On a typically cold early morning in October, Daryl talks to himself. Or rather, he listens to himself in a way he’s usually drunk enough not to bother.
The thing about being in unrequited love with your best friend is that it’s pretty darn easy to forget about yourself. It’s easier to say “Yeah, no problem,” and “Sure thing, bud,” and “I was already planning on it anyway, so there’s no trouble.” Like the night you end up driving the truck home with him and Dan passed out across both seats, your ass squeezed between a knee and the door and your foot sideways on the pedal, because your best friend beat the shit out of a city boy from a visiting hockey team and his friends who got fresh with Bonnie McMurray in the afternoon, and you know he likes to get toasted after a good fight.
And so you’re one and a half sheets to the wind instead of three (Dan might be verging on four, if you’re honest). Even though your last sweetie got married the other day, and you’d been hoping you could drink yourself into forgetting everything but maybe your own name, but nobody said shit to you because nobody remembers you were with her, because nobody really thinks about you at all as a person with a life any separate from Wayne’s. And that’s all fine, for the most part, because you’d rather not think much about your life apart from him anyway. You know you’re not so smart and you’re mostly useless, or at least that’s what your dad always said, while he was around, and nobody seemed to disagree, but at least you fit in somewhere and you’ve got a decent strong back and twice-broken hand that hits harder than someone might expect and at least that means nobody’s sent you away, at least not yet.
But somedays it all piles on and you find yourself hauling the both of them, grumbling and spitting, up to Wayne’s double bed and leaving the truck for him so he has it bright and early and you’re walking back down the laneway by yourself at 3:45 in the morning, wondering if some drunk kids run you down and into the ditch how long it would take anyone to notice. Because you do live somewhere, and it ain’t here, but hasn’t it been months since anyone but yourself has set foot in that trailer, and that includes the man himself.
Which is not to say he does it on purpose. He’s a good man. The best man, and if he weren’t, then you wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.
Darry doesn’t turn any lights on when he gets home, partially because he’s not sure he’s got power today. Has to talk to the landlord about getting his generator fixed in time for the first snow. If anybody asked him, he’d move out, move up to the house, but no one has. The nights he likes best are those nights he’s too far gone to get home, when he crashes out on the couch or in the guest room, or one time in Wayne’s own bed, feet tangled together and foul breath across his cheek, each time pretending to be asleep so nobody kicks him out.
It’s almost not worth trying to sleep, better to wrap a few of his ma’s old blankets around him and have a dart, watch the tap drip. Doesn’t make sense for a trailer this small to feel so empty.
Somebody leaves a pile behind the produce stand the other day.
If things had gone different, nobody would have noticed for the longest time. Darry’s supposed to be in the back field with Wayne by now for evening chores, but he lost track of time on a Wikipedia rabbit hole about Antarctica. Something about an explorer abandoned in the frozen wild, parts freezing off, eating raw sled dog to stay alive. He smoked and thought about that for a long time, which happens. Blink and suddenly you’re half an hour late and you can’t quite remember how you got there. But he’s thinking about what raw dog might taste like and if it would be worse than raw venison, and he starts to hear this crying. And it sounds just like the time a fox kit wandered into the hayfield and got all cut up by the combine, and Darry had to put it down. And everybody thinks he’s 100% Egyptian cotton soft but he didn’t have a problem with that at all as it was a mercy. But it did bum him out for the rest of the day, and so when he hears that crying again he is not looking forward to what’s on the other side of that wall.
“Well, that’s not supposed to be here,” is the only thing he can think to say when he sees it.
It’s a pile of blankets, or looks like one, a quilt laid over like a tent. Something squirming around underneath it making little whimpers. He pulls the top quilt off and stares into the face of a baby in a stained yellow onesie, dark curls and puffy eyes, buckled into a carseat. He can’t guess ages, because he’s not been around babies all that much, but it doesn’t look tiny enough to be brand new. It blinks up at him, surprised into quiet, and as he takes a step closer he moves out of the way of the sun so it hits the little thing’s eyes like a slap, and the face screws up and it starts to cry. He figures the thing to do is pick the kid up, because surely he’s had those mornings himself when the crack of dawn hits him right in the headache, and it’s not the thing’s fault it can’t move much by itself.
He gets it unstrapped and hefted up into his arms, a surprising weight and not an altogether unpleasant one. The kid goes quiet again, staring into his face with big trusting eyes and bottom lip pushed out like the press box at the SkyDome.
“Hey,” he says, stupidly. “No reason to get excited. It’s all good here.”
He looks down at the pile of carseat and blankets for any clue as to how it got there. He doesn’t have the confidence to lean down or hold the kid one-handed, so he carries it around the front of the produce stand, bouncing a little, and decides to wait for Wayne or Katy to come by.
Sure enough, Wayne’s coming around the side of the barn looking awfully peeved.
“If I’d known you were planning on spending the say sitting on your ass, I’d have called Squirrelly Dan back to—”
Darry wishes he had a camera at the moment Wayne spots the bundle in his arms. It’s pretty obvious what it is, whimpering and squirming and blinking in the sun. Darry holds a hand over the little thing’s forehead so it’s not so bright. Can’t be good for little tiny eyes, or at least he can’t imagine it would be.
“What,” is all Wayne says.
“Yeah,” Darry replies.
“But— I mean what— Where did— Daryl?”
“Think some degen has left a baby behind the produce stand.”
“Is it—” Wayne takes a step forward, then rocks back. “I mean to say, I mean to ask, is it yours?”
Darry scoffs. The puff of air makes the baby flinch, and it reaches up a chubby hand to pat at his mouth. “Yeah, Wayne, ‘cause I’ve had time to have a fucking kid.”
“You shouldn’t swear,” Wayne says.
Darry rolls his eyes. “There’s a pile of stuff round back, so go look at it.”
He takes a while back there, so Darry shifts the baby to an easier spot on his hip. It’s a cute kid. He’s never been able to guess gender in babies and always ends up in an awkward situation with the mothers when he tries, but he figures the baby doesn’t care much either way. He tucks one arm under the bundle and taps a finger on it’s pudgy cheek. The kid smiles up at him and shows off four little teeth.
“Hey, look at you,” he says, grinning back.
He’s never really thought much about kids. He’s a single farmhand who lives in a trailer that only sometimes has power, so he never figured he’d have any. Or if he did it would all be due to a horrible mistake.
And even in his most questionable, most regrettable pre-dawn daydreams, he knows how Wayne feels about the whole issue, so that’s never been on the table.
But that doesn’t mean he minds them. He’s even watched a few older ones here and there when folks need help last minute, and he feels like he understands most of them. The world must seem awfully big and unfriendly when you’re so small, and you can’t hardly see anything and don’t speak any English.
“What are you finding there, Big Shoots?” he calls after a solid few minutes. There’s no reply, so he wanders over behind the stand to find Wayne leaning against the side, reading something on a crumpled piece of paper. He hands it wordlessly over to Daryl, starting a little when he looks up at the kid smacking an open palm over his scruffy jaw.
Darry reads, To Daryl, who has always been kind. Her name is Marinette and please do take good care of her she is a good girl.
It isn’t signed.
“But—” Darry starts.
“You said she wasn’t yours.” There’s something stifled about his voice, and Darry looks up to find his jaw tight and eyes focused out on the laneway.
“I mean— It’s not—” He looks down at the paper again, both sides, wondering what he’s missing. When he looks up again, Wayne is gone, striding away back towards the barn.
Darry shoves the note in his pocket and looks at the girl.
“Marinette?” He says.
She sticks out her lip at him and then says, “Bah.”
He nods back at her. “I suppose we ought to call somebody then.”
He turns to carry her into the house, trying to catch a glimpse of Wayne in the barn, but he’s long gone.
Katy finds him in the living room, Marinette passed out on his shoulder, staring down at his phone. There’s plenty of numbers he could be calling—should be calling, really, but he just sits there, rubbing little circles into the baby’s back.
“Daryl,” she says after staring for a moment.
He starts and looks up at her, blinking his eyes back into focus.
“You’re holding a baby,” she says, slowly like maybe he’s gone totally soft in the head.
“Name’s Marinette,” he says. “Somebody left her at the produce stand.”
“Well fuck,” she says, and Darry won’t say it so as not to cause trouble, but her ability to sum up a situation in a few well-chosen words is one of the things he most appreciates about her. “You going to call someone?”
“Been thinking about it.”
She drops down into the chair across from him. “She’s real cute.”
The sit in silence for another long moment.
“You want me to call someone?” she asks gently.
He shakes his head. “See, the thing is. What the thing is, is that . . .”
“Child services, maybe. They’d take her.”
He chews on his lip. “You remember back in grade five when I wasn’t in school for the end of the year? And then I was late coming in to grade six?”
Katy moves to sit next to him on the couch, reaching out to touch the baby’s curls. “Yeah.”
“So my dad wasn’t around that year, and my ma wasn’t doing so well, and one of the neighbors called somebody because, well.” He can’t figure out a nice way to say that she’d caught him going to town on her rhubarb patch because there wasn’t any food in the house.
“Foster care?” she asked, and when he nodded she didn’t ask anything else.
It wasn’t like it was a nightmare. But the first morning he woke up there, and he went down the stairs for breakfast, and he reached for a piece of toast without asking, and a man grabbed his upper arm so tight he thought it might break through his skin. And he can’t shake it, even fifteen years later, and Marinette is so little, her arms like little sausages and her skin so thin and soft. And it’s not like they’re swimming in options, not this far from the city.
“Not good?” Katy asked, gentle enough that he’d be suspicious in any other situation.
“Not the worst. But.”
She nods. “Maybe I’ll ask around a bit first. See if anybody knows anything.”
“I guess I’ll—” he makes a vague sort of gesture that might mean “go” and Katy kicks his ankle.
“You’re staying here. That trailer’s no place for a baby.”
“How do you know?” he yelps, offended, but she’s already off the couch and out the door. He glowers after her, but Marinette starts to stir so he occupies himself with trying to think of everything it takes to keep a baby alive for a day.
The first night is unreal. He knew babies cried, but the howling every hour, nearly on the hour, and then the staying awake in between because if she isn’t crying she might not be breathing... He and Katy end up settled on the guest room floor, watching her try to sleep in the Pack n’ Play that Katy scrounged up from somewhere.
He’s looked up the basics on his phone, and they figure she’s probably teething. At going on three in the morning Katy goes down for the bottle of Gus n’ Bru and spreads a tiny bit of it over her gums with her little finger. Claims she heard about folks doing it with brandy, so it can’t be that much different. It doesn’t seem to help much.
Wayne walks in once to glare at them, staring down at where Darry has the baby tucked up under his chin, but Katy kicks him out with a, “Shit or get off the pot, asshole.” He glares harder, sleepily scratches his chest, and backs out, letting the door bang shut behind him. Marinette is startled into silence for a second before putting her wet face back against Darry’s neck and crying harder.
“Asshole,” Katy says again, rubbing the baby’s back. She’s really mostly rubbing the back of Darry’s hand, but it’s soothing and he has no complaints.
“I have to go in to the city on Wednesday,” she says in a whisper once Marinette drifts off again. “I’ve got a shoot. I can see if I can get out of it.”
“No, don’t. We’ll be fine. It’ll be fine. We’ll go tomorrow and get more formula, diapers, that kind of thing.”
“I’ll ask around when I’m there. See if there’s someone we can talk to. What to do, you know.”
Darry hums in agreement. It’s actually kind of nice, sitting next to Katy with the little bundle between them, tiny little snores tickling over his skin. He can’t really remember the last time he and Katy spent this much time this close without fighting.
Somehow, he dozes off.
The next morning, Katy calls Joint Boy to have him take over Darry’s chores. Tells him Darry’s come down with something. Darry sits on the floor in the guest room and watches Marinette scoot around on her belly. She plays with a pair of socks he finds in a drawer for a full half hour, staring at him in confusion when he tucks them over her hands and squealing in delight when he pulls them back off and rolls them on the ground.
It’s a lot of the same shit over and over again, but he finds he doesn’t mind that much. Her genuine surprise every time is pretty fascinating, and he feels victorious every time he successfully makes her laugh.
The formula is pretty easy, though she doesn’t seem all that excited about it, and he lets Youtube teach him how to change her diaper. Katy dropped off some provisions and then headed out to “poke around,” see if anyone might know who the parents are.
“They have to know you somehow, Darry,” she says. “That’s not a huge number of people.”
Darry shrugs and blows a raspberry on Marinette’s belly, making her cackle. He’s doesn’t say “good luck” as she leaves, because he wouldn’t mean it.
Wayne comes in for lunch as Katy’s leaving, familiar disapproving glare on his face as he watches the pair of them on the floor.
“Want to meet her?” Darry asks, holding her up so Wayne could reach her if he wanted to.
“Not so much.”
“Suit yourself. She’s a very good girl. Aren’t you? Yes, you’re the best girl.”
Wayne huffs out a breath like an angry bull and kicks his way out the screen door.
“Don’t worry about him,” Darry says quietly, dropping a kiss on the baby’s head. “He’ll come around.”
By the next day, Darry is starting to feel a few miles away from the rest of the world. He wonders if being only a fraction the size of a normal person means she only needs a fraction of the sleep.
He and Katy take turns trying to nap during the day, and she does make him shower, but spending time on his own with his own thoughts either makes him go too far down the road about Marinette growing up on the farm, makes him imagine having to hand her over to some government authority, or makes him replay in slow motion every time Wayne’s turned his back since this whole thing started.
Squirrelly Dan is awkward but delighted when Darry drops Marinette in his lap after afternoon chores. She seems fascinated by his beard, and doesn’t interrupt a single story, eyes darting between everyone to follow the conversation. Wayne is quieter than usual, but the few times he chimes in Darry lets himself imagine what it would be like if this all were normal.
The following morning, Wednesday, Katy takes the truck and heads into the city. She gives the baby a big kiss and says, “Say bye to Auntie Katy! I’ll miss you!”
“You shouldn’t—” Wayne starts from the corner, but trails off when she gives him a hard look.
“I’ll be back Saturday,” she says, mostly to Darry. “You call if you need to.”
He makes the baby wave at her as she pulls out down the laneway.
“You shouldn’t get too attached,” Wayne says, looking out at the yard and lighting a dart.
Darry shifts Marinette to his other side, away from the smoke, and says, “What do you mean, Big Shoots?”
“I mean you don’t know what gonna happen with, you know, the whole thing. And you’re probably gonna have to give it to somebody, right. And that’s—”
“Says my name on the fuckin’ note.”
Wayne blows out a long stream of smoke. “Don’t suppose that’ll hold up so well in court, now will it.”
Darry says nothing, jaw clenched. Now you fuckin’ talk to me, he thinks. Fuckin’ finally, and that’s the best you got?
“It’ll break your heart, Darry,” Wayne says, almost too quiet to hear.
Darry doesn’t laugh, barely. You have no fucking idea stays tucked neatly behind his teeth
“Getting cold,” is all he says, and goes inside.
He manages to catch a good half hour of sleep that night before she wakes him up screaming. He wonders if she’s missing Katy, her little body shaking and coughing with how hard she’s crying.
“It’s okay, little darlin’, it’s okay,” he murmurs, half of a melody, rocking and bouncing and pacing around the room.
He doesn’t notice Wayne in the doorway for a long time.
“She’s— I don’t know,” he says, almost an apology.
When Wayne responds, it sounds like it’s coming from a long ways away. “A man’s gotta sleep.”
“You want me to go?” Darry asks. He thinks the idea should upset him, but he feels almost nothing.
“I didn’t say that.”
“I’ll go in the morning. It’s too cold now.”
Wayne stares at him for a long moment and leaves.
“Come on, little girl. Come on, sweet girl, we’re okay.”
She passes out just before seven, and Darry packs her and much as he can carry into the carseat and walks her over to the trailer. It’s not that long a walk, considering, but he curses himself for not driving the van over the last time he came. He catches a glimpse of himself in the cracked mirror behind the door and nearly startles—his hair’s a birds nest, his eyes are sunken and the skin around them is a weird greenish purple. He isn’t sure when he ate last.
Marinette starts squirming around in the carseat, displeased, while Darry stares around the trailer helplessly.
“I can’t exactly put you on the ground, see, and I don’t have a lot of— I guess you could go on the bed, but you might fall off. You ate already, and you’re clean, I think.”
Marinette starts to whimper, face screwing up like a scream is coming.
“Okay! Okay! Hey, no, we’re fine! I just don’t have any— Here!” He grabs the pack of darts out of his pocket and shoves it at her. She doesn’t cry, fits her pudgy hands around the box, and looks at it curiously.
“I promise I’ll get some toys. Or books— You can’t read. Um.”
He starts hurriedly piling dishes in the sink, wiping down the table, and is about to pull the dirty sheets off the bed when he looks over at the baby to find her happily chewing on three cigarettes.
“Oh, hey! No! Don’t—” He can see when she gets to the tobacco because her face screws up and she lets the gummy wad fall out of her mouth with a cry of disgust. “That’s was dumb, wasn’t it?” Darry says, reaching for a towel to wipe out her mouth. “That’s was real dumb of me, I’m sorry.”
Then he leans in close enough for her to puke on his chin.
At least that night she doesn’t wake up anyone but him. He builds a wall of rolled up blankets around her and curls around her. He feel entirely incomplete, looking at the empty other side of the bed.
“Sorry I can’t do this right,” he whispers as she chews on his finger.
On Friday, he runs out of diapers.
“Son of a bitch,” he says as he fits the last one on her. Marinette laughs in delight and bangs her feet on the table. “I should be worried that you like cussing so much. That’s probably a bad thing.” She stops laughing and stares up at him. “Ah, fuck it,” he says, and she cackles.
“See, this is why we get along so good,” he says and loses some time to tickling her until she probably pees.
“We gotta go into town. It’s not gonna be pretty.” He cleans up as best as he can, scrubbing all the skin he can reach at the sink and digging out fresh clothes. He feels weird stripping down in front of the baby, but she doesn’t care, rolling around in her little blanket pen.
He kind of figures out how to get the carseat secured in the van and white-knuckles all the way to the store. He’s weirdly delighted to buckle her into the seat in the shopping cart, never having really thought about how those were meant to be used.
He nearly runs straight into Bonnie McMurray, who greets him with a sweet smile that freezes when she sees Marinette.
“How’re you, Bonnie?” he says as he passes her.
“I— Fine. I’m—” she trails off and stares after him. He thinks he ought to care about that, or at least try to make conversation, but he feels strung out and empty and only partially in control of his face.
Old Mary Wheeler passes him next and says nothing, just looks scandalized. He has to wait for her to move out of the way so he can grab a loaf of bread. He realizes he hasn’t googled when babies start eating real people food, and grabs some applesauce just in case.
“How’re you, Daryl,” Jim Dickens says from in front of the milk.
“Good ‘n you.”
“Now, say, there, Daryl. This a kid you got here?”
“Gotta be quick here, Jim. You know how it is.” Darry pushes past him before he can start in on something that’ll take the rest of the morning.
For some reason, Glen is standing directly in front of the diapers, on his phone.
“‘Scuse me there, Glen,” Darry says after a long second of waiting.
“Oh! Goodness me, Daryl, I do apologize. Say, where’s Wayne?”
“At home, I expect. I just need— Yeah, right behind you, there, thanks.”
“Oh. My. Gourd. Is this Wayne’s baby? When did this happen, tell me everything.”
“Um. No. She’s not— I’m taking care of her for a while.”
“You know, I need to buy these real quick. You know. ‘Cause she needs a change.”
“Did you say you are taking care of this baby?”
“Yeah, and I—”
“And who, pardon my asking, but who—”
“Got to go, Glen, thanks.”
By the time he reaches the checkout, he’s clocked five whispered conversations, complete with pointing fingers and a few shaking heads.
Kara LaRochelle rings him up, snapping the chewing gum in her mouth. “Somebody fucked up, eh Daryl,” she says.
“Sorry?” He can see the door. He can see the van.
She nods down at Marinette. “Little old for the teen mom act, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what that means.” He sighs and hands over a wad of cash.
“Keep the— Whatever.”
He can hear a few people following him to the door, watching him haul his bags to the van, bundle Marinette into her seat. He can feel the back of his neck burning, but he doesn’t turn around.
He nearly bites through is lip trying to stay awake on the road. He distracts himself singing along to a Hank Williams song on the radio, which makes Marinette laugh. That’s good, anyway.
“Maybe we should go someplace,” he says, looking at her in the rearview mirror. “Someplace no one knows us. That might be good, huh? Start over someplace? You’d like that, would you?”
She blows a spit bubble.
It’s not until he’s halfway to the house with the carseat that he realizes he’s gone on autopilot and driven to Wayne’s place.
“Fuck,” he says, and sets her down on the porch. If he can just sit for a minute. Just rest his eyes for a minute.
“How’re you, Darry?” Squirrelly Dan calls from across the yard.
“Just give me minute,” he says.
“You looks like you needs to eat, there, bud.”
Darry squints up at Dan, who is suddenly two feet away. “Huh?”
“And a showers, most likely.”
“Yeah, I reckon so.”
“You wants me to watch the little one whiles you do that?”
“Let me,” he yawns. “Let me change her first, then if you’d watch her just for a minute, I’d appreciate it. Let her crawl around a little. She can go on the grass, she’d like that.”
Once she’s clean—or relatively clean. He gave her a bath in the sink the other day but isn’t sure he did it right—he passes her off to Dan and heads up to the shower.
He’s too tired to be ashamed that he cries through the whole thing.
He thinks he might have some clothes left in the guest room, so he wraps up in a towel and heads across the hall, running directly into Wayne.
“Sorry,” he mutters, and tries to go around him, but they do the thing where they both try to shift the same way and end up just rocking back and forth in the hallway.
“You okay, bud?” Wayne asks.
Darry ducks his head lower. “Fine. Just getting some—”
“Hey.” Wayne touches his chin, just lightly, and he flinches up to meet his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
Darry busts out laughing, can’t help it. It’s not pretty, and his nose starts to run in the middle of it, but he leans back against the wall and laughs in Wayne’s face.
“You need to sleep,” Wayne says, seriously.
“You can— Dan’s watching the kid, so you can sleep for a bit.”
Darry clenches his fists in the towel around his waist. “I was thinking about leaving,” he says. He can hear himself say it from a long way down.
If he had it in him he’d laugh again at the disbelief in Wayne’s voice. It’s like he’s told him the dairy cows have started lactating pure whiskey.
“You wouldn’t understand. You practically are this town. If Letterkenny could walk and talk, it’d look a lot like you.”
“Why— I mean to— Where would you go?”
“The city, probably. Find someplace better than that shitty trailer. Find a job. I hear construction’s not bad. Union job. I can work. Not so smart, but I can get a job done.”
“You’re a great worker, Darry.”
“Yeah, I could find something.”
“For the kid? Is that— You want to leave because of the kid?”
“It’s not just that. You don’t see it, ‘cause you’re you and everything around you— Well, you’re you.” He suddenly wishes he wasn’t having this conversation in a cramped upstairs hallway with no clothes on. “But this town ain’t got much love for me. Never has. Didn’t for my folks, either, when they were still here. It’s hard to see it, but once you do . . .” He blinks down at the floor, watches his feet blur.
“That’s not true.”
Darry shakes his head. He can’t trust his voice any longer.
“I— You can’t leave.”
Darry says nothing.
“I mean, you can do what you want, you’re an adult.”
Darry snorts and wipes his nose on the back of his wrist.
“I gotta get dressed,” he says, and pushes past Wayne to the guest room. He’s just about there when Wayne’s hand closes around his elbow.
“You said I am this town. Right?”
“You know you are.”
“Well, then I reckon I— The town does have love for you. Maybe it’s hard to see it, maybe it’s not so good at showing it. But it’s there.”
“I’m so fucking tired, Wayne.” He blinks harder at the floor, praying that Wayne will let him go without looking at his wet face.
He turns and stomps down the stairs. Darry shuts the door behind him and lands face first on the bed, gritting his teeth and crying silently into the pillow.
When he wakes up, the sun has started to go down and the room is lit up in red and orange. He trips on the towel as he scrambles into a shirt and a pair of shorts, too little for how cold it’s going tonight but the only thing he can find.
“Sorry! Sorry, sorry, I—” He skids into the dining room to see Wayne, stony-faced, holding a spoonful of applesauce out to a disgruntled looking Marinette, who’s balanced on Dan’s knee.
When he sees Darry, Wayne drops the spoon and stands up, nodding to the open chair.
“You guys okay?” Darry asks as he sinks down, not looking away from Wayne.
“Yeah,” Dan says, “We had a—”
Wayne glares over at him and shakes his head.
“We’re all good.”
At that moment, Marinette notices Darry and holds her arms out, yelling.
“Oh, hello there,” he says, scooping her up. “Did you have fun? Yeah? Did she sleep at all?”
“A good hour and a half I think it was, eh Wayne? Wayne?”
When they look over, Wayne’s out the door.
“I got you, you’re good. Hi.” Darry kisses the top of her head. “She’s great, ain’t she?”
“Oh, she’s not so bad,” Dan says. He sticks his tongue out at her, which she mimics.
Dan gives her a whiskery kiss before they leave.
“He’ll come around,” he says, clapping Darry on the back.
Dan shakes his head. “See you tomorrow, Super Chief.”
Darry feels like a new man, so when Marinette wakes up screaming over cutting teeth, he’s ready. He’s got things for her to chew, he’s got little rubber things in the freezer to calm her aching gums, he’s got a little rub of whiskey to ease her suffering. It just about breaks his heart, seeing her little self so sad and angry over something she can’t control. He supposes she can’t really control anything, the thought of which makes him gather her in close and give her a kiss on her little warm cheek.
She dozes against his chest for a while, and he tries to think back on his conversation with Wayne. He’d been feeding her when Darry walked in. So what does that mean? He can’t entirely remember what was said, but he remembers the naked, vulnerable feeling and Wayne’s hand tight around his arm.
The town does have love for you. What the hell is that supposed to mean? And is whatever that is enough to stay for? He imagines waking up in a studio apartment, not much bigger than the trailer. Somewhere on the fifth floor, tenth floor. Neighbors close on all sides, sounds of traffic out the window at all hours. Maneuvering his big old van through narrow streets, parallel parking. Pushing Marinette in a stroller down paved roads, past dumpsters and alleyways and idling buses. He can almost feel it in his chest, the smell of exhaust, the claustrophobia of it. He imagines looking up and barely seeing the sky.
It’s 3:30 in the morning, and he finds himself calling Katy.
“What’sa matter?” she slurs sleepily at him. He can hear someone in the background say, “What the fuck?” before Katy shushes them.
“Sorry. I— Sorry, I shouldn’t call so late.”
“It’s early, Darry. Hang on, let me just—” he can hear rustling around, a door opening and closing. “What’s wrong?”
“She’s fine. She’s asleep now. She misses you, I think.”
“What a sweetheart.”
“What’s going on, Darry?”
“I shouldn’t have called. Only— Do you think I should move to the city?”
“You sound exactly like Wayne.”
“Why would you move out of Letterkenny?”
He sighs. “I don’t know. I had to take Marinette into town today to buy diapers. And everyone— It’s like nobody’s every really noticed me, not on my own, and now that they do, it’s—”
“It wasn’t good.”
“Bunch of busybodies, that’s what you’ve got in town.”
“Yeah, and it’s the same as it was when I was a kid. When my folks weren’t doing so good. When they were good, it was all fine, but whenever they started to lose it—”
“Bad gas travels fast.”
“Yeah. Think you know anyone could get me set up with a job over there?”
“Did you say you asked Wayne? About leaving?”
“Told him I was thinking about it, yeah.”
“What’d he say?”
He’s not sure how to answer. “I don’t know. It didn’t really— He said I can do what I want.”
“Idiot.” She yawns, and he feels guilty again for waking her up. “Well, I don’t want you to move.”
“No. And I’m not too fuckin’ repressed to admit it, either.”
“I— Well, thanks, Katy. That’s—”
“Oh, don’t get soft about it. I don’t think you’d like it here, either. I can’t really stand it more than a few days a month.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think I would.”
“Well, you deserve to be where you’re happy.”
“Yeah, Daryl, you deserve to be happy.”
He’s embarrassed by how much his eyes are stinging. “Thanks, Katy Kat.”
“Why’d you really call?”
He takes a deep breath. “I dunno. I guess I’m just— I don’t know if I’m being stupid?”
“Usually that answer’d be yes.”
“About Wayne, I mean.”
She hums in understanding. He closes his eyes and prays she doesn’t make him elaborate.
“Don’t think I can answer that for you,” she says after a long minute. “But I think if you’re being stupid, then he’s being stupider.”
He laughs. “Where does that leave us, eh?”
“That’s up to you, I guess. Listen, I’ll be back this morning. I picked up some stuff for my little pumpkin.”
“Come by the trailer, then.”
“Oh, I’m back here now.”
“Wayne wanted us out, so . . .”
“Are you kidding me?” She suddenly sounds completely awake.
“It’s no big deal, Katy, it’s better this way. It was, you know. An imposition. Speaking of, I’ll let you get back to sleep. Bye now.”
“Yeah,” she says, distracted. “See you.”
The idea of Darry leaving stuck with Wayne and wouldn’t let go. His dreams were confusing things, running through a warehouse, knowing that someone important was somewhere ahead, someone in trouble, but his feet and legs kept falling into holes in the floor full of icy water.
Katy wakes him up at four AM with a phone call. “You kicked them out?” she hollers.
He just about falls out of bed. “I— who?”
“You kicked Darry and the baby out? What the fuck are you thinking, Wayne? That trailer’s barely sanitary!”
“I didn’t— I didn’t kick anybody anywhere. Darry left.” Left. Is leaving. Is half gone already.
“Bullshit,” she spits. “He said you didn’t want him there. Said he was imposing.”
“Well, he was imposing—”
“When a man asks for help—”
“He never asked for anything. He never did.”
“I swear to God, Wayne, I’m so mad I could just— You have no idea. This ain’t some fuckin’ farmer, this ain’t some degen skid wound up on your doorstep, this is your best fuckin’ friend and you can’t even make an effort? This is Darry, for Christ’s sakes.”
“Darry and somebody else’s kid. It’s not his kid.”
“The fuck does that matter?”
“I—” He turns on the bedside light and gets up to pace. “I don’t know, but it does.”
“You’re telling me if you had proof she was Darry’s biological kid, you’d be all hands on deck to help out?”
“I mean. I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Bull goddamn shit, Wayne. What were you gonna do if Angie got pregnant, anyway?
That startles him into silence for a few moments. “Hadn’t thought that far.”
“Well, I guess I figured by the time that happened, then maybe I might have thought differently about the whole thing.”
“You are so full of it.”
“Darry ain’t my sweetie, so I don’t see how this conversation is even relevant.”
Katy laughs, a mean and hard kind of laugh. “If I was there right now I’d sock you so goddamn hard.”
He looks out the window, where the sun hasn’t thought about rising yet. “What are you doing up this early, anyway?”
“None of your fuckin’ business.”
“He asked if I thought he should be looking at places in the city. Asked if I knew anyone could maybe get him a job.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but it hits him like a sucker punch to the sternum.
“He can do what he wants,” he grits out, hoping she doesn’t hear how hard it is for him to breathe.
“Listen to me,” she says, and she there’s more anger in her voice than he thinks he’s ever heard directed at him, even as kid when he fed her favorite yarn doll to the McMurrays’ pigs. “I’m coming back this morning, and I’m going to drop some things off at Darry’s trailer, and then I’m coming home. And while I’m doing that, you’re going to think about what you’ll do if Darry leaves. And exactly what your day is gonna look like when that happens, and exactly how you’re gonna feel about that. And then you’re going to figure out exactly what you’re gonna do about it. And if you get through that with time to spare, maybe think about exactly what your fuckin’ issue is with baby Marinette, and move on from ‘I don’t like kids,’ ‘cause that was tired a week ago.”
She hangs up without another word. He stares at his phone and watches the minutes tick up until it hits four thirty. He could get a head start on morning chores, but he knows he owes it to Katy to at least try to take her advice.
He goes down to the kitchen, makes coffee, and sits down to think.
Point A: If Darry leaves. He’ll need to hire someone new to work on the farm, which won’t necessarily be difficult, but there will be a learning curve there that he’d rather not deal with. He’ll probably come back to town occasionally to visit, holidays and whatnot, though given the way Wayne has been treating the kid he’s not likely to make any extra effort to fit Wayne in. Not as a single parent who’d have to haul the kid around everywhere he goes or pay for sitters. Not when he’s living in a new city and the only person he knows in the world is the damn baby, and suddenly that’s his whole life right there. Or maybe he’d find somebody in town, somebody who doesn’t mind a kid and wants to help out, who wouldn’t kick him out at the first sign of trouble and make him go through everything alone.
Point B: What is Wayne’s day like without Darry in it. Choring with Squirrelly Dan and whoever else he can find. Sitting in front of the produce stand with Squirrelly Dan and Katy. Going down to MoDean’s with Squirrelly Dan and Katy—though not Katy if she’s got a fella and not Squirrelly Dan if he’s off with his sweetie. So just Wayne, then. Having a Puppers on the porch, alone.
Point C: What will Wayne feel about that. His first instinct is to tell himself, you can make another pal. And say he does. Is there any way to replace the easy back-and-forth, the ability to sit in quiet for hours with nothing but the flick of lighters between them, the feeling of someone knowing, at each second, exactly who you are and what you mean?
Because he is a good brother to Katy and he owes it to her, he closes his eyes and huffs out a breath through his nose, and he imagines waking up in the morning and knowing that Darry is gone.
It starts small, just a hitch somewhere around his bottom ribs, like the second a stump starts to come loose from the soil after a few long minutes of pulling. And when he breathes in, it starts to spread, something cold and sharp and not at all welcome, familiar from the second he found out about Angie but different, tighter, like there’s a smaller version of himself somewhere inside, wrapped in some kind of chain that keeps pulling and pulling until he’s sure he can’t breathe.
When he breathes in, it’s like waking from a dream to a facefull of ice water.
Point E: What exactly is his issue with the baby. He’s never liked kids, but never really though about why. Some of them he knows why, like Samuel, who is a fucking asshole and there’s no shame in stating it plain. But in general they make him uncomfortable. They’re usually sticky, and they need everything explained, and they have more energy than he ever remembers having, and they seem real easy to break, or lose, or drown, or crush, or . . .
And since this kid arrived, he’s hardly seen Darry at all.
And isn’t that a kick in the pants. Jealous of a baby. A grown man who can proudly wipe his own ass, jealous of a baby and too chickenshit to do anything about it.
Now that he thinks about it, he’s realizing he might have been taking Darry for granted for close on fifteen years, and it was a fucking infant that made him figure it out. And the clawing terrified feeling hasn’t fully left his insides yet, and now that he’s sitting and forcing himself to think about it, maybe it’s not just about having longstanding habits and liking things a certain way. Maybe the fact that he can hardly think about his life without Darry in it without feeling the need to break something should tell him something far more important
Circling back to Point D: What is he going to do about it. He can stay here with his thumb up his ass and let what might be his favorite part of his life take off, or he can get up, find his apparently-misplaced balls, and do something about it.
He takes off out the screen door and slams directly into Darry.
“Whoa there,” Darry says, holding Wayne by the arms and barely keeping him upright. Wayne grabs him back, awkward but earnest, and tries to think of what to say.
“Where you off to, then?” Darry asks, grinning. His eyes are still dark with lack of sleep and there’s something questionable on his collar, but fuck if the smell of him and his warm and solid presence doesn’t start to calm the freezing roar inside Wayne’s chest.
“I—” In his defense, he thought he’d have the whole walk to the trailer to think of what to say.
“You looking for Katy? She’s back at the trailer. Told me you needed help with something.”
“You okay there, bud?”
“I think I’m scared?” is not the worst thing he could have said, but it still comes out weird and uncertain, and Wayne doesn’t like anything about it.
Darry shifts his hands so he’s cupping Wayne’s elbows, brow furrowing up and eyes going soft and concerned. He’s going to be a really good dad pops, uninvited, across Wayne’s brain, almost distracting him from the terror of what the fuck do I do now.
“What’s going on? Hey, come on, we’ll figure it out.”
And isn’t that just like him, and isn’t that just like he’s always been, right at Wayne’s side where he never even needed to look over to know he’s there. And wasn’t that comfortable, but Jesus Christ. What has he been missing by not looking over all these years?
So he lunges forward and kisses him.
It isn’t, by anyone’s standards, a good kiss. But it undeniably is one, and Wayne thinks that’s about the best he can do at the moment. Darry’s whole body locks up and he lets go of Wayne’s arms like he’s been burned. When Wayne opens his eyes Darry is staring at him like he’s a concrete median and Darry’s a truck with the brakelines cut.
“I’m sorry,” he grits out, stomach turning over and an awful stinging behind his eyes. It wasn’t a good kiss, but fuck if it didn’t make him want another, and now everything’s gone exactly where he expected it to, directly in the shitter.
He starts to turn away but Darry grabs the front of his shirt, yanking him back around and nearly splitting a seam or two. He still looks . . . honestly, about a scared as Wayne feels, but there’s something wild and dangerous in his eyes, like he might throw a punch any second.
“Do not fuck with me, Wayne,” he says, voice like gravel. “You can’t— Don’t do that.”
Wayne nearly apologizes again, but then he looks down and sees Darry’s hands shaking.
It’s like you’ve seen something—a building, a hill—one way all your life, and then all of a sudden you walk around the back of it and it’s a completely different shape than you assumed it was. Half a lifetime starts to click into place inside his head and the rush of it is like winning a dozen fights at once.
“I’m late, aren’t I?” he says, and lays a hand alongside Darry’s neck like he’s a horse that needs calming.
Darry looks lost, then confused, then he takes a shuddering breath and closes his eyes. “A little bit, yeah.”
“Sorry,” he says again, running his thumb along Darry’s jaw.
“Got there in the end,” Darry says, still uneven, but he’s smiling a little.
“Nope,” Wayne says. “Not the end of anything.”
When he kisses him again, it’s perfect.
Of course then Darry has to ruin it by pulling back and squinting at him, saying, “Does this mean we’re good?”
“Why wouldn’t we be good?”
“Everything the last couple— You know, you kicking me out and everything.”
Wayne squares his shoulders. “Darry, I want you to know that I was wrong to do that, and wrong not to help you in your time of trouble, and I apologize for it and I won’t do anything of the kind again.”
“I appreciate that, but I figure we oughtn’t start building on a cracked foundation. Is it just ‘cause you don’t want to be around a kid, simple as that?”
“I reckon I don’t like change so much.”
Darry laughs. “Hate to break it to you, Super Chief, but you just made a hell of a change.”
Wayne frowns. “Maybe I don’t like change so much if I don’t get to think about it first. Like a baby showing up at the produce stand or you taking off for the city.”
Darry nods, serious now. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I do need to move out of the trailer, though. No place for a baby.”
Wayne doesn’t say the first three things that pop onto his tongue but takes a moment and asks, “What’s your plan there, then?”
“Katy’s got a lawyer in the city for me to talk to. So I know what to expect, maybe see what the options are.”
Wayne nods. “Move in here.”
Darry leans away from him. “I’m not going without her, not if I have any say in it.”
Wayne holds on to his hips to keep him from going too far. “I suppose it can’t be that much harder than a puppy.”
Darry raises an eyebrow.
“A particularly difficult puppy.”
“Her name is Marinette.”
“Yeah, I know that.”
“You gotta say it. You can’t keep saying ‘it,’ you’ll give her a complex.”
“Marinette. Can’t be that difficult. Lord knows degens do it every day.”
“She will eventually learn to talk. Walk around, feed herself. Open doors. So, maybe not so much like a puppy after a while.”
Wayne tugs Darry over to lean on the railing, arm sliding around his shoulders. It feels better than anything when Darry’s own tucks in around his waist.
“You wanna know what,” he says, “it maybe wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing to have another pair of hands around the place. Picking stones, picking worms, whatnot.”
“I bet she’d really like picking worms, once she’s big enough.”
“Oh, picking worms is a great time for a kid.”
“Picking worms is the best time for a kid.”
Darry laughs and leans against him, turns and tucks his face into Wayne’s shoulder.
“It’s been a long time,” he says, almost too softly to hear.
Wayne holds him closer and presses his lips to the top of his head.
“It’s gonna be a lot of work,” Darry says.
“That’s nothing new,” Wayne responds, proudly.
The sun peeks out over the barn, bathing the whole yard in golden light.