About the Book
How far would you go to get what you wanted? The author of Don’t Try to Find Me returns with a taut, riveting novel of psychological suspense—a domestic drama full of secrets and twists—about a woman determined to have a child, her ambivalent husband, and a pregnant teenager with a secret agenda of her own.
“I know now that there was no other way things could have turned out. Tragedies are inevitable, just like the great love stories, like us.”
Thirty-nine-year-old Adrienne is desperate to be a mother. And this time, nothing is going to get in her way.
Sure, her husband, Gabe, is ambivalent about fatherhood. But she knows that once he holds their baby, he’ll come around. He’s just feeling a little threatened, that’s all. Because once upon a time, it was Gabe that Adrienne wanted more than anything; she was willing to do anything. . . . But that was half a lifetime ago. She’s a different person now, and so is Gabe. There are lines she wouldn’t cross, not without extreme provocation.
And sure, she was bitten once before by another birth mother—clear to the bone—and for most people, it’s once bitten, twice shy. But Adrienne isn’t exactly the retiring type.
At nineteen, Leah bears a remarkable resemblance to the young woman Adrienne once was. Which is why Adrienne knows the baby Leah is carrying is meant to be hers. But Leah’s got ideas of her own: Her baby’s going to get a life in California; why shouldn’t she? All she wants is to live in Adrienne’s house for a year after the baby’s born, and get a fresh start.
It seems like a small price for Adrienne to pay to get their baby. And with Gabe suddenly on board, what could possibly go wrong?
I’m not sure who said it. I don’t know if it was a man or a woman, a small town sheriff or a big city cop or a down-and-out drifter or a fortune teller or a husband or a wife. There’s a lot I can’t remember, and one thing I do.
“If things keep going like this,” he (or maybe she) said, “someone’s going to wind up dead.”
I probably laughed. Thought how cheesy it was. Melodramatic. But it lodged inside of me and resurfaced the day we met Leah, like a prophecy or a warning. It was easy to ignore, though, with all that was buzzing in my head. It became just another member of the hive.
I know now that there was no other way things could have turned out. Tragedies are inevitable, just like the great love stories, like us.
That’s what I tell myself.
More than anything, I want to be a mother.
No, scratch that. It’s too desperate. It reeks of years of trying, of 39, of a dedicated phone line for birth mothers that has only rung twice in the past eleven months, and one of those was a wrong number. “Hello,” I’d said on the latter call, out of breath from running across the house, “hello?!!!” And the voice, a startling baritone: “Is Lisa home?” I’m ashamed to admit this, I never even told Gabe, but I answered, “Are you sure you’re not looking for Adrienne? Gabe and Adrienne?” Because the man could very well have been a birth father, a possibility that I hadn’t even considered until just that moment. The birth mother could have assigned him to the vetting process, thinking he should make himself useful since he got her into this mess to begin with. One woman’s multiplying mess of cells is another woman’s greatest desire. “No,” the man said, slowly, like I might be cognitively impaired, “I’m looking for Lisa.” I told him that there was no Lisa here, and it was all I could do not to add, “But if you find Lisa and she happens to be facing an unplanned pregnancy…”
The other call was worse. A lot worse. But I’ve never been someone to dwell on the past. There’s so much future to be had.
More than anything, though, I do want to be a mother.
Still, humid desperation aside, the sentence should obviously read More than anything, we want to be parents, only that’s not exactly true. Gabe will come around, though. He’s just feeling a little threatened, because once upon a time, I wanted him more than anything, was willing to do anything…But that was a long time ago, another life, and now, I’m going to be a mother. Parenthood makes you your best self. You’re going to be in the spotlight of that adorable new person’s gaze, and you have to be worthy of it.
I will be worthy.
And I will be a mother. Because I want it more than those other women on the adoption websites with all their money and loving extended families and better hair (I’ve been straightening my dark frizzy hair since I was 15 years old, since before Gabe, since crimping irons reigned supreme). I’ve got more—what do they call it in the Sissy Spacek movies my grandmother used to watch?—grit. I also come fully equipped with stamina and perseverance and a good body (“big tits and little everything else”, a guy in my high school once famously said, and it’s still the case.) I know that last bit might seem extraneous and I won’t say it in the adoption profile, but I made sure to include a full-length photo because appearances matter to a birth mother, especially a teenaged one who undoubtedly wants to go back to being hot herself once it’s all over. Sure, I’m 39 but I’m well-moisturized and I could run a marathon tomorrow if I cared enough to, if I set my mind to it.
“Can we just get on with this?” Gabe sighs, interrupting my reverie.
“I’m thinking. Are you?”
“Yeah,” he mutters, but he wasn’t. Or rather, he wasn’t thinking about writing our prospective parent profile. I can read him like a book. Fortunately for me, he’s always been Choose Your Own Adventure, sexually speaking, that is.
That won’t go in our profile either. But birth mothers will see that he’s tall and handsome, with dark hair and dark eyes, like John Stamos when he was on General Hospital, that’s what I thought when we first met, which shows how long we’ve been together. How enduring our love is, that’s what I should say.
I begin to type. “Our enduring love?” he says, over my shoulder.
I overlook the tinge of mockery. That’s one of the skills you pick up in order to have an enduring love. “Longevity is a selling point. The birth mother wants to know her child will be in a stable home.” It’s actually our primary selling point. Gabe is a car salesman, which can seem oily, and I teach second grade, which might seem homey but not lucrative or ambitious. They’re not aspirational professions, is what I mean. We’re not pilots or entrepreneurs or doctors. Our home is a tiny three-bedroom, in a subdivision inside a suburb 40 minutes from San Francisco. An expensive suburb—we bought this house for $650,000, probably three times what it would have cost in Dubuque or Tallahassee—but the birth mother isn’t going to compare real estate markets. She’s going to want bling. Everything she never had, she’ll want for that baby.
Best not to think in terms of money or scale, but rather, personality. Yes, the dining room is barely large enough to hold the four-person table where Gabe and I are currently sitting, but it’s an awesome table: wrought iron legs, a top made of wavy black and gray onyx. The wrought iron chandelier is shaped like a candelabra, with multicolored gemstones dangling (amethyst, rose quartz, garnets.) So there’s your bling. And on the wall is a huge canvas—colorful and abstract—and no one has ever guessed that it was the result of Gabe and me, writhing naked and covered in paint. Nothing brings a couple together like a shared secret.
In realtor speak, our living room is “cozy” (or better yet, “charming”). We had the floors redone in this incredibly rich, dark wood (almost black), and the furniture is all red velvet.
On the wall, sandwiched between windows, is art that we bought at a DIY art show at Fort Mason in San Francisco, one of our favorite spots in the city. The piece has rounded double doors made of rough-hewn wood, and inside, a carved quote from Henry David Thoreau: “There is no remedy for love than to love more.”
This is the home I built with Gabe, and my default position is to love it (while overlooking the flat-screen TV positioned above the fireplace, at Gabe’s insistence. He says that only invalids watch sports in bed. Does poker qualify as a sport?) Yet as I try to rewrite our adoption profile, all I can see is the inferiority of size.
I never used to feel crappy about where we were in life, about our jobs or our home. I certainly never compared Gabe and myself unfavorably to other couples.
“Do you think the adoption process is turning me into someone else?” I ask Gabe.
He considers for a long minute. He doesn’t look happy. “No,” he finally says. “You’re just you.”
Just me? What’s that supposed to mean?
No point in going down that road. If we do, we’ll never finish this profile today, and we can’t afford any detours. Two calls in eleven months is pitiful. Clearly, we need a new marketing strategy.
“If we were a car,” I say, “how would you sell us?”
His lips hoist at the corners. “Depends on what they’re looking for. You get a read on people and you know whether to push the power of the engine or the safety features. Sometimes the wife is all about safety, and you can tell that the way to make the sale is to talk right to the husband about power, talk like she’s not even there. Sometimes people don’t have a fucking clue what they’re really into.”
Gabe can play like he’s a tough guy, but really, he’s good at selling to people because he likes them. He wants them to feel happy with what they’ve bought; he doesn’t upsell to people who can’t afford it. He’s got principles, contrary to what some might assume when they hear his job title.
“Our problem,” I say, my thoughts crystallizing as the words leave my mouth, I can practically see them hanging in the air like stalactites, “is that we can’t hook everybody. What lures in one person is going to turn another off, on a subconscious level.
“So what we need,” I continue, focusing on the laptop screen, “is to stop trying to attract everybody, like I did in the last profile, and write like it’s to the one person we want to attract.”
“We only need one,” he says. I like that he’s saying “we”, though we both know this is my project more than his. It’s like, he plays poker in his free time and I look for our baby. Sometimes I get the feeling he doesn’t believe I can really pull this off, and he wouldn’t mind if I didn’t.
“You don’t care if we get the baby,” I say, “because you feel like we’re enough just as we are.” He shifts in his chair, and I can tell that he expects me to be upset, but I’m the opposite. The light’s gone on. “That’s it!”
“What?” He looks confused, but intrigued. For a guy who’s so good at reading people, he can’t always read me. I’ve always thought that’s another reason for our longevity, and our great sex. The mystery has never leached out of our relationship.
I start typing—it never hurts to make him wait—but fast, screw any mistakes, there’s spellcheck. My fingers on the keyboard sound like a downpour, like it’s raining words that will connect us to the birth mother, a deluge that will deliver our baby. Gabe’s leaning forward, more engaged than he’s been the whole hour we’ve been sitting here. I’m writing as Gabe, but I feel like myself again. We’re a team, like we’ve always been.
The profile is a testament to us. It’s about the circle of our love that we hope will encompass a baby, but it doesn’t have to. We’re complete. “We’ve spent more than twenty years loving each other,” it begins, “growing from teenagers to full adults together, and we’ve never wavered in our commitment. Once we’re in, we’re all in, and that goes for parenthood, too. We’re not waiting for a child to complete us, but we’d love for a child to share in all that we have.” I add a line about “finding the right match.” We’re not looking for just anyone; we’re looking, I imply, for you.
I sit back, satisfied. All those people on the websites, begging to be picked, and here we are, self-contained, ready and willing but not desperate in the least. This is how we’re going to stand out in a crowded marketplace: Play hard to get. Make the birth mothers want to be a part of us; be the club they want to join.
“Is this really how you feel?” Gabe asks, as he finishes reading the last sentence. He sounds so moved that I wish it were more than advertising. How much easier life would be if I could only mean it, if I could only feel complete right this instant.
“It’s how you feel,” I say. I touch his arm. “I’m letting you speak for both of us.”
“You even used poker terminology.” He smiles, and I hurt a little for him, for his naiveté. But when we get the baby, his heart will be fuller than he ever could have imagined. “See, if it happens, great. If it doesn’t, we’re still us, right?”
“We’re always us.” Only it isn’t enough anymore. I can’t tell him this, but over the past year, I’ve felt myself loving him just a bit less, like it’s leaking out through a very fine sieve. That’s not his fault. He can’t be any more than my husband, but I need to be more than a wife. I need to be a mother. At a certain point, you have to share what you have, or it diminishes. I don’t make the rules. It’s biology.
Gabe’s the fulfillment of an old dream. The baby is the fulfillment of a new one. How can he compete?
But he doesn’t need to. We’re going to do this together. We’ll love each other even more profoundly through the love we feel for our baby. That’s our next incarnation: from sex-crazed teenagers to happily married couple to parents. The shift will be seismic, the increase in feeling exponential. He’ll see.
“All in,” I tell him, and he kisses me, in sweetness and hunger.