He was the only one awake. He was the one making sure that everyone was safe.
They had gone through it and gone through it. They had read the article and analysed every word. They had thought of every possibility, every permutation.
Adam had fallen asleep in front of The Electric Company and Robbie had carried him upstairs to his crib. He’d laid him down and tucked him in and Emily had stood behind him, her hand on his shoulder.
And now he was outside in the back yard again in the middle of the night again, thirsty and on the verge of a change that would mean losing another child. And, if that happened, quite possibly losing Emily as well.
He knew if that happened, that he would only have one decision to make. One easy decision, over and over and over.
He drained his glass. The bite of cold wasn’t enough to reduce the thirst.
The screen door banged and Emily joined him on the step. In her white nightgown, her hair floating loose, she looked like a ghost.
‘Do you want a refill?’ she asked him. He nodded, and in a few minutes she came back with glasses for both of them, both clinking with fresh ice. She sat beside him.
‘I thought you were asleep,’ he said.
‘I had a nightmare.’ She leaned against him and he put his arm around her. ‘I’m frightened.’
‘So am I.’
He knew he didn’t have to answer; if she asked, she knew. She put her hand in the small of his back.
‘I keep thinking about that family photograph he showed us,’ she said, after a little while. ‘Remember how we were so surprised that his middle child was adopted? Because she looked just like the other two? And he said that family resemblance was down to environment rather than genetics.’
He squeezed her tighter and took a drink. The ice bite was different from the bourbon bite.
‘I keep thinking,’ she said again. ‘What if he stole that child because she looked like the one he already had? Told the birth mother she was dead, and took her away? What if that child’s mother wanted her?’
‘But what good would it be for that little girl to know that?’ he asked. ‘How old is she now – eleven or twelve? After all her life with one family, suddenly to find out that she belonged to someone else and that the people she thought were her parents were never supposed to be her parents at all? That they’d stolen her? And the mother – she would have come to terms with losing her baby, after all these years. Suddenly the past would come back. I don’t . . . I don’t know how the truth could do any good.’
‘But it’s the truth,’ Emily said.
‘Sometimes the truth doesn’t do anyone any good.’
‘Does that mean that you can ignore it?’
‘We have,’ he said, very quietly, the words coming from the dark, shadowy corner of his mind.
She didn’t have to answer that, just as he hadn’t had to answer her question about his thirst. They both knew the answer.
‘They’ve asked people to come forward,’ she said, eventually. ‘Anyone who knows anything.’
‘What would happen?’ he asked her. ‘If we came forward, and told the police about how we got Adam? Either they’d find out that the adoption was illegal, that he was taken under false pretences. In which case, we might lose him. Or, if he really was given up by his mother for adoption, like Honeywell told us, they’d find out why we went to Honeywell in the first place. In which case, we might also lose him.’
‘But we acted in good faith.’
‘It could be in the papers. We’d be in the papers. All your patients, all your colleagues, all our neighbours. Everyone we know, will know what we did. They might ask why we did it.’
In the light from the house and the streetlight beyond their fence, her face was pale with terror.
‘I can’t just think about us, Robbie. I don’t want that to happen – I can’t bear to think about it – but it’s not just about us. If it happened, we could leave. We could start new somewhere else.’
‘And Adam – what would happen to him? Would he go into foster care? Would his real mother even want him, or be able to take him? What if he ended up back in that orphanage?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘We’re his parents, Emily. We’re the only parents he knows.’
‘Yes. We are. But I can’t stop thinking about that mother, Robbie. His mother. How much she might miss him.’
‘She doesn’t know him. We do.’
She pulled away from him and put her face in her hands. ‘I want to think that you’re right,’ she said, muffled by her palms. ‘I want to know that we’re making the right decision by keeping quiet. I want to know that we haven’t done anything so terrible. Because I was that mother, Robbie. And you were that father. I was that mother who never had her child, and you are that father whose child was taken away from him.’
The glass of water in his hands, the biteless and powerless water. He wound back his arm and threw it as hard as he could. It disappeared into the darkness and he heard it shatter on the fence. Heard the water and broken glass and ice falling to the ground.
‘I’m not going to lose another child,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to lose him.’
And as soon as he said it, he knew this was the only possible decision. All the permutations and possibilities had to be gone through, but this was the decision he was going to make all along. It was the decision he’d made as soon as the infant Adam had wrapped his hand around Robbie’s finger; just like the decision he’d made the first time he had caught sight of the woman who’d then been known as Emily Greaves.
Emily raised her head and looked at him. She was crying; he could see the shine of tears. He took her hand and traced his thumb over the ring she wore on the fourth finger of her left hand. Two hands, male and female, clasped together.
‘I don’t want to lose him,’ she said. ‘I love him. He’s our son.’
‘Then we won’t lose him,’ he said.
‘But what if they find out? Who knows? That social worker – what if they trace back to her, and she gives our names? Our names would be on file with Honeywell, too, wouldn’t they? They might be looking for us right now. Or what if someone around here figures it out for themselves? We haven’t made any secret of the fact that we adopted Adam. We never told anyone how, but what if people start asking questions?’
‘We’d just have to . . .’ He took a deep breath. ‘I borrowed the money we needed from Luís. He might . . . he could figure it out. If he sees the news, and puts two and two together.’
‘We would have to leave,’ said Emily. ‘We’d have to move somewhere else, somewhere far away, the three of us. Somewhere that no one would know that Adam is adopted, where there would be no reason to connect us with any of this. But Robbie, if we did that – would William be able to find you?’
‘He’s not going to look,’ Robbie said, dully. ‘We can’t stay here forever, hoping that one day he’ll come back. I’ll keep on trying; I’ll send new addresses. But . . . he’s not going to look.’
‘We couldn’t tell Adam,’ said Emily. ‘If we’re going to start again and pretend this never happened, we can’t tell him anything about it at all. Never even tell him he’s adopted, because what if he grows up and decides to find out the truth? How would he feel about himself? About us?’