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He said the body is a machine / and he may well be right

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Brad's expression makes it clear he's not inclined to discuss the who, when, or how of the obvious pregnancy he's sporting, so Ray just lets him in the house and points to the sofa. "Please don't stare," Brad mumbles, stretching out and putting one arm over his eyes.

"Sorry, man, it's just - well. What the fuck did you do about work?"

"I retired two months ago." The arm moves enough for Brad to squint at him. Ray's sure he looks surprised, because he is, and Brad adds, "Can't believe that one didn't make it through the fucking grapevine."

"You know it's weird what gossip gets around and what doesn't," Ray says, although he doubts Brad pays much attention to their old platoon's gossip.

"I don't usually care," Brad confirms with a grumble.

"None of this leaves me any less confused about why you decided to hide out here, but... You can hide out, but just so you know, Mel's going to ask you all the questions I won't when she gets home." Brad makes a quiet exasperated noise, and Ray shrugs, because she's totally going to ask and he can't stop her. "And in my own experience, telling her you don't want to talk about something doesn't work that great."

Brad squints at him again. "I'll go home eventually."

Ray gives him a thumbs up and goes back to the kitchen to finish packing next week's lunches. If Brad needs anything, Ray knows he won't hesitate to yell.

Mel always comes in through the front door, so Ray hears her "Hey, Brad! Oh!" and "Why are you on our couch?" but Brad's answers are so low that Ray can't make them out. Her eyes are wide when she walks into the kitchen.

"I don't know, either," Ray hurries to say, and trades confused expressions with his wife for several seconds. "He tell you anything?"

"He just sort of grumbled." Mel stifles a laugh with her hand, then makes a face. "Is Cal still down the street at the Williamses?"

"Yeah, I said I'd pick him up at five." He puts the stack of assembled and wrapped sandwiches in the freezer. "Do you think maybe Brad came here because he thought I'd have advice?"

She makes her thinking face, then shrugs, leaning against the counter. "I guess we went about it the unconventional way - he might not know anyone else. How about I walk down to get Cal and you dispense your expert advice?"

"I don't want to dispense any advice," Ray whines, but he knows she's probably on the right track. "Fine, but we can make him run around after Cal then, and buy us all pizza, right?"

"Good luck." Mel straightens her ponytail, then leans in to kiss him quickly before leaving through the side door.

Ray wipes down the counter and washes the butter knife, but then figures he can't get away with lingering in the kitchen too much longer. He calls, "Yo, Brad, you want a water or something?".


Ray rolls his eyes. In the living room, Brad looks like he hasn't even moved. Ray sits down in the free chair and kicks his feet up on the ottoman. "All right, you're safe from Mel's interrogation - for now - so here's your chance to spill."

"There isn't much to spill," Brad replies. "But I can tell from your voice that I'm testing your patience, and I do appreciate that you didn't grill me the second you opened the door, and I'm not oblivious to the fact that my appearance attracts questions."

"Never said you were an idiot, buddy," Ray laughs, and Brad mumbles not outright. "Is it weird carrying a smaller human inside your body? Fucking yeah it is, but I'm glad I could do it when Mel couldn't. They'll pump you full of drugs when it's time for delivery, and you won't feel a thing until way later when the incision hurts. But even that's not too bad - something about all the hormones flooding your system kind of mutes all that shit."

"Thank you, Ray."

"It's hard taking care of a kid when you've got two people," Ray says, trying to introduce the question slowly so Brad is ready for it, "so I really feel like I should ask - are you doing this alone?"

Brad doesn't answer for a while. Ray can see him taking several deep breaths. "I don't know."

"All right. You staying for dinner? If you are, we're getting pizza, and you're buying."

Brad's reply is to take his wallet from his pocket and fling it in Ray's direction. "Uh, fair warning," Ray says, "my kid is likely to try and touch your belly, but we can head him off and remind him he's supposed to ask people before he does shit like that."

Brad actually laughs at that, and sits up. Ray feels better when he doesn't look so miserable. "A good lesson," Brad says. "No one's actually attempted to touch yet."

"Probably because you look like you'd kick their ass if they did."

Cal's met Brad before, and Mel must have said something, because when they get back he runs right into the living room to climb up on the couch next to Brad and hold up his hand for a high-five. "Hi!"

"Hey buddy," Brad says, grinning at Cal, and gently slapping their palms together.

Ray has to bite his lip not to smile because it's an adorable scene and he can't help it. Mel punches him on the shoulder as she settles on the arm of the chair next to him. "What?" he whispers out of the side of his mouth. "Look, I got Brad's credit card, so we're gonna buy out Pizza Hut."

"That a baby?" Cal is asking Brad, pointing at his stomach.

Mel leans in and murmurs in his ear. "Sure you don't want another?"

Ray hisses about emotional manipulation but she only grins and leans against him. "Maybe," Ray allows, still whispering. He watches Cal gently pat Brad's belly. Ray doesn't think he's ever seen the expression that's on Brad's face before now. "Is there Kleenex out here in case Brad cries?"

"Someone mentioned pizza," Brad says loudly, and Ray points at him in disbelief because the p-word is guaranteed to send Cal into an excited frenzy, and Brad knows this. "Cal, what kind do you want?"

"'nana!" Cal claps his hands. "'nana pizza!"

"Banana pizza?"

Mel's whole body hitches with laughter. "Banana peppers," she tells Brad. "It's weird but he likes them. Okay, Calvin, come help Mom order the pizza in the kitchen."

Cal streaks across the room and disappears, hollering about pizza. Ray gives Mel a kiss before she follows. "Pretty sure you were about to cry," he says to Brad when they're alone again, and Brad flips him off. "You want to stay the night, or are you gonna head out after we eat? The couch is a pull-out, but you're still probably too tall for it."

Brad groans. "I think that would fuck up my back even more than the kid here."

"It only gets worse," Ray promises, and smiles brightly when Brad stares daggers in his direction. "Dude, you know that look doesn't work on me anymore."

"It never worked on you."

"I'm glad you can admit it." Ray scoops Cal up as he runs into the room again. "Did you have fun at JW's house?" he asks.

Cal nods happily and starts telling him the many things they'd done all afternoon. Ray figures that gives Brad a little break in having to interact with anyone, but doesn't get him out of having to listen to a kid chatter for a while. When he glances over, Brad looks as though he's actually paying attention. Mel comes back after a minute to drop paper plates and napkins on the coffee table and hand Brad his wallet back. "Thanks for dinner, Brad. Come on, Cal, time to take a bath quick before the pizza gets here."

Cal looks like he's about to protest, so Ray hurries to say, "Brad will still be here when you're done." It works like a charm. Ray finds a basketball game on TV, then says to Brad, "I'd ask if you're ready for this but I'm guessing the answer is no."

Brad rubs a slow hand over his belly, clearly looking at the television so that he doesn't have to look at Ray. "I - getting pregnant wasn't entirely an accident."

Ray's sure his jaw drops. "What."

"Getting pregnant earlier than I was planning on it was an accident. I wasn't going to retire until December."

"What," Ray repeats.

The corner of Brad's mouth twitches in a smile. "I have rendered you nearly speechless."

Ray flips him off. "All right, fine. You want milk to drink with this banana pepper pizza my child has conned us into? It's that or apple juice. Or water. Also if you want to borrow any of our baby shit, it's all in the garage still. And you better bring the baby over to hang out with us once it's born," he adds over his shoulder as he heads for the fridge.

"Water," Brad calls after him. "And exposing my child to a pack of Persons, that sounds horrible."

"I'm going to let Mel beat you up." Ray lobs the bottle of water at his head, but Brad catches it.

"In front of the kids?"

"Definitely in front of the kids."