It's always hard to tell someone that something they want so much isn't going to happen. It's harder when that someone is your best friend; and this is the third time she's getting this news.
Naomi's always prided herself on being absolutely aloof when it comes to these situations. If she broke down every time a couple she tried to help couldn't get pregnant, she'd be constantly an emotional mess. But this person is Addison; this is strong, beautiful, incredible Addison, who's able to take everyone else's stress and carry it with her own; who's smiled through every shot and every disappointment, because her eyes are on the goal. But three strikes and Naomi's out; she can't take the darkening blue of Addison's eyes when she tells her the bad news one more time. She's done.
Addison's sitting on the table, looking adorable in the purple cotton nightgown and little soft purple socks. Her arms are bruised from the needles, because Addison's always had a little trouble with people being able to find her veins. Her hair is a little messy because she's been lying on the paper, staring at the ceiling, while Naomi did her tests. Her eyes are painfully hopeful. Naomi doesn't think she's ever seen someone more beautiful at this moment in time, and it's like a dichotomy, beauty with desperation; elegance with anxiety. Addison keeps it under control, but there are some things you can never hide from a best friend.
Naomi closes the door behind her; she shuffles papers in her hands; she doesn't look at Addison right away and she doesn't have to say anything. Addison, who has taken the past two disappointments like a trooper, allows herself to cover her face, to curl her toes, to let out a series of harsh sobs that tear through the expectant silence in the room, because Naomi's not going to go on and Addie knows it. She's letting go of ever being able to hold a child created with her genetic material, and Naomi can do nothing but cry with her, wrap her arms around her, lean her dark head against the flame hair.
Platitudes don't do well for a broken heart. No one says it doesn't hurt to let go of a dream.
It takes a couple of weeks, but Addison starts to smile again, and everyone stops treating her like she's made of recently-glued-together glass. She's sort of glad, because although the care was nice, the unnatural gentleness and silence when she stepped into a room made it just bloody awkward. It's not as if she's actually lost something. She's just not experiencing something she never had. It's fine.
Pete, even, has been gentle, and it's just serving to annoy the hell out of her. She's used to the banter; she's used to the flirting. What she isn't used to is the way his warm hand covers hers during the morning meeting or the way she finds a coffee on her desk. It's nice, but stop. Addison's a big believer in moving on. Just let her move on already!
It's actually Naomi that comes up with the solution to Addison's baby problem. She walks into Addie's office one morning, a big expectant smile on her face. Addison takes one look at her and groans. "That's way too bright for this time of the morning, Nae."
"Shut up and look at this." Naomi slides a piece of paper across Addison's desk and despite her complete indifference to everything these days, Addison picks it up. It has a website address of an adoption agency on it. "Nae . . .?"
"You want a baby so badly, Addie? Why are you only exploring one option? There are millions of kids out there that need a loving home. You're so great with children – why can't you be a mother to one of them?"
"I don't know." Addison drops the paper on her desk, raises her hands to run her fingers through her hair. "I always thought if I were going to have a baby, it'd be my own."
"Why can't an adopted child be your own?"
"Nae. It's too early for all of this." Addison sighs, fiddles with the paper. "I don't know if I can take another disappointment. It can take years to get a child."
Naomi stands up and sighs. "You're determined to feel sorry for yourself. Poor Addison, infertile and dried up. Come on! You can't have a baby the natural way? I don't know why you're not jumping all over this. So, it's not going to be a baby with your genetic material. It's still a child who needs a family." Naomi looks really annoyed and that's when Addison belatedly remembers that Naomi herself was adopted.
"Oh, Nae. I'm not putting down adoption."
"Well, tell me at least you'll think about it?" Naomi comes over and puts a hand over Addison's. "If anyone deserves someone to love unconditionally, it's you."
Addison pulls her down and wraps her arms around her, burying her face in her shoulder. "You're too nice to me."
"It's an unfortunate condition of loving you unconditionally."
Addie pouts her lips satirically and smacks Naomi's shoulders. "I'll think about it."
It's been a couple of months, and Addison's deep in paperwork. She's also deep in conditions. She yells at her computer regularly, especially after she receives an email from another American agency, telling her that the waiting list for a single mother is about three years long.
"Naomi, why was this a good idea again?"
"Okay, just because the waiting list is long doesn't mean that something might not come up. People get children early all the time."
"They want me to be married or with someone, Nae. I'm hopelessly single."
Naomi puts a finger into her mouth, chews on a nail until Addison smacks the finger out of her hand. "Quit it! God, that's your worst habit."
"You know, you two are exactly like an old married couple," comes a deep voice from the doorway, and they both turn to see Sam leaning up against the doorjamb. Naomi springs out of her seat towards Sam and he takes a step back, looking alarmed as she throws her arms around him and kisses his cheek. "You're a genius!"
"Okay . . ." He puts his hands up and backs away slowly. "You women have officially gone mad; I can see that now." He turns tail and runs and Addison, after laughing herself into tears, turns to Naomi. "Now, why did you have to scare the poor man like that?"
"Put me down as your partner."
"What?" Addison leans forward, a laugh on her lips, when she sees Naomi is completely serious. "Seriously?"
"You said that you're having trouble getting adoption agencies to consider you because you're single. Well, what if you weren't single?"
"Nae, sweetheart, I hate to break it to you, but I've never ever considered you that way."
"You don't have to, you idiot. This is purely to get you a baby." Naomi kneels beside Addison's chair and her voice grows soft. "I couldn't help you before; I promised I'd help you get pregnant and I couldn't."
"That doesn't mean I hate you or ever expected you to do something like this. It wasn't your fault, Nae."
"Addie . . . please."
Addison looks into Naomi's soft brown eyes and then throws up her hands. "Fine. Consider us a . . . couple."
"Great!" Naomi is already leaning over Addison to type her name into the "Spouse" field of the online application form. Addison smiles and rests her head on Naomi's back.
"Anytime, baby." Naomi turns around and kisses Addison's cheek, and Addie's smile gets even wider.
Addison and Naomi are on Addison's couch, sharing the laptop, one half on each knee. After Addison stumbled onto the Russian adoption site, she's never been able to consider adopting from anywhere else. Tonight, they're poring over a website from an orphanage in Moscow, and Addison's squealing and pointing at pale-faced, big-eyed boys and girls. Naomi keeps suggesting certain children, but Addison shakes her head at every one. She knows that when she sees the baby that she'll adopt, she'll just know.
Naomi sips at her wine. "I remember when Maya was that age," she says, pointing at an eight-month-old little boy who's drooling in his picture. "She was such a good baby."
"I remember," Addison replies, twirling a piece of hair around her fingers. "She almost never cried."
"Nope. I miss it when she was that easy. Teenagers are like the spawn of the devil," Naomi quips and sighs. Addison sighs too and shifts on the couch. "Nae? Do you think I can handle this?"
"Can you handle this?"
"I mean, I know what it is. It's a twenty-four-hour job and you never get a break, and you have to deal with "I hate yous" and "Gimmes" and vomiting at three AM, but I wonder if I'm losing sight of what having a child really is in the whole wanting one so badly."
"So what you're saying is that you're wondering if you'll be a good mother?"
"What is a good mother, Addie? No one's a good mother. We all make mistakes. Maya hates me when I don't let her have sleepovers on school nights, but I'm the first one she calls when she's hurt or upset or needs someone's shoulder to cry on. Being a good mother isn't being able to pay for the latest toys or clothes, or never hearing, "I hate you". Being a good mother is being the one person that your child wants when they're absolutely desperate; it's listening for the "I love yous" in the middle of the night when the child has a nightmare."
Addison wipes a tear away. "God, Nae. You should write a novel."
"Sam has that covered, thank you very much." They both laugh and Addison sniffles, rubbing the tears out of her eyes. She takes a sip of wine, and then suddenly forgets to swallow. "That one."
Naomi leans forward to better study the blurry picture on the website. It's of a little red-haired girl with large blue eyes and pale, pale skin. She's listed as being almost two years old and her name is Katya.
"That's her. That's her, Nae." Addison is already reaching for the phone, even though the agency is closed. "Look at her. That's my daughter!" Her voice is getting a little hysterical and Naomi has to put a hand on Addison's back and remove the phone from her hands.
"She's beautiful, Addison. She's just beautiful," and Addison curls up against Naomi's warm body, gazing at the picture. "I just know."
"Sometimes you just do."
Addison and Naomi are on a plane to Russia and Addison can't keep her hands still. It's all gone so smoothly – the paperwork went through; the social worker from the adoption agency came out to do the home inspection, and both Naomi and Addison have been interviewed until they're both sick of questions. It's three months later and they've had to act like a couple, and really, it hasn't been really hard. Naomi fits well into Addison's house; in fact, with Maya living with Sam, she's considering giving up her own house for the time being so that she can help Addison through the first stages of being a new mother.
Addison's got a million pieces of paper, all warning her about things she should expect. Katya is almost two and a half, but she's got no more coordination or continence than a baby. Children in some Russian orphanages are very socially deprived, so another sheet tells her that Katya may exhibit symptoms of odd or repetitive behaviour and failure to thrive. The same sheet warns her that Katya may have trouble attaching to Addison and that she may need to see a child psychologist. Addison is wondering what the hell she's gotten herself into, but the excitement takes over it all and she practically bounces in her seat. Naomi has to keep covering Addison's hand with her own to calm her down.
When they arrive, it's December and the snow is flying everywhere, all around the Red Square and blotting out the coloured onion-domes of St. Basil's cathedral. Addison is aware that she's going to have to argue her case in court, and she's not looking forward to it, but she can't wait to see her daughter and Monday, the day of her visit, can't come fast enough.
They're shown into a room dressed in primary colours and low tables which is suspiciously free of any children, artwork, or anything having to do with kids. Katya is brought out, a tiny, blinking little thing who hides her face in the attendant's shoulder. Through a translator, Addison is told that the little girl is excited to have her own family, but she rolls her eyes at the thought of a misplaced two-year-old caring anything about being warm, dry, fed and loved. Katya is given to Addison and the little one screams at first, but after Addison jiggles her up and down in her arms and walks around the room with her, Katya unscrews her eyes enough to see that the person holding her has blue eyes and red hair, too. For the rest of the visit, she holds onto a lock of Addison's hair and rests her head against her neck while the paperwork is gone over and bribes are exchanged for a good court visit.
It's well-known that the Russian government looks down on same-sex couples, but as Addison learns, money talks and it doesn't have to speak Russian. Five hundred American dollars gets a judge who turns his nose up at the whole situation, but stamps the paperwork and washes his hands of the case. Within an hour, Katya is Addison's daughter, in name if not in practice.
Addison isn't allowed to take Katya home for two months – it's a strange rule, but there it is. She has the option of having the orphanage send the child to her, but after a quick conference with Naomi, she knows that will just confuse the baby. They go home and Addison cries inconsolably on the plane from all the stress and no amount of Naomi's hair-stroking and hand-pressing will stop her tears.
That night, they climb into bed together and chastely sleep with their arms around each other, because that's what best friends do and Addison can't sleep alone right now. Somewhere in all the salty tears and wet pillows, Addison kisses Naomi and Naomi lets it happen, and hands move under covers in a sort of desperation.
When they wake up in the morning, no one mentions anything, but Addison puts a picture of the two of them with Katya on her desk.
The second visit to Russia feels more like routine. They're shown into the primary-coloured room and Katya is once again brought out. She's gotten a little taller and a little thinner, and she buries her face in the attendant's shoulder again and screams when Addison tries to pry her away. This time, Addie can't calm her – she's still crying as they're given her small bag of clothes and toys and passport. She's crying in the cab; she cries when they get back to the hotel, and as soon as Addison puts her down, she scuttles into a corner and begins to rock herself back and forth, biting on her hands.
Naomi looks absolutely shocked. "Is that supposed to happen?"
Addison consults the papers. "Yeah. They said she'd have trouble attaching. We can't expect her to know that she's with us right away, Nae." The paper also tells Addison to leave the child alone to adjust, so they pack up her stuff and Addison lays out a pair of threadbare pajamas and a fresh diaper on the bed.
She kneels beside Katya, who is staring blankly at the wall. "Hey, baby girl. We're gonna get you ready for bed, okay?"
The baby doesn't move and when Addison picks her up, she's as limp as a rag doll. She doesn't put her arms around Addison, nor rest her head on Addie's shoulder, like before. She simply lets Addison hold her and then lie her on the bed. Naomi comes over to check on Addison's diaper-changing skills.
The baby puts a thumb in her mouth as she watches the two women above her. There's no curiosity in her eyes, just an indifference which, frankly, scares them both. Addison undoes the diaper, which is soaked, and then gasps. "Oh, my God, Naomi . . ."
The baby's bottom is completely raw and bleeding. It's as red as a fire engine and peeling in some places. Addison's been a neonatal surgeon for years, but she's never seen a diaper rash as bad as this. The tears come to her eyes as the smell of ammonia assaults her nostrils and she has to turn her head away before she gags. "How could they do this to her?"
Naomi's cheeks are streaked as she scrabbles around in the bag of supplies they brought. "I don't even think that regular diaper rash cream is going to do anything."
Addison leaves Katya with Naomi and goes into the bathroom, filling a bowl with warm water. She dabs at the rash gently with a wet cloth, and Katya whimpers, scrubbing a hand across her eyes. "Okay, okay, baby."
The baby murmurs something in Russian and then begins to sob as Addison spreads diaper rash cream on her and loosely fastens the fresh diaper around her. "I don't even want to put this on too tightly. She really needs to go bare-bummed for awhile, but she'll wet all over everything."
Naomi sighs. "There's not much you can do about it. I can't believe them. She must have lain there in that diaper for hours."
Addison finishes getting Katya ready for bed and holds the child close to her, feeling Katya finally tighten her little arms around Addison's neck. "I wish I could take them all."
Naomi comes over and strokes Katya's red hair, just like Addison's. "I know, sweetie."
The plane ride home is hell, since they discover upon takeoff that Katya is severely allergic to milk and, as an added bonus, she also gets motion sickness. Addison spends most of the flight going through clothes and diapers as the baby explodes from both ends. Around the five-hour mark, Katya finally drops off to sleep and Addison sighs. "God, I had no idea the whole puking thing was going to start immediately."
"You never know with kids," Naomi says after coming back from the airplane washroom, where she's been washing out Katya's shirts and pants. Addison smiles gratefully as she spreads the wet little clothes out on the seat next to her to dry. "Thanks, sweetie."
When the plane lands, Katya wakes up suddenly and begins to cry. "Hotchu Mamu," she wails, and after a quick flip through the Russian-English dictionary, Addison learns that it means that Katya wants Mama. Even though Katya doesn't know who Mama is, and never has known, she wants something familiar. To her two-year-old mind, that familiar something is known as Mama. Addison sighs.
"Mama's here, sweetie," she says, patting the baby's back. Katya sniffs against Addison's hair and repeats her request, along with another string of Russian syllables that Addison can't decipher. She sighs and simply walks off the plane, not knowing that Katya's crying because her ears hurt and she's hungry after throwing up for the whole flight. Katya eventually stops crying, but it doesn't stop Addison from opening a jar of baby food on the way home and feeding Katya messy orange carrots that make the baby smile and comment on the consistency in Russian. Naomi smiles in the front seat and says, "It'll be nice when she can speak English, huh?"
The first night is a lesson in patience as Addison walks around and around the baby's room that she's carefully decorated with pink and white and elegant hardwood furniture, holding a sobbing Katya. She refuses to let Addison put her down, and Addison's getting incredibly exhausted when Naomi comes in.
"She's still up?" Naomi rubs her hands into her eyes and tries to take the baby from Addison's arms. Katya clings, but then gives up and buries her face in Naomi's shoulder. "When Maya used to cry like this, I used to give her a bottle of warm milk. Apparently that doesn't work with this one."
"Well, no; not unless you'd like her to vomit and go through pants all night."
"Yeah, no." She rubs the baby's back and Katya sighs shakily. "What did they give her in Russia?"
"I think we've already established how they treated her in Russia." Katya's bottom is a little bit better, but it's still pretty raw and out of habit, Addison checks her diaper. Naomi grins. "I bet that's something you thought you'd never do."
"Shut up. How do I get her to stop crying? You know this stuff." Addison's voice is bordering on tears and Naomi rubs her shoulder with her free hand. "Why don't we try giving her some warm water?"
"It settles the stomach down; sometimes it's even better than ginger ale. She hasn't eaten a lot today and I'm guessing it's because she's still feeling upset inside."
"It's worth a try."
They troop down to the kitchen and after blinking in the bright lights, Katya reaches for Addison. Addison takes the warm weight of the baby into her arms and nuzzles her hair. "There we go. Ya ti lublu."
Naomi giggles. "What does that mean?"
"Shut up. It means I love you." The baby sighs again and puts a thumb in her mouth, rolling her eyes to take in the sumptuous décor of Addison's kitchen. Naomi fills a bottle with warm boiled water and gives it to Addison.
Katya is, in fact, very thirsty. She sucks raptly at the bottle until her eyes start to close. When Addison lifts her back up onto her shoulder, the baby is asleep.
"Nice one, Nae."
"Don't mention it."
The next few weeks are tough, and Addison purposely stays away from work so that she can bond with her little girl. Katya is still exhibiting signs of extreme deprivation, but she smiles at Addison now and follows her around, pointing at things and listening intently to the English word. She still hasn't really spoken above a whisper, or stopped crying at night, but Addison is slowly getting into the groove of one more cookie at bedtime or allowing Katya to jump in puddles with her new red boots.
Tonight, Katya is crying, again, and Addison rolls over with a groan. Naomi, who has taken to sleeping in the same bed with Addie, sighs in her sleep and shows signs of waking up. Because she's going to work and Addison isn't, Addie gets out of bed and pads into the baby's room across the hall.
Katya is standing up in her crib; she's wearing soft fuzzy white one-piece pajamas and clutching her blanket in her other hand. "Mama," she wails as soon as she sees Addison and Addie picks her up, feeling the baby cling to her like a little koala bear.
"Mama zdes," she murmurs, stroking the baby's hair and jiggling her a bit. She lays her on the change table and changes her diaper, then reaches for the bottle of water that's fallen to the floor beside the crib. Katya doesn't need warm water, anymore, but she does need a drink at night.
The baby cuddles with Addison on the soft white chair beside the window and Addison closes her eyes for a moment, enjoying Katya's soft breathing and warm body. She's startled out of her reverie by the baby tugging gently on her hair. "Mama."
"That?" Katya points at the night sky over the beach, which is bright tonight with a full moon. Addison smiles down at her. "That's the sky."
"That?" She points at Addison's necklace, which is a gold chain and heart pendant. Addison looks down at it and gently disentangles the baby's fingers. "That's a heart."
"Heart." Katya points at the satin heart on her pajamas. "Heart."
"Good girl." Addison is really too tired to have this conversation, so she puts the baby back in her crib. Immediately, Katya starts to whimper and hold up her arms. "No, no!"
Addison strokes her hair. "Go to sleep. I love you." She's trying this cry-it-out-method, because Naomi teases her when she lets Katya stay up with her. The baby's had a hard time adjusting to the time change, but Addison's staying firm. "I love you."
"I love you, Mama."
Addison leans down, inhales the scent of Katya, all milk and baby powder and Ivory Snow. Katya puts her arms around Addison's neck. "I love you?" she asks hopefully, and Addison gives in.
Naomi wakes up a little and smiles wryly at the little white form beside her in the bed. "I thought you were going to stay firm."
"You try staying firm when she says I love you."
"Well, if that's all it takes," drawls Naomi, and leans over to kiss Addison's lips. "I love you."