Peter woke up early the next morning feeling a trifle seedy due to the quantity of alcohol consumed the night before, but he was otherwise happy. He had been concerned for Alan, but Steve’s and Keidan’s visit appeared to have been the catalyst to pull Alan back from the frantic, almost manic, person he had been evolving into.
Troy and Bradley were great kids in Peter’s opinion, but Alan was being slowly crushed by the responsibility they represented. Having a short time away from them while their friends babysat had given Alan some breathing space and a chance to regain his mental balance. Peter was hoping that the plan for a ‘family day’ would help that process along. There would be two of them to look after the boys; the entire load wouldn’t be on Alan’s shoulders.
Peter was mentally reviewing various options for what they could be doing when he heard Alan roll over. After a glance at the bedside clock to confirm that it was still very early, Peter grinned as he decided some quick lovemaking before the boys woke up would be good for Alan.
Peter turned towards his partner and reached out, but stopped when he found something unexpected between them. He glanced at Bradley’s small body and then looked up to meet Alan’s apologetic gaze.
“He wet his bed again, so I got him changed and put him in here with us. You were out cold,” Alan whispered.
Peter frowned. “Again? That’s four times this week!” He wrinkled his nose. “And I think he should have a shower as soon as he’s awake.”
“Shhhh,” Alan whispered, glancing down to check if Bradley had heard. The little boy was sound asleep. “Give him some slack. He’s lost his dad and, effectively, his mum. He’s entitled to a bit of time to get over that. Wetting his bed is pretty minor in the whole scheme of things.”
“I suppose so.” Peter gave Alan a wry grin. “It just ruins the plans I had for a bit of fun before the boys woke up.”
Alan blew a kiss back across the body between them. “Thanks, but we can still do that tonight.”
Peter had a thought. “How much time do you think we have?”
“I don’t know. They had a late night, so hopefully they’ll sleep for a while longer.” Alan smiled. “Though if we keep talking, we’ll wake up Bradley.”
Peter grinned. “In that case, I’m going to have a shower. Care to join me?”
* * *
“What are we doing today, Uncle Alan?” Troy asked while eating his bowl of Nutrigrain. A couple of pieces of cereal flew out of his mouth and landed on the table.
“Finish what’s in your mouth before you speak.” Alan smiled “After we do a few chores, Peter and I thought, as a special treat, we could all go somewhere for a few hours.”
“Where?” Bradley asked.
“We were thinking of Bundoora Park. Have you ever been there?”
“Where’s that?” both boys asked.
Peter grinned. “You’ll love it. There are lots of things to do and plenty of room to run around in.”
“Do they have a rollercoaster?” Bradley asked.
Peter laughed. “No. It’s just a big park—with a few playgrounds. I haven’t been there for a long time, though, so we’ll just have to wait and see what we find.”
“Can I take my bike?” Troy asked.
Peter exchanged a glance with Alan. They hadn’t discussed that option. Indeed, Peter hadn’t realised that Troy had a bike, though he had noticed the bikes at the back of the garage. He just hadn’t paid any attention to them.
“I don’t think so. It’s mainly grass and hills. There’s nowhere to ride your bike.”
Troy pouted. “I don’t want to go, then. I want to go to Bizzy Kids.”
“Bizzy Kids? What’s that?” Alan asked after he saw that Peter didn’t know, either.
Troy grinned and became very animated. “They’ve got a bike track—with traffic lights, train tracks and everything! They’ve also got video games and climbing stuff, and… and… lots of things!”
Bradley frowned across the table at his brother. “But it’s a long way away. Mummy and Daddy would only take us there as a special treat.”
“Isn’t this a special treat? Uncle Alan said it was a special treat.” Troy look beseechingly at Alan. “Pleeeeaase?”
“I don’t want to go to Bizzy Kids. I don’t like riding bikes. I want to go to the park.” Bradley crossed his arms and glared at Troy.
“That’s because you’ve got the falling-down bike.”
“It’s not my fault it keeps falling down! Daddy shouldn’t have taken off those extra wheels.”
Alan started to look anxious. “Boys, boys! Settle down. Peter and I have decided where we’re going. You’re going to have fun, I promise. Just finish your breakfast and get dressed, and then we’ll go.” He glanced over at Peter. “Is that okay?”
Peter nodded. “I’ll wash and hang out the sheets and stuff, and then we’ll head off.” He paused. “We probably should take some snacks and drinks. I don’t know what we’ll be able to buy there.”
“I’m not going!” Troy said, crossing his arms.
Alan rolled his eyes, and Peter smiled sympathetically at his partner. “Don’t push it, Alan. He might change his mind by the time we’re ready.”
Alan nodded. “Yeah.” He sighed and smiled at the stubborn boy. “Maybe we can go to Bizzy Kids another day.”
“I want to go there now!”
Peter chuckled to himself as he headed down to Bradley’s room to strip the bed. Alan was handling Troy’s tantrum better than he had expected. He took it as another sign that Alan was beginning to find some balance. In the meantime, Peter intended to do as much as he could to help. He had seen a soccer ball in the garage that he wanted to take. He was planning on becoming completely exhausted at the park running around with the boys.
Peter was coming back in from the clothesline when he heard Troy yell out in pain. Dropping the empty basket, he raced down to Troy’s bedroom. He found Alan on his knees in front of a half-naked boy with clean clothes in a pile next to him. Troy’s pyjamas had been flung onto the bed.
“I’m sorry, Troy, but you haven’t been helping me,” Alan said.
“What happened?” Peter asked as he came to a stop. He reached out and ruffled Troy’s hair while smiling at the young boy.
“Uncle Alan hurt me!”
Alan glanced up guiltily. “He was playing around. He wouldn’t get dressed, so I’ve been doing it for him. I gave him a small smack, more like a tap.”
Peter’s lips were tight as he glared at his partner. His view was that hitting children was totally unacceptable, but he decided it wasn’t the time to have that argument. He looked down at Troy and smiled. “If you help me get you dressed, you can play for a bit before we go.”
Troy considered the proposal for a fraction of a second. “Well? Why are you waiting? I want to play!”
* * *
Keidan rolled out of bed and scratched his groin while frowning at the empty bed. It was unusual for Steve to be up before him, so Keiden headed out to check if there was a problem. As was his normal practise on the weekend, he didn’t bother getting dressed but strolled through the house in the nude. He found Steve dressed in boxer shorts and a loose T-shirt at the kitchen table working on his laptop. A manila folder with a handful of pieces of paper in it was lying open next to the computer. A small teapot with a crocheted cover sat on the ceramic stand that Keidan had given Steve as one of his presents for his last birthday.
“What are you doing?” Keiden asked as he stood behind Steve and peered over his shoulder.
Steve glanced up before returning his attention to the screen. “I’m working on some stuff for Alan and Peter.”
Keidan moved next to him and sat on the table, carefully avoiding the teapot. “The stuff about Alan’s brother-in-law’s payout? I thought you said last night that that wouldn’t take long.” He grinned and stretched backwards to give his boyfriend a good view of his body.
Steve narrowed his eyes. “Do you have to do that? I’m finding it very distracting.”
Keiden chuckled. “That’s the whole idea.”
Steve smiled, reached over, took the cover off the teapot, and then placed it in Keidan’s lap. “That’s better. Distraction gone.”
“You think so?” Keidan asked, jiggling the teapot cover.
“Be nice for a change. I’m worried, and I keep hoping I’ve made a mistake.”
Keidan stopped playing around and slid off the table. He stood next to Steve, the crocheted tea cosy still covering his groin, and peered at the spreadsheet on the display. “What’s the problem?”
“The investment stuff was easy. Unless they need the money, paying off the home loan is the same as an investment returning the current interest rate. They’re not going to get that sort of guaranteed return any other way. Investments that offer a potentially higher rate are also a lot riskier. Just in case, though, they need to check if Lisa has an offset account that the money can be put into. That way, it’ll cancel out the interest on the home loan while still being accessible.”
“So, what’s wrong?”
“It’s the ‘unless they need the money’ part. I’ve dragged out the notes from when I did a budget for my sister a couple of years ago,” Steve said, indicating the manila folder. “I’m being generous, too, and not taking into account inflation since then. I’m having trouble seeing how they’re going to manage.”
Keidan frowned. “They’ve both got good incomes. Surely two kids aren’t that expensive.”
“That’s true, but I don’t think they can keep two incomes. One of them is going to have to quit his job or work reduced hours. I rang Judy first thing this morning. She just laughed when I asked about Alan finding a child-care place. Alan and Peter are going to have to work on the assumption that they’re not going to be able to put Bradley in care. One of them is going to have to stay home.”
“Didn’t Alan say he had someone who can look after him two days a week?”
Steve nodded. “And that’s the only reason I mentioned working reduced hours. But will Alan’s boss allow him to do that? I’m sure Peter’s boss won’t.”
Keidan looked down as the teapot cover fell to the ground but elected not to comment on the fact. He felt for Alan and Peter, but he didn’t see what he and Steve could do about it. Steve’s accounting magic was the only material thing the pair of them could offer, and Steve was admitting it wasn’t going to be enough.
“How far are you planning ahead? The money doesn’t have to last forever.”
Steve looked up. “Don’t tell them, but I dropped in to see Alan’s sister yesterday at lunchtime. I’m planning on Alan needing to look after those boys for more than just a short while. I have to be conservative; I’m planning for eighteen months.”
“A year and a half!” Keidan’s jaw dropped.
“Yes. Until Bradley is established in school. Until then, I’m assuming he’ll need a carer, and I’m not confident that Alan’s sister will be able to look after an active boy by herself. At least not initially.”
Keidan thought about it. “Shouldn’t they be able to get child care for the boy well before then?”
Steve blinked and then grinned. “I’m an idiot. Of course, they should. I hadn’t taken that into account.” He made a few changes to the spreadsheet. “Now, that looks a lot better!”
“What do they pay you for, anyway?” Keidan asked cheekily while giving Steve a shoulder rub.
“To look sexy.” Steve saved his work and then reached down to pick up the tea cosy. “Here. Put this on and go back to the bedroom. I’ll be with you shortly.”
Keidan grinned, restored the teapot cover to its previous location, and saluted. “Yes, sir!”
* * *
“Did everyone have fun?” Alan asked as he looked into the back seat of the car.
“Lots and lots of fun!”
Peter smiled while he drove home. It had been an enjoyable few hours. Despite Troy complaining for the entire trip to the park about how he didn’t want to go, once they were there, the boys really enjoyed themselves. Peter tried to keep up with them but quickly learnt that a lot of playground equipment was not designed for adults. Instead, he supervised while the boys wore themselves out. The soccer ball was left in the car; Peter didn’t feel it was needed.
After an hour of running around, they retired to the coffee shop. The boys had ice creams, and the guys had coffees. As the entrance to the children’s farm was nearby, the next place to go was obvious. Neither Peter nor Alan had known it existed and realised later that they could easily have spent a couple of hours there. The boys enjoyed seeing the farm animals, and the ride through the wildlife reserve was a highlight. Bradley was more interested in the tractor that was pulling the enclosed trailer they sat in than the animals, but Troy enjoyed spotting kangaroos and emus.
“Can we go back tomorrow?” Troy asked.
“I don’t think so, but we might go back next weekend if the weather’s fine,” Alan said.
“I want to go back tomorrow!”
“Let’s wait and see what happens. Something else might crop up.”
Peter could tell that Alan wasn’t in the mood for an argument, so he tried to change the topic. “What was your favourite part of the park?”
“The tractor!” Bradley said.
Troy thought about it for a moment. “The animals were nice, but I liked the slides, too. Can I pick more than one?”
Peter chuckled. “Of course, Troy. As many as you like.”
The boys were still chatting and arguing about what were the most fun things when Peter pulled into their street. Alan was the first to notice that there was a car parked in their driveway.
“Whose car is that?” Alan asked.
“Don’t know. It’s not any of our friends unless they’ve bought a new vehicle.”
Peter’s puzzlement turned to alarm when he pulled in behind the other car and noticed that the front door to the house was open. He glanced across at Alan, who returned a worried look. Peter guessed that they both had the same thought: burglars.
“Peter, you stay with the boys while I check it out.”
“What if they attack you?”
“Better me than the boys.”
“Better me than you. You’re their guardian; I’m not.”
Alan looked like he was going to argue, but they were interrupted by Troy. “Grandad’s here!”
Peter took a breath to calm down before he looked over his shoulder. “Is that your grandad’s car?”
“Yep! Nanny doesn’t like to drive, so Grandad drives everywhere.”
Bradley was trying to undo his harness. “Help me, Uncle Alan. I want to get out!”
Alan met Peter’s eyes. “We’ll play it cool. They’ve probably just come to see their grandkids.”
Peter nodded, though he was thinking burglars might have been easier to handle.
As soon as they were out of the car, the boys raced inside. Alan and Peter followed to find the Lyntons seated in the living room with Bradley and Troy asking their grandmother if she had brought them anything.
“Boys! Calm down. Yes, of course. I’ve got lots of things to choose from since I wasn’t sure if you’d been getting enough to eat.” She glanced at the two young men with narrowed eyes as she said the last part.
Peter could see Alan’s teeth grinding. He put his hand on Alan’s shoulder. “Let it slide,” he whispered.
“Mrs. Lynton. Mr. Lynton. It’s good to see you again,” Alan said, though there was little warmth in his voice. “I’m presuming Craig left you a key to the house.”
Henry Lynton nodded and rose to his feet. His wife stayed seated.
“Of course! He wanted to make sure I was always able to look after the boys if needed.” Penelope Lynton reached down on the far side of the chair and brought a basket up onto her lap. “Now, what do two undernourished young boys need to eat.” She smiled at her grandchildren. “How about some good, healthy Anzac biscuits?”
“Yummy!” the boys chorused. Bradley made a grab for the tin Mrs. Lynton had lifted out of her basket.
“Manners, Bradley. Whatever has your uncle been teaching you? You know you shouldn’t snatch.”
Alan ignored her and turned to her husband. “Can I get you anything? A cup of tea, coffee, or maybe a beer?”
“Nothing for me, Alan,” Henry said, a faint smile complementing the warm tone. “We took the liberty of making ourselves a cup when we arrived and found you weren’t here.”
“Sorry, Nanny.” Bradley looked contrite for less than a second before smiling. “Can I have one now?”
“Me, too!” Troy added.
She stared down her nose at them. “What do you say?”
There was a pause before Troy grinned. “Please?”
“Good boy! You haven’t completely forgotten the manners that your parents taught you.”
Peter didn’t think there was any immediate likelihood of bloodshed, so he turned to Alan. “I’ll get the things from the car.”
Alan grunted, which Peter took to mean to go ahead. After one anxious glance around the room, Peter headed outside. Given the events at the funeral, he stopped to check that Lisa’s car was blocking in the Lyntons’. He didn’t want to leave any chance that they would be able to drive off with the boys. He then moved some of the gear into the garage and brought the rest into the house. He found Troy and Bradley sitting in the corner eating while playing with some Lego models they and Steve had made the night before. Alan was perched on the edge of the couch, while Mr. and Mrs Lynton were seated in the two chairs.
“…and I noticed that the boys weren’t wearing hats. It’s not good for them to be out in the sun without protection.”
“I do apologise, Mrs. Lynton, but since it was overcast, I didn’t think they needed to be wearing hats. None of the other kids in the playground were wearing hats, either.”
Peter admired how Alan managed to say that without snarling, though the glare he had thrown across the room showed how he really felt.
“That’s my point. You don’t know how to look after them properly.” Mrs. Lynton smiled condescendingly. “That’s not really your fault. Your sort can’t be expected to know how to be responsible parents.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Peter said, trying to forestall an angry outburst from Alan, “but I noticed that the school policy doesn’t require hats until next term, which is still a few weeks away. I also read in the paper that some health experts have suggested wearing hats at this time of the year can be unhealthy for the kids, as it prevents them from getting sufficient doses of Vitamin D from the sun. While you may disagree with the experts, we have been doing what we can to be responsible.” Peter sat down next to Alan. He knew it was going to infuriate Craig’s mother, but he slipped his hand into Alan’s. He thought it was more important to give his partner some tactile support.
She rolled her eyes. “And it is clear that it isn’t enough. While you’ve been out playing around, I went through the boys’ rooms and tidied up. The place was a complete mess! No decent mother would let their children live in such squalor, and that’s why I think the boys should come home with me.”
“You went snooping through the rooms!”
“Let me handle it, Alan.” Peter turned back to Mrs. Lynton, though he kept a watch on Alan out of the corner of his eye. He was concerned that Alan was playing into her hands and would say something that she would use against him if the matter came before a judge.
“I didn’t snoop. I’ll admit I took one look into the room that you two are using.” Her nose wrinkled. “There was no way I would’ve stepped into it. I’m sure Lisa is going to need that room steam-cleaned when she returns.”
Peter pushed his temper down and gave her one of his professional-salesman smiles. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Lynton, if we don’t meet your standards, but we feel it is more important at the moment that the boys receive lots of attention rather than leaving them alone while we clean up their rooms. Which is why we’ve just spent a few hours taking them to a park.”
“That just shows how woefully inadequate you are as parents. One of you could be cleaning the rooms while the other one looks after the boys.”
Peter didn’t like her haughty tone, but he thought he knew how to put her down. “Thank you, Mrs. Lynton. It’s with advice like that that I’m sure we’ll be doing an even better job in no time. I’m glad you’ve decided to help us.”
She sneered across at Peter and Alan. “It’s because of things like that that you shouldn’t be entrusted with something as precious as my grandchildren.”
Alan couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Lisa doesn’t think so. She left the boys with me, not you. You’re just going to have to accept that fact, because it’s not going to change!”
“We’ll see about that.” Mrs. Lynton’s expression was resolute. “If you think for one moment, that I’m going to let you—”
“Enough!” Mr. Lynton stood up and stepped between Alan and his wife. He glared at one, then the other. “If you want to continue this, do it outside, not in here!”
Penelope Lynton appeared confused. “But, Henry! We need—”
Peter glanced at Alan and noted the wrinkled forehead, but he was pleased that his partner was staying quiet.
“Shut up, Penny. This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion.”
She scowled. “Have you defected to their side?” She almost spat the word at her husband.
He stared down impassively. “My view hasn’t changed: we want what’s best for our grandchildren. And that’s why this discussion is over.” He tilted his head towards the corner where the boys had been playing.
Peter winced when he saw the frightened, wide-eyed expressions on Troy and Bradley. He headed over to comfort them, but was beaten by both Alan and Mr. Lynton. Peter glanced at Mrs. Lynton. She was biting her lower lip while staring as her grandchildren were being comforted by Alan and her husband.
“Mrs. Lynton?” Peter asked quietly.
She started. A faint frown appeared. “Yes?”
“It’s almost time for us to ring Lisa. We’re trying to encourage the boys to speak to her most days. Would you like to speak to her, too?”
“We’re perfectly capable of going in to see her ourselves!” A flash of something swept over her face, too fast for Peter to read. “But that would be nice. Thank you.”
“Just one thing. We haven’t told her that you want to take the boys. We’re trying to spare her the stress if we can. Can you please not mention it?”
Her gaze became distant as she thought about the request. Peter waited patiently. A giggle from Bradley attracted her attention, and she nodded. “This isn’t over, but we’ll do our best to keep Lisa out of it.”
* * *
“Bye, Nanny! Bye, Grandad!” Troy waved from the doorway as his grandparents drove off. Bradley was playing with his Legos and hadn’t moved.
Alan and Peter closed the door and let Troy go back to playing with his brother. Peter noticed that Alan looked worried. “What’s wrong?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re chewing on your lip; you only do that when you’re worried about something.” Peter smiled to show his support.
Alan gave a snort of laughter before returning to a serious expression. “I can’t help thinking about what Mrs. Lynton said. Would the boys really be better off with them? There’s so much I don’t know.”
Peter laughed and draped an arm across Alan’s shoulders. “Don’t worry about it. I think she might’ve been a saleswoman at some point in the past; she was using a classic technique.”
Alan stared wide-eyed at Peter. “What do you mean?”
“She was picking up on all your weak points and emphasising her strong ones. It’s what I do for a living—trying to convince people to buy from us instead of the competitors. Didn’t you notice she avoided mentioning any of the disadvantages of her looking after the boys?”
“Like her age, for example. Can you imagine either her or her husband running around with the boys like we did earlier? They don’t have the stamina to do that. Another thing would be that Troy would probably have to change schools, removing him from his friends, unless they moved in here. If so, what would they do with their old place?” Peter kissed Alan lightly on the lips. “I’m sorry. If I’d realised you hadn’t worked that out, I would’ve said something earlier.”
“Thanks, Peter.” Alan slipped an arm around Peter’s waist and leant against him. “There is one thing we need to discuss, though. She asked me some questions about our work and how we’d look after Bradley. That crystallised something I’ve been tossing up about for a couple of days now.”
Peter waited a moment, but Alan had fallen silent. “What is it?”
Alan sighed. “I’m thinking I’m going to quit my job so I can be here for Bradley.” He rested his head on Peter’s shoulder. “I can find a new job after Lisa’s back home, but for now, Bradley’s my priority. When school holidays start, it’ll become critical, so I should do it as soon as possible.”
Peter paused as he considered the proposal. He had to admit that he had been half-thinking of the same thing, though he had been considering his own employment. “I could resign, instead of you.”
“Thanks for the offer, but no.” Alan pulled away so he could look Peter in the eye. “The boys are my responsibility. It sucks big time, but you don’t have any legal rights to look after them. If something happened, you can’t authorise anything.” He grinned. “Anyway, you earn more than me, and that’s going to be important.”
Peter could have kept arguing, but he sensed that Alan had made his mind up. Instead, he pulled Alan back into an embrace and kissed him thoroughly.
“I love you, Alan Owen Thrush. You’re one very special guy.”
Copyright Notice - Copyright © November 2016 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's express permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
I would like to thank C James for providing feedback on the early drafts, and rec for his invaluable editing. I would also like to thank Ricky for that crucial final review before publication.