Now, sitting in the classroom, all of them uncomfortably positioned on the floor because the chairs were too small for adult bodies, they waited for Dr. Grind to appear. There were nineteen of them, their names and faces so familiar to Izzy that she actually did think of them as her brothers and sisters, or, at the very least, as her extended family. However she defined them, she felt an intimacy with these people that never touched desire, thank god. There were nine couples and then Izzy, who came to the group alone. The others assumed she would meet someone, eventually marry, but Izzy had not considered it. There was something more important at stake, Dr. Grind always reminded them. They had to be fluid and open and no longer dependent on the expectations of their former lives, before they had come together.
In this cheery, brightly colored room, Izzy tried to focus, tried to ignore the creeping feeling that she was not just hungover, but was actively ill, in danger of, at any moment, throwing up on her shoes and ruining the moment. She willed herself into a position of strength, which was her greatest talent, how she steeled her weaknesses into something that could protect her and those around her.
Dr. Grind finally appeared, a weak smile on his face, as if his own happiness made him embarrassed just in case other people weren’t in a good mood and had to witness it. He was dressed in a white short-sleeve dress shirt with a red tie, gray slacks, and gray running shoes. It was a good look for him, his constant uniform. It wasn’t so stiff as to seem scientific or eggheaded and not so rumpled and absent minded that she worried about placing her trust in him. He was comfortable and clean. He looked much younger than his thirty-four years, childlike but serious. Was it any wonder, as he shuffled into the room, that Izzy was possibly in love with him?
“I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about family and our purposes here and all that stuff we talk about all the time,” he said. Julie, who was also showing severe signs of a hangover, started to cry, and both Dr. Grind and her husband quickly leaned over to comfort her. She apologized, gathered herself, and the doctor stood up again to address the group.
“It’s a lot to process, no matter how much time you’ve spent thinking about it. I’ll let you guys move to the selected rooms and you’ll wait for the kids. Now, be prepared. As momentous as this is for you, these are five-year-olds and it will not be as momentous for them. Just remember that the important thing is not what happens today, but what happens after, for the rest of our lives, okay? You’ll have about thirty minutes, maybe a little more, and then the kids have a nature walk today, and we’ll have to round them up. Just remember, everybody,” he said, holding up his hands as if to show that there was no big secret here, nothing he was withholding from them. “Your kids are wonderful and they love you and you love them and nothing that happens today changes that.” He smiled again, now beaming with genuine affection, and then left the room. This was the power of Dr. Grind, always making meaningful speeches, always radiating kindness and capability, and then striding out of the room and leaving them alone again.
The staff met up with the adults and started leading them out of the classroom. One of the staff members, Roberto, who taught the children Spanish and was in charge of physical education classes, touched Izzy on the shoulder and gestured toward another room in the complex. She took a deep breath, took his offered hand, and stood up, ready for whatever came next.
She was in the dining hall, the big room empty and echoing. They had been instructed not to bring gifts, no pictures or candy or anything that might distract the children from the moment. But she wished she had something in her hands, something to occupy her nerves.
Of course she had seen him almost every day, had hugged him, had rocked him to sleep, but it would be different now. It would forever be different and yet, hopefully, the same as ever. She wished, not for the first time, that she had someone with her, a partner. Then, immediately, she shook off that hope; she wanted this moment just for herself, as it had always been, no one but her.
The door opened and Roberto looked in, flashed a thumbs-up sign, and Izzy nodded in response. Roberto disappeared from view and, suddenly, there he was. A little boy stood in the doorway. Her little boy. Her son.
He walked into the room, already waving, already smiling, but then stopped short when he saw her.
“Izzy?” he said, his face curious and open.
“Hi, Cap,” she said, the shock of seeing him standing before her, just the two of them, almost too much to process.
“You’re my mom?” he asked, tentative, afraid to come too close to her, which broke her heart in the places it had always been broken.
“I am, sweetie,” she said, smiling.
“You made me?” he asked, moving a little closer to her.
“We all made you,” she said, a mantra of the group, but she then added, “but I made you the most.”
“Mom,” he said, a statement of fact. He waved to her again and she waved back.
“I’m your mom,” Izzy said, another statement of fact, holding her breath.
“Good,” he finally said, smiling, and he stepped into her arms and let her hug him for what felt like the first time.
“It is good,” she said, this boy in her arms, the son she had given up and yet managed to keep, the child she had not wanted and yet could not love more than she did.
“We are a family,” he said, and she knew that he meant everyone, the other children, the other parents, Dr. Grind, but she pretended that he meant only the two of them.
“We are a family,” she responded, still hugging him so tightly, “we are the best family in the whole wide world.”
From “Perfect Little World” by Kevin Wilson. Copyright © 2016 Kevin Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.