Robert pushed the pram through the village, his eyes darting from SJ to the road in front of him. SJ was much more active now, his feet kicking the blanket that was tucked around his legs. His black winter jacket buttoned up to his chin with his fur-lined hood gently wrapped around his head giving him a glow that made Robert smile. SJ’s favorite stuffed animal, a small giraffe, snuggled next to his body.
“So, as I was saying. I think the franchise will suffer a lot with the loss of Carrie Fisher. She is beyond amazing and I think that loss will be felt for many movies to come. Not that the cast can’t hold their own. They can but she was my favorite. General Leia. What do you think?” Robert asked as SJ made gurgling noises back, his arms going up and down in response.
“I see your point. However, I think you are being short-sighted here son. What? Are you about to tell me the prequels did just fine without her?” Robert asked him, as he slowed down to adjust the blanket back around the little baby’s legs. SJ cooed in response.
“You liked the prequels? This is the first of many disappointments but that is ok. If you didn’t disappointment you wouldn’t be growing and figuring out who you are. That’s all I want for you. Happy. Healthy. Confident.” Robert said laying it on thick as he saw his son reach for the stuffed giraffe. His tiny stubby fingers gently gripping the neck.
“A true Sugden. Always going for the jugular.” Aaron said lightly as he came up from behind Robert. Robert looked up to see Aaron giving him a smile, a coffee cup from Bob’s Café in his hand.
“Better he takes after me.” Robert joked back as he son turned his eyes towards the bearded man now in his view. His big brown eyes watched him with curiosity as Aaron stared back. “What’s up?”
“Uh, just wanted to say that I left the paperwork on your desk for tomorrow. Gerry needs it filled out before his first run.” Aaron told him, his eyes never leaving SJ.
“Gerry’s first scrap run. You must be proud.” Robert joked turning towards Aaron, his right hand gripping the handle of the pram. “How are you doing with everything? Adam being gone and all?”
Aaron looked away and flashed his blue eyes to Robert’s green. “I mean, to be honest, I miss him. He has been my best friend for so long. How is Victoria taking it?”
Robert went to open his mouth when SJ beat him to it. Letting out a sharp cry before gripping the giraffe neck tighter. Both looked down at him.
“Good point SJ. Victoria isn’t doing great, but she is holding on. She spends a lot of time with this little guy and he makes it all better, don’t you?” Robert asked leaning down to rub SJ’s stomach through his jacket.
“She has been hanging out with Ross a lot,” Aaron observed as his eyes zeroed in on Roberts' hand on SJ’s stomach. SJ cooed at Robert’s touch.
“Yeah, the two of them have been hanging out a lot. They even babysit for me. Together. He has really taken to Ross actually.” Robert told Aaron.
“What do you think is happening there?” Aaron asked as Robert started to push the pram down the road. Aaron walked along next to them.
“Don’t know but she seems to be healing around him, so I don’t question it.” Robert said. Aaron hummed as the three of them walked in comfortable silence down the road. Aaron taking tentative sips of his coffee and Robert concentrating on pushing the pram.
“So, SJ?” Aaron asked quietly motioning to the baby.
Robert slowed up and looked over at Aaron. “Do you want to hear this?”
Aaron’s eyes grew wide as he nodded his head yes.
Robert sighed. “After everything that happened I changed SJ’s name. He is now officially Sebastian Jack Sugden. SJ for short.”
Aaron looked down at the boy who was smiling at Aaron. He couldn’t help but smile back. “Jack?”
“I had to keep it in the family and I was told by Victoria giving him Robert as his middle name might be self-serving.” Robert joked as he moved the pram again.
“I don’t know. Sebastian Robert Sugden doesn’t sound horrible. SRS. If he takes after his father he would love his middle name.” Aaron said, his voice teasing Robert. Robert rolled his eyes and smiled.
“So, what are you up to today?” Robert asked Aaron. His eyes questioning him a bit.
“I’m waiting on Alex. We are going to that new raceway in Hotton to check it out.” Aaron told Robert, his teeth biting hard down on his bottom lip. Their tentative friendship still had messy strings attached to the past that Aaron wasn’t sure how to play just yet.
“That sounds fun. I knew you would be there the minute I read about it in the papers.” Robert told him a big smile on his face.
Aaron let go of the breath he didn’t know he was holding. He played the strings just right this time. “What are you two up to today?”
“SJ and I are going to take a nice walk around the village. Tell him a few tales of my misspent youth.” Robert said as he could hear SJ coo from his pram.
Aaron looked down at SJ with a smile growing on his face. “Hey SJ, remember to ask your dad about his lamb.”
Robert’s head snapped up to give Aaron a surprised look. “You remembered?”
“How could I forget? Not everyday you hear about the great Robert Sugden’s first love. A lamb named Franny.” Aaron said softly as his eyes met Roberts. They both smiled as they felt a heat grow between them. Robert thought back to that room above the pub. The moonlight glow in their room as they wrapped themselves together in that small bed. Hushed voices and sighs as they talked about anything and everything.
A familiar car and its horn blew past them as SJ let out a sharp cry of confusion. His serene face screwing up, his little nose scrunching up. He let out a loud wail in response.
“Really?” Robert muttered as he reached in and picked up a crying SJ and pulled him closer to his chest letting his large hand rub up and down his back to calm him. SJ curled up and cried into Robert’s neck.
“I’m sorry.” Aaron muttered putting his hand over Roberts absent mindedly. Robert felt the warmth from Aaron’s hand and SJ’s warm breaths against his neck as he started to calm down. The three turned towards the Mercedes as Gerry popped out of the driver’s side.
“I didn’t see him! I swear!” Gerry yelled as he made his way over to them. Alex popped out of the passenger side and followed suit.
Robert could feel SJ’s calm even breaths grow faster as Gerry and his obnoxious voice got closer.
“Gerry! Quit yelling.” Aaron said quietly with a dirty look. Gerry slowed as he put his hands up in defeat.
“He really didn’t notice the baby. I’m sorry, Robert.” Alex said quietly as followed Gerry. Robert looked over at Alex, his eyes flashing. He could feel Aaron give his hand a squeeze before letting it fall to his side. The warm replaced by an icy chill of the air.
“It’s ok. Just, he was scared. He will be ok.” Robert said as he rocked SJ to a nice lull, muttering assurances and placing a kiss on SJ’s forehead. Alex looked over at Aaron who was watching Robert, his eyes wide.
“How is the little bugger?” Gerry asked as he reached out to push down the hood to rub at the wisps of dirty blonde hair on his head. “Do you need a babysitter anytime soon?”
Robert gave Gerry a small smile. “Victoria and Ross got it covered next week. Going out with Vanessa to grab drinks.”
“A date? You and Vanessa?” Aaron asked surprised. Alex crossed his arms at Aaron’s reaction.
“Vanessa and I on a date. I think Charity would have a problem with that. Hmmm while I’m here, Gerry, two weeks from now could you babysit for me? That is when my real date is.” Robert told him as he moved to place SJ back into his pram, the confusion on his face leading to a quiet wonder at the men standing around him.
“Sure! Hear that little man. We have a night of crisps, birds, beer, and football!”
“Gerry…” Robert said with a warning in his voice.
“Who are you going out on a date with?” Aaron asked his voice light as he felt himself grip his empty coffee cup tighter at the thought.
“This guy, David. Kept running into him at SJ’s wellness checks. He is doing it on his own too. His son, Sam, is a few months older than SJ. We decided to go for some coffee in a few weeks.”
“Is he ok?” Aaron asked his eyes flicking down to the baby who was growing bored with the conversation. Reaching out he grabbed the giraffe and held it closer to his body.
“He is fine. Just the regular checkups and some blood work to make sure he didn’t get the bad parts of the Sugden genes.” Robert assured Aaron. Aaron nodded.
“So, SJ likes David and Sam?” Aaron asked still looking down into the pram. At that moment SJ let out a little giggle and gave a gummy smile up at Aaron.
“I guess you got your answer,” Robert said smiling down at his son.
“I think he was thinking of me.” Aaron said softly. Both Robert and SJ looked over at Aaron as he reached in to run his finger across SJ’s chubby cheek. SJ opened his eyes wide and dropped the giraffe and reached for Aarons finger. Robert watched this exchange and felt his heart tighten in fear and exhilaration.
“We are going to be late.” Alex said watching the two of them. Gerry was smirking from behind his phone that had magically appeared. Robert wasn’t sure if Gerry was filming them or not. He secretly hoped he was.
Aaron reluctantly moved his hand away from SJ who looked confused at the lack of finger for him to grab. Half-heartedly SJ turned his attention back to his giraffe.
“We have to move along. We have lots to see and a lot to discuss. Like, which book we should read next.” Robert said his joke falling flat. The three of them stood there for a minute, unsure of what to do next.
“I’ve been reading him Stephen King,” Gerry interjected into the conversation breaking the tension.
“You can only read a picture book.” Robert joked earning a light arm punch from Gerry.
“We should be going. Nice to see you again Robert. Sebastian.” Alex said smiling at Robert before turning back to his Mercedes.
“I better go. See you two around. Gerry. Don’t forget about your first haul tomorrow.” Aaron told him as he started walking towards the car and Alex. Gerry shrugged and waved goodbye to SJ before heading towards the Mill.
“Hey, Robert?” Aaron asked, standing midway between Robert and Alex. “Have a great day with your son.”
“Have a great day with Alex,” Robert said back meaning every word. Aaron bit his bottom lip and nodded.
“You know, you and Alex can meet up with us at Bar West if you want. Next week?” Robert asked gesturing at the man watching this exchange from the driver’s side of his car, a confused look in his eye.
“Shouldn’t SJ learn how to walk before he goes out drinking?” Aaron joked getting a laugh out of Robert. “I’ll ask and get back to you.”
“Cool. Have fun. Bye Alex!” Robert yelled to Alex who waved back with a tentative smile. Aaron turned and walked towards the passenger side getting in.
Robert fixed the blanket on SJ’s legs as he secretly watched Alex and Aaron drive past. “Alright. Where were we? Right. Star Wars. We are going to watch the prequels one day, and I will make you see the truth. They are the best.”
SJ gurgled at Robert a big smile on his face.
“Ok. Fine. I’ll let it go for now. Let’s move on. What shall we read at bedtime? What about Death Note? If you are my son, you will love manga.” Robert said to him his voice light as he pushed SJ down the road to take a tour of Robert’s past, his present and his future even as it drove away from him.