This short story was commissioned as part of a Dreamspinner Press contest. The story prompts were “baby” and Adam and Joe from Inseparable and When Adam Kissed Me.
© Chris Scully, 2014
I heard the screaming the minute I set foot on the front porch.
What the hell? Joe’s sisters had popped out enough kids over the years that I recognized the sound of a squalling infant when I heard it. The question was, what was one doing in our house?
“Joe?” I called as I entered. I dropped my laptop bag on the floor in the foyer and followed the ear-splitting wails to our cozy living room. There I found my best friend and the love of my life, bare-chested and uncharacteristically frantic, bouncing an irate, red-faced and equally bare-chested, baby in his arms. “Okay, I know we didn’t have one of those when I left for work this morning.”
Joe spun around at the sound of my voice. Although how he could possibly hear anything with that crying, I don’t know. “Hey, babe,” he said with a grin.
“I leave you at home to wait for the window installer and somehow you end up with a baby?”
“The stork brought him.”
“What?” I shouted, pretending I couldn’t hear him over the din.
I waved him off and ventured a step closer to peer at the noisemaker. “Is that Julian’s kid?” Our friend Julian and his wife Sara had just had a baby four months ago. We’d visited once. “Brady, right? What’s he doing here? Don’t tell me you kidnapped him.”
“Sara’s mom is in the hospital. They didn’t want to take the baby, so I volunteered…”
“Of course you did,” I muttered under my breath. “What happened to your magic touch?”
“It’s not working. He hasn’t stopped crying since they left.” Two creamy rivers of snot flowed from Brady’s nostrils into his open mouth. Joe produced a tissue and tried to wipe his face, but the kid twisted his head and it ended up smeared across his cheek. Ugh.
“Do I want to know why you’re both shirtless?” I asked. “Maybe that’s the problem—he thinks he’s being attacked by a sasquatch.” Joe just stuck out his tongue in response to my dig. My beautiful bear of a boyfriend knew exactly how hot I thought he was.
“The little guy was screaming so hard he upchucked down my back.”
A sudden silence made us both look at Brady in shock. Then he made a choking sound and with a loud gurgle, frothy milk erupted from his mouth and spilled down his chin to drip onto his pudgy Buddha belly. “You mean like that?” I asked drily.
Joe started laughing. Brady screamed louder. Me? I wanted to hide. I had nothing against kids, but I preferred them older—when they developed personalities. Babies were so helpless and needy. Mostly though, it was the idea of being responsible for another person that freaked me out. Unlike Joe, I didn’t exactly come from a loving family. My parental examples were indifferent at best.
I’d known Joe most of my life. He was surprisingly traditional about some things. Even before we’d become a couple, he’d made no secret of wanting to get married and start a family. I knew what I was signing up for, but we hadn’t talked about it in a while, concentrating instead on getting the house fixed up and just enjoying being together the way we’d always wanted to be.
The silence was his way of was letting me adjust to the idea. He was waiting for me. I knew this the same way I knew he’d already scoped out schools in the district, and envisioned a swing set in the backyard. By mutual, unspoken agreement we’d chosen this fixer-upper instead of the new condo I’d originally wanted. Now I couldn’t help wondering if he’d been reading my thoughts lately, and this whole thing was a setup.
“Are you sure you want one of these?” I asked.
“One? Try two or three.” Joe held up his left hand and wiggled his fingers. “But you’ve got to put a ring on it first. I’m Catholic, remember.”
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing at his wide-eyed, innocent expression. “That’s convenient. You don’t seem so worried about all the pre-marital gay sex.”
“Oh, that I’m willing to go to Hell for.” Joe flashed that sexy grin of his. “Here, take him for a sec. There’s a change of clothes here somewhere.”
Before I could protest, Joe thrust the squirming, squalling baby into my hands. I held him up and out from me, his chubby little legs churning in the air. Then Brady blinked once and stopped crying. We stared at each other warily, like two unknown species meeting for the first time.
“What did you do?” Joe demanded.
“Nothing. I swear.” Cautiously, I settled Brady against my chest. He heaved a sigh, shuddered and rubbed his wet face into my shoulder. “He must have cried himself out.”
“Hmpf.” Joe thrust a blue onesie at me. “You dress him then. I’ve got cannelloni in the oven.” He tried to hide it, but I saw that little smile as he walked away
“I think someone’s jealous,” I called after him.
I stared down at the tufts of dark hair on Brady’s head with a mounting sense of panic. What to do now? He sneezed, blowing snot bubbles from his nostrils. Oh yes, clean up. I took Brady into the bathroom Joe and his dad had tiled, and cleaned him up as best I could with a damp washcloth. He grinned up at me the whole time, trying to stuff the cloth into his mouth.
Being a parent was not something I had ever envisioned for myself, but then, I had also never dared imagine having someone like Joe at my side to help me. I’d thought about this a lot. There was no doubt in my mind that I would spend the rest of my life with Joe—I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me that. But it was important to him. And making Joe happy made me happy.
Now that I’d made up my mind, I’d been waging an inner struggle the past few weeks on how to actually do this. The idea of staging some stupid, romantic, YouTube-worthy proposal terrified me. That wasn’t me. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if I was supposed to buy an engagement ring or not.
I looked down at Brady in my arms. “I’m over thinking this, aren’t I? I should just do it.” His round face scrunched up in concentration and began turning pinker by the second.
The thunderous rapport as Brady filled his diaper made my jaw drop. He grinned, mighty pleased with himself. I would have laughed too, except the smell hit me then, and all my concentration went to keeping my stomach in check.
Several gag-inducing minutes later, Brady and I—him freshly diapered and dressed, and me with hands scrubbed until they were nearly raw—stood in the doorway and watched Joe move about the kitchen getting dinner reading. Brady gnawed on my tie, but otherwise seemed entirely content in my arms. He wasn’t so scary, really.
This felt right.
“Hey, Joe,” I began, taking a deep breath. “Can I ask you…?”
“Diapers are in the bag in the hallway,” Joe finished.
My laugh was nervous and freakishly high-pitched. “Yes, I know. Actually, my question was a bit more serious than that.”
Joe straightened as he drew the bubbling dish of cannelloni out of the oven and set it on the stovetop . “Oh.” He looked closer, reading me. He must have liked what he saw because his eyes widened slightly, and hope flared to life in the chocolate-brown depths. Once again we had no need for words. “Oh?” His lips kept twitching into a smile. “Now? You’re going to do this now?” His excitement was palpable. “Do I need to sit down?”
At that moment, Joe’s cell phone rang. We both glared at it where it lay on the table.
“Want to get that?” I asked.
“Hell, no,” he exclaimed. “Keep going.”
“It could be Julian with an update.”
He groaned and snatched it up. “Hold that thought, okay?”
But it wasn’t Julian. Even half way across the kitchen I heard the unmistakable squeal of Joe’s younger sister. He jerked the phone away from his ear. “Jesus Maria, I think I’m deaf now,” he complained.
I watched his face fall for a split second as he listened. I could hear Maria’s voice, but not what she was saying. My stomach tightened when Joe’s eyes met mine. It wasn’t good. “Adam’s here. Let me put you on speaker,” he said dolefully.
He held the phone out and Maria’s excited voice burst from the speaker. “I’m getting married, Adam,” she cried. “Kevin proposed.”
Brady’s little head jerked about searching for a body to go with the phantom voice. I shared a look with Joe, seeing my—our—plans evaporate. I knew he wouldn’t want to overshadow any of Maria’s happiness now. He shrugged silently, but his eyes were sad. “That’s… uh… great,” I said. “Congratulations.”
“Wait until you see the ring. I’m going to send you a picture,” Maria babbled, unstoppable. “Oh and Joe, I want you to be my man of honor.”
“I’ve got to call Toni now. But we’ll talk soon, okay?”
We both said goodbye.
“My timing sucks, doesn’t it?” I asked as soon as Joe had hung up. It wasn’t the first time I’d messed things up by waiting too long.
“It could be better,” he admitted with a bittersweet smile. Then, “I’m just kidding.”
This was awful. When he hurt, I hurt. “We could do it now. Just the two of us.” That’s all I wanted anyway. Something small and intimate. “And then we could tell the family later.” Of course, we’d catch hell later, but I’d worry about that then.
Joe stepped close and laid a hand on my cheek. “It’s okay, Adam. Really. It’s enough that you’d offer. There’s no rush, right?”
I searched his face to make sure he meant it. He did. That was my Joe—big hearted to a fault. Thinking of everyone else’s happiness but his own. “Right. I mean it’s not like we can just make one of these in nine months. It’ll take some planning.” I shifted Brady to my hip. “We… uh… could start looking into it, though. If you want.”
“And you’ll hold on to that question a bit longer?”
“As long as you promise not to change your answer.”
Joe smiled. “I think you know what it is anyway.”
I leaned in to kiss him. “I do.”