“I blame John.”
Tony chuckled and looked up from his newspaper. Gina groaned as she slowly walked around the living room.
“It takes two to tango,” Tony said, motioning to Gina’s big pregnant belly. She was due any day now, and the closer she got to giving birth, the more she blamed John. Of course John never took it to heart. He was a loving husband who did his best to make sure Gina had everything she needed to be comfortable. They were as prepared as two soon-to-be parents could be.
Gina arched an eyebrow at Tony before her pale blue eyes narrowed. He gingerly lifted the newspaper in front of him to hide his face from her. If she had the slightest inkling he found her amusing she’d launch a throw pillow at his head. Wouldn’t be the first time. John said that for a pregnant woman, she had reflexes like a ninja.
“That’s not what I meant.” She groaned again, and he looked up to make sure she was okay. She rubbed her belly as she walked. “This kid thinks I’m an obstacle course. He’s like John. Always fidgeting.”
“Yeah, but you love the big dope.”
Gina let out a school-girl sigh. “I do. He’s so pretty.”
Tony laughed. “That’s why he gets away with everything. He just bats those pretty eyes and you’re a goner.”
Gina let out a very indelicate snort. “Please. Like you’re immune to that smile.”
“Smile doesn’t get me,” Tony replied with a shake of his head. “It’s that damned dimple. That and the fact he does whatever the hell he wants anyway.”
“We both love the dope, so you’re as screwed as I am. What’s today’s headline?”
“Oh no.” Tony quickly closed the paper and folded it up as Gina glared at him. He’d been given very clear instructions not to let Gina read the papers. A few months ago the government started the Therian database, requiring Therians to go to their nearest CDC clinic for classification. It was rumored they were creating a system that would have Therians marked. John had been furious, as had Tony. Gina had been livid, launching a campaign against the movement and becoming the first medical officer at the CDC Registration Office to volunteer working specifically with Therians, a position she’d demanded be introduced. No one said no to Gina Daley.
John decided that reading the newspaper was off limits for a while. The headlines upset her too much. Of course Gina was as stubborn as her husband. Telling her she couldn’t do something was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
Gina Daley was a stunning young woman who stood at five foot three without heels, had dirty blonde hair and the palest blue eyes Tony had ever seen. She looked angelic in her pink flowered maternity dress. She could also put the fear of God in any mortal, including him.
“Tony, give me the paper.”
He blinked up at her innocently. “It’s under my butt.”
“I don’t care. Besides, I’ve seen your butt.”
Tony felt his face burn. “That wasn’t my fault.”
“Of course it wasn’t,” Gina agreed, “but that’s what you get when you let John convince you to take your clothes off in protest of campus Therian segregation. That wasn’t going to get you two anything other than some serious rubbernecking. It was like a feeding frenzy. You know how many fellow students I had to chase off that day? Geniuses you two.”
Tony shrugged, and did his best not to laugh at the memory. “We were a couple of stupid college kids.” Poor John. It said something that he was more terrified of losing Gina to his shenanigans than he’d been about getting kicked out of school. Gina had been annoyed with her fiancé, but she adored John, crazy antics and all. He learned pretty quick after that. “That was such a long time ago, Gina. We’ve both matured.”
“That was two years ago.”
Tony pursed his lips. “I got nothing.”
“Between your ears apparently. Like John. Give me the paper.”
Tony put a hand to his chest. “Ouch. You want me to get you some chocolate or something?”
“Anthony Maddock, so help me if you don’t give me that damned newspaper I’m going to—” She let out a groan/yell combo that scared the shit out of him. She was either about to kick his ass, or she’d just had her first contraction. They stared at each other, wide-eyed.
“Do you think it’s time?” He watched as Gina walked around, breathing in and out through her mouth. Less than a minute later another contraction hit and nothing she did made it stop.
“I blame John!”
“Yeah, it’s all John’s fault. Just breathe. I’ll get your bag.” He jumped from his chair, making a swipe for the newspaper before Gina could grab it. He shook his head at her. “Woman, you’re going into labor! Forget the damn newspaper!”
“Fine!” She breathed deeply in and out as he ran to get her overnight bag from the hall closet where he knew it was. The three of them had come up with an action plan in order to be prepared for this day. Another scream soon met his ear, and he hurried back to the living room. Where the hell was John?
As if by magic, John walked through the door. “Hey, baby. I got you your chocolate chip ice cream and potato chips.” He grinned that big school-boy grin of his.
“John, this is all your fault!” Gina shrieked.
“What?” John looked between her and Tony. “What did I do?” His eyes went wide and he gasped. “I swear, it’s just a scratch.”
Gina turned to face John as she huffed, doing her best to control her breathing. “What’s just a scratch?”
“Um….” He looked to Tony for help, but Tony had no idea what the hell his best friend was talking about. Knowing John, it could be anything. Realization hit John, and he stared at Gina. “Wait, are you… are you going into labor?” John rushed over and took hold of her hand. His eyes got all teary and a grin stretched across his face. “We’re having a baby.” His dimple appeared, and Gina was a goner. She burst into happy tears.
“We’re having a baby.”
“Okay. We need to um….” He ran to the hall, opened the closet then released a panicked cry. “It’s gone!”
“John,” Tony called out, trying to get his friend’s attention as John frantically ran around the house, opening and closing doors. He ran back into the living room.
“The bag is gone! Oh my God, I’m not prepared for this!”
Gina let out another painful cry, and John Joined her. Tony didn’t know whether to laugh or join in too. He lifted the bag in front of him.
“John. The bag’s right here.”
John snatched it away from him. “You couldn’t have said something sooner?”
“I tried,” Tony said, holding back a laugh.
“All right, let’s go.” John took Gina’s arm and breathed with her as they headed for the front door. Tony locked up, seeing as how John was occupied with other thoughts like not freaking out. John helped Gina into the back of Tony’s black and gold Firebird then climbed in after her, leaving the overnight bag on the floor. With a smile, Tony placed it in the front passenger seat. It was probably best he hold onto it.
Tony stayed calm, letting John do all the breathing and creaming as he got them to the hospital. It was adorable watching his best friend all but carry Gina inside. He hovered over her, talking to her, breathing with her, comforting her. He asked a million questions, hovered over the nurses, asked them about things he’d read in books. While John took care of his wife, Tony took care of John. If he didn’t, who else would? Tony kept John in fresh supply of coffee, and when the time came, Tony was asked to wait outside by the nurse. Only family was permitted to stay, and usually that just entailed the parents.
“No.” John shook his head at the nurse as he held on tight to Gina’s hand. “He’s family. He stays.”
Tony swallowed past the lump in his throat. “John, it’s okay.”
John looked determined. “I want you to stay.” His expression softened. “Please.”
How could Tony say no? He nodded, and tried his best not to give into the tears that threatened to break free, especially when Gina threw her free hand out to him. He quickly took hold of it, and cursed under his breath when Gina all but broke his fingers. John laughed, tears running down his face.
“Now the pain’s evenly distributed.”
Tony would have flipped him off if the room wasn’t full of hospital staff. For what seemed like hours, Gina screamed, breathed, pushed, cursed them, threatened them, burst into sporadic laughter then tears, while Tony and John did the same. Next thing Tony knew, there was a hearty cry, one that hadn’t come from Gina, her husband, or Tony.
“Kids got some lungs on him,” Tony said with a laugh.
“Gets it… from… John,” Gina huffed, breathless.
“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Daley, it’s a beautiful, healthy, baby boy.” The nurse handed a wrapped bundle to Gina, who burst into fresh tears. Tony had to pull out his own handkerchief. Man, they were bawling worse than the baby. The room quieted, and John kissed his wife. Tony’s heart swelled, and he had to turn away from the tender moment. There was so much love coming from those two as they held their little boy. Tony felt blessed to be a part of this. Gina and John weren’t just his best friends. They were his family. He loved them fiercely.
A pair of strong arms wrapped around Tony, and he felt John press his head against his back. “Thank you.”
Tony chuckled. He turned and hugged John back. “For what?”
“For being the brother I never had.”
Sweet baby Jesus, the man was going to be the death of him. “Being a daddy’s made you sappy.”
John laughed, his blue eyes sparkling. He pulled back, his grin huge. “I’m a dad!”
“Heaven help us all,” Tony teased. “That boy is going to be spoiled rotten.”
“By who? You?” John walked back over to Gina who was singing softly to her baby boy.
“I plead the fifth,” Tony said as Gina motioned for him to come over. She moved the soft blue blanket so Tony could get a look at the little wrinkled bundle. He had Gina’s big blue eyes and pouty pink lips with rosy cheeks. He was absolutely adorable. Tony loved him already. Gina smiled lovingly at her baby.
“Anthony Maddock, meet Dexter Justice Daley. Dex, meet your Uncle Tony.”
Dex stared up at him before putting a tiny fist to his mouth. He wasn’t still for a moment, wriggling and making baby noises, like he was ready to start talking already.
“Oh Lord, this one’s gonna be a handful.” Tony couldn’t stop smiling. He kissed Gina’s cheek. “Congratulations, sweetheart. He’s beautiful.”
John cooed at Dex before clearing his throat. “I may have put a little scratch on your Camaro.”
Tony put his hand up and took a step back. “I had nothing to do with it.”
“You’re lucky I’m too tired and too in love with my baby boy to strangle you.”
“I love you too.” John chuckled and kiss the top of Dex’s head. “And you, my little man. Here’s your first lesson. Never, ever put a scratch on mommy’s car. It’s precious. Not as precious as you though.” He made cooing noises, and Tony shook his head in amusement. “We need a picture.” John hurried over to Gina’s overnight bag.
“John, I look terrible.”
John rushed back, his shiny new 35mm Canon camera in hand. He kissed Gina, and ran a hand lovingly over her head. “Baby, you’re glowing. Come on. It’s Dex’s first day with his new family.”
There was that dimple again.
“Okay.” Gina held Dex, and Tony situated himself closer as John instructed the nurse how to take the picture. When he was done, he took position beside Gina. He gave Tony and wink and they both leaned in to give Gina’s cheeks a kiss, making her giggle. There was a “click”, and the nurse took a few more photos before Gina said she was tired. The nurse took little Dex, but not before they all showered some more love on him.
They left Gina to rest, and went to get some more coffee. John was quiet, which was unusual for him.
“Hey, you okay, man?”
John nodded then wiped another tear form his eye. “I’m a dad.”
“Yeah, you are,” Tony said with a smile when John’s brows furrowed. He was worried. “Hey, you’re gonna be an amazing dad.”
“It’s kind of terrifying, knowing how much he’s depending on me. He’s going to be looking to me to for everything. Whatever I say, whatever I do could impact the kind of man he’s going to become. What if… what if I mess up?”
Tony took hold of John’s shoulders. “John, Dex is going to be just fine. You know how I know that?”
“Because he has you for a father.”
John smiled. He sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Between you and Gina, that little boy couldn’t be more loved.”
“He’s got you too,” John reminded him.
“That he does.” Whatever Dex needed, Tony would always be there for him. “Poor Gina. Now she’s got two kids wreaking havoc.” If Dex was anything like his daddy, he was going to drive her up the wall.
“Hey!” John gave Tony a playful shove. “I resemble that remark.”
Tony laughed and the two of them walked out into a small garden outside the café. It was peaceful. They sat beside each other, sipping their coffees. Every time Tony looked over at John, he had a big dopey grin on his face. Yeah, John was going to be a great dad.
“I can’t wait,” John said softly.
“For all those first family moments. Just the four of us. Dex’s first Christmas, his first tooth, his first steps. First birthday. First day of school.”
“First crush. His first date.”
John pouted. “His first broken heart.”
Tony patted John’s back and smiled. “His first day at college. First love.”
“Yeah,” John let his head rest against Tony’s shoulder with a sigh. “It’s gonna be great.”
Copyright © 2016. Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.