The Fertility Factor
“D addy, I’m talking about a girlfriend.”
Derek Cross set a hand on his five-year-old son’s shoulder and slowed their pace to weave a path around pigeons pecking at the cement. “You have a girlfriend?” he asked while he urged his son into Central Park.
Head back, Joey squinched his nose. “Not me.”
He’d thought his son was still in his I-don’t-like-girls stage. “So who has one?”
“No one does.”
Where was this conversation going? Derek wondered. Through sunglasses, he squinted up at the clear blue sky and bright summer sun. Usually he had no trouble following his son’s disorganized conversations. “Joey, let’s start over.”
“Can I have an ice cream?” Joey asked, pointing in the direction of a vendor.
Derek ran a hand over the top of Joey’s shiny, dark-brown hair, then plopped the baseball cap back on the boy’s head. “After lunch.”
“If we have lunch, will we get home in time?”
“In time for what?” What was his concern this time? At five, Joey fretted with the expertise of a forty-year-old. “Mommy doesn’t come for you today,” Derek reminded him.
“The ball game, Daddy. You said you’d have time to watch it with me.”
“Some of it. Joey, about what you were saying. Who has a girlfriend?”
Imitating a professional ballplayer’s actions, Joey slapped the baseball into his mitt. “You need one.”
“I—” The last time he’d been speechless had been the day Joey was born. “I…need one?”
“Uh-huh. Someone special.”
Derek managed not to laugh. “Why do I?”
“Because you’re lonely.”
That was news to him. Busy described his life better. Between his medical practice and his son, he hadn’t had time to bother with more than casual dating. But even if he had more time, after his marriage had failed, he’d vowed never again. Love was the last thing he wanted. “Who said I am?” Derek asked, certain someone had put the idea in Joey’s head.
“Mommy says so.”
He should have known. Leave it to Rose. Despite the divorce three years ago—because he and Rose had parted amicably, she never hesitated to voice her opinion about his love life or, in her words, “lack of it.”
“Mommy’s going on a date,” Joey added.
Derek had heard, wished her well. But he understood now what was happening. Rose figured if she was dating, it was time for him, too. They needed to talk. “What else did Mommy say?”
“She said she’s going on a vacation before she clapses.”
Derek chuckled. “Before she clapses.”
“That’s what she said.”
“I believe you, Joey.” He checked his watch, promised himself he wouldn’t do that again while with Joey, but mentally he calculated time. With luck, before he had to leave for appointments, he’d manage to watch two innings of the ball game with his son.
“Mommy said you need a date.”
Was he really having a conversation about his lack of female companions with his five-year-old son? You need a life, Doc, he mused. “Come on. Let’s play ball.”
“Do you know a girl, Daddy?”
Plenty of them. But if he could pick and choose, he already had a candidate, his nurse. A tall, willowy knockout with a flawless, fair complexion, long blond hair and green eyes. “I know some, Joey.” Like Lara Mancini with the bright, pearly white smile and delicate features. “Don’t worry about me.”
“Y ou’re such a natural with them, Lara.”
Lara Mancini cradled the six-week-old girl in her arms and smiled. “I’ve had a lot of practice. Last count, I had ten nieces and nephews.”
Standing beside her, the beaming mom and dad of the triplets each held one infant.
In the three years since Lara had volunteered as a nurse at Manhattan Multiples, a center for multiple births, she’d held many babies, but she never lost interest or felt too tired to hold one. While still in her teens and baby-sitting for every neighbor on the block, she realized how much she loved being with children.
“You should be a mother, Lara,” the woman said.
“Someday. Your next appointment is in six months unless you need to see Dr. Cross sooner,” Lara said while placing the little one in an infant seat.
“No, I’m feeling great.” The young woman shot a meaningful look at her husband as they bent down to place the other two babies in car seats.
Lara assumed the silent exchange carried a definite message of intimacy since they’d received the all-clear to resume relations.
“Come on,” her husband urged. “Lara has other patients to care for.”
“I always enjoy being with these three,” Lara assured them. She smiled, watched them leave. The daddy carted out two infant seats, while his wife managed one and an oversize pink-and-blue diaper bag. Lara cast a look at the gallery clock on the half wall behind the appointment counter. The appointments on this Saturday morning had been lighter than usual.
Having promised to meet co-workers downstairs in the reception area a few minutes before noon, she hurried into the staff lounge, and rushed to her locker to change out of blue-colored scrubs. She slid on a deep-green, V-necked, sleeveless top and an ankle-length, silk floral skirt, released her hair from the tortoiseshell clasp and fluffed it. After snatching up her shoulder bag from her locker, she dashed to the elevator.
On the way down to the first floor, she attached small, gold hoop earrings and a gold chain to dress up the outfit. She thought about what the couple had said to her. Everyone said the same. She was a natural with babies.
You should be a mother. Her stomach knotted. She wasn’t one, might never be. Depressing thoughts had started at seven that morning. Over the phone a friend, fighting tears, had told her terrible news. Sadness had shadowed Lara ever since Gena’s call about her appointment at her gynecologist.
As the elevator doors swooshed open, Lara fought her sad mood. In the lobby she saw Eloise Vale, Manhattan Multiples’ director disappear into her office. Another nurse, Carrie Williamson, was waiting beside Josie Tate’s desk.