This outtake was written for the Fandom 4 Sexual Assault Awareness Compilation. Thanks to all who donated—over $10,000 was raised!
Through Jasper's POV, this takes place when he and Gabriel decided to adopt their son. It starts about seven years prior to the end of Red. There is angst.
Huge thanks to my beta and prereaders Askthemagic8ball, sncmom, and Morethanmyself. Also, thanks MyCrookedSmile for planting the seed for a Jasriel outtake in the first place.
I sit next to you in our bed before we go to sleep. It's our nightly routine: you read crap fiction while I either make notes for tomorrow's presentation or flip through a magazine. Our nights are typically quiet except, of course, on the nights we are not.
I watch the side of your mouth lift slightly and know you've just read something that's amused you; you're in your own world right now. Did you realize you tug at your earlobe when something puzzles you? I wonder. You've done this twice while reading tonight. I peek at the dark cover of the novel; it's clearly a murder mystery. The picture of a smoking gun and splatter of blood on an ordinary brick wall have given that much away. You're a brilliant doctor, treating the human psyche every day, yet you choose to get lost in simplicity. It's a diversion, I know, but I love that this is your guilty pleasure. I'm not sure why I do because it's irrelevant to anything really. Maybe it's because I'm the only one on the planet who knows this about you and wouldn't care what form of escapism you chose.
Still, you're so involved in this book you're reading you don't notice me tapping my pen against my pad. I'm not doing it to gain your attention; it's simply what I do when I try to get back to my train of thought. I wonder if you know this about me and choose to say nothing just as I do about your habits. Even after all this time together, it's funny to me that I've never questioned these little things before.
I should tell you how happy you make me more often.
You shift, pulling the covers with you. "Sorry," you say, barely glancing toward me and rest your arm above your head as you scoot further down in bed. I don't take your action as being dismissive; you're one of the kindest men I've ever known. But you worry too much.
The newly gray strands of hair and deep crinkles at the corners of your eyes stem from that incessant need of yours to blame yourself. I understand, I do… but I wish you wouldn't be so hard on yourself. We've talked about Leah and Bella so many times, and how you think you've failed them both. You haven't. But you're not perfect either.
"My own flesh and blood, Jasper," you had said. "Sure, she said she forgives me, but I just don't know." I'd told you to give it time, that you couldn't see the way she looked at you like I could, and that yes, she loves you. And then poor Bella. Poor you. "How could I have been so stupid!" you had yelled that night. "How did I miss it? She was so happy; they were so happy, and I let myself get too close, too personally involved. All I saw was her happiness, and I missed it." But then you had spoken to her after she'd left – she'd called you. Bella had explained her reasons for leaving, that she'd needed to figure out who she was on her own. In the end, you had known it was the right decision regardless of the cause. It wasn't your fault.
You are getting better at accepting, though. I silently laugh at the irony of the thought, considering you're a shrink by trade. You're not so cautious when we're with Leah anymore. I see the way your eyes light up when she drops off Emily for us to babysit, and I wonder if it's too late for us.
I've been thinking about it a lot lately.
I drop my pad and pen to the floor beside me and turn to face you, propping my head up with my hand. You side-glance me then lay your book on your chest, and as you turn your head to face me, you give me one of those looks. It's the one where you raise both eyebrows and purse your lips… You know I want to talk.
There's never been a need to prompt me. I've never been afraid or wary to tell you what's on my mind – it's how it's always been with us.
Except this time I am.
"I was thinking," I say.
"Oh, that can't be good." You smile, teasing me, but you roll to your side to give me your full attention. I take your hand to hold between us, and I think I do this more for my sake than yours – security maybe? "Everything all right?"
"Yeah, yeah." I take a deep breath, and hope to god you don't freak out. "Gabriel… what do you think about us expanding our family?"
"What are you talking about?" There's laughter in your voice. "Expand? Like how? An animal? Do you want to get a dog, Jasper?" you ask. "I don't know… Our schedules. Maybe. Big or small?"
You're so clueless sometimes it amazes me. But I laugh. You make me laugh.
"No, not a dog… I want a baby."
"I'm a grandfather, Jasper!" Gabriel paces in front of me. He's struggling with this; it's evident.
"Yes. You're a wonderful grandfather and father, Gabriel. Any child would be lucky to have you in his or her life."
"I'm too old. You're too old."
"You know what I mean."
"How?" he asks. "Surrogate? Adoption?"
It's morning. We're sitting at the kitchen table after a long night of restless sleep. "I've done some research, and although both options would be a potential risk for us…" The idea of someone changing their mind scares the hell out of me, but right now I'm too afraid to give him another reason to not want to do this. "I think adoption. There are lawyers who specialize in this."
"I know that," he snaps.
My God this man is a bear when he doesn't get enough sleep. Still, I'm pissed. For four days he's done nothing but brood around the house, complaining about this and that, and he's been brusque, annoyingly so. I've tried to be patient, but I'll be damned if he gets to behave like this without even trying to understand my side. "You know what, Gabriel? I've had enough. The least you could do would be to consider my feelings about this, but no, instead you're acting like an ass. I want a child. I want a daughter or son who I can love and raise into adulthood… with you. I don't care how old we are. I don't care that we're a couple of queers who will get shit stares from ignorant people… we already do. It's just the way it is.
"Look, I want this. For us. And it's not that I think we need a baby to help our relationship – we don't. It's because the two of us together would make amazing parents." We're both quiet for a few moments. I take a sip of my coffee. "Can't you imagine toy trucks scattered all over the floor or our home looking like a Barbie factory?"
Gabriel chuckles, and I reach over to rub his knee. He squeezes the back of his neck, and then, suddenly, his face drops. His expression is stone, determined, and he shakes his head slightly. For him, this conversation is over.
My chair slams to the floor as I stand; I've hit my thigh against the table in a rush to get as far away from him as possible. The table rocks then slides a few inches. Coffee has spilled over the side of my mug. His glass has tipped and rolled off the table. Shattered glass sits among a puddle of orange juice. Good. I don't give a shit. "Fuck you."
"Wait! Jasper!" Gabriel yells as I leave the room. My skin is hot with anger; I don't want to talk to him, nor do I want to hear a lame excuse. We've never had problems communicating. Ever. Before I reach the front door, his hand is on my shoulder, forcing me to stop. "There's something I need to explain."
We're in Dr. Cullen's waiting room.
"I still can't believe you didn't tell me," I whisper. "If he has bad news, I'm going to kill you."
Gabriel offers a pitiful smile. "It was the same day you said you wanted to have a baby. I wanted to wait for the results; I told you."
"Tell me again." I'm so damn nervous.
"A mole on my forearm; I didn't think anything of it. When I had my check-up that morning, Carlisle saw it, said he didn't like the looks of it. He removed it and sent it off to the lab."
"But he didn't say anything else, right? Carlisle didn't say it looked really bad or make one of those faces which tells you, undeniably, that things are not good?" I look down at the floor. Not cancer, please. "You said the Band-Aid on your arm was from hitting it against the corner of your desk."
Gabriel sighs exasperatedly. We've been over this about a million times over the last three days. "No, he gave me no indication of anything like that… This is why I didn't say anything – you worry too much. And then you brought up having a baby, and I got scared. All sorts of horrible thoughts went through my mind. The idea of leaving you and our child… It was just a mole."
"Dr. Reyes?" The receptionist announces. She's short and plump and has fiery red hair. Vicky is the kind of person who could make you forget for a moment you've just received a death sentence because her kindness is boundless; I pray we won't need her kindness. "You can come back now."
We're seated across from Carlisle in his office. It reminds me of a library: all dark wood and dark green. He even has a library lamp sitting on the corner of his desk. Behind him hangs a small painting of a landscape: snowcapped mountains. I stare at a black brushstroke I believe to be an eagle in mid-flight.
"Good news," Carlisle says. "The results came back negative; the mole was benign."
Collectively, Gabriel and I let out a sigh of relief.
"You could have just called me with the news, Carlisle," he says, wryly, smiling. "I thought colleagues were given preferential treatment."
"Yes," Carlisle says, "and doctors also make the worst patients. I'm sorry I didn't say anything over the phone, but there's a little more." He leans toward us, clasping his hands together the way all doctors seem to do when they're about to get serious. Dammit. My line of vision shifts back to the eagle. "I'm concerned about your triglyceride level. You're sitting at one-ninety-three – that's borderline high. You need to be no higher than one-fifty, Gabriel."
Gabriel's grandfather died of a heart attack at seventy-two, but other than that, his family history is good, so this news comes as a bit of a surprise. Carlisle has given us a quick tutorial on all things cholesterol, and an hour later, we leave his office. In my hand are a few pamphlets explaining the dos and don'ts and the whats and whatnots of fats. Looks like we're starting a new diet tomorrow.
It could have been so much worse.
On the menu tonight is grilled chicken with a side of asparagus – no butter. Bland but healthy. We've adjusted to our new, healthier lifestyle fairly easily, and Gabriel seems to have enjoyed concocting new recipes, too. Some people might bitch and moan about what they miss, but not Gabriel. I've always liked that about him.
We're also having wine. Actually, always wine. Especially lately since it seems everywhere I go I see mothers and fathers with their children. Infants and toddlers have taken over my dreams both as I sleep and during my waking hours. I might be on the verge of obsession. Just last week I was in Dallas for a meeting with a middle management team for American Airlines. We broke for lunch and instead of making small talk about the weather or listening to suggestions of decent restaurants to have dinner that night, as what normally happens, I found myself in deep discussion with Irina, American's Human Resources Director. We chatted about baby formula: powder versus liquid and which brand was best. Her daughter, Tanya, is turning one in two months. Apparently, Tanya loves The Wiggles, a horrible, grating on your last nerve kids' show, according to Irina. While she cringed, I thought about buying a big screen television.
The good news is that Gabriel and I have been talking, almost ad nauseam, about the possibility of adoption: our lives changing, diapers, schools, what kind of parents we'd want to be together. I caught him smiling when he was looking through photographs of Leah this morning. The great news is that we've made an appointment with an attorney.
Gabriel's chest glides against mine, both of us slick with sweat. "I love you," he mumbles against my mouth. His cock is hard in my hand; he strokes mine with his.
"I love you, too."
We're all tongues, lips, and teeth, licking and nibbling until he starts to slide down. Gabriel kisses my neck then sucks and bites my nipple. He continues down until I'm completely inside his mouth. My knees are raised, my hands hold the sides of his head – it's fucking heaven. Gabriel digs his fingers into my thigh, he squeezes my balls, and, oh, fuck, I look down at him just as he looks up at me. He's getting himself off while sucking me, and I want to come so damn bad. But even more, I want him to come in my mouth.
I lift his head and begin to move. Soon, we're on our sides, grasping each other's asses, pumping our dicks into each other's mouths. He scratches my upper thigh, hard, and I groan. My noises turn him on; they always have. He rolls us so he's on top. He's in control; this is what he likes - complete control. He teases me with his dick as he sucks only the head of mine. Bastard. I grab him, leading him to my mouth and tickle his slit with the tip of my tongue. He takes me all the way in and lowers himself so that I can do the same.
Fuck me. I want to fuck you. Fuck me.
I come then he comes. A little while later, we stand in our bathroom, waiting for the water in the shower to heat. I fuck him as he braces himself against the vanity. It's raw and fast and hard; I come quickly. I lean my forehead against the back of his shoulder; Gabriel reaches around, his fingers thread through my hair. My heart pounds and I'm out of breath; I want to cry – I'm suddenly overwhelmed.
"I have a good feeling," he says. "Honestly."
Tomorrow we meet with Jacob Black, Attorney at Law.
"So? How did it go?" Bella asks.
I'm stretched out across our couch, my feet resting on Gabriel's lap, his legs stretched out over the ottoman. We're both exhausted, but there's an air of excitement that buzzes between us.
I shift the phone from one ear to the other. "Besides handing over our entire history, submitting to an intensive background check, and basically offering an invitation for perfect strangers to dissect and judge us? I thought it went well," I say. Bella laughs; she sounds good. "But seriously, Jake, our attorney, is really nice, experienced. The worst thing is that it could take years to find someone who's willing to hand their baby over to us." Gabriel slides his hand underneath my pant leg, rubbing his thumb along my calf, but he continues to stare at the television.
"But it could only take months, too."
"Yes. That would be the best case scenario."
Bella has been gone for two years – two years! – yet we've maintained our friendship, and I'm so, so grateful for that. She's become like a sister to me, and besides Gabriel, she's the only one I've ever completely opened up to about my family. Bella talks to me about Edward; Gabriel never pries - another thing I'm grateful for. If he did, I don't think Bella and I would have been able to have become as close as we are. Edward, on the other hand, well, he doesn't really need to since they've been writing letters back and forth, but he still asks about her occasionally. I hear in her voice how much she loves Edward, and I see it in his eyes. I hope that one day they can be together again. I keep that thought to myself, though. For now, I only listen.
"What's next?" she asks. "How does it work?"
"After we pass the screening process-"
"Which you will with flying colors."
I smile. "Fingers crossed. Then Jake will send out the all-call."
"What do you mean?"
"He'll throw us into the pile of possible candidates to be perused by agencies, other adoption lawyers, et cetera. Jake said our options are broader than some because we have no limitations: race, handicap… nothing, well, except for age. If possible, we'd like a baby, but we won't turn down an older child either. We won't turn anyone down, but Jake said that if we left it wide open that, in the beginning anyway, it may not look good in the eyes of the birth parents. I don't know… he comes highly recommended so I guess we'll have to trust him. And the fact that he's helped gay couples before gives us hope."
"I have hope for you. The two of you will make great dads."
"Thanks, sweetie." I hear a double ping in the background. "Dinner ready? Need to go?"
"No. I'm sitting in front of my laptop. Edward just messaged me." There's a sereneness to her voice now that wasn't there before.
"How's that going?"
"Slow. We've only just moved past the letters to speaking on the phone and emailing."
"Slow is good, right?" I ask, hoping it won't be that way for Gabriel and me.
"We'll see." She's so guarded, but I get it.
"Okay, well, don't keep him waiting. I'll talk to you soon. Love you."
"Love you, too."
Gabriel is seeing a few patients at the hospital today. And I, yet again, am at home. I've cut my travel in hopes to be more available should we get that call from Jake. If, no when (must stay positive) we have a son or daughter, I'll quit my job altogether. We've passed the screening, and on paper we are acceptable candidates. Thank God. We've waited through the probationary period, and now we get to wait some more.
The tarp is spread across the floor, the corners and baseboards taped, and the furniture is covered. I hope Gabriel likes this shade of brown for our bedroom.
I've gotten very good at waiting.
"I'm so sorry," Gabriel says, but he's as disappointed as I am.
Jake called this morning and told us the girl, Maggie, who had to decide between us and two other couples went with one of the others. This open adoption thing is more difficult than what we first imagined it would be. Maggie is eight months pregnant – seven when we met her - sixteen, blonde and blue eyed. The father is blond, too, apparently – we didn't meet him. All I could picture was our daughter with white-blonde hair, huge blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. Gabriel and I slowed as we walked past a display of tiny pink pajamas at Costco the other night. We said nothing and headed toward the seafood section. I wonder if I jinxed us with my thoughts alone.
I shrug. "She wasn't supposed to be our baby."
"I'm sorry, Jasper," Jake says.
"Yeah, I know. Thanks."
"Hang in there, okay?"
Day 273 & 274
"You'd think with all of these connections Jake has across the country, we would be just close to being parents by now."
Gabriel folds a corner of a page in his book – I have no idea what he's reading tonight – and sets it on his nightstand. He takes the remote out of my hand and turns off the television. "Jake is doing the best he can for us. We haven't met the right couple yet."
"Well, where the hell are they?"
"Come here," he says. He pulls my face toward his, and after kissing for just moments our clothes are strewn across the floor. We fall asleep sweaty and very satisfied.
I wake to the smell of coffee, cinnamon, and bacon. I know Gabriel isn't cheating on his diet, so he must be up to something.
"Morning." He hands me a mug of coffee.
"What's all this?"
"Breakfast!" Gabriel is way too cheery. He kisses my cheek as he breezes by me, a full plate in each hand.
"Yes, I see that, but why? Have your triglycerides dropped so low you need to give'em a little shock?"
He laughs. "No, no. I thought we'd spoil ourselves a little. I've cleared my schedule, and if it's all right with you, I thought we could use a day to ourselves. Clear our heads a bit. Maybe take a drive – hey, how about we go the lake house tonight, yeah?"
I sit across from him at the table; he lifts his eyebrows expectantly. I appreciate his gesture, I do, but there's more going through his head. "A day all to ourselves, huh?"
"Yes, why not."
"Is this for my sake or yours?"
Gabriel picks up a slice of bacon and breaks it in two. "It's for both our sakes. I'd like to take a day off without any talks of babies."
It's true. For the past nine months it's all we've talked about. We've argued, made up, argued more… cried. I don't want this coming between us. "Okay. I think that sounds perfect."
"Who knows," he says with a mouth full of cinnamon roll, "we might get lucky tomorrow."
Emily, Gabriel's granddaughter, is two today. Her mom, Leah, is throwing a small party at their house, and we've come stacked with gifts. We've always spoiled Emily, but now even more so. Her father, Paul, is tending grill, a last minute decision because it's an oddly warm and sunny day for it being the middle of March. As I peer out the window I see Paul speaking with Edward. The two of them had become business partners soon after Edward gained full custody of Senna.
Gabriel is holding Emily in his arms; she giggles as he blows raspberries on her cheek. She squeals for him to stop, yet she continues to tilt her head so he has full access to do it again and again. She tells Gabriel it's Papa Jas's turn, so I give her my cheek. She's not yet mastered the art of blowing raspberries; I end up with the side of my face covered in Emily spit.
"Uncle Jasper!" Senna yells.
"Senna!" I tease. "Look how tall you are. What are you, like fifteen now?"
She rolls her eyes. "Ten and a half."
"Well, you look much older to me."
"Do I?" Her eyes light up.
"She's already pushing for make-up, don't make matters worse, Uncle Jasper." Edward has a plate piled high with hot dogs and hamburgers; he sets it on the counter.
"Dad!" I laugh at how easily she gets embarrassed.
"I think he just means you're too pretty to wear make-up," Gabriel says. "You don't need all that fancy stuff smeared all over your face."
Senna huffs, her shoulders slump. She's definitely resigned to the fact she's not going to win this battle. "Leah? Can I take Emily outside?"
"Sure, honey, but stay in the back yard."
"'Kay. C'mon, Em." Gabriel puts Emily down; her tiny hand gets lost in Senna's as the two of them walk out the back door.
Gabriel and I share a look, and I can see in his eyes that he's hurting. Even being here among his family doesn't abide the pain he feels now. Over the past thirteen months, it seems as though we continue to take one step forward and two steps back. We've spent thousands of dollars on attorney's fees already. We've spent too much time in the air traveling to meet whom we'd hoped to be the birth parent of our child, yet we're never good enough. I'm tired of losing out to people who might seem as though they'd make better parents than we would. They wouldn't. Gabriel and I have assured each other so many times it's not because we're gay, that in this day and age it would be ridiculous to think that way even though it really could be a possibility. But that wouldn't make sense. We've met these people face to face, they've seen our file, they already knew. So who the hell knows? I can't even begin to count how many times I've gone over our application, searching for something that might seem off, but there's nothing.
Apparently, Leah and Edward could see the sadness in Gabriel's eyes too because, very gingerly, they ask how things have been going with us. We take turns explaining that we're considering going overseas, maybe China or Russia. Edward tells us he might be able to help since he has contacts in the Consulate in Russia. We tell him we'll keep that in mind. We also say we're going to look into surrogacy. Then we tell them that we're going to give it one more year. If nothing happens, we're going to give up and go back to the life we once knew. Neither of them seems to know how to respond.
The air is thick, almost wet from humidity. Gabriel and I are lying on the chaise lounges on our deck, drinking a beer as we stare up at the sky. There are about a million stars out tonight, and it's as though I'm gazing up at the dome of a planetarium. Everything is so still, so perfectly quiet.
We said we'd give it a year. That was two months ago, and now I'm not sure I want to do that any longer. Gabriel is in this one hundred percent until the end, but I was the one who started it. There's no way I can tell him I'm having doubts. Surely, I can make it through another ten months; I've already started building up that wall. What are a few more bricks?
"See that?" he asks, pointing toward the sky. "Venus. See how bright she is tonight?"
"Mmhm. Incredible." But unreachable.
He swings his legs over the side of the lounger and sits up, facing me. Gabriel smiles, the expression on his face strangely confident. "I feel it, Jasper. In my gut, I just feel it. Something good is going to happen."
My heart breaks. I want to share this excitement with him, but I just can't. I do the next best thing and fake it. "You think so?"
"Oh, I really do. I don't know what it is, but I feel like I can breathe, you know? Like my head is clear. It's bizarre. I'm sure I sound like a lunatic." He shakes his empty bottle. "Or a drunk."
I laugh. "No, you don't at all. I understand what you're saying."
"But you don't believe me."
I want to, badly. "I do."
"Hmm. I'm not convinced. Tell me you love me."
"I love you."
"Now see, that was convincing." Gabriel stands then bends down to kiss me. "Don't leave me out here on my own. I need you." I take his hand and hold on to it until he straightens. "I'm going to get another beer," he says.
Gabriel isn't angry. He's only letting me know that he can read me like a book. And he does, very well. Sometimes I hate it, but other times it's convenient. It's not so convenient now.
I wish I had his faith.
I should have listened to him on day one. In the meantime, however, or rather for the next few months, I'll continue to gaze at stars with him and pretend to be excited if Jake calls with another possibility.
"Jasper. Hi, it's Jake."
My stomach knots. Part of me wants to tell him I'm not interested in anything he has to say, but of course, I won't. "Hi, Jake. What's up?"
"Can you and Gabriel come in to my office tomorrow? I have a couple who'd like to meet you… A, ah, Carmen Miller and Peter Strasky. They're local, pre-med students."
Local. Perfect. Now when they tell us they've decided to go with someone else maybe we'll run into one of them at Starbucks and make small talk of how the chosen couple is so wonderful. No awkwardness there.
At that stunning visual, I chew the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from saying something sarcastic out loud.
Gabriel has entered the bedroom and warily eyes the expression I'm wearing. "Who is it?" he asks. I mouth "Jake" to him. "Put him on speaker."
"Jake, you're on speaker. Gabriel's here."
"Hey, Gabriel. I was just telling Jasper I have a couple who want to meet the two of you. Are you free tomorrow?"
"One. My office… Listen, guys, they've looked at your application as well as a few others. I don't want to get your hopes up, but you should know you're the only ones they've asked to meet."
We drove the convertible to Jake's office. I'm not sure why I insisted having the top down. Maybe the fresh air? I was beginning to feel suffocated before we'd even left. Maybe I wanted the distraction of watching the tops of skyscrapers pass by once we got into the city. I don't know. Gabriel asked why I wasn't more excited; he was non-stop chatter. Instead of biting his head off, I said nothing. I'm ruining this for him, and that makes me feel like shit.
We've parked the car on the fourth level of a garage. I ingrain the yellow D-4 painted on the concrete column in my mind so that I will remember the exact location of our car when we leave in a rush after this meeting. I'll drive us home with the top down no matter how cool the air is. I'm going to need that time to collect myself, suit up in my armor, and prepare myself to be supportive of Gabriel when he tells me how he has a good feeling, that this really could be the one.
Gabriel and I have arrived ten minutes before one. We follow Jake's secretary into his office, and sitting in two brown leather chairs are whom I assume to be Carmen and Peter. They're early; I wonder how long they've been here.
Carmen is, well, she's beautiful: black hair, long and sleek, dark skin, deep brown eyes. I zero in on her round stomach; I can't help it. Jake stands to introduce the four of us, and Carmen and I make eye contact. God, she's scared out of her mind. Who can blame her? I imagine I probably look like an ogre in her eyes with all this negativity I've got inside.
Taking a deep breath, I offer her my hand, and I smile, genuinely. She has no idea what we've already been through; it's not her fault. Her grip is strong, her hands are long and slender, and she's tall! Taller than she seemed to be when she was sitting.
Peter shakes my hand. He, too, has a strong grip, and I size him up just as I've done with Carmen. Light brown hair, blue eyes, pale skin. Peter's expression is not as frightened as Carmen's was. He's serious, like he's not about to share what's really going on through his mind. Is this a good or bad thing? Has he made his decision already?
Jake breaks the ice and begins to explain the procedure, the same one Gabriel and I have heard too many times already. Because both parties have agreed to a pre-birth open adoption, we have the option to choose how we'd like our relationship to be. We'll discuss what the others want or expect until the baby is born. Since we've made it this far, the initial meeting, it's because we've both decided once the adoption papers are signed our relationship ends. However, there are some things that are still up for negotiation: how personally involved we might want to be up until the birth, if at all. Of course Jake reiterates that Gabriel and I would be completely financially responsible until Carmen is released from the hospital. Each time I listen to the conditions I feel as though I'm purchasing a new car, and each time I wait for Jake to say something about a warranty. It's awful, I know. Perhaps I'm jaded.
Gabriel has started giving our spiel. He tells them about our interests, our goals for a child, that we're secure with our finances. He talks about his heritage, our house, Leah and Emily, and he tells them that we like to travel, that he believes children should experience culture if given the chance. He's a good salesman.
They nod, smile, inquire. He answers, and then it's my turn.
I tell them about my job, how I've restructured everything to accommodate our venture into adoption, and how I'd stay home until he or she started school, and maybe even after that. I explain that religion is important, but we don't worship every Sunday… or any Sunday for that matter. This is the part where I wait for their reaction, gauge their emphatic beliefs, but they show no signs of disappointment so I continue.
I'm of French, Dutch, and Irish descent, and between Gabriel and I, this child will experience more cultural diversity than your average Joe. I didn't say the last part. Carmen smiles. I relax a little more. She asks about my family, and because I've told this story so many times, it easily rolls off my tongue.
"I really don't speak to my father too much, but my mother and I are close."
"Yeah," she laughs uncomfortably. Peter moves closer to her and picks up her hand. "Sounds like me and my dad. I read you had a sister, but she passed away. I'm sorry," she says.
No one has offered their condolences before. I assumed they all scanned over our information, breezing over the section about siblings: One. Deceased.
"Thank you. It was a long time ago." Gabriel tilts his head, encouraging me to elaborate. I'm hesitant, but I do. "Mary Alice, she was twelve; I was ten. We were very close growing up. She had leukemia. Her death was hard on all of us, especially my father." There's an uncomfortable silence; I shrug. "It was a long time ago."
"I'm sorry," Peter says, and I nod.
"So," Jake starts, looking toward Carmen and Peter. "Would you like to tell them anything about yourselves?"
Peter takes a deep breath. "Um, sure. Well, as you probably already know, Carmen is about twenty-one weeks. The due date is February 19-"
"Only a few weeks into spring term," Carmen interrupts, looking completely lost. Gabriel and I side-glance each other.
Peter chuckles. "Yeah. It's okay, we won't let you get behind," he says, reassuringly, and then turns back to Gabriel and me. "He's healthy-"
"He?" Gabriel and I ask in unison; Carmen gasps, Peter cringes. We've asked not to be informed of the sex initially. It's easier that way.
"I'm so sorry!" Carmen says then slaps Peter's arm. He shoots her an apologetic look for his obvious flub. Jake remains silent. "Yes, it's a boy."
"A boy," Gabriel whispers as he looks toward the floor.
The proverbial pin could be dropped right now, and it would probably sound like a hammer to a wall. I can't stand it, so I ask Peter to continue.
"Okay, um, neither of us have any major medical problems, there's no high risk of anything… Oh! There is my grandfather – he's type two diabetic." Gabriel and I nod. The tone in his voice is as if he's trying very hard to convince us to accept their baby when it really should be the other way around. "Um… we're third year pre-med…"
"What do you want to specialize in?" Gabriel asks. He's perked up just as he always does when a conversation has veered toward his profession.
Carmen shifts a little as though to get more comfortable. "He wants cardio, but I'm going for the big guns: neurology."
"Wow," Gabriel says. "Impressive. What about med school?"
"We want Hopkins," Peter says reverently; Carmen smiles.
"Hopkins is a great school. I went to Cornell myself."
"Come on now, Cornell and Johns Hopkins have nothing on Texas A&M," I tease. I'm not sure at what point in our conversation I forgot to be the cynic I walked in as, but I did. This meeting is very different than the others, and I notice a small spark of hope surfacing. And now, after only knowing this young couple who sit in front of us for less than an hour, I'm not entirely convinced that is a bad thing. Only a little. "How did the two of you meet?" I ask. Carmen explains they've been together since freshmen year which segues into their personal goals and how they're just not ready to have a baby. She says it so simply I wonder how many times she's rehearsed her speech. The look of guilt on her face is heartbreaking as she absently rubs her stomach.
Now that we've all opened ourselves up to each other, time is up. Just like that. Jake tells us to take our time and consider each other carefully. He speaks as though we're children, but I suppose he has to. I've lived through this heartache; I can't imagine how much he's seen.
Gabriel and I are the first to leave, standard protocol. We're silent as we wait for the elevator to reach the floor, but Gabriel is fighting a smile. I nudge him playfully and shake my head.
I hate how the heart betrays the mind sometimes because I've conjured up a vision of what this little boy might look like. Will he take more after his gorgeous mother or his humble father? I tried to fight it, but that battle was lost. It's going to be an absolute tragedy if this doesn't work out.
Four days have passed, and Gabriel and I have practiced business as usual. We've said nothing about it, neither of us uttering the names Carmen or Peter. We haven't wondered aloud when the call will come or what that call will entail. And instead of pacing around our house I'm at Best Buy, losing myself in this mini electronic haven while Gabriel is working.
There is a sale on Macs, and I'm talking with one of the salespeople when my phone rings. It's Gabriel.
"Hey," I answer.
"Hi. Where are you right now?"
He laughs. "Okay. Look around and take a mental picture."
What? "What? Why?"
"Just do it, Jasper."
"All right," I say, humoring him. "I'm panning the store. There are people wearing blue shirts and khaki pants, computers, televisions, refrigerators, Wiis, Playstations, and XBoxes. How's that?"
"Good enough, I guess. I just wanted you to remember exactly where you were the day you found out we're going to have a baby."
All at once, my knees weaken, my vision blurs, my palms sweat and a lump the size of Ohio has settled in my throat. I barely feel the salesperson grab my elbow; I hear nothing but my blood pulsing in my ears. This lasted a lifetime, a millisecond, and I'm now crying like a baby, a baby, in the middle of Best Buy.
"Gabriel," I whisper. "Do not fuck with me."
His laughter sounds like a symphony on a spring morning. "It's true, love. In a few months, you and I are going to have a son."
"Oh my God. Leave work, okay? I'll meet you at home in twenty minutes." He laughs then agrees.
The salesperson is wide-eyed; she looks at me as though she doesn't know whether to console me or call for help. I point to the largest television I see on display. "I'd like to buy that one, please."
The room is painted a brilliant blue, the crib assembled and sitting against the left wall, the dresser and rocker against the right. A mobile of black and white geometric shapes and spirals hangs over it – Gabriel's idea. Everyone in our family - Leah, Emily, and Paul, Carlisle and Esme, Senna, Edward, and even Bella - have contributed to our future son's room in one way or another. It's the most beautiful room I've ever seen. Our kitchen cabinets have been rearranged, three cabinets dedicated to bottles, toddler sized dishes, and tubs of formula. The entire house has been baby-proofed. Our son has more clothes, stuffed animals, and toys that he won't even begin to think about playing with for another two years that one might think we were about to adopt a colony of children.
Maybe one day.
Until then, we anxiously await the arrival of this one.
Carmen is thirty-eight weeks along. Her ankles, feet, and ass are swollen; she's shared this information on several occasions, and that's fine by me. She's been working hard since spring term started so as not to fall too far behind. Gabriel and I pitch in and help whenever we can: studying, dinners, errands. She and Peter were given special housing at school for this term because of her pregnancy. The fact that Gabriel donated a sizeable amount to their med sciences department might have helped, too. We see Peter and Carmen often, but not too often, each of us keeping some distance from each other. When we were chosen, it was mutually decided after the baby was born that we'd have no contact with each other. However, if the time ever comes for our son to want to meet his birth parents, we'll support him.
Carmen's mother is scheduled to arrive in a few days, but we have no plans to formally meet. Carmen's mom is going to stay with her for a while afterward; her father is not coming at all. She doesn't talk about why.
Gabriel and I have decided on a name, but we haven't told anyone. We're going to wait until he's born and the papers have been signed. It's been killing me to stay quiet and only refer to him as "the baby" because even though he's not here yet, he's still not officially ours. Everything in his room, everything we've purchased can be returned if, God forbid, Carmen changes her mind, but to outwardly acknowledge him by his name and then lose him would be unimaginably painful.
Another week has passed, the anticipation is almost unbearable. Gabriel has said as much because I cannot keep still.
"Jasper," he says, standing in front of the bathroom mirror shaving while I squirt down the shower with cleaner… again. "Will you stop? Go read a book or something. You're driving me crazy."
"I don't think I can focus. It's snowing again; maybe I should shovel the walk." I toss the cleaner under the sink and then walk out of the bathroom.
"If it'll help," he says then mumbles something that sounds like if it gets me out of his hair.
"I heard that!" I yell.
It's bitter cold outside; last night it snowed five inches, and according to the news, it's supposed to snow another three today. I've already shoveled once this morning, so now there is only a dusting blanketing the driveway and sidewalk. I sweep then salt just to be safe. I think I'm in full blown paranoia because I leave our garage door open, too afraid it will freeze shut, and we won't be able to get the car out in case Carmen goes into labor. A ridiculous possibility, yes, but I am not taking any chances.
Hours pass. Gabriel eats lunch while I pick. I might lose ten pounds by the time this is all over. I shovel again – two inches. I cook up a storm for dinner: pot roast, potatoes, vegetables, bread. We'll have leftovers for a few days. Still, I'm not tired. It's not until around eleven that night do I start to feel the effects of constantly moving all day. My eyes begin to feel heavy and my muscles relax, so I toss this week's edition of Newsweek to the floor. I lie in bed next to Gabriel who is reading another murder mystery. I glance over at him, and there he goes, tugging at his earlobe. How can he get lost in a story now when I'm going out of my mind? No matter, I'm beginning to feel sleepy and I scoot down in the bed.
"Good night," I say.
I roll over, and as I reach for my lamp, the phone rings.
"Jasper, hi, it's Peter we're at the hospital and her contractions are three minutes apart and I think you should probably come down you know if you want to but it's time." He says in a single breath. He sounds panicked.
"Ohmygod! She's a week early! Okay, okay. We're on our way!"
Two hours pass. Six hours….
Gabriel and I are on our third cup of coffee.
Seven hours. Nine…
CNN has reported the same news stories so many times, I can practically say their lines verbatim.
Ten hours, thirteen hours…
I wish I was in there with her.
More coffee, but this time with a cherry danish. Jake arrives.
We know Carmen and the baby are fine. One of the nurses has kept us informed the entire time.
Fourteen hours, fifteen...
Sixteen hours. Gabriel is sitting in an orange and beige tweed chair. His head leans back against the wall, and he has his eyes closed. Jake fiddles with his Blackberry.
It's 6:41 p.m. "Mr. Black?" A nurse, tall, thin, wearing pink scrubs with stick figure babies printed all over them waits for Jake to follow her down the hall.
Gabriel and I look at each other. My heart is in my throat. "You okay?" I ask.
We wait, and an hour later Jake comes back, smiling widely. "Follow me."
Jake leads us down a carpeted corridor. We pass a nurses station. This area has a warm feeling; a few potted plants align the beige walls. It's decorated as homey as possible for it being a hospital. Jake opens the door to a small room, and a nurse is sitting in a rocker wearing a pale yellow gown as she feeds the tiny baby in her arms.
She looks up at us and smiles, removing the bottle so we can see his face. My heart speeds, and tears prick my eyes. "Samuel."
"Would you like to hold your son?" she asks. The nurse doesn't give us a chance to answer before she stands, and Jake hands us each a yellow gown.
"I need you to sign some papers," he says. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Seven pounds, twelve ounces, and twenty-one inches," she says as we slide our arms into the gowns. We can only nod.
Gabriel motions for me to sit in the chair. He's offering for me to hold Samuel first, and I think I love him for this gesture more than any other reason I ever have before.
Samuel's eyes are slightly swollen, there's a clear goop spread over them. Concerned, I look toward the nurse. She tells me it's completely normal and the swelling will be gone in a few hours.
"Okay." I really can't say anything else. Samuel whimpers and stretches. He's… amazing. I unwrap his blanket and count his toes. I kiss his fingers and his forehead. I touch his head full of black, curly hair, and I stroke my finger down his arm. After a few more surreal moments, I give him to Gabriel.
"Samuel. That's a nice name," says the nurse. "Does he have a middle name?"
"Yes. It's Brandon, after Jasper's sister, Mary Alice Brandon Whitlock."
Gabriel coos at him. He tells him how much we love him, and Samuel sleeps peacefully in his arms. I am in awe.
After we signed the adoption papers, I asked if I could speak to Carmen.
She's propped up on pillows, and she has a large Coke cup in her hands. I sit in the chair beside her bed. She looks so tired. "I missed this," she says, referring to her soda.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like I've been trampled by an elephant." She smiles. "He's pretty cute, huh?"
"Oh, yeah. That's putting it mildly." I stand up and rub her hand and kiss her cheek. "I wanted you to know… thank you, Carmen." This is so hard. I don't know what else to say or do. I had a speech prepared, yet I can't remember any of what I wanted to say. I don't want to say goodbye to her, but I have to. "You're going to be a great doctor, you know."
She nods, and before I exit the room, she says, "I trust you."
I don't sleep the first night we have Samuel home with us. All I can do is gaze at him, awed by him as he stirs, yawns, cries, eats, and sleeps. Gabriel doesn't sleep either, and sooner or later it's going to catch up with us. But for now, I'll take every second I can to become absolutely and wholly entranced by our son.