It starts the night of the Gold Medal game at World Juniors 2010. Ebs is from Saskatoon and he played for the Regina Pats in the WHL until the year before so he knows a lot of people, and he drags Hall out to commiserate and they end up at a party at someone's house, getting totally blitzed. They’re supposed to head back to the hotel after the gold medal game, but at this point, Taylor doesn’t give a fuck. Silver somehow seems worse than no medal at all would be, and the fucking Americans were so fucking happy. He doesn’t know anyone at the party except Ebs, but apparently these are his high school friends, and they don’t seem to give a fuck about Taylor sitting in the corner drinking beer after beer. And then Ebs comes and sits with him And ok, so it's not like it's a planned thing, but there's this girl who's a cousin of a friend of Ebs's and they're all drunk, and she kisses Taylor, and then she kisses Ebs, and sometimes group sex just happens, ok? And it's kind of weird, but kind of great, and it's a fucking awesome story to tell about how he lost his virginity, but if he tells the story, he's going to say it was him and two girls, even though there was more than a little touching between him and Ebs. And if Taylor’s really honest, he really likes the parts with Ebs. A lot.
Taylor and Ebs are back with the team before anyone misses them though, and it’s back to reality. Taylor goes back to Windsor, and Ebs goes back to the AHL and they talk, but they don't talk about what happened. Taylor gets drafted by the Oilers, first overall and they crack the line-up, but they don’t talk about it. They move in together, and they don't talk about it, and they don't make the playoffs, which sucks, but they don't talk about it.
The decide to spend at least some of the summer in Edmonton, because they don't have anything better to do, and they have a sweet bachelor pad there, and if they go home, they'll probably have curfews again. And then on a Thursday morning, they're playing NHL11 when she shows up. And Taylor doesn't recognise her at first because he was wasted that night, but Ebs knows her. He hugs her and invites her in. Taylor remembers that he’s name’s Emily, and she seems pleased when Taylor uses it. She has a baby with her, which is weird. It’s not really small, but like, not old enough to walk or talk either. Taylor doesn’t know a lot about little kids. The baby's asleep in a stroller, and judging from the clothes is a boy, but you can't really tell.
"His name's Jonathan," Emily says. "He's yours...one of yours."
"You're sure?" Taylor asks, and immediately feels like an asshole.
“Em,” Ebs says. “What…why?” Taylor’s never hear Ebs stutter like that before.
"Yeah," she says. "I’m sure. I can't...I need you to look after him. Just, just for the afternoon, ok? I have to go talk to someone."
Taylor's an only child, he hasn't got a clue what you do with a little kid like this, but he sort of nods, and the baby's asleep, and she looks exhausted.
"I'll be back later," she says, and leaves.
Ebs is sort of slumped on the couch, and hasn't said anything for a while. Taylor wonders if the shock maybe killed him.
The baby stirs a little, and whimpers before settling himself again, and Taylor looks at him. He's dark haired and brown eyed, and looks a lot like Emily. Jonathan could be his kid, or he could be Ebs’s kid. Taylor can't tell.
About twenty minutes later the baby wakes up for real, and cries. Ebs sort of comes back to himself then, and picks the baby up out of the stroller. There's a diaper bag, and it has some food and diapers, and a couple of bottles in, and there are some toys in the stroller.
"My older sister has kids," Ebs explains as Taylor watches him change a gross diaper without even blinking.
It's ok for a while. The kid is pretty cheerful, but it gets to be afternoon, and then evening, and they've fed the kid twice, and there's only one bottle left, and Emily is still gone.
"I think...she said she's be back," Taylor says. Ebs has the kid on the floor, playing with a stuffed bear. "I...we should call someone."
So they call Jordan's mom, and she tells them to call the police.
The police take the report, and ask if they have any other way of getting in touch with her or her family to see if they know something. So Ebs calls his friend, Emily's cousin, and it turns out she's already missing. That she's been missing for two days, and that her cell phone is switched off. But the family are relieved to know the baby's safe, and they're heading from Regina to Edmonton as soon as they can. It's a 9 or 10 hour drive though, so they'll have to keep the baby safe overnight.
So they call Ebs's mom back and ask her what to do. She dictates a list and tells them what they'll need to keep a baby overnight. Ebs is better with the baby, so Taylor heads to Wal-Mart, and buys clothes and a bottle steriliser, and some blankets and formula and diapers and wipes and food, and Taylor had no idea one little person would need so much. He buys a little stuffed dog too, because it's kind of cute.
It's a little awkward at the checkout when the guy obviously recognises him and looks like he wants to ask, but Taylor just smiles and pays and gets the fuck out of there. The guy can blog about it later. Right now Taylor needs to get home and figure out what the fuck they're going to do.
Ebs is reading The Hockey News to the kid when he gets back. "And that’s Iginla. He's awesome and we love him at the Olympics, but normally he's the captain of the Flames, so we hate his guts, ok?"
Taylor's stomach clenches a little. He sort of hopes the kid is Ebs's, not just because the idea that he's a dad at 19 is scaring the shit out of him, but because Ebs would be a really good dad.
The kid cries and cries when he gets tired, and they feed him and change him, and he's so tired, but he's fighting it. Taylor has a headache after twenty minutes, and an hour after that he just wants a beer. In the end, the kid falls asleep, sprawled against Taylor's chest while Taylor is sitting on the couch.
"You think we should try and move him," Ebs says.
"No," Taylor whispers, trying to stay as still as possible. "If he wakes up we have to do that again!"
"My mom says he can sleep in bed with one of us if we take the pillows off the bed," Ebs says.
"Which one of us?" Taylor asks.
Ebs is a heavy sleeper, but he's also the one who knows what to do. Taylor's plan so far has been to wave the bear at the kid and hope that works. He's not even tried a diaper. In the end, they both end up in Ebs's bed. They're too tired to even think it's weird. Taylor makes Ebs change the sheets though.
"The kid is not sleeping on sheets that haven't been washed in six months," he says.
Neither of them sleeps very well. Taylor keeps worrying that one of them will roll over and squish the kid, and Ebs is fidgeting like he can't get comfortable. It's late, after eleven, and it's going to be light again by five, and babies probably wake up early, but Taylor can't make himself drop off.
"What are we going to do," Ebs whispers to him finally. "I mean, he's one of ours."
"I've been trying to figure out whose all day," Taylor admits.
"I think he looks like you," Ebs says. "Well, not really. He's too cute to look like you."
"Fuck off," Taylor says. "Shit, I guess I couldn't curse around him."
Ebs laughs. "I don't think it really matters yet." They're both quiet for a while.
"I think," Taylor says, not even sure if Ebs is still awake. "We do whatever Emily's family wants." They'll be there in the morning, and then things will go back to normal. He falls asleep eventually, carefully curling around where the kid is asleep.
"I can't..." Emily's dad, Mr Gilbert, sits on the couch, staring out of the window. "I'm on my own, and I work full time, and with Emily missing... I can't"
"I'm sorry man," Ebs's friend Tom, Emily's cousin, is holding the kid. "It's...this week has been fu-" he cuts himself off. "It's been bad, and it's been bad for a long time."
The kid starts whining and wriggling a little.
"We're all tired, and, god, ok, if you saw her yesterday she was alive then, and Johnny's alive, which, until you called, we didn't know." Taylor can see Tom's eyes are a little bloodshot, but that's probably from driving all night.
"Can you...which one of you's the dad?" Tom asks.
There's an uncomfortable silence. "Um," Ebs shrugs. "It could be...we both..."
"Oh," Emily's dad says, and he looks even more closed off. "You should do a test or something, find out."
"Yeah," Taylor says. It's not like he hasn't been thinking about it. "But like, what now?"
"You..." Emily's dad looks at them both. "I don't know."
The kid, Johnny, is actually crying now, and Ebs picks him up from Tom, and starts walking around the living room with him, trying to get him to calm down. Taylor grabs Johnny's bear from the couch and hands it to Ebs.
"You're good with him," Emily's dad says. "Both of you."
"I have two nieces," Ebs says. "I pretty much spent last summer babysitting them."
"Yeah?" Taylor asks. "I didn't know that."
"What else was I going to do? Worry about making the line-up?" Ebs grins.
"We can..." Taylor looks at Ebs, who nods. "If you need some time, we can help. We have the summer, and my mom can probably come help out for a while, and..."
"He's either my kid, or my best friend's kid," Ebs says. "If...we should help."
"You would?" Emily's dad asks. "I mean, I just."
"Just until Emily comes back," Ebs says.
Ten minutes after Emily's dad and Tom leave, Taylor is pretty sure they've made a horrible mistake. Ebs hadn't exactly given his mom details when he called the night before, and now he has to explain exactly why the kid is now living with them. Taylor can hear her yelling through the phone three feet away.
"Mom, look, ok, I'm sorry," Ebs says. "But what was I supposed to do? Emily's missing, and her dad can't take care of the baby."
Taylor is sitting on the floor, helping the kid to stay balanced as he sits and plays with the dog Taylor bought him. The kid is grumpy, and Taylor is pretty sure he needs a diaper change, but Taylor doesn't really know how to do that, so he waits. Hoping that Ebs will be done with the call soon.
"Mom!" Ebs yells. The kid starts to cry. "Fuck," Ebs says, and heads into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him, and leaving Taylor with the crying baby.
"Ok," Taylor says, picking the kid up. "It's ok." He grabs the bear from the couch, but even that doesn't seem to have any effect. "I know, you need changing," Taylor says. "How do you do that?" He looks down at the kid. "It's got to be easy, right?"
In a flash of inspiration, Taylor grabs his phone, and googles 'how to change a diaper'. He feels like a total idiot, but it's not like the kid is going to tell on him. Thankfully there are other idiots out there, and there's a step-by-step guide with pictures. It's a little small on the screen, but he can see it ok.
He gathers all the stuff it says he'll need, and follows the instructions. It's just wet, not shit filled, which he's really fucking thankful for, and in a couple of minutes, he has the kid redressed, the diaper ready to go in the trash, and his hands washed.
"High five," Taylor looks down at the kid, who looks back at him and laughs. "You have no clue what I just said, do you?" He carefully lifts up the kid's hand, and touches it with his own. "High five."
Ebs finally comes out of his room, looking pissed. "My mom's coming, but like, I think she's going to kill me, so, you know, good luck being a single dad."
"Um, I haven't even told my mom yet," Taylor says. "She's probably going to cry."
"My mom was still crying when I hung up," Ebs admits. "That was worse than they yelling."
"Fuck," Taylor says. "And god, ok, I really need to stop cursing around the kid." He looks down. "Don't I?"
"He's happier," Ebs says, sitting down on the floor next to Taylor and the kid. "You changed his diaper?"
"Yeah," Taylor says. "I mean, it wasn't that hard."
"Great," Ebs says. "I've done them all since he got here. You get to do them all until tomorrow."
Taylor's mom yells and cries and then makes him book her a flight out for that evening. "God knows how that kid is still alive with you two idiots looking after him," she says.
Taylor is vaguely offended for Ebs's sake, but she would probably have a point if it were just him.
As the day goes on, it gets harder. The kid is grumpy, and they try to feed him lunch, but he keeps spitting it out. They don't have a seat for him, so he sits on Taylor's lap and Ebs tries to feed him, but within ten minutes he's wailing, and they're all covered in some disgusting slime that's pretending to be sweet potatoes. They try to clean the kid up, but it's in his hair, and they don't have a tub. So they just wipe him up as best they can and change him into the last outfit they have for him.
Ebs follows through on making Taylor change all the diapers.
"Seriously?" Taylor says when Ebs hands the disgusting smelling kid back to him. "You know I have no idea what I'm doing."
"Make sure he doesn't piss on you," is all Ebs says before he heads into his bedroom and shuts the door.
The kid does piss on him, which, compared to the shit he's cleaning up, doesn't seem that bad.
The three of them fall asleep on the couch and it's almost dark when they wake up, to Ebs's mom arriving.
"So," she says.
"Hey," Ebs says, getting up, and taking the kid from Taylor. "So, this is Jonathan, your grandson." Ebs pauses. "Maybe."
"You know he's not going to sleep now?" Ebs's mom says. "He should have actually been in bed a while ago, and he needs a bath."
"We fell asleep," Taylor says, rubbing his eyes and standing up.
"Welcome to parenthood. You get a lot less sleep," Ebs's mom still sounds kind of mad. "It's..." she checks her watch. "9.45. Wal-Mart closes at 11, and so does Safeway. Jordan, you and I are going shopping. Taylor, you can look after Jonathan."
Ebs falls into step behind her, and in a couple of minutes they're out of the door, and Taylor is left holding the baby. Literally.
The kid is still kind of sleepy, but he doesn't seem like he's going to drop off again, even when Taylor goes and sits on the couch. The bear is on the floor, and so are a couple of copies of THN. "You want to play with the bear, or do you want to read?" Taylor asks.
The kid leans towards the bear, and starts to topple, but Taylor catches him, and sits the kid in his lap, holding the bear out for him to play with. Mostly this means that the kid sucks on the bear's ear, but he pets the bear's fur too, and laughs. It's pretty cute.
He has to change a wet diaper, but it's like the fifth one today, and that doesn't even seem like a big deal. He doesn't get pissed on or anything. He knows that Ebs and his mom will probably buy more clothes, but he decides to put the dirty ones in the laundry anyway. He uses his phone, and Google, again to figure out that he's ok to just wash them on a regular warm wash, and then how to work the washer. He has the kid sitting on his hip as he does this, and the kid won't stop laughing.
"Yeah, I know," Taylor looks at the kid. "At least I didn't have to call my mom."
He even calls for takeout, and gets salad with the pizza. He's sure Ebs's mom likes pizza. Everyone likes pizza.
Taylor's mom arrives after eleven, and that's about the same time that Ebs and his mom get back from the store. Taylor is in Ebs's room, because the kid fell asleep and it's not like they have a cot or anything for him.
The kid is obviously as exhausted as Taylor is, because he sleeps through Taylor getting up, and answering the door, and his mom bursting into tears seeing her 19-year-old son with a seven and a half month old baby that might be his son.
Taylor wishes he could have slept through that.
Ebs and his mom have tons and tons of stuff, but it's late and so other than the clothes which they need to change the kid into so he can sleep, they leave it all in a pile on the floor.
The moms gang up on them and tell Ebs and Taylor that they are the ones looking after the baby. They were the ones too dumb to use protection, they're the ones who go without sleep, and then the moms go check into a hotel, and leave Ebs and Hall to deal with the very cranky baby who has now woken up.
There is a lot more screaming, and then finally, finally, about 1am the kid cries himself out and then they all manage to sleep through until morning, when it all starts again, with the kid crying because he needs a diaper change.
Taylor kicks at Ebs in bed. "Your turn with the diaper."
The moms come back after breakfast, and Ebs and Taylor have just about managed to get the kid awake, bathed and dressed, even if they're both in boxers and unshowered.
"You boys get dressed," Ebs's mom says. "We'll watch Jonathan and then we can all have a talk."
Taylor doesn't much like the sound of that, but he doesn't have a choice. He showers quickly, dresses in clothes he knows are probably going to be covered in puke and piss and baby food by the end of the day, and then gratefully accepts the cup of coffee Ebs hands him.
The kid is sitting in a rocker with some toys attached which must have come from Wal-Mart. Taylor sits on the floor next to him, watching him play with an elephant that crinkles when he grabs it.
He looks up and his mom's crying again.
"I'm so sorry," he says to her. "I mean...I don't even know. I’m just sorry."
She wipes her eyes, and tries to smile. "Well, there's no point in being sorry now," she says. "We'll all have to deal with this."
They have to explain again that one of them is the dad, and neither of them knows which. They manage to talk around the word 'threesome' but Taylor knows he's bright red.
"Well," Ebs's mom says. "You should get a paternity test, and you need to get him checked out by pediatrician, and have his records sent over."
"And are you staying here? Jonathan needs his own room or you're never going to get him onto a routine."
"Mom," Ebs says. "There are only two bedrooms."
"Well it's not like you and Taylor haven't been close already," Ebs's mom says, smirking.
"Oh god," Taylor's mom starts laughing.
Then both the moms crack up, and Taylor and Ebs are both left slightly bewildered.
"Also, I think you should probably call the team," Taylor's mom says.
"Yeah," Ebs says. "I've been thinking we should do that. They can probably help us figure this out, and like, I know there's legal stuff too."
They call the front office, and an hour and a half later they're on their way to the rink, moms, and kid and all. Half an hour of that is them figuring out how to fit the car seat into Taylor's car, but they get it eventually, along with how to fold the stroller into the trunk. Ebs's mom shows Taylor what he needs in the diaper bag, and honestly, it's more stuff than he's taken on weekend trips. The kid needs a lot of stuff for a tiny person.
He also really, really doesn't like the car. Ebs ends up sitting in the back seat with him, trying to distract him with his bear.
Tambellini is waiting for them when they get to Rexall Place.
"So," he says. "A kid."
"Yeah," Ebs says. "Um, and, well, he could be Hallsy's or he could be mine. We need to find out."
Tambellini doesn't even try and hide the wince. "Right. I guess we need to bring PR in on this." He shows them to his office, and calls in Sam from the PR office.
"Is the mom in the picture?" Sam asks.
"Um, she's..." Taylor looks at Ebs. "She's missing. The police are involved, but she showed up a couple of days ago, left the baby with us and left. We...She's going to come back. She wouldn't just leave her baby and not come back."
Taylor's mom rests a hand on his shoulder.
"Right. Ok, that's...right." Sam pulls out his blackberry and starts typing. "And...she's from..."
"Regina," Ebs says. "She's my friend's cousin."
"It's two provinces, so that'll be RCMP. I'll call them and see what we can find out," Sam says.
"Um, thanks," Ebs says.
"No problem," Sam says, looking up. "Cute kid, by the way. It shouldn't be a big deal with the press. Just don't answer if they ask you if you're the dad. It's not like we have paparazzi here, just kids with camera phones so you should be fine."
It's kind of unnerving to have a really fucking complicated situation reduced to 'no problem', and Taylor's head is still swimming with it all.
Meanwhile, an assistant has been making some calls, and suddenly they have an appointment with a pediatrician and for a paternity test that afternoon.
"Um, thanks?" Taylor says.
"No problem Mr Hall," the guy says, and Taylor feels a million years old.
The kid is pretty happy to just sit and play with whichever toy they hand him until they get to the pediatrician's office. It's kind of loud, and there are a lot of other kids, and Ebs's mom says he's probably tired anyway, but he starts to fuss, and ends up having to be held. There's a big pile of picture books and Ebs grabs one and reads it to the kid while the kid sits on Taylor's lap. They end up leaning close together, so the kid can see the pictures. The kid leans forward to touch the page, kind of entranced by it, even though he can't really know what's going on.
"Mr Hall and Mr Eberle?" the receptionist calls, and they get up. Taylor keeps a hold of the kid, and Ebs grabs the stroller.
"Are you coming, Mom?" Taylor asks.
She shakes her head. "We told you, it's your responsibility," she says.
Taylor knows that, but he kind of wishes that one person going into this appointment knew what was going on. Except well, the doctor probably does.
"Hi, I'm Doctor Khan," the doctor says. She's tall and about his mom's age. "This must be Jonathan."
She obviously recognises them, but she's professional about everything, and doesn't even bat an eyelid about them not knowing who the dad is.
"Obviously, if you find out, we can add it to the records later, and it can be useful for medical histories, but on a day-to-day basis it's not really relevant."
"You're both his primary caregivers?" she asks.
"Yeah, I mean. Our moms are here, but we're dealing with it, and I mean, they'll be going home eventually."
"Well," Dr Khan says. "If you can find out the name and address of his pediatrician in Regina, that's the most important thing. We need to know about vaccinations, and anything else in his medical history. He seems healthy?"
"Um, I guess," Ebs says. "He's kind of cranky, but I figure he misses Emily...his mom."
Dr Khan smiles kindly. "I'm sure he does. Why don't you hand him to me and I'll take a look at him, and then we'll give you all the numbers for emergencies and so forth."
The kid starts crying when she listens to his chest, which probably means the stethoscope is cold, and he keeps crying through the doctor drawing blood, and taking his temperature, and checking him all over.
"He seems absolutely healthy," Dr Khan says finally. "He's in the 66th percentile for height, and 45th for weight, so I'd like to see him put on a couple of pounds, but it's nothing overly urgent."
Taylor lets out a breath he didn't even know he was holding.
"As for you two, I know you're being thrown in rather at the deep end. I'm going to set up an appointment with a home nurse, just to come and give you some advice, and help you get settled."
Taylor opens his mouth to protest, but Dr Khan cuts him off.
"I'm not suggesting you couldn't do this alone, but there's help on offer so why not take it. She can help you find a routine, and answer any questions you have, and that's important."
The moms back up what the Doctor says later. The paternity testing only takes a couple of minutes, at an office in the same building.
"It's going to be about six weeks, and we'll mail the results right to you," the nurse who takes the swabs says.
Taylor doesn't know what to say. Six weeks is a long time, and Emily could have taken the kid back before then, so maybe it doesn't even matter.
They head home and it's long after lunchtime, and the kid is hungry. Or at least Taylor assumes he's hungry. He might need a diaper change or he might need a nap, or he might want out of the car, or he might just be in a bad mood.
They all end up covered in food when they attempt to feed him again, only this time his mom is watching and laughing at him.
"If this is so hilarious, you do it," Taylor says, as the kid refuses to eat what smells like dog food, and is called 'Beef Dinner.'
"You're doing fine," his mom says. "He'll eat it. Just try and make him focus, talk to him."
"Hey, so, I know this tastes pretty terrible," Taylor says. "But you have to eat it anyway, or you'll never be big enough for the good stuff, ok?"
The kid isn't impressed, but eventually takes a few bites, and the mashed banana his mom hands him after goes down a lot better.
The kid gets to nap in his stroller after lunch. "Just tip it back a little, and he'll go right off," his mom says. "And drape a blanket over so it's nice and dark for him."
She's right because the kid is asleep almost instantly. Taylor wants to nap too, but he and Ebs end up having to put together a crib. It's not quite as bad as the IKEA bed his mom bought him, but it still takes them a good two hours, and their moms giving them step-by-step directions. It goes in the corner of Ebs's room, because there's not room in Taylor's.
"I'm not kidding boys," Ebs's mom says. "Believe me, he'll sleep longer if you give him his own room, and in about three days, that's all you'll care about."
It's not even funny. In the next week, Taylor's world narrows to diapers, and feeds, and trying to get the bear clean before the kid notices he's gone, and his mom laughing at him, and he and Ebs are still sharing a bed, probably permanently now because his mom and Ebs's mom go kind of crazy in IKEA and Canadian Tyre and what was Taylor's room is about one coat of paint, and a changing table away from being a nursery. He doesn't even care. He's more tired at the end of the day at the moment that he was even at the end of the season. He and Ebs just drop into bed whenever they finally can, and inevitably wake up to the sound of the kid needing his diaper changing.
One morning though, Taylor thinks maybe it's Friday, so they've had the kid eight days, he wakes up naturally. He's kind of warm, and he realises that he's spooning Ebs. He doesn't even care if it's weird. Waking up to silence, and not to crying is amazing, he starts to drift again, before he comes fully awake with a start. Why aren't they waking up to crying?
He jumps out of bed and almost runs across the room to the crib. The kid, Johnny, looks up at him, blinking. "Ba," he says, and grabs his bear.
"Hey," Taylor reaches into the crib and picking up Johnny and bear. "You're not crying?"
"'S he ok?" Ebs asks fuzzily.
"Yeah, I guess," Taylor says. "He was just chilling with his bear."
"You should do that every morning, kid," Ebs says, propping himself up on his elbows so he can see Johnny.
"I'm going to go grab some coffee," Taylor says. "You ok to take him?"
Ebs nods and Taylor hands Johnny to him. He comes back with two mugs, some of the picture books that his mom bought, and a few issues of The Hockey News. They end up back in bed, reading to Johnny, who seems to like THN as much as anything else.
"And that's Jonathan Toews," Ebs says, pointing out a picture. "You're probably named after him, but that's ok."
"As least you're not named Sidney," Taylor says. "Because I'm pretty sure even Crosby got beaten up for having that name."
After that, somehow it's a little easier. Taylor asks his mom about it a couple of days later. "He's probably getting used to you two, and to being here. You never liked being in strange places when you were a baby."
The nursery is done when Johnny's been with them exactly two weeks, and the moms tell them they're heading home.
"You...You'll be fine," Ebs's mom says. "And if you're not, you can call, but I need to go home now, and you two need to figure out what you're doing long term."
It's June now, and in a little over two months, they're going to have to report for training camp, and if Emily's not back by then...Taylor doesn't even know. Of course she'll be back by then.
The RCMP finally gets in touch with them a couple of days later. It's a cursory call.
"I'm sorry we don't have more to tell you," they officer says over the phone. "It's a terrible thing to have to say, but people go missing every day. We are looking for her, but unless someone comes forward I don't know what to tell you."
"But she has a baby," Ebs says. "She left her baby!"
"I'm sorry Mr Eberle, there really isn't much more I can say. We're keeping this as an open file, and if she gets in contact, please call us, but I can't give you any answers at this point."
"Thanks, I guess," Taylor says.
They spend the afternoon on the couch, neither of them really wanting to go very far. They haven't played Xbox in a while, but they play some NHL11, and Johnny likes the bright colours. It's probably not good for his eyes though, so they don't play for long.
The apartment starts to feel small after a while. They only ever seem to go to the grocery store and that's only ever one at a time, so the next day they decide to go to the park. They head to the river, after the hour it takes to get Johnny and his stuff ready to go. He still hates the car, and cries pretty much the whole way there.
It's a weekday and so it's pretty empty, but it's a warm day, and they take turns pushing the stroller down towards the water. Neither of them has really been here before, they've never had time, so they let themselves explore for a while. Johnny falls asleep pretty quickly, and they let him.
At first Taylor's a little worried about getting recognised, but he and Ebs are both wearing baseball caps and sunglasses, and honestly the kid is probably the best disguise.
They end up buying food, and eating down in an almost empty picnic area. Johnny wakes up after about an hour, and then they have to feed him, which, ok, they're getting better at it, but it's not exactly easy. But Johnny likes the mashed pears they give him, and so it mostly ends up eaten, rather than on their clothes.
After lunch, they sit by the river and watch the boats. Johnny is feeling energetic, so they let him lie on a blanket on the grass. He's just getting good at rolling. Ebs keeps making Bear attack Johnny, and Johnny's laughing. It's kind of perfect.
Taylor ends up half sprawled against Ebs, pulling faces at Johnny when a couple of teenage girls walk over to them.
"Um, hi?" one of them says, sounding really nervous. "You're Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, aren't you?"
Taylor thinks about denying it for a second, but then smiles politely. "Yes, hi."
"Could we get your autograph, and um, maybe a picture?" the girl who has obviously been nominated as leader asks.
"Sure," Ebs says. "Do you have something to sign?"
They sign the pages of a few notebooks, and then each takes a picture with the group. They put Johnny back in the stroller before they take the pictures so he can't roll away, and try and stand so that the kid, and all his stuff, is totally out of shot.
"Whose baby is that?" One of the girls asks as they're saying thank you.
Neither of them answers.
They get a call from Oilers PR a couple of days later to let them know that it's going around the blogs that they were around the city with a baby.
"It's really not a big deal," Sam says. "And there are no pictures."
It feels like a big deal though.
"It's...is it weird that I feel like a dad?" Taylor asks Ebs when they're in bed that night. "Like, for a while it felt like I was just, you know, babysitting for a really long time."
"I don't know, I mean," Ebs rolls onto his side to look at Taylor. "I try not to, because like, I might not be."
"That's dumb," Taylor says, before he can stop himself. "If he's not yours he's mine, and I figure at this point we have an equal share. You're not making me do this by myself because of a piece of paper, right? Because I can kick your ass."
"I guess," Ebs says. "And if it says it's me, I'm still making you do half the diapers."
"It's not like we weren't both there," Taylor says, and apart from the horribly embarrassing conversations they've had with half of Edmonton by now, they've not ever really talked about it.
Ebs actually giggles and, even in the dark, Taylor can tell he's blushing. "Fuck, ok, you know that's the only time I've ever done that, right?"
"What, had sex?" Taylor snarks, knowing Ebs means the threesome.
"Seriously though, god, it was kind of terrible though, right? But kind of hot at the same time?"
Taylor shrugs. "I guess. I mean, yes." It actually was the only time he ever had sex, so it’s not like he can compare it to anything else, and he’s definitely not going to admit that he liked the stuff he did with Ebs as much as the stuff he did with Emily. That would be weird.
Taylor doesn't remember falling asleep, but he wakes up spooned with Ebs again. It's only the second time that's happened in the weeks they've been sharing a bed.
He checks on Johnny, who's awake but playing with his stuffed dog, and quickly heads to the shower. He ends up jerking off, which ok, he always does in the shower.
He's dressed and making gross, paste like baby cereal for Johnny's breakfast when Ebs appears. Taylor leans down to try and get Johnny to eat, and Ebs comes up behind him, leaning forward and resting his forehead against Taylor's back.
"Coffee," Ebs groans.
"In the pot," Taylor says.
Ebs doesn't move though. He just stands there, leaning against Taylor while Taylor feeds their kid. Their lives are kind of weird.
It's only a month since they got Johnny, and Taylor can pretty much not remember what not having him was like. Except the not doing laundry, which was awesome, and not having to change diapers, which was also awesome. But Johnny is kind of more awesome.
A couple of days before Canada Day, Fraz calls them and invited them to a barbecue at his place.
"I heard you guys were still here," Fraz says. "Carli wanted to stay settled with the kid, so we're back here for the rest of the summer."
Taylor says something noncommittal, and gets off the phone as soon as he can. They've told management, but not really the team, and it's weird. And god, Fraz's son, who was born right after the season started must be about the same age as Johnny.
Ebs calls back and says they'll definitely come, and Taylor doesn't speak to him for the rest of the afternoon. He's not exactly mad, but Johnny is getting really close to crawling, and Taylor decides to help with that all afternoon. He even changes diapers when it's not his turn. He feels weird about seeing the team and he knows he’s taking it out on Ebs. It’s not really fair of him, but he really doesn’t care.
Ebs orders pizza as a peace offering and after Johnny is in bed, they watch the first round of the draft, which they recorded. They already know what happens, but Taylor wants to watch it anyway.
He doesn't remember falling asleep, but he wakes up with his head in Ebs's lap, and Ebs running his fingers though Taylor's hair.
"Hey," he says, turning his head to look up at Ebs. The closeness somehow feels normal. "Sorry."
"We don't have to go," Ebs says. "We can just hang out here if you want."
They've been getting out of the apartment more and more, but not really seeing people they know.
"No, I want to go..." Taylor's not even sure he can put it into words. "Just, they're going to look at us different."
"They fucking hope so," Ebs says. "There’ll be new rookies this year to take their crap."
When they show up at the barbecue with a kid, Fraz drops his bottle of beer on the deck, and it spills everywhere. The look of shock on his face pretty much makes everything worth it.
"Nephew?" Carli asks.
Taylor and Ebs look at each other. "Son," they say, almost in unison.
Fraz narrows his eyes. "Whose?" Taylor and Ebs kind of shrug. "Well, ours, pretty much," Taylor says.
Fraz cracks up. "No really, you had me for a second. Whose kid did you borrow?"
Johnny is struggling in his stroller, so Taylor bends down to lift him out of it. "Hey, Johnny. Can you say hi?" They've been working a little on getting him to wave, but Johnny just buries his face in Taylor's neck.
"Ebs, can you..." Taylor holds out a hand, and after a second, Ebs hands him Bear.
"Ok," Fraz says after a second. "Yours."
They manage not to explain any details, just that Emily is gone, and they have him for now, and Fraz and Carli are good people who don't ask too many questions.
They're among the first people there, and pretty much all the single guys are gone anyway, so it ends up being a lot of families, with kids everywhere. There are some front office people too, but not really management, so it's relaxed.
Johnny is kind of overwhelmed by all the people at first, and Ebs ends up having to take him off for a couple of minutes to calm down. He gets over it pretty fast though. Taylor ends up sitting in the shade with Carli while Johnny and Calder play... not quite with each other, but next to each other pretty happily.
"You guys seem to be coping ok?" Carli says.
Taylor shrugs. "I forgot to put soap in the dishwasher when I ran it yesterday."
Ebs takes over baby-watching after a while, and Taylor hangs out with the guys over by the grill. They make fun of him, and he makes fun of them, and it's a lot like it always was, except every couple of minutes he looks over his shoulder to make sure Ebs and Johnny are ok.
Carli and Ebs bring the babies over with them to sit with everyone else once it's not so hot. Carli sits on the bench next to Fraz, and as she hands Calder to him, she kisses Fraz. It's nice.
Ebs keeps hold of Johnny and sits on the grass in front of Taylor. Taylor leans over and pulls faces at Johnny until Johnny laughs.
It's late when they leave and Johnny is fast asleep. He didn't like the fireworks, but otherwise he was pretty good all day.
He doesn't even wake up when they get him ready for bed, which is unheard of.
"I'm...What if we don't...What if Emily never comes back?" Ebs asks as they're putting him in his crib.
"I don't know," Taylor says.
"What if she does come back?" Ebs asks.
"I don't know either," Taylor says, turning on the baby monitor, and turning out the light.
Ebs rolls close to Taylor once they're in bed. "I like things how they are," he says.
"Me too," Taylor says, and pulls Ebs even closer.
Taylor's drifting off to sleep when he thinks he maybe feels Ebs kiss him. Maybe he doesn't though. Maybe he dreams it.
Things are a little strained the next couple of days. Taylor doesn't seem to know how to talk to Ebs anymore, and he'd not realised how much he liked all the human contact until Ebs pulls away from him. It's weird, and unsettling, and he really had liked how things were. Now it seems to be back to one of them looking after Johnny at a time.
They actually have an argument a couple of nights later, over something dumb, like the laundry, and Taylor goes to bed early. He wakes up in the middle of the night, and Ebs is still not next to him. He wanders out into the living room and there's Ebs, asleep on the couch.
Taylor shakes him awake. "C'mon asshole, bed."
Ebs follows him, and Taylor pulls him close when they lie down. "Night," he says.
Ebs mutters indistinctly and leans forward and sleepily kisses him.
The next morning things are somehow better. It's still a little awkward, but at least now Taylor can finally articulate what he wants. He and Ebs and Johnny are a family, and that's what he wants. He might accidentally be in love with his best friend, which is kind of a cliché, but kind of ok with him.
Ebs orders them Indian food that night and after Johnny's asleep they play Xbox for a while, and then Ebs leans over and kisses Taylor properly. They make out, and it's kind of great, but it's interrupted when Johnny wakes up and starts crying. For a second Taylor wants to ignore him and go back to making out with Ebs, but then he feels like a massive dick, and he and Ebs pull apart.
By the time they get Johnny back to sleep it's really, really late, and they both collapse into bed not really thinking about what just happened. But Taylor doesn't sleep well. He can't seem to relax, and he's not sure if he should curl up with Ebs or not. He and Ebs have been doing so well with Johnny, and there's this voice in the back of his mind that's asking him what happens if he and Ebs don't work? What do they do? It's not just about them anymore. What if Johnny is Ebs's, and he and Ebs don't work out and Ebs takes Johnny away?
He gets up early, and Johnny's still asleep, so he decides to head to the store for more diapers and wipes, which they always seem to be almost out of. On the way back up to the apartment, he checks the mail, and there's the envelope. The one from the DNA testing company.
Taylor's sitting at the counter with the envelope when Ebs appears. He's showered and dressed.
"The kid not awake?" he asks.
Taylor shrugs. He holds up the envelope. "This was in the mail."
Ebs sits down next to him. "Did you open it?"
"No," Taylor says. "I couldn't make myself do it."
"You want me to?" Ebs asks.
Ebs opens it carefully. He's quiet for a really long time.
"He's...he's yours," Ebs says finally, and hands the paper to Taylor.
There it is in black and white. He's Johnny's dad.
"I'm..." Ebs gets up. "I'll be back." Taylor barely even sees him going.
Taylor can hear Johnny fussing, so he leaves the paper on the counter and goes to get his son. The thing is, he doesn't feel any more like a dad than he did a half hour ago.
Taylor’s phone beeps at one to remind him that Johnny has his nine-month check-up at three. Ebs still isn’t back at two, so Taylor texts Ebs to ask him meet them at the pediatrician’s office. Taylor manages to get Johnny in the car and everything organised, but it takes longer by himself, and he’s running late, and Johnny still hates the car. Normally Ebs is right there in the back with him, calming him down, but now Taylor has to drive with a screaming kid in the back.
He arrives and parks and gets them up to Doctor Khan’s office with only a minute or two to spare. He looks around, expecting to see Ebs waiting, but nothing. There’s a mom and her toddler in the corner, but other than that, the waiting area is empty. Taylor checks his phone, but nothing. He checks the text sent, and it did. He’s about to try calling Ebs, but the receptionist calls Johnny’s name, and he doesn’t get a chance.
“On your own today Mr Hall?” Doctor Khan asks.
Taylor shrugs. "Ebs was busy."
"But the two of you are coping in general?" she asks. "I know it must be a big adjustment, but it's important to be a support system to each other."
"Yeah," Taylor says, unstrapping Johnny from the stroller, and holding him on his lap.
They go through the weighing and measuring and listening to his chest again, and this time they don't have to take blood, which is good, because Taylor isn't sure if he could deal with more screaming.
"He's absolutely on target now," Doctor Khan says. "56th percentile in height, and 49th in weight. He's grown an appropriate amount, and..." she checks his mouth. "It looks like he's going to be teething any day now. He's probably going to run a slight fever, and be a little more cranky than usual, but I'm sure the two of you will manage."
"Um," Taylor hadn't even thought of that. "I guess."
They've coped with everything else.
"Can you...would you write this down?" Taylor asks a little hesitantly. "I don't want to forget to tell Ebs something."
Doctor Khan smiles. "Of course." She scribbles down some notes and hands them to Taylor. "And did you have any questions?"
"Um, not really," Taylor says. "But, um, for his records. I'm his... he's mine."
It feels wrong to say it.
"I'll have them note that you're the biological father, and at some point we'll want your medical history to add to the file," Doctor Khan says. "But you and Mr Eberle are still co-parenting, right?"
"Yes!" Taylor says. "I mean, we just found out today, but we... Ebs is... we're doing this together until they find Emily."
"Ok then," Doctor Khan says, adding a couple more notes to the computer screen.
Johnny falls asleep in the stroller on the way back to the car, and rather than wake him up, Taylor decides to grab lunch. There's a Subway across the street, and it's late enough that it's pretty empty.
The girl making his sandwich flirts with him a little, which Taylor thinks is kind of weird. He's got a kid in a stroller, which he thinks should be kind of off-putting. Also, he's pretty sure she has no clue who he is. The dude on the register obviously does know who he is.
"Um," the guy is kind of starstruck. "Six fifty two?"
Taylor pays quickly, and grabs a table in the corner, out of sight of most of the tables. He can see the employees pointing and whispering, and he's pretty sure they've taken some pictures. Which is awesome?
Johnny is still asleep, and Ebs still hasn't texted him, so he tries calling.
Ebs's phone goes right to voicemail, and Taylor's not sure if he's supposed to be mad or worried.
"Uh," Taylor says after the beep. "You missed the pediatrician's appointment. Call me."
What he really wants to say is 'where were you asshole?' but he probably shouldn't yell at his phone in public.
A few minutes later, people start arriving at the store, and Taylor can see them openly staring at them. One of the employees must have texted their friends or something.
The commotion wakes Johnny up, and Taylor ends up signing autographs while holding a cranky kid.
For the first time ever he ends up turning down photos with fans, and he feels like an asshole, but if he puts Johnny down, Johnny will cry, and he's not having Johnny in fan pictures. It's not fair.
Johnny does cry, and Taylor ends up having to strap him into the stroller while he struggles, and get back to the car as fast as possible. Pretty much everyone asks him who the kid, is, and he just shrugs at them. He could tell them now, but he doesn't.
Ebs isn't there when Taylor gets back to the apartment. Ebs still isn't there when Taylor feeds Johnny, or when he puts Johnny to bed, or when finally Taylor gets sick of waiting and goes to bed himself.
When he wakes up in the morning, Ebs isn't next to him, and Taylor starts to panic, because what if something happened? He heads to the kitchen to grab his phone and start calling around, but there's Ebs, asleep on the couch.
When he gets closer, he can smell beer and puke, and that explains it. Taylor grabs the baby monitor to take into the bathroom with him when he goes to shower. Ebs is probably still drunk and Taylor doesn't want him trying to look after Johnny like that.
Taylor showers, and dresses then grabs Johnny from his crib and gets him changed and dressed, and when he heads out into the kitchen to get breakfast for the two of them, Ebs is still passed out.
He started going from worried to mad a while ago, and honestly? Now he's really pissed.
He shakes Ebs awake. "If you're sleeping it off, can you do it in the bedroom."
"What?" Ebs looks at Taylor fuzzy eyed. He's definitely still drunk.
"You think it's ok for Johnny to be around you when you're wasted?"
Ebs pushes Taylor away, and sits up unsteadily. "You're the dad," he says and heads to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
One of the Oilers' PR guys calls an hour or so later, wanting to see them.
"I'll be right there," Taylor says. "But, um, Ebs is sick." He's not even lying. "He has a cold or whatever." Even if Ebs is being an asshole, Taylor isn't going to go tattling to the team.
He also can't leave Johnny with Ebs, so Johnny has to come to the rink, and so it's another car ride with a screaming baby, and trying to handle doors alone with the stroller, and Johnny's being a pain in the ass and keeps throwing Bear onto the ground.
Taylor ends up crouching on the ground, next to Johnny picking up Bear as they're about to head into Rexall Place.
"Look," Taylor says. "Yesterday sucked, today sucks, but please, please be good so they don't think I'm the worst dad in the world?"
He knows Johnny has no clue what he's saying, but Johnny keeps hold of Bear while they head up to the offices, and Taylor counts that as a win.
"Taylor," Chris from PR says when he gets to the offices. "How are you doing?"
"Um, ok," Taylor says. The door into the office is too narrow for the stroller to fit though, so he has to pick up Johnny and try not to drop Bear again.
"Oh," Chris says. "You can just leave him out here with my assistant. He can watch him."
Taylor just looks at Chris. "Um, no it's ok." He's not leaving his baby with someone he doesn't know, even if he's just going to be next door.
Chris looks sort of uncomfortable as Taylor sits there, with Johnny in his lap. "Right," he says. "Well, ok then."
"Is this about yesterday?" Taylor asks. "I know they got a bunch of pictures, but like, I can't not leave the house with Johnny."
"It's..." Chris pauses for a moment. "There are...pictures from yesterday. There are also several blog posts, and the local news blogs are probably going to pick it up at some point."
"Oh," Taylor says.
"Jordan called yesterday to let us know that the baby is your son," Chris says. "So now we know, there's no reason not to put out a press release."
Taylor looks down at Johnny, who's sucking Bear's arm. "I don't...do we have to?"
"It's your decision," Chris says. "Of course it is, but as an organization, can't you see that we need to control this story? It's been hard enough to keep it quiet while you and Eberle have been running all over the place with him, but now we know he's yours we can get the story out there."
"I guess," Taylor says.
"And with Eberle heading home today, it gives us time to establish the story and let the press get used to seeing you with the kid," Chris shuffles a couple of papers.
"Ebs isn't going away," Taylor says.
"He's not?" Chris looks confused. "That's what he told me when I spoke to him yesterday. Although, if he's sick, I suppose him delaying the visit makes sense."
"I...He didn't tell me," Taylor says, pulling Johnny a little closer to him, and letting Johnny grab at his fingers.
"Well," Chris says. "That's really not the issue. I mean, I know he's been helping you out while things were settled. Now you know he's yours, I know you'll want to be more independent."
Taylor stops paying attention to Chris as he rattles on about media strategy. Johnny is grabbing at Taylor's t-shirt to chew on. It's kind of gross.
He sits there for another ten minutes, nodding when it seems like the right moment, and then he just wants to go home.
"Um, Chris," Taylor says. "I need to go. Can you email me the rest to look over?"
Chris looks at Johnny suspiciously. "Of course."
He's heading out of the offices when he runs into Coach Renney.
"Hallsy!" Renney gives him a quick half-hug. "I heard you were here." He crouches down in front of the stroller. "And you must be the kid." He gently shakes Johnny's hand, and Johnny giggles. "Hey kid."
"Hey Coach," Taylor says.
Renney stands up. "You look like you're doing ok." He looks Taylor up and down. "I remember when my oldest was this age, he still wasn't sleeping through the night. I was a zombie."
Taylor can't help feeling kind of smug. "Johnny's pretty great about sleeping through the night."
"Of course he does," Renney rolls his eyes. "Anyway, kid, I was going to call you this week anyway. Rookie camp starts in a couple of days, and I thought you and Ebs might come and say hi, run a few drills, maybe come and have dinner with the kids."
"Um, maybe? I don't know...Can I let you know?" Most of the 'kids' are going to be older than Taylor.
"Absolutely," Renney says. "And hey, if you need a sitter, my oldest is 17. She sits for a bunch of kids in the neighbourhood. And for Fraz actually. Think about it."
"Ok," Taylor says. Johnny starts wriggling in his stroller.
"Looks like you need a nap, kid," Renney says, and Taylor isn't sure if Coach means him or Johnny. They probably both do.
"Later," Taylor says, and heads back to his car.
When he gets home, Ebs is gone, and there's a note on the counter.
'Though you'd need some time to get used to being a dad. See you in a couple of weeks.'
He sets Johnny in his crib for a nap, and sits in the nursery watching him sleep. He doesn't need time to get used to being a dad. He meant it when he said a piece of paper didn't matter.
Obviously Ebs didn't feel the same way.
He tries to call Ebs but his phone is off, so he calls his mom.
"Hi honey," she says. "How's everything going?"
"Um, ok," Taylor says, even though that's pretty far from true. "I...the test came back yesterday."
"The DNA test?" his mom asks, her voice a little shaky.
"Yeah," Taylor looks over at the crib. "He's mine, mom."
"Ok," his mom says. "Ok, that's good. I'm happy for you." He's pretty sure she's crying again.
"I thought you'd want to know," he says.
"I did...I do," she says. "I...however he got here he's my grandson, and I'm going to spoil the crap out of him."
"Thanks mom," Taylor says.
Taylor ends up sitting on the floor of the nursery. He doesn't want to be too far away from Johnny. It hits him all at once; he's Johnny's dad, Johnny is his son, forever, and at the moment, because Emily left Johnny, and apparently so did Ebs, he's all Johnny has.
Taylor sort of goes through the rest of the day in a haze. Johnny is pretty good, and so Taylor even manages to check his email and do some of his own laundry, rather than just Johnny's. Bath time takes a little longer than usual because he's not used to doing it by himself, but Johnny has a great time splashing around and making a total mess. He just relaxes in the water, and he gets nice and sleepy afterwards. Taylor sits with in the recliner to feed Johnny his bottle right before bed. Ebs usually does this, and Taylor can see why he likes to. Johnny curls into him and snuggles close, just looking at him and drinking his bottle. Taylor's not good with feelings stuff, but he loves Johnny, no question, and he thinks, the way Johnny curls up to him, Johnny probably loves him too, as much as he can love anyone.
After he has Johnny in bed, Taylor makes some KD and plays some Xbox. It's weird not having anyone to talk to, and by ten he's ready to sleep.
He wakes up in the night hearing Johnny cry, before he's really awake he kicks at Ebs's side of the bed, so Ebs can take his turn, but of course it's empty. Johnny settles again pretty quickly, without Taylor actually having to get up for him, but Taylor can't get back to sleep.
The next morning, Johnny isn't himself. He's lethargic, and doesn't eat much. Taylor guesses he's probably still tired, and probably misses Ebs, so he doesn't think much of it. Johnny sits in his chair, chewing Bear's arm and fussing when Taylor leaves his sight even for a couple of minutes. It's a long morning.
The apartment is kind of a mess, and although he and Ebs have always had someone come clean for them once a week, with Johnny around, everything gets messed up faster. The couple of minutes he's in the bathroom, getting the towels to throw in the laundry, lead to a full on screaming fit, and Johnny refuses to calm down until Taylor picks him up and carries him around for a while. After that, he notices that they're running low on formula and on baby cereal, and so he has to go to the store. Johnny cries so much when Taylor puts him in the stroller, that the other people in the parking lot at Safeway look at him funny, like he's doing something horrible to his kid on purpose. In the end, he ends up carrying Johnny in one arm and pushing the cart with the other. It's pretty good strength training, and Johnny dials it back to general bad temper.
The bag boy helps him take the groceries out to his car, which is sort of embarrassing, but Taylor kind of wants to get home.
"Uh, thanks," Taylor says.
"No problem Mr Hall," the guy says. "Grocery shopping with a baby's not easy. We're supposed to offer to help all the moms."
Taylor sees the guy go a little red when he realises what he just said. "Oh, I didn't..." he pauses. "Your son's really cute," he settles on.
"Most of the time," Taylor says. He doesn't realise until he's driving away, with Johnny starting up the screaming like he always does in the car, that for the first time he's acknowledged Johnny's his son to a stranger.
The next day is more of the same, except Johnny looks a little flushed and feels a little warm. Taylor tries taking him on a walk, just out to the park a few blocks from the apartment, but it doesn't help. Johnny is fussy, and doesn't want to play, or nap, or eat. All he wants to really do is sit there and chew on Bear.
When he refuses to even eat a couple of bites of lunch, Taylor's kind of worried. He thinks about calling the pediatrician, but he doesn't want to be one of those parents. His mom will probably cry if he calls her, and Ebs's mom probably doesn't care at this point. In the end he calls Carli Fraser.
"Sounds like he's teething," Carli says right away. "Calder started a couple of months ago, and he was just like that."
"Ok," Taylor says, relieved. "What do I do?"
"Oh honey," Carli laughs a little, but it doesn't sound mean. "You want me to come over? I have about three times the teething rings I need and a bottle of baby Tylenol you can have."
"If that's ok?" Taylor really doesn't want to have to make another run to the store.
"I'll be right over," she says.
She arrives about an hour later, while Johnny is having a meltdown. He's red and blotchy from crying, and the apartment is a mess, and Taylor has a headache and his shirt is covered in baby puke.
"Oh honey," Carli says when he opens the door. Calder is happily sitting in his stroller, and Carli looks perfectly put together. Her house probably isn't a total disaster either.
"Hi," Taylor says. "Thanks."
"No problem. I have all that stuff right here," Carli hands him a bag. "If you put the teething rings in the refrigerator they'll get cold and numb his gums. And call the pediatrician to ask about what dose to give him of the Tylenol."
Within ten minutes, Johnny is no longer crying, Carli is making them coffee, and she sends Taylor off to shower and change. Apparently this is what being a good parent is, and Taylor is totally failing at it. When he comes back fifteen minutes later, she's put on a load of laundry, the dishwasher is running and so is the steriliser for the bottles.
"Coffee?" Carli offers.
Taylor takes the mug from her gratefully and walks over to the stroller, where Johnny is now napping peacefully.
"How did you do that?" Taylor asks.
"He pretty much cried himself out," she says. "And the Tylenol works fast."
"I'm so bad at this," Taylor says, looking around at the apartment.
"God," Carli rolls her eyes. "You should have seen me for about the first six months. My mom was with us the whole time, and Colin helped out when he was home, but...it just took me forever to stop feeling like everything I did was wrong."
"I just...I've never even been around little kids," Taylor admits. "I have to like, google everything so I don't do something dumb that will kill him."
Carli really does laugh then, and Calder looks up from where he's playing with a board book on the rug. "It seems like you're doing a great job. You and Ebs really had things down at the barbecue. You guys are a great team."
Taylor shifts uncomfortably. "He's...he went back to Calgary for a while."
"What?" Carli sounds really surprised.
"We...You're not going to tell Fraz this, are you?" Taylor needs to say this, and somehow the fact he doesn't know Carli well makes it easier.
"Of course not," Carli says. She heads to sit on the couch, and Taylor follows her.
"I..." It's not easy to start. "Me and Ebs, we...either of us could have been Johnny's dad."
Carli nods. "Uh huh."
"And...I mean, I sort of felt like we both were, because it was the two of us. But then...he's mine, according to the DNA test, and Ebs just left."
"Oh god, poor Jordan," Carli says.
"Wait, what?" Taylor stiffens. "He left. He decided he didn't have to care any more."
"You really think that?" Carli says.
Taylor shrugs. "It's what he did."
"He really loves that kid," Carli says. "I saw it when you guys came over. He was talking to me about plans he had, teaching him to walk and then teaching him to skate. He must have been crushed finding out he wasn't Johnny's dad."
"He is though," Taylor says. "I mean, I'm his...he's mine...biologically, but like, we're both his dads. Johnny misses Ebs. I can tell, and he just left."
"Did you tell him all that?" Carli asks.
"He just left, ok. He left, and came home wasted, and then went to his parents. And now he won't turn on his phone," Taylor says.
"What a fucking mess," Carli says after a moment.
"I...the pediatrician, she said Ebs and I were co-parenting," Taylor says. "I...I kind of liked that. Like, it was a nice way of saying we were both the dad."
"Yeah," Carli says. "Is…the mom's still out of the picture?"
Taylor sets the now empty mug down on the coffee table. "She's still gone. She's been gone almost two months. The police aren't even really looking for her."
"Did you...I know sometimes people go on TV to see if anyone's seen a missing person. Did they not want you to do that?" Carli asks.
"They just said she ran away, and that lots of people run away," Taylor says.
Carli doesn't seem to know what to say to that. She finishes her coffee but Calder's almost ready for a nap they need to go.
"Call me if you need me, honey," she says. "Or if you just want to talk. I know being stuck on your own with a baby's weird for you."
"Ok," Taylor says.
"Oh, and hey, some friends and I, we all have kids about the same age, and we go for lunch or something every couple of weeks. You should come." Carli gives him a quick hug. "Joe, he's a stay at home dad, would love to have another guy there."
"And call Jordan, or email him," Carli checks she has everything. "Ok, I'm going to go, and stop trying to run your life, but call me, ok?"
"Bye," Taylor says, shutting the door behind her.
He doesn't get a lot done the next few days, but at least now he knows what the problem is, he feels like he's doing something to help. Johnny's sleeping so badly that one night, he ends up in bed with Taylor so that Taylor doesn't have to be up and down every twenty minutes.
The next morning, he has to head to the rink to meet the prospects. He doesn't know why he agreed to come, except he met some of these guys last year, and they're all great, and Coach Renney called him five times, until he really couldn't say no. He arrives at Rexall Place with plenty of time, and meets Melissa Renney in the offices. He's been to dinner with the Coach's family so it's not like it's the first time he's met her.
"Hi Taylor!" Melissa hugs him quickly.
"Um, thanks for helping out," Taylor says. "Your dad didn't tell me how much you charge for babysitting though."
Melissa laughs. "Don't worry about it. I'll help out for free this time, and that way, when you need a sitter, you'll call me first."
It's kind of weird how she seems like a kid, even though she's only a couple of years younger than him.
Melissa takes Johnny off, and Taylor sees that Johnny's about to start crying. "Hey-" Taylor says, but Melissa cuts him off.
"It's ok," she says. "He's probably going to scream at me for the next half hour because he doesn't know where you went, but after that he'll be fine."
Taylor shrugs, and heads to the locker room, where he changes before heading out onto the ice. He sees the rookies notice him as they're running drills at one end of the rink. He warms up a little, skating around. He hasn't been on skates in almost three months, and he can tell. He can also tell how out of shape he is in some ways. He needs to work out pretty hard for the rest of the summer or he's not going to be good to play.
"Hallsy," Renney calls to him. "Glad you made it."
"Hey Coach," he says.
"You guys have mostly met Hallsy, right?" Renney says to the prospects. Some of them nod. "I tricked him into coming so my daughter can earn some money babysitting his kid."
There's not even a murmur of surprise at that, and Taylor guesses the Oilers gossip network has been doing its job.
Taylor runs through drills with the prospects, and it feels good to see that even without really having done anything the last couple of months, he still has a pretty good edge on most of these guys. It's easy to get back into the team mentality, being on the ice. Taylor talks with the other guys, and especially after this last week it's really great to talk with someone who can actually talk back. He does spend every other second wondering how Johnny is, though, and when they head back to the locker room, he rushes through showering and changing to get upstairs to the conference room where Melissa is playing with Johnny.
Johnny is on the carpet, trying to pull himself onto his hands and knees. He's been on the edge of crawling for a couple of weeks now, and selfishly, Taylor's glad he's not missed the moment when he finally manages it. When Johnny looks up to see him there, he starts to laugh and babble happily. Johnny reaches up to him, and Taylor scoops him up from the floor and hugs him.
"Hey kid," he says, as Johnny babbles at him. "You telling me all about playing with Melissa, huh?"
"We read a couple of books, and played with his bear, and then he's been trying to crawl," Melissa says.
"Busy day, huh?" Johnny tries to grab at Taylor's face, and he laughs when Taylor sticks his tongue out. "You going to say goodbye?"
Johnny manages a small wave at Melissa, and Melissa smiles at them both. "See you soon Johnny," she says. "And Taylor, if you need a sitter, I need the money, ok?"
On his way out, Taylor runs into Sam from PR again. He's the non-asshole, so Taylor doesn't try and avoid him.
"Hall," Sam says. "How're you doing? Chris says he talked to you about maybe doing a short interview? I know TSN wants to sit down with you, but we could do it in house and have it on the website if you want it less formal."
"Um, maybe," Taylor says. "He wanted me to let Johnny on camera though."
"If you're not ok with that, that's fine," Sam says. "We can do the interview here, and have someone watch him, or you can see how you feel once you meet with the reporters."
"Um, I need to talk to my agent, but maybe," Taylor says. "And, um, is it ok if I talk to you about this, not Chris? He was kind of an asshole about my son."
Sam laughs. "He's kind of an asshole, period. That's fine though. Call me when you've spoken to Orr, and we'll set it up."
"Thanks," Taylor says, and heads down to the parking lot.
"What's up!" Jonesy comes barrelling across the parking lot and almost knocks Taylor over by tacking him. "I leave for two months, and I come home to find you've got a kid? Overachiever."
"Hey," Taylor's really glad to see a friendly face, especially as some of the prospects are staring.
"Where's your babymama?" Jonesy asks.
"Um," Taylor doesn't want to explain the whole Emily thing.
"Fraz told me you and Ebs were shacked up with a kid, and I mean. He's totally the one with childbearing hips," Jonesy throws an arm over Taylor’s shoulder. "So is he at home cooking you dinner? Because I totally know you'll put out for some KD and a beer, but once the kids come along, it's hard to find time to be a couple, right?"
"Um," Taylor shrugs. "He's in Calgary at his mom's."
"Left holding the baby, huh?" Jonesy grins. "Now let me see him." He lifts Johnny out of his stroller, and Taylor is not sure he's ok with this. "'Sup little man?" Jonesy says. "I'm basically one of like 20 really awesome uncles you have, because your dads are totally lame." Jonesy turns to Taylor. "Seriously, get with the program dude, he should be dressed head to toe in Oilers gear. They'd totally give it to you for free."
Taylor glares, but doesn't punch Jonesy in the arm like he normally would, because Jonesy is holding his son. "Can I have my kid back?"
Jonesy holds up Johnny and mock-whispers: "Your Daddy's just jealous because we're more awesome than he is," but he puts Johnny back in his stroller.
"When the Mrs gets back from his trip, you should come hang out. A ton of the guys are back like, this week or next week, ok?" Jonesy shouts as he runs off into Rexall.
Taylor leans down to look at Johnny, who looks pretty unimpressed. "I know," Taylor says.
Johnny finally manages to crawl the next day. Taylor's sitting on the floor with him, and Johnny pushes himself up onto his hands and knees, and then that's it. Johnny only manages to shuffle forward a couple of inches, but he's crawling.
Taylor scoops Johnny up into a hug. "You did it! You actually did it!" Johnny giggles as Taylor swoops him around. "Now you have to walk, and then you can learn to skate, and then hockey, ok? Or football, either would be good. Soccer's lame though, so not that."
Johnny manages it a couple of times that day, each time getting a little further. By bedtime, he can get a couple of feet pretty consistently, and Taylor videos it on his phone to send to his mom. It's a split second decision, but he decides to send it to Ebs too.
His mom emails him back the next morning saying how proud she is, but also sending him links to websites about baby-proofing the apartment now Johnny is on the move. The horror stories on the website are pretty motivational, so he and Johnny head out to get the stuff they need like baby-locks for cabinet doors, and then Taylor spends the rest of the day fixing things up. Johnny is stuck in his bouncer and stroller kind of a lot of the time while Taylor works, and he makes his displeasure about it known. One's it's done though, Taylor feels much better about letting Johnny crawl around on the floor. He keeps a close eye on him, of course, but it's awesome to watch Johnny figure out how to move, and how to get to his toys, and how to get to Taylor, and then pretty much ask to be picked up.
Taylor doesn't check his email again that day until right before he goes to bed, but there's still nothing from Ebs.
There's nothing from Ebs the next day, or the day after as Taylor gets used to leaving Johnny with Melissa Renney for a couple of hours and going to the gym. There's nothing while Taylor talks with Bobby about the interview he's going to do, or when Johnny finally cuts the tooth, and promptly bites Taylor's finger kind of hard.
Four days later Taylor's not even mad any more. He needs to be practical, and he needs to figure out how he's doing this alone, because Ebs isn't coming back, and neither is Emily.
He sends an email that night after he has Johnny asleep.
I talked to a realtor today about buying a place, so you can come back. Johnny's not your responsibility so don't worry about it. I'll get our stuff out of the apartment as soon as I have somewhere.
The answer comes back almost instantly, which somehow makes Taylor mad again. It's not that Ebs didn't see the email, he just didn't care.
'If that's what you want I can't stop you.'
Taylor doesn't even think about it, he just hits reply.
'Well you don't want to be here when we're here, what am I supposed to do?'
Taylor's cell phone rings, and it's Ebs of course.
"You can stay there, I'll find a somewhere," Ebs says, sounding flat.
"It's fine," Taylor says, desperately holding his temper. "I want somewhere bigger anyway, now Johnny's crawling. You saw that, right? Or did you just not care."
"Fuck off," Ebs says. "I'm glad you wanted to show off to me how great your kid is.... You're dad of the year."
"Jesus Christ Ebs, excuse me for thinking you might want to see, considering you were right there helping him when you thought he might be yours. Except I should have known, right? You bailed the second he wasn't yours."
"You really think I'm that much of an asshole?" Ebs asks. "Really? Because...Fuck Taylor."
He sounds defeated.
"I thought...It was like you and me were raising him together, ok?" Ebs says. "Like, we were a family."
"Then why did you just leave?" Taylor says.
"Because we weren't, ok? We weren't. I wanted...but you decided it-we were the worst idea. And then you didn't even get why finding out he wasn't mine sucked. You just...I needed some time, ok? If...He's your son, so I needed time to deal."
"He was ours, you dick. I told you it didn't matter. I told you he was ours, and I just. I wanted us to be a family too, but you left, just like Emily did." Taylor pauses. "I can't talk to you." He hangs up the phone and heads to bed.
The front office call him the next day to say that TSN are coming in to do some interviews anyway, and they want to talk to him. Taylor knows that he has to do this. It could just be on the website, but TSN is better.
He doesn't even take Johnny to the rink. He calls Carli instead and she agrees to watch him. He doesn't want there to even be pressure to have his son onscreen. He's not doing that.
When he arrives, one of the camera guys is someone he recognises from Oil Change. It's not much, but he feels a little more comfortable. They didn't make him look like a total dick, just a little dumb, which he knows is kind of true.
It's a quick interview, only a few minutes long. They ask him the questions the front office and Bobby have agreed with him, and they don't laugh at him, which is kind of always the reaction Taylor expects when he's talking to a reporter. They tell him that it will air on SportsCentre that night, and thank him for his time.
Carli invites him to stay for dinner when he goes to pick up Johnny. Johnny and Calder still haven't quite figured out how to play together, but while Carli grabs a bottle of water for him, he sees Johnny hand Calder the block he's been playing with.
Fraz shows up with Jonsey and his wife, and Horcoff and his wife and kids.
"Oh look, we're having a party," Fraz says, and hands Taylor a beer.
Carli's a really great cook, and by the time SportCentre is on, Taylor's almost forgotten about it. His teammates obviously haven't though.
"Earlier today," James Cybulski says. "We spoke to Oilers star Taylor Hall about some big changes in his life this off-season."
Jonesy and Fraz clap him on the back as the TV switches to a picture of him. Taylor fights the instinct to hide. He hates seeing himself on TV. It's really weird.
"Taylor," Holly Horton smiles at him. "This off season hasn't gone quite how you expected."
The lights and camera angle make him look even more dead than usual. It's really not a good look. "Um, no," he says, sounding really, really stupid. "A few weeks into the off season, I found out I have a son, and because his mom's not in the picture right now, I have him full time."
Taylor knows the questions and answers ahead of time. They were all agreed on in advance, so he pays attention to how much of an idiot he looks. Which is a lot.
When it gets to the question about Ebs, Taylor really does look away from the screen. He knows he's a bad liar, and everything's going to be so obvious. "Ebs has been great. He was there right from the start. I think he's the only person in the world Johnny likes more than his Bear."
"Awwwwww," Jonesy punches Taylor in the arm. "That's adorable. When Babymama gets back he owes you..." Jonesy looks over at Horcoff's kids, who are not quite asleep on the other couch. "Um, special alone time. With his mouth."
Everybody cracks up and Taylor feels himself go red. "Shut up," he says, knowing it's pretty much the lamest comeback ever.
Carli makes Taylor sleep on the couch, and puts Johnny in with Calder, because by the time the show finishes, and all the mocking in done, it's really late. His phone beeps just as he's drifting off.
It's from Ebs. 'I'm sry'
'come back then' Taylor texts back to him. Then 'i miss u'. If he wasn't so tired, he probably wouldn't be that honest.
Taylor and Johnny stay with the Frasers most of the morning. It's good seeing Johnny interact with a kid his own age, and Taylor knows that he needs to get on that. His kid is not going to be a loser who has no friends. Fraz hangs out and they play with the kids, and it's good. It feels normal.
When he gets back to the apartment, Ebs it sitting on the couch.
"Um, hi," he says.
Johnny sees him, and a moment later is babbling, and kicking his feet and reaching up towards Ebs.
"Can I?" Ebs asks.
Taylor just nods.
Ebs reaches down and picks Johnny up out of the stroller.
"Hi baby," Ebs says, holding Johnny up and kissing him on the cheek. Johnny keeps babbling happily and Taylor leaves them to go put everything away and go shower. It's good that Ebs is back, but Taylor can't help still being a little mad.
When Taylor comes back, Ebs is sitting on the floor, letting Johnny crawl all over him. He has Bear and is playing Johnny's favourite game; he makes Bear attack Johnny and then Johnny tries to grab Bear. Johnny's almost squealing with laughter, and Ebs looks really happy too.
"Um, are you ok with Johnny," Taylor asks. "I should run to the store."
"You want to all go?" Ebs asks, starting to get up.
"No," Taylor says. "I'll be back."
He heads to the store, and takes his time. Ebs needs time with Johnny, and Johnny is obviously ecstatic to have Ebs back, but Taylor can't quite be ok yet. He will be though.
Taylor hangs back for most of the day, and lets Ebs take the lead. Ebs is really focused on Johnny, hardly taking his eyes of him.
"He grew," Ebs says.
Taylor shrugs. "I guess. It was two weeks, and he's growing fast right now. He cut his first tooth and started crawling."
He's not trying to make Ebs feel bad, but Ebs missed a lot.
"I watched that video a million times," Ebs admits. "I cried my fucking eyes out until my brother was basically embarrassed to be related to me."
"Then why did you go?" Taylor says, because he doesn't understand. He really, really doesn't.
"It hurt," Ebs says, pulling Johnny close. "Leaving hurt worse than my appendix, ok. But," Ebs looks at Taylor. "I don't really...I don't know how to say it right, but like, the idea of you and Johnny being a family without me hurt worse."
"But I don't get why you would think that," Taylor says. He sits down on the other end of the couch, and picks up one of Johnny's toys, just so he has something to do with his hands. "I told you a million times you're his dad as much as I am. I mean…he missed you."
"I didn't...I guess I still don't just want to be Johnny's dad," Ebs says finally. "It wasn't just about that, ok? It's...I wanted you and me too. And I thought that was about to happen, and then it was like you decided it was a bad idea. We'd... you were just lying as far away from me as you could get in bed, and then I woke up and you were gone.”
"Oh," Taylor says. "That was even more dumb then. I'm kind of stupid about you."
"Yeah?" Ebs says.
Taylor shrugs. "I guess. I mean, I moved in with you, I shared a bed with you, I'm raising a kid with you. Jonesy's started calling you my babymama."
"Oh," Ebs says. "Good. Except I'm going to kick Jonesy's ass if that becomes a thing."
"I'm pretty sure it already is," Taylor says.
Ebs feeds Johnny before bed, and it's like he never left. Taylor sits on the couch next to them, and watches Johnny drink the bottle. He's looking less like a baby now, and more like a little kid. It's weird, and it makes Taylor wish he'd been there from the start, when Johnny was really tiny. He's here now, and so is Ebs, and that's the important thing.
After Johnny goes to bed it's a little harder. Taylor cleans up a little, and Ebs orders food. It's not that Taylor doesn't want to talk, he just doesn't know what to say. He's not trying to start a fight, and he does want to work things out, but how's he supposed to talk about the last few weeks without telling Ebs how shitty it was without him. He's sort of starting to get that it was shitty for Ebs too, though, which is probably a start.
Taylor starts yawning about ten. It's been a long day.
"I...I can sleep on the couch if you want me to," Ebs says.
Taylor shrugs. "It was your room first. I'm not going to kick you out. If you're not ok sharing, I'll sleep on the couch."
"It's not that I'm..." Ebs trails off. "You're still mad at me," he says. "So, like, I can sleep on the couch."
"Can we just go to bed?" Taylor asks. "I really don't want another feelings talk. It's weird."
Ebs laughs. "Whatever."
They end up lying as far apart as possible in bed, which is just wrong, and not what Taylor wants at all, so he rolls over and tucks himself into Ebs. It doesn't quite work because he's about three inches taller, and a lot more built than Ebs, but it's ok, especially after Ebs wraps an arm around him.
They wake up in the night to Johnny grumbling on the baby monitor.
"'S he ok?" Ebs slurs sleepily.
"He'll settle in a second," Taylor says. His head is resting on Ebs's shoulder.
"'S nice," Ebs says. "I missed this."
"Me too," Taylor admits.
Ebs pulls Taylor into a kiss, and it's pretty great. Taylor pushes his hands under Ebs's shirt, trying to get to more skin.
"We're doing this?" Ebs asks.
"I guess," Taylor says. He's only gotten laid once in his life, and now he has Ebs in his bed and he's going to take advantage of it. “Yeah,” he says. “Yes, we’re doing this. I think maybe we should have always been doing this.”
Ebs laughs a little before kissing him again. Taylor figures that's agreement and goes back to trying to get Ebs's shirt off. It's more challenging than it should be, because Ebs refuses to pull back from the kiss enough to let him.
"Come on asshole, I'm trying to get you naked here," Taylor says against Ebs's mouth.
"You're such a smooth talker, Hallsy," Ebs says as he palms Taylor's dick through his sweatpants. Taylor doesn't do a whole lot of talking after that.
Ebs and Taylor both go to the gym the next morning. Neither of them got enough sleep, but neither of them can stop smiling. They leave Johnny with Melissa. She seems a little surprised to see both of them there, especially as it's Ebs who's pushing the stroller.
"We'll be, like, three hours, I guess?" Ebs says.
"Um, whenever is fine," Melissa says.
The gym in Rexall Place is pretty basic, but it has everything they need, and people don't stare at him, so it's Taylor's favourite place to work out. He and Ebs slip into their routine from the season, concentrating on upper body because it's a Thursday, and spotting for each other on the free weights.
"Babymama! You're back," Jonesy says, bouncing into the gym like a demented rabbit. He pulls Ebs, who's just finished a set of bench presses, into a hug.
Ebs accepts the hug, but rolls his eyes a little. "I was gone like two weeks," he says.
"But Hallsy was sad without you," Jonsey says, "And you weren't there to watch him on TSN talking about how you're the best dad ever. It was so adorable I almost puked."
Ebs looks a little uncomfortable, but shrugs it off.
"Are you actually going to work out, or are you just here to bug us?" Taylor asks.
"Ok, I'm not getting in the way of special couples time. I know you like watching each other sweat," Jonsey says, heading for a bike.
Normally Taylor would shrug off whatever Jonesy said, but today it's hitting a little close to the mark. He has kind of been watching Ebs work out.
Ebs looks at Taylor a little guiltily, and Taylor can't help smile. It's probably ok if they're both doing it.
"Awwww," Fraz says, as he walks into the gym. "Morning kids."
They work out, and Fraz and Jonesy work out, and it's fine. It's normal. Taylor and Ebs are done first, but Taylor finds an excuse to stay for a couple of minutes, claiming he wants to do another few press-ups.
When Ebs is gone, he heads over to where Jonesy is spotting Fraz as he lifts. He waits until Fraz's reps are done.
"Um guys," he asks. "Can you maybe like, just be a little less on the babymama thing," Taylor says. "Give us shit, whatever, but it's kind of... it's a little much, ok?" Taylor doesn't quite know how to explain that it's something he and Ebs are trying to figure out themselves.
"No, dude! Of course," Jonesy says.
Fraz pats Taylor on the back. "Whatever you want, eh? But the team's ok with you guys, so you're probably going to get shit about it. If you weren't getting shit it would be a bad sign."
"My cousin Joanne is married to Beth," Jonesy says. "But really, are we at least allowed to give you shit about trying to spice up your relationship with a chick and ending up with a kid? Because you were like, 18. Why the fuck did you need to heat things up?"
Taylor goes beet red. "What?"
Fraz ends up doubled over laughing. "Hallsy, you guys were never a subtle as you thought you were," he says when he catches his breath. "And you're not even pretending. You guys have a two bedroom, and Carli told me one of them is the nursery now."
"It's...we..." Taylor buries his head in his hands. "Fine. Whatever. I'll be getting laid on the road, and your wives will be here."
Jonesy and Fraz protest but Taylor heads off to go shower and change.
The next couple of days are amazing. They look after Johnny, they work out and start thinking about the new season, and after they put the baby to bed, they fuck.
Neither of them has much clue what they're doing, but it's pretty fun learning.
Horcoff invites the guys who are in Edmonton over the summer out for a boys night. Carli offers to babysit, and so Taylor and Ebs end up leaving Johnny with her, while Fraz drives to the restaurant where they're starting the evening.
There aren't many of them. It's Horc, Jonesy, Duby, Fraz, Gibs and them, but it's pretty fun. Horc pays for the beer, and Taylor can feel it pretty quickly. He hasn't had more than one beer in a night all summer.
The food is good, and the guys give them shit, but he and Ebs get some good ones in too. They head to a bar afterwards, and take over a booth in the back. Some people probably recognise them, but nobody's bothering them or anything.
Taylor's into the actually drunk stage and Ebs is being pressed into his side. He knows he sort of grinning dopily as Ebs rambles about how much he loves Johnny. The other guys obviously think it's as funny as shit, but Taylor doesn't care. He subtly moves his hand so it's just resting against Ebs's leg, and Ebs turns to look at him and smile.
"Ok, the kids are about to start making out," Fraz says. "I need to get them home, or we're going to have to sit through another TSN interview about how much they love each other."
Taylor wants to protest, but he also wants to kiss Ebs, and when they're not in public, he can do that.
Ebs climbs into the back seat of Fraz's car, and Taylor follows him.
"Jesus Christ guys," Fraz says. "Ok, whatever, but please don't scar me for life, ok?"
They kiss a couple of times and Taylor pulls Ebs into his side for the rest of the drive back to Fraz's house. When they get there Fraz deposits them in a guest room, and they both pass out pretty quickly.
They sleep late, and Taylor has kind of a headache when he wakes up. He wakes up, and they head downstairs feeling a little embarrassed. Carli and Fraz are sitting drinking coffee, as Calder and Johnny sit in a playpen next to them.
"Morning kids," Fraz says.
"Um, hi" Taylor says, as Ebs goes to pick up Johnny and say good morning.
"So," Ebs says. "Did we actually make out in your car last night, Fraz, or is that a horrible nightmare."
Taylor kind of hopes the floor swallows him up, but Fraz just laughs. "Yup," he says. "And there was some groping at the bar that I think you guys thought was subtle."
"We had to explain the facts of life to Duby," Fraz continues. "Because somehow he didn't know about you guys."
Ebs and Taylor crack up, and Johnny starts laughing too.
They end up out in the garden most of the day. Johnny and Calder are really starting to learn to interact, and it's fun to watch them. Taylor and Ebs sneak kisses a couple of times when Carli and Fraz aren't looking. Somehow though, Taylor wouldn't even really mind if they did see. He's pretty aware of what he can and can't say in public, but Fraz is team, and Carli is becoming a pretty good friend. And he's not ashamed of Ebs.
"It's nice," Ebs says late in the afternoon, when they're stretched out on the grass playing with Johnny and Calder while Fraz and Carli prepare dinner. "Having the yard to hang out in."
"Yeah," Taylor says, as Johnny waves a wooden block around and almost hits Ebs in the face with it. "You think maybe...Our lease is up in like a month. I don't want to like, actually deal with moving, but we probably need the space."
It feels like kind of an important conversation to be having lying on the grass like this.
"I guess," Ebs says. "I mean, we can pay people to do the actual moving and stuff. And if we had a yard we could get a dog."
Taylor just looks at Ebs, until Ebs cracks up. "Or not. I'm pretty sure the kid is enough work."
"Maybe a cat," Taylor says, which starts a twenty-minute argument over whether dogs or cats are better pets.
They talk to a real estate agent the next day, who finds them a few places to look at. They pick one quickly, a big house in a new neighbourhood with a lot of families. Carli and Horc's wife Cindy help them buy furniture, and even though it's another two-week nightmare, just like the year before, it's worth it. At the end of the day, they sit in their yard, the baby monitor next to them, just in case. Ebs makes a joke about it being romantic, and Taylor elbows him in the ribs, but it actually kind of is.
A couple of weeks before training camp, Taylor is rooting through a pile of laundry, trying to find a clean t-shirt for Johnny when the phone rings. He leaves Ebs to answer it, because he has to get Johnny dressed.
Ebs comes into the nursery a couple of minutes later, looking kind of pale.
"Emily came home," he says.
"Oh," Taylor says. It's big. He knows it's big, but he can't deal with it right now. They have to take Johnny to the Fraser's so Carli can watch him, now Melissa's back in school, and they have to go to the rink to train, and then they have to go look at the day-care they're hoping to get Johnny into. They've talked to an agency about hiring a nanny once the season starts, and their teammates' wives are going to help when there are road-trips. Taylor has too much to figure out to think about Emily.
"Hallsy," Ebs says. "She's...that was her dad. They want to talk to us. We need to call them back, ok?"
Taylor carries on dressing Johnny, putting his socks on, and digging around for a hat. It's almost September, but it's hot today.
"Taylor," Ebs says. "C'mon."
"What if she wants him back?" Taylor asks.
Ebs looks...like he did the morning he found out Johnny's was Taylor's. "We have to talk to them," he says.
Taylor picks up Johnny and carries him downstairs. He holds Johnny close as they sit on the couch, and call Emily's dad, leaving the phone on speaker.
"Mr Gilbert," Taylor says, when the phone gets picked up. They've talked over the summer. Not often, but about finding Emily, about how Johnny's doing.
"Taylor, Jordan, thank you," Mr Gilbert says.
"How is she?" Ebs asks.
"She's ok," Mr Gilbert says. "Kind of."
"Is she...where was she?" Taylor asks.
"She hasn't talked much," Mr Gilbert says. "She just came back yesterday." He pauses, and all Taylor can think about is Emily and her family taking Johnny away, taking his son away.
"She...she's not well," Mr Gilbert says finally. "She hasn’t been well for a while, and none of us realised how bad it was."
"Can we help?" Ebs asks, and Taylor realises he's being an utter asshole. This is Emily, this is Johnny's mom, and she's alive. This is a good thing. It’s a very good thing.
"Anything?" Taylor adds. Ebs grabs Taylor's hand.
"Just keep taking care of Johnny," Mr Gilbert says. "She wants to see him, and we'll figure it out, but she needs to get herself better first, ok?"
Taylor feels the tension bleed out of him. "We'll bring him over to Regina," he says. "She should see him. We'll figure it out.”
“Are you sure?” Mr Gilbert asks. “I know you boys are about to start up for the season.”
“Emily’s Johnny’s mom,” Taylor says.
“He missed her,” Ebs adds.
“Thank you,” Mr Gilbert says.
“I’ll email you a ton of photos for her,” Taylor says. “Ebs takes like fifty a day.”
Ebs rolls his eyes. “Whatever, it’s a record and we can use them to embarrass him when he’s a teenager,” he says. “My mom did that to me.”
“I have to go boys,” Mr Gilbert says.
They hang up the phone. They still have training to get to.
“Emily’s awesome,” Ebs says. “You’ll like her.”
It feels weird to hear that about someone he has a kid with, but Ebs is right, Taylor doesn’t really know Emily at all.
“She’s Johnny’s mom,” Taylor says.
“And hey,” Ebs says. “Now she’s going to be around, maybe Jonesy will stop calling me your babymama.”
Taylor laughs. “I’m pretty sure that’s never happening.” He looks around the nursery. “Ok, where is Bear, because Johnny is going to scream all the way to the sitter without him.”
Ebs shrugs, but looks too. “He’s going to scream all the way to the sitter anyway. I don’t get why he hates the car so much. My sister’s kids fall asleep the second you put them in the car seat.”
Bear is under the crib, and Taylor admires the view as Ebs bends down to pick him up. As Ebs passes Bear to Taylor, Taylor pulls Ebs in for a kiss. They’re interrupted by a cackle of laughter from Johnny.
“Whatever,” Taylor says to Johnny. “We’re your dads, we’re allowed to do that, even though you’re probably going to think it’s gross for the rest of your life.”
“We’re about to be late,” Ebs says, pulling away a little.
“Fine,” Taylor says, handing Johnny to Ebs. “I’ll drive, you deal with him.”
Johnny is still giggling as they head to the car.
Hall and Eberle Head to the All-Star Game
1/27/12, by TSN.com
Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, both in their second year in the NHL, and both at the centre of an Edmonton Oilers team whose rebuild effort is finally bearing fruit, will be among the players heading to the All-Star Game this weekend in Ottawa.
Hall, 20, and Eberle, 21, will both be first timers in the game. “I went last year for the Rookie Skills,” Hall said Wednesday. Eberle should have joined him but an ankle injury stopped him. “I was pretty bummed,” he said. “It was something we’d been looking forward to, and it was great to be chosen, but going this year’s going to be awesome. And going together is good. I think if one or other of us was going it wouldn’t be as much fun, even though it would still be an honour.” The pair, who live together, have no qualms about playing on different teams. “I was drafted number one,” Hall joked. “Ebs was what? Twenty-second? As long as I get picked first, I don’t care if we’re on different teams.”
Going with them will be Hall’s one-year-old son, Jonathan. “I don’t think Johnny knows what’s going on,” Eberle said. “But he’ll have fun anyway. There’s going to be a ton of people for him to play with, and that’s all he cares about right now.” Hall added: “We only have him one or two days a week at the moment, because of our schedule, so having him for five straight days is something we’re excited about. And my family and Ebs’s family are coming, so he’s going to get spoiled by his grandparents.”
Any truth to the rumour, spread by Oilers' Captain Shawn Horcoff, that Hall and Eberle have a wager on who will be drafted first? “Maybe,” Hall says. “It’s mostly just the pride, but I might make him do extra diaper changing.”