I could get them all back in. How did one off day turn into me telling my best friend I wanted to have a baby and him volunteering? I still wasn't sure what he was volunteering for. Hank was an attractive man, but we'd been friend-zoned since we were college coeds.
I didn't think of him like that, did I?
"Shit. Shit.Shit." I hopped around on one foot while I tried to get the cuff of my joggers to untangle before I fell on my ass. I knew Hank was coming to talk about our conversation earlier today, but I was going to be comfortable. I wasn't dressing up for this. Whatever this was.
A loud knock from my front door startled me, and I finally pushed my leg through and straightened the waistband of my pants. "Coming. I'm coming. Hold on," I yelled out as I fought with the chain on the front door of my apartment.
"God, I hope not yet..." I was just going to pretend I didn't hear his muffled comment as I pulled the door open. He had the same idea I did—comfy sweats and a nervous smile on his face.
"Wine or vodka?" He thrust his hands forward, a bottle neck held in each. Good. He was just as unsettled as I was.
God, this was awkward.
"Oh shit. Are you not drinking? I mean, I know you're not supposed to drink while you're pregnant, but you're not pregnant yet..."
I threw up my hand to cut him off and grabbed the bottle of Pinot noir.
He followed along behind me to the kitchen and awkwardly propped himself against the door frame while I started pulling down glasses: two stemless wine glasses and two high balls for when we inevitably moved to the hard stuff.
"Wine first?" I suggested as I pulled out my corkscrew and went about opening the bottle. He still hadn't said anything else since his earlier rambling, and I wasn't starting this conversation.
After two heavy pours, I handed him a wine glass and motioned for him to take a seat on the couch. "So..."
Things were just weird. We'd never done weird. I always knew exactly where I stood with him in our friendship. Now, I was just confused.
Did he like me?
Did he want me?
Did I want him?
"I'm sorry for making things weird. I know you're feeling off with your birthday coming and it being the first one without any family close."
My father had passed away a few years ago, and my mom had gotten tired of living in the house I grew up in without him. She'd moved to a retirement community in Arizona a few months ago. She was pretty much my only family left. My dad's sister Sarah had died five years ago. Leaving me as her sole beneficiary because she'd never settled down. All my grandparents were dead by the time I hit high school. I think that was why I didn't want to wait. I wanted a family. I didn't want to have the regrets Sarah did when she got sick.
"It's fine. Thirty-five is fine," I waved my wine glass around dismissively and took a healthy swallow, avoiding his gaze.
He choked out a laugh as I quickly downed half my wine glass.
"Ok. Let's start over. Where did this all come from?"
I knew what started this. It was all Andrea's fault.
"We really should do this more often," Andrea mused as she leaned back in her chair and took a sip of her sparkling juice.
We met for drinks and pedicures at least twice a year since we finished grad school when she was in town. This might be the last time for a while. She was seven months pregnant and sporting quite the bump.
"Are you sure there's only one in there?" I questioned as she glared at me and pointed her glass in my direction.
"It's not my fault Benjamin's family has freakishly large babies," she gulped her juice like it was the real thing; old habits died hard. "Your time is coming soon enough."
"Ha. I doubt it. That'd involve there not being cobwebs growing in my pants."
"Three months is not long enough for there to be cobwebs." She rolled her eyes at me. I'd been in a bit of a dry spell since I cut my chiseled rock climber loose.
"Oh, whatever. I'm going to have to go like two to three months without, and you don't see me bitching."
"Because you'll be pushing a human watermelon out of your nether regions."
"Thanks for the lovely imagery. I'm not already freaking out about pushing a nine-pound baby out," she gulped down her drink and poured herself another. It was non-alcoholic, but she was hitting it like the real stuff.
"At least you've got it."
Andrea's manicured brows drew together as she looked over at me. "Got what?"
"The whole package," I grumbled, waving my hand in her general direction. She had the college sweetheart. The perfect wedding. House with a backyard outside of the city. Baby on the way.
"Oh, honey. I know," she said sympathetically, rubbing her bump. "Are you even trying to find someone to settle down with? Isn't the pretty boy, athletic, too young for you type, getting old?
"Do you think I haven't tried? I have. They're either boring and looking for a housewife or too focused on their career to come up for air." I'd tried some dating apps, and nothing ever looked promising. "I don't want to stop working to have what you have."
"I know you don't, honey. But what is it exactly you're looking for at this point?"
I gave her belly a pointed look and nodded. I'd all but given up on the husband part. I wanted the family. I wanted the baby.
"You know. We do live in the era of modern medicine," she smiled, but it looked a little too calculating for comfort. "You don't need a husband to have a baby."
I knew that. I did. But I wasn't sure I knew how to get exactly what I wanted.
"I don't know if I can do it alone," I sighed as I looked into my glass.
"Are you kidding me? You'd be fine. You have friends. What about Rachel? What about Hank? You know they'd be there if you needed them."
Rachel was another happily married member of our group. Just shy of two years older than her brother Hank, she was another person I knew who was that much closer to living my ideal vision of life.
"You should just put an ad out on Craig's list. 'Daddy Wanted: Sexless parenting option desired for mid thirties life experience'. Co-Parenting is a thing, you know." Andrea said casually as if she hadn't just told me to find a stranger to have a baby with. "Not every broken condom, random hookup baby has to have happily married parents. There are plenty of people out there sharing their kids amicably with someone they don't intend to marry."
I looked at her like she had lost her damn mind. Maybe the pregnancy hormones were affecting her brain more than she thought.
"Yeah, right. Hello, random strange man who also wants a child but has no wife. Come impregnate me so we can share a child." I laughed a little and finished off my glass.
For the rest of the day, I tried to forget our strange conversation. It didn't work because I found myself falling down the Google rabbit hole after I got home, and I discovered that Co-Parenting was indeed a thing. There were even clinics locally that were designed to match like-minded individuals who wanted what I did.
I'd always thought men who used sperm banks only wanted a quick buck. It turned out some of them wished to have a possible relationship with their 'deposits'.
"You can't seriously be thinking about using one of those matching services?" Hank laughed as he finished off the last of the wine in the bottle. I sat quietly as I waited for him to stop making fun of me. "Oh. Oh, you are serious. A complete stranger?"
I knew my plan probably had a thousand flaws. But what other options did I have?
"Seriously, D? You want to go find some random guy in a catalog and have his baby? And then, what? Share it with him for the next fifty years?"
That was pretty much exactly what I wanted.
"It's a little more involved than that...but essentially, yes. I find a match, and we work out an agreement."
"Clue me in. What is involved? Is this like a one-night stand dating service?" Of course, he'd be focused on the sex part.
"Quit being so crude."
"I don't understand why you want to do this," he sighed as he ran his palm over the top of his head. His once neatly styled blonde hair stuck straight up. Hank outside of the office was the least buttoned-up person I knew. "Why not join match.com or something?"
"I have. I did. A lot of first dates and men I didn't click with."
"But what if you don't 'click' with this guy? Then what? You're stuck dealing with him because you have a kid together?"
"There isn't anything romantic about it, Hank. We just have to have compatible personalities." I knew this wasn't going to result in a love match, but I'd settle for a friend with who I could raise a child. "I don't have to love him. I'd just like him to be my friend."
The process was kind of like online dating. Personality profiles were filled out. Medical history profiles were completed. Physical attributes cataloged. I would be given a list of 'candidates' and be able to narrow the field. Then we'd have a series of interviews.
If we were a 'match', then we'd start the process.
Me, fertility treatments, and IUI. Intrauterine Insemination was standard all around the globe, no matter your fertility needs.
Him, the embarrassing ten minutes in a locked room with porn, his hand, and a little plastic cup.
"I don't understand why you'd want this with a stranger?" He was quiet after I'd explained the process to him. He didn't look happy.
"What are my other options, Hank? You are my sole single male friend." I knew he didn't think this was something I needed to do, but I didn't have any other options.
Before he could respond, I went into the kitchen and took a swig straight out of the vodka bottle. This conversation wasn't going anywhere. He was irritated. I was tired. I found myself taking a few more generous sips before I went back out to face him.
"Come sit down," he motioned to the space next to him.
I sat stiffly as I waited for him to say something.
"I told you earlier, and I mean it even more now. I'll do it."
Well, ok then.