John was surprised they released her already. For some reason he figured she'd be in the hospital for a couple of days. She'd called to ask him to get Bill to and from school, staying with Justin at the house until her mom could get back home at about five o'clock in the morning. It had been one of the longest days of his life because he had no idea what to tell Justin. He assumed she was at the hospital having the baby, but she'd had a couple of incidents of false labor the past couple of weeks. She was closing in on being ten days over her due date, though, so her doctor had mentioned something about inducing if the baby didn't come on its own.
He and Justin hung out, watching some TV and coloring some pictures in coloring books he had. John read a couple of books to him, too. He was so out of his league with the boy. He was four now, Bill would be eight next month. It didn't seem like such a huge difference in ages, but what Bill understood and could do was pretty different.
He made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with some soup. Justin had eaten the entire sandwich, leaving most of the soup behind. John had sort of expected that, but he'd at least eaten some of it.
When he picked Bill up the older Abbott boy inquired after his mother like the concerned boy he was. John still hadn't heard anything. He knew babies could take their time about being born.
He'd been born around four o'clock in the afternoon. So by the time Claire had been released from the hospital later in the evening the next day she'd barely been there for thirty-six hours. It just didn't seem like that long.
The nurse came down with Claire to make sure that there was a car seat in the car and the baby was actually put into it. Justin and Bill were at home with their grandma. John wasn't sure how he'd been delegated as the one to pick her up, but he suspected somehow Mrs. Standish was trying to drive home some sort of point by making John be the one to bring them home from the hospital versus babysit the boys.
A third boy. He knew she'd wanted a girl, though as far as he knew she'd never admitted that want to anyone but him. He was healthy and everything, and he knew that was most important to her when all was said and done.
“Thank you for your help,” she said once she was settled in the passenger's seat. John was driving her car since she'd already had the car seat in it.
“You don't have to thank me for helping.”
“I do. It's way more than…”
“It is not. Please don't say that to me. Don't talk to me as if I'm doing you a favor or something.”
“Still. You had to take a day off from work.”
“It's fine. I don't mind.”
“Justin was okay?”
“He was fine. We were fine. I was a little out of my league with him, I admit, but I made do.”
“You didn't run away anyway.”
He put the car in Park again and turned to face her.
“You think I'm going to run away? Is that what you think after all these months?”
“No, that's not what I meant. I'm just exhausted and sore and want to go home to my bed.”
“Fair enough. I'm not going to get scared and run away, though. I'll learn. I told you a while ago, before you shrug me off give me the chance. Kids scare the shit out of me, I won't deny that. I see that little guy in your backseat there and I haven't the first clue what to do with him. I'm willing to learn, though.”
“I know, John. You're fine.”
“Is there anything you want before we take you home?”
“Yeah. I don't know you've been eating hospital food since yesterday. You want something?”
“A milk shake.”
He chuckled softly at that. “Really?”
“Yes. A milk shake.”
“You realize it's March, right?”
“I do. I want a milk shake.”
“All right. If it's a milk shake the lady wants, it's a milk shake the lady gets.”
“Can I ask for one thing before we go?”
“Can I kiss you?”
She turned to look at him then. He'd surprised her with that question.
“I wasn't sure you'd want to.”
He frowned, leaning in and doing just that. It wasn't one of their better kisses, but since they were sitting in the hospital parking lot and given the circumstances he wasn't expecting much. Just something.
“Until you tell me I can't I want to.”
He stopped at a local fast food restaurant and got her the milk shake she wanted. She wanted chocolate and strawberry mixed, which didn't sound appetizing to him at all. She'd insisted she didn't want anything to eat or anything else. He imagined her mom would have something at the house for her anyway.
“Thank you,” she said once she'd taken a couple of sips of the milk shake.
“I got it,” he said when she started to grab her stuff from the hospital. “You take him. I can handle the rest.”
He slid his hand to her wrist at the car seat strap.
“Can you do me a favor, please?”
“Stop thanking me as if I'm doing some huge favor for you. This is what people do for each other. I want to do these things for you as much as you let me. I haven't been shy about telling you that.”
“Yes, but he's not…”
“Mine. I know that. I'm aware of this, Claire. Jesus. We've been through this. I don't care! Haven't you figured that out by now?”
“You don't get it.”
“What? What don't I get?”
She was crying now and he didn't understand where the tears were coming from. They weren't arguing or anything. He just didn't know where this sudden change came from as if he was going out of his way for her or something.
“I'd give anything for that not to be the case.”
“Nothing,” she said. “Just forget it. My mom's going to worry if we stay out here any longer.”
He frowned again, shaking his head but he understood she was probably cold anyway and ready to sit down or lay down, whatever she'd need to do after having a baby yesterday.
“What's his name anyway?” he asked.
“Frank,” she said.
“Ah,” John said with a nod of understanding. Frank had been her dad's name. “Good name. Your dad would like that.”
“I hope so.”
“He'll do the name proud, I'm sure of it.”
Since it was Saturday night Bill and Justin were both still awake when they walked in. Justin was way more interested in little Frank than Bill was. John imagined Bill wasn't too sure what having another little brother would mean for him.
“You want to help me bring this stuff up to your mom's and the baby's rooms?” he asked Bill.
“Sure,” he said, running up the stairs ahead of John.
“You don't want to see your brother?”
“Do you remember when Justin was born?”
Bill shook his head. “A little, I guess.”
“Yeah? You and Justin and Justin and Frank are about the same difference. So, he'll probably remember a little bit, too.”
“Thanks for the help,” he said once they'd dropped the bag of the baby's things off in the nursery. John had helped Claire put the crib back together last weekend. He'd done most of the work, which was fine with him.
“Mommy's all right?”
“Mommy is fine. Doesn't she look fine?”
Bill nodded a little.
John stooped a bit so he could look at Bill at his level. “You were worried about your mom?”
“Yeah, it can be scary. I suppose the only other time she's been away from you was when she had Justin and then moving here.”
Both pretty life-altering events. John could understand why the boy might be a little scared. People didn't understand going to the hospital wasn't always a bad thing.
“She's fine. I promise. She even had me stop and get a milk shake for her on the way here.”
Bill was staring at the crib, John hoped he was listening. John noticed tears in Bill's eyes and reached for him.
“Hey. You okay?”
“You can tell me, you know. I'm your friend.”
“I just want my daddy here.”
“Understandable, and you know if he could be he would be, Bill. I wish he could be here for you guys, too. I'm sure if he could do things differently, take a different way home the night of the accident or something he would. I feel bad for you guys.”
“But you like my mommy.”
“Well, sure I do.”
“Tommy says you want to be my new daddy.”
“I'm not sure what Tommy means by that. I'm not trying to be like your daddy, though. Your daddy is your daddy and you obviously loved him and he loved you. I wouldn't try to be that, I'm not trying to be anything. On the other hand, if you think you can love me, too, I'd be pretty okay with that.”
“Isn't that bad, though?”
“Loving me and your dad?”
“Nope. There's nothing wrong with that. I love you guys, but I'm not trying to be anything or anybody other than who I am. If you think I'm doing something wrong, I want you to tell me. I thought we have fun hanging out, don't we?”
“Then we're good. Tommy doesn't know what he's talking about. Isn't he the one who didn't believe you went to the Bears game with your mommy in September?”
“Yeah, he seems to like to get you excited about things. No one but your daddy can be your daddy, Bill. No one can take that away from you either, no matter who your mommy might end up with one day. Your daddy will still be Daniel Abbott. And it's your job to make sure Justin and Frank know about him.”
John reached for him, hugging him. He was surprised when the boy hugged him back tightly. They hadn't been very touchy before now. In fact, other than riding with him on the snowmobile they hadn't really touched at all before now. John sort of thought a hug was in order after this conversation, though.
“I do love you guys, you know that. I'll always be your friend and your mommy's friend. I promise.”
“I think you should go down and say hi to your mom and new brother. He may not remember you did, but you will, and it's your job as big brother to make sure he knows he's welcome and wanted here. And that you love him.”
Bill pulled away then, running off, leaving John to shake his head a little as he stood. John wasn't sure what he was supposed to do now. Go home? Claire hadn't said. He glanced around the nursery, picturing Claire sitting on the rocking chair with the baby. He could picture her there easily enough because she was a good mom. It was something he could never picture with his own mom. She hadn't bought very many new outfits for the baby, and she'd told him once that she still had all of Bill and Justin's baby clothes so he doubted the baby would need for anything anytime soon.
He set the small box he'd carried in with him on top of the dresser. He hadn't had a clue what to buy a baby. He was way out of his comfort zone shopping for baby things. He'd seen the Chicago Bears onesie and bought it, figuring girl or boy it could still get worn. The girl at the store helped him decide on a size a little bigger than the newborn size so he could grow into it.
He sighed a little, heading back downstairs.
He heard Claire and her family in the living room. Bill and Justin were trying to whisper but neither were succeeding too well. John smiled a little at that. Claire's mom was there, too, taking pictures.
“Are you leaving?”
“Uh, yeah,” he said. He was surprised Claire even noticed he was there.
“You don't have to.”
“I don't want to intrude on your family time, Claire.”
“Nah. Call me when you can.”
She grabbed his wrist. “John, really, you can stay. Come on, you haven't even seen him.”
“I can see him some other time when Bill and Justin aren't so excited about their new brother.”
“Are you mad at me?”
“What? No,” he said with a shake of his head.
“Then stay. I'm not going to go to bed right away or anything. I haven't seen you since last weekend.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I'm sure.”
“All right then,” he said, glancing at Mrs. Standish who wasn't obviously paying attention to them but John knew the woman knew everything that was going on in her house.
The house was quiet. Bill and Justin were tucked into their beds. Her mom had gone to sleep a while ago. She'd just finished feeding Frank. John had started to leave the room when he realized what she was about to do. She'd insisted he didn't have to, though. He'd seen her naked certainly she didn't care anymore if he saw her.
“What did you mean earlier? In your car?” he asked as she was trying to get Frank to burp.
“No. It's not nothing. You were saying something.”
“It's not very nice.”
“Just say it then.”
She laughed. “That I wish somehow Frank could have been yours. For the past few months I've been wishing that.”
“I'm sorry, sweetheart.”
“I know. It's not your fault. I just God raising him completely on my own from the beginning.”
“You'll do fine. And I would be pretty happy if he was mine, that's why I asked you not to make that decision.”
“Would you like to hold him?”
“I've never held a baby in my life.”
“Well, no time like the present.” She stood then, explaining to him how to position his arms before she settled Frank in them. She sat next to him on the couch then.
“What am I supposed to do with him now?”
“Nope. Hold him. That's what babies love. Just watch his head.”
She laughed softly. “Yes, support it always.”
“Oh, okay,” he said. “He's pretty tiny.”
“Actually, he's not,” she said.
“He was over nine pounds. That's not tiny.”
“Yes, Bill was just over eight pounds and Justin was a little less than that.”
“He seems tiny.”
“That's just because you're not tiny.”
“You saying I'm fat, sweetheart?”
“No, I'm saying you're a big guy. You are not fat. I in fact think you look very good.”
“You've never said that.”
“I'm sorry I haven't. I told you I like looking at you.”
“You did and it's all right. I'm glad you said it now, though.”
“So when do you have to, uh, feed him again?” he asked after a bit of silence between them.
“About two or three hours.”
“Every two to three hours?”
“You should be sleeping then, sweetheart.”
“I didn't want you to leave.”
“You think your mom will get mad if I stay here?”
“It's not like we can do anything.”
He chuckled softly. “Well, we could do some things where I'm concerned, but that's not on my mind right now.”
“That's very good. I'm too tired.”
“I bet you are.”
“You want to stay here?”
“Sure. Someone has to make sure you get some sleep.”
“I'll still have to wake up with him.”
“Yeah, I know. You can feed him in bed, right?”
“I can put him to bed when you're done. Just show me how.”
“Before we go upstairs. I should tell you that evidently Bill's friend Tommy is telling him that I want to be his new daddy.”
“Yeah. You may want to talk to him. I tried explaining that I am your friend and I love all of you, but I am not trying to be his daddy. He may be a little confused, though.”
“You told him you love him?”
“I did.” He glanced at her then, obviously unsure he should've said that.
“You're thanking me? Man, I thought you were going to be mad.”
“No. You understood he was probably in a pretty unsure spot today, a new baby. He's a little older this time obviously than he was when I brought Justin home and I'm sure it's another thing showing that he's not a baby anymore. I mean, he'll always be my baby.”
“Right. I get it,” John said with a chuckle.
“I'm not mad. I'm sorry he said that to you about Tommy. I'll talk with him.”
“You do realize I'd like very much to be that to him. To all three of them.”
“I know, but he has to understand you wouldn't be taking the place of his dad.”
“Hmm, that almost sounded as if you're not opposed to the idea.”
“If you were to ask me today if I saw it happening I'd say yes.”
“It's still so soon. I know you don't want to hear that, but I have to survive on my own for a while.”
“I get it, and the fact that you even entertain it as a possibility is good enough for me.”
“Thank you for picking me up and for the milk shake. Thank you for being there for Bill.”
“You're welcome, but I told you that you don't have to thank me.”
“I do have to.”
“All right. Let's get you guys upstairs so you can get some sleep.”
“Are you sure you want to stay here? Babies aren't quiet.”
“I want to stay because someone needs to take care of you for a while, too.”
“Isn't me and doesn't love you like I do. Give a guy a break, will you? I want to be here.”
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com