"Hey, Peter… could you hand me the—"
"Yes. Thanks… thank you."
"You sure you want to add that much?"
"You think it's too much?"
"I don't know. Taste it and see."
"I could start over—"
"No, you're not starting over. It's fine. It's fine. I'm nervous… you're nervous."
The oven beeped, and Robert looked down at his latest creation, lasagna for three. It was not his most famous dish—no, that spot was reserved for his award-winning chicken dumpling casserole—but it was Joy's favorite. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. Everything will be fine, he told himself. We will be fine. He put the lasagna in the oven, pretending not to notice Peter watching him; he looked as if the lasagna were a bomb and they would die if Robert doesn't carefully put it in the oven.
"What do you think?" asked Peter. They were looking cautiously in the oven, where the garlic-induced lasagna lay, barely cooked.
"It'll heat up in no time," Robert assured. "She likes the edges crispy, so we'll leave it in a few extra minutes."
"No," said Peter, a hint of worry in his voice. He wasn't talking about the lasagna. It was never about the lasagna.
"Oh… that. I—I don't know."
Joy leaned back in her chair, looking suspiciously at the lasagna before her. Her eyes moved from the lasagna to the two men staring at her from across the table. They seemed awfully nice; a little too nice for her taste. Even Peter was smiling, and he never smiles. "Am I dying?" She just had to ask.
Peter huffed, crossing his arms, his smile quickly fading. "No, of course you're not dying. Why would you—why would she ask such a question?"
"Peter," warned Robert, nudging him. Peter's smile quickly sprung back onto his face, and Joy was absolutely terrified. Joy's stomach rumbled; she spent her lunch break visiting her father at the nursing home. She refuses to eat in that God-awful place and she didn't have time to pick anything up on the way back to work. Honestly, she wishes she had just gone to lunch instead. Visiting her father is such a chore these days. If wasn't the nurses threatening her with a sexual harassment charge, it was something else. The pudding is too cold. The blankets are too hot. The people are too smelly—actually she agrees with him on that one.
Cautiously, she took her fork and cut a good piece of it off. She watched as Peter and Robert watched her bite into the lasagna.
"Do you… like the lasagna?" asked Peter.
She dropped the fork onto her plate, causing a loud clacking noise, and spit the food out into her napkin. "You poisoned it."
"No, I did not!" He quickly turned to Robert. "You know, she always does this! Every time I try to be nice, she does this! Accuse me of poisoning her lasagna! Why would I want to poison her? With lasagna?" He stood abruptly from his chair, causing it to fall backwards. Robert, trying to calm him, urged him to sit back down, retrieving his chair. "I know you wanted her to be the one, I know, but I just can't do this. Not with her. Let's just find some random surrogate on that list the doctor gave us."
"What?" Joy sat up in her chair. If she hadn't spit out her food, she might have choked. "Surrogate? As in… mother?" The word was like a poison. She hated her mother. She hated her mother's mother. And if she had known her great grandmother, she probably would have hated her too. She didn't fit in with mothers, and the only mother who actually liked her was Robert's mother, but that was because she didn't want him to be with Peter. Or any man, for that matter. Honestly, Robert thought too highly of her. She was no mother. Not even a surrogate mother.
Peter had calmed down enough to sit back down, but his arms were still crossed and his monobrow was facing the direction of the wall, not even daring to look at her. "Well, you see," started Robert. He was nervous. Extremely nervous. "Joy, we would be honored if… And I know how you feel about mothers, but I really think this would be—"
"We want your eggs," Peter said simply. "None of that mother-goose stuff. Just your eggs. I mean… you'll carry it, but only for nine months."
Oh Joy, thought Joy. It's every girls' dream to carry the child of her ex-boyfriend—correction, her gay ex-boyfriend—and his lover's love child for them.
"We'll pay you," Robert blurted out, in a desperate attempt to rectify the situation.
Peter turned to him, his frown growing deeper. "Don't say it like that," he said. "You're making it sound like she's some surrogate-mother prostitute."
"It did not sound like that."
"It did." Peter finally turned back to her. Joy, at this point, was starving and had begun eating the lasagna. Poisoned or not, she was hungry. "We will pay you, of course," he continued. Annoyed Peter was quickly replaced with Business Peter as he slid a paper—a paper Joy had only noticed now—down to her. "As you can see, this is a business proposal. You will have full benefits while—"
"Peter, we can get to that later," said Robert, placing a gentle hand over Peter's. Their fingers intertwined. "Joy, I've known you since college. You are so important to me—to my life. To… to our life." He gestured toward Peter, who, surprisingly, looked content. "You have been so forgiving and supportive of me through the years. Through everything. I can't think of anyone else to go on such a special journey with us."
Peter only shrugged. "It was either you or my sister and she said no"—Robert nudged him slightly—"but I guess I'm glad it might be you." Joy looked down at the paper. It was a contract… or the start of a contract, anyway. They were offering full benefits, too, even dental. That's more than her current employer is providing. "This isn't the official document," Peter added, watching her carefully.
"We don't expect you to make your choice right here and now. Take a day—or two—to… think it over," said Robert. Joy stood up from her seat. Both Robert and Peter stood too. "When—I mean, if—you agree to it, we can spend an afternoon making up the official contract. Maybe go to Lazlo's. Enjoy some strudels."
"Hold on," she said, paper in hand. "You want me—me, as in Joy—to have your… baby? Can't-keep-a-job Joy? The girl who dates gay guys for a living? Me—that Joy?"
Robert turned to Peter, as if he needed confirmation. Peter quickly nodded, urging Robert to agree. "Y-yes," said Robert, turning back to her. "Yes, we would like for you to have our baby."
She stared at them for a moment, silent—either in shock or disbelief… or both—then plummeted back into her chair, laughing hysterically. The paper flew out of her hand and landed swiftly on the table. Concerned, Peter and Robert looked at each other again as they slowly slumped back down into their seats.
"I know we're asking a lot here," Robert began, after Joy's fit of laughter settled down into occasional slight chuckles, "but"—he turned to Peter and smiled—"this is something we've spent nights talking about." He took a quick glance at Peter, a smile springing to his face. Joy recalls similar nights, back in college, where they would spend hours talking about the future, about their life together. About their future life together. Never in a million years did Joy think that future would be ruined by some tall blond named Peter, but that's how life works sometimes, she supposes. She must have made a look, because Robert's smile quickly faded, perhaps suddenly remembering those college nights too.
Peter raised his monobrow slightly. "Who else have you turned gay, Joy," he asked curiously.
"Just take some time and think it over," said Robert, choosing to ignore Peter's comment. "That's all we ask."
Peter grabbed the paper from the table, looking over it one last time. He sighed. "Geez, Joy, you had it five minutes and you already got sauce on it." He looked irritated, but handed it back to her anyway. Joy looked at the paper in Peter's hand, then hesitantly accepted it.
"So now," Robert said with an awkward laugh, "let's eat."
"Peter… could you hand me the—"
"No, the sponge… Thank you."
Robert started scrubbing the plate with great force, a little too much force for Peter's taste. He always cleaned too much when he was nervous. When Peter first met Robert's mother, he waxed the floors so hard and so much, they couldn't be walked on for an entire week. The minute Peter was introduced to Pearl, he wanted to push her on those slippery floors, he'll admit.
"So… what do you think?" asked Peter.
"I got most of it off," said Robert, looking at the sparkly-clean plate. "The dishwasher will get the rest. If not, I'll wash it again tomorrow."
"No," he said, taking the plate and placing it in the dishwasher. He wasn't talking about the plate, nor the lasagna. It was never about those things.
"Oh," said Robert. "I don't know."