The next morning, Peter lay in bed smiling at his sleeping partner. It had been an enjoyable night with Keidan and Steve at the old pub that had previously been their Friday-night hangout. Not only had they had several hours without the boys—Alan had insisted on ringing home twice; his mother had threatened to make him sleep outside if there was a third call—but they also managed to catch up with a couple of friends they hadn’t seen since the accident.
Peter’s smile slipped as he recalled how Josh and Stu hadn’t stayed for long. Alan, Steve and Keidan had insisted on talking about the kids, a topic on which Josh and Stu only had a cursory interest. Alan didn’t seem to notice—though he had been drunk at the time—but Peter was worried that the boys were going to be an ongoing barrier between them and their friends, Steve and Keidan being the obvious exceptions.
A groan from the person next to him returned the smile to Peter’s lips. “Morning.”
“What time is it?” Alan’s bloodshot eyes opened just enough for him to give Peter a weak smile in return.
Peter glanced at the bedside clock. “Just after nine. You woke up earlier than I expected.”
“Nine!” Alan jerked his body upright and then collapsed back into bed with a wince. “We need to make the boys’ breakfast.”
“Relax. Your mum’s already done that.” Peter pulled Alan into an embrace and gently ran his hand down Alan’s back. “I heard her and the three boys in the kitchen around eight.”
Peter chuckled. “You definitely got wasted last night. One of the neighbour’s kids was coming to spend the night, remember?”
“Vaguely…” Alan made a face. “Did Bradley stay dry?”
“I think so.” Peter gave Alan a quick kiss, grimacing at the smell of stale beer that was still on his partner’s breath. “After I put you to bed, I woke him and made him go to the toilet. That was at two. If your mum got him up again before eight, he should’ve been okay.”
“Thanks.” Alan closed his eyes. “If I don’t have to get up…”
Peter smiled and kissed Alan’s forehead. “Go back to sleep. We don’t have anything special planned for today.” He was hoping the boys would stay occupied so Alan could rest.
Once Alan’s breathing was slow and regular, Peter slipped out of the bed. As the previous night’s designated driver, he felt fine. It was time for a shower and then on to help Rosalie with the boys. It was also time to properly meet Robbie, since he and Alan had left soon after their young visitor had arrived.
* * *
“The prodigal son awakens.” Rosalie grinned as she turned to put the kettle on. “I presume you’ll want a nice, strong cup of coffee.”
“Yes, please.” Alan gingerly lowered himself into the nearest chair. He then glanced around. “Where are the boys?”
“Peter’s taken them outside to kick around a soccer ball.” Rosalie peered through the kitchen window that overlooked the backyard. “They’re having a great time, though Robbie’s going to need to borrow some clothes to go home in.” She chuckled. “They’ll all need showers before lunch to wash off the mud.” She glanced back over her shoulder at Alan. “Once you’ve had your coffee, your job will be to find a change of clothes for each of the boys and make sure there are enough towels in the bathroom. Robbie can wear something from Troy’s closet.”
Once she had made Alan a coffee and herself a tea, she sat down opposite him. “I spoke to your father last night. We decided that since we have to wait for the replacement part for the van to be delivered and the mail plane is only once a week, I’ll stay here for at least two weeks. There’s no point going back much earlier than that. After the two weeks, we’ll see how things are and whether you still need me.”
“I need you, Mum.” Alan stared at the wisps of steam rising from his cup. “Last night I realised how much I need you.”
“Nothing much, except I relaxed.” He looked up. “I hadn’t realised how uptight I was until I had a chance to let go. I can’t cope by myself. I need you here.”
Rosalie snorted. “Firstly, young man, you’re wrong. You don’t need me; you just want me because it makes things easier. Well, tough. Raising kids isn’t easy, but there are millions of people doing it around the world, and you’re no different from them.
“Secondly, you’re not by yourself. Peter’s here, too, and he’s doing a great job.” She waved a hand towards the window. “Like now. He’s giving you a break so you can recharge and take over when he’s too exhausted. Which, based on how much running around he’s doing, I expect will be in about twenty to thirty minutes.” She smiled. “So don’t dawdle over your coffee for too long.
“Lastly, why do you think you were here babysitting that night?” A lump formed in her throat at the reminder. She forced it down. “Lisa and Craig needed breaks, too. Steve and Keidan will look after the boys if you need a night off, and Robbie’s parents will take the boys for a sleepover on the occasional weekend. Even Katie’s and Marcus’s parents will take the boys for a few hours on weekends if asked. It’s not the boys they’re uncomfortable with.”
Alan sat, not saying anything. Rosalie let him think. She knew that he and Peter were under a great deal of pressure as they came up to speed on how to be the parents for two young, active boys. What she wanted him to understand was that their situation wasn’t exceptional. It was exacerbated by the circumstances, but they weren’t being asked to do anything that other parents didn’t have to do.
“Thanks, Mum.” That was all Alan said, but Rosalie was happy. She could hear the difference in tone that indicated he understood.
* * *
“Something smells nice,” Peter said as he entered the kitchen after handing over responsibility for the boys to Alan.
“I thought everyone deserved a treat, so I’m cooking a roast.” Rosalie grinned at the muddy young man she considered to be her son-in-law. “Troy and Bradley love roast vegetables and crackling, and they don’t mind roast pork, either.”
“Sounds wonderful, but I didn’t know we had any pork in the house.”
Rosalie chuckled. “I bought everything I needed yesterday while you and Alan were out with the boys.”
“Thanks, it’s really appreciated.” Peter smiled. “I’ve just been buying lots of stuff after work, and then Alan and I work out what to cook based on what we have available. It used to be easy when it was just the two of us, but the boys are a lot fussier as to what they’ll eat.”
There was something in the way Peter spoke that bothered Rosalie, but she couldn’t put her finger on exactly what it was. “Adults like variety, but kids like routine.”
“Tell me about it.” Peter chuckled. “If the boys had their way, dinner would be sausages and mashed potatoes most nights. Mashed—or chips.”
“It won’t take you long to work out what they’ll eat.” Rosalie smiled. “Did I ever tell you about the time when Alan was eight and the only things he wanted to eat were jam sandwiches or apples? That lasted for almost two months.”
“At least apples are healthy.” Peter grinned. “What made him stop?”
“We don’t know, but we didn’t let him have his own way. He had to eat what was on his plate before he was allowed to leave the table. He complained the whole time, but he ate what was put before him.” Rosalie caught Peter’s eye. “But we had the advantage of easing into—and out of—his changing habits. Give yourself some time to settle into a routine. It’s only been two weeks, Peter.”
They talked for another twenty minutes, with Rosalie trying to pass on as many of the boys’ likes and dislikes that she could remember. Peter then headed outside to gather the muddy players and herd them inside so they could be cleaned and their clothes changed before lunch.
When the doorbell rang, Rosalie glanced in the direction of the bathroom and bedrooms before calling out that she would answer it. She was puzzled as to who would show up unannounced at lunchtime on a Sunday. Her puzzlement turned to a carefully controlled anger when she opened the door.
“Penny, Henry, how nice to see you.” Rosalie kept a smile on her face as she stepped back and invited Craig’s parents into the house. “If I had known you were going to drop in, I would’ve made more vegetables. Are you joining us for lunch?”
Mr. and Mrs. Lynton both appeared surprised. Henry Lynton was the first to recover. “Hello, Rosalie. We didn’t know you were here. We were going to take the boys out for a nice lunch, but based on what I can smell, that appears to be unnecessary,” he said with a smile.
Penelope Lynton stepped forward and gave Rosalie an air peck on the cheek. “It’s so good to see you. We’ve been worried that the boys weren’t getting enough to eat, but if you’re here, then that shouldn’t be a concern anymore. When did you arrive?”
“Thursday. I came as soon as I heard what had happened.” Rosalie reached forward and pulled Craig’s mother in for a hug as guilt overwhelmed her. In her anger at how the Lyntons were treating her son and his partner, she had momentarily forgotten that they had lost their own son. They were hurting more than Lisa’s brother and her parents were. “I’m so sorry about Craig. I don’t know what to say.”
Penelope stiffened momentarily before a sob emerged and her body shook. Rosalie quickly escorted her and Henry to the couch. “Sit down and I’ll make you both a cup of tea.” She glanced back once before entering the kitchen to see Craig’s mother being comforted by her husband while she dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.
When she returned, both had regained their composure. After serving her guests, Rosalie went back to the kitchen and returned with her own cup of tea.
“Where’s your husband?” Henry asked.
“Still in Far North Queensland.” Rosalie smiled. “Our camper van’s broken down, and we’re waiting on a replacement part to be delivered. Once the locals found out we needed to return as soon as we could, they drove me to where I could catch a ride on a mail plane and then make my way back here.”
“But you’re staying to look after our grandsons.” Penelope made it more a statement than a question.
Rosalie shook her head. “I’ll stay until Alan and Peter have settled into a routine. Once they’re comfortable, I’ll return north, and then Andy and I will drive back here. After that…” She shrugged.
“You’re willing to leave your grandsons with…people…like that?”
Rosalie suspected that Penelope wanted to use a different word to describe Alan and Peter. She pinched her lips. “Since Lisa and Craig were willing to do so, and since I love and trust both my son and his partner, the answer’s yes.”
“Who knows what perverted things they’re doing to our grandsons? Craig clearly didn’t know what—”
Rosalie leant forward. “Craig was the one who asked Alan and Peter to babysit the boys that Saturday night. He knew exactly who he left Troy and Bradley with.”
“Are you sure about that?” Henry asked. His tone, unlike his wife’s, was not accusatory.
“Absolutely.” Rosalie sighed and dropped her head. “I wish Craig could’ve told you that himself. He, Lisa, Alan and Peter got along great. That’s why they asked Alan to be the guardian for the boys if something happened.”
“Where are they now?” Henry glanced around the otherwise empty room.
Rosalie chuckled. “Getting ready for lunch. They’ve spent over an hour playing in the backyard and were covered in mud. They’re all having a bath.”
Penelope stiffened. “Those perverts are having a bath with my grandsons?”
“Of course not!” Rosalie fought her anger down. “Peter and Alan had their showers in the ensuite, while the boys are getting cleaned up in the main bathroom.”
“Without supervision. How irresponsible.” Penelope turned to her husband. “This is why we need to take over. Those…homosexuals…don’t know how to look after young children.”
“They’re not unsupervised. Alan’s making sure they’re okay. That’s why he had his shower first.” Rosalie narrowed her eyes. “And if you dare say that’s worse…”
Penelope’s lips were pursed. There was silence for several seconds as the two women glared at each other.
“Grandad! Nanny!” Troy sprinted into the room and gave Henry—the closest grandparent—a hug. “Did you bring me anything?”
“Now, now, Troy. You know better than to ask like that.” Henry smiled down at the young boy. “Where’s your brother?”
Troy didn’t need to answer as an almost-naked Bradley ran into the room. Clad in only a pair of Spider-Man briefs, Bradley slid to a stop in front of Penelope. “Nanny!” He beamed as he climbed into her lap. “We’ve been playing soccer!”
Alan appeared at the door, water stains on his T-shirt and his hair still wet. “Bradley, you need to get dressed.” He gave Penelope an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Mrs. Lynton, but as soon as he heard you were here, he raced off.” He reached over to pick up the young boy but stopped when she held up a hand.
“Bradley, how about I dress you? That way you can tell me what you and your…uncle…have been doing while we get you ready for lunch.” She stood up, carefully sliding Bradley onto the floor next to the chair, and took his hand. “Let’s go to your room and pick out some decent clothes to wear.”
Alan had a faint scowl on his face, but he didn’t say anything as Mrs. Lynton led Bradley back down the corridor. Instead, he turned to her husband and tried to smile. “It’s good to see you again. I’m not sure if Mum’s cooked enough for two more, but if she has, you and your wife are welcome to join us for lunch.”
Henry Lynton smiled back. “Rosalie has already asked us, though we didn’t get a chance to reply. Yes, we’d love to join you.”
“Wonderful,” Rosalie said. “In that case I need to prepare a few more vegetables.” She grinned as Robbie entered the room dressed in some of Troy’s clothes. “Alan, would you like to introduce Robbie and Henry? I’ll get back to work. Lunch will be in about twenty minutes.”
She wasn’t concerned about leaving Alan with Craig’s father. It seemed clear to her that it was Craig’s mother who was the driver of the animosity that existed. As she was pulling the roast pork from the oven, she reflected on Penelope’s earlier weeping. Rosalie wondered if Penelope’s animosity was a coping mechanism to take her mind off her lost son.
* * *
Late that night as they lay in bed, Peter snuggled up to Alan. He ran a hand over Alan’s bare chest as he started to nibble on Alan’s ear.
Alan started. “What?”
Peter avoided a frown as he perched himself up on one elbow so he could look down at his partner. “Is something wrong?”
“Sorry, I was just thinking about the afternoon and also what I have to do tomorrow.” Alan gave Peter a quick kiss. “At least I’ll get to sleep in for a bit, unlike last week.”
Peter smiled. “Yeah, those were early starts.” His spare hand resumed its gentle rambling over Alan’s body. “Does that mean we don’t have to go to sleep as early tonight?”
Alan smiled back. Making an unexpected move, he rolled over and pinned Peter under him. “It’s been awhile since we did anything except sleep, so what did you have in mind?”
Peter grinned. “I don’t know. Play cards?”
“How about strip poker?” Alan smirked. “We’re already almost naked, so it won’t take long to finish the game and move onto other things.”
“How about I concede and we forget about the cards?”
Alan reached down and licked Peter’s neck. “What cards?”
The two were soon side by side, their bodies intertwined though both still had their underwear on. Peter was enjoying Alan’s ministrations, which suddenly stopped. Peter looked up at his partner, only to see Alan was peering past him.
“Troy, shouldn’t you be asleep?” Alan asked.
Peter rolled over to see the six-year-old standing next to the bed with his arms clutched around his stomach.
“I don’t feel too good…”
“My tummy feels funny.”
Alan slipped out the other side of the bed, paused with his back to Peter and Troy to adjust his boxers, and then moved around to collect Troy. “Come with me. I think I saw some Eno in the cupboard. That might help settle your tummy.”
Peter sighed as Troy and Alan left the room. He pulled himself out of the bed, put on a pair of tracksuit pants and a T-shirt. He then joined the other two in the kitchen.
Alan was frowning at the bottle of Eno. “Peter, can you have a look at this? It only has instructions for twelve-year-olds and up. I don’t think we can give this to Troy.”
Peter grimaced as he read the instructions. “It says to check with a doctor before giving it to anyone under the age of twelve.”
Alan reached into the pantry and pulled out another bottle. “Children’s Panadol should be okay. We should also give him something to settle his tummy.”
“What do you think we should use: water or milk?” Peter asked.
“Water,” Alan said after a moment’s thought. He smiled down at Troy. “We’ll give you some medicine and a glass of water, and that will hopefully make things better.”
A couple of minutes later, Troy was handing back the medicine cup and glass. “I still don’t feel good.”
“Give it some time. I’ll take you back to bed and sit with you for a bit. If it’s still feeling funny after awhile, we’ll try something else.”
Peter didn’t ask what that something else would be. Instead, he headed to the computer to try to find out what other options they had. As a last resort, they would wake Rosalie, but Peter knew Alan would only want to do that if they were stuck. She had been busy trying to ease their burden, and she needed her rest.
A few minutes later—much more scared than he had been before—Peter entered Troy’s bedroom. He glanced at Alan, who gave him a quick smile before returning his attention to the sick boy.
“How are you feeling?” Peter asked Troy.
“A little better, but it still hurts.”
“Okay, Troy. I need to check a few things. Can you lift up your pajama top for me?” Peter caught Alan’s perplexed look, but he kept his concentration on Troy. “Thanks, mate. Now, I’m going to touch your tummy in a few places and you let me know if it hurts, okay?”
After a few minutes of gentle prodding, Peter smiled with relief. “Thanks, Troy. You can put your top down again. Alan and I will just be outside for a bit.”
“Okay, Uncle Peter.”
Alan waited until the two were outside Troy’s bedroom, and the door was closed. “What was that about?”
“Checking for appendicitis.” Peter gave a heavy sigh. “That was the most reasonable worst case I could find online, but he seems fine. No tenderness, so it’s probably not that. It could just be indigestion, gas, or maybe constipation. We should probably make him sit on the toilet for a bit, just in case that’s what’s wrong.”
“Could it be some sort of gastro problem?”
“Maybe.” Peter frowned back in the direction of the kitchen. “Do you know whether Lisa has a thermometer somewhere in the house?”
“I think I saw one the other day.” Alan gave Peter a hug. “Thanks for this. Can you sit with Troy while I go looking for it?”
Peter slipped back into the bedroom while Alan headed down the hallway. Peter stared down at the young boy whose eyes had closed. There was an expression of discomfort on Troy’s face, but he wasn’t complaining. Peter squatted next to the bed and waited.
Fifteen minutes later, Alan and Peter had confirmed that Troy didn’t have a fever.
“I’ll make him go to the toilet, and then I’ll stay with him for a bit longer.” Alan gave Peter a light kiss. “You go back to bed. You have to work in the morning, and you’ll need your rest.”
Peter replied with a half-smile. “And you’ve got a doctor’s appointment for Bradley. You’ll be busy, too. Doubly so, if Troy is still unwell in the morning.”
“Not as busy as you.” Alan gave him a gentle push. “Now go. If I need to take Troy with me in the morning, then so be it.”They exchanged another quick kiss before Peter returned to their bedroom. He climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling for several minutes. He then sighed and rolled over. Any possibility of an amorous night in bed had gone out the window.
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.