It was later than Johnny usually got to sleep in. The clock on his wall said it was half past nine, and Johnny was really only dozing when the door opened.
“Hey, buddy,” Karamo said as he took a seat in the chair at Johnny’s desk. “Good morning. How’d you sleep?”
“Good,” Johnny said as he sat up.
“Good,” Karamo said, smiling. He didn’t look like he’d gotten much sleep himself. It was nearly ten o’clock, and he was still wearing gym shorts and a sweatshirt. “Hey, remember how Antoni didn’t feel good last night?”
“Uh-huh,” Johnny said. “He had to go to bed early, and he couldn’t play with me.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Karamo said. “He still feels pretty bad, so I don’t think he’s going to be able to play much today either.”
“Oh,” Johnny said. “Can I see him?”
“Yeah, of course,” Karamo said. “But we need to be really quiet, okay? Papa’s trying to get him back to sleep.”
“Okay,” Johnny agreed, climbing out of bed. He followed Karamo out of the bedroom, and the older man led him to Tan’s room, not Antoni’s.
“Daddy, this is Papa’s room,” Johnny said. “I want Antoni.”
“This is where Antoni is, buddy,” Karamo said. “Papa and I had him in here last night so we’d all fit.”
Jonathan frowned. “You had a sleepover without me?”
“Not a fun sleepover,” Karamo said. “Antoni got sick a lot, and nobody got very much sleep. We just needed to be in the same room to take care of him.”
“Oh,” Johnny said, wrinkling his nose at the mention of Antoni throwing up. “Let’s go in now.”
“Okay,” Karamo said. “Remember to be quiet, alright?”
Johnny nodded, and Karamo eased the door open. It creaked a little, but Tan and Antoni didn’t stir on the bed. Antoni was tucked under Tan’s chin, face pressed against Tan’s sleep shirt. There were red, fever-flushed circles on his cheeks, and his hair was sweaty and untidy. Johnny looked up at Karamo, who pressed a finger against his own lips as a reminder.
“The baby’s sick, Daddy,” Johnny whispered once the door was closed again.
“The baby is sick,” Karamo agreed. “He’ll be okay, though. Let’s go fix you some breakfast.”
“Okay,” Johnny said. “I want Eggos.”
“That sounds good to me,” Karamo said as they went down the stairs. “With peanut butter or syrup?”
“Both,” Johnny answered without hesitating.
“Then we better get started.”
They were only halfway through breakfast though when the baby monitor on the kitchen counter began to make noise. Tan’s low murmurs were unintelligible, but Antoni’s crying was easily deciphered. Karamo glanced at the monitor, then back at Johnny.
“Are you okay on your own for a little bit while I go help?” he asked.
Johnny wanted to say no, that he needed Daddy to chop up more fruit for him, but he nodded anyways. Karamo wiped his hands on a dish towel and kissed the top of Johnny’s head as he headed back for the staircase.
When neither Daddy nor Papa had come downstairs by the time he finished breakfast, Johnny wandered into the living room to watch TV. It was still on the DVD they’d watched last night, and it took him a while to figure out how to switch the TV back to Netflix. Usually, he wasn’t supposed to watch TV before he got dressed, but he also wasn’t really supposed to sleep this late or leave his plate on the counter.
He was on his third episode when Karamo, Tan, and Antoni came downstairs. Rather than tell him to turn it off, they put Antoni—red-cheeked and sleepy-eyed—on the opposite end of the couch and went to the kitchen.
“Sorry that took so long, Johnny,” Karamo said. “Antoni got sick, and he needed a bath.”
“It’s okay,” Johnny said. He’d been bothered, but his baby brother really didn’t look too good. Antoni was usually self-conscious about having a pull-up under his shorts, but today he was curled under his blanket in just a diaper. “Is the baby okay?”
“He feels pretty bad, but he’ll be alright,” Tan said, sitting on the couch next to Johnny. Beside him, Karamo helped Antoni sip a bottle of water. “Johnny, darling, would you like to spend today with Uncle Bobby?”
“So you can take care of the baby?” Johnny said.
“That’s what we would be doing,” Karamo said. “We can do that while you’re here, though. Papa and I just thought you would have more fun hanging out with Uncle Bobby since Antoni is going to need us a lot today.”
“I could be big,” Johnny offered, “and help?”
“No, honey, you don’t need to do that,” Tan said. “We just didn’t want you to be bored today.”
“Okay,” Johnny said, trying not to sound too relieved. He loved Antoni, but he liked to play with him more than he liked taking care of him.
“So do you want Uncle Bobby to pick you up?” Karamo asked. “He’s going to the farmer’s market.”
“Yeah,” Johnny said, clamoring off the couch and running to the stairs. “I’ve got to get dressed!”
“Walk, Johnny!” Karamo called after him. “Do you need help picking something out?”
“No, I can do it,” Johnny called back, slowing marginally.
When he came back downstairs to wait for Bobby, Tan was holding Antoni up while Karamo held the trash can in front of him. Johnny wrinkled his nose at the sound of the younger boy getting sick and couldn’t help being glad he was getting out of the house for the day. While Tan and Karamo fretted over whether or not Antoni had thrown up his Tylenol, Johnny grabbed the bottle from the end table and refilled it.
“So he can rinse his mouth out,” Johnny said as he gave it back to Karamo.
“Thank you, buddy,” Karamo said. “That was thoughtful of you.”
Antoni took a sip of the water and spit it back into the trash can before leaning back against Tan, still crying. Tan tucked Antoni’s blanket back around him and rubbed circles on the boy’s bare stomach. He’d just settled when the doorbell rang.
“Uncle Bobby!” Johnny yelled, forgetting he was trying to be quiet. Antoni didn’t react to the noise though, and he and Tan stayed on the couch while Karamo and Johnny went to get the door.
“Hey, bug!” Bobby greeted as he stepped inside. “How are you?”
“I’m good!” Johnny said. “Are we going to the farmer’s market?”
“Yeah, does that sound good to you?”
“Uh-huh,” Johnny said. “Antoni’s sick.”
“I heard,” Bobby said. “Poor baby, huh?”
“Yeah,” Johnny agreed.
“Are you guys doing alright?” Bobby asked, turning to Karamo. “Do you need us to pick up anything while we’re out?”
“Ginger ale and Tylenol maybe?” Karamo said with a sigh. “We’ve got enough for now, but he throws everything up, so it’s going fast.”
“Yeah, we’ll stop and grab some before I bring Johnny home,” Bobby said. He stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out a familiar pink bottle. “Oh, and I brought Pepto too.”
“Bobby, you’re the best,” Karamo said, taking the bottle. “Do you want to see Tan and Ant before you too head out?”
“Yeah,” Bobby said. He turned back to Johnny and said, “Let’s say bye to your papa and your baby brother, alright?”
Johnny nodded and lead the way back into the living room. Tan and Antoni hadn’t changed their positions at all, and Bobby leaned down to kiss the younger on top of the head, frowning when he felt the heat coming off him.
“Call if you need anything, alright?” Bobby said. Tan nodded.
“Thank you,” Tan said. “You boys have fun today.”
“Bye, Papa,” Johnny said, hugging him carefully over Antoni. “Bye, Daddy.”
“Bye, sweetheart,” Tan said.
“We’ll see you later, alright?” Karamo said. “We love you.”
“Love you too,” Johnny said, following Bobby back to the door. “Bye!”
When Antoni came back to himself, he knew immediately that something had gone wrong in the time he was missing. He was in Karamo’s lap, tucked neatly against his chest while the older man slept. They were in Tan’s bed, and Tan himself was asleep beside them. The clock on the dresser showed that it was 1:47 in the morning. His blanket was across his legs, likely more for comfort than for warmth based on the half-melted ice packs that were tucked into it. When he shifted, Antoni noticed he was in a diaper, not a pullup, something that only happened when he was very little or very sick. Judging by the shadows under Tan and Karamo’s eyes, it had been both.
“Shh, baby,” Karamo murmured sleepily when Antoni’s wiggling roused him. “It’s sleep time.”
“Daddy,” Antoni said even though he wasn’t quite sure if he felt little or big. Karamo sat up straighter, and Antoni wondered how sick he had been.
“Your fever broke,” Karamo said. It was too dark for Antoni to really see him, but he could hear the relief in his voice.
“I was sick,” Antoni said, but it came out sounding like a question.
“Yeah, baby” Karamo said, carefully holding Antoni as he settled them back onto the pillows. “You’re probably still sick, but the fever going down is a good sign. You were out of it.”
“I don’t really remember,” Antoni mumbled.
“That’s okay,” Karamo said. “Daddy and Papa had you.”
“Is Johnny sick?”
“No,” Karamo said. “Thank God for that. Two sick little ones would have been rough.”
“Sorry,” Antoni said.
“That’s not what I meant, honey,” Karamo said gently. “It’s not your fault you were sick.”
“Still,” Antoni said. “I’m sorry you had to spend your whole weekend looking after me. You should have been able to go spend time with your boys.”
“You and Johnny are my boys too,” Karamo said. “My kids are grown. They’re alright without me for a couple days.”
Antoni tucked his face against Karamo’s shoulder and didn’t respond. Karamo rubbed circles on his back and hummed quietly. After a moment had passed, he spoke again.
“Ant,” Karamo said quietly, “I don’t want you to feel guilty for needing me or Papa. It makes me happy to be there for you. I didn’t know my kids until they were older. I wasn’t there to change diapers or sing lullabies or watch Disney Channel with them. It’s cathartic for me to be able to do that for you and Johnny.”
“You’re sure?” Antoni asked, his voice suddenly sounding much smaller.
“Positive,” Karamo said. “Now let’s go back to sleep, alright?”
“Okay, Daddy,” Antoni said. “Goodnight.”