‘Yes,’ said Robert. ‘And yes, that’s true.’
‘And your adopted country is never going to quite feel like home until you’ve put down true roots here, isn’t that right, Dr Brandon? Emily?’
‘Family is the most important thing. The most important thing in the world. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how many material possessions, or how much respect in the community: if you don’t have family, everything else is empty.’ He reached for a silver-framed photo, and passed it over the big desk to Emily. ‘That’s Phyllis and me, and our three: Glenn, Holly and Lou-Lou.’
It was a formal family portrait. Phyllis was slender and blonde, perfectly coiffed and dressed, standing next to Eliott, and the three children ranging in age from about twelve to eight stood in front of them in height order. They were all blonde and blue-eyed, dressed as well as their parents.
‘It’s a beautiful family,’ Emily said, handing the photo to Robbie.
‘That photo’s a few years old now, but you can see why I’m so proud of them. We adopted Holly, our middle child, at a few days old. Her story was very sad. Very sad. But we’ve been privileged to be able to give her the best home we can provide.’
‘She looks just like her mother, though,’ said Robbie.
‘A happy coincidence, isn’t it? No one would ever know she was adopted, if we didn’t tell them. Of course apparently a lot of family resemblance is because of environment instead of genetics. I’ve done some reading up on the subject – professional interest as well as personal. But we’re proud of her, and we’re proud of the services we can provide here for families like ours. And yours.’
He took the photo from Robbie and replaced it carefully on his desk.
‘Now,’ he said, folding his manicured hands, ‘you mentioned discretion. That is absolutely at the heart of what we do. Adoption is a private, personal affair. And among others we have helped couples who have been turned down by state agencies or charities, for various reasons. State agencies have rather a one-size-fits-all approach, whereas we realise that every case is different. And there may be details of a couple’s life that they do not wish to come to light, but yet will not be detrimental to their being good parents to an otherwise unwanted child. We’re all about bringing families together, not picking over every little thing.’
‘What . . . sort of detail are you talking about?’ Emily asked.
‘Obviously I can’t tell you facts. Discretion. But we’ve helped conscientious objectors, for example, men who have a prison record because they refused to fight, or couples who, though sharing a deep and lasting commitment, aren’t able to marry, or couples who have faced a financial mishap, for example. Most commonly, our clients are simply in a hurry to complete their family. They don’t want to have to wait months and years to be given a child of their own and they find that with private adoption, the wheels move much more quickly.’
‘What sort of documentation do you need from us?’ said Robert.
‘You already have a personal recommendation from Donna Hernandez, which is good enough for me. But for our files, another recommendation would be useful. And identification, of course: driver’s licence, passport.’
‘Oh. That sounds . . . easy.’
‘Why should it be complicated? You want a child, and there are children out there who are desperate for a home. It’s in everyone’s best interest that you are brought together.’
She exchanged a glance with Robbie. Hope had been too fragile a thing to think about on the way up here; they had told themselves that they were only going to rule out another option. But this . . .
‘What’s your fee?’ asked Robbie.
Honeywell wrote on a slip of paper and passed it to Robbie. ‘That’s exclusive of any additional unexpected fees that might come up, but it’s a ballpark figure.’
Robbie blanched. He handed the slip to Emily. It was . . . it was not far off Robbie’s annual salary.
‘We’re going to have to discuss this,’ he said quietly.
‘Of course! I wouldn’t have it otherwise. We can meet again, say in a month or six weeks, or sooner if you like. The sooner we get the ball rolling, the sooner you will have your baby in your arms.’ He smiled at them. ‘I know it’s a lot of money. But these are complicated arrangements, and my many years of experience mean that my time doesn’t come cheap. And, of course, the outcome is priceless. No one could put a cost on a family.’
They packed a picnic and went out on Little Billy for the morning on the Bay of Biscayne. For the first hour they didn’t speak; they worked together, tightening lines and raising sails and tacking, communicating with glances and experience, not setting a course but going where the wind took them. The noise of the boat cutting through water and the wind in the sails filled the silence between them and was part of their communication, part of all the times they’d done this before, in this boat and another, in this water and on the other side of the ocean.
Robbie poured them each a cup of coffee from the flask in the picnic basket and Emily pointed, wordlessly, at a pod of dolphins swimming alongside them. They watched the creatures’ sleek bodies cutting through the water, pointed fins and sudden leaps into arcs of motion. They were close enough to hear the wet gasp of their breathing, mid-leap, and to see the amused expressions on their faces, ends of their mouths turned up.
‘It’s that same family we saw last week,’ Emily said. ‘I can see the scar on the big one’s back.’
‘He must have been nicked by a power boat.’
‘It doesn’t seem to bother him, at least,’ said Emily. She leaned back against the side of the cockpit, her feet propped on the opposite seat. ‘I don’t like him.’
‘Honeywell? I don’t like him either. He’s one of these people who flatters you while they’re secretly thinking how much better they are than you.’
‘But we don’t have to like him, do we? We just have to hire him.’
‘That sounds easier than it is.’
‘Without any sort of documentation on our part, just identification and personal references,’ she said. ‘It seems too good to be true.’
‘Then again, he has helped a lot of people. And the social worker referred us.’
‘We should call those people whose numbers he gave us. Before we make any kind of a decision.’
‘What are they going to say?’ Robbie adjusted the sail. ‘They’re going to be happy with him. They wanted to adopt, and they did. They’re going to say it was worth every penny.’
‘We should still call. All of them.’
‘It’s all theoretical anyway at the moment,’ said Emily. ‘We haven’t got anything like that kind of money in our savings yet. And we haven’t anything we can take out a loan against.’
‘Well,’ said Robbie, ‘I’ve been thinking about that. Before Christmas we had someone in who talked about making me an offer on Little Billy.’
Emily sat up straight. ‘You can’t sell this boat. You made it. You made it by hand, yourself. It took you years.’
‘Her,’ he corrected her. ‘All boats are female. Because they take all your money and then do exactly what they want.’