Chosen: A Novel - By Chandra Hoffman


Chloe Pinter is trying to develop a taste for coffee. It’s Saturday morning, and sunshine pours through her dormered office windows, shines on her carefully organized desk, a stack of pink phone message slips and a mountain of empty sugar and cream packets. She sips, adds another sugar. Outside her window, a warm breeze is rustling the rich emerald evergreens. The summer sunshine is creating geometric patterns of light on passing cars and beyond them, sparkling on the Columbia River. Perfect weather in Portland, an oxymoron only to those not lucky enough to live here, Chloe thinks.

She slips from its crinkled bag the small keepsake album she bought while browsing Powell’s bookstore earlier this morning with her boyfriend. The album has the word BABY stitched on the front, as though the letters are the jet stream left behind by the dizzy diapered bumblebee grinning in the upper right corner of the pale blue cover.

There are photos in her filing cabinet, babies and their new parents, waiting to fill this album. She slides the metal drawer open and pulls the folder labeled COMPLETED ADOPTIONS. She pictures the next photo, due any day now: Chloe, in her “signing paperwork” charcoal suit, paired with the blissful Paul and Eva Nova cradling and beaming over Amber’s newborn daughter, set against a fluorescent-lit delivery room backdrop. A photogenic happy ending worthy of the first page of her album, something to put out on the coffee table here in her office when she meets with prospective parents. She can’t wait.

Chloe smiles, remembering Dan’s adorably stricken face when the clerk at Powell’s this morning thought the album was for them; that they were expecting.

“Bless your heart—what a lovely thing you do, bringing babies to barren couples,” the Powell’s clerk had exclaimed when Chloe told her about her job, director of the Chosen Child’s domestic adoption program. The woman had nodded, eying Dan the way women always do—that endearing smile, those ruddy cheeks—putting his glossy windsurfing magazine in a separate bag.

“It’s an honor,” Chloe had continued, meaning it as she always does, “to be part of such an important moment in people’s lives.”

A CAR HONKS IN the parking lot below—Dan. She’d promised she would be quick, just pick up her files. Chloe grabs the stack of pink phone message slips, calls she should return. She folds them neatly in half and puts them in the pocket of her cutoffs. She waves to Dan from her window—coming! Next stop on their mutual day off: the Hatchery in Hood River, where Dan will spend the afternoon on a windsurfing board carving the cresting dark river water. Chloe will drink up the summer sun from a blanket on the hillside, returning phone calls for work with her cell phone, slipping photos in the new album, sipping sweet, creamy coffee. Afterward, unless she gets paged by one of her birthmothers in labor, she and Dan plan to eat dinner at the Hood River Brewery, followed by a rare uninterrupted evening at home.

Juggling her small purse, baby album, files, and half-full coffee cup, Chloe locks the office behind her and jogs across the parking lot toward her boyfriend and the perfect day stretching ahead of them. She thinks, I am living the dream.


Red Flag


They’re in there. Chloe Pinter bangs on the metal door of the apartment, lights on inside, as freezing rain pelts down around her. The grocery bag sags off her arm, Thanksgiving turkey still warm against her thigh.

“Penny! Jason!” she calls out as she hammers with her free hand. She knows her clients are inside; she can see movement through the broken section in the slatted blinds.

At last the door is opened a crack; the loose brass flashing screams as it scrapes along the threshold. Penny’s eight-month-pregnant belly fills the doorway, and her shorn head pokes out, her first expression scowling, suspicious.

“Yeah? Oh, it’s you.” She doesn’t step back to let Chloe in. Behind her, in the apartment, Chloe hears voices.

“Hi. Happy Thanksgiving!” Chloe says, forcing brightness. “I brought you guys some dinner. A turkey, the works.”

Penny sticks out her hand to take it. Chloe grips the plastic handles, waiting.

“Is Jason home? Can I come in for a minute?”

Penny looks over her shoulder, yells, “It’s the social worker!”

From inside, “What’s she want?”

“She brang us dinner!” Penny calls back. She smiles apologetically at Chloe, exposing the dark space along the right side of her mouth where there should be teeth.

The rain comes in earnest, hard-pelting, swollen drops that make audible pops