THE LOCAL community college is the last place I want to be. It’s a shabby building built in the seventies with yellowing paint, dirty windows, and cracked cement. Everything about it, right down to the flicking streetlight out front, feels sad and pathetic.

“What’s that frown for?” Owen asks as he steps out of the truck. “Tonight is our last night. Aren’t you ecstatic?”

“Whoopee,” I drawl, twirling a finger around in the air.

“Oh, come on. Don’t be like that. This is exciting!”

“As exciting as having a tooth pulled.”

Owen walks around our 2010 Ford pickup and pats me on the shoulder. I avoid making eye contact with him as I lock the vehicle and start toward the neglected building. The Minnesota night sky is clear and filled with stars. It’s a better sight than the building, that’s for sure. Nice weather for mid-October, but chilly. Makes me wish our classes took place outside. Then again, I wish almost everything took place outside—nature has a way of soothing even the most troubled of souls.

“Tonight’s topic is sustainable parenting,” Owen says. He shoves his hands into his jean pockets and offers me a smile.

“Yeah, just what I need,” I reply, “someone to tell me how to parent.”

“We’ve never been parents before. It’s a reasonable requirement for adoption.”

“They don’t make pregnant women take parenting classes,” I say, restraining my irritation but failing to keep my volume low. “Some sixteen-year-old can get knocked up and raise her kid however she wants, but two fully grown men with careers have to pass a whole host of parenting classes before they can adopt a kid? Bullshit.”

I slam the front door open and stomp across the tacky green tiles of the school. Owen follows close—stopping once to make sure the front door doesn’t swing back hard when it closes—and keeps his smile about him.

“Well, that sixteen-year-old won’t have the tools we do,” he says. “We’re going to learn about the first signs of burnout, the three layers of stress, and how a parent’s stress affects the whole family. Sounds like valuable information to me.”

He recites everything verbatim from the damn pamphlet the class offered. How many times did he read it? Too many.

I huff as I round the hall corner, heading straight for our classroom. The dim fluorescent lights grate my eyes. “I know how to manage my stress, thank you very much. And I know how to take care of a couple of kids. You watch ’em close, you take ’em to school, you discipline ’em when they get out of line, and you feed ’em.”

“You realize we’re adopting human children and not dogs, right?” Owen asks as he lifts an eyebrow. “I’m gonna need you to say it, Carter.”

“I know we’re not talking about dogs,” I snap.

But there can’t be that much difference between young kids and dogs. Right? What more could a kid need?

As I reach the classroom door, Owen steps in front of me. He’s a big guy—thick with muscle and shaped like a barrel—and I’m no pushover, but I’m not getting past him if he makes a deal of it. I stare at him, his gray-blue eyes searching mine.

“Carter,” he begins, his voice low and serious, “this was your idea.”

“I—” For a moment I stop and take a breath. “I remember.”

“Are you regretting going through with this? We still have time to back out if you are. The kids aren’t going to be with us for a couple of months.”

“I’m not regretting anything. This is what I want.” I narrow my gaze. “It’s what you want too, right?”

“Of course.”

“Then why are we talking about this again?”

Owen closes the distance between us and wraps his arms around my body in a gentle embrace. Flustered, I glance over my shoulder. There’s no one in the halls, but that doesn’t diminish the heat I feel welling in my face.

“What’re you doing?” I mutter. “You know I don’t like to publicly—”

“What’s bothering you, Carter?” Owen interjects, his low voice right in my ear, the dirty-blond stubble of his chin grazing the side of my face. He tightens his grip around me, and I half return the gesture, a lump in my throat since the moment he spoke. “You’ve been tense and irritable for the last few weeks.”

I don’t know how he does it, but the mix of his warm tone and hot breath melts my indignation. I search my thoughts for an earnest answer, unable to deny Owen anything. “I… I don’t know. I guess… I’m nervous.”

“Nervous? You?” He chuckles. “Together we’re going to parent the hell out of those kids.”

I can’t stop myself from smiling. “Is that so?” Owen’s optimism knows no bounds.

He kisses my neck. “Of course. We’re at the top of our classes. No one compares.”

“These classes aren’t graded,” I drawl, growing redder by the minute.

“That’s only to prevent us from embarrassing everyone else with our high scores.”

I chuckle. “How can you let loose with lines like that?”

And does he have to be so blatant with his affection? I’ve never been comfortable outright displaying everything I feel, and this is taking it to a whole new level. We’re in the middle of a school, for Christ’s sake. I know it’s a school for adults, but still.

The door to the classroom opens, and I jump away from Owen, coughing to cover up the sudden movement. Owen smiles wide and turns around, unfazed by the presence of another.

“Hello, Mrs. Ginger,” he says. “It’s so good to see you again.”

The older woman returns the smile, the age lines on her face matching the gesture. “Oh, if it isn’t Owen and Carter Williams. I’m so glad you two are here tonight. This is an important class—sustainable parenting is crucial to successful adoptions.”

“That’s exactly what I was telling Carter! We’re ready for anything. Bring on the parenting strategies!” Owen straightens himself and walks into the classroom with his head held high.

Mrs. Ginger laughs into her palm and then turns to me. “He brings good energy to the class.”

He brings good energy to everything he does. Hell, I can’t even stay mad at the situation. Despite our being forced to take these classes, I think Owen might be right. I should just try to embrace every aspect of being a parent.

“Yeah, Owen is a good guy,” I say, forcing myself to sound cheery. “Thank you for having us in class.”

“The pleasure is mine.”

I walk into the classroom, keeping in mind that I need to stay positive and stress-free. I’m taking these classes to prove I’m a capable father. I know I am—these classes aren’t hard—and I need to remember that children will follow my example. I can’t set a bad one.

With Owen by my side, what could go wrong?