The question, at least, was in context. The four of them were on a double date at Central Park and the boys had gone off to see about renting a rowboat. Elizabeth had been watching a young mother attempt to clean her toddler up after a rendezvous with one of the ice cream carts. Elizabeth tensed at the question and Sara said, “I’m so sorry. Don’t answer that. That was--”
Elizabeth seemed to shake it off after a second. “It’s okay. You weren’t judging.”
Sara’s brow furrowed, even as she felt the ridiculousness of that, as if she had any right to judge. “No. No, I’m just cat-like with curiosity, that’s all.”
Elizabeth ran a hand over her face. “Most people… They judge. They ask the question and what they really mean is, ‘why are you wasting a perfectly good womb?’ or ‘are you that selfish’ or ‘what’s wrong with you’ or, really, take your pick.”
Sara nodded. She didn’t know the feeling, but she knew something close in the questions about her perpetual single status. They were both silent for a while and just when Sara was pretty sure they were going to ignore her faux pas, Elizabeth said, “It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want them as that I didn’t want them enough.”
Sara could appreciate the difference.
“Peter and I, we both had plans for our lives, and I suppose if it had happened accidentally we would have found a way to handle it, I’m sure we would have loved it, but our priorities were always in our professional lives.”
Sara figured she had done the damage already, it wouldn’t hurt to dig a little deeper. Softly, she asked, “Do you ever regret it?”
Elizabeth looked over at her and smiled. “Not seriously. There are moments where I regret it in the same way you might regret a piece of cake you didn’t try, but no, not deep down.”
Sara returned her smile. She told her, “I’ve had some pretty deep regrets about cake.”
After Sara’s sister disappeared, it was like most of her mother did, too. Physically, the woman who had raised Sara was still around, but as a mother, she wasn’t good for much of anything afterward. It took a while for Sara to figure it out, but when her mom “forgot” to help her pick out her first homecoming dress, she got the hint.
Sara had gone to therapy in college, trying to work through her perception that their mother had loved her sister so much more than Sara. It had helped, saying the words aloud, but she still couldn’t get herself to go home for Christmas, always planning a trip or conjuring up some work emergency. Her dad called her one year, said, “I’d love to see you, baby girl,” and Sara had cried silently on her end of the line, but she’d just said, “Maybe next year, daddy.”
The next year, she was out of the country, tracking a Renoir.
A few weeks later, on another double date, this one a dinner at Neal’s place, Elizabeth and Sara were sitting on the balcony, the guys cleaning up, when Elizabeth asked suddenly, “Do you want children?”
Sara figured she owed Elizabeth something more than the very true, “it’s complicated,” so she offered, “The thought has more than crossed my mind. I just think I’ve got hang ups that are incompatible with raising a healthy human being.”
“Feel free not to answer this, but, do you love Neal?”
Sara blinked. She opened her mouth to answer and then closed it to think about the question. Sifting through her emotions, she answered, “Yes.”
“Neal takes ten times the amount of patience and forgiveness of any child I’ve ever met,” Elizabeth told her dryly.
A moment passed, and then another before Sara couldn’t help herself; she laughed. “It’s entirely possible you’re right.”
Elizabeth laughed with her. “It’s been known to happen.”