This is a long one (over 3000 words) so buckle in.
Content warning: This chapter gets steamier than any other Thoreau chapter. While it is still PG, this is your warning for some non-graphic nudity (including a tushie).
The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is tell my parents that I got Zoe pregnant.
Big surprise, they were furious. Then again, so was I. I knew exactly when it must have happened—the day the condom broke. The only broken one we ever got. I did what I was supposed to do. Offered to buy Plan B, had tried to go with Zoe to the drug store to get it. She’d told me she’d take of it.
Obviously, she fucking hadn’t.
“It’s just one accident,” she shrugged, seemingly not worried at all. “It’ll be fine.”
I should’ve been more persistent. I should’ve insisted on going and getting the meds. Watched her take them. I shouldn’t have let her shrug it off. If I had, I knew we wouldn’t be…here.
Shoulda woulda coulda.
This was the last place I’d ever want to be at my age. I slouched in my chair next to Zoe and played on my phone, trying to ignore the harsh looks and judging stares coming at me from the reasonably-aged people in the waiting room. Zoe was getting those looks, too, sure, but it sure as hell felt like they were all for me.
You pressured her, they accused. You only think with your dick. It’s your fault you’re both here.
Fuck them. I did everything I was supposed to; how was it my fault that Zoe did nothing to prevent us ending up here?
A voice called out softly, “Zoe Weber.” A nurse with a clipboard stood at the entrance to the waiting room.
I got up, shoving my phone in my pocket, and shuffled after my ex-girlfriend. This wasn’t her first appointment, but it was my first time going with her. This was the important one.
Inside the exam room, the nurse did all the pre-doctor questions and then we were left alone.
You could hear a pin drop.
God, being alone with Zoe now was so awkward. Part of me was still pissed at her, but I loved her, too. A few months hadn’t taken that away. But, god, I was angry. Everything was different now.
Over half an hour passed before a kind-looking, middle aged woman let herself into the room.
“Good morning, Zoe. How are you doing this afternoon?”
Zoe smiled weakly at the doctor. “Hi. I’m okay. This is my ex, Logan. The, um, the father.”
The doctor shook my hand. “Logan, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Pohl.”
“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled.
She pulled up a stool and took a seat. With a smile, she said, “Let’s take a look at that baby, hmm? Have you decided if you want to know the sex?”
Zoe nodded, reclining back on the exam table, making the paper covering crinkle. “We want to know.”
She pulled up her shirt. Dr. Pohl squirted a clear gel on her stomach and pressed a wand to her softly rounded stomach.
As the baby’s heartbeat filled the room, my own skipped. I’d never been to one of these appointments, so I’d never heard the baby’s…my baby’s heartbeat before. The breath whooshed out of my lungs; in the space of a moment—a heartbeat—this had just become very, very real.
“There we are.”
I looked up, realizing I’d been lost in my own head for a while. The doctor smiled at the both of us and pointed to the screen—I hadn’t even noticed her turning it around. “You’re having a boy.”
I felt different leaving the doctor’s office. Like my perspective had taken a total one-eighty. I’d seen my son, heard his heartbeat. This had all felt real from the moment Zoe told me, but now there was something more than overwhelming dread. Was this how Tobi and Colette had managed to do it? Is this how Tobi felt when he found out about Joce and Luc?
I slowed to a stop on the sidewalk, realizing that Zoe had stopped a way behind me. I turned and went back to her. “Yeah?”
She wrung her hands in front of her. “I think…Logan, I think we should give him up. For adoption.”
I stared at her blankly for several seconds as my brain struggled to comprehend her words; I had a hard time going from having an epiphany to debating giving my kid away. Finally, I was able to muster a, “What?”
“I’ve been thinking about this. Going over it and over it. Seeing him…Is keeping him really what we should do?” She dashed impatiently at her eyes; the hormones made her cry a lot. “We both wanted to go to college. Are we really what’s best for him? Is he what’s best for us?”
I swallowed hard and shifted on my feet. “Zoe…fuck, if you’d asked me that this morning, that probably would’ve been an easy answer. I haven’t exactly made my opinion about all of this a secret.” And yet, up until right then, not keeping the baby hadn’t actually crossed my mind.
“But seeing him changed things?”
I nodded. “I mean…I won’t make you keep him.” I ran a hand through my hair. “Hell, I don’t know if we’re what’s best for him or vice versa. I don’t know, now, if I do want to keep him. I’d need to think about it more now that I feel this way.”
When she just nodded, I continued. “What do you want to do?”
The way she looked at me, I knew exactly what she wanted. Deep inside, I felt a stirring of relief. “Look, Zoe,” I said gently. “If we do keep him, it’s not the end of our lives. Tobi and Colette are doing great—and they had twins. And my aunt had a kid when she was younger than us; she’s a really successful journalist now. She gave Caleb a great life; we could give our guy one, too. And still do what we want.”
Zoe’s lower lip quivered. “You really think so?”
I nodded, trying to sound more certain than I really felt. “If you want this…if we want him, we can do it.”
I cracked my back as I walked off the lot and ran my arm over my sweaty forehead. How had my dad done construction for so many years? I was struggling, and I’d only been at it for a few months. It wasn’t exactly that I minded it; I actually kind of liked seeing the buildings come together. Just, damn, it was hard work.
As I walked towards the air-conditioned trailer that worked as Dad’s office, I couldn’t help but think how different things were supposed to be. Well, “supposed to.” It was September; if things had gone according to plan, I’d be moved in to a dorm somewhere and starting classes. As it was, Zoe was going to pop any day.
Speaking of. I took out my phone to check for messages, then muttered a swear word; I’d forgotten to charge it last night and now it was dead.
As if summoned by my thoughts, Dad emerged from his trailer a wild look on his face. “Logan! I was just coming to find you. Zoe just called; it’s go time!”
A cry pierced the darkness and pulled me out of a dead sleep. Blearily, I looked around for the source of the God-awful wailing before recognition set in.
Baby. Baby monitor. Crying.
I got up and crossed the short distance to the nursery door and let myself into the dimly lit room. Carefully, I lifted the tiny infant out of the bassinet.
“Shh, little man,” I soothed sleepily. “You hungry? If you calm down for me, I’ll go make you a bottle.”
After I got him mostly quieted, I stepped back into the other room and prepared a bottle. At first, I’d felt a little squicked out knowing that I was warming up milk that came out of Zoe’s boobs, but meh. I’d gotten over it. The little bottomless pit needed to eat so much, I had to.
Once I was satisfied with the temperature, I returned to the nursery and lifted the baby into my arms.
“Here you go, little man.” I rocked slowly on my feet while he nursed. Fought the urge to rest my eyes. I was exhausted just from staying over three nights in a row; how did Zoe and her mother—though mostly Zoe, if she was to be believed—manage every day of the week?
When he finished the bottle, I burped him and then just cuddled him against my chest. I looked down into his tiny little face; oh yeah, that was how Zoe managed it.
I stroked my finger over his soft cheek. Two weeks and he was still so tiny yet had grown so much. I’d gone a couple of days without seeing him, and I swore, I’d been able to see a difference.
“You’ll need a bigger room soon, Xavier,” I murmured. He looked up at me with wide eyes that slowly drooped shut.
I settled him back into his bassinet and returned to the couch—my bed on the nights I slept over, which was several times a week. Zoe and I may not be together, but I wanted to be around, both for Xavier and to help her out with him. According to her, her mom didn’t do much, and I believed her; I didn’t think Mrs. Weber had said a word to me since Zoe got pregnant. She wasn’t what you could call supportive about the whole thing. But that meant that, when I wasn’t over, Zoe was doing it all herself. I tried to be around as much as I could.
Tiredly, I laid back on the couch. Hopefully, I’d get a couple more hours before he started crying again.
As I started to doze off, a cry rang out.
“You’re so good with him.”
I looked over my shoulder to find Zoe smiling at me from the nursery doorway. “You think so?”
She nodded and walked over to me. “You’re a really good dad, Logan.”
“I want to be.” God knew, Xavier had been the opposite of planned, but I couldn’t love him more if I tried. Tobi’s total adoration of Joce and Luc made absolute sense now; I’d do anything for this kid.
“I know. I wasn’t expecting you to be around so much.” She grimaced. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, I just wasn’t expecting you to sleep over and all that. I know our couch isn’t super comfortable.”
I settled Xavier into his bassinet. “It’s not so bad.” The tightness in my lower back begged to differ, but I ignored it. I nodded at the door. “Let’s not wake him.”
Zoe and I stepped out into the living room; she eased down onto the couch, and I sat beside her. “I started looking at apartments.”
I smiled. “Really?”
She nodded. “I got promoted to manager at the store. The raise isn’t much, but I think it’ll be enough to get something small. I just…I want to be out of Mama’s hair, you know?”
I winced. “Yeah…” Mrs. Weber wasn’t a big fan of mine. “Maybe I’ll get you a couch for a housewarming gift.”
Zoe laughed quietly. She looked over at me; the glint in her eye took me by surprise. I’d seen it before, many times, but not since we broke up. “You and Felix broke up, right?”
“Ah, yeah.” Not for lack of interest in each other, though. He’d gotten accepted to a college in the States, and neither of us had wanted to do the long-distance thing.
A slight smile curved Zoe’s lips. She leaned in and put a hand on my chest then pressed her lips to mine.
I inhaled sharply. “Zoe…this probably isn’t a good idea. We don’t have a stellar track record.”
“One accident out of how many times? I think we did pretty well.” She smiled. “It’s okay; I have condoms upstairs.”
“I don’t know…”
“Do you know how hard it was not to jump you while I was pregnant?” That surprised a laugh out of me, and she grinned. “All those hormones; God, I was so horny. Let’s go upstairs and have some fun, Logan. We always were good at that.”
How could I resist her? It had been half a year since Felix moved, and there’d been no time for anyone else. And, besides that, it was Zoe. That attraction had never gone away.
I leaned in and kissed her deeply. “Yeah, okay.” I got up and took her hand, let her lead me up the steps.
I pulled her into my arms and took her mouth again.
Her body felt warm and familiar against mine despite all the time that had passed.
It didn’t matter that her mother was just next door or that one or both of us would have to get up in a few hours when Xavier needed us.
Right now, the only thing that mattered was her mouth on mine, my hands on her.
This wasn’t important. It wasn’t meaningful. It wasn’t a relationship. It was just fun.
I followed Mom out of the dining room. “Really, I can take him.”
She shook her head. “Really, it’s no trouble. I’ve got a lot of experience cleaning up messy boys.” Yeah, Xavier had had a lot of fun with the little cake Mom had made him to destroy. Icing everywhere.
“No problem. Get yourself some cake.” She shooed me back to the table.
Smiling, I grabbed a piece of cake and joined the others at the table.
“Thank you for hosting the party, Tommy,” Zoe said.
He shook his head. “It’s our grandbaby, and we have the space. And hey, whatever excuse to get him here.”
I snorted softly. Fortunately, my parents had always supported me, really embraced the whole grandparent thing. I just wished Zoe’s mom would loosen up. Even now, she was sitting silently at the end of the table, picking apart a piece of my mother’s amazing cake that, really, deserved better. She was hardly awful; I knew she loved Xavier, but she’d expected more out of Zoe and wasn’t shy about showing it.
My little sister, Tomlyn, frowned mulishly at her cake. “Well, I wish Logan didn’t have a kid.”
Dad looked at her sharply. “Tomlyn!”
“You and Mom are always talking about him. He’s just a stupid baby. He doesn’t even do anything.”
She turned to Mrs. Weber. “I can play piano,” she proclaimed proudly. “Do you want me to play for you? I can.”
Mrs. Weber gave her a tight, polite smile. “Maybe later. Thank you, though.”
Tomlyn sank back into her seat with a pout.
Dad sighed. “Tomlyn, your mom and I don’t get to see Xavier much. You know you’re still our little girl.”
I rolled my eyes and jerked my head to Zoe, signaling we should make our escape. This was just going to devolve into yet another of my baby sister’s tantrums.
I took our plates into the kitchen, rinsed them, and put them away in the dishwasher.
“It has to be hard for your sister. She’s supposed to be the baby of the family.”
I snorted, walking around the island. “Don’t say that in front of her. And she’s spoiled enough; she can spare the attention.”
Zoe smiled and shook her head, leaning against the island. She looked out towards the dining room, and I could tell she was lost in thought. “I can’t believe he’s a year old,” she finally said.
I eased down onto a stool. “I know. What a year, huh?” It was hard to believe Xavier was a year old. It still seemed like yesterday that he was this tiny, squishy little monster.
Zoe sat down beside me. “Hopefully, next year’s even better.”
“I mean, kid being born. That’s pretty hard to beat.”
She laughed quietly. “Hey, you want to come over tonight?”
I grinned. “Sounds good to me.” Zoe had moved into a tiny little apartment a couple of months ago, which, in a lot of ways, was a huge step up from living with her mother. I didn’t sleep on the couch anymore, either; since that first night, we’d taken to sharing a bed whenever I stayed over.
It was still nothing more than casual. There was too much history now, I thought, for us to go back to being together. I, for one, had moved on. I hoped she had, too. This arrangement worked, though. I stayed over most nights now.
I knelt on the rug and stacked one block on top of another. One chubby little hand reached out and smacked the tower then clapped with glee as the blocks crashed to the ground.
“Towa faw!” Xavier exclaimed with a giggle. “Ag’n!”
I laughed softly and did as he bade, helping him pile the blocks again. The sound of the lock turning in the front door made me look up. I smiled as Zoe walked in. “Hey, how was work?”
She sighed, immediately toeing out of her shoes. “Long. Hope you enjoyed your day off.”
“I did the dishes.”
“Exciting.” She came over to the two of us and scooped Xavier up. “There’s my man.” She poked at his sides, sending him into peals of laughter. “Did you have fun with Daddy today?” His answer was more giggles.
She settled him back on the floor and fell down onto the couch. I got up and joined her. “At least you’ve got the weekend off. I thought we could take Xavier to the park?”
She nodded. “Sounds good.”
We watched him play for a few minutes, building up a block tower and, this time, using his toy police car to smash into them.
Zoe looked over at me. “Logan, I think you should start applying to universities. You should go back to school.”
I blinked in surprise at her. “Where’d this come from?”
“I mean, we both always planned to go to college. The little monster threw a wrench in things, but I’m doing good now with my job and all.”
I smiled a little. “Is this you saying you don’t want me around so much?”
She shook her head seriously. “No, not at all. I just think that it’s time you stopped putting your life on hold. Is construction really your life’s goal?”
“You know it isn’t.” I leaned back on the couch and ran my hands through my hair. “I haven’t spent more than two days away from Xavier since he was born…”
“I know,” she said gently. “We can call and Skype and stuff. If you go to school close enough, you can still see him on weekends.”
“I do want to go back to school,” I admitted. “But what about you?”
She smiled. “I’m going to apply to uni here in Windenburg. I should qualify for aid, and I can take out loans.”
“Maybe I’ll go here, too.”
“That’d be good. But you should go where you want to. Me and Xavier, we’ll be here. I wouldn’t let him forget you or try to keep you away from him. I just…I feel like we’ve got a handle on things now, you know? We can focus on ourselves a bit. It’s like you said; we can have what we want, too.”
I laughed quietly. “Well, it’s no fair if you’re going to throw my words back at me.”
“Think about it, okay?” She pushed to her feet. “I’m going to see about food.”
Alone, I watched Xavier. I’d pushed the idea of college out of my head, putting all my energy into my son. I wanted to go to college still; as much as I’d come to actually enjoy working for Dad, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It had, however, given me an idea of what I might want to do.
Was I ready to go back to school? My heart squeezed in my chest. I saw Xavier every day, stayed at Zoe’s almost every night. I wanted that to continue, but…I also wanted my life to start again, too. I was eating, sleeping, and breathing fatherhood, but I wasn’t even twenty yet.
Maybe it was time to learn how to be a father and a college student.