When we are young, we live our lives in reaction to the world around us, gathering the threads to weave.
Slowly, unknowingly, the moments of life are drawn together, shaping the pattern that will lead us for years to come.
Other hands guide our own, teaching us to weave.
Until one day, we realize we are alone before the loom,
the pattern at our feet not entirely of our making.
Our hands are free, but most of us continue the same pattern; it’s all we know. But some – the very willful or foolish or courageous – begin something new.
“What a cute baby! I can tell she’s a daddy’s girl,” the woman ringing me up said with a wink.
“She’s not mine, actually,” I told her. “She’s my niece.” It was reasonable to assume she was my daughter, I suppose, but it still always annoyed me. I didn’t think of myself as filling a paternal role, or looking paternal. Even if I was in my thirties, I liked to think I dressed better and looked less harried than the average dad. I missed the days I saw cute guys looking at my ass rather than people noticing my niece’s cute, saggy diaper.
“Such a shame I can’t see her sweet little face with that pacifier!” the cashier went on, ignoring me. She gave a sweet smile as she informed me, “It’s sometimes hard to break them of the habit, but having to pay for braces when she’s older will be even harder!”
I’d heard the same lecture the week before, but on the evils of babies who sucked their thumbs. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, it seemed. It was a wonder all kids weren’t walking around with horse teeth.
I grabbed my bags, hefted Alia up, and escaped as fast as I could. Some days were easier than others when I was babysitting. On the tough ones I reminded myself that at least watching Alia distracted me from other worries. Though it also made it a challenge to get laid; having a kid in your arms didn’t exactly bring the single guys running—and in northwest Indiana there weren’t that many candidates to begin with.
The heated summer wind whipped around us as I went through the now well-rehearsed routine of getting my niece strapped into the car and heading back to my sister’s place. I loved my niece, but I was looking forward to having time to myself, to catch up on some work, or zone out with a movie maybe. Yeah, the highlight of most of my evenings was staying at home with a movie. That was just sad.
“Come on, little lady,” I said once we arrived, going through the whole routine in reverse as I coaxed Alia out of the car. I hiked bags and baby girl up the concrete steps of my sister’s apartment building and knocked on Kate’s door.
“Hi guys!” she said brightly. She must’ve managed to get some rest while we’d been gone. I smiled and stepped inside, passing Alia over.
“How was my little peanut today?”
“Pretty good.” I dropped the bags by the kitchen counter and watched Kate nuzzling her little girl. Over a year and a half later, I was still sometimes amazed at the fact she was raising a kid. On her own.
“By the way, the lady at the Goodwill informed me I was ruining her teeth with the binky,” I said with a roll of my eyes.
“You should hear how people lecture me!” Kate said, setting Alia down and promptly causing her to screech. “You think ‘dad’ gets grief! Moms are supposed to know everything!”
I didn’t doubt her. And I gave her a lot of credit for raising Alia alone. I did what I could, but I couldn’t be around all the time. I tried not to think about that bastard Richard again. Every mother should have her partner to depend on. And every kid should have a father.
I took a breath and tried not to let my mind wander on that topic. It wasn’t just the situation with Richard I was pissed about—though seeing how Kate struggled made me want to hunt him down and strangle the little shit (or at least kick him in the balls). There was more to my mood, though. Namely that Kate and I had never had a father ourselves. He’d passed when we were too young to remember and though our own Mother had done her best, she wasn’t exactly the dependable type.
I had very little doubt, as I watched Kate rocking Alia in her arms, that our Mother’s actions affected hers. I knew without asking that Kate wanted to be the kind of mom we never had. Hell, even as a grandmother she hadn’t come through. Former Mrs. Casimiro was now Mrs. Cliffson and living across the country in Seattle.
Mom might bemoan not getting to see her granddaughter, but she didn’t go out of her way to fly out and visit very often. Fear of flying. Mmm-hmm.
“Why don’t you stay for a minute?” Kate asked. “I just put on some coffee.”
I was tired as hell after watching Alia and had things to do at home, but that meant I needed some coffee, right? “Sure,” I told her, guiding Alia into the living room while Kate detoured to the kitchen.
Alia pulled out every toy in the vicinity as I leaned back into the sofa. Kate’s apartment wasn’t much, just a simple one bedroom with a small kitchen and even smaller balcony. She wasn’t allowed to paint the walls, but she’d covered them with colorful cloths or thin decorative blankets (which she liked to call ‘tapestries’), alongside a few of my photographs.
“Here you go,” she said, handing me a hot mug. I smiled as she sat next to me. After being dumped by her baby’s daddy, she’d recovered remarkably well—better than I would’ve, that was for certain. She’d made this little apartment a home and I was damn proud of her.
Alia babbled at us as she played on the floor and we sipped our dark, sweet elixir. What did people do before caffeine? I shut my eyes and let out a sigh. I remembered reading somewhere that the earliest practices of drinking coffee or tea were related to monasteries or religious practices. Which had to mean it was pretty much a sacred practice, right? Totally justifiable, even if I usually got mine from the corner chain supplier.
“Are you going to TJ’s party this weekend?”
I blinked. “Probably. You going to bring Trevor?”
TJ was one of my long-time friends. One of the guys I grew up with. The kind of guy who always has your back. The kind of guy you endure socializing at parties for because they do the same for you. Or the equivalent; I didn’t throw parties. Not these days anyway.
“Only ‘maybe’ huh?”
She huffed. “It’s not easy for a single mom, you know! I want to be sure before Alia even meets anyone.”
“I thought maybe you’d get a sitter for her for the party.”
“As if I have the money for that,” she muttered. But she turned back to me a moment later, and patted my knee. “I’m sorry I’m grumpy. I don’t mean to take it out on you.”
I squeezed her hand. “It’s ok. Dating is never easy, especially when there’s…complications.”
With a long breath out, she plucked up Alia and leaned back to put my fussy niece in her lap. “Sometimes I envy you, you know,” she said, making my brows furrow.
“Well, guys are upfront with other guys. Right? Hook-ups have got to be easier. And you don’t have to worry about certain complications,” she chortled, snuggling Alia. That was a hard point to argue, but I knew she was also happy being a mom, despite it all. And for gays who knew they wanted kids, well, it was a complication they probably wouldn’t mind having. Not that I was in that category.
“If I only wanted hook-ups, you’d be right. But that’s not what I want.”
“I know.” Her eyes were far too insightful. “You’ll meet someone else.”
“Well, I better go,” I told her. “Places to go, guys to screw.” I stood and she followed, putting Alia on her hip with one arm and swatting me with the other. “Language!” But she was laughing as I went out the door.
I arrived back to my own apartment in minutes. My studio was practically around the corner from Kate, which made watching Alia far easier. I’d have opted to just continue couch surfing at her place, but Kate needed space sometimes—particularly since she’d started dating again. And she thought I needed the space as well, though I hadn’t had a proper date in months.
Stepping inside, I shut the door and flipped through my mail, pausing to stare down at one of the letters. I set it on the little table next to the door and dumped the rest on the kitchen table.
Opening the refrigerator, I gave a sigh. Old cheese, nearly empty yogurt, some leftovers, and pineapple-orange juice. Yeah, I needed groceries.
Instead I flopped down on the sofa and turned on the TV to channel surf.
How could so many channels exist and yet nothing good be on any of them? I tossed the remote aside and dropped my head back with a long exhalation.
I really needed to get out, to try something new. I knew that. If only I had a trip coming up. But I’d just gotten back a few weeks ago, and Kate was relying on me to be around for at least a month or two before I headed off again. Maybe I should go through the photos from the Alaska trip again. My stomach growled. Or not.
“Fine, you bastard. I’ll feed you!”
With take-out. Groceries could wait.
“Where the hell is the whole milk yogurt?” I muttered, scowling at all the Low and 2% options. I hated grocery shopping, and I’ll admit I’d been spoiled because up until a few years ago I’d never had to do it myself. So I always waited as long as possible between trips, and went out on days I was babysitting. Alia was usually better behaved if we were out doing something. And it was nice to go down the aisles with a person who was even more clueless of the selections offered than I was.
Alia babbled something and pointed at the yogurt selection with a frown. “I couldn’t agree more,” I told her as I squeezed her hand and moved us along.
A lot of people bemoaned their babies learning to walk, but I thought it was way easier to let her toddle around on her own than have to tow her in my arms all the time. Except when she made a break for it.
“Alia! Stop!” I snapped. Something in the chip aisle had caught her eye and she was off.
At least we were in the little local health market, rather than the huge supermarket where I really would’ve been in trouble. Then again, at a larger place I would’ve just put her in a cart.
“You want blue corn chips?” I asked dubiously. She nodded and squeezed the bag she’d snagged. “Sorry kiddo, those are too pricy for Uncle Will. Hey, don’t crush the bag— give me that!” I snagged the chips from her and her face crumpled. Oh no. No.
“It’s ok. Next time, alright?” But she was already in meltdown: her eyes squeezed shut, and her mouth opened in a silent cry that was going to erupt any minute like Vesuvius. Shit.
I scooped her up and she kicked her feet.
“Shhh! Come on. Let’s see if they have some good pickles, huh? You like picking out the pickles, don’t you?”
She shook her head and hiccupped through her tears. I squeezed my own eyes shut and prayed for patience. I was not meant to deal with kids!
“Hey, you the little lady making all this fuss?” a pleasant voice said nearby us.
I blinked and watched as a young man with brown hair and startling hazel eyes leaned in to give Alia a questioning look. She was distracted enough by his approach that she stopped screaming.
“You gotta be good for your daddy,” he said, glancing at me and giving me a smile that I felt deep in my chest. “How old is she?” he asked.
I watched Alia grab his upheld finger and settled her better in my arms. “Not quite a year and a half.”
“You come from a big family?” I couldn’t see why else a kid who looked like he was just out of high school would pay attention to a toddler. Most guys that age were too busy looking like tough-asses and trying to get laid to bother paying attention to a baby. I was a bit impressed. And touched.
“Nope,” he replied, to my surprise.
He must’ve seen my look. With a grin, he admitted, “I have younger cousins, though.” He chuckled as Alia tugged at his hand. “She’s a cutie.” He looked at me then back to her. “Does she look more like your wife?”
I almost blushed, though the hell knew why. “No, she’s my sister’s. I’m just watching her.” I don’t know why I expected him to know I was gay—maybe it was because my instincts were telling me that he was.
“Gotcha.” He reached into my basket and plucked out a pack of mozzarella string cheese, handing it to Alia as I set her back down. “That should distract her for a bit.”
“Thanks,” I managed. That little move had thrown me. It should’ve seemed presumptuous, but instead it hit me as…intimate, or maybe just very self-assured. I wasn’t sure, and it was unsettling.
“Well, I’ll let you guys finish your shopping.”
“Thanks for helping me out.”
“Of course,” he nodded and smiled, but I thought I saw his cheeks tinge the slightest bit pink. Maybe not so self-assured after all.
As he walked away, he glanced back over his shoulder and gave a smile—and my heart warmed several degrees. It wasn’t just that a hot young stud like him noticed me—his look wasn’t one of those ‘wish we were someplace alone’ ones. It was acknowledgement of something less tangible, something that wasn’t just attraction but connection.
When had been the last time I’d felt that? Hell, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d made a new friend, let alone hit it off with another guy.
Then his cute ass sauntered to the next aisle and he was gone. Just as well. He was probably legal, but I knew better than to date a college kid. I rolled my eyes just thinking about it. That had been hard enough when I was a college kid.
“Come on, baby girl.” I took Alia’s hand. “Time to check-out.”
“Honey, you’re home!” TJ said, chuckling as he opened my door and stepped back to let me in. “You got the kid with you?”
I glared at my best friend and set Alia down. “How about ‘can I help you with the groceries or anything’?”
TJ snorted but scooped up Alia. “You been dealing with this grump all day?” he asked her. I rolled my eyes and left to go back to the car and grab the other bags.
I hauled everything up the outdoor staircase to the second floor and TJ took a couple bags, following me into the kitchen.
Alia was tottering around near my feet, nearly tripping me over, so I gave her a Hobnob and nudged her back towards the living room area. Since the apartment was a glorified studio, the kitchen overlooked the living room, definitely a bonus when a little one was around. Usually when TJ was over he’d entertain Alia, but today he stayed in the kitchen, helping pack away some of the groceries—which I took as a bad sign.
Sure enough, as the last bag of chips went into the cabinet, he folded his arms and looked my way. “So, how are you doing? Any news?”
I gave him a look. “Is this an Dr. Phil moment? What’s with the sudden questions?”
“I saw your mail for one thing.”
I let out a long breath and prayed for calm. Why had I thought giving him a key to my place was a good thing? He meant well, I reminded myself. He was being the big brother I’d never had by playing protective and annoying the hell out of me. “Thanks for respecting my privacy,” I said sardonically.
“I didn’t open it.”
“Good for you.”
Alia whined from across the room and with a sigh I went to my desk, grabbed my laptop, and brought up a nature program to distract her.
“Resorting to TV already?” TJ teased.
“Hell yeah. She loves the Planet Earth series so I just keep the DVD in there all the time.” I shrugged. “At least it’s not reality TV, right?”
“And speaking of reality.”
I rolled my eyes at that. “Seriously? What a segue.”
“Well,” he said crossing his arms, “Are you going to tell me what’s up or not?”
“Nothing is up.” He narrowed his eyes and I gave a sigh of exasperation. “How can I know what’s going on until I open the letter?”
“Fine, but don’t be a pussy about this.” I scowled and he rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean,” he said.
“And you know I hate that term.” I’d heard it used way too many times by hyper-masculine males when I was an adolescent. It was interchangeable with ‘faggot’ in my mind, and I didn’t care for it.
“Just tell me you’re going to take advantage of the opportunity.”
“I don’t even know if there is an opportunity.”
“And you’d tell me if there was?”
“Yes. Can we stop the interrogation now?”
He smirked. “You’re such a baby.”
“I’ve been hanging out with one too long—and I don’t mean Alia.”
We grinned at one another and like that the tension faded. Thank god. I really didn’t need to be talking about any of my ‘issues’. Especially since they were really non-issues, not that anyone believed me when I told them that.
TJ offered to drop Alia back home for me and I ended up spending the evening uploading photos to my website—groaning all the while. I hated having to deal with the promotional side of photography, but these days it was a necessary evil. Websites were as ubiquitous as business cards, only more work and less fun to design.
As I watched the little beachball or pinwheel or whatever the hell it is spin while the photos uploaded, my eyes wandered, inevitably, to the lone folder on my desktop.
Don’t do it.
The loading finished and I chewed my lip. I was a masochist for not deleting—or at least hiding—that folder. I should turn off the screen. Or maybe open that damn letter. That, at least, might be good news. No good could come of opening the folder.
I double clicked and began to scroll. Pain bloomed in my chest. Picture after picture of me and Nate. Happy, smiling, arms around each other. Fuck. I logged out.
What did you expect, dumbass?
What I expected, what I’d been waiting for, was for things to get easier. Time heals all wounds, isn’t that what they say?
I sighed, grabbed a beer, and put on an episode of No Reservations.
Something poked me in the hip as I sat down, and I reached back and plucked out a fluffy bunny from between the sofa cushions. I looked at the little beady eyes of Alia’s toy and shook my head, “You ever have days like this, Mr. Rabbit?”
He didn’t have an answer.