“I’m roasting a squash,” says Eames when Arthur comes through the door. “What sort of salad did you want? I think we have some baby kale.”
“I thought we were ordering in,” says Arthur, blinking, setting down his briefcase. “Is that Anna’s car out front? Where are the boys?”
“Yeah, Anna’s in the bedroom putting the plastic sheet on the bed,” Eames answers, setting the cut halves of spaghetti squash face-up on a baking sheet. “I told her I’d probably do the floor again but she wants to be prepared.” He drizzles olive oil over the squash. “The big boys are out back playing with Jodie. George is sleeping. Honestly, I should probably get him up but it’s good having one less to worry about just now.”
Arthur’s already got his mouth open, more from stunned surprise than because he has any idea of what he’s going to say. “Are you in labor?” he asks, uselessly, because Eames has stopped fussing with the squash and is pressing his palms into the countertop, tucking chin to chest, and closing his eyes. “What can I,” Arthur tries, fumbling for something helpful he can do.
“Get the veggie ground out of the fridge,” says Eames, between long breaths. “There should be a big”— breath, breath —“a big packet, I got some at the market last week.” Breath, breath. “And get up one of the jars of tomato sauce from last summer, there are still a half-dozen of them in the cold room and we should”— breath, pause. Eames lifts his head and blinks, goes back the the squash. “We should get through them, god knows we’ll have more from the garden this year.”
“I can make fucking dinner,” says Arthur. “Eames. Have a damn seat. Jesus christ.”
“No,” says Eames, “this is good, keeps my mind off it. Veggie ground round, and sauce, please.”
“Are you even hungry?” asks Arthur, but he goes obediently to the fridge and finds the ground round, brings it to Eames. “You’re never hungry when you’re in labor.”
“No, but the boys will eat,” says Eames, “and you.” He looks over at Arthur and smiles, though there’s a faint dew of sweat on his upper lip and brow that are at odds with the cool spring day. “You should get changed, too. Something you don’t mind getting amniotic fluid on.”
“How long have you been having contractions?” asks Arthur, vaguely scandalized. “Why didn’t you call? I would have come home sooner.”
“It’s only been steady the last hour, you were already on your way,” says Eames. “Anna thought she’d better come right away or she might miss the whole thing. We’re already in transition, I think.” He puts the squash in the oven and sets the timer. “Who do you think will be out of the oven first,” he asks, “Otis or dinner?”
“You’re mental,” says Arthur, meaning it.
“Sauce,” says Eames, moving on to the ground round. “And then change clothes. And tell Anna to get out the purple elephant receiving blanket, the one we brought Bert home in. It’s tradition.”
Arthur doesn’t want to hurry in the face of Eames’ annoying casualness but he finds himself half-sprinting anyway as he goes down to the cellar in search of tomato sauce, back up to find Eames huffing through another contraction. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” says Eames, waving Arthur off. “But maybe we’ll just have bagged salad, after all.”
Arthur doesn’t bother to conceal his rush now. He’s halfway out of his clothes in the master bedroom when Anna comes in and catches him in his underwear, socks, and half-buttoned dress shirt, his suit pants and vest and jacket flung everywhere around. “Jesus, sorry,” says Arthur, though Anna’s seen every possible bit of Eames and he knows she’s not likely to be shocked by Arthur’s hairy calves.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” she says, cheerful, unbothered. “How’s Tristan? Still insisting on a bean side course?”
“No, he’s progressed to bagged salad,” says Arthur, shrugging out of his shirt and swapping into some older workout clothes. “This is different, huh? Remember with Lucas, I couldn’t move an inch away, he needed me to press that one spot on his back every time he had a contraction.”
“Well,” says Anna, unfolding the purple elephant receiving blanket, “Lucas was kind of a special case.”
“Yeah, I guess,” says Arthur. “I mean, Tristan’s okay, right? You’ve checked?”
Anna smiles. She’s about ten years older than Arthur, and she’s got big steady hands for all she’s half a foot shorter than him. She’s the sort of capable plain person who makes Arthur feel better just by being present. “I listened to the heartbeat. Baby’s fine, Mom is fine. Head’s still engaged and labor’s whooshing along. Tristan’s body knows what it’s doing by now.”
Arthur exhales quietly. “He’s taking bets on whether the baby will be out in time for dinner,” he says. “Should we — I don’t know if we should bring the big boys in? I mean, it doesn’t seem that scary. Right?”
“It’s up to you guys,” says Anna. “Some siblings love seeing it happen, others flip out. Eames isn’t likely to get much more dramatic than he is now, though. You know transition is where the screaming’s at, most of the time.”
Arthur nods. “Okay, well, let me see if I can get him upstairs anyway. If he waits too long he’s going to end up pushing this kid out in the middle of the dining room.” He holds up a finger. “Don’t say anything about placenta soup, I’m serious. You and Tristan’s hippie shit — there’s a line, Anna.”
Anna cackles. “Yeah, yeah. If he’s showing signs of wanting to bear down, get him up here. Otherwise let him do what he likes. It’s his pain, he gets to manage it.”
Arthur goes downstairs again, trying not to think of Monty Python and the Catholic mother dropping a newborn onto the floor while doing the dishes in the ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ sketch. It seems altogether too likely at the moment, and likelier still when Arthur comes into the kitchen and finds Eames pressing his belly into the edge of the counter and making quiet small moans. His pain, Arthur reminds himself, though he’s starting to get that frantic helpless feeling he associates with birth. “Okay?” he says, keeping a polite distance.
Eames nods; not talking. Transition for sure.
“Anna says come upstairs if you want to push,” Arthur ventures, worrying.
Eames shakes his head now, but he beckons Arthur closer. Arthur comes over and Eames grabs his hand, presses their joined fists against Eames’ forehead, hard. Eames’ jaw is clenched, his breath stuttering. Arthur wishes insanely for a normal boyfriend who doesn’t shun epidurals and hospitals and all the conveniences of modern — “That’s it, baby,” Arthur says, accessing some unexpected well of calm. “You’re amazing. You’re nearly done.”
Eames sighs out his held breath and straightens up in stages. The sauce and ground round are bubbling away on the stove. It smells wonderful. “Will you check on George,” he says, “and then find out if the boys want to come in?”
Arthur doesn’t want to leave Eames’ side, but he can hardly let Eames go through transition while fretting about all their other children. He goes and finds George still asleep, then heads into their backyard where the boys are busy with the little wooden playhouse Arthur built last summer. “Mummy’s going to have the baby soon,” he says, catching their neighbour Jodie’s eye. “You can stay outside and play more, or you can come in the house and watch.”
Bert looks at Arthur. “I don’t want to see a baby,” he says, resolute.
“I want to see a baby,” says Lucas, because he often elects to do the opposite of Bert just on priniciple. “I go inna house wif you, Daddy.”
“Okay,” says Arthur, not quite buying it, “Lucas, remember how we talked about Mummy making funny noises? Mummy is okay, he just has to work very hard to”— this is so fucking stupid, Arthur thinks, Eames and his dumb grassroots crunchy —“to get the baby out of his tummy. If you get scared you can come back here to play with Bert and Jodie.”
“I want a cookie,” says Lucas, who evidently didn’t absorb any of this speech at all. “Daddy, I want a cookie.”
“Yeah, a cookie! I want a cookie,” Bert agrees. “I want a cookie!”
“You’ll spoil your dinner,” says Arthur. “No.” He straightens up and raises an eyebrow at Jodie. “Bring them in if they’re starving, there are wieners in the fridge and some leftover corn from yesterday. Tristan’s making dinner but I’m not sure he’ll get it done, honestly.”
“He is hardcore,” says Jodie. “At this point I had a resident sticking anesthetic in my spine. It was amazing.”
“He’s actually crazy,” says Arthur, relieved to have another person to commiserate with. “I should —“ and he hooks his thumb back over his shoulder towards the house. “Make sure he’s not, I don’t know, tying the umbilical cord with hemp rope and then gnawing through it with his teeth.”
This time when Arthur comes into the kitchen Anna’s there, and she’s got Eames away from the food. “Turn that down,” says Eames, waving at the stove. “Put it on low, let it simmer. Where are the boys?”
“They want cookies,” Arthur says. “I told them it’s either the miracle of birth or more playtime, no cookies on offer. They went for playtime.”
“Right, fine,” says Eames, pacing a little even though Anna’s trying to pin him down and have a listen to his belly. “And George is still out?”
“Yeah,” says Arthur, “hey, what about going upstairs? We just refinished these floors.”
It’s good to know Eames is capable of such a withering look even as another contraction overtakes him. This one is worse yet. Arthur comes in close though Anna seems to have the situation under control, with her steady touch and her low sympathetic coaching. “Make sure you’re listening to your body,” she reminds him as the pain lessens. “Don’t be so distracted you miss what it’s saying.”
Eames exhales three times, slow and hard, and says, “It’s saying we did just refinish these fucking floors, let’s — I suppose I can do the salad after.” He looks up at Arthur and grins, sudden and sweet. “Do you want to meet Otis?”
Arthur couldn’t give a fuck about meeting Otis in this moment except that it means an end to the rising knot of tense worry in his core. He knows Eames is okay, he knows it, and yet Arthur can’t help but go to the worst case scenario. It’s what he does; the problem is that Arthur doesn’t have the tools to see the problems solved before they arise. It’s out of his hands. Arthur fucking hates this part. But — “Yes, yeah, absolutely,” he says, getting Eames by the elbow. “Yay baby, can’t wait.”
They get Eames up the stairs over the course of another two contractions — they’re coming so close and hard now that during the second one Arthur almost thinks that they’re going to have a full-circle moment and bring Otis into the world halfway between one storey and another, just as he was conceived. But no, they make it past the landing and into the bedroom. Anna and Arthur strip Eames, because though he’s between pains he’s not quite firing on all cylinders anymore. It feels good, doing something to help. Arthur walks Eames back and forth across the floor, Eames heavy and swollen and full. He’s in surprisingly good spirits, and the walking seems to hurry him through the last little bit of transition.
Abruptly he stops and heads for the makeshift pallet on the floor. Arthur knows this bit. He gets down next to Eames and helps him get into a birthing position on his side, kneels behind his back to hold him up a bit while Anna puts on gloves and comes in between Eames’ thighs.
“I think the oven timer’s going to go off in a minute,” says Eames, “but we may have to let dinner burn. Damn.”
“You are my favorite,” says Arthur fervently, dizzied by the power of Eames, his strength and his utter silliness.
“I’m always your favorite when I’m heaving your baby out into the world,” says Eames, and, “oh, fuck me sideways, let’s get down to business, I’m tired of this”—
And Eames certainly knows how to get the job done, always has known. Arthur holds him steady and feels his strong muscles flexing and working, every bit of Eames focused on the task at hand. Anna does the talking; Arthur just lets Eames sag into him between pushes. Though he doesn’t believe in any of the bullshit religious stuff he was raised around, this is always the moment when Arthur finds himself instinctively sending up a prayer to — whatever. Whomever. I need this man, he thinks to anyone or anything who might be listening. Don’t you fucking dare let this man go anywhere.
“Okay, yeah, there’s the head,” says Anna.
“Already?” says Arthur, braving a look. Mostly he’d rather not see, but this part is so surreal he can’t help himself.
“Stop, stop, Tristan,” says Anna, “just a second while I let the baby turn, you remember, and now — okay. Go, home stretch.”
Eames gives one more mighty heave and that’s it — it took maybe five minutes altogether. Anna’s got the baby, and Eames is sweaty and trembling and triumphantly grinning between gasps of air. Arthur kisses Eames’ temple fiercely to thank him for surviving yet again, and then Eames is rolling onto his back, scooping the baby from Anna and helping clear the baby’s open mouth, laughing when the little face scrunches up at the indignity and bursts forth into ear-shattering angry wails. “It’s a boy,” says Eames, settling down, drawing the little squirming wet body up to his chest to cuddle him there. “Hello, Otis.”
Arthur leans down and nudges his nose into the part of Eames’ hair. He closes his eyes, utterly overwhelmed with relief. He may be crying a little. (He knows he is.)
“Alas, another son,” says Eames, teasing him, not missing a thing. “Chin up, darling, we can always try again.”
Arthur forces a short laugh to reassure Eames, and lifts his head up. He watches as Eames performs a swift but thorough inspection of their newest acquisition, like the baby is something they traded for in a shady car park back in their dreamshare days. Eames never looked so besotted over a black-market PASIV or a top-secret corporate dossier, though.
“He’s perfect,” he breathes, uncurling the miniature fingers and gently rubbing them between his own. “Oh, I’m in love.”
“You’re always in love,” Arthur says patiently, looking down at the sprawl of pink-purple baby over Eames’ tattooed skin. He doesn’t get that feeling that Eames gets, not at first; at first Arthur feels like there’s a stranger in the room with whom Eames has a long history. Arthur will catch up, though. He always does.
“Darling, go and check on dinner,” says Eames once the cord is cut and Anna’s had a chance to weigh and measure Otis, and do an Apgar evaluation (nine — he lost one point for his little purple toes, but lots of babies have purple toes at birth). “I’ll give this one his own supper while Anna finishes up.”
On cue, George raises a wail from the nursery, awake at last.
“Oh, and get the boys,” says Eames, “they can come meet their brother.”
Arthur slowly extricates himself from Eames, leaves him gazing adoringly at their new arrival. It’s not quite hitting him, yet. Forty minutes ago Arthur was getting off the Skytrain and thinking of ordering Thai for dinner.
He fetches George, changes his diaper, drags a hand through the hopeless sideways mess of his (second-youngest’s) hair. Carries him downstairs to the kitchen where the timer has just started going off on the oven. “Mummy beat the clock,” Arthur tells George proudly. “Mummy’s always been good at beating the clock.”
The boys crash into the kitchen, Jodie trailing them, while Arthur’s buckling George into his highchair and settling him down with a handful of crackers. He’ll be wanting to nurse in a minute, but Arthur wants to give Anna time to get the end-business of birth over with. “Taking a break?” asks Jodie.
“Nope, we’re all done,” says Arthur, feeling his grin break out without meaning to smile at all. “A boy. Eight pounds, three ounces.”
“Ugh, spaghetti squash,” says Bert, flopping into his dining chair, “Daaaad.”
“There are wieners in the fridge,” Arthur says, not in a mood to argue for once. “You want wieners?”
“Yes,” says Bert, and Lucas agrees eagerly.
“Don’t tell your mother,” says Arthur. “Also, did you hear what I just said to Jodie? You have a new brother.”
“What’s his name called,” asks Lucas, vaguely interested. Bert is busy sneaking crackers from George’s highchair. He’s an old hand at this new baby thing, after all.
“Otis,” says Arthur. “His name is Otis.” It comes over him then, in small inexorable waves. They’re starting this all over again, now: the sleepless nights and the fussy witching hours, the bouts of colic and croup, the endless laundry and the house in constant low-grade chaos. Arthur is weary just thinking of it, standing in front of the microwave cooking wieners for the boys. He loves their children, he does; but sometimes he wishes they could start out at Bert’s age: potty-trained and on solid foods and able to articulate their thoughts.
Arthur sets the feeling aside, guiltily. Feeds the kids. Herds them first to the bathroom to wash their hands thoroughly, then up the stairs to the master bedroom where Eames has made it to the bed, and Otis with him.
“Oh,” says Lucas, finally cluing in, “oh, it’s da baby,” and that’s it: their son who is most like Eames is clearly completely sold on the idea of a new baby. Arthur has to hold him back from flinging himself at Eames and Otis.
“Gentle, gentle,” he reminds him. “Mummy is sore and the baby is very little.”
Lucas goes gentle, gentle, all forty gallumphing pounds of him, and Eames lets him softly touch the baby’s fingernails and nose and the breathless fragility of his fontanelle. George gets over his surprise, wriggles free from Arthur’s arms, and walks on wobbly toddler legs over to the bed. He correctly identifies Otis as a baba with a cradle of his little arms and then requests nunu with the hitch of his thumb. “He’s enormous,” says Eames fondly, “did he grow sevenfold during his nap?” He looks up at Arthur. “Here, take Otis,” he says, “I don’t fancy juggling him and George both right now, and this one’s fed already.”
Arthur takes the purple-elephant-burrito that is Otis, swaddled and warm and heavy. Otis is blinking accusingly at the world, unimpressed so far. Arthur hooks him into the bend of his elbow and studies him. He’s pretty cute, as newborns go.
“Can I see him, Dad?” asks Bert, who’s been keeping a safe distance until now.
“Yeah,” says Arthur, bending down for Bert to see.
“That whole thing just came out of Mum?” Bert asks, fascinated. “Gross!”
Arthur conceals a laugh. “Yeah, it was pretty weird to see,” Arthur agrees, once he trusts himself to keep the smile out of his voice. Bert, like Arthur, has never been very good at being teased. He reacts poorly when he thinks someone might be laughing at him.
Bert touches Otis’s cheek and Otis turns his head, latches on to Bert’s finger. Bert squeals and laughs, and Arthur has to remind him to be a little quieter, please; but Bert doesn’t pull his finger back, just watches and holds still and lets his littlest brother squint skeptically at him and suck on his fingertip. “Do you remember George when he was this little?” Arthur asks, curious.
“Yes,” says Bert, “he pooped yellow.”
“Yeah,” says Arthur. “So will Otis.”
The low-grade clamour of three small boys and a baby seems like too much for Arthur’s sensibilities, but Eames is happy and beaming. Anna finishes tidying up; Eames feeds George. Arthur sits on the edge of the bed and lets his eldest sons take it in turns touching Otis’s exposed bits as they exclaim over all his built-in features: that realistic sucking action and little whuffling grunts and flexing miniature fingers.
“Okay, I’m starved,” says Eames once George is fed.
“Jodie can watch the boys while I fix you a tray,” says Arthur, ready to hand Otis back. It’s started, the adoration, just from these few minutes with Otis in his arms. It’s a little tug of warmth, a sense that Arthur knows Otis’s small face and his scent.
“Nonsense,” says Eames, “I’ll come down.” And because he’s Eames, the childbearing machine, he just tosses back the covers and comes to his feet with minimal fuss. “Haven’t eaten all day,” he says. “Right, boys go ahead. Let Mummy take his time, please.”
Arthur gives Anna the baby, startled, and walks a step behind Eames just in case — but Eames is fine, he’s just moving a little slowly. He looks about as tired as Arthur feels in the evening after running a morning marathon. He’s actually crazy. “It’s good for him to walk around, it’s fine,” says Anna, coming up behind them. “Breathe, Arthur.”
“I think you spend more time coaching me than him,” Arthur says.
Eames eats dinner standing at the counter but otherwise he seems perfectly himself. They drink a toast to Otis — champagne for the adults and sparkling apple juice for the boys — and Arthur goes about starting the bedtime rituals, remembers that he has to get around to the phone calls to his family, to his boss. They need to update Facebook — and Arthur abruptly realizes he’s taken zero photos of their youngest child thus far. He supposes they'll get some tomorrow. He’ll be taking a few days off, after all.
Arthur gets the boys squared away with Jodie’s help, though George will be up later than usual thanks to his extended afternoon nap. Anna does one last check on Otis and Eames, says goodbye, reminds them about the public health well-baby check-up tomorrow. Arthur cleans the kitchen up, says goodnight to Jodie, and thank you, and carries George around in his sling until he finally drops off and Arthur can deposit him back in his crib.
Eames is stretched out on the living room couch with the television on. He’s got Otis kangaroo’ed skin-to-skin inside his t-shirt and he’s paying much more attention to the baby than to the show that’s playing. Arthur stands in the doorway of the room and feels everything all at once: gratitude, and disbelief, and admiration. Four times they’ve rolled the dice in this gamble and four times they’ve walked away whole and with a perfect son, against all odds.
“I can’t believe you cooked dinner,” says Arthur.
Eames looks over at him. “Everyone else needed to eat, and I knew I’d be hungry after,” he says, like it’s thoroughly sensible. Like anything Eames does is ever sensible, Eames with his insatiable baby lust and his crunchy-granola home births and his organic home-canned tomato sauce, Eames who roasts squash while in active labor and pushes eight pounds of baby into the world in five minutes.
Arthur folds his arms over his chest, feeling dangerously fragile again.
“Hey, now,” says Eames, “I’m the one who’s meant to be having postnatal wobblies, come here.”
Arthur comes over and settles on the floor next to Eames, lets his head fall onto Eames’ shoulder. “Thank you,” he says, and means it.
“Did you eat anything?” asks Eames, stroking Arthur’s hair softly.
“No,” says Arthur, realizing it.
“You’re an arse,” says Eames, shifting his hand to flick Arthur’s ear. “Go have dinner. We’ll be right here.”
Arthur nods. He stays put, though, for long minutes. Breathing in Eames, and the baby, the milky sweet mix of them both. Dinner can keep.