Warning for swearing, because this is Kane and he has no filter.
Nine months ago, Kane hadn’t known a single thing about children. He was the youngest in his immediately family, and with no aunts or uncles on either side there was no possibility for younger cousins. He had always avoided children like he avoided everyone, even though he (like many in their nineteen-year-old minds) thought he’d like to have a family in the distant future, an idea that floated around his head from time to time and was no more committing than the idea of a year-round diet for a new year’s resolution.
When he’d first heard the news, his immediate reaction was to assume Faye had done it on purpose. He’d never heard of the pill not being fully effective, and even though he saw her take it on the mornings he’d spent round at hers (the only thing she seemed responsible about, he had noted at the time), it had still felt more likely than the impossible odds of his contribution being lucky, or stubborn, or however the hell it worked.
Shamefully, he hadn’t even been sure that he would love his son. After all, he barely liked himself most days, and didn’t think he’d ever been loved in his life, so how would he know how to love a child? He’d consumed and devoured every cheap parenting book he found in charity shops (almost all of them catering for mothers reading them, of course), desperately looking for a promise that he would love the tiny thing when it’s time came, only to be bogged down by assurances that sometimes you didn’t, and often it was because of hormones or something. Not helpful, since he wasn’t the one giving birth, and that was what the books had assumed.
His searching for this promise took a back seat to other more pressing issues when Faye had announced she wanted no part of this life. Kane had to try and figure out if there was someone donating or selling breast milk in the area, since so many of the materials had underlined the importance of breast feeding children, and a thousand other practicalities which only made everything seem more daunting.
The first few days he couldn’t stop holding Law, marvelling at the new baby smell and stroking his arms gently, (‘soft as a baby’s bottom’ really did have truth to it), playing with the tiny fingers and toes, pressing his lips to Law’s forehead and the wisps of hair, terrified that he was cuddling Law too tightly because he wanted to keep his child so close. Every time he made a small, sleepy sound, Kane’s heart damn near melted.
And so it went for the first few months. Kane was scared that the adoration would grow old, that one too many sleepless nights would steal his wonder from him, but it never did. He could feel the stress creeping up, the sea rising against storm walls, about to encroach on his newfound sense of peace with the world and himself, but each time he felt it begin to leak he would desperately shore it up again, the forced ignorance making things both worse and better.
Money had always been a bit tight, but now more than ever it seemed impossible to make ends meet; he’d been saving for some far off dream of owning a house one day but this was rapidly dwindling as babysitters and baby supplies snatched money away bit by bit. He didn’t resent Law for it at all – he was determined to be the father he never got, even if he had no idea how to do that – but as a single parent it was a daunting task trying to figure out how the hell someone was supposed to make money working when there was a babysitter to pay.
“Good morning my little Law,” Kane cooed, planting a kiss on Law’s cheek with an over-the-top smack. Law swung his legs a little, seemingly pleased by the attention. “You ready for a new day? I hope so, because I’m sure not.” Kane kept his voice bubbly, ending off in a massive yawn that felt like it almost unhinged his jaw. “Ooh, look, I almost ate you then. We’re lucky I have stuff in for breakfast.”
The ‘stuff’ for breakfast was reduced-price bagels he had found in the local shop, definitely past their best. The flecks on the side of one could have been herbs, but Kane didn’t want to inspect that too closely. His kitchen was a tip, he thought with a sigh, eyes trailing over the dishes that had been drying on his tea-towel for two days, the pizza box that had been there for three (given to him from work, not something he had bought with his meager wage). The oven had a stubborn ring of sauce that might as well be part of the appliance now, and something was suspiciously sticky under Kane’s foot.
Law’s head turned as a faint beep from the hall indicated that the washing machine had finished its cycle. “Good timing, huh?” Kane asked, even though Law had no idea what it could have been. He knew it was good to engage with children (there was no need to read a book to learn that), and besides, it was more interesting than talking to himself even if the reaction was the same. “Your nappies are aaaaall clean, which means you’re definitely gonna take a shit in this one before I can get them dry.”
Washable nappies, Kane had learned, were pretty disgusting, but they were cheaper than the alternative so that was what he had to contend with. Law kicked out his legs again, taking no heed of the swear that Kane had just dropped (he didn’t understand anyway, and Kane was no good at censoring himself), and decided to prove him right.
Kane snorted and pointed to the door with a raised brow, rewarded with Cat nodding and giving an over-exaggerated snore. She unclipped the baby monitor from her belt and placed it on the table. Kane picked up the yogurt he had just finished snacking on and tossed it into the bin, spoon landing with a clunk in the sink, and began to fish out money for Catherine.
She was a friend of Alicia’s, a second year university student with more coursework than lectures. Helpfully, she needed money and had a bunch of younger siblings, so even though Kane didn’t want to trust the care of his precious commodity to anyone, he felt a little better giving the job to her.
“Do you have any change?” Kane asked, wafting the new plastic notes he had pulled from the ATM on his way back. Fortunately for him – and his bank – Cat was happy to do the work for less than a qualified sitter would, and they had bartered until reaching twenty five quid for a typical eight hour shift. Kane was aware she could have done with more, but frankly at any higher cost he’d have to give up his job and sign up for the dole.
Strictly speaking, he should have done that already. His financial situation would have benefited given that he’d be able to look after Law all day, but a desperate part of him didn’t want that. He would have loved to spend all the time with his son, but since moving away from his unhappy family home and discovering a sense of responsibility, identity, and pride in his work, he would have hated giving it up. Without it, he was sure he’d revert to the person he’d been at home – depressed, cynical, and all too happy to cross the road without looking.
“Oh, awesome. Hey, I was wondering something – I’m reading this book about language and kids, right, and it says that it’s good to speak to them in other languages for brain development and stuff. Do you speak like… mandarin?” Kane’s eyes squinted a bit as he guessed the language, hoping he was right and mandarin was the main Chinese language (he couldn’t even blame himself for not paying attention in school, since school had never really taught anything but how to pass an exam), but Cat just laughed.
“Sorry, pet, I’m pure Scottish like,” she said with a wink and over-zealous accent. “My grandma speaks it, but granddad didn’t want mum speaking anything other than English, so…” she trailed off with a roll of her eyes. “I know some French, if that helps.”
“Oh, yeah, that would be good too.” Kane hovered by the kettle. “Want a tea before your bus gets here?”
“Ugh, you’re a sweetheart. Absolutely, and with just a dash of milk.”
Cat folded her lanky frame in the small sofa in the corner of Kane’s kitchen, fidgeting around on the hard cushioned seat in a futile attempt at getting comfortable. Kane slid past her and into the corner, where he always preferred to sit, where his back was to the wall and he could see the entire room. He was sure that said something about him, psychologically, but he’d long since given up trying to analyse all the maladaptive traits his family had given him.
“I wanna broach a subject with you,” Cat began, fingers of her right hand twirling around the tasselled belt of her skirt. Kane watched the nervous action and resigned himself to the awkward conversation.
“Um, go for it?”
“I know we don’t know each other all that well, but don’t forget that I did know you before you met the train wreck that is Faye…”
“Where is this going, Cat?” he asked warily. It wasn’t like enough of his thoughts were already centred around the girl. Where was she? How was she so happy to leave her child? Would she ever come back or check in?
“Not about her, don’t worry,” she said quickly, holding up her hands to placate him. “I just… I’ve noticed that you’re… you’re very stressed, much more than you used to be. Which is totally understandable! But I think maybe you don’t… have the best ways of… um, dealing with things.”
“What do you mean?” Kane’s eyes narrowed.
Cat twisted around, pulling her leg up on the sofa. Kane thought about asking her not to put her shoes on the couch, but even though his old landlady was a lovely woman, it was still only rented accommodation.
She cleared her throat, eyes darting about somewhere above his head. “I mean that you don’t deal with it.”
“There’s no easy way to solve it,” Kane shrugged, “so whatever.”
Cat opened her mouth to object, but seemed to think better of it and closed her mouth. She shifted a little, pulling herself up straighter, foot that was still on the floor knocking her empty cup. “I actually know about a single parents’ group. They meet in the town hall, so it’s within walking distance, and past my flat so you could drop Law off on your way. I see their posters up all the time.”
“Well,” Cat admitted sheepishly, “there are only women currently in it, I think. But it’s open to any single parent, of which you most definitely are. Look, I know the woman who runs it. She’s been doing this for like sixteen years since she had her daughter without a dude around. I think this is all very overwhelming and that they could totally help you. Please at least consider it?”
Kane huffed. Cat’s thoughtfulness was touching, but Kane had never been great in new social situations, especially ones entirely out of his comfort zone. It wasn’t like he had any particular brand of social anxiety, but he definitely just didn’t know how to interact with people. Alicia had been easy, and so had her group of friends, and that was why they were Kane’s main social group. At work he only had to talk about work, or let the customers lament their problems to him. That was easy, too. This new opportunity only served to remind him of how much a loner he was.
She nudged him pointedly, and finally he gave a dramatic roll of his eyes. “Fiiiine,” he conceded, and she grinned.
Kane tapped his short nails on the laptop’s mousepad as it whirred to life, coughing dust and groaning. He patted it when it finally showed the operating system’s logo. It took another five minutes to fully boot up and he stared at the screen the entire time, burning his impatience into it. He needed a new one last year, but it would have to survive some time yet before he could afford one now.
His lush carpet was arguably more comfortable than the sofa in the kitchen, and Law was in his bassinet next to Kane. He preferred Law here rather than on the kitchen floor for the simple (if illogical) reason that he could see all the grime on the laminate flooring, whereas his rug had at least been hoovered in the last month.
The screen had a moment where it went to black, and Kane reached over to shake it until the image was restored. He shook his head. “You’re not dying so easily, asshole,” he muttered, waiting as the web browser loaded. He searched for the single parents’ group, finger running between the keys to clean out the dust as he waited for the results. The first link was to their simbook group, which he clicked on with a sigh. The only reason he’d joined the infernal site was for Alicia, who seemed to run her social life entirely through event pages, despite being the most ‘hipster’ person he had ever met. At least it was coming in handy now.
He scrolled through the page, silencing the autoplaying videos of toddler care and skimming through the comments people had left on the page, asking for advice or posting helpful links. Finally he figured out how to navigate to the About page and was disappointed to learn that they met on Thursday evenings, which was tomorrow, and that Cat would most definitely be free to babysit while he went.
Kane grumbled to himself even though he knew he was being stubborn and idiotic (not that this was any different from usual, he had to add), and glanced over at Law who was watching him over the edge of his bassinet, having woken up at some point in the last couple of minutes.
“Hey bud,” Kane said, waving. Law gurgled, and since Kane didn’t speak baby, he assumed that was a greeting in return. He leaned over to adjust the bassinet’s back so that Law could sit up and watch him. “Ugh, I guess while I’m here I should check the bank account, shouldn’t I?” Once again, Law gurgled an affirmative, so Kane sighed and cursed himself for setting up internet banking. Without it, his finances would be so much easier to ignore…
Seeing the red made Kane groan, fingers rubbing at his eyes in frustration.
He shut the laptop down abruptly, no trace of a good mood left to make any sort of comment about his situation. He hated to think how much lower his account would go before work paid him, but that was the way it was going to be. He snapped the lid shut and stared vacantly ahead. Did he have any other way of earning more money without leaving Law to be looked after by someone else? He had no other skills, no urge to be an entrepreneur, and absolutely refused to go into the criminal business even if his family wouldn’t kill him for it. No relatives to spot him money, and no relatives to do the free babysitting, either.
Somehow, Kane had never been to the town hall before. He supposed there had been no reason to, and even with the numerous craft fayres, club gatherings, social events and so on, he had never seen a point in spending money on such a thing.
At least this group was free. Had it not been, Kane wouldn’t now be waltzing up to the front door, feet dragging along the freshly weeded stone entrance. A good team must be keeping the grounds in check, because the hedges were perfectly trimmed, the panels freshly painted, and the entire lawn a regulated height. It was so obscenely faultless that it went against his jaded, grumpy core, and he found himself disgusted by the stubbornly organised front it presented.
He grabbed at the handle and pushed the door open, steeling himself for the social interactions about to come.
“Um,” Kane said, feeling his cheeks flood red. In fact, his entire face was probably scarlet. “I-I’ve come for the single parents’ group?” His voice started off strong and then fell to a mutter as he struggled to admit why he was here, as if the reason wasn’t obvious enough, but somehow the women heard him. The oldest – the one clearly running the group, if her pad and pen was any indication, beamed at him and beckoned him over.
“Pull up a chair, pet, come join us.”
The woman elegantly recapped her pen and placed it on her blank pad. “My name is Jacqueline,” she said, smiling widely, and Kane had a second to wonder how she had both a thick American twang and a Scottish lilt before the others introduced themselves.
“Charlotte,” the girl with dyed blue hair said, hand coming up in a lazy peace sign – much to the chagrin of the woman sitting next to her, who was clearly older than the possibly teenage neighbour.
“Elspeth,” she nodded, something regal about her, and Kane took one look at her designer clothes and decided he didn’t like her attitude.
“Alyssa,” the girl sharing the corner of the table with him said, her South African accent clear even to Kane who didn’t know a thing about the world. “There’s tea and coffee over on the table if you fancy.”
He nodded but didn’t move, looking instead at the final woman. “Cloe,” she grinned at him, reaching out for her starbucks cup and taking a long sip. Kane eyed Elspeth’s complicated drink opposite to Cloe’s, and didn’t at all feel bad about his immediate judgement of the woman.
“I’m Kane,” he said, when the silence had gone on a second too long and he realised they were waiting for him. He didn’t bother with his second name, since none of them had, and anyway he had no idea what he’d say. His last name was technically still Macdonald, but he hated the obvious link to his family and had been looking into the process of changing it. At the time of expecting a child with Faye, he had happily assumed Law, at least, could take her last name. She hadn’t refused him that after leaving, but now he had the complicated issue of figuring out if he such just throw caution to the wind and change his surname to match, or choose entirely new names for them both…
“…So I guess what I’m trying to ask is, without seeming too rude, what’s the sitch?”
Kane had a sudden flashback to playing Kim Possible with Faye, one of the pretend games she had instructed him and her sisters to play when they had the playground to themselves. It was her favourite catchphrase to repeat. He closed his eyes briefly and got a grip of himself.
“Um, well… She didn’t want the kid, I did, and the compromise was I’d raise him myself. I guess I didn’t think about what that really meant, but I couldn’t – I mean I don’t really agree with –“ How the fuck was he supposed to say that he didn’t support abortion without totally offending the group? “I didn’t want her to, y’know, terminate it, if there was another option she would take…” He trailed off, internally cringing, and Elspeth leaned forward. Fuck.
“No, I – well, it was always her decision, but – if there was any way…”
“Ignore Elspeth,” Jacqueline jumped in, voice artificially bright. “She’s been a bit rude, I’m afraid,” she said, wagging her finger playfully, and Elspeth let out a very teenage sounding huff despite obviously being twice that age.
“I didn’t have the luxury of choice, Kane. It’s very…”
“Touchy and a fresh subject,” Cloe finished, clearly eager to be done with the awkwardness. “Anyway, what made you come along today?” Jacqueline gave her a not-so-subtle nod in thanks and she winked in return.
Kane wondered if he could feel any tenser than he already did. “Well…” he began, and so went the rest of the session as he explained the stress and how overwhelmed her had felt.
Once Kane had started talking he felt as if he couldn’t stop, the flood walls finally splintering and then shattering, words tumbling out like a waterfall, revealing how worried he was about his money running out, about how he had no idea what he was doing and no one to help him, and no idea of a father to fall back on, and –
He became aware that he had taken up the entire session, and when Alyssa slid a packet of tissues his way that he had started crying.
Fuck. Talk about social awkwardness…
The group had to leave the room before seven, so Jacqueline ushered them out. Elspeth didn’t hang back, and Cloe – with a quick explanation that this was her lift – had to go with her. Before Kane could retreat, cheeks still damp, Jacqueline caught his hand in a shake.
“Kane,” she said warmly, “I am so happy that you decided to come here. I think we can help you a lot, and certainly you are welcome to use the simbook page or contact me if you have any questions about child development. I’m quite the expert in it now,” she chuckled, giving his hand a friendly squeeze. “I hope that you come back and that Elspeth didn’t frighten you off. As you can see, we all deal with our stress very differently.”
Kane found himself nodding, though he wasn’t entirely sure if he was going to return. Not only did one member of the group very clearly dislike him, but he had made a complete fool of himself. He hadn’t cried like that in years, if one didn’t count tears of happiness and wonder when he had first held Law’s tiny warm body.
Still, Jacqueline’s offer was genuine. Kane, having dealt with both outright disdain and fake kindness all of his life, was surprised to realise that he knew sincerity when he heard it. Her eyes were warm and sympathetic, and Kane felt himself tense up at the sudden urge to let her take care of him.
Jesus. He didn’t need to be a psychologist to get that she was the clearest mother figure he’d seen in his life.
“Thanks,” he mumbled. “Sorry for…” He waved his hand to his cheeks, now dry in the light breeze, and Cloe came up from behind to nudge him in what he took to be a reassuring gesture. The sound of Elspeth’s ridiculously high heels had disappeared (how did she drive in those things?) but the rest of the group seemed happy to stick around.
“Bottling things up is easy, Kane. Talking is harder. You have my respect for doing it so bravely in front of strangers.”
Kane nodded mutely and said nothing, hoping he wouldn’t go to sleep that night kicking himself for the humiliation, but suspecting it would be one of those memories that he would cringe and remember for years to come.
Kane is the child of toxic masculinity, he really is. My poor emotionally stunted Scot.
I have no concept of children, especially that young, beyond like a couple of days interaction lmao. So if there are any terrible acts of parenting in here, or blatant lies about the situation or whatever, feel free to point them out…
(I’m like 90% sure that bassinets don’t let babies sit up but I didn’t have any appropriate poses and the game just likes to sit toddlers on the floor, so I tried to roll with it as much as I could…)
Also I think “pet” is the worst term of endearment ever, but people still use it so here we are.