Alan looked up from his breakfast as Peter staggered into the room. “You could’ve stayed in bed. The boys don’t need to be up for almost two hours.”
Peter shook his head. “It’s okay. I need to get something for my hangover.”
Alan jumped up. “Sit! I’ll get it for you.”
Peter smiled gratefully as he settled into the nearest chair.
As Alan rummaged through the pantry looking for the medicine box he had seen there earlier, he called back over his shoulder. “What time did you come to bed?”
Peter shrugged. “Maybe eleven. I was watching a movie, I think, though I can’t remember what it was.”
Alan chuckled. “That exciting, eh?” He handed Peter some paracetamol and a glass of water. “I’ll make you a coffee. You just take it easy.”
“Thanks, Alan. I’m not that bad, but I didn’t see the point in staying in bed.” Peter stiffened. “Have you checked on Bradley?”
“Yep, and his bed’s dry. It was the first thing I did. I got him up, took him to the toilet, and put him back to bed. One less thing to worry about.”
“That reminds me; I need to get some more washing powder today. With all the washing we’ve been doing, we’re just about out.”
Alan brought Peter a cup of coffee and then bent down to give him a quick kiss. “Thanks for everything, Peter. I don’t think I could manage by myself.”
“It’s nothing. It’ll only be for a short while, and then we can get back to the way things were before.” Peter grinned. “You know, the nude weekend breakfasts and the late nights in bed.”
Alan laughed. “Yeah, I’m already missing those, but we’ll have our chances in the future. For now, I’m just worried about the boys. Troy seems to be okay, but do you think we should take Bradley to the doctor? I’m concerned that his bedwetting is a symptom that he’s still traumatised.”
Peter took a sip of his coffee while he thought about it. “Let’s give it another week. It’ll be easier once you’re not working, and we’ll see if he’s settling down. If he hasn’t, we can do something about it then.”
Alan nodded and then glanced at the clock. “Shit! I’d better get a move on. I have to be gone in five minutes.”
Peter let him rush around. He would have his own rushing to do later, getting the boys ready for school and child care, and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
* * *
Peter pushed in the last buckle of the child seat’s, five-point safety harness. “There we go, Bradley. All ready to go.”
“Peter, wait up!”
Peter looked around and saw Tracey rushing towards him. She was carrying a large bag.
“Hi, Tracey. I can’t stay long; I’ve got to get Troy to school.”
She smiled, a little out of breath, and pulled out a cake tin. “I know, but I wondered if you could put this inside for me? I won’t be around when Alan brings the boys home.”
Peter frowned as she pushed the tin into his hands. “What is it?”
“Some nibbles for the boys to have after school. They need something to eat or they get really cranky.”
Bradley had been listening. “Charming Chocolate Chip Cookies?”
Tracey laughed as she reached over to tousle his hair. “Not this time. No, it’s something new: Marvellous Mushy Marshmallow Munchies.” She winked at Peter. “There are a few healthy ingredients in them, but it’s mainly to stop their blood-sugar levels from getting too low.”
Peter glanced at the tin, then at the boys, before smiling at Tracey. “Thanks. Can you keep an eye on the boys while I put this inside? I’ll ring Alan later to let him know.”
“Sure, and it’s my pleasure. I like cooking, and I thought you might be a little too rushed to organise anything yourself.”
Peter laughed. “That’s an understatement.”
He ran back up the stairs, fumbled with the key for a moment, before dashing inside. He put the tin on the kitchen table and opened it. It was filled with toasted-coconut-coated marshmallows. He smiled, resisted the temptation to try one, and ran back outside.
“Thanks, Tracey. We really appreciate you doing this for us. I’d like to stay to chat, but I do need to get Troy to school.”
She patted him on the arm. “I know. Just remember, you and Alan can call on me if you need to. Now go!”
Peter was still thinking about her offer as he dropped Troy off at the school. He thought leaving the boys with Tracey may be a way for Alan and him to have some personal time together. He could sense Alan’s obligations to the boys coming between them, and he didn’t want that to happen. If it came to a choice between him and the boys, he didn’t know which way Alan would go. It was a decision he didn’t want Alan to have to make.
Peter drove around to the Little Bell Childcare Centre and let Bradley out. He then grabbed the youngster as he tried to run towards the door. “Steady, there. We have to go together; you know the rules.”
“Do we have to?”
“Yes, we do. Just let me grab your bag, and we can go inside.”
Bradley broke away when Peter reached inside the car to get the boy’s backpack. Peter slammed the door shut behind him as he raced to catch up with Bradley. He grabbed the boy’s arm and pulled him towards him. “Naughty! I just told you not to go without me!”
Bradley started to whimper in response to the harsh tone. “But I just wanted to play!”
Peter sighed and pulled him in for a hug. “I know, and you can play soon, but you have to wait for me first.”
Peter took Bradley’s hand and led him to the gate. Reaching over the top, he opened up the latch and they walked up to the door.
A middle-aged lady opened it for them as they approach. “Hello, Bradley! Sam was just asking where you were. I think he wants to build sand castles with you. Why don’t you run along and play?”
“Yippee!” Bradley ran up to the nearby door with the silver bell painted on the front, opened it, and raced through.
The woman chuckled as she followed him up and closed the door behind him. She waited until Peter had finished signing the attendance book.
“You must be Alan’s other half. I’m Ruby, the manager of this madhouse. Sorry, I missed you yesterday, but Sharon told me everything went smoothly.”
Peter nodded. “Yeah, Bradley had a great time, from what he told us. Sharon told me what I needed to do to sign him in.”
“Good! Do you have a few seconds?”
“Sure, but not long. I have to be at work in twenty minutes.”
“It won’t be long. I just wanted to find out if you were going to put Bradley on the waiting list. Alan had told me he would let me know. I’ve got him down as a tentative, but I’d like to know before the end of the week, if possible.” She smiled. “It’s just that I prefer to have things on a first-come, first-served basis, and it’s not really fair to other families to hold a spot for Bradley if you’re not sure he’ll be coming.”
Peter scratched his head. “I don’t know, but I think so. I need to check with Alan. Everything is still in a state of chaos at the moment…”
Ruby sighed. “I understand. By Friday will be fine, but I just wanted to remind you.”
“Thanks! We’ll let you know one way or the other before then, but I think we’d like to send him here. He seems to really enjoy it, and it’ll make life easier for us further down the track.”
“Excellent! Just let me know as soon as you decide.” She glanced at the window into Bradley’s room. “He’s an adorable little boy. He’s already made a couple of friends, and I’m sure he’ll make many more this week. The other kids will be sad to see him go on Friday.”
* * *
“Peter O’Gorman. How can I help you?”
Peter’s attention was only partly on the phone conversation. There was a young girl walking slowly around the shop, and he was leery that she might try to slip something into her oversized handbag. The display phones and tablets were attached to the desks, but there were still many accessories that were small and easily hidden.
“If you’re busy, I’ll call back later,” said a familiar drawl.
“Keidan! Sorry, I’m a bit distracted, but I can talk. What’s up?”
“Steve and I wanted to check if you want us to bring anything in particular for Friday night.”
“Friday? Are you guys going to come out here again?”
Keidan laughed. “Of course. Did you think we’d dump you just because you now live at the other end of civilisation?”
Peter was glad that Keidan couldn’t see him blush. “No, but we know how far out of your way Lisa’s place is.”
Peter caught Scott’s eye and tilted his head towards the girl. Scott nodded and moved up to speak to her.
“It’s only half an hour. Steve will spend longer than that waiting in line for a nightclub.”
Peter grinned. “I thought you were the clubber.”
“Yeah, but Steve has to stand with me. I’ve got him well trained, so getting him to sit for a thirty-minute drive is nothing. Back to my original question: do you want us to bring anything?”
“I don’t think so, but if we can do the same as last time, where you two look after the boys while Alan and I go out, I’d really appreciate it.”
There was a slight pause before Keidan replied. “You’re not getting much time to yourselves, then.”
Peter sighed. “No, but it’s only for a while. Alan finishes work at the end of the week, so I’m hoping he won’t be as stressed as he is at the moment.”
“Consider it done. Steve and I will look after the boys while you two have some personal time. We’ll bring something for the boys, too. Steve was thinking of dropping in on his sister and seeing if he can borrow some of her kids’ toys for the night.”
“You don’t have to, but that would be great if you do.”
“No problem. Steve’s said his sister has got some great dressing-up costumes. What do you think? Will the boys be happy being matching princesses?”
Peter’s jaw dropped before he narrowed his eyes. “Don’t you dare!”
Keidan laughed. “What’s wrong, Peter? Don’t tell me you’re into gender stereotyping.”
Peter decided to avoid the question because he was surprised at his own reaction to the idea. He suspected that Keidan was pulling his leg, but he wasn’t sure. “We’ll see you on Friday night, then, and Keidan…”
Keidan chuckled. “Anytime.”
Peter slowly put his phone away while he thought about what had happened. His reaction to Keidan’s suggestion about the boys dressing up as princesses bothered him because he felt hypocritical. While none of their close friends were cross-dressers, there were a few at the pub they used to frequent with whom they had a nodding acquaintance. He knew it would inappropriate to push the boys into dressing up as girls, but what if they wanted to?
Remembering what had been happening when his phone rang, he looked around and saw Scott at the cash register, performing a sale. The girl had been a serious shopper after all.
* * *
Alan poked his head through the office doorway. “Merry, have you got a moment?”
Merideth looked up from the computer screen, and grinned. “Sure, Alan. How can I help you?”
Alan entered the room and sat down. “I wanted to ask for your advice regarding the boys. Well, Bradley, actually.”
Merideth pushed the keyboard away. “Which one’s Bradley?”
“The youngest. He’s four, and I don’t think he’s coping. He seems fine during the day, but he’s been wetting the bed almost every night. Peter thinks I should wait until next week, but do you think I should take him to see a doctor as soon as possible?”
“First rule of parenting, Alan: if you’re not sure, play it safe. It doesn’t cost much to see a doctor and get an expert opinion. It will either calm your fears or allow you to get onto the problem straightaway.” She smiled. “Don’t worry if you have to leave work early for a doctor’s appointment. We’ll cope.”
“Thanks! It’s just been bothering me, and I didn’t know who else to ask.”
Alan was half out of the chair when Merideth asked, “Do you know if he was wetting his bed before the accident?”
Alan blinked. “No idea. I’ll ask Lisa, but do you think he might’ve been?”
Merideth shrugged. “Some kids take a little longer than most before they are able to hold on for the night. One of ours was like that. What we did was to wake him up in the middle of the night and make him go to the toilet. We still had some wet beds in the morning, but only once or twice a week. Eventually, he stopped, and he’s been fine ever since. But I would still take Bradley to see a doctor. You never know, and I think you’re right to worry about him being traumatised.”
Alan thought about it for a few seconds. “I’ll see if I can get him an appointment after school this week. Otherwise, I’ll do it next week. I’m not that worried, but I am concerned.”
Merideth grinned. “You’re going to be a good dad to those boys, Alan. I know it, and Bob knows it—or he will after I tell him what to think—so have faith in yourself. Trust your instincts and you’ll do fine.”
Alan’s smile was weak. “Thanks, but I still worry.”
Merideth laughed. “That doesn’t end until they’ve grown up and moved out, and sometimes not even then. At least in your case, it’s only temporary. You only need to be the responsible parent until your sister can take over. Me? I’ve got mine for life…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
* * *
“I don’t want to go! I want to stay!”
Alan got down on one knee. “Bradley, we have to go pick up Troy. You can’t stay.”
“It’s not fair!”
Alan looked up to find Sharon, one of the carers in the Silver Bell room, smiling sympathetically.
She stepped forward. “Bradley, honey, you have to go with your uncle. You’ll be able to play with Sam again tomorrow, but now it’s time for you to go home.”
“But we’re not going home. We’re going to get my brother!” Bradley crossed his arms and pouted.
“And then we’ll go home,” Alan said, trying to soothe the young boy. He remembered something Peter had told him. “Didn’t Tracey leave some special treats at home for you and Troy?”
Bradley’s face lit up. “Marby Mushy Marshy Munchies!” He grabbed Alan’s hand. “Come on, let’s go!”
Alan let himself be pulled out of the room. He glanced back to see Sharon smothering a chuckle behind a hand, and he grinned. Bradley’s quick changes of attitude were something he had experienced before while babysitting, but they still took him by surprise.
They were in the car on the way to the school when Bradley asked, “Can Sam sleep over tonight?”
“What?” Alan took his attention off the road for a second to glance in the rear-vision mirror at the young boy to see if he was being serious.
“Can Sam have a sleepover at our house? I asked him, and he said he wanted to.”
“Sorry, Bradley, but I don’t think so. At least not at the moment.”
“I want him to sleep over! I promised he could!”
Alan sensed a tantrum on the way and decided to try to defer it. “We’ll check with Peter tonight when he comes home from work. In the meantime, we have to pick up Troy so we can go home to have some of those new treats to eat. What were they called again?”
Bradley’s face lit up. “Marby Mushy Marshy Munchies!” Then he frowned. “What do they taste like?”
“I don’t know, but they sound yummy. Do you think they’ll taste yummy, too?”
“Everything Tracey makes tastes yummy. Didn’t you know that?”
Alan grinned at being told off by a four-year-old. “Do you think I’ll be able to have a piece so I can find out for myself?”
Bradley considered the question. “Maybe, but you have to ask nicely.”
Alan chuckled as he pulled into a parking spot near the school. “Okay, I’ll make sure I ask nicely when we get home. Let’s just get your brother first.”
Once they were out of the car, Alan made Bradley look at him. “No running off without me, okay? You have to stay where I can see you.”
“Okay. Can we go now? I’m hungry!”
Alan smiled. “Okay. Let’s go get Troy and then get home for some of the munchies.”
“Marby Mushy Marshy Munchies, not munchies.” Bradley shook his head. “You have to get the name right.”
“Right.” Alan realised that he was beginning to understand Bradley’s thought processes. As he followed the youngster through the crowd of kids leaving the school, he felt a moment of sadness that he was only looking after the boys for a few months. He had never wanted kids before, but he was changing his mind. The boys were a trial at times, but there was no doubt that they could also be a delight.
Once Troy’s classroom was in sight and Alan could see Troy standing outside, he let Bradley run ahead. When Alan strolled up, the boys were engaged in a furious debate.
“Marby Mushy Marshy Munchies!”
“Marvellous Marchy Marsh Willow Munchies!”
“Marby Mushy Marshy Munchies!”
“Marvellous Marchy Marsh Willow Munchies!”
Troy turned. “Uncle Alan, you tell him that he’s got it wrong. They’re Marvellous Marchy Marsh Willow Munchies.”
Alan grinned. “Why don’t we go home and have a look for ourselves. Didn’t Tracey say they were something new? Well, maybe they can have a new name, too.”
Troy looked at his brother. “See! I told you, you had the name wrong.”
Bradley was defiant. “Uncle Alan said they can have a new name. I’m going to call them Marby Mushy Marshy Munchies.”
“But that’s not the right name! Uncle Alan, tell him he’s got the name wrong!”
Alan chuckled. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
Alan let the boys argue all the way home. He thought it was harmless, and the discussion would end as soon as the promised treats were eaten.
The boys rushed into the house as soon as Alan had unlocked the front door. He found the boys in the kitchen, sitting at the table.
“Uncle Alan, can we have a Marvellous Marchy Marsh Willow Munchie?”
“Marby Mushy Marshy Munchie.”
“Marvellous Marchy Marsh Willow Munchies.”
Alan grinned. “Of course you can.” He reached over and pulled off the lid. Two small hands flashed inside before he could do anything. “Would it be all right if I had one, too?”
Bradley seemed to consider the question while chewing, but Troy nodded and said something unintelligible.
“And, don’t talk with your mouth full,” Alan said. He picked up one of the marshmallows and put it in his mouth. “Hmm... these are nice!”
“You’re talking with your mouth full,” Bradley said.
Alan gave them a guilty look. “I did, didn’t I? Okay, I won’t do it again. Try to leave some for Uncle Peter. I’m sure he’d love some, too.”
Alan emptied the boys’ bags, and took them back to their rooms. On the way back, he noticed the light flashing on the answering machine. Steeling himself for either another condolence message or worse—someone who didn’t know what had happened—he hit the play button.
“Hello, Alan. It’s Mum here. I thought I was ringing Lisa, but I must have dialled the wrong number. Your father and I are stuck in this lovely little town in Far North Queensland. The camper van broke down yesterday, and they tell us it’ll be a week before they can get a spare part flown in, but it’s a beautiful spot with wonderful people. There’s no hotel here, but we’ve had two offers from people to put us up in their homes. We’ve told them we’re fine—we can stay in the van—but I thought it was really generous of them, considering we’re complete strangers.
“Say hello to Peter for me, and give him our love. I’ll call you once we’re on the road again.”
Alan gulped as the machine beeped and started playing the next message. He already knew who it would be.
“That’s strange. I’m sure I dialled the right number. Sorry, Alan. I must be starting to forget things. I didn’t think I was that old. Bye for now!”
There was another beep. Alan stared at the machine, waiting.
“Alan, I’ve just listened to the recorded message. I don’t normally pay any attention to them, but I did this time. What’s going on? The message says that this is the home of Alan, Peter, Troy and Bradley. What’s happened? Where are Lisa and Craig? You’re probably at work, so I’ll try again tonight. Love you. Give the boys a hug from me, and…and…”The message cut out as Alan’s mother’s voice became strained. Tears started to fall down Alan’s face. He knew he would have to break the news to her later that night. It wasn’t going to be easy.
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.