and repressed a grin.
“Of course,” he said. “Think about it. I’m the CEO—the public face of this company. Why shouldn’t I father the first child born from this revolutionary treatment? It would be the publicity stunt of the century!”
Maddy’s head was swirling with possibilities. She could have a child, finally, and there was a man willingly lining up to help her with it, no strings attached. She shook her head in disbelief before glancing up at Akim, reality setting in.
He was her boss. She would be having her boss’ baby. Wasn’t there some ethical dilemma with that? And how would they work together, after having a child? It was a very real connection that would bond them for life.
Or would it? This would be for science. Akim didn’t need to be involved, if he didn’t want to be. Or did he?
“You need some time to think about it. I understand. However long you need—”
“I’ll do it,” Maddy said.
No matter how weird the circumstances were, there was no guarantee that she would ever get an opportunity like this one again. She had to take it, no matter the consequences. Her future child was worth it.
Akim stood, looking pleased. “Well, that’s that then. Why don’t you prepare whatever needs finalizing for this process, and get back to me with the details, once they’re ready?”
Maddy nodded, hardly believing her ears. She was going to be a mother—but Akim was still her boss! Her stomach churned with conflicted feelings, but she hid them as she nodded and bid Akim farewell until then.
When she got back to the lab, Yousef and a few others were waiting for her.
“You’re never late,” Yousef said, crossing his arms. “It must have been bad news.”
Maddy glanced around the lab before focusing back on Yousef. “Let’s wait until everyone is here. I would like to tell you all at once, rather than let gossip fly around the building and distort things.”
“Are you implying we gossip?”
“I’m not implying; I know rumors spread like wildfire in this place.”
Yousef and Maddy engaged in a brief staring contest before he finally relented.
“Fair enough. But I’m finding you the minute everyone’s arrived so we can get the news. I bet it’s bad,” he grumbled as he walked away.
Maddy hated how much Yousef was always right.
Settling down at her computer, Maddy began preparing the necessary lab order for a human trial. She wouldn’t be able to tell her coworkers about this. It would have to be completely secret until the election occurred, and even then, if the election went the wrong way, she would have to hide the fact that the child had been born through testing done at Akhemical, or risk all of their jobs.
There was something exciting about the secrecy of the situation—exciting, and terrifying. Maddy bounced between elation and complete and total fear as the day progressed. At one point, she almost marched into Akim’s office and told him the deal was off. After all, how would she be able to have her boss’ baby in secret, putting herself at risk in a country with wobbly political structuring?
Then she thought about Abda and little Oren. As stressed out as the woman had been, there was still a sense of completeness in her—like her life had a fullness to it that Maddy’s did not. She thought about how fun it was to play with the little toddler, to navigate his little emotional storms and get him back to a good place, where he could play and be happy.
There was no way Maddy was going to rob herself of the chance to have that feeling. But there was no guarantee that her body would accept the treatment either, and she had to prepare herself mentally for that outcome as well. Up to that point, she’d been acting like the treatment would work for certain, when the truth was they weren’t sure it would.
A hand waved in front of her eyes, and Maddy blinked back to the present. Yousef was looking down at her with a mixture of amusement and annoyance on his face.
“Everyone’s here now—afternoon shift crew has arrived. Let’s have the news, already!”
Maddy faced her team. It was a group of six men and one other woman, Bayra, who had only recently joined them. All of them were looking at her with such hope in their eyes, she almost told them the full truth, just to keep from watching the sadness she knew was about to sweep the room at large.
“The presentation went very well,” she said.
That part was true. Akim had been impressed with what she’d had to say.
“However,” she said, and a couple of her colleagues groaned. “Now, now, no need for that. It’s not all bad news,” she admonished. “The truth is, we’ve been shelved until after the election. There’s been some red tape involving our testing, and Ak—our employer would like to tread cautiously until it’s all worked out.”
“So we won’t be able to move to human trials?” Bayra asked, crestfallen.
“Not yet, but perhaps in the future.”
“How long into the future?” another coworker chimed in.
Maddy hesitated for a moment.
The room broke out into discontent chatter as Maddy’s team had to come to terms with the same news she had dealt with the day before. Only this time, she put on her leader hat.
“Hey now. I know this is upsetting news, but the truth is, it’s only a delay. Until that time, let’s think about all the projects we’ve had sitting on our own shelf that have taken a back seat to this treatment. What about that men’s hair growth project, Jalal?”
The team grumbled and groaned, but Maddy was able to get them back on track and focused on working on other projects soon enough. Before she knew it, the sun was already setting. Her eyes darted to the door, as though she were waiting for Akim to offer her a ride home again, and she quickly realized what a foolish thought that was.
Akim was a businessman. His first thought when having a child was about the publicity they could get, how they could expand his business. Maddy’s first thought was holding the little bundle in her arms, little tiny fingers wrapped around her thumb. She had to remind herself that it was a business transaction for him, and she would have to learn to be okay with that.
“Maddy, you want to go grab a drink with us? We’re having a pity party,” Yousef said, putting up his hands when he saw her stern expression. “Yeah, yeah. We get it. There are other things to work on, but while you might have gotten over your grief yesterday, it’s still fresh for us. Allow us one little funeral party for our research that may never see the light of day, will you?”
Maddy’s smile was rueful. “I suppose there is something to be said for the grieving process, though I hope you all reach acceptance by morning. We have a lot of work to do, and now we have the time to do it.”
“So I take it that means you’re not coming then?”
“I didn’t get much sleep,” Maddy replied.
She didn’t want to tell him she’d been out drinking with the boss, making plans to test the drug on herself. How would that look? How was she going to tap dance around the huge pile of lies she was about to tell?
“I can imagine. This really sucks, Maddy.”
“I know. Have a good night, Yousef.”
“And you. See you Monday.”
Maddy caught a cab home just a few minutes later, exhausted from a long day of avoiding telling her coworkers the truth. That night, as she lay in her bed looking up at the ceiling, she thought about her perfect little potential baby. If the treatment worked, she could have the life she always wanted.
She just had to be brave enough to try.
The weekend passed by uneventfully, with Maddy sneaking into every baby store she passed during her regular weekend stops to get groceries and run errands. As she gazed upon the tiny clothing for boys and girls, she couldn’t quite decide if she had a preference.
A healthy baby was all she had ever wanted.
She slid her sunglasses up onto her head as she strolled into her
apartment around mid-morning on Sunday. Maddy put all her vegetables in her small fridge, placing the hand-packed meats from the local butcher in the center shelf. She would make herself a special meal, to celebrate the occasion, and she slid a small bottle of champagne next to it.
After all, she would have to quit drinking for quite some time, once—if, she had to keep reminding herself—the pregnancy was successful.
Maddy put the kettle on and set up her laptop on the coffee table before filling an organic tea bag with her favorite oolong. Plopping down on her comfy sofa, she stared out at the skyscrapers of the city, waiting for her computer to signal her mother’s phone call. She had promised her mother she would Skype her this weekend and update her on how her presentation went.
Right on time, the window popped up with her mom’s image, and Maddy clicked to accept the call.
“Hi Mom,” she said.
Her mom’s face appeared on the screen, and her eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled at her only child.
“Madeline! It’s so good to see you! Just wish it was in person. Come home soon?”
“How are you, Mom?” Maddy asked, swiftly changing the subject.
“We’re all right. Just a little bored. Retirement really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know. Your father has finished putting at least ten puzzles together. We’re running out of wall space to hang them up.”
“Is that my Maddy?”
Madeline heard her father’s voice in the background before his balding head appeared in front of the camera. He waved his hand directly in front of the lens.
“Hi honey! How’s the sunny Mideast?”
“Middle East, Dad,” Maddy corrected.
“Right, right. Of course. Well, you have a great day, kiddo. I’ve got to head to the store to pick up another picture frame.”
“George, there is no more room to hang any more of your puzzles!” Maddy’s mom huffed.
Her father had already disappeared from the frame and was calling back to her mother, presumably from the front door.
“Always more room, Charlene! The garage walls are practically barren!”
Maddy head a door close, and her mother rolled her eyes.
“That man will drive me to madness, you wait and see.”
Maddy grinned. “You’re just bored, Mom. Why don’t you take up a new hobby? Something you’ve always wanted to try but never had the time?”
Maddy could think of a million things she had wanted to accomplish—learn how to play the piano, learn how to paint, to cook, to knit…the list was everlasting.
“That’s easy enough to say when you’re young. By the time you’re my age, you’re an old dog without any new tricks.”
“That’s not true, come on now,” Maddy said.