They didn’t talk about it. They didn’t talk at all. Not even when she came to bail him out. She hadn’t spoken a word to him, not a single word since “I’ll be right there Ben.” All the while that he had been sitting and waiting in the jail cell with ink staining his fingers, he had weighed his regret. He wouldn’t have regretted punching Evan for what he had or been about to say, if only it didn’t hint that he was falling apart and fraying at the edges. That was his regret, not being strong for Donna, for doing something so stupid as getting arrested when she needed him.
He might have been able to speak first, to break this painful new silence if he could have told her why. But that why would hurt her as much as it had him. He couldn’t, wouldn’t put that bastard’s thought into her head. It was bad enough that it echoed around in his now. So the silence had descended unbroken. That had been three weeks ago and while it wasn’t as deep a silence as that left by Luke’s death, it was silence that seemed an insurmountable wall between him and the one person in the world who shared his pain. He was alone standing right next to her and was desperate to find a way to fix it, to make sure that when she did speak to him again it wouldn’t be “I’m leaving you.”
Ben had a feeling that even if Donna wasn’t allergic, flowers wouldn’t cut it. Not even dinner and dancing that they couldn’t afford would fix this he was sure. Those ideas only fleetingly crossed his mind. Miserable days crawled into miserable weeks until inspiration struck with the force of impossible hope.
Only once before had his delivery job lead him to a real turning point in his life. The first time had been the regular deliveries to the offices where he’d met Donna, a receptionist for a typically busy and successful (at least in that he had a waiting list for patients, he hadn’t cured any more patients than any other in the field which was none) allergy doctor. This time it was more irregular deliveries to a private home where he met Dr. Genovese, though it was only the return addresses and his assumptions that put a Dr. in front of the last name. Though most of the deliveries originated from an inordinate enough amount of medical supply houses, all the packages were merely addressed to J. Genovese.
The house itself bore no shingle claiming it a doctor’s office and looked no different than any of the other suburban houses in the equally suburban neighborhood. It was only when on this particular delivery and with the currently desperate thoughts on his mind that the assumption did more than occur in passing to Ben. Walking up to the house, a bit of conversation impossible not to overhear drifted from the porch while a couple lingered in the doorway.
“…really excited, can hardly believe the baby didn’t inherit a single allergy! But of course it couldn’t have, the way you explained it” laughed the mask-muffled voice of a brunette who’s smile was evident despite the mask as she stood blocking the doorway with a large belly that she apparently couldn’t stop rubbing.
“Well just remember you have to come here to deliver..” replied the other woman with darker brunette hair loosely up in a twist held by a simple butterfly clip at the back of her head, the woman that Ben recognized as J. Genovese or at least the person who always signed J. Genovese onto the electronic delivery confirmation.
The other woman nodded and smiled even more as she finished the sentence and thought “No hospitals.”
J. Genovese glanced over at the approaching delivery man now halfway from curb to porch, stumbling a brief moment though he managed not to drop the box in his hand. Head dipped as if to assist the hushing of tone as she put hand to the woman’s arm high on her shoulder “I’ll see you Wednesday” guiding her off the porch.
While he had managed not to drop the delivery, he didn’t manage not to stare at J. Genovese and then at the pregnant woman struggling to get into her car. He looked back as he almost missed the stairs though J. Genovese was meeting him in the middle, already reaching for the package “Do I have to sign for it?” she asked.
He nodded “yes. Good morning” handing the stylus and turning the electronic clipboard around. He paused a moment but as she signed blurted “did she say her baby doesn’t have any allergies?” looking over at the car backing around his truck and heading off down the street. Looking back at J. Genovese again he asked “is that true? How’s that possible?” Everyone was allergic to something, most to many things.
“Just a clinical trial” she mumbled signing and shaking her head and reaching for the package.
He held on a moment “how can somebody get into that?”
She almost laughed at him as she looked up “to start with you have to have a uterus” taking the package she turned heading toward the door.
“I don’t but my wife does” Ben hurried after her “please, just tell me what it’s about.”
She sighed shaking her head “get off my property” and started to shut the door.
“Our son just died, allergies” and he found himself blurting out in a single-breathed rush everything that had happened since then. He must have sounded too pathetic to not have been sincere because the door paused and reversed its motion.
Its sparse appearance was perhaps what made it look reassuringly professional. The only piece of decoration in the entire house appeared to be the smiley-flower tattoo on the back of her left ankle, winking from under the flick of pant hem with every step it was the only thing that caught Ben’s attention. He was almost mesmerized by it if only as a distraction from the stomach-sickening sense of tension to even that short delay in knowing whether or not that flare of hope would prove true or just be crushed under some flower-flaunting heel.
Then she turned and spoke “my name’s Jennifer Genovese and I can help you. It’s a bit more than the usual In Vitro, a lot of jargon you probably wouldn’t understand but you could say it’s In Vitro gene therapy. A fertility clinic’s a business at the end of the day even specializing in conducting trials of new techniques, so just bring your wife in next Thursday at one thirty and we can get started.”
He shook his head “you mean like those di- designer babies?” stopping himself just short of saying ‘disaster babies’ as a couple news channels and many people referred to them. It was a thought that sent a chill through him enough to affect tone in a way that made his more diplomatic word choice fall flat. Far from the typical designer ‘options’ of hair and eye-color, height and the vaguely better gamble at health of FDA approved and commonly practiced procedures of the average fertility doctor that were both expensive and almost worthless, the ‘disaster babies’ (born of desperate parents and unapproved medical practices, that too often sounded like general quackery) were sometimes born in worse health than they would have been, other rarer but more rumored times deformed and barely recognizable as babies at all or not born at all. Ben as most everyone, had heard some real horror stories about them.
Jennifer scoffed derisively and immediately “not a thing like those monstrosities. I don’t do train wrecks” she assured him. But from his expression and the beginning of a turn back toward the door, the way his mouth was opening to say something (probably never mind and goodbye she thought), so she pointed out. “Ms. Fischer out there is absolutely thrilled after all the standard tests and several ultrasounds.”
While it clearly didn’t clinch it, Ben did rethink the speedy exit he had almost executed. “Maybe I, we, my wife and I could see those? The ultrasounds and test results” he suggested though already expecting that there’d be all sorts of doctor-patient privilege to prevent that. “Or talk to her, or some of the others? There are others aren’t there?” he asked.
“I understand your concern all things considered, but I’m not going to hand over any of those. Though a few do have something of a discussion or support group that meets every other week. Right here Saturday afternoons, this Saturday actually” which was only two days away. “they use this front room or if the allergen count is low and it’s nice outside, they’ll sit right out on the porch comparing bellies or whatever pregnant women do when they get together. You and your wife can talk to a few of them then.”
“I’ll do that” Ben nodded with a small frown that deepened slightly as she handed him a quickly scrawled on slip of paper.
“Call me if you still want to cancel on next Thursday after you talk to them. I’m doing you a big favor and don’t appreciate rudeness” she gave him a frowning glance that tried to size up his reliability and guess at his wife’s.
“I will” Ben nodding with a little frown of his own. He’d always disliked the condescending attitude of doctor’s office schedule policy, another reason he personally preferred the over-the-counter self-medicate system working stiffs like him counted on to waiver the expenses of premium insurance premiums. It was bare-bones unavoidable emergency room visits only for the likes of him, or had been until Luke. Only then had he wished that he were a rich enough man to afford such policies with their costly allowances for pre-existing conditions like the boy’s ‘congenital’ allergies.
Though it wasn’t such things that he thought about as he spent the next hour trying to make up for those ten minutes his boss would considered wasted. He twisted his mind around all the problems and implications that this turn of events brought to mind. There was no way he would be able to just walk through the door at the end of the day and blurt all this to Donna. Even in his own head, where already impossibly hopeful imaginings sprang with a desire so strong it was almost dark, it rang wrong. He scowled at how it smacked of replacing Luke, their irreplaceable child.
He might have abandoned the idea right then and there, count it far too soon if not for the press of time the situation presented. If it were trials that meant that it could be approved soon. If it were, they would never be able to afford it and might never have such a chance again. There were only two days until the chance to talk to at least a couple of the people already included in the trial and then just a little less than a week after that to decide.. to convince Donna.
Ben’s knuckles went white around the steering wheel as he not only suffered the worst sort of sense of being rushed, but also began to think of what he would say. He was thinking of lying to Donna even if just a little bit, and he didn’t even realize it.
Ben didn’t wait to let silence descend between them when he came home “Donna, we need to talk.”
“We needed to talk weeks ago” Donna pointed out. She had gotten home half an hour before and was sitting on the couch, channel-surfing aimlessly through pointless programming.
“I know and I’m sorry, I” he started as he started toward the couch.
She didn’t let him finish, interjecting without looking over at him “you should have said that weeks ago.”
He slid onto the couch next to her “I know I’m sorry” only to have her sit up from her hopeless sprawl. She turned toward him even as she moved away. He sighed and didn’t press the distance “please Donna, we need help.”
“I needed you” she shot back. Glared at him, hated the pain refreshed and amplified just by being voiced.
“I know! I screwed up but I’m trying to fix it” he argued, almost pleaded.
“It’s not what you did Ben! It’s the god damned silent treatment I never expected from you!” she rose her voice.
He rose his in turn “you’re the one who didn’t say anything!”
She jumped to her feet almost looming over him “what was I supposed to say Ben?!”
“I don’t know!” he looked up at her, not liking the angle of the argument. It made him have to slide to the side to leave his spot on the couch. “I didn’t know what to say either!”
“Well you should have said something!”
“I’m saying something now!” he shouted as they shouted at each other. Every sentence raising their voices a little bit louder, their emotions a little bit higher.
“What can you possibly say now?! What Ben? What?!”
“I’m trying to say it!”
“Spit it out then!”
“I did! We need to talk, we need help. We can’t do this alone!”
“We’re not alone we’ve got each other or at least we’re supposed to!”
“I don’t know about you Donna but I’m here for you. I love you!”
“I love you too! I’ve been here the whole damn time!”
“Then what are we yelling for?!”
“Because it’s been too damn quiet too damn long!” Donna pointed out, by then at the top of her lungs.
Ben stepped forward grabbing her in a close hug and whispered “I know Donna, I’m sorry, I’ve hated it.”
“I’ve hated it too” she whispered back, squeezing him tightly.
Turning his head set his nose brushing against her cheek and he sighed “I found a group.”
She shook her head “no Ben, please no more nonsense” almost pulling away, almost pushing him away as memories went through her mind of the last group they’d put their hopes in, that biotics business that while she blamed herself for it, she had been the one of the two of them who had discovered it. They both now thought might have cost them the life of their son.
He shook his head “no, not like that, just a support group for talking. Other parents, just talking about what they’re going through” he assured her and she paused, looking at him again. She nodded. It made sense. There was so much grief, so much anger and only the two of them to keep each other from drowning in it. But they were drowning just the same.
“Okay, maybe” Donna nodded again and leaned against him, struck by a deep ache in her heart to be called a parent. She wasn’t any more. Was she? How couldn’t she be? She didn’t know the answer and didn’t want to know. It was the one thought she hated the most.
Ben thought no such thoughts as he nearly collapsed back into that clinging embrace. His mind was fully full of hope. Once she saw, once she talked to the others he was sure that she would see the incredible windfall of the opportunity, how while it wouldn’t fix everything, it would just ..fix everything.