October. James has been home for the past week and a half, laughing and smiling along with me. I’d taken him out a fair bit in his pushchair where ever I went – except to college, for obvious reasons.
I’d been given some odd, disapproving looks by people who passed me in the streets, especially little old ladies with their Zimmer frames who ranted on about ‘my generation going down the drain’.
I suspected a lot of people thought I was his mother and that he was the reason we’d moved away in such a rush last year; to those who knew me. Well, that was the truth, but people didn’t need to know that. Anyone that had asked was told the same story:
“My mum’s friends are staying with us and I offered to look after their son.” After a short while, they believed me…sort of. A couple of them had seen me with him and the McFarlows, reducing their suspicions to zero. There was nothing better than sheer proof…sort of.
The air was crisp and the leaves that hung onto the branches above were tinted golden brown. The crunch of fallen leaves bounced off the wheels of James’ pushchair and danced around my ankles in the brisk, warm autumn breeze.
I loved the park during the autumn season because the whole atmosphere and scenery was utterly and undeniably beautiful. A perfect end to a perfect summer, some had said. I wouldn’t know…it rained during most of the summer when I was still in Scotland…
James caught a golden oak leaf in his palms as it glided down from the ancient branches above us. He admired its textured pattern and inhaled its woodsy scent. I smiled at his enjoyment and carried on pushing him down the path towards the kids’ play park. Although James was still too young to play on the park, I felt it was a good and ideal atmosphere to bring him to.
There were kids playing on the assortment of playground equipment when we arrived and, luckily, there was a free bench. I put the brake down on the pushchair, setting it in view of both the kids playing and myself.
James watched tentatively, wishing he could play too. I sighed and unzipped the baby bag on the back of the pushchair, taking out a bottle of apple juice. He reached out for it and took it in his chubby fingers, gulping it down.
“Easy there, matey.” I told him, pulling the bottle away from his mouth for a moment so he could breathe.
“Cute kid.” Came a voice from beside me. It was male, and I recognized it immediately…who wouldn’t recognize his god-like of a voice?
“Ben?” I asked, turning to face his smiling face. My heart stopped when my brain confirmed that it was actually him…in the flesh…but I managed to smile back, “What are you doing here?”
“Just wandering,” he answered, “is this seat taken?”
“No.” I replied, a little too enthusiastically, removing the baby bag from the space beside me. He filled it and positioned himself mirror to James, who starred at him longingly. Could he tell that this was his daddy from just looking at him?
“Who’s the kid?” Ben asked…he obviously didn’t know this was his son from first sight or instinct…he began waggling his fingers in front of him, making him laugh…with apple juice still in his mouth. Ben laughed too.
“His name’s James and he’s a family friend’s son.” I told him, lying to both him and myself. I wiped away the dribbles around his mouth with a baby wipe from the bag.
“James, huh? He’s a handsome young tyke, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he gets it from his dad.” True.
“Oh yeah? Is his dad quite the looker then?”
“Definitely.” True again.
“What about his mum?”
“What about her?”
“Is she pretty?”
“Since when do you have so many questions about a baby’s parents you don’t even know?
“I don’t know. I’m just…interested, I guess.”
“Interested?” I was becoming rather interested in his presumptions. What was inside his head right this minute?
“Yeah, I don’t why but I just am.”
“Right…” there was a long pause; even James was silent, which was very rare.
“Where do his parents live? And him, obviously?” he asked, turning to face me now. I gulped and felt my cheeks blush at his brashness. He smiled faintly.
‘We’re right here…’
“Scotland. Mum worked with Teresa – James’ mother – and she introduced us to her husband, Jerry. We saw them a lot whilst we were up there and became quite close friends with them. She was already pregnant when we moved up there.” I lied.
“He’s a Scot, is he? Gonna be wearing kilts and tartan when he’s older, eh?”
“Don’t be stereotypical, Ben,” I warned him. Yes, Teresa and Jerry both embraced their Scottish roots and regularly wore tartan garments – and no doubt would find something similar for James – didn’t mean that he would grow up as a Scot for the rest of his life. Besides, if things turned out smoothly, he would be living with me this time in two years.
“I know, I’m only kidding,” he apologized, “hey, I was wondering, would you want to do something sometime soon with me? We could catch the train to the coast, perhaps.”
‘Yes, yes, YES!’
“I would, but I said I would look after James whilst he and his parents are staying with us.” I did want to spend time with Ben, but I wanted to spend more time with James. I could see Ben everyday if I wanted to, but my time with James was schedules and irregular.
“You can bring him too, if you’d like.” My eyes widened at “Are you serious?”
“Positive. It’d be cool having the little guy around…I love kids. What do you think, Jamie?” he held his hand in front of James’ face for a high five. He gurgled a laugh and placed both of his hands into Ben’s one hand.
It was like secretly playing a game of happy families…I had to tell Ben soon. I opened my mouth, ready to speak,
‘James is my baby. That’s why I went to Scotland. He’s your son. He’s our son. Please forgive me…’
I closed my mouth again and smiled weakly instead. Another week or so wouldn’t hurt anybody…right?