The car was silent on the way home from the Children’s Hospital. Tense, almost unreadable silence. Evan must have known better than to break it, but she could tell he wanted to. There was anger, resentment, confusion, all boiling and bubbling and wanting to explode all over her. But then she looked up, surprised, as Evan slid a tentative, tender hand on hers.
“Babe,” he began. “I know we’ve discussed this before, but please. Please. Just consider what Dr. Singh said.”
Her jaw clenched, and she looked out the window. A sharp retort hovered on her tongue, but she swallowed it. “It’s not like I haven’t.”
“I’m not sure—there are just so many things to consider.”
Evan’s brows knit together. “Like…” he prompted.
Francesca shook her head as the trees zoomed by in blurs. She took a deep breath and forced herself to say the words. “I don’t feel like we’d be having this baby for the right reasons…”
His brows knit together further. “What do you mean, not having a baby for the right reasons? This kid would be saving Jeff’s life—isn’t that what we want?”
Francesca looked away. “Talk to me, Francesca.” Evan’s voice was forceful.
“I am not going to be talked at like a child,“ she responded icily.
“Fine. So you would rather him…you’d rather let him—“
“WATCH OUT!!” Francesca screamed as Evan slammed on the brakes.
A blue Honda Civic furiously honked at them as angry, indistinct words from the driver infiltrated through the window.
Evan smiled meekly, apologetically waving him forward. The driver slammed on the gas pedal and sped around the corner, a train of cars following him. Francesca calmed her pounding heart, turning around to fuss with Jeff, who was wide-eyed and puzzled in the back seat. The rest of the car ride home settled back into its harsh silence, only broken by the soft sounds of Jeff’s ragged breathing.
Later that afternoon, with Jeff tucked under the blankets for his pre-dinner nap and Evan back at work, Francesca was left with only her thoughts as she prepared their dinner.
The blade thudded against the wooden chopping board as she sliced up chunks of chicken. She covered them in rosemary and pepper, adding some olive oil to the pan before throwing in the meat. While waiting, she unscrewed a jar of applesauce and mixed in some extra cinnamon before putting it in a pan to warm. She smiled to herself, anticipating Jeff’s look of excitement when he saw the warm applesauce. He was a picky eater, but it had consistently been one of his favorites. Turning the stove down low for the chicken, she began tidying up the kitchen.
Evan arrived home, stopping only to throw a file folder on the kitchen table before heading upstairs. Francesca sighed and went to check on the chicken again. Almost ready, she thought.
“Francesca! Come quick!” Evan’s voice bellowed from upstairs. Her heart flew to her throat as she hurtled up the stairs.
Her heart seemed to precede her as she flew toward Jeff’s room. Evan was kneeling by Jeff’s bed, patting his face gently yet urgently. Jeff’s skin was a pale blue, his delicate lashes closed.
“Jeff, Jeff baby, c’mon, wake up,” Francesca said in a low, frantic voice, cupping his cheek in her hand, simultaneously feeling for his pulse. “C’mon baby, I know you’re there. Wake up honey,”
There was a tiny fluttering of lashes. “Mmrrhmmmm?”
Francesca’s heart released itself from her throat. She looked up at Evan, whose raw, torn grey eyes met hers for a second before they turned to their son.
“You alright, kid?” he asked in his husky, affectionate voice. Jeff’s face wrinkled in petulant sleepiness as he turned his back to Evan. “Wanna sleep,” he mumbled.
Francesca chuckled as she saw Evan wrinkle his nose in amusement, and they both breathed a sigh of relief.
As they went downstairs, the mood instantly changed to resentment. “How many times have I told you that you need to check up on him more!” Evan shouted.
“I had just put him to bed! He was fine! And you know how light of a sleeper he is, Evan! I don’t want to wake him from his naps!”
“What if he actually stops breathing one of these days? Would you be afraid to wake him then?”
“So you’d rather me wake him every ten minutes? He needs to rest, Evan! He needs the strength to recover! You’re telling me to listen to Dr. Singh—why don’t you listen to him too!”
“Are you listening to Dr. Singh? Maybe if you’d just explain yourself, it would be so much easier! I have no idea what you’re thinking—just silence, and crying and—“
“I’m entitled to my own thoughts, Evan! I just—“
Jeff came wobbling down the stairs, rubbing a sleepy fist in his eye. Francesca and Evan glared at each other with hard eyes, and then Evan moved toward Jeff.
“You want some dinner?” He picked Jeff up.
“On the stove,” she snapped at him.
Evan made no answer, but Francesca heard him pulling out a plate. “Mommy made some chicken, do you want some chicken?”
“Yeah.” Jeff’s voice was still edged with the fuzziness of sleep. “I want applesauce too!”
“Chicken and applesauce,” Evan chuckled. “You got it. You eating?” he shouted to Francesca from the kitchen.
“No, I already ate,” Francesca sat on the couch, arms around herself. “The applesauce’s on the stove.”
Evan walked into the living room, plate of chicken in one hand and Jeff balanced on his hip. Jeff clutched a spoon, banging it lightly against Evan’s head several times before earning a stern but quiet reprimand.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you. What did you say?” Evan asked.
“I already ate.”
For a second, Evan regarded her coolly, remotely, with his grey eyes. He chose not to acknowledge her obvious lie, instead settling Jeff down on the couch where he bounced happily over to Francesca, burying his face into her neck. “Momma!” he giggled.
“Hi, baby,” she settled him on her lap, unable to keep back a smile. “Let’s eat dinner!”
Evan passed the plate to Francesca as he turned on the TV, and the raucous noise of a basketball game filtered through the living room. Jeff’s appetite was good today; he finished most of his applesauce and a couple of bites of chicken before protesting for his release. Francesca handed the plate to Evan, whose eyes were fixed on the TV screen, and he scarfed the remainder down mindlessly.
She got up, stopping to listen to Jeff in the next room crash together his trucks and toys, replete with a variety of sound effects. Smiling and shaking her head, she walked back to the kitchen.
She was washing the dishes, scrubbing at a pan when Evan walked in. Wordlessly, he ripped off a paper towel and began wiping down the counters. A hypersensitivity of each other’s movements built up, an awkward, almost frightening acuteness of the senses. The swishing of the water, the clink of the plates upon other one another, the long sweeps of Evan’s arms over the counter, their bodies almost repelling each other with an untold energy as he moved by her…Francesca felt like screaming, but forced herself to remain calm.
The trashcan beside her opened, and the dirty paper towel dropped into it. Francesca could not see him, but she knew Evan had drawn up a stool to the island counter and was watching her as she finished up the last couple of dishes. The scene itself was not unusual; even just several months ago, a comfortable silence would weave its way between them. Francesca would hum a tune to herself as Evan would sit and think while watching her. When they felt like it, one of them would ease a little interesting fact into the silence or start talking about their day. Sometimes, he’d even come up behind her, and just hold her while she finished the dishes, nuzzling her neck and whispering as she smiled at their reflection in the window. Now, the silence was dangerous, and Francesca knew she would not be the one to shatter it.
“Francesca.” His voice was soft, but still her spine stiffened.
She put down the last plate reluctantly, stripping off her gloves and slowly turned to face him. His eyes were pleading, but she could see the anger boiling behind them. “Just tell me what you’ve thought more about it.”
Francesca was silent.
“It’s really not that hard, Francesca!” Evan raised his voice.
“You’re not going to get an answer if you talk at me like that.” Her voice was soft, but firm.
“Fine, fine.” He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I just want to know.”
She sighed. “We already decided that we weren’t going to have any more children. But it’s not just that. I would like another addition to our family, but….”
“But?” His voice was uncertain, but it rang with faint glimmers of hope.
She hugged herself tighter. “I just don’t think we’d be having Jeff’s sibling for the right reasons,” she whispered, tears coming to her eyes. It’s not going to hurt the baby, it’s not going to hurt the baby, it’s just cord blood, she thought. But how can you feel right about conceiving a child for pure ulterior motives?
“The thing is…I feel like this child would be an afterthought. Like the only reason why we’d decide to have another kid is because we need him to save Jeff.”
“Yes….” Evan’s eyes were intent on her.
“Like an ulterior motive,” she finished cautiously.
“What does it matter, if we’re going to love the child anyways? You really think we’d just—”
“I know that Evan! I have no doubts about that! But I’m just saying, it seems like we’re having him first for his spare parts, and then loving him. It’s sort of like putting a condition on our love—if you have what we want, we’ll give you love. I know, I know that’s not how it really works. But you wanted to know what I was thinking, and that’s what I think.” She folded her arms across her chest, tears filling her eyes again. “I don’t want you to think any less of me, or that I’m a horrible person—“
“Francesca.” Evan looked at her. “How could I ever think that?” He gave her a half smile, but made no move to hold her hand, or hug her. “I’m just…trying to reconcile our ideas.”
Francesca studied his face for a second, unable to read it. “Fine. You let me know what you think.” She swept out of the room, leaving him in silence.
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