Peter rolled his shoulders after he clambered out of his car in a vain attempt to release some of the stress. It had been a rough day at work, and he was looking forward to having a couple of beers to help him relax. He was even looking forward to spending some time with the two boys. Even though they were a major disruption to the life he and Alan previously had, they were also the complete opposite of anything related to his job.
He opened the boot of the car and pulled out the groceries. There were enough bags that it would be worthwhile making two trips, but Peter didn’t feel like coming back. Once he was in the house, he wanted to stay there. He overloaded himself, closed the boot with his elbow, and then staggered up to the front door.
A few seconds later, he was pushing bags through into the hallway beyond. “I’m home!”
“Uncle Peter!” Bradley’s young form rushed out of the lounge room. His attempted tackle was foiled by the shopping bag on the floor in front of him.
“Careful, Tiger!” Peter knelt down to make sure that there was nothing breakable in the pile that Bradley had fallen on. After quickly confirming that there was no real damage, he grinned at the little boy. “What’s got you so excited?”
“Can Sam have a sleepover? Please?”
Peter blinked. “What did Alan say?”
“He said to ask you. Sam’s my best friend in the whole wide world! Apart from Mike, of course. And Katie. Oh, and Rachel.”
Peter laughed and tousled Bradley’s hair. “We’ll see. How about you let me put the groceries away first and then have a word with Alan?”
“Okay. Would you like to see the fish I made today?”
“Soon. Just let me put these things away, and then I’d love to look at your fish.”
Peter grinned as Bradley headed back to the lounge room. Picking up some of the shopping bags, he thought it strange that Alan had passed the decision regarding a sleepover to him, but he was sure he’d find out the reason soon.
Peter found Alan seated at the kitchen table staring into space. Peter wondered what Alan was thinking about, but he knew Alan would tell him when he was ready. Instead, he repeated his greeting and started to put the groceries away.
“Peter! When did you get home?” Alan asked a minute later.
Peter grinned as he pushed some jars of pasta sauce into the back of the pantry. “A while ago, but you were lost in thought, so I just let you be. Have you got something organised, or would you like me to cook dinner tonight?”
“Could you do it? I don’t think I’m up to doing anything.”
Peter stopped what he was doing and sat down next to Alan. “What’s up?”
Troy rushed into the room. “Uncle Alan, can I have another Marvellous Marchy Marsh Willow Munchie? Please?”
Bradley appeared in the doorway. “I want one, too! But I want a Marby Mushy Marshy Munchie.”
Troy turned to glare at his brother. “I was here first!”
“I still want one!” Bradley turned to Peter. “I can have one, can’t I? Please, can I have one?”
“I asked first, so I should get one before Bradley does,” Troy said.
Alan slammed his open hands onto the table, producing a large bang that silenced the two boys. “No! You’ve both had enough for now, so leave us alone!”
“Just one? Then I’ll go away,” Troy said in a small voice.
Bradley’s lower lip was quivering as he stared wide-eyed at Alan.
“It’s okay, boys. You can have one more each,” Peter said. He flicked Alan a perplexed glance before smiling back at the two kids. “Do you know where they are?”
Troy grinned and then pointed to a tin on the bench nearby. “They’re over there.”
“Peter—” Alan started.
“It’s okay. One more won’t hurt them. Come on, boys.” Peter removed the lid and then frowned. “It’s empty. Sorry, Troy, Bradley, but there aren’t any more.”
Alan rose to his feet. “I told you to leave some for Peter!” He glowered at the two boys. “How many times do I have to tell you something before you listen?”
Alarmed, Peter gave the two boys a gentle push. “Go and play while I talk to your Uncle Alan.”
Troy moved away, glancing worriedly over his shoulder just before he disappeared. Bradley stayed where he was. “What about my fish?”
Peter knelt down so he was closer to eye level with the young boy. “I’ll have a look as soon as I can, but I think I need to talk to Alan, now. You go off, and I’ll be with you when I can.”
Bradley backed away, keeping a wary eye on Alan, who had slumped back at the table and was resting his head in his hands. As soon Bradley was gone, Peter turned, fists on his hips, to face his partner. Anger and concern fought inside him. Concern won. “What’s wrong, Alan? You don’t normally snap like that.”
Alan looked up, his lips twisting as if he didn’t know what to say. He sighed. “I had a phone call today.”
Peter already knew it had to be bad news, so he made a guess. “The lawyers?”
Alan shook his head. “Mum.”
Peter dropped into the chair next to Alan and pulled his partner in for a hug. “How did she take it?”
Alan’s eyes glistened. “She doesn’t know. She got the answering machine, and she’s going to call back tonight.” Alan clutched Peter and nestled his face into his partner’s shoulder. “God, Peter, I don’t know what to say. I’ve got to tell her, but…”
“I’ll speak to her if you like.”
Alan pulled back and gave Peter a weak smile. “Thanks, but I think I need to do this. But if you could deal with the boys…”
Peter nodded. “Consider it done. Why don’t you go to the bedroom and rest until she calls? I’ll look after things here.”
“Thanks, I’ll do that.” Alan gave Peter a light kiss on the lips. “Love you.”
Peter’s smile faded away when Alan left the room. He sat for a moment while he took in what was going on and then made a decision. The boys were going to go to bed early that night so he and Alan could have some drinks afterwards. Peter suspected they were going to need them.
* * *
Alan’s voice kept catching as he tried to contain his emotions. “If you’ve got a pen, I’ll give you Lisa’s number.”
His mother wasn’t even trying to keep her grief inside. “Thanks, Alan. I’m ready.”
Alan gave her the number twice, and she read it back to make sure she had it right. “Did you want to talk to the boys before you go?”
“No, dear. I don’t think I’m up to it. I’ll try to ring back later, after…when I…”
“I understand. And Mum?”
Alan swallowed to try to get the lump out of his throat. “When can you come home? I need you.”
“As soon as I can, Alan. As soon as I can.”
“When do you think that will be?” Alan didn’t want to put pressure on his mum, but he was desperate to know.
“The van’s broken down and they don’t think they can fly in a spare part for at least a week. The last mail plane was yesterday, and the next one is on Thursday, and that’s too soon. That means it’ll be sometime next week before we can drive back to Cairns and catch a flight home. We’ll be there, Alan, I promise, but…”
“Thanks, Mum. Let us know when you’ll be flying in and we’ll meet you at the airport.”
“Don’t go to any trouble, dear. Just look after the boys, and we’ll catch a taxi.”
Alan thought about arguing but gave up almost immediately. It wasn’t worth the energy. “Okay, Mum. Take care, and we’ll see you soon.”
“You take care, Alan, and give Peter and the boys a hug and kiss from us.”
Alan heard the swallowed sob before she hung up. Tears were streaming down his face. He hoped that his dad was there to hold his mum. He’d had time to try to get used to the loss their family had suffered, something she hadn’t had.
A moment later he was surprised to feel someone gripping him around his waist. He looked down to see Troy giving him a hug. “Troy, what is it?”
Troy looked up. His eyes were wide. “Mummy always gives us a hug when we’re having a sad day. Uncle Peter said you’re having a sad day, so I’m giving you a hug.”
Alan found a smile forcing itself onto his face through his tears. He knelt down and shared the hug with the young boy. “Thanks, Troy. Your mummy is a clever person.”
* * *
The boys had resisted going to bed early, but Peter had been firm. He had watched anxiously as Alan sat in the corner of the living room, tears rolling down his cheeks, cuddling the boys.
Peter then made two coffees, adding a generous dash of Irish whiskey to both.
Alan looked up, momentarily puzzled, and then gave Peter a weak smile as he accepted the drink. “Thanks.”
Peter sat down next him on the couch. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Alan took a sip before responding. “I don’t know.” He took another sip. “Thanks for this. It’s just what I need.”
“What did your mum say?” Peter asked tentatively, as he wasn’t sure if Alan was ready to go through that conversation again.
“She was shaken, but I think she half expected the news. She was relieved that Lisa’s okay, and she’ll be here as soon as she can, though it won’t be until at least next week before she’ll arrive. The camper van’s broken down, and the required parts won’t be there for at least that long. Until it’s fixed, they won’t be able to get to an airport. They’re too far from anywhere at the moment.”
Peter put an arm around Alan and gave him a gentle squeeze. “It’ll be good for the boys when they get here. And good for your parents, too, I suspect.”
Alan slumped, almost spilling his coffee. “I need them, I really do. Even with your help I’m drowning.”
“Hey, don’t be like that! You’ve been doing a great job at a stressful time. You’re a wonderful dad for the boys, and you’re doing just what you need to do. The boys are happy, well as happy as we can expect, and they appear to be coping well.”
Alan gave a short chuckle. “Yeah, apart from Bradley. He’s got me worried. He says he’s okay, but he’s still wetting the bed.”
Peter put on a shocked expression. “No! Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
Something close to a genuine smile appeared on Alan’s face. “Yeah, really. And thanks again for looking after that. It must be driving you crazy changing his bed so often.”
Peter suppressed his real feelings. “I’m getting used to it. And he’s only a little boy. I can’t remember when toilet training is supposed to happen, but I suppose it’s natural he’s regressed a bit.”
“Do you think I should take him to see a doctor?”
“I can’t see that it’ll hurt, and if he really is hurting inside, the sooner he gets some professional help, the better.”
Alan nodded. “Okay. I’ll make an appointment tomorrow. Oh, fuck....”
“I’ve got no idea which GP Lisa uses. I don’t want to ring her about this, and I don’t think I can talk to her at the moment, either. I’d really prefer Mum to call her first so I don’t have to pass on everything again.”
Peter gave Alan another squeeze of support. “How about I check to see if I can find which doctor she uses while you sit and finish your coffee. And it’s not the end of the world if we take them somewhere new. Don’t stress about it.”
Alan reached behind Peter and pulled him in for a kiss. “Thanks, Peter. I couldn’t do this without you.”
* * *
Keidan’s forehead wrinkled as he paused in the entrance to their living room. “What are you doing?”
Steve looked up, surprised. “Oh, sorry, Keidan. I didn’t realise you were home. I’m just checking what to take to Peter’s and Alan’s place on Friday.”
Keidan squatted down and poked at the items on the floor. “Pencils, textas, colouring books… I thought you were going to pick out something more exciting for the boys to do.”
Steve waved a hand in front of his nose. “Phew, you stink! Why don’t you ever shower at the gym?”
Keidan grinned. “Because I know how much you love that manly, sweaty odour.”
“I do not! That’s why I always make you have a shower when you get home.”
Keidan ignored him. “You didn’t answer the question. I thought you had something more planned for the kids.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “The colouring books are for Alan and Peter. We have to give them something interesting to do while we’re making…” he paused, reached into a nearby bag and pulled out two boxes, “…these!”
Keidan whistled. “Lego racers! The boys will love them. The guys are going to be so jealous.”
Steve chuckled. “That’s the idea. Seriously, though, I’m hoping they’ll help the boys, too, because I suspect that Alan and Peter mainly see all the chores that come with looking after the boys, and they’re missing the fun.”
Keidan pulled a face. “Yeah, I think you’re right. He didn’t say anything explicit, but when I spoke to Peter on the phone the other day, I had the impression he wasn’t enamoured with the job they’ve got.”
“Really? You didn’t mention it to me before.”
Keidan shrugged. “I wasn’t absolutely sure that I wasn’t reading something into it that wasn’t really there.”
Steve tilted his head and gave his boyfriend a sardonic look. “You should try to get rid of all those double negatives. It makes understanding you a challenge at times.”
Keidan poked out his tongue. “Yes, Mr. B-minus in English.”
Steve chuckled. “I should never have let you look at my old school reports.”
“Too late now. Though I still don’t believe that you slept with the captain of the football team so you’d make a C in P.E.”
Steve tried an innocent look. “Are you accusing me of lying?”
Keidan draped a smelly arm across Steve’s shoulders. “Nope. Just stretching the truth a little.”
Steve pushed the arm away. “That’s from the past master of stretching the truth until it’s at breaking point. And don’t come near me until you’ve had a shower! You stink!”
“I do not stink. I perspire.”
Steve sniffed. “I don’t think so. While I remember, make sure you take your camera on Friday.”
“I don’t have a problem with that, but why?”
“Because I thought I’d get a few pictures printed up to take to the hospital the next time I drop in to see Lisa.”
Keidan grinned. “It’s handy that The Alfred is near where you work. But I think I’ve got an even better idea.”
Keidan rushed into the spare room and rummaged around through the piles of accumulated belongings for a few minutes. Finding what he was after, he headed back to the living room with his hands behind his back.
“What’ve you got?” Steve asked.
With a flourish, Keidan revealed the box he’d found. “Tada!”
Steve’s eyes went wide, and he grinned. “The digital-photo frame my sister gave you last Christmas. Perfect!”
Keidan shrugged. “We’ve never used it, and that way you can download photos regularly so she’ll have new ones to look at each week. Just remind me to clear the memory on the camera before we go on Friday.”
“Just in case the boys want to look at the photos we take. We don’t want them accidentally seeing the photos we took last weekend.”
Steve went red. “Yeah. Tea Cosy Studies are probably not appropriate for young kids.”
Keidan smirked. “They’re not appropriate for anyone apart from you and me, not just young kids.” Keidan frowned. “Getting back to what we were talking about earlier, what do you think we can do about Peter and Alan?”
Steve sighed. “Not a lot. Just be there to take some of the load off them from time to time. I’m thinking we could babysit the boys one night so the guys can go and have a night to themselves.”
Keidan’s eyebrows shot up. “Have the boys here?” He glanced around the room and all the breakable items. “We’d need to do some major child-proofing before we could have them over.”
Steve chuckled. “No, not here. We’d go there and look after them. Having the boys here isn’t really an option. We’ve got a few too many things that aren’t suitable for young kids’ eyes.”
“But we can’t look after the boys at their place. If Alan and Peter are going to have a night to themselves, they’ll want the house.”
Steve jabbed a fist into Keidan’s bicep, which didn’t move. “I was thinking dinner and maybe a nightclub, not sex.”
Keidan rubbed his arm. “Don’t hit so hard, Steve. I’m a muscle-bound weakling remember, not like you, Mr. C in Phys. Ed. And what’s wrong with sex?”
Steve chuckled. “There’s nothing wrong with sex, but it’s not the only thing in life.”
Keidan’s eyes opened wide. “It’s not?”
Steve leant over and kissed Keidan, pulling back before Keidan had a chance to extend it. “You don’t have to play the dumb-jock role with me, Keeds. I’m really concerned for Alan and Peter. It’s tough enough being a parent—I learnt that from my sister—but being thrown in the deep end without a chance to ease into the job can’t be easy.”
Keidan nodded. “Yeah, I get what you’re saying. They need help, and it’s something we can do. Okay, done. Next chance we get, we’ll tell them we’re babysitting the boys and we won’t take no for an answer.” He paused and continued in an uncertain tone. “I think the boys are growing on me. I’m actually looking forward to seeing them on Friday night and spending time with them.”
“You are? That’s interesting, because I’m finding the same.”
Keidan laughed. “But you’ve always loved kids. That’s why you’re your sister’s kids’ favourite uncle. You’re always bringing them presents and spending quality time with them.” He paused before continuing in a quieter voice. “Do you regret not being able to have kids?”
Steve dropped his gaze and stared at the items scattered in front of him. He was slow to answer. “That was a low blow, Keeds. Yes, I regret that I won’t be having any of my own,” he looked up with eyes shining with moisture, “but I wouldn’t give you up for anything. Life’s not perfect, but I’m very, very happy with what I’ve got. Kids would be great, fantastic even, but not at the price of losing you.”
Keiden pulled him in for a hug. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, but I’ve seen how you get around your sister’s kids, and you’ve taken it a step further with Alan’s nephews. You really love them and want to help in any way you can. And I wouldn’t want you to change.”
Steve sniffled into Keidan’s neck for a moment. “Thank you. I love you so much.” He pushed him away. “But you still stink. Go have a shower.”
Keidan gave Steve a quick peck on the lips. “Love you, too. And, no, I’m not taking a shower.”
Steve narrowed his eyes. “Am I going to have to get physical and wash you down myself to get rid of that stink?”
Keidan grinned. “Like usual? I think the answer is the same as the last twenty times. And it’s all in a good cause as we do our bit to help reduce Melbourne’s water usage by showering together.”
“Last twenty? More like fifty!” Steve grinned, stood up, grabbed Keidan’s hand, and pulled him up. “Come on, you big, lovable, smelly hunk. It looks I’ll have to make you smell nice again.”
Keidan let Steve pull him along towards their extra-large shower. “Just in time to get hot and sweaty afterwards.”
Copyright Notice - Copyright © December 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.