Five Years Before the Blackout (2007)
The first time they meet, he’s twenty-five and she hasn’t hit her first birthday. It’s July and he and Miles are on leave after finishing a deployment in Iraq. They know they’ll probably be going back, but they’ve got two weeks and home is about the only place they want to be. Used to them, by now, their parents try to arrange things for the families to do together. Miles’ dad grumbles something about thinking the boys might want some time away from each other, but his wife shushes him.
It’s a sunny, perfect weekend, and the itinerary includes a picnic in the park. It’s not officially the fourth, but the fireworks are supposed to be that night, so they’re settled in for the day. Ben and Rachel come in from the city, and Bass ignores any looks Miles and Rachel (the-lying-cheating-conniving-bitch) may or may not be exchanging in favor of throwing the football around with his dad and playing keep-away with the Frisbee from his sisters.
Coaxing Miles out to play isn’t as hard as it might usually be, either, for which he’s glad: Rachel’s busy with the baby and, glances aside, Miles is trying to stick to the part where he doesn’t hit on his brother’s wife anymore. (Bass kind of supports that a lot.)
Mr. Matheson calls them back over when the burgers are ready, and Bass gets to the table right behind Rachel. She’s trying to manage the baby and the plates and Ben’s engaged in some debate or another with Bass’s dad, so he’s not helping, and Miles has been captured by Bass’s youngest sister, so he’s not helping, and the next thing Bass knows there’s a baby in his arms.
“Hold her for me, will you, please, Bass?”
His beer gets set down fast so he can use his second arm, and it’s not like he couldn’t hold her with one (fuck, she’s tiny), but he was, like, twelve the last time he held a baby.
“Hey, kid,” he says, bouncing her a little as her weight settles in his arms.
“Charlie,” Rachel corrects automatically, making up a plate for Ben.
“That’s a stupid name for a girl.” It comes out just as automatically. “Miles said her name was Charlotte.”
“Which is a lot of name for a baby,” Rachel says, shooting him a glare. “Charlie suits her.”
“It’s a stupid name for a girl,” Bass repeats. “She’s gonna get teased and asked if she’s a boy.”
“It’s a new millennium, Bass. There’s even talk of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Her smile is sharp.
He utterly ignores it, doesn’t even blink, blue eyes staring back at the blue eyes staring up at him. “Kids are kids, Rachel.”
She huffs something and mutters under her breath, but Bass is pointedly ignoring her. After a minute, he ignores the food, too, wandering away to sit in one of the free chairs under a tree, baby cradled more surely in his arms.
Knowing it annoys Rachel, he calls the baby “Charlotte” every time he speaks of her from that day forward. Miles doesn’t get it, but the looks he was giving Rachel shift, and it’s Bass he’s watching as the other young man refuses to let anyone else hold the baby the rest of the day.