Brian looked up as the door slid open. "Hey." He took in Justin's unkempt appearance and peculiar expression. "Everything okay?"
"Everything's fine. I'm just tired, and I feel," he spread his hands, "strange."
Brian tilted his head questioningly. "So...?"
"Oh, yeah! The baby was born around 2:00. It all went so fast." He dropped onto the sofa with a sigh. "Daphne's fine, the baby's fine. It's a girl, by the way."
"Congratulations," Brian said gravely.
"Thanks." He started to smile. "She's so beautiful, Brian!"
"Big surprise. You and Daphne couldn't make an ugly baby if you tried."
The smile broadened. "It was amazing!" His hand caressed Brian's, winding their fingers together. "I'm so glad I was there."
"Where are they now? Still at the clinic?"
"No. We stayed there for a few hours and the midwives checked the baby out and everything, then I took Daphne home. Her parents are with her now, and someone from the clinic's coming by to check on her again early this afternoon, so I came home to get some sleep and change. I'll go back later."
"Why are you home?" Justin asked, suddenly realizing it was the middle of a Monday morning. "Did you miss work?"
"It's Labour Day, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." He laughed. "Labour Day! Daphne'll probably get a lot of kidding about that."
Brian smiled back. "Want something to eat?"
"Not right now. I'm going to get a few hours' sleep first." He got up, gave Brian a kiss, and walked wearily into the bedroom, pulling off his shirt as he went.
Brian followed him. "Mind if I join you?"
"No, but just to sleep, okay? I've been up all night."
"So have I." Justin looked at him curiously. "Couldn't sleep. You gave me a lot to think about." He stripped and lay down on his side of the bed.
"I'll bet." Justin fell onto the mattress beside him. "Look, I'm not going to apologize for putting you through all that crap. You don't like apologies, anyway." Brian's expression acknowledged this truth. "Things are going to keep changing in my life, now even more than before."
"I get it, Sunshine. We're okay. Quit agonizing, will you?"
"I'll try." He kissed Brian and nestled closer to him. "Six pounds, two ounces," he reported, yawning. "I don't know why, but that's always considered vital information."
"Not so big. You barely got your bait back," Brian quipped.
Justin elbowed him. "Don't be crude! And don't pretend you know anything about fishing, either."
"I'll try to cut down on that," Brian promised, pulling Justin closer and settling into a more comfortable position. "Speaking of which. You might be bringing the baby around here from time to time."
"I should probably try again to quit smoking."
Justin smiled to himself. "Okay," he agreed, closing his eyes and drifting quickly into an exhausted sleep.
He woke early in the afternoon, lying still a moment with his eyes half open. Suddenly he remembered what had happened over the last 24 hours, and sat bolt upright in bed. He jumped up and began looking for Brian. "Where are you?"
"Right here." He heard Brian's voice coming from the kitchen.
"Hey! I'm a father!" He embraced Brian from behind, then looked over his shoulder in amazement. "What are you doing?"
"Cooking. Trying to, anyway. And I think we already established that you're a father earlier today. Girl; six pounds; not ugly."
Justin watched Brian cook eggs with deep mistrust. "You have the heat on way too high."
"No kibbutzing. I have to learn some time." He turned the flame down.
"Fine." Justin backed away and started to make toast. "By the way, Daphne asked me to try and hold off visitors for a couple of days, if possible." He poured himself a cup of coffee. "I know my mom and Molly will want to see the baby. And Debbie's going to be hard to keep away. But she wanted at least a day to get used to things before the crowds start arriving."
"But she did invite you to come by today, if you want to." Justin raised the cup to his lips, watching Brian.
"Me," he repeated incredulously.
Justin shrugged. "You're like the baby's second dad. She thinks so, anyway. But it's up to you, of course."
"Sure," Brian said casually. "I could drop in, I suppose." Justin beamed at him, and he couldn't hold back an embarrassed smile.
"Okay. Come with me when I go over in a little while. After breakfast," he said, watching Brian remove the pan from the stove and slide the rubbery, slightly scorched scrambled eggs onto two plates. Their eyes met. "You'll get better," Justin assured him, adding toast to the plates.
Justin filled Brian in on the details of the birth, despite Brian's objections to hearing that kind of thing while eating, and displayed the baby's first photographs on his camera's screen. After they'd eaten, Brian went to his desk and removed two carefully wrapped, very expensive cigars. He handed one to Justin. "I know. I said I'd quit. But we have to observe this ritual first, don't we?" He flicked open his lighter and held it out to Justin.
"Thanks." Justin drew on the cigar without much pleasure, but appreciating the gesture.
"This seems like a good time to bring up a business matter I wanted to discuss with you."
"What's that?" Justin took another puff. No better than the first.
"You told me yesterday about your child support plans."
"Right." He looked at the cigar in dismay. "Would you mind very much if I didn't finish this?"
Brian chuckled and shook his head. "Acquired taste. Well, a while back we opened a joint chequing account, that we pay household bills from."
"Yes." Justin stashed the cigar in an ashtray and edged it away from him.
"I was thinking." He cleared his throat. "If I were to cover your half of the expenses, that would just about equal 50% of what you'll be paying to support the baby."
"Brian! Don't tell me we have to go through this again. I want to take on my share. If I'm living with you as...."
Brian held up a hand. "I know, I know. The thing is," he cleared his throat again, looking intensely uncomfortable, "it's just an idea, and you can feel free to tell me to go fuck myself. It's just an idea," he repeated.
"What is it?" Justin's curiosity was definitely piqued.
"See, if I were to go to Daphne and offer to pay child support, she'd probably turn me down flat. It would just be weird." Justin nodded, frowning. "But if I simply took on an equivalent amount in household expenses...." He broke off and looked at Justin with a shrug.
"I see. You'd actually be helping to support the baby, but unofficially, as a silent partner."
"That's the general idea. Like I said, you can feel free to...."
"Tell you to go fuck yourself, I know. Raincheck." He smiled and took Brian's hand. "I think I could live with that arrangement. If you're sure you want to do this."
"I'll pay support from the same account," Justin offered. It wouldn't make any actual difference, but he felt it had symbolic value. "Okay. We should get over there. I'll just take a quick shower."
"How quick, exactly?" Brian followed him to the bathroom.
* * *
Justin let himself in with his own key. "Daph!" he called.
"Hi, Justin. She's upstairs." The clinic's third midwife, Pauline, was sitting in the living room. "I just came back to check up on her and the baby."
Justin introduced Brian to her and headed upstairs. "I brought Brian," Justin called to Daphne through the bedroom door.
"I'm changing," she called back, "Why don't you show Brian the nursery? I'll just be a minute."
"Oh, that's right! You haven't seen it yet." He led Brian down the hall to a second bedroom.
Brian stopped short in the doorway, looking around. "Shit! How much time did you spend on this?" He moved to the middle of the room and slowly turned, taking in all four walls. What he saw couldn't have been more different from Justin's usual, rather dark, somber artwork. The entire room was a forest, painted in bright, jewel-like colours. The walls were thick with trees, vines, huge gaudy flowers. Animals swung from branches, ran through the tall grass, swam in a bright blue river. The design continued directly onto the ceiling, which was a blue sky filled with exotic birds and huge, colourful insects.
"I painted it onto panels, see?" Justin showed him a hairline crack between two of the ceiling-height boards. "So it can be removed and stored if they want to change the room some time."
"Fantastic. The kid'll love it. Once she's old enough to actually know what it is."
"I hope so." Justin looked around at the forest room. "Daphne got these to match," he said, pointing out the crib bedding, which had a pattern of foxes in a wood.
"Sure beats the hell out of anything licensed by Disney."
They heard a door opening, and went back into the hall. "Hi! Come on downstairs," Daphne said, starting down the steps with a small, flannel-wrapped bundle in her arms. They followed her into the living room where she sat down on the sofa.
"I'll be running along," Pauline said. "Daphne, be sure to call if there are any problems, and one of us will be by on Wednesday. Justin, make sure she takes it easy for the next few days!"
"Okay. Thanks, Pauline!" Justin showed the midwife out and returned to the living room.
"Well. Here's the lady of the hour." Daphne lay the baby across her lap and loosened the blanket a bit. Justin bent to give the tiny lips a kiss while Brian observed from a slight distance. The baby was sleeping peacefully, dark lashes resting against her creamy brown skin, curling wisps of black hair covering her head. Brian silently acknowledged that, while he wasn't a great connisseur of babies, this one was probably above industry standard.
"Would you like to hold her, Brian?" Daphne offered.
Brian glanced at Justin before reaching out tentatively and picking up the small bundle. He shifted her cautiously onto one arm and took a closer look. He glanced up in surprise at the flash of light as Justin took his photograph, then gave him an apologetic look. "Sorry. I just had to get a picture."
Brian smiled and looked back down at the baby. Suddenly, the realization that this was Justin's daughter he was holding in his arms struck him like a bullet between the eyes. For a second or two, he thought he might do something completely inappropriate: cry, puke, pass out -- anything was possible. He hastily handed the child over to Justin. Apparently some of his reaction still showed on his face; Justin looked at him and said quietly, "I know. It's incredible, isn't it?" He sat down beside Daphne, and Brian dropped into a chair nearby.
Justin gently stroked the baby's downy hair. "We're going to have to make a decision about names," he told Daphne. "She's been a Jane Doe long enough."
"What have we narrowed it down to?"
"Well, I was thinking it would be nice to name her after my grandmother, the one who died when I was twelve. Of course, she had a kind of old-fashioned name: Josephine. My mom likes Lydia, for some reason. And the first choice with my friends at work was Madison. I guess it's really popular right now." She looked to Justin for his reaction.
After only a second's thought, he turned to look at Brian. "What do you think?"
Brian felt a shock at the memory that question brought back. He could see that Justin was genuinely asking him for a decision. He glanced hastily at Daphne, but she was watching calmly, as though perfectly content to let Brian name her firstborn. He steadied his voice carefully. "Let's see. Lydia would condemn her to a lifetime of Tattooed Lady jokes. And half the other girls in her class would probably be named Madison. But Josephine, that might be all right."
"Josephine Taylor Chanders," Justin pronounced, as though introducing her.
Daphne nodded in satisfaction. "They used to call my grandmother Josie when she was young," she told Justin.
"I like that." Justin smiled down at the baby, then placed her over his shoulder, patting her back gently. Brian was amazed at how comfortable he was handling an infant. It must be an innate talent, he thought. Like giving brilliant head.
"Listen, can I ask you guys a favour?" Daphne said. "Can you keep an eye on her while I take a shower? I'm still not comfortable leaving her alone, even for a few minutes."
Justin glanced at Brian, who nodded. "I've got nowhere to be."
"Sure," Justin told her. "Take your time."
"Thanks!" She headed back upstairs.
Brian found himself remembering his feelings for Gus the day he was born, and the regrets he felt at not being as involved in the boy's life as he'd have liked, for so many different reasons. He got up and moved across the room to sit next to Justin, who gave him a smile. "Like to give it a second try?"
"What?" He wondered for a moment if Justin was reading his mind.
"Oh. Sure." He carefully took the baby from Justin and leaned back on the sofa. Josephine briefly opened her eyes, looked in Brian's direction, and closed them again.
"Listen, I'll probably drive you home and then stay here overnight," Justin said. "Daphne seems to have a handle on things, but I'd like to be here the first night, just in case."
"I was thinking. I've been saying for months that I need to free up more time. Now I really have to."
"Not just for the...for Josie, but for us as well. I want to keep up with my regular artwork, and I can't really back out on the comic, but I won't be taking on a second season with the opera company, not unless something changes drastically. And I won't be trying for a job with the movie, assuming the movie ever materializes."
"Are you sure about that? You loved working in the movies."
He paused to watch in admiration as his daughter sneezed, twitched, and went back to sleep. "Yes, but remember, this one would be in Toronto, not coastal California. And anyway, I don't want to be away from the baby for long periods, and I don't want to be away from you, either. We managed a long-distance relationship for two years, and we stayed together, but it's not something I ever want to try again."
"That makes two of us." The baby began to stir and make small, irritable noises. "You'd better take her."
Justin placed the baby against his shoulder and stood, walking her back and forth across the room until she quieted. He looked back at Brian, who was watching them with an odd smile on his face. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I was just thinking. That question you always bring to mind doesn't feel quite as negative as it used to."
"What question is that?"
Brian smiled. "'What next?'"