Run Everything Down
Every minute of my life is now spent in a vacant kind of fervor, always afraid that someone's about to burst through my apartment door and take Nicky away. It can only take so long before they realize what they've done, giving a tiny, innocent baby to a couple of kids who had never changed a diaper before. I'm avoiding the doorbell now. Or I would be, if anyone actually showed up anymore; I have a distinct lack of friends these days, a distinct lack of anything, with Dad faded back into his usual business of pretending he's a single man and Tara engrossed with her new mystery boyfriend—
"He's crying again," Claudia interrupts my train of thought. The venom of my glare could eat her face. Well, I wish it would. In this sense I'm not totally alone; Claudia's here, always here, doing a really crap job at playing my Lucy Ricardo. Her voice is just fucking grating without the sex kitten schtick she's half-abandoned. And she spends all goddamned day lounging upside down in my leather recliner, half-dressed in case I miss the fact that she's lost most of the pregnancy weight. I noticed, I just don't give a shit. This is why the sight of her legs, bare and luscious hooked over the top of the recliner, and the post-pregnancy tits hanging there all gravity-defying have no fucking effect on me.
"So feed him," I snap back, grimacing into the corner. It's hot and I'm tired and sick of taking care of our son, one Nicholas Joshua Layman-Marks, while she sprawls on my furniture and fans herself. And occasionally takes a misguided attempt at seducing me, as I can see she's about to do now from the way she's rolling upright and pouting her lips at me.
"So grumpy, Daddy," she coos. Christ, not sexy, not sexy. "I think somebody needs a good fuck. How about a good—"
"Jesus, shut up." How can she say shit like that with our kid laying right there? Okay, Nicky's only a couple of months old, but Christ. They're learning new shit about babies everyday. Who knows what they absorb? I could be half-gay just from listening to my parents fuck as an infant.
Claudia's clearly not going to do shit about Nicky's cries. I get up, my body protesting in exhaustion, and go over to lift him out of the weird baby swing thing. You lay him down, strap him in, and turn it on so it rocks back and forth, and bang, instant sleeping Nicky. He quiets down a little in my arms, flicking his big dark eyes at my face for a few seconds before darting them away to the side, looking at nothing. His eyes aren't like either of ours. But apparently they might change, something I find fucking creepy.
"Hey, buddy." I bounce him a little. He usually likes that. Except when Claudia does it and almost breaks his neck. "You hungry?"
He cries again, like answering. I look at Claudia but of course she's not gonna be any fucking help. So I carry Nicky through to the kitchen while he tries to flail himself out of my arms. This is the real reason for those potato sack things they stick babies in. Can't kick as well that way. Christ, I'm so tired.
Nicky starts screaming his head off when I'm mixing up the formula. He's purple in the face by the time I'm nuking it. I'm supposed to do this thing on the stove with hot water, but I just can't face the thought. 30 seconds in the mike and shaking it hard before you test it seems to work okay. Claudia's still sitting on her ass out there. I sit down in one of my crappy kitchen chairs to feed him instead of going back.
Nicky chills out pretty fast. He eats so much you'd think I was starving him. While he's draining the bottle with some fantastically gross noises he's staring up at me, cute enough to make me forget about how much sleep I hadn't had. He's lucky he grew out of that red wrinkly phase.
Claudia turns up in the doorway, distractingly half-naked as usual. I feel embarrassed about Nicky. Like he's going to care that she's wearing my boxers and wifebeater, through which I can see nipples. Tits on the top and sides. I wonder, not for the first time, how I could have slept with her. I must've hit it from the back. Just as well I was too drunk to remember.
"Can you turn up the air conditioning?" She touches her overexposed cleavage, like the heat's too much to bear. I wonder if she even sees Nicky at this point.
"Go ahead." I'm not in the mood to indulge her whims when I'm already doing everything else. The rubber nipple pops out of Nicky's mouth and onto his chin while he sputters a tiny yawn. I readjust. His eyes are drooping. "Not too much. He nearly got a cold last time."
"Okay, like that would be the end of the world." She goes flouncing off to mess with the AC. Fuck. I could put her head through a window.
Nicky's almost asleep. Tentatively I pry the bottle away, holding my breath in wait for a scream. I think he's out, though. Pray God he sleeps for a few hours so I can, too. I take him into the bedroom and ease him into the crib, flicking the baby monitor on and grabbing the handheld. You can't turn that on till you're further away, or you get this scream of interference that wakes the baby. I know better than anyone.
I throw myself onto the couch and I'm almost asleep when Claudia comes up and sits on my stomach. My shirt's ridden up and the boxers shift to one side when she sits, so I can feel, Christ, she's not wearing underwear under my underwear. Like I want her snatch on my abs.
"I'm sleeping," I say between gritted teeth, pointedly not opening my eyes.
"With me." Bossy fucking skank. She starts grinding on my stomach in this weird circular movement that makes it feel like I'm nauseous. I open my eyes to glare at her just in time to see her grab my hands and shove them on her tits. You can't just see her nipples through the shirt. When I start roughly yanking my hands away she gouges the backs of them with her claws. I hiss and she smirks creepily at me.
"C'mon, Kay. You can't even whine about him being nearby now."
"I don't want to fuck you no matter where Nicky is," I bark. As if she doesn't turn me off enough I don't want to fuck anyone or anything right now. I'm too tired and still too sick over how all the shit with Josh ended.
"Okay, too bad. I can't live with you when you're this uptight." Nobody asked her to live with me. For all she does around her she might as well leave. I can't even admire the aesthetic, with it being attached to her.
"Will." She scoots backwards onto my hips, and for how tired I am you wouldn't think my dick would jump like it belonged to a horny fourteen year old. It's been awhile since it's seen any action, I guess. I'm not exactly used to celibacy. "That's better."
"Claudia. Would you let me fucking sleep?"
"This is better for you." Right. I haven't slept decently since Nicky was born.
"Seriously… This is better for you." She lifts herself up a little and starts trying to force my jeans off. Honestly I've half-forgotten about the sleep deprivation—hard to focus with a hard-on. Half of me wants to just close my eyes and let her do it. More than half. My determination is getting weaker by the second. It might even be nice to be that close to a person for a bit. I'm not lonely. I'm just not used to being alone.
I let her take my jeans off. I let her do all the work.
Afterwards none of it seemed quite real. I'd felt drugged and half–asleep, and she felt good. Soft. Not the kind of good Josh had been. I guess she was more okay. I fell asleep practically before I shot.
It made Claudia better. She was quieter, touched me a lot and still walked around in see-through panties or whatever, but she toned down the incessant bugging me. For a couple of days. Now she wants to fuck again, Nicky's screaming, and I'm in no mood. Why she would wanna screw in front of a howling kid I don't know. My head is throbbing and Nicky has literally been crying for over an hour. I'm freaked out because this isn't like him, and Claudia's bitching doesn't help, and then someone knocks on the door and I want to die.
"Come in," I yell, too frazzled to check who it is and knowing Claudia isn't going to go. Axe murderers, you're welcome here. I feel ready to strangle the pair of them myself.
My neighbor, older lady named Angela, I think, sticks her head in. "Is everything okay?"
I'm surprised she hasn't called the cops. "Yes. No. I don't really know." I switch Nicky's position in my arms yet again. "I don't know if he's dying," which I meant to sound self-deprecating, but instead I sound dangerously close to tears. Angela comes in and looks at Nicky. Claudia's giving me a weird look. Whatever.
"Colic," Angela says right away. I look back at her with a start.
"Colic. Unless I'm wrong, which I doubt I am after the brood I had back in the day. Do you have gripe water?"
I don't even know what that is. Probably some parenting necessity like a Diaper Djinn or whatever. Another thing I should have and don't.
"No," I say in a voice that pretty clearly implies I'm expecting to be sentenced at dawn. She looks at me and smiles.
"I daresay Mrs. Roots down the hall will have a bottle to spare. Don't worry," she says at the look on my face. "It's not anything bad, colic. Just a nuisance." I know the word colic, I feel like I should know what it means. But I don't. I can see the word in the parenting book but nothing else. Angela opens the door again and calls "Kirsten" down the hall. I can hear another door open, and then the harried voice of the divorced mom-of-three down the hall.
"Angela. Thought that was you. Medication required?"
Great, she can hear the screaming from down there. I'm so going to get evicted. Unbelievably Claudia's sat down with her iPod and a magazine. She doesn't even seem to care that she's wearing fucking underwear.
"Yes; gripe water, if you can spare some," Angela calls back. She pops her head back in to say something and blinks at Claudia. I'm too busy juggling Nicky to respond when she gives me a disapproving look. "Oh, dear, not like that," she says suddenly when she notices how I'm holding Nicky. She leaves her post at the doorway and comes over to readjust us, putting Nicky's chest against mine and his chin over my shoulder. Christ. Nothing makes you feel like a failure more than having to be told how to hold your own kid.
Mrs. Roots sticks her head in and holds up a box. "Gripe water?" Then she spots Nicky and her face contorts in sympathy, rushing over to take him out of my arms. I have to fight myself not to snatch him back protectively. "Ohhh, poor little thing. How old is he?"
"Two months." I calculate hurriedly to make sure. Moms always seem to talk in weeks, I don't know why. "Um. He was born August 9th. So yeah. Two months yesterday." Didn't know it was possible to live this long with this little sleep.
"I'm guessing this is his first experience with colic?" She's patting his back over her shoulder like a pro. Maybe a pro football player, shit, she's really whacking him hard. But Nicky's starting to stop crying. I stare and notice she's even got him to stop curling his legs up into his stomach, which had thwarted pretty much every position I'd tried putting him in.
"Yes," I say when I realize I need to answer. "I mean, I think. He's never screamed like this before."
"Bit unusual to just show up at this age. He's on formula?"
"Yeah." That's probably bad. Everyone at the hospital was going nuts about breastfeeding, but Claudia had flatly said 'saggy tits' and that was that.
Claudia turns a page of the magazine loudly and Mrs. Roots seems to notice her for the first time. She gets the same look Angela had had.
"That's a friend of yours?" She asks, apparently idly, but completely not. I sigh.
Her eyebrows shoot up. "Oh. Ah…" Fuck. I recognize the look on her face. "Hadn't you been living with…" She trails off.
"A guy?" I finish, looking at Nicky, who's unbelievably quiet. Traitor. "Yeah…. Uh, long story." Don't know how they missed all the press.
"Nice boy, that one," Angela puts in. "Always used to run down and carry my groceries up for me."
"Oh, me too. He walked Tony home from school for a while when he was having trouble with some kids, too. Tony just loved him."
All of this is news to me. But I'm really not interested in hearing Josh's Greatest Hits. These two must live under rocks if they hadn't heard about the trial. Mrs. Roots pulls Nicky away from her shoulder gently and looks down. He's miraculously asleep. I want to kiss her feet while I want to kick myself for not being able to do it first.
"Thanks. Thank you," I mumble, reaching out to take him from her. She doesn't hand him over, though. She just walks past and goes over to put him into his baby swing, buckling him up in maybe two seconds flat. Claudia doesn't even look up when Mrs. Roots passes in front of her. Lucky her. I'm cringing in embarrassment as she straightens up and looks around the apartment, noticing the piles of laundry and the empty formula bottles and the grease-stained pizza box from last night. This is fucking humiliating.
"I'm not—I mean, it's been…" I'm so fucking tired suddenly. And pissed off. The last thing I want to do is explain to these two women why I can't get my shit together long enough to do some fucking laundry. I'd tried. I had. But Claudia didn't want to watch Nicky alone so I had to take him with me, and then he woke up so I was trying to juggle him and sort the clothes into the washer all at once, and finally I just fucking gave up. Angela starts tactfully moving for the door.
"If you ever need a babysitter, young man," she calls over to me, "you just let me know." She has a nice smile, all grandmotherly. I feel grateful and guilty all at once.
"That'd be great, thanks…" Mrs. Roots is patting me on the arm, so I trail off and turn to see her smiling at me too.
"You should see my apartment," she murmurs to me, laughing a little as she moves after Angela. "I won't offer to babysit. I have enough on my plate with my three terrors. If you need any help or supplies, though, you know where to find me."
I feel like I might cry again. Christ, I need some sleep. "Thanks a lot," I answer lamely. Is that all I can fucking say?
"Nice meeting you… both," Mrs. Roots says from the doorway, her eyes sliding to Claudia. She gets that look again. When the door closes behind them I can hear them mumbling to each other out in the hall, and it makes me want to fucking stab Claudia.
But mostly… I just want to get some sleep.
I don't fucking believe this.
I stick Nicky haphazardly on the carpet, the nearest place he's least likely to kill himself, and sink down beside him when my legs choose not to support me anymore. He's already crying. I don't give a shit what they say, all the gripe water in the world won't shut Nicky up once he gets going. Not even the sound machine Mrs. Roots lent me is working today, so now I've got his howling and the pounding sound of ocean waves on top of the roaring already in my ears.
"Shit," I whisper. Not that I can hear myself. "Shit, shit, shit."
She left. She fucking left, and did she bother to say something? No. Did she call, or, I don't know, fucking text me? No. Instead she left a stupid fucking note crumpled up halfway under my apartment door, nothing I'd noticed, of course, because even fucking Claudia knows I'm not going for the mail or taking Nicky to the goddamned store unless I absolutely have to. So instead I'd sat around for 4 days with my screaming colic-infested kid, wondering where the hell she was, when she was going to bring over more of the fucking diapers the hospital had forked over, until there were two diapers and no formula left and I finally went to the fucking trouble of finding Nicky a fricking sun hat and trying to remember what I'm supposed to put in the diaper bag. Then I opened the door and there it was. A pathetic crumpled dirty half-piece of notebook paper, scribbled on in pink bubble letters that said "Hi Kay! This isn't working out" as if I was her goddamn dogwalker. And now she's gone. Fucking gone. And Nicky's freaking out and there is no formula.
She lasted three months. And then she left me a note.
I make it five seconds into telling myself this'll be great before my eyes fucking fill up with tears. Like I'm Tara or something. Like I'm Josh. And this is what I wanted. I wanted her gone. It's not like she did a damn thing around here anyway. Except…
Except she was better than nobody. She was someone to talk to, bitch at, someone who meant I wasn't alone with a three month old. Panic rises up in my throat and chokes off any horrified noise I might've made. Oh my fuck. I am alone with a three month old. And he's crying. Fuck, he's crying.
They must have knocked. I know they must have knocked, Angela and Mrs. Roots and then probably the landlord. But I swear I don't remember a damn thing, till a hand clamps down on my shoulder and I come to. I'm staring at the carpet between my legs. Feels like I'd been asleep. Nicky isn't crying anymore and the silence strikes me so hard I knew I must've been listening to him yell forever. Then I panic and look around for him, till I spot Angela in the kitchen. Her back's to me and she's looking down at something in her arms, so she must have him. I relax even as a giant lump clogs my throat. For fuck's sakes, what've I been doing? I'm lucky he's not dead. I'm lucky he's not… gone.
To my left, someone clears his throat. I remember the pressure on my shoulder. My dad's looking down at me when I jerk to face him. He's frowning already, but when he sees my face he full-on grimaces. I go to wipe the haze away from my eyes and my hand comes back wet. He's crouching beside me. I've never seen my father crouch.
"You are very lucky your landlord called me before the police." Even though I know he's pissed as hell, the dry, measured tones of his accent chill me out. I doubt he's capable of sounding anything but calm and reassuring.
I swallow. "Dad…?"
He stands up. "This lady can't seem to find any nappies." I want to laugh at him using that word, but I still feel too dazed. I do stand up when he puts a hand out for me.
"Yeah. There aren't any. I mean, there's two in the diaper bag." My mouth is so dry I feel like I might puke, even though I've only thrown up maybe five times in my life. Jesus, I'm not going to fucking cry again. Especially not in front of my dad, who's clearly already gotten an eyeful of me acting like an idiot. He's grimacing at me again. He won't yell at me in front of Angela, though.
"You need to start packing," he says finally, in that same calculatingly flat voice. "Take what you need. I'll send for the rest later."
Unbelievably my throat clogs up again. What the hell is wrong with me. "I'm, I've been evicted?" I've lived here for over a year. All the shit with Josh…
He probably thinks I don't notice that he stares into the kitchen with a look of thorough frustration before he turns his attention back to me and says, evenly as ever, "You'll be staying with me."
And then Nicky starts crying.
I wrote this years ago as a counterpoint to BLU, but never got around to finishing it. Honestly I don't think Kay really has the 5 part miniseries in him that Josh did, but there's still a couple of blanks that could be filled in, so perhaps I'll try to return to it for at least another chapter or two! Might as well, while I'm working on the Complications series in semi-earnest. I hope you enjoy this. :)