Monday evening in Pigtown. The sizzle of scallions and protein made a gastropub of the Behlkes’ pristine kitchen, a harbor gray showroom. For now, an orange box uglied up the place.
“Mmmm,” Sawyer said, and patronizingly, even though she meant it. This was just what the two did instead of joking. It was what people on The Bachelor meant when they said I love how s/he makes me laugh. Acknowledging Josh’s meal kit experiment, she swanned up to the island with a glass of white and her computer.
“Oh yeah,” Josh said. Some oil leapt at his arm from the pan, which made him laugh like his buddy had just done a dare on him. Ow, ha ha. Ow! Ha ha.
Furious typing and sipping were Sawyer’s custom, having nothing to do with her mood, and thus gave away nothing about her indifferent face. Her lob hung perfectly, swinging slightly at the effort. Gel nails, gel eyeliner, etc.
“Yeah babe?” He had a towel over his shoulder now, something he’d seen on TV.
“They canceled all flights out of Gnibov.”
Her expression unchanged as he came over and rubbed her shoulders, as he kissed her head and said “That’s good, right babe?” Returning to his work: “That means she can’t run off like that one from your Facebook group.”
“I know…” Sawyer knew how ungrateful she must sound. “I just hope this doesn’t mean, like, war.” Her eyes went big like someone just did something embarrassing.
“Nah, no way babe. The economy’s way too gluhbalized for that.”
Using a surrogate — technically a gestational carrier— had not been in the plans. They’d gotten engaged on time, married ten months later. For a while they were trying-not trying. It was exciting to tell her friends the IUD was out. They were in the middle of furnishing their condo and all the sofa names could’ve been baby names: Hartford. Bailey. Duke.
They got the nice pregnancy tests. They got ovulation strips. They got IVF. They were told that infertility was happening more, even to couples as young as them. They were matched with a 25-year-old woman named Gnabina. She was beautiful despite everything, and she already had two kids of her own.
No, it hadn’t been the plan, but now that it was the plan it could be wrecked, which made it priceless. Like when they were looking at apartments: each one a compromise, a cairn to disappointment. But anytime the realtor brought in a new choice the last one snapped into perfection. They would be hard-launching the baby, telling only friends and family and letting everyone else find out in an Instagram post. When everything else about this had been so uncertain, the post carried her forward. Sometimes the caption or the photo changed in her mind, but the feeling was always there, as solid as a diamond.
Tuesday. The convection microwave roared over the hum of their other appliances. When it sounded, Sawyer retrieved from it two OXO containers and began plating them fastidiously. Josh poured them wine, his lips parted in concentration.
“Thanks, bub.” She stopped and appraised her glass with incredulity. “Wait, this is really good.”
“You know it, beb.”
“Mm!” she said, clapping her hands clean. “Mm, mm, mm.”
Wednesday, 1 a.m. Sawyer shot up in bed, a huge bed with a huge headboard, her hair in a still-perfect bun. The Gnibovan prime minister had suddenly canceled a press conference. On her phone, a clip of an empty podium and a flurry of camera shutters.
“He’s just bluffing, babe,” Josh said as he idly scratched his balls, having just watched the same thing. From his side he couldn’t see her scornful countenance.
“What does that even mean?!”
The Behlkes woke up to more grave analysis. On Wednesday there was shelling in the city, the good city, not one where this had been happening for years. A pattern was forming: the action would happen at night, when it was clear and sunny in Baltimore, and only become news later, when people were trying to relax. Worried texts dripped in.
An invasion had seemed impossible, but it was happening — even their friends agreed. Of course it would be short, and only the most unfortunate would die, but it was still scary.
Also impossible was that this would affect their fertility journey, one that had already been so long and complicated. Sawyer didn’t know what to do or how anxious to be. She emailed, called, and texted the agency in that order.
They couldn’t imagine themselves without kids. What were people without kids even like? What kind of friends did they have, how did they smile in pictures? It wasn’t a negative image per se, but a black box. A question mark. Sawyer maybe knew someone like that at work, a woman in her forties who owned a recumbent bike instead of a car. She made mention sometimes of a husband and different trails they were running.
Sawyer shook the thought from her mind. Then she cracked her knuckles to get focused: the Facebook group was buzzing, and she was reading intently for morsels of both hope and schadenfreude. As bad as it sounded, she needed to know they weren’t the worst off. Teams, Asana and Airtable vied for her from other windows.
She’d found a comfortable rhythm when her blood ran cold.
Hi! My gc refuses to evacuate…
Same! We’re at a loss. Agency said they have a contingency pla…
Sawyer was now prickling with anxiety. Nothing from the agency yet, not for three hours. On Snap Map people were still eating and shopping in that part of the world.
She’d been ambiently worried for a while about Gnabina backing out somehow. But now a worse possibility entered her mind: what if they were more concerned about this than anyone, and would be made to fetch their baby from a place they didn’t feel safe in? Surely there were services that could bring them to you? She imagined an emotional airport reunion. Like surrogacy, it would take getting used to, but she could picture it.
She looped in Josh, who was also home because he also had a hybrid-remote setup.
“Got your text, bib?” He entered the room in a Peloton outfit, pulling AirPods from his ears.
She showed him her computer screen, her phone screen, the outdoor restaurants. Once she was spinning, each possibility — it was all fine, it was all ruined — seemed equally likely. Her opinion alternated each time she picked up the subject. Josh confidently spouted truisms about business and law: that they were paying for this, that contracts had been signed. But Sawyer was inconsolable. She knew she’d have a pit in her stomach until an email landed, one saying everything was good, a big misunderstanding.
“We could text her?”
He was right, but that had been last resort, mostly because it was so awkward. The language barrier was just too big, and beyond the pregnancy there wasn’t a lot to talk about. She was a stay-at-home mom who’d never been on a plane.
“What do I say? Do I even say anything before we know what the agency says?” Sawyer’s voice had found some ennui again, her old self returning.
“True, true…” Josh was playing with keys from the key dish. “If you’re gonna swing, you better not miss.”
“I’m texting her.” After lots of tapping and murmuring, Sawyer rose from the bar height stool to read what she had:
“Hi, I hope this finds you well! We’re so sorry to hear about the news and are just wondering if you had plans as far as finding a safe location. Let us know if we can help at all!”
“Nailed it, babe.”
“Sent!” Sawyer said with a ring of pleasant surprise. They air fived each other. Then, excitement: the response came in just as quick, like a piece of mail popping down a pneumatic tube.
Hello we can not, Gnanor mama 🙂
With that Dread dug his nails back in, stealing anything good from everything in sight. Their own home felt alien, her leggings felt wrong.
“She can’t ’cause of the mother-in-law. FUCK!”
The ride started up again. Novel worries forced their way in. Even if they got her on board, she could still lose the baby from the stress. Could they do a planned C-section? Should they start the process over somewhere else just in case?
“Well??” She wiped away an angry tear. She didn’t mean it, not really—it was just a bit of rebellion to make Josh realize how serious she was. Just what she needed to say to break the dam and start crying, which felt good.
Soon he was holding her, her earring back pressing into her skin, his chest a safe harbor for her weeping head. Although she was normally logical and in control, she could get like this. He had seen it throughout their dating and on their honeymoon and he had always been great. It wasn’t fair: he’d be such an amazing dad.
“You’re so hot and beautiful,” he said with quiet strength.
Her stoic eyes settled back on her phone as she let him comfort her. She typed fast and exclaimed again: offering to cover their travel had done nothing to move things along. Josh noted that the agency could still make her leave. But maybe not, Sawyer insisted: they were all Gnibovan, used to this bullshit. She referred back to Snapchat and the Facebook horror stories. Josh was steamed now, saying how they knew doctors, they knew lawyers, they knew VC’s who could buy the agency and change the mandates. They could go themselves: fly to Poland and get a train to Gnibov.
“Why are you yelling at me??”
“I’m not yelling at you, I’m yelling at the situation babe! God!!”
The two resumed their embrace.
With eyes closed and contemplative, their fear, grief, sadness and anger settled into resolve.
“She can’t do this to us,” said Sawyer.
“Thank you so much!” Sawyer was all smiles now, though still a bit shaken and red from crying. She wore a headband that was tall like their bed.
“Appreciate it!” Josh gave a sportsmanlike wave. They were Zooming a woman with spiked hair, plain glasses and great cleavage. She was explaining how, out of an abundance of caution, the agency was moving all the GC’s to a cruise ship where they wouldn’t be subject to local law. (The neighboring countries all had something disqualifying like must be married, mother is legally the one who birthed them, etc.) In two months they would come get baby as planned, but there was no need to think that far out because this thing would, of course, be so short.
“Okay?” said the woman impatiently, her glasses slung low.
The couple smiled and nodded eagerly. Josh, overcome, leaned over to kiss Sawyer’s arm.
“Gnatalie, you’re amazing,” he said, kind of how the coolest guys talk to English teachers. He made his hands into a heart for the camera.
They recounted their fun story over Friday drinks with the Behlers at Bread & Crumb. It was a brewery with the best pickle fries, the kind of place they could see bringing Baby Behlke in a car seat. Everyone spoke quickly and procedurally about how sad current events were.
“Do you think you guys’ll get a nanny?” asked Lauren. With a square white manicure she squeezed some lemon into her Scrimmage, a purple drink in a tall, sweating glass.
“Oh for sure. You guys?” Sawyer was pumping the straw of her own identical drink.
“For sure. I mean our life is already crazybusy.”
“Mm, crazybusy. The thing with us is we really want to just find balance while we grow our family. You guys are going for three-by-five too, right?” This was important because it meant the kids wouldn’t have a weird age difference, and they’d still be youngish parents. Triptychs over the couch and a beach trip that got bigger every year.
“Oh fer sure.”
The guys smiled helplessly at each other. Their wives would be the end of them!
“On that note,” Matt said. “Any big plans this weekend?” He and Josh fist bumped, unclear why.
“Um, after this week?” Sawyer took a deep sip. “Mmm…I’m gonna need to recharge.” Then laughter, clinking. Even the server was laughing as she approached their table for refills.