D R. Ilene Goldfarb slid into the diner booth across from Susan Loriman.
"Thank you for seeing me," Susan said.
They had discussed going out of town, but in the end Ilene had nixed that idea. Anyone who saw them would simply assume that they were two ladies at lunch, an activity Ilene had never had the time nor desire to indulge in because she worked too many hours at the hospital and feared becoming, well, one of the ladies who lunched.
Even when her children were young, traditional motherhood never called to her. There had never been a yearning to give up her medical career to stay at home and play a more traditional role in her chil- dren's lives. Just the opposite-she couldn't wait until maternity leave was over and she could respectably go back to work. Her kids seemed no worse for it. She hadn't always been there, but in her mind that had helped make her children that much more independent with a healthier life attitude.
At least that was what she'd told herself.
But last year, there had been a party held at the hospital in her honor. Many of her former residents and interns came to pay respects to their favorite teacher. Ilene overheard one of her best students raving to Kelci about what a dedicated teacher Ilene had been and how proud she must be to have Ilene Goldfarb for a mother. Kelci, with a drink or two in her, responded, "She spent so much time here I never got to see any of that."
Yep. Career, motherhood, happy marriage-she had juggled all three with shocking ease, hadn't she?
Except now the balls were dropping to the floor with a splat. Even her career was in jeopardy, if what those agents had told her was true.
"Is there anything new from the donor banks?" Susan Loriman asked.
"Dante and I are working on something. A major donor drive. I went to Lucas's elementary school. Mike's daughter, Jill, goes to the same one. I spoke to a few of the teachers. They love the idea. We're going to hold it next Saturday, get everyone to sign up for the donor bank."
Ilene nodded. "That might be helpful."
"And you're still looking, right? I mean, it's not hopeless?"
Ilene was simply not in the mood. "It's not hopeful either."
Susan Loriman bit down on her lower lip. She had that effortless beauty it was hard not to envy. Men got funny around that kind of beauty, Ilene knew. Even Mike spoke with a weird vibe in his voice when Susan Loriman was in the room.
The diner waitress came over with a pot of coffee. Ilene nodded for her to pour, but Susan asked what herbal teas they carried. The waitress looked at her as if she'd asked for an enema. Susan said any tea would do. The waitress came back with a Lipton tea bag and poured hot water into the mug.
Susan Loriman stared down at the drink as if it held some divine secret.
"Lucas was a difficult birth. The week before he was born I caught pneumonia and I started coughing so hard I actually cracked a rib. I was hospitalized. The pain was unreal. Dante stayed with me the whole time. He wouldn't leave my side."
Susan slowly brought the tea to her lips, using both hands as though cradling an injured bird.
"When we found out Lucas was sick, we held a family meeting. Dante put on this whole brave act and talked about how we'd beat it as a family-'We are Lorimans,' he kept saying-and then that night he walked outside and cried so hard I thought he would hurt himself."
"Please call me Susan."
"Susan, I get the picture. He's a Hallmark-card father. He bathed him when he was young. He changed his diapers and coached his soccer team, and he'd be crushed to learn that he isn't the boy's father. Does that about sum it up?"
Susan Loriman took another sip of tea. Ilene thought about Herschel, about having nothing left. She wondered if Herschel was having an affair, maybe with that cute new divorced receptionist who laughed at all his jokes, and figured that the answer was probably yes.
"What's left, Ilene...?"
A man who asks that has long since checked out of the marriage. Ilene was just late in realizing that he was already gone.
Susan Loriman said, "You don't understand."
"I'm not sure I need to. You don't want him to know. I get that. I get that Dante would be hurt. I get that your family might suffer. So please save it. I really don't have time. I could lecture you on how maybe all of this should have crossed your mind nine months before Lucas was born, but it's the weekend, my time, and I have my own problems. I also, to speak candidly, don't care about your moral failures, Mrs. Loriman. I care about your son's health. Period, end of story. If hurting your marriage helps cure him, I'll sign your divorce papers. Am I making myself clear?"
Susan cast her eyes down. Demure-it was a word that Ilene had heard before but never quite gotten. But that was what she was seeing right now. How many men would weaken- hadweakened-at such a move?
It was wrong to make this personal. Ilene took a breath, tried to push past her own situations-her repulsion to adultery, her fears about her future without the man she'd chosen to spend her life with, her worries about her practice and the questions those federal agents had asked.
"But I really don't see why he has to know," Ilene said.
Now Susan looked up and something akin to hope entered her face.
"We could approach the biological father discreetly," Ilene said. "Ask him to take a blood test."
The hope fled. "You can't do that."
"You just can't."
"Well, Susan, that's your best bet." Her tone was sharp now. "I'm trying to help you, but either way, I'm not here to listen to you tell me about the wonder of Dante the cuckold husband. I care about your family dynamics but only to a point. I'm your son's doctor, not your shrink or pastor. If you're looking for understanding or salvation, I'm not your girl. Who's the father?"
Susan closed her eyes. "You don't understand."
"If you don't give me a name, I will tell your husband."
Ilene had not planned on saying that, but the anger rose up and took control.
"You're putting your indiscretion ahead of your child's health. That's pathetic. And I won't let it happen."
"Who's the father, Susan?"
Susan Loriman looked off, gnawed the lower lip.
"Who's the father?"
And finally she answered: "I don't know."
Ilene Goldfarb blinked. The answer just sat there, between them, a gulf Ilene wasn't sure how to cross. "I see."
"No, you don't."
"You had more than one lover. I know that's embarrassing or whatever. But we just bring each one in."
"I didn't have more than one lover. I didn't have any lover."
Ilene waited, not sure where this was headed.
"I was raped."