The Picky House Club
They pulled in the drive and everything was as Cassie expected–blue plates on the picnic table, blue acrylic cups filled with ice water, red and yellow condiments. Fly screen over the potato salad. Cassie's berry cobbler was still warm in her lap in its Pyrex casserole dish.
Dan parked behind the white minivan. "Let's not make a big deal out of it," he reminded her, and patted her hand. "Okay?" Cassie nodded.
Rebecca and Jason emerged from the patio doorway, she with a bowl of baked beans, he with a platter of hamburger patties and an oversized spatula.
Rebecca called "Hi-i-i!" like a police siren. She put the dish on the picnic table and waved. "Ellie, Conner, come on over and say hi to Cassie and Dan." The children obediently dismounted their swing set.
"Hi, Conner," said Dan, crouching to meet him eye to eye. "What have you been up to today?"
"Playing," said Conner, staring at the lawn, or perhaps his untied laces. Ellie, thumb in mouth, stared at Cassie. A breeze made the hem of her dress move.
"How about you, Ellie-bo-belly?" said Cassie. The girl had recently developed the most adorable way of waving: while holding her arm up, she opened and closed her tiny fist. Cassie reached out to touch Ellie's shoulder; Ellie turned away.
"Can we go swing now?" Conner asked his mother.
"Sure," said Rebecca, rolling her eyes at Cassie. "Be careful with your sister." Ellie followed Conner across the yard, breaking into a run when Conner pulled ahead.
"They've got their own thing going, huh?" said Rebecca. "Don't take it personally."
"Oh, I know," said Cassie and pushed her hair back from her face.
"God, you still look great!" said Rebecca. "You sure are carrying it well."
Cassie handed Rebecca the cobbler. "We forgot ice cream; I hope you have some."
"What kind of self-respecting pregnant lady forgets ice cream?" laughed Rebecca, leading Cassie into the kitchen.
Rebecca handed Cassie a glass of lemonade. "I'd sure like to spike that for you, but we can't have our little mom-to-be drinking vodka, now can we?"
Cassie stared at the collection of photographs on the refrigerator door: children playing soccer; children in leotards; children at the petting zoo. If only she hadn't been so eager to be in The Club. That fucking club. "Thanks," Cassie took a sip and then frowned. "Aren't you having a drink?"
"Well, no, I'm not," said Rebecca. She put the pitcher down and broke into a grin. "You won't believe this–we're pregnant, too!"
"What?" Cassie put her glass on the counter, a little too hard; it made a sharp cracking sound. "But, you had your tubes tied," she said, gripping the edge of the counter. "Didn't you?"
"I did!" laughed Rebecca. "But I guess they can sometimes work themselves back together again. We weren't sure at first if we were going to keep it, with the expense, and the hassle, and God knows I can do without back labor again." She picked up a sponge and slid it over the countertop absent-mindedly. "But then we decided, what the heck?"
Cassie wondered if her smile looked forced, not that she could help it. "Wow, that's ... great. What a surprise."
"No shit," said Rebecca, tossing the sponge back into the sink. "Someone really must have wanted us to have another baby."
Cassie realized that this was the time she needed to tell Rebecca. She wasn't in The Club after all. "Rebecca, I–"
"Gosh, I'm so glad that you're finally having kids," said Rebecca, clinking her glass of lemonade into Cassie's. "Because, you know, the guys can talk about work, but everything I have to say practically is about my kids, so thank goodness we'll finally have something in common. And sometimes I want to ask you your opinion about, you know, do you spank, do you do time-outs, that kind of thing and I can't because you don't have kids."
"I can give you my opinion about that," said Cassie.
"Well, I know. But it's different if you actually have some," said Rebecca. "People who don't have kids don't know what it's really like."
"Oh," said Cassie.
"You'll find out soon enough!" said Rebecca.
"No, I won't," said Cassie.
"You won't spank?"
Jason came into the kitchen. "Honey–hi Cassie, how are you–do you have those cheese slices? We're ready to go."
As usual, Rebecca and Jason sat at the picnic table facing the chrysanthemums that grew against the garage while Cassie and Dan faced the swing set. The children had already picked over and abandoned their hotdogs and tater tots. Now, they carried out their private, consuming play oblivious to the drone of adult conversation.
The foursome covered the basics: the weather; the upcoming election; the Mariners. A wind was picking up; it jostled the women's hair and moved the flowers around. Cassie stared at the children. They were not particularly special, of average intelligence and looks. Conner maybe a little cuter than Ellie. Rebecca and Jason were good, average parents; one or the other occasionally lost the ability to be diplomatic, like anybody else. So, what was it?
"Are you okay, Cassie?" Rebecca studied her from behind a half-eaten burger.
"She's fine," said Dan. "May I have the ketchup?"
"I'm just tired," said Cassie. "Sorry."
"No need to be sorry," said Jason with a wink. "Rebecca used to fall asleep right at the dinner table."
"Oh, God, did I get tired," laughed Rebecca. "I guess I'm going to have to get used to that again. Right, Cass? You and I can take naps together."
"Oh, congratulations, by the way," said Dan through a mouthful of beans. "Jason told me."
"Won't it be fun, both pregnant at the same time!" said Rebecca. "Oh shoot, but I was going to give you my maternity clothes. I've been saving them, and my breast pump, and my–"
"We lost it," said Cassie.
"Cassie," said Dan. Rebecca and Jason stared. Jason had been pouring ketchup and missed his plate; he cursed and tried to clean up the mess with his pink paper napkin. Rebecca handed him hers as well.
"I'm sorry," said Cassie. Though she held her fork, it remained motionless above the beans that had begun to congeal on her plate. A fly explored the hills and valleys of her potato salad.
"Oh, honey," Rebecca ran around the table and threw her arms around Cassie. "Why? What happened?"
The children sensed something interesting and moved toward the adults. "Everything's fine, kids–just go on playing," said Jason, motioning with his catsup-spotted hands. "Conner, let your sister have the blue swing if she wants it."
"I didn't mean that you did anything; you didn't do anything," said Rebecca. "I just meant–"
"Forget it," said Cassie. "I shouldn't have said I was pregnant in the first place."
"Of course you should have said so," said Rebecca, glaring at Dan. "Did you put that idea in her head?"
"If she'd waited to make an announcement, it wouldn't be such a big deal," said Dan, slumped over his plate. "She told our parents, people at work, people at church. Now she's got to–"
"Okay!" said Cassie, half standing. "I made a mistake. Let's just go."
"I wanted to wait," Dan mumbled at the picnic table. He wiped his fingers on his napkin and tucked it under his plate so it wouldn't fly away.
"Look, don't go home," said Rebecca, rising. "Don't you want to have some of your own cobbler?"
They collected the contents of the picnic table and brought them into the kitchen, where Jason scraped plates into the garbage and Dan loaded them into the dishwasher.
"The first thing we need to do is fix your lemonade," said Rebecca, reaching for the vodka.
"Not too much," said Dan, pulling out the top rack. "She hardly ate anything."
"Lots of pregnancies end in miscarriage," said Cassie, holding her glass toward Rebecca's pour. "My doctor said maybe one-third."
"Exactly," said Dan.
"That can't be true, can it?" said Rebecca. She put the bottle down and searched the cupboard for dessert bowls.
Jason opened the freezer and pulled out a carton. "It's strawberry," he said. "I hope that's okay."
Rebecca dished up ice cream to accompany the red berries. Jason and Dan took their bowls, and two smaller ones for the kids, outside. Rebecca and Cassie each leaned against a countertop, facing each other. The way Rebecca was standing, sort of leaned backwards, Cassie could see it: the little pooch of superiority. The badge of conquest. The lottery.
"Why didn't you say something earlier?" said Rebecca, turning and shifting her weight.
"I don't know," said Cassie. She took a long swig off her lemonade. "I just couldn't. You were so excited for us."
Rebecca meticulously gathered equal parts cobbler and ice cream in each spoonful. "Well, you must be devastated," she said. "I know how much you want to have children."
"It's funny," said Cassie. She moved to one of the breakfast-bar stools and sat, sipping thoughtfully from her glass. "I'm sad, and I'm embarrassed about how many people I have to 'un-tell.' But I'm not actually devastated. I don't think it's devastated. I'm not sure what it is."
Rebecca considered her for a moment, and then seemed to shake a statement from her head. She gave Cassie a reassuring look.
"Lots of people have miscarriages," said Cassie.
"Um-hmm," said Rebecca, absentmindedly scratching her abdomen. "Are you and Dan going to have a service for the baby?"
"What? No," said Cassie. "It wasn't a baby."
Rebecca looked up sharply from her cobbler, spoon in mouth. "Cass," she said. "You have lost a child. You have to grieve that loss."
"I saw it," said Cassie. "I held it in my hand. It wasn't a baby. Not even a fetus. My doctor said it was as big as a grain of rice, and it was buried in a pile of bloody gore. I couldn't even find it, and I looked."
Rebecca swayed and pushed her bowl away. "What did you do with it?"
"Well, I wasn't sure what to do with it," said Cassie, dishing up a bit more dessert. "Gosh, this cobbler turned out pretty good, didn't it? Anyway, I couldn't just flush it down the toilet ... Dan brought me a paper towel and I wrapped it up. We buried it under the hydrangea in the front yard."
"My God," said Rebecca.
"No one ever told me what I should do with it," said Cassie.
"Oh, God!" said Rebecca.
Cassie realized that her friend's eyes had ceased to focus on her, on anything. "Are you all right?"
"Here we go!" said Rebecca, vaulting into the bathroom. Cassie heard the splash of solid into liquid. The sink ran. Rebecca emerged, wiping her grey face with a hand towel. "Well, this is what I'm in for, for the next two months. Lucky me. I mean–"
"Never mind," said Cassie. She poured herself another drink.
"Hey, easy on the vodka," said Rebecca. "Dan will have my head."
"Rebecca, you're my friend," said Cassie, stirring her drink with her finger. "I need to tell you something."
A drawn-out wail preceded Conner into the kitchen. "Mo-o-om!" he cried. "I'm having an accident!"
"Damn it, Conner," said Rebecca. "This is the third time today! Why can't you come and tell me before you have an accident?"
"Because it's a ac-cident!" cried Conner. He began to tug at his pants, in which crotch a dark stain had grown.
"Hold on," said Rebecca. "You might as well get your jammies on." She pulled him by the arm; his wails trailed down the hallway.
"Stop crying," said Rebecca. "I'm the one who should be crying."
Cassie poured herself some more vodka. She thought about adding lemonade, but it was in the refrigerator, too far away. That fucking club. She knew that she and Dan would try again, and maybe it would work. And maybe it wouldn't. This wasn't Cassie's first miscarriage; it was her fifth. Dan thought there were three. She had told everyone that she was pregnant because she thought it might make the baby want to stay.
After a few minutes, Jason entered the kitchen holding Ellie out in front of him, face down. Ellie had her arms spread wide. She opened and closed her hand at Cassie, who returned the gesture.
"Are you an airplane?" Cassie said.
Jason whisked Ellie through the kitchen, making a propeller noise with his lips. Ellie shrieked.
"Ellie the Airplane, this is Mission Control," he said. "Prepare for landing and pajamas."
Dan followed. "Well, Cassie, what do you think?"
"Looks like it's bedtime," said Cassie.
"We should hit the road," said Dan. Cassie rose from the stool and nearly toppled; Dan steadied her and saw the vodka bottle. "Aw, Cass."
"Let's go," said Cass.
"No shit," said Dan. Jason and Rebecca returned to the kitchen. Jason held one child draped over each arm, upside down. Red-faced, hair on end, the children giggled. Jason righted them and set them on the floor.
"Thanks for having us over," said Dan. "I think I need to get Cassie home."
"I don't care," said Cassie to no one in particular. She swung her arm in an arc of dismissal. "I don't need to be in the stupid club anyway."
"What club?" said Jason.
"Shoot, I knew I should have taken that bottle away," said Rebecca. "Sorry, Dan; you warned me."
"She needed to blow off some steam," said Dan, taking one of her arms to support her. "Come on, honey."
"We'll come out and say good-bye," said Rebecca.
Dan helped Cassie into the car. Cassie's head fell back against the seat; she tried to pull the seatbelt around herself but couldn't grasp the buckle well enough. Her hands flopped into her lap and she smiled with closed eyes. Dan clicked the seatbelt into place.
"Say goodnight to Dan and Cassie," said Jason. He held Conner in one arm and Ellie in the other.
"Is Cassie sick?" asked Conner.
"She's just tired," said Jason.
Rebecca leaned in Cassie's open window. "Make sure she drinks some water when you get home."
"Yeah," said Dan. "Thanks."
"You'll still be my friends even if I'm not pregnant," slurred Cassie, rubbing one eye with her index finger. "Won't you?"
"Why wouldn't we?" said Rebecca. "You let Dan help you into bed, okay?"
"I'm a good friend even if I'm not pregnant," said Cassie.
Rebecca patted her hand and stood up. Ellie reached over to be held. "Say bye-bye," she told Ellie.
"Bedbugs bite," said Ellie, waving.