Author's note: This is an unusual story for me to write, because I "disagree" with the resolution. However, I think it keeps a writer on his or her toes to try to see something from a different perspective, like in Debate class, when you had to debate the "con" of something you were "pro." That's kinda what I did here. It's not too angsty, but it's not light and fluffy either.
The air was heavy, seeded with a loud silence that rested between Brenda and Fritz. Brenda desperately wanted to escape Fritz's intense gaze, and she let her eyes roam around the room, looking for a distraction. She took in the brightly decorated Christmas tree with a smattering of presents underneath, the mantle covered in greenery and pine cones, and the candles in the windows that Fritz insisted on to make the duplex look more festive. She settled on examining the nativity scene her mother had sent her, the one that was always displayed on the Johnson's coffee table at Christmas when she was a child. The crèche was very old, older than Brenda, and was more than a little worse for wear. Her brothers used to take the Wisemen and used them in battle with their GI Joes. Mary and Joseph were spared combat and didn't look too bad, their robes a little faded, and baby Jesus, well, what little boy would want to play war with an infant?
Fritz's throat-clearing brought her back to the present, and she turned to look at him. He was still staring at her, his brow furrowed on concentration, as he waited for her to say something. For once in her life she was at a loss for words, so she just stared down at her hands. She heard Fritz sigh in frustration.
"Brenda, the decision needs to be made, now. I don't want to put it off any longer. Neither of us is getting any younger, and we can't waste any time. You know where I stand, so what do you want? The decision is up to you." He ran his hand though his hair and crossed his arms. He seemed anxious, and more than a little annoyed at her.
"What if I say no, Fritz?" she asked, after several more moments of quiet and attempts to avoid his eyes. "What's gonna happen then?"
Fritz uncrossed his arms and rested them on his knees, leaning closer to Brenda. "Is that your answer?" He looked deflated.
"It annoys me greatly when people answer a question with a question. Unless I'm the one doin' it."
Fritz sighed again. "Okay, okay. I guess what's going to happen is we aren't going to have a baby."
"Try and have a baby, Fritz. I'm 43, remember? Chances are slim to none I would get pregnant anyways. It's not like getting pregnant is just a matter of flickin' on some switch somewhere on my body."
"I know that, Brenda. That's why I have been trying to pin you down for an answer since we got married, and all you've done is keep putting off the decision. Now we've lost ten months that could have been used to try and conceive. That's why I'm saying we can't delay any longer."
Brenda, who had desperately tried to postpone this conversation for as long as possible, furrowed her brow and tried to think of a good response. Her thoughts were interrupted when Fritz asked softly, "is no your answer then? We aren't having kids?" His voice was saturated with disappointment.
Brenda shook her head and shifted in her seat. "See, that's the problem right there. You want kids, bad. And if I said no, you would just resent me the rest of our marriage. Or regret marrying me in the first place. I mean, who knows, you might even leave me for someone younger who wants kids too…" She was starting to rant.
Fritz interrupted her. "Stop it Brenda, just stop it. I am not going to leave you over this. I proposed to you the day you were told you were in menopause, remember? I didn't even think having a baby with you was possible, and I desperately wanted to marry you anyways. Now that your reproductive system is back to normal, it's a different story. We have a chance at a family, a little bit of ourselves to live on. But I'm not going to resent you if this isn't what you want. I don't want to pressure you into doing something you really don't want to do."
Brenda snorted. "Pressure me? Fritz, you've been pressurin' me by bringin' up kids every possible opportunity you get. Talk about turnin' the spare room into a nursery and all that, for heaven's sake. I'm sittin' here feelin' incredibly pressured!" Just then Joel pulled himself away from batting at an ornament on the Christmas tree and jumped into Brenda's lap, burying his nose into the crook of her arm. She began to stroke his head with two fingers. "And don't think I don't know what Joel is about, gettin' me a kitten this tiny."
"Brenda, Joel was about getting you a pet and nothing else. What, do you think that I thought if I got you a kitten your maternal urges would be stirred up?"
Brenda nodded. Fritz laughed, a dry laugh, and shook his head. "Brenda, I'm not that smart. And a kitten is one thing, a baby is another. You can't return a baby to a shelter. And the only one who thinks you don't have any maternal instincts is you."
She shook her head violently. "I don't, Fritz. I'm not like other women. I don't go all mushy over babies and I never wanted to be a mother. It's just the way I'm built."
"I disagree. I watched how great you were with Charlie, long after I had lost patience with her. I have no doubt in my mind you would love our child, Brenda. If only you could believe that."
She looked at him. "How can you be so sure?"
"Because I know you, honey. You don't like anyone to see anything but your tough side, but I know how big your heart is. I know how fiercely you can love someone, because you love me that way. There's room in your heart for me, the job, and a child. I am certain that you would be a ferocious mother, loving and protective. I know that, to the core of my being."
"Don't you think you wantin' kids so bad might be cloudin' your judgment about me just a bit?"
"No!" Fritz said loudly. "Stop taking what I'm saying and invalidating it. It's making me really angry. I'm being honest with you, Brenda. If you are going to say no I want you to hear all the reasons why you should say yes first."
Brenda shook her head again. "I can't do my job and be a mom, Fritz. How can I take care of a kid with the hours that I work? And you know it's not in me to cut way back or step down."
"We've been through this. I would never expect you to step down, your job is a huge part of your life. And I'm not one of those men who expects you to do all the work of parenting. Sure, you would have to work a little less and get over your micromanaging a bit. But my schedule is more flexible, there's a daycare right in our building, so I promise to split parenting with you 70-30, okay?"
"Whose the 70 and whose the 30?"
Fritz rolled his eyes. "I'm the 70 percent. Except for breastfeeding. Unfortunately, I can't help out with that."
Brenda grimaced. "Breastfeedin', yuk. You got me breastfeedin' already. Tell me, Fritz, do you have names picked out already?"
He looked chagrinned. "Only the boys'."
"Yea, no pressure, none whatsoever."
"So I like to picture us with a family, is that so bad? Can't you just see how great Christmas day would be with a little one around, someone to wake us up at dawn to go see what Santa brought them? We would have so much fun putting up the tree and decorating it with a kid in the house, wouldn't we?"
"I'd say decoratin' the tree this year was rather excitin' with Joel climbin' up the trunk and knockin' off all the ornaments." Joel looked up at her with sleepy eyes at the mention of his name.
Fritz raised an eyebrow at her, clearly annoyed at her flippancy. "Alright, Fritz, you have a point. I loved Christmas when I was a kid, and Momma always went all out for us kids. I remember wakin' up Christmas morning really early, after stayin' up half the night listenin' for reindeers landing on the roof. Since I was the youngest, I had to drag my brothers out of bed so we could go downstairs and see what Santa brought." Brenda let herself get lost in reverie as the magic of Christmas pasts enveloped her. Her house smelling of cinnamon and pine, Christmas cookies everywhere, her parents fueling her excitement by telling her about Santa and his elves… She never felt so loved as she did at holiday time. Did she have it in her to recreate such magic in her home for her own child? Did she even dare try? Tiny tots in footie pajamas with eyes aglow as they watch the sky for Santa sounded great in the abstract, but the reality of investigating murders and a grueling schedule was her reality, the only one she trusted.
Her thoughts returned to the present. "I'm a criminal investigator, Fritz. That's who I am. You knew that when you married me."
"Is that all you want to be?" he asked her. "Your entire life spent in murder rooms, seeing the ugliest side of humanity over and over again. Always having to be in charge and have all the answers all the time. Long hours and bad coffee. Honey, you have missed out on so much in life because of your career and incredible dedication, and that's a choice you made. But is that really all you want? We are only given a certain amount of time on this earth, and it's short, very short. It's up to us to make the most of it. I just want you to think about this: do you want your life to be so one-dimensional? Or can you imagine, just for a minute, something beautiful and precious in your life too? To be something more than a law enforcement officer? The chance to get to watch a kid grow, Brenda, the ability to teach and nurture a little one, well, it would be the best way to balance the darkness of your job, honey. And sometimes I am afraid I am going to lose you in that darkness."
Brenda felt unexpected tears sting her eyes, and the image of Stroh's picture on her computer floated through her head. Burying herself in her work gave her a sense of self, a feeling of control, and insulated her from the complications of human emotions; she was one-dimensional, and she had liked it that way. But Fritz came along, and he threw her off-balance. He had scared her with his devotion and passion, and it took a long time for her to open her heart to him. But it was worth it, she had to admit to herself, worth all of his efforts to break down her walls. She was a happier woman for being Fritz's wife.
Tears had leaked onto her cheeks, and she wiped them away quickly. She had no idea why she was crying, but she heard herself say to Fritz, in a soft voice, "children can break your heart."
Without waiting for his reply to her emotional outburst, she moved Joel off her lap, stood up quickly and walked over to the nativity scene, her back to Fritz. She began to fiddle with the Wiseman, moving them around like her brothers use to do. The infant Jesus caught her eye and she picked him up, the hard plastic cool in her heated hands. She examined him, faded and chipping, looking more like a tiny adult than an actual baby. She was contemplating why this was when she felt Fritz's hands on her shoulders. She stiffened at his touch.
"Yes, children can break your heart, Brenda. And they can also be a source of great happiness. You let me in, honey, why can't you let a baby in? I promise you, it will be worth it."
Brenda felt Fritz's warm breath on the back of her neck, and she relaxed into his touch. Fritz had a knack of being right about things, although she would never tell him that. The trickle of tears became a stream, and she felt herself shake as Fritz pulled her closer. "I don't know why I'm cryin'," she sniffled. "I have no idea what's wrong with me."
"You're letting go," he said simply, and Brenda wasn't sure what he meant. Letting go of her self-image of the single-minded hard ass Deputy Chief, or letting go of her resistance to having a family? She wasn't sure, but as she felt Fritz hold her tightly, something seemed to melt in her heart. She was absurdly reminded of the Grinch, whose tiny heart grew three sizes on Christmas day. Maybe that's happening to me, she thought, wiping away the tears that rolled down her cheeks. Maybe my heart is making room for... something else.
She pulled out of Fritz's embrace and turned around, finally looking at him. The word seemed to spill out of her mouth on its own volition. "Okay," she choked. She knew that one word could change her life forever, either good or bad, and she trembled at the thought. She hated change. But she knew, without a doubt, that every leap she took with Fritz, from moving in together to getting married, landed her in a better place. She had learned to trust him.
Fritz wrapped his hands around her upper arms and pulled her close, looking at her unwaveringly. "Did you just say, 'okay'" as in 'okay let's try to have a baby?'" He practically whispered the words, as if he was afraid he would break some spell she was under if he spoke too loudly.
She took a shaky breath and wiped the last of the tears from her eyes. She had made a decision, one that she couldn't micromanage the outcome of, and she was terrified. But she knew she was giving Fritz the best Christmas present ever, taking this leap of faith. She could only hope that everything would work out, like in a case, she thought. Even in the messiest murders, the pieces come together in the end.
"Yes," she said, resting her hands lightly on his chest and meeting his eyes. "I'm willin' to try, as long as you don't expect me to go through fertility treatments. My ovaries have been poked enough for one lifetime." She managed a watery smile.
Fritz was still at first, clearly not trusting his ears, and then broke out in a huge grin. He pulled her close and hugged her so tightly that she could barely breathe. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," he breathed, his own eyes getting watery. "You have no idea what this means to me, Brenda, no idea." He rocked her back and forth, kissing her head repeatedly. "My sweet Brenda," he murmured, wonder in his voice.
"Just don't get your hopes up, Fritzy, okay? I don't want to see you hurt and disappointed if this doesn't work out." She felt him nod his head as he continued to hug her.
She extricated herself from his hold as she remembered she was still holding the baby Jesus. He's a little worse for wear, she thought, just like any kid of mine would be. Brenda smiled slightly and put the infant back in his manger, where he belonged.
"Sooo… she said, taking Fritz's hand, delighting in the pure joy on his face. "Since we're not getting any younger, why don't we get started…right now?" She arched an eyebrow at him suggestively.
Brenda didn't think Fritz could look any happier than he already did, but now he was glowing. He picked up their joined hands and kissed her knuckles. "Lets," he said, fire in his eyes.
Brenda let him to the bedroom, not giving a backward glance at the Christmas tree, decorations, or nativity scene, or all the other bits and pieces that spoke of hope and joy. For once, she was looking ahead.