“Hello?” I asked a month or two later when I answered my phone. It’d been a number I didn’t recognise, so I just assumed it was someone trying to sell me something. I know you’re probably wondering why I answered it if I thought it was someone selling something, right? Well, sometimes the stuff they’re selling turns out to be alright. I wouldn’t dream of buying it, but you can usually find a cheaper alternative at Walmart or something.
My features pulled into a scowl when I recognised the voice. Sarah.
“What do you want?” I asked irritably.
“I need your help”
“Why?” I asked, and heard what was definitely a baby start screaming in the background.
"Because that screaming you can hear is from your fucking child and I can't raise it on my own"
"My what?" I asked, all but freezing in shock.
"I was pregnant when you broke up with me. Not that you ever really gave me a chance to tell you" she said grumpily.
I was too shocked to say anything. I was a father. I mean, I know I was a father already, but this meant I was afather.I couldn’t be. I mean, I know Sarah never insisted on using condoms and, well, I’ve told you about her, and what she says, goes. But she wasn’t... She couldn’t have been... I think I need to lie down or something.
I heard Sarah trying to calm the baby down, cooing what I guessed was its name to try and soothe it. “Lottie”. A girl, then. I had a daughter. Not that Lily wasn’t my daughter, y’know? But... One thing I did have to question was why she’d taken so long to tell me. I mean, I’d been single for a year after the break up, and I’d been with John for four months now. That makes sixteen months, and last time I checked, babies only take nine months to make. That leaves seven months. Why hadn’t she told me for seven months?
"I got fired from my job a couple months ago because I wanted to extend my maternity leave but because my boss wouldn't say he was firing me for that, I couldn't appeal for unfair dismissal, and now I can't afford to feed her" she said once the baby was quiet.
"I need your help, Hadley. I wouldn't ask, after the way things went, but this is your kid"
"How much do you need?" I asked, going against my gut instincts of never giving this woman money again.
"I don't know. Enough to feed us and keep a roof over our head. The rent is $650 a month, the rest is up to you"
"I'll call you back in like five minutes, okay?" I said and she hung up.
What did I do? Call Ava, of course. She knew how expensive babies could be, and she vaguely understood the exchange rate from Aussie dollars to US dollars. She complained about the time for a while, but seemed to forgive me once I managed to scramble out that I had a baby to pay for. She talked it out with me roughly how much her boys had cost her a month, and we worked out an average since Bradley had been more expensive. I thanked her and promised to buy her nice things when I saw her next, before calling Sarah back.
"I talked things through with Ava, she said a couple grand should be enough, including rent" I said, and Sarah genuinely seemed grateful. “Do I get to see her?”
"If you want"
"Why wouldn't I want to? She's my daughter"
"Because it would involve seeing me" she said, and I pretended like I hadn’t been ignoring that fact.
“That doesn't mean I'm not gonna want to see my kid"
"Fine, well it's up to you" she said, giving me her address.
I jotted it down on the back of a magazine, marring some model’s made up face with the ink. "I'll be round later"
"'Kay" she said and I hung up, wondering what the fuck I was meant to tell everyone.
I knew if anyone had the right to know, it was Lewis, but I kind of didn’t want to say anything. After all, he had enough issues what with being rejected by Danny and feeling like nobody cared about him, and I didn’t want to make things worse. I mean, what if it made him think his mom didn’t want him? What if it made him think I didn’t want him anymore, since I had a new kid to care about?
I didn’t tell anyone in the end, dropping the kids off at John’s, saying nothing more than “it’s an emergency” before heading to Sarah’s place. Sarah answered the door, looking around for something, this sad look on her face when whatever it was wasn’t there. She let me in and I gave her the money, which she thanked me for. I’d given her a little extra that month, just in case, and I guess as a way to try and apologise for putting her through all this. She took the money into the bedroom, and came back out with the baby and boy, was she a cute little thing. Sarah brought her over to me, and I smiled when she introduced her as Lottie. She let me hold her, and I cuddled her to me, looking down at her. She had my eyes. I felt Sarah watching me, but I was more interested in Lottie.
"Look, I'm really sorry about how things went. I just... wasn't in a good place, and I took it out on you. I know I shouldn't have" Sarah said after a while, looking at the floor. It was like she was the lovely person I first met all over again.
"It's okay" I lied. It wasn’t okay in the slightest, but I didn’t want to cause trouble.
Sarah offered me a drink, which I declined, and she watched me, seeming a tiny bit wary.
“You're not gonna take her away too, are you?" she asked and I shook my head.
"Not if you treat her right" I said and she nodded a little. “I’ll tell Lewis about her tomorrow” I said, playing with Lottie a little.
"Can I see him?"
I nodded. "If he wants to come, that is"
"I miss him"
I didn’t know what to say to that. I don’t think either of us did. So in the end, I settled for cuddling Lottie some more, and Sarah settled for watching us some more. We stayed like that for a while, before I realised I should probably explain what was going on to John before he thought the world was ending or something.
"I should probably be getting home" I said and Sarah nodded slightly, taking Lottie off me. "Thanks for letting me see her" I said, feeling a little awkward.
"Thanks for the money. I wasn't expecting you to let me have any, to be honest" she said, smiling gratefully.
"Don't mention it. I'm not gonna let you or her starve just because things didn't work out between us" I said, watching as she cuddled Lottie. "I'll call you tomorrow and let you know how it goes with Lewis"
Sarah nodded and I kissed Lottie’s forehead, nuzzling her nose a little as I said goodbye. I straightened up, saying bye to Sarah and heading back to John’s. What the hell was I meant to tell Lewis?