Explanation: Chris has returned home to his wife, they have had a short argument about the fact Holly was fired for helping him find his patient’s relatives and the atmosphere is charged as Holly brings up the idea of adoption. It’s their first scene in the novel together and I’m concerned Chris does not come across sympathetically – there has been some short passages of back story previously about a previous patient (Bryan Porter) and Chris’ relationship with his father & step-father – both of whom abandoned his mother.
“Let me get your dinner,” she said.
Chris righted the fallen chairs as Holly opened the oven. A blast of warm air accosted him as she retrieved his meal and placed it on the table.
“Sit with me?” he asked gently. She’d cooked a roast; the meat slightly dried out from the time in the oven, vegetables soaked in gravy and mashed potatoes that now had a crisp coating. “Tell me about your day?”
Holly eyed him with suspicion, but she sat down across from him and opened her mouth to speak. For a few seconds no sound emerged, but then:
“I’ve got nothing to tell.”
Chris took a deep breath and put a piece of cauliflower in his mouth to give him a moment to think. Holly continued before he’d even swallowed.
“I need you to come home and focus on us, leave work behind and come home to me. We’ve lost our marriage over the past few years – spending our time chasing ghosts for people who don’t even matter to us. What about the things that we care about? That we want?”
On reflex, he winced. “You mean a family?”
Holly nodded. “It’s torture being home all day, wandering from room to room, imagining what our lives could be. Maybe this is our opportunity, our time to try again. We need to stop putting other people first and start looking to ourselves.”
Chris pushed his plate away. His stomach felt knotted and empty at the same time. He looked down as his half-filled plate, the vegetables soggy and brown from the gravy. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. We’re not as young as we were before, I don’t even know if…”
She cut him off. “No, you don’t understand.” She hurried over to pull a sheaf of papers out of a drawer. “This. I want to try this.”
He looked at the debris of information in front of him. Adoption leaflets, printed success stories, application forms. His mouth dried up and when he tried to speak his lips felt numb.
“Adoption,” he croaked. “I thought we talked about this, after the last…” his gaze rested on Holly’s flat, toned stomach and he recalled how many times it had swollen up, only to expel what was within.
“We did,” she replied. “But this time it’s different. This is our only chance Christopher, our last option. I can’t let it slip away. Not now.”
“How long have you been collecting this?” he asked, shuffling through the papers.
“I told you, there’s nothing else to do all day but wonder about what could have been. This is the only thing I’ve had to stop me going crazy.”
“But, we agreed. An adoption wouldn’t be our child, it would be a substitute. We wouldn’t really be parents.”
“We would.” She bent down in front of him and thrust her hands into his own. “We could get a baby. We could bring them up as our own. No-one would have to know.”
“We’d know,” Chris said. “And eventually so would the child.”
Holly shook her head. “Not necessarily.”
Chris dropped her hands. “We couldn’t lie to a child, Holly. They’d find out sooner or later and they’d hate us for it. Or we’d tell them and they’d use it against us one day.” He pushed the papers back into a pile. “I don’t know how it could work. Not for us.”
Holly remained at his side with her hands resting limply on his legs. She wasn’t looking at him, instead focused on his shoes which he’d forgotten to take off.
“I’m sorry, Holly. We’ve already talked about this. We both agreed-“
“That was two years ago,” Holly interjected, swaying back onto her heels and then standing. She took a step away from him. “It’s been two years since we even tried, Christopher.”
Had it really been that long? The twins had been the last loss, after the in-vitro procedure. Holly had carried them for three months and believed they were safe. The sorrow had cut cleanly and things hadn’t returned to normal for some time. Then, when they had, the Porter case had disrupted things again.
“I don’t want to grow old and end up a lonely patient on your ward Christopher. No family and no friends, because everyone we know already has children and they’re too afraid to invite us over out of guilt.”
Madeline Tailor flashed through Chris’ mind.
“We need this Christopher, I need this.”
Her brown eyes locked on him, large and wide, full of desperation. They remained like that for a moment, tears staining Holly’s cheeks and Chris saying nothing because he couldn’t bear to disappoint her again.
“Please Christopher, at least think about it. I’m not sure if I-“ she hesitated.
“What?” Chris didn’t want her to say it, but if she meant it then he had to hear it.
“I don’t know if I can carry on in this marriage knowing there isn’t any hope we’ll ever be parents.”
He ran his fingers across the tension on his forehead and took a deep breath.
“You’ve caught me by surprise,” he told her. “I didn’t expect this. Let me think about it, okay? Just give me some time to process the idea.”
She smiled and leaned into him to give him a kiss him on the top of his head. She thought she’d already won. Chris didn’t know how he was going to refuse her this one thing. Perhaps if they spent some more time together she wouldn’t feel so lonely. As much as he wanted a child, Chris couldn’t imagine caring for one that was not his own. It was selfish, he knew, but in his experience even unconditional love wasn’t enough to keep families together; how could he expect a child to love him if there was no blood ties to bind them? Had Bryan Porter’s adoptive daughter really cared about him when she accepted their invitation to visit, or had it all been a ploy to get access to his money? Chris certainly hadn’t felt compelled to like his own step-father, and the feeling had been mutual; in the end the man had even abandoned his mother and he was supposed to have loved her. Chris didn’t want to take the risk with a child not his own. The consequences were just too high.
He wrapped an arm around Holly and held her for a few moments. Then, she broke away and started to tidy up the papers that were spread across the table. She didn’t even seem disappointed that one had landed in the remnants of his dinner, a great big gravy stain marking the page. She probably had them all bookmarked on the computer anyway.