Page 33 of Together

Robbie stood up, folded the cheque carefully, and reached over Luís’s desk to shake his hand. ‘I have the best reason in the world.’

Chapter Eighteen

June 1976

Miami, Florida

The nurses at the station were gossiping about their husbands. Emily lingered there, going over paperwork for her rounds, letting their plans wash over her.

‘Seventeen years we’ve been married and I’ve never had so much as a daisy from him. He doesn’t believe in flowers. Have you ever heard it? Doesn’t believe in them. Says they’re dead as soon as they’re cut and he doesn’t want dead things in the house. I say, what about our sex life, that’s dead.’

‘Last year JJ gave me a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day and he ate half of them himself.’

‘Andrew bought me lingerie on my birthday. I’m all, we’ve got three kids, when do you expect me to wear this?’

‘What about you, Dr Brandon? Does your husband ever give you flowers?’

Emily looked up, smiling. ‘Just one at a time.’ A single rose in an empty Coke bottle and a handwritten note on her bedside table on her last birthday when she’d woken up.

‘One is better than none, or half a box of chocolates. I said to my other half, I said, it’s our anniversary; when I get home from work today I at least want to see a card, or you—’ The phone rang and Flo picked it up without interrupting her monologue. ‘—you can cook your own lazy-ass dinner. Hello?’

Emily was picking up her clipboard and turning away when Flo held the phone out to her. ‘It’s for you. He’s probably calling to tell you he loves you. Where was my hubby when the romantic genes were handed out?’

She took the phone. ‘Robbie?’

‘Em? Honeywell just called.’

The mixture of emotions that hit her was indefinable: joy, fear, anticipation, yearning, a kind of sickness. Similar, but not identical, to the way she had felt seeing Robbie for the second time across a crowded room of travellers.

She turned away from the others and spoke quietly. ‘He . . . what does he say?’

‘He says he’s . . .’ For the first time she realised that Robbie’s voice was shaking. She clutched the receiver hard in both hands. ‘He says he’s found our son.’

She was water; she was stone. She was about to faint or be sick. ‘Our son?’ she whispered.

‘He’s – he’s a week old. He . . .’ She heard Robbie swallow, and all at once she wanted to be nowhere but by his side, holding him, seeing the mixture of emotions on his face as well. ‘We can get him next month. In four weeks, he said.’

‘We can take him home?’

‘Yes.’

‘Next month?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I . . . ’

An orderly went past her pushing a plastic cot, a crying baby nestled inside. Emily stared. A week old. Their son. Hers and Robbie’s. Not much older than that newborn, there, not yet uncurled from its foetal position, arms and legs delicate twigs, face red and screwed up in impotent baby rage.

Their son who they hadn’t yet met.

‘We’re not ready,’ she said into the phone.

‘We’ll get ready quick. We’ve got a month.’

‘I thought it would take longer.’

‘Apparently not. Emily, are you happy? You sound scared.’

‘You sound scared.’

‘Maybe that’s how we’re supposed to feel.’

‘I think we’re supposed to feel happy.’

‘I think . . . I’ll feel happy when we hold him.’

When we hold him. Emotion rose in Emily’s throat and she couldn’t speak.

‘Come home soon, OK?’ Robbie said gently, and Emily nodded, and though he couldn’t see her, she knew he understood. He hung up, and Emily put the phone back in the cradle.

She stared at the wall, where the nurses had put up a corkboard for all the cards and photographs the team had been sent from grateful parents. Jaquinda was on there: a smiling triumvirate of happiness, baby Inés wrapped in a pink blanket and wearing a ridiculously large crocheted bonnet.

They needed to buy a cot – a crib, they called it a crib in America – and clothes and nappies and formula and bottles. They had nothing yet. They hadn’t bought anything. It was too much like tempting fate. The empty room was still empty, except sometimes when she and Robbie sat in it, on the side of the single bed, together.

A carrycot, a pram, dummies, muslins – they all had different names in the US but she couldn’t remember what they were just now, and Emily realised she had held hundreds of babies, maybe thousands by now, and she had never fed one.

‘You all right, Dr Brandon? You look worried.’ Flo was frowning up at her. ‘Not bad news at home, is it?’

‘I’m fine. Not bad news, no. It’s good news. But good news I wasn’t quite ready for.’

‘Best kind,’ said Flo, and winked at her, and went back to her charts. The other two nurses had left while Emily was on the phone.

‘Flo?’ she said.

‘Mmm, doctor?’

‘If you’ve got a little time today, I wonder if . . . I wonder if you could show me how to change a nap— Change a diaper?’

Flo looked up, a broad smile on her face. ‘I can do that, yeah.’

Afterwards, Emily could never remember precisely what the orphanage building looked like, or where in the building they went. She would think about it many times, and both wish she knew more and be glad that she didn’t. She had an impression of a modern building, with glass bricks at the entrance, and a scent of floor polish and burnt toast. What caught her attention most was the corkboard near the reception desk, covered in photographs of children: drawing, playing, running some sort of race, blowing out birthday candles. It was similar to the corkboard in the maternity ward, except that the children were older. And the adults were in the periphery of the photographs. Carers, not parents.

She held tight to Robbie’s hand because she thought she might drift away. Wander like an unmanned boat, sail flapping. They’d driven for hours to get here, and that morning, before dawn, she had stood in the room at the end of the house with her hands on the rail of the cot and she had looked down at the sheets, printed with Peter Rabbit, and the fluffy toy chicken that they had bought. She tried to imagine a baby sleeping there, a real baby, not an idea or a hope.

It had been impossible. But now here they were, in this building, being ushered through hazy hallways and to a waiting room furnished in brown and cream, with several chairs and a window with brown and orange drapes. An air conditioner rattled on the windowsill and there was a tall Swiss cheese plant in the corner. Elliott Honeywell was waiting for them there. He greeted them immediately with firm handshakes and a kiss on Emily’s cheek.

‘So, the happy day!’ he said. The room was full of his cologne and another scent, like maple syrup. ‘How do you feel?’

‘We’ve been getting ready,’ she said. She wanted to wipe Honeywell’s kiss off her cheek but instead her hand found Robbie’s again. ‘We thought it would take longer, the whole process.’

‘I told you that finding your family was my first priority,’ said Honeywell, looking pleased with himself. ‘As soon as I received the phone call I knew that I had found your son.’

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