Chapter ONE

 

SOMETIMES WHEN I look back at my life, I find it hard to believe there was ever a time Declan Tyler™ wasn’t in it. Like early 2004 B.D. (Before Declan), a time when Roger and Fran were my closest—and probably only, as my shithead of a brother Tim, would point out—friends. It was a period of change. Roger and Fran had just recently married, started a mortgage, and I was taking up a new job as the director of the Triple F Film Festival. It wouldn’t be that long before a series of people would start entering my life, who would all have their parts to play—entrances and exits, re-emergences and temporarily written-outs, cameos and short-term regular players. But they would all have major impacts upon me, leading up to the dawn of a new age—2008 A.D. (After Declan).

Nyssa was probably the first to come along after Fran and Roger and make a huge difference to my life. She had been there in the early days of Dec, and her presence had often helped soothe me when the swings and roundabouts of my personal life had gotten too much.

Communication was sporadic between us after her move to New Zealand, but heartfelt when it resumed. It seemed so long ago when she first entered the office at FFF, wanting a job and basically refusing to take “no” for an answer.

She had now been gone for years, with only a few visits back. Dec and I had gone over to the land of the long white cloud, where I bored him silly with visits to every Lord of the Rings location, embarrassing him with my need to act out scenes, often in the company of fellow geeks—“If you want him, come and claim him!”I cried out in the middle of the Arrow River while clutching Dec to my chest—he retaliated by giving me heart attacks when he threw himself off bungee towers and went white-water rafting. He was far more relaxed when he cooed over Nyssa’s kids—big softie that he was.

Now that I am in my golden years, the early thirties (in gay years, you might as well be settling into a retirement village), I’ve become a bit more nostalgic, and frighten Dec with sudden desires to make photo albums—the kind that you do on your computer and then send away for them to come back as a sturdy hardcover. I haven’t devolved into scrapbooking—that’s far too much effort—but the albums are sorted into themes; Dec is most embarrassed about the huge three-hundred-page doorstopper devoted to his footy career, but I’ve caught him looking more than once at the one dedicated to the first few years we were together.

It’s gotten to the point, although I would refuse to say it to him in fear of the shit he would give me, that I can’t believe I actually lived my life without him at some stage.

That there was a time in my life where Declan Tyler™ didn’t figure prominently.

That there was a time when Declan Tyler was only one thing to me: a sexy guy in football shorts who used to infuriate me when he played against Richmond and often had a huge part in their defeat. It was a time when I was alone and thinking I loved it. Despite having best friends in Roger, Fran, and Nyssa, I refused to entertain the notion that I wanted a partner.

I guess it was lucky I was picky (despite not being a great catch myself). It meant I waited until the best came along.

And now he was stuck with me.

Maybe I was smarter than I gave myself credit for.

 

 

FOR THE eleventy-billionth time that night, I snuck into the spare bedroom under cover of darkness and once again stubbed my toe on the portacot. This led to a dance of pain, muttering shit shit shit (although only in my head, as I could not stand the thought of awakening those two little fragile beings before me). But little Frankie and Georgina slept on, oblivious to the huge bumbling idiot hovering above them.

It had taken a lot of effort and heartbreak to get them here. A lot of money, too, but was that really important when they were finally with us? I didn’t think so, and I was pretty sure everybody else would agree. When they were brought into the world, screaming like their father at a football game, there wasn’t a dry eye among those expecting the news in the waiting room.

I checked to make sure they were still breathing—I was paranoid they would somehow stop on my watch—and when there were little sleepy whimpers, I slumped in relief. Now I could have ease of mind until the next five-minute check.

“If only I had my camera to capture this moment,” Dec said.

“Shh!” I admonished him, louder than he had been. “You’ll wake them!”

He took my hand and led me out of the room, closing the door behind us. “You looked the picture of the perfect doting dad. I should have taken a picture and sent it to your mum.”

“The perfect doting paranoid dad. And don’t send such a thing to my mother. It will only make her worse.”

“It’s not like we haven’t talked about it ourselves.”

“Yeah, when the time is right.”

“When is the time ever right?”

“I think it’s a bit different when a woman is involved—”

“I’m pretty sure a woman has to be involved.” He led me into the lounge and we slumped upon the couch, which was strewn with baby wipes and dirty bottles we were too exhausted to clean up just yet.

“Don’t be a smartarse.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s your job.”

I groaned as he started using my lap as a pillow. I had been thinking of doing the same to him. “It’s different for us gays.”

“Us gays,” he mused. “We’re a conglomerate, are we?”

“There’s a lot more planning. A het couple can just have an accident, like a broken condom or a lot of alcohol and loss of inhibition, and whoops, they’re pregnant. Gays have to find a surrogate mother and then do IVF.”

“Or a cooking syringe.”

“Not with the laws here.”

“Lesbians can have a baby. There’s already a woman there.”

“Yeah, but they need to plan to. They still need—”

“A cooking syringe,” Dec said, quickly.

“And sperm,” I said, just to rattle him.

Like clockwork, he winced. “Well, that just means that us gays have to make up our mind earlier than most. To give us time to get all the specifics ready.”

“You still have to be emotionally ready for it.”

“A lot of couples aren’t when they find out they’re pregnant. They become parents anyway, and learn as they go along.” He sighed. “So, when do you think is the right time?”

I started to feel a little panicky. This conversation always caused tightness in my chest and a lack of oxygen to my brain. “I don’t know. I guess you just feel it when it’s right.”

He looked disappointed. Dec was definitely feeling the urge for a family. All of his siblings now had kids, and I guess he really wanted some of his own that could grow up with their cousins and have the same kind of childhood he had—some faded-picture postcard of nostalgia where extended families had regular barbecues and children played cricket in the backyard together. Okay, we were already kind of living that life with our families, but Dec obviously wanted to add to it and see his kids among the mix as well.

I was the one dragging his feet. I loved our life together, and selfishly, I liked having Dec to myself. But that’s what it was: selfishness. By procrastinating I was the one denying him further happiness. Yet he also didn’t want to push me.

But something was going to have to give eventually.

I did, at times, think how lovely it would be to have kids of our own playing with Frankie and Georgina. Not that those two could do much of anything at the moment except cry, demand food, and poo themselves. Although I guess children would be like that all throughout their lives, except they became housebroken at some stage.

“What are you thinking?” Dec asked.

“Nothing!” I said quickly. Too quickly.

He looked suspicious, but our doorbell sounded.

“That must be the parents.”

“They’re early,” Dec said.

“Of course they are. It’s the first time somebody’s looking after them who isn’t their grandparent.”

“Do they think we’re incapable? We’ve looked after our nephews and nieces plenty.”

“Give them a break.”

It took Fran and Roger barely any time to get from the lift to our door.

“How are they?” Fran asked, while Roger said, “They’re okay?”

“I think they’re still alive.” I followed them to the bedroom. “The radio did say there was an escaped serial killer on the loose, and we all know what happens to the kids when the babysitter answers the phone.”

“That is not funny!” Roger’s face was white. “You can’t joke about things like that, Simon!”

“Calm down, honey,” Fran said. “It was a joke. I’m sure Simon looked after them well enough.”

“Lucky Declan was here,” Roger sniffed.

“Simon did a great job,” said my chief defender.

“Simon can speak for himself,” I said, proving it.

“Oh, don’t mind him,” Fran said, looking down into the portacot and smiling at her children. “He’s grumpy because he couldn’t enjoy himself at dinner.”

“Dinner was fine,” Roger said. “It was just adding a movie to it—we were out for too long.”

Fran rolled her eyes and started preparing the portacot for transport. “You do know we can’t keep an eye on our kids twenty-four hours a day for the rest of their lives, right?”

“Do you want a drink, Rog?” Declan asked.

“I’m fine.”

“He sounds it,” I said.

“He needs a good night’s sleep,” Fran said. “Let’s face it, so do I.”

“We could always keep them for a night,” Dec offered.

A tinge of eagerness flitted across her features but disappeared when Fran looked at her husband. “I don’t think Roger’s ready for that yet.”

“I’m not,” he agreed.

Fran sighed. “Let’s go home, then, daddy.”

We all looked at her.

She grimaced. “Okay, that just sounded wrong.”

“You can call me daddy anytime you like.” Roger grinned.

“That’s really gross,” I said.

“I totally agree.” Fran lifted the bassinet. “Get the rest of the stuff, Roger.”

As her faithful husband and the father of her children disappeared into the lounge, Fran shook her head. “Honestly. Now, are you two all ready for Saturday?”

“Saturday?” I asked innocently.

“Don’t test me,” she warned. “I’m already getting grief from my family for having two godfathers. I can easily make it one.”

Dec snorted.

“Oh, you would love that,” I said. “You wouldn’t have to share the glory.”

“Are you really getting that much grief?” Dec asked of Fran.

“My mother seems to think that if I’m having two godfathers—”

We’re.” Roger had returned from the lounge. “We’re having two godfathers. There’s two of us making this decision, you know.”

“Yes, of course,” Fran said, placating. “But it’s not your mother objecting to it.”

“But your mother loves me!” I objected.

“She loves Dec even more,” Roger said, and covered his mouth at his faux pas.

“I don’t want to fight about this.” Fran shifted the bassinet to her other hand. “Let’s go.”

“That was weird,” I said to Dec after they had left.

“What was?”

I followed him into the bedroom. He pulled off his shirt and folded it neatly.

“Fran saying that thing about her mother?”

“What, that? It was probably nothing.” Now the pants were off and folded on top of the shirt. Clad in his trunks, he hopped into bed. He had to manoeuvre himself around Maggie, playing a game of Twister between the sheets and the cat so he could fit himself in.

“Yeah?”

He patted the space next to him. “Come on.”

I shucked out of my pants and left them on the floor. Dec winced. I rolled my eyes, and then made a big deal out of picking them up and throwing them onto the chair with his clothes. It still wasn’t as neat as he would have done it, but it was a hell of a lot more than what I usually did.

“Shirt, too,” he instructed.

“What, you want me to striptease?”

“No, I want you in here next to me.”

“I don’t require my T-shirt for that?” I teased. I knew he liked as much skin against skin as possible during sleep. It was one of his cute little quirks, which usually collided with my leave as much clothes on as possible phobia.

“Nope. Take it off.”

I did, and he wolf-whistled.

“Oh, please.” But I liked it.

I had to play the same game of Twister to get into bed without disturbing Maggie, but also to ensure Dec got the amount of skin contact he wanted. “You desperate for cuddles tonight?”

“I’m always desperate for cuddles.” To prove his point, he buried his face in my chest.

I ran my hand down his back and rested it just above his rump. “So what do you think Fran meant, then?”

His sigh was a hot wind against my skin. “It’s probably something to do with the family.”

“You don’t think it’s due to us being gay?”

He looked up. “Are you kidding? They treat us like we’re part of them. There’s never been any instance of—”

“Yeah, but it could all change when it comes to grandkids. You don’t think that maybe they’d rather the twins went to a normal home rather than the two gay guys if something happened to Roger and Fran?”

“Did I really just hear you use the word normal?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do, but it fucking scares me. When you, of all people, use the word normal to describe other people, it shows how far we have to go still.”

“Okay, Harvey Milk, calm down.”

He rested his forehead against mine. “We’re just as normal as anybody else.”

“You think I don’t know that? Shit, you’re the most normal person I know.”

“That almost sounds like an insult.”

I kissed him. “It’s not, you daft bugger.”

“Oh, I’m a daft bugger now, am I?”

“If you are, I am.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.” His eyes creased with suppressed laughter.

I smacked his arse, and he burst out laughing. He smacked mine.

“Ow!”

Maggie gave us a humans are so undignified look, and ran off into the lounge for some peace and quiet.

“Fran’s mother is just probably upset that it isn’t being kept in the family. You can understand that. If anything did happen, they would want to look after them. Or Roger’s parents.”

“Should we withdraw?”

“I don’t think you can withdraw from godparenting.”

“It’s not like we signed a contract.”

“Do you not want to be a godfather?”

“I make you an offer you can’t refuse,” I said in a bad Brando accent.

“You’ve already made that joke too many times.”

I was nothing if not consistent. “Of course I want to be a godfather. Just worrying about family drama.”

“Fran and Roger want us to do this.”

And Dec really wanted it, too.

“Okay. But I’m going to try and ferret it out of Luciana.”

“You’re going to confront the grandmother at the christening? Make sure you pick your moment wisely.”

“Of course.” And I smacked him on the arse again. He retaliated by flipping over me and holding me down while I bit lightly into his neck.

Maggie was right to flee when she did.

 

 

“DEC?” I whispered into the dark.

He didn’t stir.

I shook his shoulder. “Dec!”

He squinted at me. “What’s wrong?”

“You don’t think that maybe they think that because we’re gay and it’s hard to have kids, maybe we’re hoping something tragic will happen to our friends so we get a family ready-made?”

I saw him trying to take it in, and then he exhaled heavily. “Simon, I have to be on the field with the kids before school. Give your brain a rest.”

“I can’t help it.”

“No, I doubt that’s what they think. Is that what you think?”

“No.” I didn’t sound so sure.

“Are you planning to cut car brakes when you know Fran and Roger are both in it, or something?”

“No!”

“Then stop thinking so much. Please.” Dec closed his eyes, and his breathing became steady and deep again.

I rested my head on his shoulder and was awake for quite a while longer.