Reminder that I know nothing about child development and that I took these photos a month ago and I’m trash (not really)
Law blinked up at Kane with big eyes and smiled sweetly, and Kane bent down with a chuckle. His knee dipped into the rug that was probably too dirty for Law to be sitting on, but exposing them to things was supposed to help their immune system and prevent allergies, right? Well, that was the excuse Kane was going with.
“Up?” Kane repeated, watching with pride as Law nodded eagerly. Law loved to be in Kane’s arms and, well, Kane could hardly say he wasn’t happy with that. Cuddling his little boy was as amazing as it had been the first time.
He scooped Law up and was rewarded by a beaming smile and giggle. Damn, but it made his heart melt every time.
Kane hugged Law closely to him, fingers running through Law’s short hair. It had only started coming in recently, which was (from what Kane could tell) a bit late for a one year old. Still, Law seemed to be ahead of the curve for most things, so it wasn’t a big deal.
“Are you excited to see Auntie Cat?” Kane asked, glancing at the time on the tiny alarm clock by his bed. He was a bit far away to see properly (because it was such a tiny thing, not because he needed glasses, thankfully) but he reckoned she would be turning up in five minutes. Which was good, because Kane had a meeting with the single parents’ group.
He’d been going almost every week since the first time, Cat forcing him to return despite his reluctance to. It was rare that all six of them were in a session at once, everyone having different commitments, but he was glad he continued to return. It was a nice excuse to get out of the flat for something that wasn’t work.
He couldn’t afford anything else, anyway. His bank account attested to that. He’d become used to living off the barest minimum, and it wasn’t an easy life, but he didn’t mind. Occasionally he missed the chance to spend a night with friends drinking and smoking, but both of those things were expensive and something that he didn’t want around Law.
He ticked Law’s stomach and tried to keep hold of his wriggling son, both of them laughing – Law’s high-pitched squeal of delight fuelling Kane’s amusement. As stressed as he was financially, Kane had to admit this was this the happiest he’d ever been.
Kane knelt to put Law down, smoothing his hand over Law’s short hair again. His son’s hand came up to reach for his fingers, but he wasn’t quite coordinated enough. Kane met him halfway and smiled as Law wrapped his tiny fingers around as much of his hand as he could.
“Auntie Cat might play with you, daddy has to go out for a bit.” Kane’s heart twisted as Law pouted once he’d decoded what that meant, or at least picked up enough to understand vaguely.
“Do you think you can walk with me to the door?” Kane asked, lifting Law up onto his feet.
He grabbed his son’s hands and began to walk backwards towards his bedroom door. Law obediently took steps with Kane’s help, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, the tip of his tongue poking out from his mouth. Kane sincerely hoped that Law’s focused expression never changed, but in case it did he’d taken a lot of snaps for prosperity.
The buzzer sounded before they were out of the room, and since Kane could hear the rain spitting at his windows he decided Cat would rather not wait. He carefully dropped Law’s hands and propped the door open so he could answer his front door, keeping one eye on the approaching toddler behind him.
“Alicia,” he greeted, nodding at the girl. He’d barely seen her in the last year, except for a few whirlwind chats in the streets or the one time she’d come into the pub with a boy who she’d clearly become bored with after an hour.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Cat said, something apologetic in her tone.
“Of course not,” Kane said. Alicia shot Cat a victorious look and grinned winningly at Kane.
“I want to see how cute Law is! Cat has told me all about the genius child.”
Kane laughed at that. He wasn’t sure if Cat was really serious about Law being a genius (his walking, for one, was probably not ahead of the curve, as evidenced by Law resorting to crawling his way towards the front door).
“Are you about to head out, or can we talk first?” Cat asked, sweeping a few loose strands of hair away from her eyes. Kane shrugged; the group didn’t mind if you were late, so he could spare the time.
“We can talk, what’s up?”
Cat made a face close to a grimace, and Kane wondered why she was so hesitant to bring it up. He was used to his parents’ bluntness, even after all these years living away from them, but sometimes he preferred that to people beating around the bush. Of all the things he didn’t like about Faye, at least she had come out with whatever she wanted to say without much preamble… most of the time.
He shook the old anger away and opened the door to his friends.
Cat’s eyes lit up and she bent down to scoop Law, who had shouted her name when seeing her. Alicia peered over her shoulder and cooed at Law, though he wasn’t interested in the newcomer. Law adored Cat and though Kane had never had any other babysitter, he was sure she must be great. She often brought books to read to Law and educational games she’d found, and Kane was happy to know she adored Law back.
“How’s my favourite little Law?” Cat asked, her voice going high pitched and silly. She beamed down at Law who reached up to her cheeks, though he couldn’t quite reach. Cat giggled and straightened up, turning briefly to Alicia. “This is Alicia. Can you say hi Alicia?”
“Hi,” Law mumbled, hiding his face in Cat’s top.
“Hello Law,” Alicia responded, giving an over-the-top wave.
“Play?!” she gasped in mock outrage, tickling Law’s sides to make him squeal. “Not in the door one minute and you want to play? Well, good thing you’re so cute, but first I have to talk to daddy.”
“Noooo,” Law wailed.
Kane watched them both with a fond smile and Alicia nudged him quietly. “Have you heard from her at all?”
“No,” he said shortly, but then curiosity got the better of him. He glanced sideways to his old friend with a raised eyebrow, the silent question implicit.
Alicia shook her head, expression conveying how unsurprising she found that. Kane didn’t know if he was relieved or frustrated. Faye had made it clear she wanted nothing to do with Law, but he couldn’t help but worry that Law would ask some hard questions about it later.
They moved into the living room where Alicia took a seat at the corner of the room, as always preferring to have a good view of the room (and TV, Kane bet). Cat stayed standing, murmuring at Law to wait a few minutes. Surprisingly, he settled against her chest and was quiet for now.
“So what’s up?” Kane asked. Alicia pretended to be very interested in the TV and, although Kane wasn’t the most perceptive of people, some sense inside him quickly made him pay more attention to Cat. She wasn’t meeting his eyes, her cheeks more flushed than usual. His heart began to sink.
“I’ve decided I’m not going back to uni for my last year,” Cat admitted. “For… well, a host of reasons, honestly, but mainly because I’m going to move to Hong Kong to help look after my grandmother a bit and learn some of my heritage… She’s getting on and – anyway… I’m sorry.”
Alicia glanced over from the TV, about to interject with something, but Cat waved her away quickly. “It’s not being thrown away, Kane, I can come back to it. Anyway, this might be my last chance to get to know her.”
Kane screwed up his face. He guessed he could see why someone might want to do that, but Cat loved her degree and the town so much he was surprised she was happily tossing it away. Then again, he admitted internally, most people put more emphasis on family than he did.
It occurred to him the main issue he would have with her leaving and he could feel the back of his neck burn with panic.
“What about Law?” Kane hadn’t meant it to come out as so accusing, but all of his brain power was being focused on wondering how the hell he was going to take care of Law and work without his cheap babysitter.
Alicia leaned over from the sofa and this time Catherine didn’t stop her. “I can help every so often,” Alicia said. “As a last resort.”
Cat sighed quietly. “That’s why I brought her along today, so she’d get to know what to do. But I’m sorry Kane, it’s not my job to be a mother to Law.”
Effectively admonished, Kane nodded stiffly. He had nothing to say to that, because of course she was right, even though she was the closest thing Law had to a mother. Cat’s cheeks flushed further at her comment and she avoided his gaze, probably understanding that – although her comment was justified – it had been hard for Kane to hear.
He mulled over his options as he walked out of the flat and towards the town hall, leaving the awkward atmosphere behind. With all of his mental calculations, there was no scenario where he could afford a babysitter and work. He had already cut back as much of his costs as possible, and since council taxes were going to be raised soon he was already expecting to be in the red.
Shit. The bleak future was enough to put him into a black mood. He would sacrifice anything for Law, of course, but he genuinely enjoyed his job and the independence he felt with it.
Still, it was a cut he was going to have to make.
Kane had been in his own world walking to the town hall, frowning down at his scruffy trainers. The warmth of the sun was making him sweat, the back of his neck growing warm as the sun beat down on him. He only glanced up when he saw ridiculously high pink heels in his peripheral vision, and was greeted with the sight of Elspeth waiting by the locked door.
They hadn’t made much progress since Kane’s first meeting, but they also hadn’t gone out of their way to speak to each other. Occasionally Kane felt frustrated at her as she droned on in the meetings at how hard her life was, but he wasn’t willing to get into an argument with her about how she clearly had the money to fix whatever was bothering her.
He could see the moment she realised that someone was approaching, and the moment she realised it was him. Her head bobbed up and she tucked her phone away into stylish fitted jeans, her lips turning down in the barest hint of a disapproving frown as she recognised him.
Kane felt awkwardness settle on his shoulders at the prospect of standing around with her waiting for someone to open the door. Everything about her grated on his nerves – she was so obsessed with appearance and looking young, the image she presented to the world so carefully and painstakingly perfected; immaculate.
Kane found it ridiculous for a whole host of reasons, and infuriating to see someone being so frivolous with money when he had to look at anything first hand as a luxury.
“Kane,” she greeted, and he resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Who the hell said someone’s name instead of the simple ‘hello’? Besides, she infused the word with so much animosity he was surprised to find himself unharmed.
“Yo,” he returned, if only to see her nose crinkle in disgust. “Just us?”
Elspeth glanced around pointedly, though instead of saying what Kane assumed she wanted to (‘Obviously’) she instead explained: “Charlotte’s sitter cancelled, and the others have prior engagements. Jacqueline is running a bit late but should be here in a moment.”
Well thank Christ for that.
Kane nodded and rocked back and forth on his feet, wondering how to fill the awkward silence. She was clearly happy for him to speak and watched him with a haughtily raised eyebrow. Kane seethed silently. She probably thought he was a pleb.
“So,” Kane tried, clearing his throat to give himself a few more seconds to think of a decent topic of conversation, “How’s your, uh, kid.”
“Fine, thank you.” Elspeth’s daughter was only a year older than Law, but a playdate had never been suggested. “And yours? Still managing to surpass all expectations?” she added cattily. Kane clenched his hands shut and inhaled deeply.
Often the adults talked about how their children were developing – it wasn’t his fault that it sounded like he was boasting. He wasn’t, really, in fact the first eight months he’d had no idea Law was apparently ahead of the curve.
“I’m sure he is,” Kane replied through gritted teeth, the tension draining away from him when he heard Jacqueline’s familiar gait on the stone path behind him. She always walked so quickly, like she had somewhere to be (or was late to that somewhere, more likely), and every so often would break into what was almost a jog before returning to her speed walking.
Kane turned around with relief, grateful to be rescued from his one-on-one with Elspeth.
“Sorry, sorry,” Jacqueline flapped, unusually flustered. Maybe she was aware of the adverse glares and stances of two of her charges. “Here we go, I’ve got the key ready. Let’s go inside. Thank goodness it stopped raining, hmm?”
Neither of them offered an answer, instead crowding behind her as she thrust the key into the lock and manhandled the door open. Despite the cultivated appearance of the hall, the lock had never been reliable.
“I’m afraid I have no food with me today; in too much of a rush.”
They both murmured placating phrases as she led them inside.
“So how have you been? Elspeth?”
“No change, though Matthew’s family seem to have finally stopped bothering to glare at me on the streets.”
Kane sent a curious glance to Elspeth; he knew she had gone through a divorce as a result of choosing to keep her child, but that was where his knowledge ended. He assumed most of the details were shared in private. Jacqueline tutted and shook her head with a gravity that removed the need for words. “And Kane, dear?”
His abysmal attitude returned. “My cheap babysitter is leaving. I’m going to have to quit work.”
“No,” he agreed moodily, staring at a deep scratch in the table where some bored kid had tried to write his name but been whisked away before they could finish. “But there’s no way to pay a babysitter on my wage. I don’t know what else to do.”
He felt it then, the wave of bleak despair, the emotion familiar to him after staring it in the face for most of his life. It put him uncomfortably back in the shoes of past Kane who had silently suffered through his father’s dislike and his mother’s disapproval, and he grimaced.
Jacqueline pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Perhaps we can help each other, Kane.”
He blinked. “Huh?”
“The reason I was so late today was because my daughter has returned from gallivanting abroad,” she smiled in fond exasperation. Kane had heard plenty about Jacqueline’s daughter, who was almost his age, and the inspiration for Jacqueline starting this group.
“She is adamant that she will not be living with her boring old mother again!” Jacqueline tittered, and Kane wondered how she could be so blasé about that. The idea that Law might not want to live with him pulled on heartstrings he didn’t know he had. “But she has enrolled to go to the university here, and of course is too late to get some accommodation there… Do you have a spare room, Kane?”
Jacqueline looked so eager to help and, honestly, Kane had no qualms about living with her daughter. There was no way an inspiring and kind woman like Jacq would have raised anything less than a generous and respectful daughter, but the issue was more the fact that what was technically a second room was Law’s bedroom.
But if Kane could keep his job, even at reduced hours, and have someone to share the bills…
“I could make one,” he said, because he couldn’t lie to Jacq. “Currently it’s Law’s, but I could fit his cot in the bedroom, probably… I would just need to buy a bed for her.”
Jacq pressed her hands together with a beaming smile. “She loves children, and I’m sure she’ll be happy to help with Law as well as paying rent. She’s meeting me here after we’re finished, so perhaps you could both chat about it then and see what you think. In the meantime, if you’re not sure about having space for Law’s cot in his room, we could talk about co-sleeping.”
“That can be dangerous for a child,” Elspeth muttered, the v between her eyebrows tightening as she frowned. Kane almost did roll his eyes then, but managed to resist by some miracle.
“Oh, Law is old enough that it shouldn’t be an issue,” Jacq said reassuringly. “Some parents co-sleep well into childhood. Of course some people believe it makes the child too strongly attached to the parent, but I think that’s poppycock.” Jacqueline rummaged around for a pen and wrote the name of a website on a post it note. “If you’re interested, give this website on the internet a read. It has a lot of information about it.”
“Oh, thanks,” Kane said, tucking it into his pocket. Anything that Elspeth disapproved of had to be good, he figured, and resolved to look it up when he got home.
They headed outside into the sinking sun, everything dyed golden with the warm light. It was shaping up to be a glorious evening, one of the rare times that Kane’s family would have broken out the barbeque and filled the air with the delicious charred smells so unique to this kind of day. They were all fond memories, especially when Kane was younger, because it was the only time he could remember when they acted like a family, that he wasn’t an imposter or a second class citizen. With a pained grimace he tugged his mind back to the present, watching Jacq’s eighteen year old daughter approach.
The resemblance, in some ways, was uncanny, but immediately Kane could tell they were nothing alike in personality. For one, Jacqueline was always smartly dressed and put together, whereas her daughter was wearing leggings. Kane was certain Jacq would never wear leggings even for yoga.
“Well that’s not a good tone. What have you done?” she asked, grinning cheekily. Jacqueline laughed and beckoned her daughter over, and as she approached Kane could smell coconut faintly on the air.
There was something innocent in the roundness of her face and the sparkle of her eyes, her cheerful disposition hard to mistake in every over-the-top gesture and delighted smile.
“Heya Kane,” Jasmine said happily. “I hope mama’s treated you well and passed on her wisdom.”
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Kane nodded, scratching the back of his head awkwardly.
“I mentioned the possibility of finding you a spare room,” Jacq told her. “Perhaps you could talk about it and see if the arrangement would suit you both?”
“Oh for sure!” Jas squealed. “I so need a place to stay, that’s away from the parental unit, you know?” She stuck her tongue out at her mother, who only laughed in exasperation.
“Anyway, I wouldn’t be a hassle, and I can pay rent. I’m a hella good babysitter too, you know.”
“Jasmine,” Jacqueline said in amused disapproval, “’Hella’ is a made up word.”
“Well since all words are made up anyway, it is a word, mama.” She winked at Kane, who decided it was wiser to add nothing to the conversation since he was struggling to keep up as it was. “Hashtag mind blown, right?!”
“Uh, right,” Kane said, wondering how the hell he feel so old next to a bouncy girl who was less than two years younger than him.
“Sorry, I talk to fast and I’m a handful, I know,” she made a show of rolling her eyes at herself, smoothing her fringe back and looking at him earnestly. “But I’d love to see the room, if you’re willing to take me in. I’ll be less of a hassle than you think.”
“Doubtful,” Jacqueline stage-whispered, causing Jasmine to pout. Kane recovered and laughed it off.
“I could really use a hand with the rent, so I’d love to have you. Why don’t you come by some time? I don’t live far.”
“How about now? Mama’s cramping my style, y’know?” Her eyes sparkled as she teased her mother, who amusedly returned with a retort of her own.
“And what about my precious ‘street cred’, it’s surely taking a hit being seen with you.”
Kane wondered what alternative reality he’d stepped into where Jacqueline was so casual, and wondered what alternative reality he’d have to find so that he could experience this same banter with a family member.
Sadly, this was his reality, but it was looking a bit sunnier now.