November 30, 2023
Apolo steps into the house, and blinks in surprise. He’d caught an early flight to surprise JR and Malixi. But now he’s not so sure that was such a good idea.
He walks through the foyer, and hangs up his jacket, dropping his computer bag and suitcase at the bottom of the stairs, staring around in abject horror. The house is a mess. The potted plant in the entrance of the living room is lying on it’s side. There are Legos and Matchbox cars strewn across every surface of the living room. The TV is on but muted. Apolo shakes his head, turning around to head into the dining room and attached kitchen. There are Crayola’s scatter across the table, along with half-finished scribbles, and the box of Holiday Cards they’d just gotten in the mail earlier in that week. Those were in the process of being addressed, and JR had apparently stopped midway through. In the kitchen the sink was full of dishes, and there were cheerios here and there on and under the dinette table, dog food surrounding the dog dish on the floor. The trash can was overflowing, and the box of cereal was on its side on the counter, more cheerios cascading out onto the dark marble.
Apolo shakes his head, itching to start straightening, cleaning, and fixing everything to rights. Instead he continues through the kitchen, down the hall leading to the office, gym, sunroom, and back around to the living room, entering through the far end. Only then does he see JR stretched out across the couch. He’s wearing just gym shorts, and Malixi is stretched out across his bare chest, both of them so deeply asleep they’re practically comatose. Even Shun is asleep, curled up between JR’s knees, his head on JR’s crotch. Apolo feels all the frustration and anger that had begun to build in his system at the sight of the destroyed house melt away.
Malixi at just 2 1/2 is, at times, a little terror. Add the new puppy into the mix and he can’t stay angry, especially when he came home early. JR had always made it clear the house got messy when he was home “alone” for more than a day or two, and Apolo wasn’t supposed to be back in Seattle until the next afternoon. He sits on the coffee table, watching the two most important people in his life sleep and smiles.
Shun wakes then, and greets him with a tail wag. Apolo reaches out picking him up before he can wake up either Mali or JR.
“Shh, Shun, no barking!” Apolo orders softly. Shun agrees with a lick to Apolo’s nose.
Looking around at the mess he finds himself itching to start cleaning it up, but quietly, so that JR and Mali can sleep a little longer. And so he does. He quietly collects all the match cars and Legos into their bins, putting them away in the toy box under the front window. He sets the plant back upright, and carefully sweeps up the dirt before the dog can spread it around the whole house. He stuffs crayons back in their box, and carefully stacks drawing after drawing into a neat pile. He sweeps up the messes in the kitchen, and loads the dishwasher as slowly as possible to not clank the dishes. All with Shun following him around as he goes, quietly observing.
By the time JR begins to stir, the whole house is set to rights. He wakes up to Apolo sitting on the floor across the coffee table from him, addressing the last few Christmas cards. He stretches, the hand on Malixi’s back tightening briefly to keep him from falling. His eyes blink open and settle on Apolo. He starts in surprise, but quickly smiles widely, his whole face lighting up.
“Hey,” he says softly. “You’re home early.” Apolo grins at him.
“My last thing got cancelled. How was your weekend at home with the little monster?” Apolo asks. He signs the last card and sets the pen down, stretching his arms up behind his head and popping his back.
“Good. Only two hissy fits in three days. So that was pretty good,” JR replies quietly. Apolo pulls away from the coffee table, rolling to his knees, and crawling around the table to reach JR. “He’s also finally learned not to tug the dog’s ears. So thankfully he won’t try that again.” Apolo bites back a smile, moving in to check on Malixi. He’s drooling a little on JR’s chest but he’s still pretty fully asleep. Apolo reaches out to rest a hand on his small back, feeling the rise and fall of his breath. Smiling at him, he moves back to the head of the couch and plants his elbow on the couch seat next to JR’s head, resting his chin in the open palm.
“That’s good. Shun was going to lose patience soon. I didn’t want Mali getting snapped at,” Apolo says, his eyes taking in JR’s entire face. JR bites his lip.
“You going to kiss me hello?” JR asks. Apolo laughs, and nods, leaning forward to meet JR’s mouth in a kiss. JR’s lips are chapped, and part for Apolo’s with an eagerness that warms Apolo’s insides. He’s missed JR. Even if he was only gone a few days. JR presses closer, licking into Apolo’s mouth and humming in appreciation. JR picks his head up and into the kiss. Movement breaks them apart and they both look down to see Malixi blinking at them tiredly.
“PoPo?” he says, scrubbing at one eye.
“Hey, buddy. Come here,” Apolo says. Malixi climbs higher up JR, making him grunt softly in the discomfort of a knee in the sternum, and reaches for Apolo. Apolo picks him up, holding him close. Malixi kisses him on the cheek, patting him on the side of the head with one small hand.
“Hi, PoPo!” he says smiling at Apolo with big brown eyes, and baby teeth.
“Did you and Daddy miss me?” Apolo asks. JR stretches with his whole body, pushing himself up into a sitting position. Apolo stands on creaking knees to sit beside him, Malixi in his lap. Malixi cuddles close, hands fisting Apolo’s t-shirt.
“Yes,” he says, one of his thumbs migrating into his mouth. Then suddenly he sits up, tugging his finger free of his mouth. “Did’u bring me present?” he asks, blinking his eyes up at Apolo. Apolo laughs.
“Yes, I did. Because Daddy told me you were being good. So I got you a little something. Dinner should be here soon. Let’s go wash our hands and you can open it while we wait, ok?” Apolo offers. Malixi nods, climbing carefully down off of Apolo’s lap. JR flops against Apolo’s side, going boneless again.
“You ordered dinner?” he asks, suspicious.
“Yep,” Apolo says, kissing him on the forehead and standing up. He ignores the way JR flops down to lay across the couch in his absence. Apolo takes Malixi’s hand. “Come on, Mali.”
JR follows behind into the kitchen but he pauses in the doorway, eyes trailing over the counter and the table top. His brow furrows and he spins back around to look at the dining room table.
“Apolo? Did you clean?” he asks. Apolo shrugs, pushing the stool up in front of the sink so Mali can climb up to wash his hands.
“I did,” he looks back over JR.
“The house was a mess,” JR replies.
“It was. But it’s ok. Houses get messy. Especially with two year olds and puppies and people going out of town. It’s no big deal,” he says, turning around to help their son wash his hands.
He doesn’t jump when JR’s arms slide around his waist. JR presses tightly against him, back to front, and hooks his chin over Apolo’s shoulder.
“I love you,” he whispers. Apolo shuts off the water, reaching for and ripping off a paper towel for Malixi. Mali takes it and dries his hands, then hops off the stool, taking off, Shun trailing behind. Apolo spins in place, keeping JR’s arms around him.
“I love you too,” he says, pressing his forehead to JR’s. JR kisses him lightly on the mouth.
“And yes, I missed you,” JR adds, pulling away as the doorbell rings. “Wash your hands. I’ll get the door.” He starts to leave the kitchen and turns at the doorway. “I’ll reward you for cleaning the house later tonight,” he says softly.
Apolo’s answering laughter follows him all the way to the front door.