The Curious household was not set up for children. The softness of the crib in the far bedroom contrasted harshly against the sharpness of the metal furniture and the geometric designs on the walls and floors. The blue of the bedding stood out from the monotones as a constant reminder of what people rarely ever talked about. Even Pascal Curious’ brothers. Even when his swollen belly knocked his laptop off of the desk in the living room when he stood up.
“Damn it!” Pascal tried to lean over and pick up the now likely broken piece of equipment, but he struggled to balance with such a heavy load on the front of his body.
“Here, I’ll get it.” Pascal watched gratefully as his younger brother bent and retrieved the laptop in one swift motion.
“Is it broken?” Pascal asked worriedly. It had taken him forever to install all the proper programs and security bypasses he’d need for working at home, and he didn’t want to start all over again.
“Nah,” Lazlo said, fiddling with some buttons until the last screen Pascal had been on showed up. “These things are tough. Like you,” he added, giving his older brother a playful smile.
“Don’t let Vidcund hear you say that,” Pascal replied, walking over to the kitchen to take the now burnt pizza out of the oven. “He’s convinced himself that he’s got me humbled, or something.”
Lazlo set plates out on the kitchen island that served as a dining table. “He’ll come around, Pascal. Trust me.”
Pascal sighed as he attempted to cut through the pizza. “It’s been almost nine months already. If he hasn’t changed by now...”
He felt his brother step behind him and lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Are you really going to eat that?” Lazlo asked, changing the subject and nodding toward the nearly black pie cooling on the stove.
Pascal shrugged. “I’m going to have a baby. I figure I need to get used to eating whatever’s available.” Suddenly he heard dripping and automatically looked toward the sink.
“Uh, Pascal?” Pascal turned to see Lazlo staring at the floor. “You might need to get used to it really quickly.”
“What?” Pascal followed his brother’s line of sight and saw a puddle forming between his own legs. As if his brain had needed visual confirmation before the rest of his body joined the club, Pascal bent over nearly double as he felt an agonizing pain rip through his abdomen.
“Time to go, bro.” Lazlo grabbed the go-bag he’d placed by the front door a month ago and helped his brother walk outside. He grinned wildly. “Time to meet my new niece or nephew!”
“Jenny, I promise, I’ll be fine,” Pascal insisted, ushering his sister out the door. “I’d like some time with my son. Alone,” he said pointedly.
Jenny chuckled. “Okay, okay, we’ll stop smothering you.” She placed her hand on her husband’s arm. “Let’s go, dear. Johnny should be home from school soon anyway.”
“Uh, Poly?” Pascal said hesitantly. “Could I talk to you for a sec before you go?”
“Sure.” Poly pecked Jenny on the cheek before stepping back inside. “I’ll catch up with you in a minute,” he told her.
Jenny shot Pascal a curious look before walking down the street toward their house. “So, um, Poly, I know it’s a lot to ask, and I don’t want to trouble you, and I thought he’d come back by now, but it’s been a week since I gave birth, and the nine months before...is it possible to contact other aliens? To look for the one who...um...for Tycho’s other father?”
Poly’s eyebrows rose. “You want to find the alien who did this to you?”
“Yes.” Pascal rushed on before Poly could say anything. “I know it’s not proper, but he gave me Tycho. Why would he do that, if he didn’t want a family?”
Poly shifted uncomfortably. “Pascal, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Pascal frowned. “But you came back.”
Poly shook his head. “Not for Chloe and Lola, though. I mean, I’m glad to know my daughters, but I came back for Jenny.” He smiled, obviously thinking fondly about his wife.
“Well, don’t you think Tycho’s father would be glad to know his son?”
Poly nodded. “That’s why you’re here. I’m sorry, Pascal. I’d help you if I could, but I broke contact with my alien brethren a long time ago.”
Pascal’s expression fell. “Oh. I see. Well, thanks anyway, Poly.”
Poly smiled at him sympathetically. “I think it’s best if you forget the alien who abducted you. You’ll have enough trouble getting the town to accept Tycho - trust me, I know - and I really don’t think he’ll come back. But you have a beautiful son to occupy your time. Be thankful for that.”
“Yeah. Thanks. See you later.”
“Bye.” Poly took off after his wife. Pascal shut and locked the door before checking on Tycho. His son lay quietly, mesmerized by the planet mobile hanging above the crib. His green skin stood out against the solid blue of the blankets. Completely black eyes shone in amusement as the mobile turned, and then Tycho looked over at his father and gurgled happily.
Pascal couldn’t control the smile that spread across his face. He leaned in to plant a kiss on Tycho’s forehead and gently stroked his thin black hair, trying not to wonder whether Tycho had inherited it from him or from his other father.
As Pascal stepped out of the shower the next day, he heard the doorbell ring. He quickly threw on some underwear and jeans and grabbed the baby monitor before skidding toward the front door just as the bell rang again.
“Nervous! Hi!” he greeted breathlessly.
“Oh!” His neighbor took in Pascal’s wet, disheveled hair and lack of shirt. “Is this a bad time?”
“No, not at all. Come in, come in.” Pascal gestured Nervous inside. He grabbed a case of beer from the fridge. “Sorry about the seating,” he said, pointing to the cheap plastic chairs that masqueraded as living room furniture.
Nervous shrugged. “I’ve had worse,” he answered, accepting a beer.
“Before the Beakers adopted you?” Pascal asked sympathetically.
“No.” Nervous avoided Pascal’s eyes and took a swig of beer, clearly uncomfortable with the topic. Pascal drank from his own can, letting the silence drag out.
“How are you holding up?” Nervous finally asked.
“Fine. Tycho finally decided to take an afternoon nap. This is the first time I’ve had a moment to myself since he was born.” Pascal smiled at his friend. “He’s never slept this long before. You should come over more often. It seems you’re a good luck charm.”
Nervous chuckled. “I’ll do what I can.”
They chatted for a while; about Pascal’s work, Jenny and her family, Nervous’ most recent reads, his part-time job. An hour passed by before either man realized it, and their conversation was only interrupted by a loud cry over the baby monitor.
Pascal stood up and stretched. “Well, looks like duty calls again.” He picked up the empty beer can and the rest of the case to put them away. “There was a time when I had all night to go through a six pack,” he said wistfully.
Nervous stood up as well and placed a hand on Pascal’s shoulder. “Would you change anything?” he asked pointedly.
Pascal paused. “Not at all,” he answered with a smile. He gestured toward the baby monitor. “I wouldn’t have my son if I did. I just wish his other father could share these moments with me.”
Nervous nodded in understanding and, giving Pascal one more pat on the back, turned to leave. “Let me know if you need anything,” he offered before stepping out the door.
“I will. Thanks.” Pascal locked up and went to tend to his wailing son.
“Four fifty for a box of cereal? Seriously?” Pascal muttered to himself. He placed the Cheerios back on the shelf and looked down at Tycho, strapped to his chest in a baby carrier. “I could grow my own grain and make my own Cheerios for cheaper, couldn’t I, big guy?” Tycho sucked on his pacifier in reply.
Pascal’s chuckle got stuck in his throat as he caught the expressions of the other customers in the aisle. They looked away quickly, but not before Pascal caught the mixed reactions of disgust and horror.
Deciding that he’d gathered enough food for the week, Pascal headed for a check-out aisle. He was bagging his purchases when he felt a presence behind him. He turned and looked up at the imposing figure of General Buzz Grunt.
“You’re not welcome here,” Buzz said without preamble.
“I’m just shopping, General,” Pascal said calmly. He resumed bagging his food.
“People like you think they can just go about their normal business.” Judgment and revulsion dripped from every one of Buzz’s words.
“I am a normal person.”
“You’re a homo freak.”
“Careful, General.” Pascal whipped his head up to see Vidcund step dangerously close to Buzz. “That’s my brother you’re talking about.”
Pascal barely heard the rest of the brief conversation over the shocked buzzing in his head. Was Vidcund standing up for him? Vidcund, who’d stuck to the safe subjects of work and the weather ever since Pascal’s abduction? Who’d barely spared a glance for his youngest nephew?
It appeared so, because soon enough Buzz was walking away stiffly and Vidcund was placing the last grocery bag in the shopping cart. “Ready to go?” he asked as if nothing had happened.
“Y-Yeah. Did you, um, find a book?”
“No. They didn’t have any mysteries. Just a bunch of cheap romances with half naked men on the covers. Now I know what to get you for your birthday, though.” He made eye contact with Pascal and gave him a tiny but genuine smile, which, Pascal knew, took a great deal of effort for his uptight brother.
Pascal felt the edges of his eye start to itch. It was a start. Vidcund had yet to acknowledge the green-skinned, black-eyed form Pascal carried, but one step at a time.
It was a start.
Pascal heard a knock at the front door and felt his blood pressure rise even more. Cradling the screaming Tycho in one arm and balancing the phone between his ear and shoulder, he opened the door to see Nervous on the other side. Pascal motioned him inside, still trying to finish his phone conversation and patting Tycho on the back.
“I’m aware of the deadline, sir, but I’m still waiting to hear…no, sir, working at home isn’t a distraction…yes, I’m aware that he’s crying, but it’s just bad timing…”
Pascal felt a tap on his shoulder. Nervous caught his eye and held his hands out for Tycho. Pascal flashed him a grateful smile as he handed his son over, finally grasping the phone with his now free hand and retreating to his bedroom for the remainder of his phone call.
When he hung up, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing himself to calm down. He’d finally managed to convince his supervisor that he would, indeed, finish the lab report on time, but the man had made no secret that Pascal was on thin ice.
Fighting back tears, Pascal returned to the living room. Seconds before he turned the corner, he realized that Tycho had stopped crying and he found Nervous gently bouncing the baby in his arms and entertaining him with a plush grey rhinoceros.
“Look who’s coming,” Nervous said in a high-pitched, playful voice. He moved the stuffed animal up Tycho’s body. “Look who’s coming. It’s Rhino!” He bumped the rhinoceros’ horn against Tycho’s nose, and the baby giggled, reaching his chubby arms out to the toy and Nervous’ face.
Pascal felt warmth spread through his body at the sight of his best friend acting so tenderly toward his child. Nervous chose that moment to look up and spot him, a smile spread across his face.
“You’re good with him,” Pascal said. “Where did the rhinoceros come from?”
“I brought it for him. I thought he’d like it.”
Pascal smiled. “It seems you were right. Thank you.”
“It was nothing,” Nervous said quietly, suddenly shy.
“Time for lunch,” Pascal said, relieving Nervous of his son. “You like your new toy, Tycho?” he asked as he retrieved a bottle from the fridge and warmed it up. “One day you’re going to have to learn to say ‘thank you’ or people will think you’re being rude.” Pascal heard Nervous laugh in the living room. “Do you want anything while I’m in the kitchen?” he asked his friend.
“No, thanks, I already had a bite at home.”
Pascal returned to the room, bottle in hand, and sat down to feed Tycho. “Who were you on the phone with?” Nervous asked, leaning casually against the opposite wall.
“Oh, my supervisor, Jim. He seems to think I have superpowers or something, and that I can just figure out lab results without the data.”
“That’s completely unfair,” Nervous said, frowning.
Pascal shook his head, trying to reign in his frustration. “Yeah, but what can I do? The man’s had it in for me since I got pregnant. I’ve been doing everything possible to prove that I’m good at my job, but it’s never enough.”
Nervous walked over to Pascal’s chair and stood behind him, resting his hands on Pascal’s shoulders and squeezing. “You need a break, Pascal. You’re so tense.” He started to massage his friend’s shoulders.
“I can’t, though,” Pascal replied. “I can’t just walk away from my job, or from being a father.” He looked down at Tycho, who was still drinking greedily from the bottle. “I don’t know how other single parents do it all,” he confessed.
Nervous tightened his grip. “They have friends and family to help them,” he said.
“Yeah, but Lazlo and Vidcund are always working, and Jenny has her own brood to look after, and Chloe and Lola have their own lives, too.”
Nervous paused in his ministrations. “You have me,” he said quietly.
“I…” Pascal trailed off and looked around at Nervous. His friend stood looking tense and unsure. “I know, Nervous, but you’ve got your own things going on, too. Besides, you’re not Tycho’s father.”
Nervous recoiled as if slapped. “Maybe not,” he said tightly, “but I’m here, aren’t I? He’s not.”
Pascal frowned. “In case you didn’t notice, he’s an alien. I can’t just look in the phone book and call him up.”
“You know, it’s not always about what you can do, Pascal,” Nervous retorted, crossing his arms over his chest. “The alien knows what he did to you, knows where you live. If he really did care, he’d be here. Did you ever think of that?”
Pascal stood suddenly, dislodging the bottle from Tycho’s mouth. “Of course he cares. It’s his son! He’ll come back, and then we’ll be a real family.”
“He’s not Poly Tech #9, Pascal! He’s not coming back!” Nervous practically shouted.
Tycho began to whimper, and Pascal glanced at him. Controlling his temper, he said, “Chill out, Nervous. You’re upsetting the baby.”
Nervous snorted. “Yeah, wouldn’t want to upset anyone, would we?” He marched toward the door and opened it roughly.
“Where are you going?” Pascal asked.
“I can tell when I’m not wanted.” Nervous started to slam the door shut behind him but caught himself, instead closing it with deliberate slowness. Pascal stared at it and wondered what on earth had just happened.
“And then he just left.” Pascal sighed heavily, pressing the bottle’s tip to his wrist to check the temperature. Satisfied, he handed it to his sister, who held his whining son.
Jenny accepted it and gently pressed the tip on Tycho’s lips. The baby instantly quieted. “You know, Pascal, for a genius, you really are oblivious.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve been busy searching the stars for the alien, right?”
“And raising his son, yes.”
Jenny studied him. “Are the people here on Earth really so inadequate?”
The question threw Pascal for a loop. Of course everyone was fine. His family had been there for him, even Vidcund, and his friends…
A lightbulb switched on in his head with such clarity he was shocked he’d never seen it before. “Jenny, do you have a few minutes to watch Tycho? I have to do something.”
“Of course.” Her expression seemed to say that she knew exactly what he was going to do. “Take all the time you need.”
He kissed her quickly on the cheek before rushing out the door and heading across the street. He took the steps leading to the Beaker’s front door two at a time, nearly tripping in the process. Knocking on the door, he prayed that Nervous was home to answer.
He was. His eyes widened as he opened the door, but Pascal spoke before Nervous could greet him.
“I’ve been an idiot,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Nervous blinked. “What? You’re one of the smartest people I know.”
“No, I mean…I’m sorry. You were right. I shouldn’t have focused on the alien coming back. I can see now that it was the wrong thing to do. But you were wrong about one thing.”
“I do want you.” Pascal smiled uneasily. “If…if that’s okay.”
For the longest minute of Pascal’s life, Nervous didn’t move. His expression seemed frozen, and his body didn’t so much as twitch. And then he smiled, and Pascal relaxed.
“Of course it’s okay. What are you, stupid?” Nervous teased.
“I think so, a little.” Pascal laughed, and his breath caught as Nervous’ expression turned serious and his hand reached out to caress Pascal’s cheek.
“You know people aren’t going to accept us, right?”
Pascal nodded. “Yeah. I’ve gotten those kinds of reactions already. The people who matter already accept me. Everyone else will just have to deal with it.”
Nervous couldn’t seem to get enough of touching Pascal’s skin. “Are you sure you’re all right with this?” he asked, glancing at the stars. “It’s a big universe. Lots of possibilities.”
Pascal didn’t follow Nervous’ gaze, instead focusing on his face. He smiled. “Yeah. I’m finally all right.”