I sat down next to Nora at the dining table, smiling as I heard Caleb’s bubbling laughter coming from the living room. He was playing with the fire truck I’d gotten him and the police car Loralee had given him. He kept crashing them together, as kids were wont to do.
“I think you’re smitten with my son,” Nora said wryly.
I snorted. “I’m not smitten.”
“Pretty sure you are. You look all dopey and besotted.”
I chuckled softly and leaned back in my chair. “He’s such a great kid. He’s talking so well now.”
Nora beamed. “He really is. Did you realize it won’t be that long until he’s in preschool?” She shook her head. “It’s really amazing.”
I reached over and wrapped my arm around her. “You’re pretty amazing, too, you know. You’re such a spectacular mom.”
She gave me a little shove and huffed a soft breath. “Don’t start that. I’m doing the best that I can, that’s all.” I sighed internally. My sister really did not have a clear view of herself. I wished there were something I could do to make her see her own worth. “So anyway,” Nora said, changing the subject, “given the way you look at Caleb…”
I leaned my elbows on the table, looking down at the glass. “I’d like a kid.”
“You’re only twenty-four,” she replied softly. I’d told her before about how Alison didn’t want to have kids; we’d both hoped that something with either me or Alison might change with time.
“I know. I mean, I really do. But I want kids, Nora. I’m financially secure; I love the woman that I’m with. I want to start a family.” I hadn’t really said it out loud like that before. I’d said I wanted kids, but I’d never said the words, ”I want a family.”
Nora rested her hand on my arm. “Then I guess you need to talk to Alison. Maybe she has changed her mind. Relationships are supposed to be about compromise, right?”
As much as I hoped Alison would want a kid, I was pretty sure she hadn’t changed her mind. It took a lot to make her change her mind. It was one of the things I loved about her, but not so much in this case.
Later that evening, Alison walked into the apartment and smiled when she saw me. “Hey, babe. How were things at the house?”
I got up from the counter and kissed her before taking my plate to the sink. “Really good. Caleb is pretty much the cutest thing ever, and Nora is looking great. I think her job is suiting her. How was the library? Did you make any progress?” Alison and Luc had spent the day deep in the Willow Creek archives, trying to dig up information on his parents.
She sighed. “Not really. There’s not a whole lot to be found about a French emigre who moved back to France twenty years ago.”
I slid my arms around her waist. “I’m sure you two will find what you’re looking for.” I drew her over to the couch and sat down next to her. “Allie, there was something I wanted to talk to you about.” As she frowned in concern, I squared my shoulders and said, “I want to have a baby.”
She stared at me, unblinking, for a long, long moment as if I’d just spoken German to her. “You…what?”
“I want to have a baby. I know we’re both pretty young, but we’re in a good place in our lives and – “
She held up her hands. “You’re in a good place in your life. I’m trying to finish up college and find an internship. That is not a good place in my life.” She shook her head, exasperated. “Besides which, I told you years ago, I don’t want to have any kids. I love Caleb, but I love him as a nephew. I like being able to spend time with him and then give him back. I don’t want that full-time responsibility.”
I tried to tamp down the frustration I was feeling. I couldn’t get pissed at her for being honest with me. “Won’t you just – I don’t know – consider it? Maybe sleep on it for a while and mull it over? This really is important to me.” If she truly didn’t want kids, I could respect that. It was her body, after all. But didn’t this kind of decision at least merit some deep thought?
“I have thought about it.” She looked at me apologetically. “I’m sorry, Josh, but that just isn’t something I want. Maybe in, like, ten years or something when I’ve got a good job, I might consider the option again, but definitely not right now.
“So that’s it then,” I said angrily. “You just get to say ‘maybe in ten years’ and expect me to just be okay with it?”
“What do you want from me, Josh?”
“I want to know that you actually care about what I want!” I burst up from the couch and paced around the living room. “This is something I really want. And you won’t even consider the possibility of compromising?”
“For me, ten years is a compromise!”
“Three years is a compromise! Five years is a compromise. Ten is just leading me on, Alison.”
“Well, then fine. I never want kids. Are you happy now?”
I glared at her. “Of course I’m not fucking happy.” I turned my back on her and walked out of the apartment. I practically ran down the stairs. I needed air. I needed to not be in that apartment.
My head cleared some once the cold January air hit my face. I was being an asshole – I knew that. I didn’t really have a right to be pissed at her. It was her right to not want kids. But I couldn’t help it. I felt like I’d been struggling this whole way, the entirety of our relationship.
I walked along the sidewalk as my head spun. It was a familiar feeling; walking outside had always been my preferred head-clearing method. I wasn’t sure it was going to work this time though.
I could either have Alison, or I could have a family. Making myself actually think it in absolute terms made my stomach roil. How could I choose? I ran my hand through my hair and grabbed a hunk, tugging at it. I’d been in love with Alison for so long. She’d always supported me with baseball and my family. She’d never missed any of my games in high school, not even the away ones. I knew she’d still be at my games if it weren’t for the mob scene after we left the stadium. Kids were messy. They were time-consuming. They were expensive. I’d need a new place to live if I had any. There was no guarantee I’d be a good father; I could royally fuck them up. There were a lot of reasons not to have a kid. And there were a hell of a lot of reasons to stay with Alison.
I made my way back to the building and looked up at the bay window of my apartment. For Alison, I could give up anything. We’d had a rough patch, but didn’t all couples have those? Relationships were about compromise, about forgiveness, about making it work. What Alison and I had – it was real. It was worth sacrifice.