As much as he hated to leave his girls, he could easily see Paris become his home away from home.
James was staying at a large bed and breakfast, which had links to the contractors he was doing work for. The couple that owned the B&B were lovely and happily taught James much of the local cuisine – they also allowed him to use their kitchen to prepare dinners for himself. Being in a house full of other people, none of which would stay in his life for much more than six months, was strangely reminiscent of university.
Every day after dinner, James would wander outside to phone Jessica. Every second day he would skype to see his beautiful triplets. Today, though, the phone call was early; James had received several texts since turning on his phone after work.
“Call me as soon as you can,” was the general gist of all ten of the messages. Heart racing, he waited for Jessica to pick up. The phone rang and rang. Eventually it went to voicemail.
He cursed and tried again.
Again, the phone went to voicemail. James could feel waves of heat travel down the back of his neck. Sweat made his shirt cling to him.
He fumbled with the phone and almost dropped it. He closed his eyes and listened to the rings.
Finally – “James?”
“Oh, God, Jessica, what’s wrong?”
“There’s – there’s really no reason to beat around the bush.” She sounded like she was going to cry, and James wished he had the money to grab a ticket to whichever plane was flying to Glasgow or Edinburgh that instant. “I’m pregnant.”
That – that wasn’t what he had been expecting. News about his parents being hurt, or Nate, or the triplets, yes. This… no.
“What?” he managed.
“I – I never started to take the pill after the triplets were born! I just – well, it didn’t occur to me to get more. I don’t know why, it just didn’t! And then we – before you left – “
“Fuck,” James said. It occurred to him rather quickly that this wasn’t the expected response. Or maybe it was – but it wasn’t what Jess wanted to hear. “Sweetheart, I love you. And honestly, it’s was both our responsibility to be… well… responsible. We’ll figure it out.”
“How long have you known?”
“I took a test today,” Jessica said. “I haven’t told anyone yet. It’s too early for that. Anything could happen.”
James felt his heart constrict. Even if it didn’t feel real yet – even if it wasn’t going to hit him for days – the thought of anything happening to what could potentially be his child was horrible. “I could ask to come home -”
“No, it’s okay,” Jessica promised. “We need the money more than ever.”
“True,” James said, trying to laugh. He took in a deep breath, smelling the scent of the flowers nearby. “I love you, and the girls, and their little baby brother or sister. I can’t believe we’re having more kids,” he marveled, laughing for real.
Jessica snorted, sounding a lot more like her usual self. “Trust me, James, this is the last one. You are definitely taking a visit to the hospital when you get back.”
James grinned down the phone. “I think that’s probably a good idea.”
At least there was a lot to occupy James in his six months, otherwise he probably would have gone crazy from being away from his girls for so long, phone calls and long skype sessions or not.
Of course, the triplets liked to challenge that as much as possible.
She managed, though. Feed, change, play, work, play, feed, bath, sleep, rinse and repeat.
Thank god she had her friends and family around. The triplets weren’t difficult – they had successfully slept through the night months ago – but it was still a lot of work. She had a new appreciation for single mothers.
It turned out that only Skye had her father’s blonde hair, and probably his sense of adventure, too. She was always wandering into the newly painted room for the twins (thanks to Aja and Nate, who had taken over the project before Jessica had given it any real thought). Faye was easily the most curious and confident out of them all. Jessica could see that girl giving her greys early.
Another day, another meal, another strike on the calendar. Jessica counted down the days until James returned for good.
“I was packed on a warm plane!” he objected. “You know, you could always take it off…”
“In all the best ways,” James agreed.
His little girl looked up, wide eyed and startled, before she giggled and continued to play in the sand box (if ‘playing’ was ‘shove hands under sand and fling it into the air’). Her sisters were currently at home with Jessica, but Faye had a doctor’s appointment and James decided his little girl had been good enough to warrant a trip to the tiny quiet park not far from their house.
Jessica still had a couple of weeks until her due date. In all honesty, the idea of more kids was as terrifying as it was exciting.
It was typical that they were expecting twins. James should have known he was tempting fate with his bet on having only one child all those years ago.
Faye returned to her playing, humming a song under her breath (James suspected it was Another One Bites the Dust, which had been playing on the radio in the car – Faye seemed to think the words were ‘another feather duster’, which had caused a lot of confusion).
Although the skies were grey and the sun was blocked by heavy black clouds, the air was muggy. There was a smell of something oily in the air, carried in by a gentle warm breeze. He suspected there was a storm coming.
James heard feet squelch on the mud and, out of the corner of his eye, saw someone sit. It was strange how people could look like someone you knew when they hovered on your peripheral vision. James glanced to the newcomer, smiling politely, and the smile became brittle on his lips, ready to shatter at the slightest provocation.
He meant to say the words, to say them with conviction -accusation – but the shock had snatched all the air from his lungs. It came out as a wheeze.
His father looked… exactly how James remembered him. Except he didn’t have a cigarette between his fingers, and a bottle gripped in the other hand, and there wasn’t that twitch to him that he got whenever he wasn’t gambling.
Instead, there was a pastiness to him that made him look ill. A shine to his eyes that made him look high. A strange intensity to him that made him seem… sober.
God, no one had called him that for years. Even his family had taken to calling him James. James’ nostrils flared with anger. He spared a quick glance for Faye, ensuring she was still happy, and when he dragged his gaze back to his father, he saw a strange tattoo on his neck.
“What the fuck, dad.”
James couldn’t sit still. There was a harsh pain in his stomach from anxiety or stress or just the shock, he didn’t know, but he needed to move. He shot up and faced his father, hating the way his dad watched Faye with interest.
“You have a kid,” he said, smiling.
“So do you,” James said evenly. “Turns out I’m the better father.”
“No surprise there,” James Senior yawned. “Long time, no see.”
“No shit!” James hissed, and then with a glance to his curious daughter, lowered his voice. “I thought you were dead. I hoped you were, to be honest.”
His father barked laughter, throwing his head back and watching the shifting clouds above with a seriousness James had never seen from his father. “Well…” he said, snickering like he was in on an inside joke, “ahem, yes. Anyway -”
“Why are you here?” After all this time? Why now? How had he even known James was here? His mother would have told him had his father tried to contact her.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen Juan about?”
“Wh – what?” The question was so unexpected, so out of the blue, that James could only stare. Why the fuck would his dad ask about his old drinking and gambling partner? Why the hell did he think James would have a clue? He’d seen the man a few times, back before James Senior went AWOL for the last time, and not a moment since. “Why the fuck do you think I’d know that?”
“Well. It was a long shot. I shouldn’t have hoped you’d be much use.”
James stared at his father. He… was he dreaming? A quick pinch didn’t wake him up. This couldn’t really be his dad. For one, what the hell was with the way he was speaking? James Senior had been crude and ignored – or simply didn’t know – the rules of grammar. To hear him now… It was like he’d stepped out of an old, bad TV show.
His dad stared at him with a pleasant smile. He then glanced around James’ body to see Faye giggling to herself. James Senior gave a happy sigh. He uncrossed his legs and pushed – flung – himself to his feet. James couldn’t help but feel like there was something deadly wrong with his father. What mid fifties guy could move that fast and gracefully?
“Do me one favour,” his father said.
“Why the hell should I?!”
“Well.” His father tilted his head to the side and mulled over his answer. At his side, his fingers snapped together in an ever increasing beat. “Because it will be better for everyone.”
Seriously… what the hell…? Eventually James’ curiosity won out. “Fine, hit me.”
His father stared into his eyes. His eyes, so – bright. So… dead. “Remember the name Savio.”
“Juan’s last name?”
“His family name, sure.” James Senior wiggled his fingers in a goodbye, spun around on his heel, and sauntered away.
James stared after him.
Had… had this really just happened?