Sequel to Strawberries for Dessert Part of the Coda Series Families should grow, not shrink. It's been on Jon Kechter's mind since before he tied the knot with his millionaire lover, Cole Fenton. Now hoping to adopt, Jon and Cole search for a mother-to-be willing to let them love her baby, but the interminable wait is wearing on them both. Jon is close to his father, George, but until Cole, he didn’t have anyone else. Now George is pushing Cole to reconcile with his estranged mother. When the three of them spend Christmas with her in Munich, the results are disastrous. Jon and Cole resolve to stay positive, but no hope exists without a tinge of fear. Jon and Cole can’t help but wonder if their dream of being parents just wasn’t meant to be.
SOMEBODY once said, “there is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” I never realized how true it was until I watched Cole struggle with them both in our quiet Phoenix home, where hope and fear had been neatly encapsulated in the simple form of a bedroom.
It all began on Thanksgiving, only two short months after I’d made my mad flight across the country to surprise him at his home in the Hamptons. It was our first holiday with the two of us plus my father together as a real family. We celebrated by decorating an enormous Christmas tree in our family room. Cole had already bought too many presents, each perfectly wrapped and ribboned at the store. I hated to think how many more would be under the tree by the time Christmas actually arrived. Cole spent most of the day preparing dinner, and then we sat at his too-big dining room table to eat, and through it all, he was a million miles away, his brain wrapped up in something he wasn’t yet ready to share.
It wasn’t until that night, when we were alone in bed with the lights turned out, that he took a deep breath and said, “Have you ever thought about becoming a father?”
The question surprised me so much that I sat straight up in bed and turned to face him, although his expression was hidden in the dark.
“Have you?” I asked.
There was a moment of silence, a soft inhale of breath, and when he spoke, his voice was quiet. Almost reverent. “All the time.”
No, it hadn’t occurred to me, and yet suddenly I had no idea why not. It was so beautifully simple and so right.
Somebody to wake up for in the morning and tuck into bed at night. Somebody to stack presents around the tree for. Somebody to hold and read to and rock to sleep. A child for Cole to dote on, for me to love, for my father to toss in the air and bounce on his knee. A new, bright, wonderful life to tug on my father’s pant leg while looking up at him hopefully, just as I’d done to my father’s father. He’d always had candy in his pockets for me, despite my mother’s admonitions that he’d ruin my dinner. Now, it could be my child, holding a hand out to Grandpa George. It could be Cole scolding them for eating too much sugar and me turning away, laughing, pretending I didn’t see, because I would never stand in the way of my father spoiling his only grandchild. Families should grow, Jon, not shrink, my father had once said to me. He was right, and now I could make it happen.
I reached across Cole to turn on the bedside lamp, and he seemed to grow smaller in the light. He wanted to hide these things away, but I leaned over him. I forced him to meet my eyes. I saw how afraid he was now that he’d said the words out loud.
“Is that what you want?”
He pulled the covers up to his chin, seeming very much like a child himself, wanting to use the blankets as some kind of shield. “More than anything.”
I laughed, because it was all I could do. I pulled the blankets away from him, taking away his protection, stripping him bare so I could wrap him in my arms. “Only if you marry me first.”
IN THE month leading up to the wedding, we talked endlessly of becoming parents. We weighed the pros and cons of adoption versus surrogacy, and by the time we flew off to Paris for a commitment ceremony in front of our friends, we knew what we wanted. We didn’t honeymoon, but came straight back to Phoenix.
Technically, unmarried same-sex couples couldn’t apply for joint adoption in Arizona, but a single parent could. Married couples were given priority, but we found an attorney named Thomas Goodman who specialized in adoption, and he assured us it wasn’t an impossibility.
“It’s disheartening, I know, but this isn’t without precedent. I’ve helped other same-sex couples in your exact position. The first thing we do is decide which one of you is technically applying to adopt.”
“But we have every intention of raising this child together,” Cole said.
“I know, and as soon as the adoption is final, we can draft documents to close any legal loopholes, making sure you both have parental rights, especially with regard to health-care decisions. We’ll also ensure that in the event of something happening to the adoptive parent, the other of you would receive custody.”
“But a joint adoption is truly not allowed?”
“Not in Arizona.”
“What about foreign adoption?” I asked. “Would that make it easier?”
Thomas shook his head. “In most cases, you’re going to run into the same biases. One of you would have to apply for the adoption as a single father, and depending on the country we applied in, you’d have to be very careful about what you divulged.”
“We’d have to lie,” Cole said. “That’s what you’re saying.”
Thomas made a noncommittal gesture—not quite a shrug, but not denying it either. “An omission of the full truth, at any rate.”
“No.” Cole was adamant. “Absolutely not.”
“And you’ve ruled out surrogacy?”
I glanced over at Cole. This was something we’d discussed in depth. He gave Thomas the same answer he’d given me each time. “I’ve heard too many horror stories. Besides, there are so many unloved babies in the world. It seems selfish to create a new one when we could help somebody else instead.”
Thomas turned to me for confirmation. “You’re agreed on this?”
I nodded. I didn’t necessarily understand Cole’s reluctance to pursue surrogacy, but I was willing to respect his decision. “For now at least, we’d like to focus on adoption.”
“Fair enough. In that case, we have to work with what’s allowed under current Arizona law, whether we think it makes sense or not.”
“If it has to be one of us,” Cole said, looking down at his lap, “it should be Jonathan.”
It hurt him to say it, I could tell, and using my actual name was still unusual for him. “Why me?” I asked, although I had a guess.
“You know why.”
Because he wasn’t masculine. Because he wasn’t what most people thought of when the term “dad” came to mind. “But you’re the one with the money. Without you, I wouldn’t even have a job.” It still irked me a bit at times, too, but I was getting used to it.
“Jon’s right,” Thomas said. “Under the current law, your child could only inherit from whichever of you was the adopting parent, at least until a legal will is drawn up stating otherwise. Also, if you get divorced, the other of you wouldn’t even be entitled to custody or visitation rights.”
“We’re not splitting up,” Cole said.
“That’s what every couple says.” Thomas leaned forward on his desk to gaze back and forth between us. “Let me put it this way: If you adopted tomorrow and split up the next day, which one of you would be most able to care for the child, both financially and emotionally?”
There was no question. “Him,” I said. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, I’d have to find work, which would be difficult. I’d have to pay for daycare. He would need neither of those things. “It should be Cole.”
Cole turned to face me, flipping his hair out of his eyes so he could meet my gaze. “Are you sure, Jonny?”
“Positive. Like you said, we’re not splitting up. And no matter what, I trust you to do what’s right. So for now, let’s just do what we have to do.”
Thomas nodded at us and scribbled a note on the paperwork in front of him. “Now, as unpleasant as it is, I have to ask you: is there anything specific you’re looking for in a child? I know you want an infant. Anything beyond that?”
Cole and I glanced at each other, unsure how to respond. “I don’t understand,” Cole said at last.
“Some people are very specific. They only want a child with blond hair and blue eyes, or a child who’s of their same ethnicity. Or for some—”
“No.” Cole’s firm tone spoke volumes. “Nothing could matter less to us than that.”
Thomas was obviously relieved by the answer. “Good. Then the next step will be a home study where a social worker will come to your home and ask you a billion questions. They’re tedious and sometimes borderline offensive, but they’re absolutely required.”
“Will it matter that we’re gay?”
“I can’t guarantee the person doing the review will be open-minded about it, but they can’t deny you based on that alone. A big part of the review will be to assess your home. To see if you’re able to support a child in a healthy environment. Again, this is where it pays to have money. It sounds unfair to say that a rich parent can do more than a poor one, but the fact of the matter is, your child will have a comfortable home regardless of the economy or the job market. You’re not in debt. You’re not living paycheck to paycheck. You can already guarantee this child will have access to the best schools and the best health care in the world. Right or wrong, that’s going to help you.”
Cole sighed and smiled sideways at me. “Thank goodness we have something in our favor.”
“You have a lot in your favor, actually. Outside of being a same-sex couple, your only real disadvantage is your lack of family. I understand you have Jon’s dad here in town, but other than that, you have no support structure in place. No uncles or aunts or cousins.”
“It’s not like we can change that now,” I said.
Thomas nodded. “Exactly. I’m only trying to be thorough.” He fiddled with a pen on his desk. “In fact, at this point, I feel it’s important to be completely honest about what we’re up against. It’s easy at the beginning for couples to become overly optimistic.” He looked up again to meet our eyes, giving weight to his words. “I’d advise you to not get your hopes up.”
“You’re saying we don’t really have a chance?”
“No. That’s not it at all. And I’m not saying this as your lawyer, but as somebody who’s seen how ugly adoption can get. This journey can be full of heartache. It may be months or even years before we find a child. To make matters worse, there are some people out there who will take advantage of your situation. They’ll say whatever you want to hear in order to have their prenatal care paid for, but in the end, they’ll refuse to sign away their parental rights. People that cruel are rare, but they seem to pop up a lot in this business.”
“Don’t we have some kind of protection against that kind of thing?”
He shook his head. “None. Arizona law stipulates that a mother can’t authorize an adoption until seventy-two hours after birth. Anything promised before that isn’t valid in court. I’ve seen couples spend every penny they have, even take out second mortgages on their homes so they can give the birth mother what she wants, only to have the rug ripped out from underneath them once the child is born. Given your unique financial situation, you’d be a prime target for anybody who’s only out to get free maternity care.”
I was still holding Cole’s hand, and I felt the way he began to shake.
“Now,” Thomas went on, “like I said, those types of people are rare, and I want you to know, I intend to be very careful about any offers I put through to you. Part of my job is to make sure people like that don’t have a chance to use your own emotions against you. But what I want you to bear in mind is this: no matter what, the birth mother has three days to change her mind. Three days. And most of the time, it’s not even a matter of them trying to manipulate you. They may fully intend to give their child up, but once they hold that baby in their arms, they sometimes change their minds. It’s not about them being selfish or trying to take advantage of you. It’s a maternal instinct.”
“It’s hard to argue with biology,” I said.
Thomas nodded. “Exactly. And if that happens, we’re right back to square one. There’s not a damn thing in the world we can do about it.” He leaned back in his chair. “Now, with all of that said, you tell me: is this still something you want to pursue?”
I turned to Cole. He had a death grip on my fingers, but he didn’t waver. He nodded. “Absolutely.”
Thomas smiled. “Good. Then we’ll get down to business right away.”
What a beautiful ending to this series. Marie Sexton really brought all the aspects of these books together in a way that shows indisputably that family is the most important thing. Whether its the one you're born into or the one you make yourself, family is the building blocks for your relationships.
I loved watching Cole and Jon and George. The adoption process was heartbreaking and made me love Cole even more.
I'm sorry this was the end of the series (at least for now) but maybe we'll get lucky and the author will write another story for us!
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