If I didn't know any better, I would've sworn that Zack rolled his eyes at me. But nah, three year olds didn't have a concept of sarcasm, right? So they shouldn't have a concept of rolling their eyes either. Although, considering who he'd been raised by for the three short years he'd been alive, maybe I should throw out everything I've learned about kids from my brothers's and co-workers's kids, and make it up as I go along. It seemed to work for most parents (and again I'm thinking of what I've seen on the job and before the job, and maybe it doesn't really work for most parents).
I help him get settled in my old room and show him the bathroom that's closest. I then gave him a sort-of tour of the place – 'sort-of' because I didn't care whose kid he was, a three year old is not going to memorize a floor plan when I, ten times older, couldn't in a shorter time than two months. I refused to believe it.
By the time we'd gotten everything finished and I had helped him go to the bathroom (Erin had already potty-trained him, a fact I was not too surprised by; her dad had been military, and she expected everything and everyone to follow rigid standards. This was why we had gotten along so well initially, me with my borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder, and also why in the end we hated each other, as apart from the OCD, I follow standards like a retarded moth follows a straight line. Which was a retarded-ass metaphor if I'd ever heard one, or made one, and I assure you that I have), Max had arrived back with the pizza boxes. Two of 'em, because he rather assumed that even with me as part of the effort, the two Galloways in the house couldn't eat more than a single normal sized pizza, and Max has never, ever eaten just plain cheese pizza. He says it's because he's Mexican, but since in the month I dated Lizzy the only thing I ever saw her eat was cheese pizza, I say he's full of crap. He always gets the works, with sardines and all the rest of the junk that most people take one look at and head for the bushes to lose their lunches and anything else they'd eaten in the last month.
Zack took one whiff of Max's pizza and started to actually turn green. It was kind of amusing. Max pouted at the both of us and took his box into the kitchen, setting ours on the dining room table. He then proceeded to stand in the doorway to eat, as I insisted he do whenever he got his 'everything and the kitchen sink' pizza. It's a little sad that we have a routine for things like this, but else were we supposed to do with our free time?
Max seemed to realize that neither me nor Zack was going to be very talkative, so he entertained us with amusing anecdotes of his time in prison – edited, I assumed, for small ears. Zack proved to be a three year old, though, as he completely ignored the stories in favor of smearing pizza all over his face and plate, and generally made a mess of himself. Ah, memories. My baby picture in the yearbook senior year had been of me, at around the same age, eating pizza – if one can eat by absorbing it through the skin on their face, anyway.
Seemingly following my train of thought, Max disappeared from the doorway for a moment, and when he came back, he was holding a camera. He sneaked up to the table, readied the camera, and then went “Smile, Zacky!” and as my son (which was such a weird thought to have) turned to look at him in surprise, Max snapped the picture.
It seemed that Max was in a total shutterbug mode that night, as he gave up eating his (really, really gross) pizza in favor of snapping pictures of me and Zack for the rest of the night. I finally got tired of this after we put Zack to bed at around eight-thirty – that's a good bedtime for three year olds, right? – and yanked the camera out of his hands. “Your turn,” I said, and began snapping pictures of him for a change. This made him crack up, and I soon joined him.
After tucking Zack in (with a little added fussing on my part, until even the kid got annoyed with me), we went to the living room and relaxed on the couch. “You know, we never did get to see the end of that show,” Max said, leaning back and putting his feet up on the couch – right next my leg, and even through the plaid flannel I could feel his cold feet.
“Jeez, get some socks! Your feet are freezing,” I said, pushing his feet away from me. “And anyway, it was a sketch show. It doesn't really matter that we didn't see the end of it.”
Max pouted at me, and pulled his feet up underneath himself. “I still wanted to see it,” he whined at me.
I smacked him with a pillow, and then stood. “You want any dessert?” I asked, stretching and heading towards the garage, where we kept the huge-ass freezer.
Max got up and followed me. “Depends. We got any of those popsicles left?”
“If we don't, it's because you like to have eight of them a night and don't know how to go shopping.”
“Excuses, excuses,” Max replied dismissively.
I opened up the freezer – it was a chest-high freezer, so it opened up like the top of a washer, not like a dryer (which is why, when I was little and played hide-and-go-seek, I never hid in the washer, but I did hide in the dryer a few times) and peered in. “Looks like we still got some, I think. Turn on the light so I can see better.”
I heard Max shuffle around a little, and then he went, “Where's the light switch?”
I sighed. “It's inside, right next to the door.” You genius, I added mentally. Hello, he'd been here a week, and he can't remember where the light switch is? Sheesh.
“Right, right...” he said. And then a long pause. “Uh, Ry? We may have a problem.”
I sighed, shut the freezer, and turned to face him. “What now?”
He was pulling on the door, and the door... was not opening. “I think we're locked in.” The 'again' went unstated, because we were both pretty sure that we were having flashbacks to the many, many, many times we'd gotten locked in the garage together back when we were kids. Of course, back then there had been other people in the house who had found us before too long. Now the only person in the house was a three year old, and neither of us was going to be missed at work for a couple of days.
I'll admit it, I started to panic. Hyperventilating, the whole thing. Max lifted me up, sat me down on the closed freezer, and slapped me lightly. “Knock it off. We're both adults now, I'm sure we can figure some way out of here.”
(Now, I'm sure most people are saying, 'Why not just open the garage door to the outside, and get out that way?' Well, I'll tell you why: the outside door hasn't opened since I was six, which is why we use the garage as a storage center, and don't put the cars in it. Why we hadn't fixed the door to the inside after the first few times someone had gotten stuck in the garage, that I cannot answer.)
“Yeah? How're we gunna do that?” I asked, still breathing heavily from my momentary panic attack. Max opened his mouth to say something, but I suddenly whipped up my hand and frowned. “Wait-a-minute.” A thought, vague and fuzzy, was formulating in the back of my mind. “The attic! Pat's old metal-working kit's in the attic, we can use that to open the door!” I was incredibly proud of myself. Now the only problem we had was actually, you know, reaching the attic. For some reason, there was no rope to pull down the fold-out stairs attached to the trapdoor, and neither of us was going to be able to reach it on our own.
“You're going to have to lift me,” I decided. Hey, he'd already proved that he could lift me, and I was definitely the lighter (and, yeah, weaker) of us two.
Max gave me a kind of odd look, but agreed, and we walked over until we were directly under the trapdoor. He then gave me a boost, lifting me by my feet until they were about level with his chest – seriously, man, either he'd been working out a lot, or I needed to eat more. Possibly both.
I reached up and grabbed at the hole in the ceiling that had, at one point, had a rope dangling from out of it. “Got it!” I crowed proudly as I got a good hold of it and yanked with all my might. Which turned out to be a terrible idea, as the trapdoor sprung out and smacked me in the head, knocking me off balance and possibly knocking a few teeth loose.
I fell over, but Max was there to catch me. He swore and set me down on the ground, kneeling next to me. “Shit, Ry, are you okay?” He was leaning over me, and I had the sudden dazed thought of, Wow, he's really pretty. “Ry?”
“Yeah, yeah, I'm good,” I said, sitting up dazedly. Max frowned at me worriedly, but took my word for it.
“You just stay here, I'll go up and get the kit,” he commanded, leaving no room for argument. Not that I was going to argue, it was way too nice to just lay down on the nice freezing concrete of the garage floor.
We eventually escaped from the freezing room of concrete, although Max insisted on keeping me up for a few hours so I didn't slip into a coma and die, even after I hauled out the family medical reference and pointed out that nowhere did it mention anything about keeping a possible concussion victim up until the wee hours of the morning, when there was nothing to watch on TV. He then pointed out that the book was so old that it still listed homosexuality as a mental disorder. I took the mature route and made him play Trivial Pursuit until two in the morning, when he finally decreed that I was allowed to go to bed.
He may have actually had a good idea with keeping me awake, because when I fell asleep that night, I had another weird memory-dream. Not, thankfully, about our time on the streets, but something a little more recent, only seven years ago.
It was one of those early winter nights, when the sky was overcast and it was technically late afternoon, not night, but the entire world seemed to have turned blue when you weren't looking. I was on duty, like I always was at that time back then, being only two years out of the academy.
I was on patrol when I got the call. My partner for the night – the department liked to brag that regular beat cops never got the same partner a second time until they’d worked for the department over five years, so they kept up a regularly changing schedule – was a sergeant, Sgt. Thomas McCleary. Better known as Daddy Warbucks to the younger cops that I hung out with whenever they’d let me (and by that I mean whenever they didn’t notice me, or needed another player for a game of basketball). He just gave me a look, didn’t help me out at all. Of course he wouldn’t, the only reason they ever put sergeants in with rookies is to test them, measure their progress. Which meant no help.
I answered the dispatcher, somehow managing to remember all of the routine. I was starting to feel incredibly nauseous, partially because wherever they got the patrol cars from didn’t believe in working air conditioners, and partially because Max had crashed at my place that night and we’d wound up eating nothing but whipped cream and bread, because he had interrupted my grocery shopping plans.
When we arrived, we found the scene to be… well, more of a zoo, really. It seemed that someone had decided this was a good thing for every rookie in the area to show up for, so there was about twenty patrol cars pulled up and around the townhouse where the disturbance had been reported. The suspect was already in the back of a car, and there were a few officers hanging around looking about as nauseous as I felt right then. Which, odd, because I doubted they had all stayed up half the night eating whipped cream and bread sandwiches with their crazy friend.
I soon found out the reason for their looks, though. The living room just soaked in blood, seriously soaked. It looked like someone – “Her dad,” the whispers in the room said – had hacked apart a little girl with a pocket knife. Everyone else was looking sick, and sad, and one of my academy classmates actually just walked out of the room and handed in his resignation the very next morning. And I said the only thing I could think of. “Wow, this is going to be one hell of a cleaning bill.”
When I woke up, I just lay back in my bed and thought for a long moment, remembering the fallout from my one little comment. There’s a reason, after all, that no one on the force likes me, except for Adessi (who had only recently moved to the city), Rivera (who has no taste), and Ethan (who didn’t enter the academy until a year after that incident). And, oddly enough, Sgt. Thomas McCleary, who was vastly amused by my comment and recommended me highly for the agent position when I applied for it a while later (agent’s what detectives are technically called by the department; not that anyone, even the chief, pays any attention to that). He was now a lieutenant over in the gang unit, and whenever our paths manage to cross, he acts like we’re best friends. He actually invited me to his place for Thanksgiving one year, and for once I was glad that my family lives so incredibly close and insists on me having all holidays with them.
Which, shit. Just reminded me of something. I jumped out of bed and raced downstairs – hey, I was wearing my boxers and undershirt, I was decent – looking for Max.
I found him in the kitchen, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The stacks of paper that Erin had given me the previous day were sitting next on the table next to him. Momentarily distracted from my great revelation, I gave him a curious look.
“I was checking to make sure that Zack wasn’t allergic to peanuts,” he explained at my look, jerking his head at the stack. “He’s in the living room, working on a coloring book. You want a sandwich?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, thrown off. And then I remembered what I wanted to say. “Max!”
“Yeah?” He sounded amused.
“Family dinner!” I seemed unable to speak in more than two words at a time.
He grinned at me. “I was wondering when you’d get around to remembering that. I hope your mom doesn’t have a heart attack.”
I scoffed at that. “Mom’ll be too glad to have another kid to have a heart attack. Pat, though, he’s gunna freak.” Dad and Will wouldn’t, of course, because as firefighters they now refuse to allow themselves to be shocked by anything, including little ol’ me having a three year old kid.
But how was Zack going to deal? If I remembered correctly (and it had only been four years back, so I know I did), Erin had been an only child, and not terribly social. It was likely that Zack wasn’t used to social situations with more than about four people, which the Galloway family dinner most emphatically was not.
Well, I could at least prepare him. Leaving Max muttering over the sandwiches as he carefully cut them into triangles – and, if I knew him, cutting the crusts off mine – I walked into the living room and found that yes, Zack was coloring rather intently in a battered old coloring book that appeared to be much-loved. Grassy was next to him, a crayon carefully set in the stuffed giraffe’s mouth.
He glanced up from his drawing (which was unusually neat; I doubted that I, with twenty-seven years more experience – and boy, that made me feel old – could color more inside the lines that he was) and gave me a smile. “Hi,” he whispered.
“How do you feel about meeting your new grandma and grandpa? And aunts and uncles and cousins?” I asked innocently. He looked surprised, possibly at the fact that he had aunts or uncles or cousins, but he nodded all the same. Again, if it were possible for three year olds to look such, I would have said he looked apprehensive. But no, not happening. Three year old, remember?
Friday proved to be a busy day. After I had rolled out of bed at around noon – and after having two crustless peanut butter and jelly (grape jelly, natch) sandwiches, being shooed upstairs to “Put on real clothing, already,” – I got to help Erin unload her truckload of items for little Zacky. Then, after final goodbyes were said to my baby mama (which I called her to her face and got punched for, which made Max practically shriek “He’s already got a concussion!” and fuss over me), we got ready for the Galloway dinner. I was just in the process of helping Zack put on his shoes (unsurprisingly, Erin had seemingly insisted on only buying lace-up shoes for Zack, despite the boy not knowing how to tie shoes, and of course neither me nor Max could figure out how to tie shoes on other people, so it was a bit of a struggle) when the phone rang. I hollered at Max to get it, and he did, appearing a moment later in the doorway of Zack’s bedroom.
“It’s for you,” he said, eyebrow raised inquisitively. “Some chick named Tina.” He had a weird look on his face again, in addition to the raised eyebrow.
I gave up on my son (yep, still a weird statement) and his shoes, stood, and took the phone from Max. “Can you try and tie his shoes, please?” I asked him, giving him the puppy dog eyes that had gotten him to write my ‘what I did over summer’ essay in sixth grade, when I had the chicken pox.
“Fine, fine,” he said with a sigh, crouching down and frowning at Zack’s feet as I wandered out the door.
“Yeah, I did forget about bowling tonight.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault! I’ve been sick, and then I got hit on the head, and then I got punched! Plus some other stuff I’ll tell you about tonight, alright?”
“Okay, okay. And yes, I promise to tell you. You’re going to freak, I promise.”
“Yeah, yeah, you too. Bye.”
“So?” Max was standing behind me, Zack on his shoulders, shoes evidentially in place (finally; it seemed this was one more skill I’d have to pick up). “Who’s Tina, and what was that about?”
“Tina’s a friend, and that was about our bowling night tonight. Which reminds me, can you watch Zack tonight? I should be back around nine-thirtyish,” I said, distracted by my brain planning things out for the night.
Max looked vaguely mutinous, but agreed, and then we were out the door on the way to my parents’s house. Max driving, of course, since I was still the sick concussed child, and we strapped Zack into the car seat that Erin had brought over earlier.
“Alright, alright, what’s the best way to do this?” I asked Max when we were a block away from the house.
“I think the straight-forward way is the best. Let’s just the three of us walk in and act like it’s all normal, and see how long it takes someone to ask about Zack,” Max said, eyes sparkling mischievously, finally out of the funk he’d been in most of the drive. I was feeling bad about making him baby-sit, but I’d come up with a better solution for the rest of my bowling nights.
“Sounds good to me!” I said cheerfully as we pulled up to the house. It being the suburbs, there was plenty of room to park on the side of the road, which was helpful since the driveway was completely full, and always was.
I steeled myself as I helped Zack out of the truck and started to carry him (although I didn’t get too far before Max took him from me, shaking his head and muttering something about my girly physique). Despite the joking with Max, I was still worried about how my family was going to take me suddenly having a kid. Not that they would shun Zack, or anything – my family’s where I got my love of kids, it’s genetic or something, they wouldn’t even think of turning him away or giving him anything less than their full amount of love. But me? I hadn’t been a kid for years, and I had done enough stupid stuff for my family to come down hard on me for this. I found myself wishing that Max hadn’t taken Zack, since even though it killed my wimpy little muscles, I’d feel a lot better hugging him to myself – but then a stuffed giraffe face came into view directly in front of my nose, and I refocused my eyes to see Zack giving me a deadly serious look, and offering Grassy to me again. I took him carefully. “Thanks, Zacky.” He smiled.
“Okay guys, we ready?” Max asked, not waiting for an answer before throwing open the front door. “Hullo, Galloways!” he called into the house at near the top of his lungs. There was a disgruntled sounding “Hey!” from the living room, and he rolled his eyes. “And Lake-Galloways, so sorry Elizabeth!” (He found it royally hilarious that my brother’s wife had the same name as his older sister who I’d dated when we were younger.)
“Took you guys long enough,” Terri said cheerfully as she came into the entrance room, streaked with mud and followed by her fiancée. She stopped short, though, when she caught full sight of us, and I clutched Grassy a little tighter to stave off a panic attack. “Wha…”
“Hey, Terri. I’d like you to meet your new cousin, Zack. Zack, this is your oldest cousin, Terri, and her fiancée Art,” I said, giving introductions like it was the most normal thing in the world. I was proud of myself, I was fairly certain that Max was the only one who caught the slight tremble in my voice.
Terri seemed slightly shell-shocked, but Art just took it and rolled. It was a good quality in someone marrying into this family, I’d always thought. He just came forward and shook Zack’s hand, saying, “Pleased to meet you, Zack.”
Zack seemed delighted by this, and then he caught sight of one of the dogs and started wriggling around. “Down!” he half-shouted, definitely the loudest I’d ever heard him speak. Max, equally surprised, followed his demand and set him down, and Zack took off for the dog faster than I thought a three year old should be able to run (and faster, probably, than he thought he could run, since he nearly fell on his face more than once as he ran). The dog, having grown up around ankle-biters of all kinds and sizes, was completely happy with the attention, and started jumping around and barking at Zack, who giggled delightedly and hugged him around the neck.
The yipping brought most of the rest of the family over, as Scruff (yes, if you were wondering, I had been the one to name him) didn’t tend to yip for anyone over the age of six, and as far as the rest of the family knew, everyone was over six at the house.
This led to a lot of standing around and staring, and a couple of “What the fuck?”s from Tyler, Pat and Elizabeth’s one and only child. But thankfully for my peace of mind, everyone just seemed to be amused by the fact that I had a three year old son I hadn’t known about, and excited about having a new grandchild/nephew/cousin to play with. Rob especially, since (at nine years old) he was previously the youngest of the family. It’s always great to no longer be the youngest, as I had learned the second Terri had been born.
Dinner over with minimal bloodshed, that just left Tina and my other bowling buddies to explain to about Zack. Max dropped me off at the bowling alley (not the one we used to help burn down, sadly) on the way home, after I told him I’d be able to wrangle a ride home from Tina. He didn’t seem to happy, back to his earlier funk, but he did agree.
Plus, a Sim picture of you, with Sim!Zack and Sim!Scruff: