Chapter 1: Rosco's Records
It was a call that started everything.
Well, in technicality, if you looked back on it, there were a lot of things that ‘started everything’. But it was that specific call that was the most clear cause.
You’d gone to a party that night. Got home around three in the morning, half-drunk and mind-numbingly tired (admittedly, the numbing part was probably just the alcohol). You actually had no idea how you had made it up to your apartment in that state, but somehow you had.
You can imagine exactly how it went down: you manage to get up to your apartment and throw open the door. You don’t bother with the voicemails that you know are waiting for you on the machine, as stated by a glaring red light. You go to your room, stripping along the way and leaving a trail of clothes in your wake. After what feels like an eternity slogging through your apartment in a drunken haze, you collapse onto the bed.
Onto the part you do remember, it was somewhere around four thirty in the morning when your buddy Mack decided to call you, probably to tell you about the tail he got after the party with some drunken babe (you never did ask for the details on the call, and he never left you voicemails). You flailed your hand around in response to the unwelcome noise, probably aiming, stupidly, to knock the phone off the receiver. Whatever your aim, you managed to hit the ‘snooze’ button on your alarm clock.
So, you were late to work.
If it weren’t for your buddy Mack calling about some pointless thing at an ungodly hour, you probably would have died, making it to work on time. And as anyone can guess, that would have sucked. (You didn’t hold it against him).
With the worst hangover in existence and not enough sleep, you dragged yourself out of bed at ten in the morning, knowing you were really fucking lucky that your boss loved you, or he would fire your ass. You threw on a T-shirt (‘FRANKIE SAYS RELAX’), too-faded, too-ripped jeans, a baseball cap over your tussled hair, and you’re out the door, down the stairs and on the Houston sidewalk. You head towards ‘Rosco’s Records’ with an irritated expression on your pierced face. You’d probably whack Mack around a little later for his stupidity in calling your drunken self that early when he knew for a fact you didn’t give a shit.
Of course, you forget all of that when you see it.
It being a giant asteroid that is heading straight for Houston. You suddenly regretted not throwing on the TV that morning and seeing the news reports. Then again, you only ever watched the news if something big was happening in an industry you gave a shit about, which was virtually none. You froze there on the sidewalk across from Rosco’s, staring wide-eyed at the fireball. It was so close now you could feel the heat. Some people ran to safety.
It suddenly hit you, though, that Rosco – your boss, and one man of very few who actually sort of gave a shit about you – was inside. “Rosco!” You yelled uselessly at the building.
It was way too late for that, though, as the meteor – asteroid, meteor, what the hell was the difference? – hit the building and started its destruction. People fled, now screaming, dragging others by the arm if they were feeling especially valiant. Time slowed down and you could see debris breaking off of the building, flying into the air, some flying toward you. Finally, you made a single smart choice and jumped behind a mailbox nearby, pressing your shoulder to the cold metal and closing your eyes as the cataclysm occurred.
In the future, you would convince yourself that you heard Mr. Rosco Farthing scream.
And that was how you got here. After all the destruction, the police and ambulances would be coming. You know that much. You’re still crouched behind the mailbox, but you quickly get to your feet and run towards the site where Rosco’s Records had stood. There’s a crater, but it appears the hulking rock had been the precise size of the record store – the other stores beside it stand unharmed, aside from typical debris destruction. The monumental unlikelihood of that would be later noted by many newscasters on all of those news programs you didn’t watch.
You stare into the rubble for a moment before you jump down into it, feeling a blast of heat like you’d just stepped into a furnace. You can hear sirens in the distance as you walk forward, kicking over rubble with your tennis shoes. You don’t have hope to find Rosco or anything stupid like that (finding him would actually be the worst case scenario, since he’d pretty much just be a fried corpse). You’re just sort of nostalgic, since it could’ve been you. You were saved by a hangover and a stupid phone call, and the meteor claimed a nice guy who didn’t go to parties and do drugs and get piercings. If there was a God, He sure had a weird sense of humor.
But suddenly, above the cutting noise of sirens growing closer, you hear a sound that was completely unmistakeable to the human animal. A baby, wailing.
You run forward with new drive, looking around the rubble, thoughts buzzing around in your still-fuzzy brain. Okay, you thought, someone was in the store. A mom with a newborn or some shit. Parent’s gotta be dead or the kid wouldn’t be wailing. Maybe I’ll be a hero on the news. Whoop-dee-freakin’-do. But the kid deserves to be found.
You jump around the brick piles like some kind of movie star’s stunt double – if this weren’t an actual emergency, you’d probably do some actual flips in case anyone was filming. Finally, right in the center of the destruction site, you see him. Sitting there like a doorstep baby, like he’d been placed there for you to find. You slow to a walk as you head up to the source of the wailing and grab the kid in your arms. You didn’t really know how to hold him – he can’t be older than like, six months.
He stops wailing after a minute, blinking tears out of eyes that are too big for his head, looking up at you. He’s got the brightest red eyes you’ve ever seen in your life. Redder than if he’d been an anime vampire colored by a weeaboo who still had better art skills than you at fourteen.
“Holy shit,” you whisper.
That was when the police (and the cameras) showed up.
Chapter 2: No Broken Laws
In which Bro ponders keeping the baby.
You stare up at the edge of the crater where all the newscasters are standing, being pushed aside by firemen with ladders who just don’t understand how important this story is. You feel small, suddenly – you’re just this nineteen-year-old kid standing there with a baby you just found in a crater, wearing a ‘FRANKIE SAYS RELAX’ T-shirt, staring stupidly with wide brown eyes as dozens of cameras flash and the big TV-style ones are trained directly on you, standing amidst the rubble. You suddenly realize you’re the worst possible person to be called a ‘hero’ on TV like you know they will.
The baby in your arms squirms a little at the flashes, and you snap out of your daze, then fish your shades from your jeans pocket (you didn’t wear them at work because, according to Rosco, it made you look ‘unapproachable to customers’) and place them on his face. They’re way too big for his little head, but he still smiles a little and wraps his little hands around the edges to hold them onto his face.
“Son, are you two okay?”
A firm, large hand snaps you out of that daze, and you look up at a taller man in his thirties, decked in full fireman attire. You provide the man with a nod. “Yeah, I’m – we’re both fine. I came down here to find Rosco. Mr. Farthing. But he’s somewhere… in there, I guess.”
The man gives an understanding nod. Not really a nod, but just the slightest motion of his chin. His coworkers are tirelessly working through the rubble now.
“I’m Randy. Were you inside the store?”
“I’m D.” You shake your head, then after a long moment, you add, “I worked here.”
Randy takes his hand off of your shoulder. You know he’s one of those adults who thinks that everybody who sees something is going to be traumatized by it, even if the person is you, with your eyebrow, nose and lip piercings.
“Well,” he says in his gruff voice, laced with just the slightest Southern accent, “you oughta get up there. I’m sure some people are gonna ask you what you saw, and them doctors are going t’ want t’ check you and your son out. So go ahead.”
This isn’t going according to plan, you realize, as you’re ushered over to a ladder and nearly shoved up it with the baby. You’re supposed to say, ‘hey, I found this baby, I think he’s the only survivor’, then go home and get on with your life. Find a new job, apparently. You’re supposed to hand the baby over to a social service worker and move on.
But as you get up onto the remaining half of the sidewalk and are subsequently stormed by reporters, you can’t really imagine doing that any more. He’s still disoriented, but the baby in your arms is holding your shades onto his face, and the other hand is gripping your T-shirt, and you can’t give him away to the same life you had. You can’t put him in the system, let him be the little boy who gets moved from foster family to foster family.
“Sir, sir, will you please answer a few questions–“
“–I’d really like it if–“
Each reporter is cutting off the next, shoving microphones in your direction. Finally you stop for just a moment, giving them the benefit of a quick moment’s film.
“My name’s D,” you say, looking forward like a good little interviewee, towards the cameras all pointed at you. “This is my brother. I wasn’t in Rosco’s when it happened. We were just walking by, but I was freaked about Mr. Farthing.”
The reporters are shooting questions, but you’re so tired, and your head is killing you, and the baby looks like he’s about to start wailing again. “I just want to go home,” you say, with your best ‘I’m-only-a-kid-and-I-can’t-be-around-all-this-stress’ voice. “No more questions. Please?”
Everyone reluctantly pulls away, making a part in the mob for you to walk through. I’ve become Houston’s Moses, you think with bitter humor, a slight smile. You loosen your grip on the baby because you know he must be uncomfortable with how tight you’d been holding him, stressed at all the reporters and their questions and their flashing cameras.
A paramedic checks you and the baby out. Not a scratch on either of you, really, aside from some dirt. But when you get home, haul him back to your apartment, take him inside, you just want to collapse on the couch. You set the baby down on the cushion next to you on his back and the shades fall off his face, now that he’s lost interest in holding onto them. You check the phone and you’ve missed five calls – three from Mack and two from another friend.
Mack makes it four at that moment and calls, and you pick it up almost instantly.
“Hey,” you say.
“Hey D! It’s about time you answered your phone. Jesus, I’ve called you like, I don’t know–“
“–Five times, counting the four a.m. call.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay, five.” Mack is this kind of neurotic guy, and he talks really fast, without letting you get a word in. “But dude! I saw you on the news. All the news. There were tons of pictures of you jumping around in the rubble, looking for Farthing I guess, and then of you with that baby – the hell’s with the baby, by the way? – and then trying to get through the mob of reporters. Someone’s getting famous. Wait, they’re replaying it – did you just call the kid your brother?”
Finally, Mack drops off, waiting for an actual answer. You’re too exhausted to go into real explanations here. “Yeah. I was trying to get the reporters off my back, and I sure as hell wasn’t gonna put this kid in foster care or whatever. Orphanage.”
“So, what? You’re just gonna raise him? D, I think you’re still drunk.”
“I’m not drunk,” you cut, before he starts ranting more. “Okay, listen to me. I’ve been there and you know it. Don’t get all ‘he deserves a better life’ on me. He’d be miserable and this is all gonna go fine. I’ll just hand him over to someone I know is gonna actually give a kid like him a real life. So fuck off, Mack.”
After a stunned silence, he says, “Whoa man. Didn’t mean to hit a nerve.”
“He just.. I looked for his parents, and there wasn’t anybody in that store. Dead or not. Nobody except Rosco. It’s like he just appeared, fuckin’ riding a meteor like a mighty goddamn stallion.”
You pause, and you can almost see Mack’s bearded mouth opening before you continue, cutting off whatever it was he was going to say.
“It’s like universal balance, like Julie always was talking about. Rosco’s dead, and he was a good guy. Golf shirts and khaki shorts and he cared about us. And I didn’t die even though I could’ve. So I get this kid, and I get to decide whether he becomes the nice guy or tattooed kid. Fair exchange.”
“Don’t see how that’s fair.”
“Listen, I’ve gotta go. I’m fuckin’ wiped. I’ll talk to you later.” You hang up without waiting for his response, just like you always do, and the kid is just staring at you with bright eyes. You exhale and pull him into your arms, then kick your feet up and lay across the couch. You feel him grab fistfuls of your shirt and press his face into it, curling his legs into your chest.
You think it over. Say the kid has parents, and they were just unconscious under some rubble. After they get out of the hospital, they say, ‘oh shit, that’s my kid that that boy is holding on the news’, they come and track you down and take the baby and that’s that. You get a finger wagged at you but it’s not like you really broke any laws. You looked for his parents, didn’t find anyone, figured he needed someone to care about him until someone stepped up. Okay. You can handle that.
And if he doesn’t have parents? your subconscious asks. That makes him an orphan and you’re suddenly responsible for him. You don’t have experience with babies, aside from one foster family having a three-year-old, but that didn’t count considering that family didn’t really trust you as the sole babysitter. But you’ve got friends, you know people who will take care of him, who disapprove as strongly of ‘the system’ as you do. You know the kid will turn out all right.
You hope to hell he’ll turn out all right.
You finally let out a great exhale and your shoulders fall, and you fall asleep like that, with an arm around the baby and him nuzzled against your chest. It’s barely eleven-thirty in the morning and you feel like you’ve had the most tiring day of your life.
Chapter 3: Babies R Us
In which Bro contacts his old friend Roxanne, names his baby, and buys what he'll need.
You wake up to the sound of the baby wailing.
That's what this kid does – he doesn't cry. He wails. You're pretty sure that the moms on TV, when they get offscreen, just tear their hair out or something, because the sound is the worst thing you've ever heard up close. You rub your eyes frantically and sit up, and the sudden movement has his little fists let go of your T-shirt (which also has some baby drool on it).
The wall clock says it's 2 p.m., and you figure that you're probably lucky you got to sleep that long. What do kids want when they're crying? Food, probably. You pick the baby up and rock him in your arms like you've seen patient moms on TV do.
"Shh, shh," you say, standing up and going into the kitchen. Okay, babies. What do babies eat? How old is this kid? You're fucked if he needs a bottle, which you're pretty sure he does. Luckily he quiets down after a little while, when you head to the computer and open up Pesterchum.
You haven't talked to her in ages, but if there's anyone who can help you at this moment, you know precisely who it is.
-- technologicalTroubadour [TT] began pestering tipsyGardener [TG] at 2:12pm. --
TT: i need your help, rox.
TG: Woow! if it isn't supperman
TG: LOL *superman
TT: you know it. bringing justice to dinner meals everywhere.
TG: So what's up dinnerdude?
TG: must b pretty important if ur messaging me
TT: rox, i know it's been almost two years since we last really talked but i really do need your help.
TT: you know that baby i had on the news? don't pretend you didn't watch, because i know you watched it because of the 'meteor studies' or whatever.
TG: Yeah I saw it
TG: Don't tell me u knocked some gurl up di
TG: I know u wouldnt let this fly
TT: you're right, i wouldn't.
TT: i found him, just like you did.
TG: OMG. r u serious?
TG: Moer meteor babbies?
TT: yeah. stork is twisted.
TT: anyway, i need help. i dunno what this kid eats or anything. he only just barely shut up but he's been crying.
TG: You gotta feed him dirk
TG: Do u have a botetl?
TT: nailed it.
TT: ok, but there's a problem.
TT: it's not like i'm keeping the baby or anything. i'm gonna give him up to one of julie's friends or something. you know, someone who'll take care of him.
TG: You're not gonna keep him? ;(
TT: rox, i'm fuckin' nineteen. i go out to parties, have sex with other deadbeats with nice bodies, get drunk.
TG: I take offence to that
TT: don't even start.
TG: I think you'd make a good daddy tho
TG: wonk ;)
TG: Bsides, ur always so worried about whos gunna raise kids right, not like u were raised by puppets basically or w/e
TG: whos better to raise him then u?
TG: If I can do it then so can u, dirk
TG: What're u gonna name him anyway?
TT: i was thinking about that.
TT: i'm naming him dave.
TG: C? Ur not gonna give this kid up, di, i kno you're not
TT: damn it, rox, you know me too fucking well.
TT: this would happen. two too-young people who have absolutely no business raising anybody, stuck with babies falling from the sky.
TT: anyway, i'm gonna go get the kid a bottle and shit.
TG: Ok dirk
TG: Thanx for asking me though, ive rly missed u :3
TT: i missed you too.
TG: Now go feed ur baby, ok? you should talk 2 james when u get home. He's a good daddy w/ his meteor babby
TG: TTYL! kisses xoxox
TT: talk to you later.
-- technologicalTroubadour [TG] ceased pestering tipsyGardener [TG] at 2:33pm. --
You stand up again from your computer after you've closed the window (and done some extensive googling of what the hell babies eat at around 4-6 months old). Dave's been quiet, mostly, curious about the bright monitor screen in front of both of you. You like that – the name. Dave. It seems just right for this curious baby with his intense red eyes.
"Guess where we're heading, kiddo," you say to him, and he opens his mouth and answers with a sort of 'thh?' ticking sound. He's adorable, you can't help but think. "Babies R Us. That's right – diapers and rattles galore. All the babes are gonna be there. Literally."
You grab your shades off the couch and put them over your brown eyes, still in your ironic T-shirt, and mostly looking like any other guy going on with his regular and boring life, though it's hitting you that your life is going to be going through some changes.
You step out into the hot, Texas April afternoon and head down to the parking lot where your car is. Things start going a lot faster. Get in, drive, find a parking spot somewhere near the store, get stared at by some old ladies who are clearly judging your septum piercing. Dave's got this laser stare going on the whole time, like he can absorb the views directly into his brain if he keeps his eyes focused hard enough. You walk the short distance from the lot to the big, brown brick building with its colorful sign reading 'Babies R Us'. You're pretty sure that's breaking some laws, ripping off Toys R Us like that, but it doesn't really matter to you.
You walk under the shade as much as you can, because it's hot as hell and you're pretty sure a baby with a sunburn isn't very bueno. Plus, he's got this sort of pale skin and white-blonde hair, and a sunburn would probably turn him into Dave the Lobster Baby (which is a significant step down, though only one letter away, from Dave the Mobster Baby). Finally, you get into the air conditioned store and grab a cart, setting him in the front little seat-thing.
"Okay," you say with a relieved sigh, "let's get this show on the road."
You wheel the cart forward and ponder where to go first. There are hanging signs telling you what items are on what aisles, but you realize you have literally nothing to care for a baby. Hell, barely enough food for yourself (which didn't matter, since you were normally out of the house). Luckily, you snag a free 'Parenting US' magazine from a rack, checking out what it says – things you need, things you should do. You can definitely handle this.
First things first, you load up on toys. Dave sort of looks around at all the bright colors and whatnot while you wheel through the aisle, tossing rattles, soft plastic popsicles and keys, blocks, and etcetera. You even throw in a toy octopus. In terms of bigger toys (though you find out that he can't really get to use those yet), you see a set of plastic turntables with a fake sound system with big plastic buttons, and you can't stop yourself from buying them.
Then there are the essentials. One of those baby backpack things, bottles, stuff for babyproofing your apartment. Everything about this makes you wonder if you're making the right decision; you don't know how half of this stuff even works. But Dave is sitting there in the cart holding a stuffed rabbit he snagged off a shelf of stuffed animals, tugging at the ears and making baby noises, and you know that Roxanne is right – there's no way you can part with him. The decision was made for you, basically.
When you go to check out, you had to recruit one of those guys who can't be older than you and wears the vests to push a second cart, just so you could get everything you needed. Baby clothes and a car seat. Everything.
There's a middle-aged woman working checkout station 7 whose name tag says 'Margaret' and whose smile says she's raised probably five kids and some grandkids and nothing you could do could ever wear at her infinite patience, and she makes small talk with you while she rings up all of the items and the cart boy (probably a year older than you, actually) loads the baskets.
"You must be a new dad, with all this," Margaret says.
"Oh, uh, yeah. Brand new."
"What's the little guy's name?" She asks you, and you look down at the baby, who's holding onto his feet like they're toys all their own. She looks, too. "Oh, my – what... those eyes."
"He's Dave," you answer, helping the cart boy load the bags. You don't acknowledge her comment about his eyes.
"Little miracle," she says in that way that all these old Christian women in Texas do.
You laugh slightly, thinking about the fact that you found him in the rubble of a meteor with no parents to speak of. "Yeah," you agree. "You could say that."
"You may be iffy now," Margaret says, with the wisdom of someone who's probably dealt with way more 'new fathers' than just you, "but you're gonna fall in love with him just as much as your lady. Believe you me." Her eyes crinkle when she laughs and rings you up.
You pull out your wallet, assess how much dubiously attained money you've got. You have more than enough, luckily, but it'll still have you drained for a while. And you've still got to find a new job. But … well, you guess it can't be helped. You hand over the cash for everything. It's fast again. Go to your car, unload, get the car seat set up, strap him in, get in, drive home, park, get up to your building, take several trips to get everything inside, all with the hot sun beating down on you.
You never expected to be a dad. And now?
This was actually a ton of fucking work, and you'd been a dad for a whole six hours.
Chapter 4: Parenting is Hard
And no one understands.
Three days later. Changing diapers is amongst the worst experiences you’ve ever had, and Dave is asleep on some stuffed animals on the floor after having his bottle, so you hop on Pesterchum, playing some music for the both of you. You get about a thousand offline messages: Mack talking your head off, Julie spouting her typical ‘we should talk more’ crap, Rox asking about Dave, a few other things. But none of them happen to be online at the moment, and anyway, you’re a man with a plan.
-- technologicalTroubadour [TT] began pestering fedoraFanatic [FF] at 4:53pm. --
FF: DIRK? IT’S BEEN AGES.
TT: in the metaphysical flesh. lay off the caps lock, dude.
FF: Sorry. It’s become a habit.
TT: no problemo. has lalonde messaged you yet?
FF: Yes, she IM’d me just recently, asking how John was doing.
TT: is that his name?
FF: My son? Yes.
TT: so she didn’t tell you about me, i guess.
TT: i found a baby in a meteor.
FF: I thought I recognized that boy on the news. It was you, after all.
TT: haha, i guess i made national news, didn’t i?
FF: They won’t stop talking about ‘the meteor phenomenon’. They’ve got Roxanne working tirelessly on it.
FF: So, what have you named your son?
TT: … right, my son. his name is dave.
FF: You seem hesitant.
TT: i dunno if i wanna be a dad, you know? i’m not even old enough to drink.
FF: That’s true. You’re the youngest of us, aren’t you?
FF: You know: all of us. Me, Roxanne, Jacob and yourself.
FF: The gang, as one might put it.
TT: gang of losers who met over the internet? yeah, sure.
FF: Excuse you.
TT: but, no, you’re right.
TT: anyway, i just… wanted to ask you about some stuff. you know, get your help with this whole parenting thing.
James and you talk. He's a lot of help (telling you how you need to get a crib, make the extra room his nursery and such -- you figured you couldn't just have him sleep in your bed every night, anyway). He, Roxanne, yourself and Jacob have been friends for a while now. James and Rox are only a little older than you – 25 and 21, respectively – though Jacob is senior to all of you. Now, three of you have children thanks to the so-called ‘meteor phenomenon’. None of you have talked to Jake in a long while. Not such a big deal; you only really knew him because he was James’s uncle.
Anyway, he gives you some advice. Makes the usual suggestion of you coming to visit or something of the like. ‘Maybe our sons can be friends’ makes your stomach turn. You’re still not used to the entire idea. But you know you can bear it.
After a little while you hop offline and flop onto the floor next to Dave, who is playing with his bright plastic keys. Even if you were still doubtful about this little guy coming in and suddenly being your little life-sucking responsibility, there was a certainty: he made you smile. The way he made his unintelligible sounds, the way he threw his shirt to the ground, the way he tried to say ‘irony’ even though there was no feasible way he could possibly grasp what that meant or why he should say it.
You love him. You can’t help but love him.
“Davey, check it out,” you say, a grin gracing your face as you get the baby’s attention. “Lookit – I made you your very own shades.” You pull out from your back jeans pocket a pair of smaller, baby-fitting shades, in the same pointed anime style as the ones you always wear. You start to place them on his face and he takes them in both of his hands, putting them on by himself. “Now, ain’t no one gonna comment on those eyes of yours.”
“Da!” He declares, throwing up his hands as he manages to get them on, looking up at you for approval. “Da, dada,” he continues.
You keep your smile and give an approving nod. “Just like ‘dada’,” you respond, poking his nose. You see him go cross-eyed through the glasses and you laugh, tickle his sides. He bursts into giggles and tries to tug your hands away.
“Can you say ‘bro’?” You ask him, suddenly getting an idea.
“Buh?” He blinks at you.
“Bro – that’s me.” You point at your chest. “Bro.” That feels better. Being brother. The big brother.
You’re having an argument with a baby. Where is your life going?
“Br?” He looks like he just had an epiphany. “Bro, bro, bro.”
Parenting US says not to get too excited when they start saying words like that around this age, because they probably don’t associate it with you just yet. But your heart skips with that new-parent excitement of your first kid saying his first coherent word, and you ruffle his blonde hair. “That’s it, little dude. A+.”
Dave sort of rolls so he’s on his stomach and can keep playing with his toys, and you run a hand through your hair – at the moment, you don’t have a cap on (which you have an extensive collection of).
Okay. You need a job, so you’d start looking at that. But a job means you’re going to need someone to look after the kid. The phone ringing cuts off your train of thought and you get up, going and picking up the receiver.
“Yo, Strider residence.”
“Oho, so you’re a residence now?” Your friend Jay laughs at you. More an acquaintance than a friend, but in terms of actual ‘friends’ you don’t have a whole lot. And he certainly considers himself your friend.
“Now that there’s more than one person here, yeah.”
He pauses. “Yeah? More than one person?”
“Me and the little dude.” You pause. “My, uh, son.” You really need to think up a story about how you got this kid, aside from ‘I found him’.
“Son? Holy shit. You knocked some girl up?”
“Guess so, or I wouldn’t have the kid,” you answer, eyebrow quirking.
He pauses. “Well, damn. I guess you’re not gonna be partying much now, are ya?”
“Well, I was just calling to give ya an invite. Buddy’s deejaying and shit, totally your kinda par-tay.”
“Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, Jay.”
Why didn’t more guys understand parenthood? You’d kill right about now for someone who you knew could babysit and wanted to hear all about how Dave crapped in his diaper and stunk up your apartment yesterday (not that you really wanted to talk about that literal shit, but still).
Around then, Dave starts crying, and it’s loud enough for Jay to hear on the other end. “Shit, kid’s got a pair of lungs, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, he does. I’m gonna go. Sorry I can’t make the party or whatever. Tell the chicks I said ‘bonjour’. You know they dig foreign guys.”
Jay gives a laugh. “Sure thing, man. See ya.”
You hang up.
You’d kill for someone to have any idea what you were going through right about now.
Chapter 5: Making the Change
Bro gets some help from Rox and learns a few lessons about being a new parent.
In the two weeks of having Dave, you’d learned a few very important lessons.
First was that he hated being left alone. If you left the room, he’d roll (yes, roll; he hadn’t quite learned to walk or crawl after you yet) and try to find you. Even if you just left for a few minutes – he didn’t like being away from you at all. That wasn’t hugely normal behavior for a baby, but okay, he was a little clingy. No big deal.
It was still freaky the first time he’d started following you. You’d seen him rolling around in his gym, or on the floor sometimes, but not leaving the room. It freaked you a little bit – he just stared wide-eyed as he rolled out of the room. You looked back and he stopped, looking at you, gauging your expression.
“My kid’s haunted,” you said to the phone, holding Dave in your arms in his favorite white shirt with the big red heart on it. James and Rox were on the line. “He doesn’t move right.”
“What on God’s green earth are you talking about, Dirk?” James asked. You could hear him talking around something, but he took it out.
“He doesn’t crawl. He like, rolls. Y’know – full-body rolling, read: done generally down hills when you’re five? And he just stares the whole time.”
You hear Rox laughing at you and you make a face. Dave is doing a little bit of babbling, curious about the noise from the phone and who you’re talking to since you’re not looking at him.
“I think I broke him,” you add.
“Now, Dirk, don’t think that,” James starts with his typical ‘I-am-an-experienced-father-now-and-I-know-what-I’m-talking-about’ voice. “It’s simple. When a baby is around four or five months old, he–“
“You broke him,” Rox interjects. “Completely broken. You’re gonna have to trash him.”
You roll your eyes and smile.
“Anyway, it’s common for a baby not to have the strength to crawl yet, so they roll to get around instead. He’ll start crawling soon.”
“You’re such a buzzkill sometimes, James. It’s lucky you’re so cute.”
Before the two can go into some kind of long-distance mush, you quickly thank them and hang up.
The second thing you learned was that babies, contrary to popular belief, did not attract women. It pretty much was a screaming alert that you were not on the market, and if you were, they’d have to deal with the baby. Sure, Dave was adorably cute and everyone you talked to while wearing the baby backpack cooed at him and waved and smiled, but you were still untouchable.
Which wasn’t a big deal in particular, aside from the fact that a girlfriend who was willing to babysit and help out would be awesome. But that was way too idealistic. You hardly needed a woman around to begin with, and you could be a hard guy to like – you’ve got a lot of good qualities, including quite a bit of strength, a fairly attractive face, a masculine voice, a fantastic sense of humor, good taste. But your bad qualities pile up, too. Your flashstepping had become a habit – you move inhumanly fast to get where you’re going, because there was no time to waste going slow. You’re cynical. You’re obsessive. You have a thing for puppets. You’re crude. There were any number of reasons why people wouldn’t go for a guy like you.
So, putting a baby on top of all of it didn’t help you in your romantic life at all.
The third thing you learned was that when you didn’t have Dave sleeping in the same room as you, he didn’t sleep even close to as well. In his crib, he would start crying in the middle of the night and you’d haul your half-asleep self into the room. It became a routine. Pick the kid up, shush him, hold him, sing to him, set him back down. A few hours later, the same thing happened again. You hadn’t gotten a single full night of sleep since.
And the last, and probably most important, thing you’d learned was that you had to toughen up. Since you’d been on your own, you hadn’t really known yourself. Sort of a hipster, sort of an asshole. But you emoted too much. You wanted to be tougher, less sensitive and idealistic.
You knew that you had to be when you got a letter fom Rox. You’d gone out to get the mail, and Dave was still asleep, so you figured you had a few more hours before he woke up and made the decision to be a menace. You got the mail stack – bills, junk. And then a pink envelope that you knew was part of Roxanne Lalonde’s personal stationary. Hell, she’d probably perfume it if she thought about it.
As you go up the stairs to your apartment, you slide your finger under the flap and rip open the envelope. The envelope is heavy, and once you’ve gotten it open, you realize exactly why. Actually, you’re so shocked that you drop your keys, and then you pause before picking them back up.
Money. Quite a few bills. Was that – you pull out the bills. Two thousand dollars.
You headed inside, still in a state of shock, and counted again. Two thousand. Then you pulled out the letter, and there was that familiar stationary, with the pink border and the little mutant cat in the cutesy style running toward the bottom left corner. Her handwriting was cursive and neat, and void of mistakes. She must have been sober when she wrote it.
I know you haven’t gotten a job quite yet. At the risk of sounding sappy or cliché, ‘times are hard’. ;3 I thought you could use a little bit of help, and I currently am at liberty to provide that. I sent 2k which should help you out. Before you pick up the phone and tell me I’m insane, consider it a payment: one of the things I’m supposed to be doing for SN is to research the meteors and the babies, too. So, you can consider yourself my assistant and tell me if there’s anything unusual or unique about the baby, aside from the eyes. I’ve got reason to believe (and keep this on the DL) that these babies have been genetically modified in unique ways for some particular purpose.
Relatedly, I also hate to inform you that Jake Harley is dead now. After not hearing from him, some SN employees traveled to his private island and found it deserted aside from the typical wildlife, and while on the way out stumbled upon his corpse. There won’t be a funeral, I’ve heard, and they’re putting me with the higher-ups at SN, as head of the research department.
Anyway, I hope you can find out something good!
XOXO, Roxy Lalonde.
P.S., I’m going to be in Houston soon. James will be coming too. We have a lot of things to talk about, all of us!’
You stared at the money, reread the letter. Debated sending it back. You don’t accept charity, normally. You can’t really believe that you’d come abruptly back into her life and she’d done a big favor for you like this, been so supportive.
You were stupid, though, to go to mush like this.
You made the decision around then. Working out, changing up. Being a good brother-slash-father, who was someone Dave could look up to. You took out your facial piercings that same day, looking in the mirror at the little holes in the flesh. You decided you wouldn’t put them back in.
It was time you started changing, after all.
Chapter 6: Skaianet's Latest
In which Bro, Rox and James discuss SkaiaNet, babies, and flashstepping.
“Little bro – okay, where the heck do you think you’re going?”
“’Chzen,” you hear him answer.
You flashstep in front of the crawling baby. You hardly walked regularly anymore, and Dave thought it was hilarious, anyway. A big guessing game: where will Bro appear next? Will he appear wearing a different shirt, will he appear with Lil’ Cal and start rapping?
Dave stares up at you and makes a little motion. You two had developed a type of sign language. Pointing at his mouth (like he was now) meant he wanted to drink, so you flashstep away, get the bottle, reappear and toss it in front of him. He’s a baby and his reflexes aren’t sharp, but stuff like this, you’ve learned, has helped him be more coordinated for his age. He reaches out for the bottle, which landed in front of him, and picks it up with both hands.
It’s been a few months. The boy’s first birthday is coming up, and your twentieth birthday has come and gone. Houston’s cooling off, too. Things are going well. And, though it took several months, James and Rox will be over sooner rather than later.
You’d clean up your apartment, but it’s become sort of a symbol of a different lifestyle. Baby things are strewn about, but most of Dave’s toys now are ones you made yourself, exercising your sewing ability and creativity. You made a series of hand puppets before designing a certain sort of puppet that you liked best – you haven’t named them just yet, but they have big, plush rumps and big noses, sometimes with shocks of hair.
You’re a doting dad as much as James with his little boy John, but you parent in your own fashion now. Take less advice, need less advice. You’ve settled right into the routine of this. You exaggerate your emotions so Dave will learn them, but as he grows you encourage his independence more than most parents.
Still, after getting home from work and reclaiming Dave from the babysitter (who just doesn’t understand your puppet penchant, or the meaning of ‘don’t bother cleaning up’), you have your moments of grabbing him up, flashstepping around, going to the roof and tossing him up and catching him and calling him Superman.
Dave’s vocabulary has increased, too – he can sort-of-walk and kind-of-talk, though does neither too effectively, and his favorite words are ‘iohnee’ (irony), ‘dada’ (that’s you), ‘bro’ (that’s you, too), and ‘mine’. Mostly, though, he shakes his head and makes unintelligible noises and clings to your shirts (T-shirts and polos are your usual), but doesn’t talk too much. You have a feeling, though, that he’s generally listening.
The past few months of your life have been filled with long nights, and long days, too. Taken on a sort of rhythm – you go to work, Sandra (the babysitter) comes at about the same time, you get home, you read to Dave, rap to him, maybe talk to someone online, go to sleep, get up in the middle of the night and lull him back to sleep.
Today, though, a knock on the door is a break in routine. You make a one-minute motion to Dave and flashstep to the door, opening it. Two adults, holding babies. James with John, Rox with Rose. You motion them in, pulling down the brim of your hat in a gesture of mock courtesy that makes James frown slightly. He had never been the most approving of you in general, and it probably was true that he wouldn’t like your new ‘emotions-should-be-destroyed’ policy.
You haven’t seen either of them in ages and that makes you look them over as they head to the living room. Rox, with her flippy blonde hair and lab coat, looks more mature than you’d ever seen her looking – but then, the last time you had seen her in person, she had been teetering on the edge of teenager and twenty-year-old. James has his black hair tucked under a hat, shirt tucked into his jeans, and apparently has taken up smoking, if the lighter in his shirt pocket is any indication. They’re not the people you used to know, and that figures.
You grab Dave and in a flash join the two in the living room, sitting on the floor with Dave in your lap, shades and bottle and all. James blinks in surprise, son on his lap but staring with the brightest, most curious eyes – like Dave’s, just the same, but in a vivid blue.
“I see you’ve taken up flashstepping again.”
“I see you’ve taken up smoking,” you quip, making an easy motion to his shirt pocket.
Rox kneels near you and sets Rose down. “This is Dave,” she says, motioning to the baby on your lap, “and this is Uncle Dirk.” Your lip twitches at that comment whereas it had been plastered into an almost invisible, permanent sarcastic smirk.
“Heya Rose. Boy, aren’t you gonna grow up to be a maneater?” You say to the little girl. “Say hi, Dave.”
“No,” Dave answers, shifting closer to you. You roll your eyes, and suddenly the other baby is pulling at his ear like a displeased mother. You laugh as Dave lets out a cry of protest.
“Come introduce John,” Roxy says, motioning James from the armchair. He gets down on the floor, too, sitting cross-legged near you. There’s something awkward about the way you two are sitting, like you two are competitors forced to be nice to one another, even though you know you’re friends, at least in some manner.
Dave swats at Rose and she makes some noise, almost like she’s exasperated. John makes a ginger motion forward towards the others, and gives a wave. “Jah,” he says, and you can only think he’s trying to introduce himself.
“This isn’t what you two came to do – have a playdate, I mean,” you say.
“You’re right,” James agrees.
You hand over some blocks, keys, the usual toys that you can’t go wrong with. Plus Dave’s ‘lovely’ – his stuffed rabbit that he would never go without. When the babies are sufficiently distracted, you make a wide motion towards Roxanne, who now sits with her knees up, hugging a pillow, like she’s thirteen.
“I’ve been working variously on things for SkaiaNet – as head of the Research Department and a premier astrologist, my fingers are getting worn to the bone!” She gives a ceremonial laugh, like she’s giving a speech and wants everyone to believe she’s not nervous. “I still don’t know, though, what exactly the company is planning. They’ve mostly dismissed the ‘meteor phenomenon’ and, evidently, I can proceed with my research on the kids at my leisure, as a side project. But … I don’t know why.”
James smokes a pipe. It makes him look older than he is. You lean your elbow on your knee and watch Rox talk with intent focus.
“A lot of SkaiaNet’s assets are going toward the Development Department now. They’re working on something big and have asked me to participate.” She gets a sort of nervous look about her. When she’s drunk off her ass she doesn’t show so many emotions, but this is the sort of Roxanne that’s under the surface of all of that. “It’s … a videogame.”
The older man just makes a strange sort of face, but you laugh. A strange sort of thing. “Like Pac-Man or something?”
“No. It’s something big. It’ll be in development for years,” she says simply. “Nothing is decided on. Not even the plot, or what kind of game it’ll be. Just that it’s going to revolutionize the industry. I don’t really know what SkaiaNet is up to, actually.”
“You make it sound as if they’ve got some sort of agenda,” James comments, with a slight affectionate smile.
“I must sound veeery conspiratorial,” she agrees with a similar smile, “but it’s interesting. I never did understand a lot of old Jake’s motives, but apparently this project will be the pinnacle of the company’s accomplishments.”
“I think they’ve got their heads in the clouds,” you say with a roll of the eyes behind your shades. “What’s the name of this wonder-game anyway?”
There’s a pause.
“You wanna know what I reaaaally think about this project?” She starts, and before giving either of you a chance to answer, she continues, “I think that it was something that ol’ Jakey-boy didn’t wanna do, so the company starts it up after he dies. Something like that!”
“You know what I think?” You start. “I think you’re a little crazy, Rox.” You smile a little bit at her.
You think you can guess what it was that’s between you and James, now. The tense feeling of two men who have, at one point (or now, in James’s case, you’re willing to bet), been interested in the girl who has you sitting knee-to-knee.
Of course, that was a lifetime ago.
You’re lucky that, around that time, Dave starts tugging on your shirt, making his motion for food. James moves to check on John. Roxanne looks over Rose, but the baby girl is peacefully flipping pages of a picture book.
“I think I need to change John,” James – Mr. Egbert? – says simply, with the calm composure of a classic ‘good father’. “Where do you change Dave?”
“Kitchen table,” you answer, pointing with a motion of your chin.
James makes a face, and Rox laughs behind her hand.
“What? It’s not like I’ve got enough room for a bunch of shit like changing tables,” you say, leaning back on one hand before scooping up Dave and flashstepping to the kitchen.
James looks behind himself where you’re suddenly standing with a look of surprise. “Would it kill you to walk normally?”
“Maybe,” you answer, and the baby in your arms blows a raspberry at the other man. You laugh and stick him in the high chair with some cut-up hot dog pieces and apple sauce with a little spoon. The lame, processed pseudo-meat is Dave’s favorite snack, and then you go and get baby powder and a sheet to spread for James to change John.
Placing them on the table, you notice Rox coming into the kitchen.
“What if,” she starts, holding Rose on her hip, “our babies grow up and fall in love, Dirk? And then they get married and have grandbabies, and we become a big happy family.”
You quirk an eyebrow at her. “I don’t know about you, but I’m raising Dave to fight crime with puppets and katanas.”
“Yes, and I’m raising John to carry joy-buzzers on his person at all times, and I intend to have him develop laser vision.”
You grin at James and the two of you exchange a secret low-five. Rox quirks her own eyebrow at either of you. “Well, Rosie’s gonna be the private investigator who arrests both of you for bad parenting.”
All three of you share a laugh.
“Bo?” Dave says, and you look back at him. He’s got apple sauce all over his face. “Okay,” you say to him, “how much of that actually got in your mouth?”
All of you laugh again, and you wipe the apple sauce from his face and shades, then place the shades back over his eyes. “There ya go, little monster. Feel free to continue eating your pork mixture dipped in apple guts.”
“There’s hope for him yet,” you hear James say to Rox.
Chapter 7: Angels
“Hey, check out the babe in the Hello Kitty onesie,” you say, motioning with one finger towards a woman with long brunette hair sitting on a bench with her baby a little in front of you on the bike path.
“Ay bay,” Dave answers. “You’re a regular Fonz in training, Dave.” You grin and pedal past, letting out a catcall as you do. You don’t get to see the look on her face, or know if she realized it was you, but it was still worth it.
At this point in your life, you’d found some form of security. You were doing minor odd jobs to help make ends meet as you started really doing what you loved; making puppets. Of course, you’d always loved voicing your puppets, but where would you go as a ventriloquist? When you were younger you’d been bestowed with your most beloved possession, Lil Cal (a one-of-a-kind, handmade puppet, originally named ‘Calvin’ by his creator), and taught to sew. Puppets offered a companionship you’d never really had and couldn’t ever explain, and though you’d mostly kept this talent and love in secret, you were a master puppetmaker.
It didn’t take too much effort to have started selling your puppets online for excellent prices. You could craft Reborns or ventriloquist dolls or puppets of any design. Though you’ve only just recently started, you’re making enough money now to support yourself and Dave, who is just past the age where you can stop counting in months. He talks now, though mostly in wonderful phrases like “hungry” or “Cal!”.
There was a huge benefit in working at home (aside from the difficulty of keeping needles and thread away from the kid), since you could actually be around. You never took yourself for much of a parental type, but it had turned out that you were, more or less. Mostly, you just didn’t want him to be a fuck up. You want him to turn out okay, to be happy. And regardless of the sneers from happily married young mothers gave you on the bus, you’re doing a damn good job.
And Dave seems happy.
“Cal!” Dave exclaims as you let him totter inside while you turn on the light. You’d flashstepped in front, holding Cal in front of him. “Hey buddy!” You voice, moving Cal’s jaw. “Hoo hoo, hee hee!” You wrap Cal’s thin blue arms around Dave’s little form and the kid hugs him back with a giggle.
Time marches on at a pace you almost can’t keep up with. Dave is this little weed, growing fast and keeping up with you better every passing day. You don’t talk to your friends any more. You guess that’s because you or they or someone realized you had nothing in common anymore, or maybe you never really did in the first place. Not Mack, not Julie, not Jay. You keep to yourself mostly, now, occasionally checking in with Lalonde and Egbert.
You look over at Dave to make sure he hasn’t gotten into anything, and he’s just sitting there on the floor with Cal, shaking his hand like they’ve just met. The kid looks up and meets your eyes behind his shades, then waves his own hand and Cal’s at you. You make a two-fingered salute and go back to sewing.
Some days Dave pats your hair and notes how spikey it is. He’s a real observationalist. Sometimes he grabs your things and declares “mine”. Most of the time he clings to your leg, your shirt, anything. He’s clingy.
But he’s normal.
After a long moment of thought, you set down the needle and thread, sticking the end in the puppet of your own design (you call them smuppets, and probably shouldn’t elaborate on what they were designed for), and pick up a piece of paper and pen. Admittedly, you have to look around for a good seven minutes before you actually find a pen.
i don’t have anything ‘unusual’ to report about dave. he’s mostly a normal kid. clingy and cute, i guess. but that’s not what i’m writing about. i keep having these dreams about him. i’d dismiss it as me being a whackjob but i figured you might as well know, if you’re not too busy macking on your egbertian boytoy or ‘doing science’ (whatever the hell that entails).
in my dreams, dave’s pretty much grown. he’s a teenager. sometimes there’s a lot of him and sometimes he’s with others and sometimes he’s all alone in this hot place. i dunno where it is or what it is. it’s just hot and metallic. i’m normally not there, just looking down at him. most of the time he’s talking on some kind of thing – i think it’s a cell phone. and then he’s dead. a sliced neck, ten or twenty bullet wounds.
and sometimes he moves unnaturally. fast and quick and through the sky, like an angel. i think he has wings, sometimes. i’m always there when he does. just before i wake up he’s leaning over me. dunno if it’s the product of a troubled conscience or whatever but i thought you oughta have the input, whatever you may do with it.
You look down at Dave again as you finish your letter, then slip off the couch so you can sit next to him. You pull Cal onto your lap and the kid looks up at you with wide red eyes.
“Hey kid,” you greet him, mussing his blonde hair. He makes a protesting noise and grabs your wrist with both of his hands to pull your hand off of his head. “How about you and me make a deal?”
He makes an affirmative, if questioning, noise, so you go on. You poke him on the nose; he goes crosseyed. “How about you never grow up? Stay little and cute forever. I can do without the crying, though.”
Dave just looks at you, confused. He’s got no idea what you just said, but hey, you tried. You give him a little smile and pull him onto your lap with Cal, then lay back and lift him in both of your hands.
“Superman!” You tell him. “The city needs you!” You feel his weight in your hands and know you can support him, and so you move him around like he’s flying. At first his little eyes bug in fear before he starts smiling and both of you are making ‘whoosh’ noises, his wet and more like blowing raspberries than anything.
“Never fear,” you tell him, “your sidekick Cal is here to help!” With Lil Cal carefully balanced on your knee, you bring it up next to where you’re holding Dave and the boy breaks into giggles, reaching out to hold Cal’s hand.
Moments like this, you feel like a real family. You can’t imagine it being any other way. You can’t imagine life without your little brother. But with the light against his back, feathering his silhouette, you can see him as vividly as you do in your dreams. You can see him like he has wings. Leaned over you, staring wide-eyed through lenses.
“I love you, little buddy,” you tell him.
“Love yoo!” He answers.