“We’re very sorry, there’s nothing we can do,” Was the last thing Layla could hear as her wife’s doctor told them both that Rosalie would only have at the most a year to live. She had a rare terminal form of cancer that had started in one of her organs and spread to most of the others already, so much so that they had a mere guess of where it started. You’d think with all of the technology that existed, they’d at least be able to fully treat cancer by now.
It was the year 2107, and while most forms of cancer had been treated, if you went too long without getting help there was no saving you. Except Layla knew it wasn’t fair. Rosalie would have gone to the doctor as soon as she had felt something wrong, but she didn’t physically feel anything. This is when Layla started blaming herself. This is when Layla knew if it weren’t for the damn Procedure, Rosalie would be normal. Rosalie would feel physical pain the same way she used to.
The Procedure was approved for usage in 2092, but the commercials and advertising for it were all pretty recent. It’s a neurological surgery where patients are wired to be biologically, physically, mentally, and emotionally connected and attracted to the partner of their choice at all times. It seemed like a great idea when they first came out with it – the doctors and scientists behind the work explained how monogamous relationships increase your lifespan and quality of life. Now with this system there would be a large decrease in STDs, divorce, unwanted pregnancies, and controlled population growth since one person wouldn’t have multiple partners, thus more potential children. All of these things were true; and all were results of the Procedure being performed. The research and original idea began in the United States upon observing the divorce and infidelity rates (which were on the rise beforehand). After being approved, it slowly began spreading internationally.
The tagline for it on all of the commercials was “We can make you and your special someone a permanent pair, talk to your physician about whether or not the Procedure is right for you.”
Layla first remembered hearing the commercial as Rosalie made them a chicken Caesar salad for dinner.
“Rosalie, come look at this,” Layla said, rewinding the TV as Rosalie walked over. She clicked play on the remote as Rosalie watched the screen with wide eyes.
“How does that even work? I mean . . . How can an operation make two people love each other more?” Rosalie questioned.
“It’s not that simple, they obviously have to screw with your brain quite a bit to do it, right?” Layla asked, clearly skeptical.
“I mean, if you want to be a pessimist and look at it that way,” Rosalie smiled before slumping down on the sofa next to her, tossing her legs over Layla’s lap. “I’m kind of curious about it. We’re married, and I married the love of my life. I’d like to see a doctor try and make me love her even more. I doubt we’d notice a difference.”
“Why spend the money on it if we’re not going to notice a difference?” Layla prompted.
Rosalie shrugged, “I’ll look into it.”
“We could just be a normal couple and get matching tattoos or a bunch of cats or something,” Layla whined.
“Something tells me that it’s gonna be normal some day, Layla. Like smart phones and electric cars,” Rosalie smiled before kissing Layla. “I’m going to finish dinner, and then we’re going to read up more about this.”
“Okay, but I think we should be prioritizing adoption over some creepy new brain chemistry modifying technology first,” Layla suggested.
Rosalie nodded, “I think we don’t have to worry about looking much further.”
“What do you mean?” Layla asked, standing up to walk towards the kitchen counter.
“While I was working with Jackson on my cookbook today, I got a call from our adoption agency. This woman who’s not even five months pregnant yet picked our file,” Rosalie told her.
“Are you serious?” Layla walked over to her with tears in her eyes. Rosalie nodded as she started crying joyfully too, and they pulled each other into their arms and cried and kissed and hugged until they couldn’t stand anymore.
The doctor brought Layla back out of her daze when she said, “I’ll be back in a bit with some options and treatment ideas but I want to let you two have your space for a moment.”
Layla looked over at Rosalie in pain, they both had tears in their eyes, and held each other and cried.
“I’m so sorry Layla,” Rosalie said into Layla’s shoulder. “I am so so sorry.”
“Baby what on earth do you have to be sorry for?” Layla asked.
“Layla . . . You can’t love anyone else,” Rosalie said, unable to meet her eyes. “There’s no cure for the Procedure, there’s no undo button. The amount of grief you’re going to go through . . . Reyna will get over it when she meets someone and they go through the Procedure and the pain from losing me will be gone. But you’re stuck like this . . .” Rosalie cried between her short breaths. “You’re stuck loving me even when I’m gone.”
“Rosalie I can’t think about that right now, I can’t think about anything except wanting you to get better-” Layla started.
“We both know I can’t,” Rosalie said as she grabbed Layla’s hand in both of hers. “If there’s ever a reversal to the Procedure, you’re going to take it. Do you understand?”
Layla stayed silent.
“Layla. You are not spending the rest of your life so painfully in love with me that every second you will spend will be mourning me,” Rosalie stated. “If there is a reversal, you are doing it. No question about it.”
Layla cried into her wife’s shoulder, “But I love you.”
“I love you, so much,” Rosalie pulled Layla towards her. “And there is nothing that I want more than all of the time in the world with you and Reyna.”
Layla laid her head on Rosalie’s chest as she remembered the day she met Reyna’s birth mother with Rosalie.
They lived in Boston, but Reyna’s mother, Mia, was in Cleveland. When they flew there, they paid for a hotel room and met Mia with the adoption agent. After interviewing the couple, Mia asked one last question.
“Are you intending to, or have you already gone through with the Procedure?” She asked.
Layla and Rosalie looked at each other with a surprised, questioning expression. Even though Rosalie said they would look at it that night, they never gave it a second thought. The truth was, neither of them believed they needed it.
Mia sensed the hesitation, “It’s just that, I like you both a lot. But I’d prefer to know that my daughter’s parents are never going to separate her, or make her feel abandoned. And it seems like with this Procedure, if you decided to undergo it, it would ensure her safety and emotional security living under your roof.”
Rosalie nodded, “I would be willing to do it.”
Layla turned to look at Rosalie.
“My wife and I aren’t going to love each other more than we already do,” Rosalie explained. “So if you’d like medical proof of our commitment to one another, I don’t think it would be too hard to go through with.”
Mia turned to look at Layla for confirmation.
Layla nodded, “Yeah . . . There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Rosalie. And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to give her a baby.”
“I don’t know how to do this,” Layla cried. “From the beginning, Reyna has always just clung to you more. And it’s nothing that I was jealous of or had a problem with, because I wanted you to have what you wanted. Which was a baby and a child to care for but I . . .”
“What Layla?” Rosalie questioned.
“I don’t want Reyna to grow up wishing she had you instead of me, and yet I understand why she would. Every bone in your body is nurturing and you’ve been a natural mother to her since the day we brought her home,” Layla explained.
“Reyna loves you and I both more than anything, and I don’t think it’s that she loves one of us more, it’s that she loves us differently for different reasons,” Rosalie told Layla, hoping this would ease her fears.
Reyna did love them both. Rosalie was the caregiver and the loving one who Reyna would go to when she was sick and wanted soup or when she was cold and wanted cocoa. When she fell down and wanted an ice pack. But Layla was who she wanted to take her to the movies, or ride her first roller coaster with, or build a pillow fortress with. She quite possibly could be labelled as the “fun parent” and this is why Rosalie didn’t understand why she was so worried about how Reyna would trade Layla for anything in the world. Rosalie thought to herself, all Layla would have to learn to do is comfort Reyna a little more than she may have been used to. Layla remembered the day they brought Reyna home from the hospital.
Mia had been living with Rosalie and Layla in the weeks leading up to her delivery so that the baby wouldn’t have to fly so young. She stayed in their guest room that they made more comfortable, and also became more comfortable with seeing where the daughter she was giving up would be living. Rosalie and Layla told her an apartment should only be temporary, that they were looking into townhouses and suburbs near Layla’s work, but they had to save up to do so.
A month before Mia arrived, Rosalie and Layla had undergone the Procedure to provide her with the medical papers stating it had happened. They didn’t want her to not give them the baby because they had put it off. While Rosalie and Layla did feel slightly different afterwards, it wasn’t noticeable enough to change anything. It had felt like the night of their wedding everyday, but neither Rosalie or Layla stopped feeling that way for one another. They were pleased with the results though – they didn’t feel different, but they had the medical certificate they needed to make Mia comfortable with her decision to give them her baby. Knowing that nothing could separate them, even if Layla and Rosalie strongly believed nothing would have without the Procedure.
Nothing could separate them except this, they supposed. Because up until finding out that Rosalie had been given a brief time to live, they had every thing planned out. A bigger place so Reyna could play outside and get a puppy, continue working up in their careers, travel together and take Reyna when she was a little older. Rosalie still wanted all of those things for her wife and daughter, but Layla could already feel the fear seeping in that she wouldn’t be able to do that.
“Layla, you can’t put yours and Reyna’s lives on hold without me,” Rosalie spoke up, breaking the window of silence. That was one odd addition that came with the Procedure. Layla always felt like Rosalie could read her mind, and yet she knew this couldn’t have been true. It wasn’t a “side effect” listed, or something the doctors mentioned happening. But still, it felt as if Rosalie knew every single thing that briefly crossed Layla’s mind.
“I won’t, Rosalie,” Layla said, her promise shaky. She took Rosalie’s hand, “I just can’t lose you. I don’t know what it’s going to do to me. What if I can’t even be a good parent to Reyna? We went through that Procedure, and it’s going to leave me feeling lost without you. More so than I would’ve if I was . . . normal. If we were normal.”
“We’re still normal, baby. It’s going to hurt us both, but the Procedure . . . for me, if you were in my shoes, I wouldn’t be able to move on with or without the Procedure.”
“But I would want you to, I’d want you to have the choice,” Layla explained.
“I want you to have the choice too,” Rosalie said. “I would much rather have you move on from me and be happy then spend the rest of your life broken. And I wish more than anything I could reverse the Procedure for you. But on the same hand, if we didn’t go through it you wouldn’t have Reyna. And she’s the key to what’s going to get you through this Layla.”
Layla nodded as she let her wife’s wise words sink in. “You’re right. I wouldn’t be able to do it without Reyna. But it doesn’t change the fact that that Procedure was supposed to give us our forever, and instead . . .” Layla let her tears fall down her face as she returned into the comfort of Rosalie’s chest. “Instead yours is being cut short and it’s not fair.”
“I know, baby, I know,” Rosalie held her as she cried silent tears, comforting her wife as much as she could as she thought about how she’d write Reyna letters every year for her birthday, for her wedding, her graduation, for any milestone she could think of with the time she had left. “But you’ll have me forever. No matter what.”
Rosalie passed away just over eight months after. And as Reyna grew up she read every letter her mother wrote her, latched onto Layla in a way that surprised her. She hugged her every time she thought of it, laid in her arms to watch a movie or a cartoon, and always wanted to help her cook. They made one of Rosalie’s recipes at least once a week. Layla felt guilty she wasn’t as good of a chef, but Reyna always said it was just as good – that Rosalie would’ve been proud.
They wandered through life together, and Reyna’s memory of Rosalie faded, which brought a different kind of pain but also a new form of bliss. Being that she was only eight when her mother died, and she could forget how much she actually missed her. With Layla, it wasn’t so simple. Her constant every thought revolved around Rosalie, even when she was happy with Reyna. That’s when she knew the Procedure had hit her, because when people went through grief they could still eventually come out the other end, and achieve some form of happiness. And yet instead, her whole body made her feel guilt, sadness, loss, pain, and emptiness whenever she cracked a smile or laughed at one of Reyna’s comments or facial expressions.
Layla remembered talking to Rosalie before they chose to undergo the Procedure.
“Rosalie, you know that both of my parents died young from cancer and heart disease. And I know the medical treatment we have is great now but I just . . . I don’t want you to be alone and eternally in love with me if my life ends before I’m sixty like theirs did,” Layla told her.
“Oh, Layla,” Rosalie smiled and pushed the strand of hair behind Layla’s ear. “You’re not going anywhere. Neither am I. Not for a long time. I highly doubt Mia is the only mother who’s going to want this from the parents adopting her child. And if something does happen to you, baby, I wouldn’t get over it either way.”
But Rosalie couldn’t have known it would have felt like this. Rosalie couldn’t have known that the Procedure would make you want to be around this person all the time no matter where they were. Rosalie didn’t know that without her in Layla’s life, she’d feel like she was going through withdraws. But there wasn’t a rehab, or a treatment, or an undo button. And Layla feared for what she may do when Reyna grew up and moved out and she had no one. Layla’s body, mind, heart, and soul – none of it felt like her own anymore. She wondered if Rosalie knew what she was thinking now. She searched online everyday for reversal and there was nothing.
Only success rates, only happy patients, happy outcomes, happy lives.