“FOR fuck’s sake, Roger. Did you have to bring it along?”
I stared with distaste into the pram. Really, it was cramping our style. Mine, anyway; Roger was oblivious to the fact that some women in the park had zeroed in on him Terminator-style, their readings declaring him to be a total DILF. And Fran wasn’t around to go all Sarah Connor on their arses if they went on the attack.
Funny how a man with a baby caused his attractiveness quotient to be increased. Even I had fallen into the trap of being an extra bit smitten when Declan romped about with his nieces and nephews. Mine were still at the pooey nappy stage, so I tried to stay away as much as possible to avoid getting called into changing duties. I liked kids when you could actually have a conversation with them, not when their level of communication was limited to trying to sing along with Hi-5.
The DILF was glaring at me. “Don’t call her ‘it’!”
I grumbled to myself, now staring at my feet so I wouldn’t have to face his disapproval. “You look like an idiot.”
He didn’t. And everybody in the park seemed to be in agreement. Maybe they thought we were a hot gay couple with a designer test-tube baby. I gave Roger the once-over, trying to imagine how we’d look as a family, and then had to stop myself from laughing out loud.
“Stop staring at me. You’re freaking me out!” my faux baby daddy said. “Oh, and thanks for being supportive.”
I threw myself down onto the nearest bench. “I wouldn’t have met you today if—”
“Shut up!” he yelled, clearly at the end of his tether. He didn’t have Declan’s patience for my shit-stirring, that’s for sure. “You’ll wake her up, and I just got her to sleep.”
I didn’t want to push him any further by pointing out that he was being louder than me. “Fine, let’s go.” I jumped to my feet and walked off, the creak of the pram wheels behind me as they lurched back into action. I knew I was being unfair, unsupportive, and all other words starting with ‘un’, but every time I had met Roger or Fran—or both of them—lately, they were accompanied by that thing.
The wheels took on an almighty screech as Roger jogged a little to come up beside me. “I only got two hours sleep last night.” I think it was an attempt at an apology for his snappishness.
“Boo hoo. It was your idea to have it.”
“Her. And it was Fran’s idea.”
“You went along with it.”
“I didn’t have much choice, did I?”
“You could have stood up to her,” I said, knowing that I would never dare to get in-between Fran and what she wanted.
Which Roger knew, of course. “Yeah, you try standing up to Fran and see what happens.”
I could imagine, and it wasn’t pretty. “I just wanted a peaceful afternoon. Dec’s having Abe and some of the guys over, and they would have driven me crazy watching whatever sport they had planned.”
Roger looked hurt. “Dec didn’t invite me?”
“No offence, but if you’d brought that along, you would have spoiled their fun.” Although I might have actually stayed around to see how the scenario would have played out—all that crying getting in the way of the television and the testosterone. The thing was, Dec would have normally invited Roger along, but even his limits were being tested at the moment with the new arrival.
“I could have swapped with Fran, maybe,” Roger mumbled.
“So you’re saying you would rather be with Dec and his friends than your own best friend?”
“No offence,” he mimicked me, “but you’re being a shit. So, yeah.”
I stopped and turned to face him. “I’m sorry. Look, how supportive I can be!” I leaned into the pram and made the most appalling baby talk imaginable. It was like speaking in tongues, and made about as much sense. At least I didn’t bring out the rattlesnakes.
Roger rolled his eyes and walked off. Unfortunately, he also tripped over himself, and the pram rolled away from him with an alarming speed. “The baby!” he screamed.
The pram accelerated as it tore down the small incline leading towards the fountain, glinting innocuously in the sunlight. I gave chase, but I could already tell it was useless. A cyclist appeared out of nowhere, and he wasn’t keeping his eye on the path as he leaned down to adjust something on his iPod. He never even saw the pram coming until the last moment, and when he swerved to try and avoid it, he was far too late. The pram was clipped on the side by a wheel, and as it flew through the air it actually capsized. Even from a distance, I swear time slowed down as the baby flew out over the path and onto the grass beside it, its head separating as it connected with the ground and finally rolled to a stop.
I heard Roger wail behind me, and I slowed down. There was nothing I could do now. The cyclist was now hopping off his bike and, green to the gills, he was slowly approaching the macabre tableau of the crime scene.
Roger overtook me and fell to his knees beside the tiny victim. He looked up at me with dread upon his face. “Fran’s going to kill me.”
I looked down at the “real-life” doll, now in pieces, and back to the cyclist who was bent over, vomiting. I would have to go over and assuage his guilt before he coughed up a lung. “Yep. You’re the world’s worst fake dad.”
I guess that made me the world’s worst fake godparent.
“DO YOU think she’ll really be that mad?” I asked Roger as we stood outside his front door, still too scared to go in and admit to our crime of faux infanticide.
“That baby was expensive. Her cousin bought it to scare the crap out of her daughters when she found one of them had condoms, and she told Fran we’d have to pay for it if anything happened while it was under our care.”
Looking at the remains of the baby, I said, “So this was your taste of what it was like to be parents?”
“You’re obviously going to be accident prone.”
“That’s not funny,” Roger moaned. He sat down on the veranda, and I sat beside him. “How can I be a dad, Simon?”
He was hoping for an answer from me that would make everything all right. But, oh man, he was asking the wrong person. “Sure you can!” I said bravely. “All parents fuck up their children in one way or another. You’ll be no worse than any other dad.”
I was whacked with the baby torso for good measure.
“You’ll be a good dad, Roger. I promise you.”
“How do you know?”
It was still such a struggle at times to say the things that needed to be said, because I was afraid of being cheesy or sounding naff. But years of living with Declan had forced me to open myself more, and I owed this to Roger. “Because you’ve been a good friend to me ever since we were kids, so you can’t be anything but a great dad.”
He looked like he was about to hug me, but we were interrupted by the front door being thrown open. Fran stared out at us from behind the security door.
“I thought I heard voices! Why are you guys out here?”
“Fran.” I got to my feet and spoke with my best policeman-at-the-door air. “I’m afraid we have some bad news.”
“Well, you’re both standing there in one piece, so I assume—oh God!”
Roger had come to stand behind me, and as he lifted the torso, I held the head before me like an offering.
“What happened?” Fran’s hands were now covering her mouth, and she looked like she was about to cry.
“Roger’s big clumsy feet,” I said.
“The important thing is that the cyclist is okay, and he’s not going to press charges,” Roger said quickly.
Fran dropped her hands. Her mouth had taken on a steely set. “Cyclist?”
“The one who thought he had decapitated a baby.”
“You two!” Fran cried. “You should never be allowed out of your homes!” She stormed off, leaving us still standing on the veranda.
“Do you think we can go in now?” Roger asked me.
I rolled my eyes at him, pulled open the security door, and followed Fran further into the house. She had thrown herself onto the couch in the lounge room.
“Do you have any superglue?” I asked.
“Don’t,” she warned me.
“We could try to fix it.”
Roger shuffled into the room, a hangdog expression on his face. “Franny,” he said.
This simple evocation of her name made Fran burst into tears.
Roger crossed the lounge in one giant step and fell to his knees beside her. “I’m sorry. Please don’t cry.”
“I killed it first!” Fran wailed.
Both Roger and I made some form of guttural response not unlike that Scooby Doo would make when questioning one of Fred’s bizarre plans.
“I didn’t mean to!” Fran said, taking the headless torso from Roger and staring down at it with sadness. “I had to go to the shops to get milk, and I placed her on the roof of the car for a minute as I was trying to get out the keys. When I started pulling the car out of the parking space, she fell off the roof. And her head kind of popped off.”
“Kind of, or did?” Roger asked.
“It actually bounced!” Fran cried.
I snorted back a laugh, and both of them glared at me.
“It isn’t funny!” Fran admonished me.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, as straight-faced as I could at that moment.
“Roger, face it, we’re fucked. We both killed our child. We can’t do this!”
Okay, things were going too far, and my amusement was starting to wear off. “People! We need some perspective here!”
I now had their attention.
“Do I have to remind the both of you that this wasn’t a child? It was a doll! A piece of plastic with a computer chip!”
“But it’s meant to be the real thing!” Roger argued.
I snatched the doll from Fran and dangled it upside down. “It’s a toy. And you two are starting to act like those sad couples that adopt Cabbage Patch Kids and think they’re real.”
Fran grabbed the baby back. “It’s funny how you get attached.”
“A doll is never going to give you an idea of what it is like to be a parent. When you have a kid, a living, breathing kid, all these hormones are going to kick in and you’ll have all these natural instincts to rely upon. You know, like how a cat that’s been indoors all her life still gets that little wiggle in her butt when she sees a bird through the window?”
“That’s your example of how we’ll become good parents?” Roger asked.
I thought it was a pretty good one, myself. You just can’t help some people sometimes.
“People have been having babies for centuries. You’re no different. Besides, this is a glorified toy. You’ll be better with a real kid. You can do it.”
“Well, not today,” Fran said, getting up from the couch and pushing the doll away with a final sniff. “Let’s have a beer.”
An even better idea.
I WAS a little bit too tipsy to want to negotiate the public transport system, so I caught a taxi back home.
All the other guys had left, and Dec was snoozing on the couch. The apartment was remarkably clean—he was a bit of a freak when it came to that. I would have probably been passed out between a stack of pizza boxes and beer bottles. I threw myself down next to him and burrowed my head in his chest. He jerked awake, then hugged me sleepily.
“Were you expecting someone else?”
“I thought maybe it was Abe.”
“So you automatically went to cuddle him? And you think Roger and I are close.”
Dec laughed. “I knew it was you, although the smell of beer stumped me for a minute.”
“I had to play counsellor.”
“And that involved getting pissed?”
“Beer therapy is forty-six percent more effective than any other.” I slid my hand under his shirt, resting it against his warm skin. He had recently started developing tiny little love handles that wouldn’t go away, no matter how much he tried to exercise them off. He hated them; I loved them. Having been retired for just over a year and a half now, his body had already started to change. He was still fit and toned, but he was no longer the dedicated professional athlete putting in over three hours plus of exercise a day.
“Roger or Fran?”
“Both. Pre-parental anxiety.”
“They have nothing to worry about.”
“We all know that. The only people who don’t are Fran and Roger.”
I remembered the talk we had ages ago about possibly having kids one day. We were nowhere near ready for it. Undoubtedly Roger and Fran thought that about themselves as well, but they were starting to consider it more seriously—hence the “real doll”. Deep down, I was scared at how having a child could affect our little group dynamic, but I knew that unfortunately such things were part of growing up. I also believed that if I wasn’t maturing by the ripe old age of thirty, there might be no hope for me at all.
“Besides, Fran already has a kid to look after.”
I propped myself up on his chest. “You do know people probably say that about you, right?”
“And they’d be correct.”
With mock outrage I started getting up, but Declan held me firm. We kissed, long and slow, my beer breath obviously not that bad in his opinion.
Life was pretty damn good at the moment.
But things have a habit of sneaking up on you when you least suspect it.