“Oh, you're sure you'll be okay?”
Zoe looked up from her laptop, scowling at her mother. Her dangling foot started to kick her back in the rocking chair. “Do you not trust me?”
“No, no no! I trust you, of course I do! And I'm so happy you're spending some time with your brother. I just- call me or your father, please, if you need anything. We will be back by dinner, but we can be back sooner, if you need us. Or just want us! I'm sure your father can find his way home…”
Cynthia started to stare off into space, most likely wondering if her husband hitchhiking was such a bad idea.
Larry himself came in and put a stop to that idea, picking the infant up from his crib and trading him for Zoe's MacBook. Both children made noises of dissent.
“Cynthia, Zoe will be fine. And you're going to Evan's house, yes?”
“At ten,” Zoe nodded, frowning at the six-month-old.
Connor frowned back.
“And then you guys are going where?”
Zoe rocked Connor lightly as he started whining. Her phone read 8:50.
“We're meeting Heidi for lunch at the Chili’s by the hospital. We might go to Target, I don't know.”
“Text me if you do, please.”
Cynthia fussed with the diaper bag for a bit as Larry explained the rules. “You keep him with you at all times. If something comes up and you don't know what to do, text me. Make sure he is strapped before you even start your car. Make sure you have his pacifier, and the back up. Drive carefully. Be safe, please. Love you.”
He kissed them both, before standing beside his wife. “The diaper bag is fine. Say your goodbyes, we should go soon.”
Cynthia sighed dramatically, and bid farewell to her children before begging Zoe to call her and not Larry if she needed anything.
Zoe nodded, and waved them goodbye, waiting for the front door to close and the alarm system to beep before standing up with mild alarm and putting her brother back in his crib.
“Here's the deal, Blondie. You stay in here, and keep quiet while I get ready. We will go see Evan, and then he can deal with you. Got it?”
Connor smiled. Zoe smiled back.
It wasn't fifteen minutes later that he started crying, needing to be changed.
“Are you kidding me?” she asked him. “We had a deal!”
He simply gave her a toothless grin, and promptly shoved a lock of her hair into his mouth.
“Fuck you, too.”
They did get out of the house at exactly ten, but did not leave the driveway till ten-fifteen on account of Zoe not knowing how to click Connor's sleek grey car seat into the strange base. She ended up watching two videos on it, sitting criss-crossed against her car with Connor next to her, staring at her like she was an idiot.
When she finally did get it, there were two texts from Evan.
Hey, you ok? He asked, and she could just imagine the look on his face as he sent the next one. WAIT IF YOU'RE DRIVING THEN IGNORE IT LOOK AT THE ROAD.
She smirked, glad that her friend was so worried about her wellbeing, and responded, Yes, abt to leave now dw.
She connected her phone to the aux cord, pulling up her usual indie-hipster playlist and letting it flood the car.
And then Connor started bitching.
(It was at this moment that Zoe realized she may have been describing her helpless baby brother as something villainous, which required him to be an adult, aware of his expressions. Bitching implied that he started murmuring about his ex who everyone told him NOT to get back with, and he decided to anyway. She decided to revise her previous thought.)
And then Connor started whining, as babies were wont to do.
So she turned the music down and asked him what was wrong. He stopped whining. She turned it back up. He whined again.
“I'm sorry, are you telling me you don't like Maggie Rogers?” she scoffed, scowling at the carseat through her rearview window.
Apparently, as when she changed it to Alt-J, he was fine.
“Well, Zoe, you can't control his music taste,” Evan smirked, picking the baby up out of the car seat and kissing his forehead.
Zoe, exhausted from recounting her morning, shook her head. “That's not fair. He controls my life, I should be able to control his.”
“I doubt that that's happening.”
Zoe glared at her friend, who merely rocked Connor around his living room, smiling from behind the little boy's blond halo.
She ended up watching Queer Eye on his couch while Evan and Connor did tummy time, bottle, and then naptime.
Which was adorable. Evan was laying beside her on the couch, mouth half open with Connor on his chest, mouth half open. If Zoe didn't know any better she would've thought that Evan and Connor were blood.
Twenty-two pictures and one lock screen change later, Cynthia texted her.
How's it going?? Make it to Evans ok?
Zoe sent her a picture as a reply.
Omg!! So cute!! You should nap with your brother like that.
She woke Evan up around noon, buckling a still snoozing Connor into his car seat to go meet Heidi.
He yawned all the way to the restaurant, leaning his head against the window and frowning every time they went over a speedbump.
Connor was awake by the time they got there, and Zoe sent Evan into the bathroom to change him as they sat down. The fewer diapers in her life, the better.
It wasn't until their entrees were out and they’d gotten numerous looks that their waitress accidentally let them know what was going on.
“Oh, your family is just adorable. How old is he?” she asked sincerely, smiling at Connor, who was perfectly content to sit in Evan's lap as he forked a salad into his mouth.
“What?” Zoe asked, slowly lifting her head from her sandwich.
“How old's your baby?” the waitress asked again, tilting her head and cooing at Connor.
Evan choked, and Zoe took Connor from him, eyes widening. “He's not my baby! No, no, he's my brother. Oh, God, no. Is that what you thought? You thought he was mine?” Her voice was almost hysterical.
“Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize-”
“No, it's fine!” Heidi corrected, smiling at the waitress and nudging Zoe under the table. “It was an honest mistake. It's fine. Connor is six months.”
The waitress apologized again, glancing at a shocked Zoe and a sputtering Evan before disappearing.
“Zoe…” Heidi began, before shaking her head. “Here. Hand him over, eat your food. Evan, drink some water.”
They both did as told, the lunch ending without any more outbursts from the teenagers, and one from Connor, which was taken care of swiftly.
Zoe, still surprised that someone thought Connor was hers, drove to Target absent-minded, ignoring whatever Evan was saying.
Something about us having a kid together is not the worst thing in the world, you dramatic fucker.
They stopped first at the candy section, like the children they were, and walked away with two huge bags of sour patch kids and assorted Hershey's. Then, of course, they went to the toy aisle, and Zoe rode around on a skateboard while Evan, who was saddled with holding Connor in the front carrier, pressed the demo buttons on a bunch of action figures and made them fight each other in front of Connor.
And then a mother with her two children came down their aisle, and shook her head at them. Evan blushed, and put the toys back to pick up a different one, while Zoe shrugged and came to a stop beside him, petting Connor's hair. But then the woman came back.
“Do you really think it's appropriate for you to act like that in front of your child?”
Zoe's brow furrowed, and Connor babbled, hand reaching up to Zoe's.
“I get that you may still be children, judging on… How young you both obviously are,” she said, not trying to hide her disgust. Her children cowered, staring at the pair. “But you have a child, and should act like adults. For your baby, and for yourselves. Take some responsibility.”
“He's my brother,” Zoe blurted. “The baby is my brother, and Evan's my best friend. And even if we were his parents, I will choose to raise my baby how I see fit. Thanks for your… public civility. Come on, Evan.”
She kicked up the skateboard, putting it back on its rack before pushing the cart towards the men's clothing department.
Evan said nothing as they looked for a new gym shirt for him. They found one in record timing, and moved to the juniors section as Zoe rifled through the t-shirts, holding up a few for Evan to inspect.
Forty-two dollars later, they were in the car, Zoe still fuming, Evan still embarrassed, Connor still babbling away.
“Bitchy,” Zoe finished for her friend, pulling out of her parking spot.
They sat in silence for a while, with only the hum of the engine, before Zoe glanced at the car seat, and then Evan.
“You know, I wasn't upset at the prospect of having a kid with you. I was just… annoyed and confused that someone thought Connor was my kid. But it really wasn't you.”
Evan nodded. “I figured. But you shouldn't, um, be so upset about it. Connor's pretty cool. Especially when he grows up, you know? It'll be you two against the world. He'll be needing his big sister to have his back.”
“Where is all this wisdom coming from?” Zoe asked, turning onto her street.
“Well, when Ellie was born, I was really upset about it. I thought that my, that my dad and I would never be as close as we once were. He spent so much time with him, you know?”
Zoe nodded thoughtfully
“But now that he's three, it's so cool. Whenever I see him, he gets so happy? And it's more like having a nephew. I just get to be ‘cool older brother Evan’ who he only sees for part of the summer, who brings him gifts.
“Look, Connor will- He’ll only be two when we graduate. You-You'll get to be cool old sister Zoe, who he only sees on holidays, and then who brings him gifts and stuff. And it’ll be great! Just get through these two years, which are gonna fly by, and you’ll be fine.”
They made their way inside the Murphy house, slipping their shoes off by the front door.
“So, we have the whole house to ourselves?” Evan breathed, setting Connor’s car seat down carefully in the middle of the living room. for the infant was sleeping again.
“Yeah. My parents don’t come home for three more hours.”
They stared at each other, and Zoe couldn’t figure out what Evan was thinking. Which was weird, she usually knew exactly what he was thinking. She was just about to tell him to cut it out when he fidgeted nervously and looked away.
“We should throw a kegger,” she said, perched on the edge of the couch.
“We should totally throw a kegger,” he scoffed.
“Until my parents get home!” Zoe pumped her fist out, and Evan laughed, flexing his arm.
“In three hours!”
They collapsed in a fit of giggles, before Connor started whining and they both shushed each other. He stayed asleep.
They ended up just continuing their rewatch of Parks and Recreation, which was a lot harder when they had a sleeping baby in front of them, preventing them from laughing out loud.
Zoe won the silent game, when Jerry ripped his pants and farted, and made Evan cry from holding in the tears. Connor woke up and just glared at Evan.
Zoe made Evan change the next diaper as punishment.
Her parents got home fifteen minutes late, and Cynthia rushed in like her hair was on fire, only to find all three kids in Zoe’s room. Evan was the only one somewhat awake, with one arm wrapped around Zoe, who was wrapped around Connor.
He smiled at Cynthia, who merely smiled back, phone poised to take a picture. She did, before nodding to Evan. “Are you alright? Do you want to spend the night?”
Evan nodded shyly, and Cynthia told him she’d call his mother.
“How was today?” she whispered.
“It, um- was good. Good. Zoe survived, Connor was, uh, an angel.”
Larry entered behind her, and handed Evan forty dollars. Evan shook his head, but Larry wouldn’t take it back.
Don’t worry, Zoe’s getting paid for babysitting, too. And I’m positive you did more than her, so that’s your fair cut.”
He then reached over Evan to pick up a sleeping Connor, accidentally waking up Zoe in the process.
She protested, trying to keep Connor in her grip before seeing her father. “Oh. Hi.”
“Go back to sleep. Both of you. We will come get you for dinner,” Cynthia smiled, shutting the door behind her.
Zoe raised her head so Evan could lie down, staring at her.
“Thanks for helping me today.”
“You know, if you wanted to just take over babysitting Connor, I would be fine with that.”
“You need to bond with your brother.”
“No, I don’t.”