Chapter 1: spaghetti
When Even landed a job working for a local television network as director of photography for a new series, Isak was both excited and a little relieved. Isak was more worried about Even finding a job than Even was.
It wasn’t because he didn’t think Even was capable. He knew even was brilliant. And he wasn’t just saying that because he loved him. He was top of his class in the film program at school and the short film he directed for his thesis project was featured at film festivals in Haugesund, Bergen, and Tromsø. It was needless to say, university had been wonderful for him, allowing him to craft his style and develop his skills. Isak couldn’t be more proud.
But until he’d landed the job there in Oslo, it seemed any phone call or email Even received could be about a job hundreds of miles away from Oslo. Away from Isak. That was the last thing he wanted, though deep down he knew if Even had gotten a job outside of Oslo, they’d find a way to make it work, no matter how hard it would be. They’d made that promise the day Isak proposed to Even on their third Christmas Eve together.
He just didn’t like to think about being apart from Even until he finished his degree, secretly hoping every night while pressed close against Even’s warm body that he’d get to keep going to bed the same way for the rest of their lives. He loved when Even held Isak’s head close in bed, his fingers twisting in the locks at the base of Isak’s neck and the exhilarating feel of the cold metal of his ring giving him goosebumps.
After a year of working on the series, Even was nominated for a Gullruten. Isak stood tall and proud, clapping until his hands hurt when Even won. About a month later, Even was whooping and hollering right along Yousef as Isak and Sana walked across the stage at their university graduation, two of five students to graduate summa cum laude. Sana got into med school and Isak was accepted to the university’s Ph. D. program in Biochemistry. They’d both be doctors one way or another.
After dinner with their friends that night, Isak and Even walked home hand in hand, each with a bouquet of flowers in hand that Vilde and Eskild had given Isak soon after the ceremony. Isak should really have seen it coming. Even had first expressed interest when he was in the middle of his first year of college. At the time, it scared Isak, and he’d told Even that, but Even assured him he could wait as long as Isak wanted. So when Even started the serious conversation for the fourth time since that first time, Isak should have known.
“We both have degrees,” Even noted.
“That’s right,” Isak nodded, squeezing Even’s hand. Even smiled at stared at his feet.
“And we’re married!” Even added excitedly, as if he just remembered even though they were set to celebrate their two year anniversary just a few weeks later in July.
Isak laughed, “Yes, Even. It’s like we’re adults and everything,” he joked.
“Well, the network is upping salary now that I’m a writer for the show, too,” Even began, “And you’re like guaranteed to be granted funding for your research as long as you keep teaching undergrad labs, right?”
“Right?” Isak asked. “What, you wanna take a fancy vacation or something?”
“Something like that,” Even shifted the flowers awkwardly in his arm.
“Hey, you know I’m up for any adventure with you,” Isak assured him, leaning his shoulder into Even.
“You mean that?” Even asked, looking over at him with something light but heavy in his eyes.
“It’s basically in stone, Ev,” Isak laughed.
Even nodded and swallowed, he sucked in a breath, “I want us to start another adventure.”
“Where to?” Isak asked. He was slightly yanked back as he noticed Even had planted his feet to the ground. “You okay?”
Even looked him straight in the eyes and smiled wide, “Isak, I really want us to have a baby.”
Isak just blinked. He blinked six times before he found his voice, “Even, I-” he started.
“Isak, we’re ready. I know it. We’re ready. We have degrees, and we have the extra bedroom at home, and I’m going to be making more money now, and you, too. And my parents, I know they’d be so happy and supportive. You know they’ll be begging us to babysit.”
“Whoa, Even. Slow down, please. Just, breathe for a second,” Isak spoke. “Here, sit down with me,” he gestured to the bench on the sidewalk. They set the flowers down and twisted their bodies to face each other, knees knocking like usual. “You want to have a baby,” Isak spoke, not necessarily a question, just a statement he was trying to make sense of.
Even lifted his hand to Isak’s neck, fingers curling gently around his nape, “I want us to have a baby.”
“How can you be so sure about this? Doesn’t that scare you?” Isak asked.
“Nothing scares me when I have you. I was so scared before I met you. But look at us now. Look at all we’ve done and overcome. We’re golden, baby. We can do anything, and what I really want, more than anything, is to be a father with you,” Even smiled. “Think of how lucky our kid will be to have parents like us.”
Isak laughed and rolled his eyes, leaning his cheek into Even’s wrist. “You want us to have a baby,” Isak said again, this time a little more fondly.
“I love you, Isak. Do you love me?” Even asked.
Isak almost scoffed, “Of course I love you.”
“Just think of all the love we can give to our kid.”
“But what if I’m not good at it,” Isak asked quietly, “What if I can’t be as good a father as you?”
“What are you talking about?” Even looked at him confused.
“Come on, you know what I’m talking about. Every time Jonas and Eva ask us to babysit, Lisa just crawls into your lap and doesn’t even look at me. What if my own kid doesn’t even like me, Even?”
Even’s eyes softened, “Isak, our kid is going to love you. Besides, just wait until Lisa needs help with her science homework. You’ll be the favorite in no time,” he smiled. Even leaned in and kissed his forehead, “We’re ready, baby. I just know it.”
Isak nodded slightly, Even’s lips still resting on his forehead, “Okay,” he spoke quietly.
Even leaned back and brought both hands up to Isak’s cheeks. “Okay?” he asked, smiling wider than ever.
Isak couldn’t help but laugh, “Let’s have a baby.”
Even pulled Isak forward by his cheeks into a kiss that said, “Thank you,” and “I love you,” and so much more.
A few days later, Even took the day off work and the both of them headed to their appointment at the clinic. Isak had felt entirely out of place in the clinic. Three nervous women sat with three even more nervous-looking men around them. Isak would have bet he looked more nervous than the lot of them. Even had just placed his hand on Isak’s knee and squeezed slightly. He leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, we’re in the right place.” Minutes later, the receptionist spoke out, “Bech Naesheim Valtersen, Dr. Eriksson will see you now.”
Dr. Eriksson was a very kind, and very tall doctor from Stockholm. He outlined what the process would be like for Isak and Even, how much money they would need to invest, and a list of hospitals that would carry out the process. The question that made Isak red in the face came towards the end of the appointment, “Whose sperm will you be using?”
“His,” Even answered immediately, not even looking at Isak.
“Even?” Isak turned to him quickly.
“Ahh, well, either way, the process would be the same for either of you,” Dr. Eriksson went on.
Eventually, they left with all of the questions they came with answered but one more Isak hadn’t even thought about. At lunch, he moved the salad around on his plate, “Why does it have to be my sperm?” Isak spoke into the green leaves.
Even choked on his water. Isak had spoken particularly loud, louder than he’d intended.
“Uh,” Even wiped at his forehead, “You know why we can’t use mine, Isak.”
“No, Even. I don’t,” Isak set his fork down and leaned back.
Even looked up at him with regret, “I can’t – I couldn’t – It wouldn’t be fair,” Even started, unable to find the words he really wanted.
Isak leaned forward and grabbed his hand. “Hey, it’s just me. What’s going on?”
Even sighed, “I can’t willingly give my kid the potential for bipolar.”
Isak inhaled, struck by Even’s words.
“It wouldn’t be fair, Isak. How could I do that to them?” Even pleaded.
Isak shook his head, “Even. You can’t think like that. You just can’t.”
“Why not? Why shouldn’t I?” Even asked.
“Baby, I wouldn’t love our kid any less if they had bipolar. I love all your genes,” Isak said confidently, gripping Even’s hand.
Even laughed and used the back of his free hand to wipe at his nose as he sniffed, “You love all my genes. You’re such a nerd,” he shook his head.
“I mean it,” Isak said.
“I love all your genes, too,” Even replied.
“You said we’re ready. You believe it. I believe it. That means we have to be ready for anything – a kid with bipolar, a kid without bipolar. No matter what, they’ll be our kid and they’ll have our love, alright? Nothing will change that.”
“I know,” Even nodded. “Five embryos are implanted in the surrogate, right?”
“Right,” Isak agreed.
“So, I think three should be yours,” Even proposed. “That at least lowers the odds.”
Isak nodded, “That’s about a 10% chance.”
Even blinked rapidly, “How do you even do that math in your head so fast?”
Isak rolled his eyes, “Stop.”
“I love your genes, baby,” Even smirked.
The house they had moved to last year had a sizeable yard, big enough to contain a backyard barbeque celebrating their two year anniversary. Even’s parents, Isak’s mom and all their friends had gathered together, old faces and new. Even’s friends from the network, Anders, Jakob, and Ingrid and Isak’s friend from his lab, Anna, had met their friends from Nissen and Elvebakken at various points in the past year or so. Anna, the youngest of them all actually lived in the same building as Mutta, and the two had basically been inseparable friends since they met at Even and Isak’s Friendsgiving the year before. Little Lisa screaming with glee, running around, chasing and being chased by Magnus’ dog Henke.
Looking around at all of the people Isak had come to know and love, he couldn’t help but get a little nervous with the news they were about to unload on them. Isak’s mother had been ecstatic when they told her over tea last week. And Even’s parents were practically ready to throw them a party when they heard the news a few days earlier. Of all people there, though, he was most insecure about what Sana would think. She had kept him motivated all through his undergrad and when it came to figure out what to do after the four years, Sana was the one who pushed him to go straight into Ph. D. instead of just the Master’s. “We all know you’re the master of everything, already, Isak. Just do it, okay? Go for the doctorate,” she had said over coffee and textbooks during their third year. Sana’s encouragement was practically the tipping point.
But now, if she were to think he was making a big mistake, or taking on too much before his program had even started, he didn’t know what he’d do. He was scared he’d change his mind, that Even would be heartbroken and that maybe Isak wouldn’t be able to pick up the pieces.
“You ready?” Even leaned in, his hand coming up behind Isak and massaging between his shoulder blades.
Isak took in a deep breath and nodded, “Can you say it, please?”
Even smiled, “Come on,” he led them to the deck to gain the others’ attention.
“Aren’t you guys tall enough already,” Chris called out, beer in hand, arm slung around Noora’s shoulders.
“Yeah, rub it in!” Mahdi chimed in.
Even cleared his throat, “Actually, we have a sort of announcement to make.”
Jonas scooped up Lisa into his arms and held her on his shoulders. The three-year-old had so much energy.
Isak swallowed thickly and his eyes found Sana’s, narrowed and focused. She gently waved off whatever it was Yousef was saying to her and wouldn’t break her stare. Yousef rolled his eyes and without Sana even looking, she flicked his shoulder in reprimand.
There was a ringing in Isak’s ears. He almost didn’t hear Even speak, “Isak and I have decided to have a baby.”
Immediately, Vilde, Eva, Adam and Eskild rushed forward to hug Even and Isak as voices blended together shouting, “Congratulations!” and “Oh my God!” Soon the two of them were about a dozen people deep in a very large group hug. Lisa let out a high-pitched scream, leaning forward to wrap her arms around Even’s neck.
He laughed, “Come here, munchkin,” wrapping her in a hug. He quickly and carefully tipped her upside down, holding her by her waist and she squealed even louder with laughter. Even smiled at his best friend’s daughter. She reached forward and put her little hands on Isak’s shirt. Isak rescued her and held her upright on his hip. “What do you think, L?”
Her brown eyes went wide and then she looked down and put her hand on Isak’s abs. Her whispers came out louder than she intended, like much of what she said, “Is there a baby in there?”
Chris erupted in laughter as Isak’s face went red and Eva scooped her daughter up, “No, sweetie.”
“What is the plan?” Eskild asked hurriedly.
“Well,” Isak started, “We have an egg donor from the fertility center and our, uh, contributions are on ice, so we’re just looking for a surrogate now.”
Even added, “We have meetings lined up all week with potentials.”
“Who’s gonna, you know, be the actual father?” Magnus asked.
Elias gave him a quick but effective backhand. “They’re both gonna be actual fathers, dude.”
“I know that!” Magnus defended. He turned to Isak, “You know what I mean, right?”
Isak nodded, “We’re leaving it to chance.”
“What’s mine is yours,” Even smiled, pulling Isak into a tight hug at his shoulders. Isak was relieved to wrap his arms around Even’s waist.
They spent the next hour answering questions they mostly didn’t have the answers to.
“What will you name the baby?”
“When do you want to have the baby?”
“Will there be a baby shower?”
“Who’s going to be the godfather?”
Isak was overwhelmed, so he excused himself inside to grab more drinks and left Even to fend for himself. He had both hands on the counter and was just staring at his reflection in the glass cabinet in front of him with blank eyes when he heard the door open behind him. Sana’s reflection soon appeared in his line of vision.
“Hey bud,” she said, leaning back against the opposite counter.
Isak closed his eyes and smiled. He turned around, “Hey bud.”
“You okay?” she asked, folding her arms across her chest.
Isak nodded, avoiding a verbal answer since his heart was practically in his throat.
“Relax, Isak. You look like you’re about to throw up,” Sana spoke.
Isak rubbed at the back of his neck, scratching the skin there and turning it red, “Sana, I’m nervous.”
“No really?” she joked.
“I’m serious!” Isak retorted petulantly.
Sana nodded and walked over to him, “I know you are.” She took a place next to him and nudged his foot with hers. “Talk to me.”
Isak sighed, “I’m barely 23.”
Sana rolled her eyes, “Jonas and Eva were 19, Isak.”
“It’s not the same,” Isak argued.
“How?” Sana looked at him, puzzled.
“Well for one, they didn't plan for it, but it’s just-“
“Eva and Jonas love each other, yeah?” she asked, cutting him off.
“Yes,” Isak answered.
“And they love that little girl, yeah?” she continued.
“And that little girl is happy, yeah?” she kept on.
“Yes, Sana, but I just got into grad school, Sana!” he replied. “Shouldn’t I be choosing one over the other?”
“No, Isak. I know you. You’re being too scientific about this. Why can’t you have both?”
“I don’t know,” Isak muttered.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s really making you nervous?” she peered up at him.
“I don’t know!” Isak threw his arms up.
“Isak,” she pestered.
Isak took a deep breath, “Sana, I just. I want to do this, I do. I love Even. I want to have a family of our own with him, but,” his eyes were starting to well up.
“But?” Sana spoke softly, sensing Isak’s emotional distress.
“What if I’m not a good enough father? I want to be the best father there is, and I feel like it’s not fair for me to even try if it’s not guaranteed I’ll be the best father our child could have,” Isak spoke out in one breath. He pinched at the bridge of his nose trying to hold back the emotion that had already seeped out in his shaky voice.
“Isak Bech Naesheim Valtersen,” Sana spoke calmly, “I hate to break it to you, but my father is the best father there is. Sorry.”
Isak wiped angrily at his eyes, “Damn, Sana.”
“Isak, don’t you get it?” Sana shook her head, “All you have to do is try your best and your kid is going to know you’re the best father there is, okay?” Isak looked up at her, “And your kid will be extra lucky because they’ll have the two best fathers there are. And one day, they’ll tell their friends about how amazing their papa is. ‘My papa’s a doctor,’ it was my favorite thing to say growing up. You’re going to be that kid’s superhero, Isak.”
“Sana,” Isak wiped at his nose.
“You’re going to be a great father. You and Even both. And you’re going to do amazing things in grad school, okay?”
Isak’s laugh was caught in the thick emotion in his throat.
Sana pulled him into a hug, “You don’t have to choose, Isak. Plenty of people have kids during their Ph. D. program. You’re going to be fine. And it’s not just because I’m saying so, it’s because deep down, you know so, too, alright?”
Isak rested his cheek on top of her hijab, “You’re amazing, Sana Bakkoush.”
Even walked through the door and looked confused, “Everything okay here?”
Sana released Isak and walked over to Even, patting him on the shoulder before she left saying, “Just being Isak’s life coach again.”
Even laughed and turned back to look at Isak’s puffy red eyes. He strode over to him and rubbed his thumbs beneath Isak’s eyes, “Having a freak out, are we?”
Isak laughed and held onto Even’s wrists, keeping his warm palms on his face. He shut his eyes and breathed deeply, “I’m just really happy, Even.”
Even smiled and leaned in to kiss him, speaking against his lips, “I’m happy, too.”
Isak’s feet were propped up on the couch two nights later. He’d been reading papers to come out of the lab he was set to rotate in first starting in October and it had been exhausting and intimidating. Everyone in the lab had been published at least twice as undergrads and the principle investigator of the group had just been granted tenure. There was a lot to get through.
When Even came home, he quickly kicked off his shoes and settled on the couch, laying his head in Isak’s lap. Isak held the paper over Even’s chest and massaged Even’s scalp with his right hand. “Mmm,” Even hummed, “You’re so good at that.”
Isak smiled and brushed a thumb over Even’s contented cheek before returning his hand to his hair. “What are you reading?” Even asked.
“This postdoc in the lab did a cool study on ketoacidosis,” Isak explained, eyes still on the paper.
“Ketoacidosis?” Even asked.
Isak put the paper down, “Have you ever been at the gym and someone’s like really hardcore working out next to you, like looks like they haven’t chilled out ever, and their breath smells really acetone-y?”
Even thought about it, “Maybe?”
“Well, that’s basically what causes it. It’s too many ketone bodies in the blood,” Isak explained.
“What does it do to your blood?” Even asked, readjusting his head on Isak’s thigh.
“It like, lowers the pH, makes it too acidic,” Isak replied.
“Hmm,” Even hummed.
Isak smiled. He loved when Even feigned interest in Isak’s studies. “How was work today?”
“Mm, Sondre was on a whole other level today. He nearly made me cry behind the camera,” Even said.
“Hmm, emotional shoot then?” Isak asked.
“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” Even smiled.
“You wanna eat?” Isak asked.
Even lifted his head, “Did you make something?”
“Just spaghetti. I can heat it up, if you want,” Isak looked toward the kitchen.
Even sat up, “I’ll get it. Thanks, babe.”
A few minutes later, Even was sat down next to Isak, a giant bowl of spaghetti in his hands. “I kind of wanna watch Call Me By Your Name,” Even suggested. “Could you use a break from reading?”
“Sure, Isak,” Isak smiled.
Even leaned forward and kissed him, “Even,” he smiled.
About an hour into the film, the bowl had been discarded and a blanket was spread over their laps. Even was slumped down, his head resting on Isak’s chest. Isak had wrapped an arm around his shoulders. Right before one of Even’s favorite scenes, a knock came at the door.
Isak paused it, “Are you expecting anyone?”
Even shook his head, “No,” looking confused. “I’ll get it,” he stood up.
Isak could just barely hear Even speaking at the door, “Come in, come in.”
He turned around from his position on the couch. Linn was trailing behind Even. One of her socks had a hole at the big toe.
“Linn!” Isak smiled and stood to hug her, “What’s up?”
“Could I get some water?” she asked, avoiding Isak’s question in a very Linn fashion.
“One water coming up,” Even rushed off to the kitchen.
“Here, sit,” Isak gestured to the couch.
“Sorry I didn’t call beforehand, I just, I really had to come talk to you guys,” she explained, getting comfortable on the couch.
“Everything alright?” Isak asked. She’d been doing much better in the past few years. Shortly after Even graduated from Nissen, Linn quit drinking and got into art school. Isak hadn’t even known that she could draw despite living with her. But then again, Linn never did much drawing when she was down. For the past year though, she’d been working for a publishing house as an illustrator. It made it easy for her to work from home on her bad days.
“I’m fine. I promise. I just have this idea and I just have to know what you think,” she explained.
Even handed her the glass of water and sat down next to Isak.
“Thank you,” Linn replied, then promptly gulped down half the glass.
Even eyed Isak carefully. Isak just shrugged.
“So, you’re having a baby,” Linn finally said after lowering the glass from her mouth and holding it carefully in her lap.
Even nodded, “We’re trying anyway. Still haven’t found a surrogate, but we’re looking.”
Linn nodded, smiling, “Right. About that,” she said. She tapped the side of the glass nervously with her nails and then tucked some hair behind her ears.
The dots seemed to connect for Isak about three seconds before the words left Linn’s mouth.
“I want to carry your baby.”
Chapter 2: bread
In the spring of Isak’s last year at Nissen, Eskild called Even sometime between 03:00 and 04:00 one Sunday morning in April. Unlike Isak, Even had the miraculous skill of waking up to the sound and feel of vibrations whereas Isak nearly needed a live concert in his ear to even stir some mornings. So it wasn’t the call that woke him up. It was the jarring light being turned on and Even hopping around the room pulling on his pants and socks that had woken him.
“Ev, what is it?” Isak half-groaned, half-mumbled.
“Eskild,” Even spoke steadily into the phone, not even trying to keep his voice down anymore, “You need to take those away from her, okay? Don’t let her know you’re scared.”
Isak sat up, rummaging around the sheets until he was at the edge of the bed, “Even, what’s going on?”
Even sighed, “I’m sorry I woke you. Linn needs help. Do you want to come?”
Isak hadn’t even answered him, just pulled on his clothes and followed him out the door.
Eskild looked pale and had eye bags more distinctive than Isak’s had ever been, even when the nightmares had seemed like they would never stop.
“Thanks for coming, I just don’t know what to do. She’s never done anything like this before,” Eskild whispered.
Even hugged him briefly and kicked off his shoes. “Is she in the bathroom or her room?”
“Her room,” Eskild gestured.
“Did you clean up the bathroom?” Isak asked.
Eskild inhaled sharply and shook his head. Without a word, Isak made his way to the bathroom, first stopping to grab the broom and dustpan from the hall closet, quickly opening and shutting the door. He carefully swept the discarded red locks of hair into the dustpan, emptied them in the garbage, and tied it off. “I should have done that,” Eskild peered in from the doorway, “I’m sorry.”
“Hey,” Isak walked over to him and pulled Eskild down into a hug, rubbing his back, such a contrast to what Eskild and Isak’s relationship had been for so long.
“She needs help, Isak,” Eskild spoke quietly.
“I know,” Isak replied, still holding him close.
“I’m not enough anymore,” Eskild’s voice cracked.
Isak pulled back, “Don’t say that.” He dragged Eskild from the bathroom. “Come on. we’ll make tea.”
From the couch, Isak could see Even crouching over Linn’s small and huddled form. He was stroking his fingers through her jagged and mangled hair. He looked over his shoulder at Isak, “Hey, can you get me a band-aid?”
Isak nodded and rummaged through the medicine cabinet. He entered the room quietly, stopping briefly to hear, “It’s okay. You don’t have to know what’s wrong.”
Isak handed Even the bandage and watched as he carefully unwrapped it and applied it to the red cut on Linn’s palm. Isak sat down on the other side of Linn, his hand coming to rest on her shoulder. Linn didn’t move, barely even registered Isak was sitting next to her.
He found it an opportunity to look around Linn’s room. It was one of very few times he’d been inside and the only time he’d been inside when the lights were on. Linn’s walls were covered in drawings use multiple mediums, all of what appeared to be the same person.
“Who is this, Linn?” Isak asked, watching her blink slowly.
Linn’s eyes drifted to the walls and moved over the space steadily. She sighed, “My brother.”
In the years that Isak had known Linn, it was the first time she’d even mentioned him.
Linn’s upward climb started slowly and wasn’t anywhere near perfect. It started with Noora fixing her haircut. Then Eskild cleaned up her room. Then Even started going over to draw with her. Isak walked her to her first triage appointment. For the next year, everyone took it upon themselves to make sure someone accompanied Linn to and from each of her therapy appointments. Linn had a nice therapist who could handle her frankness and just roll with it.
Linn was rarely left alone with just her thoughts.
It was Elias who had one of the best ideas of all of them in that time, “She shouldn’t drink anymore.”
Yousef had agreed, “It can’t be helping her.”
Linn stopped drinking. She started sleeping at night and waking up in the morning, slowly but surely she started taking care of herself more. On weekends, Even and Noora cooked breakfast with her. Every month she made it to her little brother’s football games, Jonas, Eva and Mikael quick to join her. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, she attended an art class through the community center.
She enrolled in art school the same year Isak started his second year of university and within a year Linn had been hired by a publishing house to be an illustrator. It let her work from home when she needed and let her pick projects she wanted. To Isak’s delight, most of her projects were featured in anatomy books. Linn loved to draw the insides of people.
When she approached Isak and Even with the idea of carrying their baby, she’d gone over two years without relapsing into any major depressive episodes. She’d had bad days like everyone and sometimes much worse weeks than anyone, but she took care of herself and more. Her bedroom in the apartment she and Eskild had moved to after Noora moved out was filled with plants she nurtured herself.
Still, Isak had been nervous. Years had passed since Linn scared them that night and she was almost a whole new person now. Except she wasn’t. She was still Linn, just Linn plus more. Yet Isak didn’t want her to push herself.
“Linn, you don’t owe us anything if that’s what this is about,” Even said shortly after Linn had proposed the idea.
“Of course, I owe you guys, but that’s not why I want to do this,” Linn had explained.
Isak hadn’t been able to help it, “Why then?”
Linn had set down the water glass and stared at her knees, “So much life has been brought back into my world,” she explained. She looked up at the pair of them, her eyes settling on Isak’s hand resting on Even’s knee, Even’s hand resting on Isak’s. “I want to bring life into the world, too. There’s a universe out there where I never get the chance. I know what I want in this one.”
After several appointments with her therapist and another with Dr. Eriksson, it became official. The three of them signed the legal documents on a Tuesday in August. The three of them joined Eskild and Noora that night for a kollektivet reunion dinner.
Eskild was on his third glass of wine, his cheeks pink and lips red when he laughed, “Remember when we used to tease Even about being pregnant?”
Isak nearly choked on his Brussel sprout.
“Hey,” Even laughed, “I would totally do that now if it were possible.”
“You used to get so worked up. I swear, it was like the only thing that bothered you,” Noora grinned.
“No, he used to get bothered whenever Eskild put on that movie Split,” Linn added before drinking some water.
“What!” Eskild shrieked.
Even winced and Isak chuckled.
“You never told me that bothered you, Even. What the hell?” Eskild was acting all offended.
“Oh, come on,” Even conceded, “It’s easily the worst Shyamalan movie ever. I can’t believe you like that shit.”
Linn huffed, “It’s insensitive as fuck, too.”
Eskild groaned, “Well maybe if we had reinstated movie nights I would have started watching better movies.”
Isak rolled his eyes.
“Don’t roll your eyes for him!” Eskild barked.
Even pulled Isak in close by the shoulders and looked over at Eskild, “Why don’t we?”
Eskild’s jaw dropped, “Are you serious?”
Even smiled, “Why not? Go ahead and make up a schedule. We’ll try to stick to it.”
In September, Linn underwent the procedure. It was the same day Isak’s grad program orientation began. She had wanted to go alone and told them in the most Linn way possible, “You can be there when it comes out, not when it goes in.”
They of course respected Linn’s wishes.
That night over quiche, Isak stared at his phone and fought the urge to pick it up and dial Linn. They’d both received the text earlier in the day, short and sweet and entirely void of detail, “Procedure went well.”
“Damnit, Linn,” Isak dropped his fork and looked up at Even, “I know we should be patient and wait for her to offer us information, but I’m dying.”
“I know,” Even agreed, “But I’m sure everything’s fine. She’ll let us know once she’s taken a test, okay?” Even said, reaching across the table to hold Isak’s hand.
“I couldn’t even pay attention in orientation today. The speaker was a grad student in the lab I’ll be working in starting December and I couldn’t even listen to a word she said. She could have been talking about Beowulf for all I know,” Isak complained.
“Now I doubt that. She probably said something along the lines of ‘science science Ph. D. science’,” Even teased.
Even tried his best to distract Isak all night, asking all about the other students admitted to the program, asking about what papers he’d been reading. He even asked Isak to explain the urea cycle again.
That lasted all of about two hours before Even was yawning on the couch. Isak hit his chest with the back of his hand, “Come on, Even!”
“Ow! What was that for?” Even feigned hurt.
Isak groaned, “How are you so calm right now? I’m literally spiraling. I hate not knowing.”
Even lifted a hand to brush the hair off Isak’s forehead. “Hey, I’m not calm. I’m freaking out inside, too.”
“Really?” Isak asked, the anxiety slipping from his face.
Even nodded, “They sent me home from work early today because I couldn’t concentrate.”
“Oh no,” Isak sighed.
Even shook his head, “No, it’s fine. We only lost like an hour of shooting. Sondre had a football game anyway tonight.”
“Oh shoot, we should email his mom and go see a game soon. We haven’t gone in ages. He’s gonna be ten soon. We should get him a birthday gift,” Isak rambled.
“Okay, okay, Mr. SuperDad,” he pulled Isak to his chest, tucking his chin over his hair.
Isak sighed and relaxed against him. They lay there for a while, just breathing and listening to the nearly muted television playing Seinfeld. “I’m excited,” Isak spoke quietly.
“Me, too,” Even nodded.
Isak lifted his head moved to straddle Even’s lap. “What if it doesn’t happen, Ev? What if it didn’t work this time?”
Isak could tell Even didn’t like to consider that possibility. He just shrugged, “Then we try again.”
Isak was only semi-pleased with his answer. Even could tell.
“Hey, we’re going to be parents one way or another, okay?” Even assured him.
Isak nodded, “Talk about us being parents some more.”
Even eyed him carefully, but Isak couldn’t even be bothered to get embarrassed.
“Well,” Even thought, wrapping his arms around Isak’s waist, “When we’re parents, what do you want our child to call you?”
“Mr. Bech Naesheim Valtersen, sir,” Isak deadpanned.
Even was dumbfounded until Isak broke out into laughter. “I’m kidding!”
Even was laughing, too. Isak started playing with Even’s hair, his eyes drifting all of his face, “I think, ‘papa’ sounds fine.”
“I like that, too,” Even smiled.
“It’s okay if we’re both ‘papa,’ right?”
“Sure,” Even nodded. “I don’t care if I’m ‘other papa,’ as long as I get to be ‘papa’ with you.”
Isak laughed, “You’re such a flirt. You do realize we’re married, right? You don’t have to flirt like that anymore.”
A look of mock offense came over Even’s face, “Aer you kidding? I’ll flirt with you forever. I’ll keep flirting with you until we’re old and gray and our kid is a papa or a mama. And even then, I’ll keep flirting.”
Isak grinned and squirmed off Even’s lap pulling him up with him.
“Where are we going?” Even asked.
Isak slid his hands around Even’s hips, settling them strong and steady on his ass, “I’m taking you to bed, Mr. Bech Naesheim Valtersen.”
Even hooked his arms around Isak’s neck, “All this parent talk has you excited, hmm Mr. Bech Naesheim Valtersen?” Even said, so smug.
Isak didn’t even feel the need to roll his eyes. Instead, he rolled his hips against Even’s, watching the way his mouth dropped open and listening to how his breath hitched, “Mm, what do you think?”
Soon lips found skin and bodies found the mattress. Isak and Even tumbled in the sheets, wrapping themselves in each other. Learning about the future could wait a little longer.
Isak took the tram over to the set to watch Even finishing up filming for the day. He made sure to pull on the “Rockets Soccer Team” sweatshirt before he walked in, never wanting to disappoint Sondre.
He immediately saw Even talking with the sound guys and noticed almost all of the cast were nowhere to be found. They seemed to be already finished for the day.
“Isak!” he heard a voice cry out.
Sondre came barreling towards him, flinging himself at him.
Isak faked a groan as he lifted Sondre up and twisted him around, “How you doing, kid?”
“Even said I’m on fire today,” he beamed.
“I bet you were!” Isak smiled. He set the boy down and listen to him go on and on about the scene they had finished. The kid had had so much personality that day on the tram years ago. He should have known he’d be a child star in no time.
“Hey,” Even joined them, pecking Isak on the lips.
“Hey,” Isak kissed him back.
“Are you coming to my game on Sunday, Isak?” Sondre asked. “Even said you guys will probably come but maybe not since your school starts on Monday.”
“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Isak assured him, nudging Sondre’s chin playfully with his knuckle.
Sondre jumped in excitement and ran over to his mom to share the news.
“How was work?” Isak asked.
Even nodded, “That kid is gonna be a big star when he grows up.”
Isak hummed, “Good that casting director listened to you then, huh?”
Even laughed, “Remember you implied people should listen to me the next time you’re angry with me.”
“Me? Angry? What do you mean?” Isak teased.
Even through his arm around Isak’s neck, corralling him in at the elbow. “Come on, let’s go home.”
Isak knew he’d forgotten to turn on the entry-way light when he left the house this morning, but he thought nothing of it when he noticed it was on as Even unlocked the front door. He followed him inside, slipping off his shoes and pulling off the sweatshirt.
The lights suddenly flicked on and fifteen of their friends jumped from behind the couch and out of the hallways yelling “Surprise!”
Magnus tossed Even a bread roll who surprisingly caught it despite the look of awe on his face. Isak had a kosegruppa flashback.
“What’s going on?” Isak laughed, blood rushing to his face. They were all here, all their friend, in their house. Eskild must have let them in with the spare key.
“We made buns!” Vilde shouted, running forward to show him that, sure enough, she had a basket full of buns.
Even looked around, “Where’s Linn?”
“Why did you make so much bread?” Isak asked, taking in the literal bread baskets throughout their living room.
“She’s in the kitchen,” Sana smiled, grabbing Isak and Even by their hands and stringing them along.
Sure enough, Linn stood tall and proud, her long red hair falling gently around her healthy frame.
She smirked, “There’s a bun in the oven.”
Chapter 3: chocolate chip waffles
A strong heartbeat was filling the tiny exam room and Isak gripped Even’s thigh tighter. He would never get used to that beautiful sound.
“Would you like to know the sex?” the technician asked.
No. Isak was adamant, “No.” The word came out his mouth the exact moment Linn gasped “Yes!”
“Linn!” Isak shouted the same time Linn shouted, “Isak!”
Even laughed and Isak rolled his eyes. The nerve he had.
“Even, we talked about this. It was your idea,” Isak said, then turned his attention to the technician, “We’re going to wait until the baby’s born.”
“Isak, I’m covered in goo,” Linn gestured to her swollen tummy, “And my boobs hurt. I’m hungry and finally stopped throwing up this week. Let me have this.”
The technician eyed them carefully then placed the device down. “I can step outside for a bit if you want to talk it out,” she offered.
“No need,” Even stood up, “We’ll just wait outside, won’t we, Isak?” He was reaching his hand out to Isak as if he hadn’t just betrayed him.
“Are you kidding me?” Isak deadpanned. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“What?” Even asked, eyebrows furrowing.
“It’s Linn!” Isak explained, exasperated. “She doesn’t filter herself. Like at all. She’s going to blab to everyone and someone’s going to slip up and tell us. It won’t be a surprise anymore.”
“You little shit!” Linn laughed. “You’re unbelievable.”
“See?” Isak pleaded with Even.
“Just a minute, please,” Even had turned to the tech and Linn. “We’ll be right back.” He took Isak’s elbow in his hand and led him to the hallway despite Isak’s frustration.
Isak immediately stamped his foot once the exam room door closed. “Are you kidding me, Even?”
“Look at you. You’re throwing a tantrum,” Even laughed.
Isak dropped his head back and closed his eyes, “I cannot believe you right now.”
Even sat in one of the uncomfortable chairs, “Come sit, baby.”
“Don’t ‘baby’ me when I’m angry,” Isak argued, but he conceded anyway, plopping down next to his husband.
“I don’t think we can really stop Linn from finding out. And I don’t think it would be right of us to.”
“But everyone around us is going to know before we do! We talked about this,” Isak argued.
Even sighed, “Isak.” He lifted his hand to thread his fingers comfortably through the hair at the base of Isak’s neck. He shook him a little. Isak felt himself almost melt, the tension leaving his body at the familiar gesture. “The only person who will ever actually know is our kid. If we have a daughter and we call her by a girl’s name and one day they come to us and tell us they’re a he, well, then that’s that. We’re going to listen to him and respect that, right?”
Isak nodded, “I know.” He relaxed his shoulders.
Even smiled, “I kind of hate gender reveals. It’s so weird that people just assign identities to other people before they’re even self-aware.”
Isak laughed. He could have sworn he heard Even’s reply in Jonas’ voice. “Okay, okay, keep reminding me how Jonas is actually your soulmate.” He shoved him playfully, standing up.
“You take that back!” Even dropped his jaw. He stood up quickly and wrapped his arms around him, pulling Isak’s back to his chest and locking his arms across Isak’s. “Take it back,” he smiled into his shoulder.
“Or what?” Isak teased.
“I’ll go in there and ruin the surprise for you right now,” Even threatened.
He rolled his eyes, “Fine, I take it back.”
“Good,” Even kissed his cheek, “You’re it for me, baby.”
“You’re it for me, too,” Isak grinned.
“I mean it, though. Even if our friends slip up, it’s not going to change how we raise and love our child,” Even reminded him.
Isak nodded, “You’re right. It just feels like it’s all happening so fast and too slow at the same time, you know?”
“I know,” Even agreed, “I just want them to be here already.”
“June will be here before we know it.”
It feels like finally coming up for air after being held under water. Isak was in so much distress, he was swamped with the crushing pain in his lungs as his heart pounded against the inside of his chest. There wasn’t enough air.
“Like me, baby. Breathe like me,” he heard Even’s voice. Isak’s eyelids fluttered as he tried to focus on Even’s voice and Even’s hands. They were wrapped around him, not suffocating, just stabilizing, palm flat against his chest, his other hand steadily pushing Isak’s sweaty hair back from his face.
“Come on,” Even took a deep breath and Isak could feel the way his chest moved against his back. “Breathe like me, Isak. Come on, breathe with me, baby.”
Isak didn’t realize how tightly he was gripping the sheets until the hand that was in his hair came to rest on top of his balled up fist. He tried his best to relax, the rise and fall of his chest still wildly erratic. He turned his head to lean his cheek against Even’s warm skin and let go of the sheets. Even returned his hand to Isak’s hair, gently embracing him and holding his big palm against Isak’s sweat-slick forehead.
“Okay, three good breaths, alright?” Even comforted.
Isak nodded slightly. On the first breath, his exhale was so shaky his whole body shivered. On the second breath, he was a second behind Even’s exhale. On the third, he matched his rhythm.
“There you go,” Even smoothed Isak’s hair away from his face once more, “We’re just gonna breathe together.”
Isak willed himself to relax, mind clearing of everything but the sensation of Even’s warm body inhaling and exhaling steadily with him.
Before much time at all passed, Isak was almost lulled back to sleep but pulled from his weariness when Even shifted behind him, “Do you want to shower, Isak?”
“What time is it?” Isak finally spoke, eyes closed. His voice sounds so broken. He hopes he hadn’t woken Even screaming.
“Almost 1,” Even rubbed his shoulder.
Isak just nodded.
“Can you stand?” Even asked carefully.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Isak sighed.
Even just kissed the side of his face. He gave up refusing Isak’s apologies years ago. Once Isak explained to him that saying sorry felt like he still had some control over his body, Even never refused an apology after a nightmare again.
Isak stood slowly as if his back was stiff or he wasn’t sure his legs would work. If he were perfectly honest with himself, it wouldn’t be the first time he collapsed after such a stressful dream. Even now, being awake for what feels like maybe twenty minutes, the dream was already slipping away from him, just blurry wisps and tormented fragments receding from his mind.
Even turned on the shower for him, making sure it was warm enough to soothe Isak’s tense muscles but not too hot as if to scald him. “I’m gonna change the sheets. Take your time,” Even assured him as he turned to leave the bathroom.
Isak put a weak hand on his shoulder, “Thank you.”
Even just smiled slightly, “I’ll bring you some clothes from the bedroom.”
The warm water is the best medicine. Isak’s tried a lot of them. They all seem to lose their power after a while, but something about the warm shower after a nightmare helps wash away the trauma, even just by a little.
After ten minutes or so, Isak shuffled back to the bedroom, sweatpants bunched loosely around thick socks and an wearing oversize long sleeve that enveloped him in warmth. He paused in the doorway. Even has already changed the sheets and set a glass of water on the bedside table. When he notices Isak, he stopped scribbling his notes into the margins of a screenplay he was squinting at. The man needs reading glasses. Isak’s been telling him for months.
“Feeling better?” Even asked, setting the papers aside.
Isak nodded slightly after a beat.
“Come lie down?” Even asked as he lifted up the blankets in an invitation.
Isak kneeled onto the edge of the bed and shuffled forward until he was right where he wanted to be. The way he curled into Even, siphoning off his comfort, used to embarrass him. He had always felt so weak and like he was wrongly using Even. Now, it’s a welcome remedy, clinging to Even’s abdomen, laying his head on his chest, and tangling their legs together. Without hesitation, Even ran his big hand over Isak’s back, stopping here and there to rub the tension out of his muscles. After a few minutes when his hands stilled and Isak’s stopped shifting impossibly closer, Even asked him, “What happened?”
Isak bit his lip. He’s gotten better at sharing over the years, but it still makes him feel uneasy. “I didn’t know where I was. It was really dim. I couldn’t really see anything. But I could hear someone crying. I couldn’t find them.”
“Who was crying?” Even asked.
“I’m not sure,” Isak pressed his nose closer to Even’s skin. “They sounded young. Like a kid.”
Even hummed, taking in the information.
Isak spoke quietly when he said, “I think it was our baby, Ev.”
“Our baby?” Even pressed.
“I think our baby was crying and I couldn’t help him.”
“Him?” Even breathed.
Isak nodded, “Just a feeling. I don’t know.”
Even hugged him closer, “It’s okay, Isak. Babies cry sometimes.”
“But I couldn’t help him,” Isak insisted.
“You were trying, Isak. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Even assured him.
“Even?” Isak asked, head lifting up to look at him.
“When our kid has nightmares, you’ll let him sleep with us, right?” Isak asked.
“What do you mean?” Even looked confused.
“I mean, if he comes into our room after a bad dream, you’ll let him sleep in our bed, right? You won’t send him back to his room, right?” Isak asked, voice cracking at the end.
“Oh, Isak,” Even sighed, brushing his damp hair out of his eyes. “Of course, baby. I promise.”
Isak knew Even understood what Isak was trying to tell him. His own father had sent him away so many times in the night when he was scared and alone. He could feel Even’s empathy, not a hint of pity when he shifted his body down to press a soft kiss to Isak’s lips.
“Promise you’ll tell our kid that we love him for the both of us when I can’t, okay?” Even asked in return. Isak nodded. He knew there would be times when Even would be unreachable for a while, disconnected from the world. It didn’t mean his love for his family would ever stop.
“I promise,” Isak replied.
“Thank you,” Even whispered.
“I love you,” Isak punctuated with a slow kiss.
Even smiled in return, “I love you.”
He held Isak a little closer that night, and Isak spent the rest of the early January morning in a dreamless sleep.
The morning of Even’s birthday, by some miracle, Isak woke up before Even. He had hoped this would be the case, but could never be sure with his internal clock. He hadn’t wanted to set an alarm because chances were Even would hear it, too.
He carefully slipped out of bed and stepped into his ‘old man slippers’ as Even called them. It was freezing in the kitchen, so he turned on the space heater and then set himself to work. He’d gotten the recipe from Even’s dad the day before when they’d had lunch with them, the perfect chocolate chip waffles for a birthday breakfast in bed.
Even though the prep time says five minutes, it takes Isak fifteen. He cursed to himself quietly when he spilled baking soda on the floor. He nearly burns himself on the waffle maker but nearly twenty minutes later, he has a stack of chocolate chip waffles with powdered sugar and syrup drizzled across the top on a big plate.
He started walking back to the bedroom with the plate in his hand when he realized he’d forgotten a fork. “Fuck,” he muttered to himself.
Quietly, Isak opened the utensil drawer and fished out a fork then closed it gently. Huffing slightly and blowing the hair out his eyes, Isak walked back to their bedroom and opened the door carefully.
Even had shifted to the middle of the bed, sprawled out like a starfish with his mouth fallen open and hair wild at the back of his head. Isak has never seen someone so beautiful.
He set the plate down gently and then sat next to Even, placing a tentative hand on his lower back. He traced his fingertips across Even’s skin, watching goosebumps rise in their path. A muffled sigh came from Even as he readjusted his head on the pillow. Isak continued, curling his fingers to scratch lightly.
Even moaned and opened his eyes blearily. “What are you doing up?” he croaked. Isak laughed. Looking baffled, Even picked up his phone from the dresser, “Isak, it’s Sunday. Are you okay?”
Isak shoved his shoulder playfully, “Stop fucking around and eat your birthday breakfast, you old man.”
Even grinned mischievously, “You made me breakfast?”
Isak nodded, “Chocolate chip waffles just like your dad makes.”
Even twisted around and sat up with newfound vigor, “I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Whoa!” Isak’s eyes widened. “At least someone’s happy to see me!” Even’s morning wood stood tall in his loose, plaid pajama pants.
Even rolled his eyes, “It’s your fault.”
“My fault, huh?” Isak played along.
Even gestured to the prominence beneath the plate in his hands, “Every birthday for five years you woke me up to your mouth on him, he’s bound to get greedy.”
“Is that so?” Isak laughed, scooting closer.
Even, still looking very serious just nodded as he cut up the waffles, “You know what they say, give a dick a blowjob…”
Even placed a fluffy bit of waffle in his mouth just as Isak smacked his thigh. The action startled Even and made him start laughing with waffle in his mouth.
“Mmm,” Even moaned after a second bite, “Is Dad here?”
“No, why would he be here?” Isak asked, shaking his head.
“You made these?” Even’s eyebrows rose.
“Ohhh, you asshole. Keep pushing it, see if my mouth goes anywhere near you today,” Isak half-heartedly threatened. When he moved to stand up from the bed Even quickly reached for his arm.
“Nooo, stay,” he whined.
Isak smiled and leaned in, lips inches from Even’s chocolate syrupy mouth, “Happy birthday, babe.”
Even closed the distance and kissed him. He smiled against Isak’s lips, “So sweet.”
Isak darted forward and licked Even’s lips, “It’s the syrup.”
Even shook his head and brought a hand up to the back of Isak’s neck, “Uh uh, it’s you.” He kissed him again, guiding Isak’s head to tilt then moving his hand to his cheek to pull apart his lips more.
Even set the plate on the dresser whilst kissing Isak deeper. Isak really wanted Even to finish his waffles, but he wanted Even more. Even’s hands were grazing up and down his back, one slipping beneath the hem to splay flat across his skin, urging him closer.
Isak yanked up at the back of his shirt, pulling it over his shoulders and off. Even groaned. Isak smirked, he knew what it did to him. Even leaned forward, pushing Isak’s backward on the bed, and attacked his neck, sucking and kissing and licking – driving him crazy.
Isak’s breath quickened as he moved his hands up and down Even’s long arms that were bracketing his head. He joked, “Mmm, is it my birthday?”
Even moved his hand down to palm Isak through his boxers. Isak moaned, moving his hips in rhythm with Even’s palm. Even moved his hand away and Isak almost whimpered. Even’s wrist hooked underneath Isak’s thigh and he was hiking it up to rest Isak’s ankle against his back and aligning their groins. His hand slid further, cupping the shape of Isak’s ass and squeezing gently. His lips came back up to Isak’s chin and then landed on his mouth, “Do you want to?” Even punctuated the question with a roll of his hips.
Isak nodded, a loss for words, putting his mouth to better use by leaning up to kiss at Even’s neck.
Even was gentle and careful as always, taking a little too much time opening Isak up. When he was finally inside, Isak’s chest was flushed red and heaving. “Kiss me,” he demanded over and over again, “Kiss me kiss me kiss me,” Isak chanted between kisses and thrusts.
He felt his body shifting ever so slightly down the foot of the bed, head inching closer and closer to the edge as Even panted above him, rolling his hips with such precision right where Isak wanted him, right where Isak needed him. His hair was floppy and damp, dancing off his forehead as he moved against Isak’s body. Isak reached down to grip Even’s hips, pulling him closer, impossibly closer.
Even buried his head in Isak’s neck, gnawing insistently at his skin, “I’m close, baby. Are you close?”
“Yes,” Isak gasped, his hands finding purchase in Even’s hair.
Even moaned and reached between their bodies, wrapping a hand around Isak to bring him closer to the edge.
Isak’s eyes rolled in the back of his head as head dropped over the end of the bed and pleasure overtook him. When he opened his eyes again, Even was kissing him under his chin and very gently pulling out.
“Mmm,” Isak hummed, smiling when Even laid down fully on top of him.
“You’re amazing,” Even swore, nuzzling his nose against Isak’s ear.
“I can’t move,” Isak laughed.
Even lifted himself up, “That good, huh?”
Isak rolled his eyes and propped himself up on his elbows. Normally, he’d feel like teasing him, making some kind of joke about how he was trapped beneath a giraffe, instead he ran a hand up and down Even’s arm, “Sensational.”
Even grinned and kissed him quick on the lips. He got up from the bed in search of a towel and returned to Isak to help clean them up. “So,” he began, “I’m thinking we finish breakfast, take a shower, you do that thing, we do some more shopping for the nursery, and then come back for round two. How’s that?” He wriggled his eyebrows mischievously.
Isak laughed, “Anything on your day.”
Isak and Even sat cross-legged on the bed as they shared waffles, licking syrup and chocolate off each other’s mouths.
“What do you think of this one, Ev?” Isak said, looking over his shoulder to find that Even had disappeared. “Even?”
“Over here!” Even called. “What do you think?”
“Ohh,” Isak understood. “It’s perfect.” They’d been looking for the perfect crib for a few weeks now. Isak liked the simple brown look to it. It didn’t have any sharp edges and the side was adjustable.
“Look, it turns into a frame for a twin,” Even pointed to the diagram on the side of the box.
“Do you think we can build it?” Isak asked.
“Why not?” he shrugged.
“Okay, yeah, I like this one. We should just do it.”
“That’s the spirit!” Even smiled, “Plus, the boys are coming over tonight. They can help us out.”
Isak knew more than just the boys were coming over that night, but he kept that information to himself as he and Even talked to a salesman and then loaded the crib into the car.
Round two wore out Even more than Isak had planned, but it was okay if he napped. He had some tidying to do anyway. He’d left out the dishes and mess from breakfast, including the baking powder. Everyone would be coming over in a couple hours for a surprise dinner for Even. Yousef, Noora and a reluctant Sana had spent hours cooking and would be on their way over soon to finish cooking and help set up. Plus, Mahdi and Mutta were bringing extra chairs for the living room to fit everybody.
When Noora knocked on the door, Even was still sleeping soundly in the bedroom. Isak opened the door to see Eskild and Linn had come early as well.
Noora walked right in with plates and tuberware full of delicious smelling food, “Yousef and Sana are right behind us,” she explained.
Linn walked in behind her greeting Isak with a hug.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“My ankles hurt like bitch and I’m dying for some cake,” Linn joked.
“Isak!” Eskild shouted, wrapping him in a hug as well, “Where’s Even?”
“Sleeping!” Isak whisper-shouted.
“Ohh, sorry,” Eskild shrugged, “Who naps on their birthday?” Eskild’s eyes went wide, “You sexed him up real good didn’t you?”
“Eskild!” Isak groaned.
“Ohh, pfft,” Eskild rolled his eyes, “You give me hope, Isak. So many married couples hardly have any sex anymore and when they do, it’s vanilla as fuck. Keep up the hard work,” Eskild chided.
When Sana and Yousef arrived with Elias in tow, Even appeared from the bedroom wiping blearily at his eyes in boxers and a t-shirt to find out what was going on. “Sana?” he blinked a few times.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” Isak popped his head over from the kitchen. “Surprise!”
“What’s going on?” Even smiled.
“Everybody’s coming over for dinner,” Linn explained, standing up from the couch.
“Linn!” Even smiled wider, “I didn’t see you there!”
She rolled her eyes, “That’s nearly impossible. I’m like one of those giant Mylar balloons.”
“Stop,” Even laughed, “You look beautiful.”
“Isn’t she glowing?” Noora asked.
“Positively,” Even agreed. “Just give me a minute, I’m gonna put some clothes on.”
“No need!” Eskild shouted. Isak elbowed him. “Ouch, relax. If I was gonna steal Even from ya, I would have done it years ago, baby.”
When everyone else arrived in pastel covered bags and wrapped boxes, Isak thought nothing much of it. If anything, he was a little jealous that their friends hadn’t given him as many presents when he turned 23. At the thought, he internally asked himself What, are you six?
They all gathered in the living room to eat cake when Vilde stood up to announce that it was present time. Lisa, who was balancing on Jonas’ knee and had chocolate frosting all over her mouth declared loudly, “Mine first! Mine first!” She hopped off Jonas’ knee and leaned up to whisper loudly in Eva’s ear, “Mama, where’s the present?”
Everyone laughed and Lisa blushed violently. “The orange bag right there,” Eva gestured, while wiping the frosting off her mouth.
Lisa practically hopped over and sat between Even and Isak while Even pretended to be so excited to open her gift. Wrapped in tissue paper were a pair of tiny green socks with giraffes on them. “Oh thank you, Lisa,” Even smiled, “Not sure I can fit in these, but they are very nice, thank you!” he ruffled her hair.
“No, silly!” she laughed, “They’re for the baby! There’s more!”
Isak started to put the pieces together as Even pulled more tiny clothes wrapped in tissue paper from the bag. Eva and Jonas had exclusively bought Even presents for the baby.
“We don’t really know when adults stop getting gifts that are for them, but we figure 26 is as good a year as any,” Jonas explained.
Isak held up the yellow onsie in his hands and almost couldn’t believe how small and light the clothing was. He felt his eyes prickling with almost tears but wouldn’t let them fall.
Each of their friends had brought gifts for the baby – clothes and diapers and bottles and baby books and blankets and stuffed animals and everything a baby could need.
“You all didn’t have to do this,” Even explained, voice choked with emotion, “But I’m really glad you did. We appreciate this so much,” Even announced for the both of them.
Linn hadn’t given them anything, except really, she was giving them everything. “And Linn, thank you for the gift of life,” Isak added.
“Actually,” she stood carefully and walked over to sit between them in the spot Lisa had evacuated, “I’ve got a little something, too.” She lifted her shirt over her bump and carefully placed Even’s hand to one side.
Even gasped and looked up at her and over to Isak.
“Is-“ Isak started but Even was already nodding, tears filling his bright blue eyes.
Isak reached over and Even guided his hand under his. Isak closed his eyes and felt their baby kick for the first time.
Even was crying and Isak was wiping the tears from under his eyes. “This is the best birthday. Thank you,” Even laughed through his tears. “Thank you, all of you.”
Isak looked around the room at all of the happy faces and kind eyes his child would someday get to love, too.
Chapter 4: pizzas
Isak really liked the director of his lab. After three rotations in his first year, he was happy to get lucky with the third lab. His director, Dr. Ramires, was barely 170 cm but he packed a punch. The Portuguese scientist was bigger than his body. He talked about glycoproteins with such admiration and astonishment it was nearly romantic. He wore a Ronaldo jersey beneath his lab coat and scared the hell out of the students in his undergrad class by starting the first lecture speaking only a very fast Portuguese. They came to love him too once they realized he was messing with him.
Isak felt like he belonged in the lab. He, three other Ph. D. students, one Master’s student, three post-docs, and an undergraduate intern were sort of like Dr. Ramires’ kids. He would invite them over for football games and barbecues and took them all out for beers every time a grant was accepted or a research paper was published. He even remembered Even’s birthday and gave him and Isak symphony tickets. He was just that kind of guy and Isak admired him.
Despite all this, Isak was nervous as hell to walk into his office that Friday in May.
“Hey Rúben,” Isak called as he knocked on the cracked door.
“Come in,” Dr. Ramires’ voice muttered from behind his computer. His glasses had fallen far down the bridge of his nose and he adjusted them before looking up. “Oh, hey Isak. How are the results of that Western blot?”
Isak lifted his wrist to look at his watch, “Oh it won’t be done until 17:00 today, but I’m going to stay late tonight.”
“All good, you’re always on top of it, Valtersen.”
Isak stood there beaming. Something about being complimented by the man sent pride surging through him. Rúben smiled with a confused look on his face when Isak said no more, “Something I can help you with?” He closed the laptop to give Isak his full attention.
“Actually, I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Isak started, taking a seat in one of the chairs.
“My husband - Even and I, we’re um, we’re expecting a baby,” he spoke.
Dr. Ramires beamed, “That’s great! Congratulations, Isak. And when’s the due date?”
“The 20th of next month,” Isak filled in.
“Ahh, I see. Been keeping a secret, haven’t you?” Dr. Ramires sat back in his squeaky chair.
Isak tensed and nodded, “I’m sorry. I just didn’t know how to tell you and I feel like I shouldn’t be bringing my personal life into work and all.”
“Slow down, kid,” Rúben laughed.
Isak relaxed into the chair.
“You’re going to be twenty-five soon, yeah?”
“Right, right,” Rúben nodded.
“Look, I know I’m young and I probably should have told you sooner. I understand if you don’t want me to work in the lab anymore,” Isak started talking quickly again, working himself up.
“Isak, Isak!” Rúben just shook his head. “Come on, kid, let’s take a walk.”
Isak’s director took him on a walk around the building and through a courtyard that lead to a small but hidden grove. “I didn’t even know this existed.”
Rúben sat down on one of the stone benches. “I come here to eat lunch sometimes. Or when I’m too overwhelmed in the lab, I come here and just listen to the trees.”
“The trees?” Isak raised an eyebrow.
“The trees,” he tilted his head to the side, “Well, the wind through the trees and birds in the branches, you know what I mean,” he shrugged.
“Sir?” Isak started, sitting at the bench across from him.
“You’re not quitting my lab, son. Not if I have any say about it,” he explained.
“Well thank you,” Isak began again.
“But if I see you around here any earlier than three months after your child’s born, I’ll kick you out myself,” he spoke solemnly.
“What?” Isak was confused. Typically, parent’s got 6 months to a year for maternity/paternity leave. Though since Isak was a student technically, they didn’t really apply.
“I want you to take time off. When your child’s born, go home. Do the dad thing. Just be a dad, only a dad, for at least three months, okay? Then you come back in August or September and we figure out your schedule,” Rúben finished.
“But what about?” Isak was shocked. He’d expected maybe a month’s leave would be generous, never did he think he would be given an entire summer.
“Train Karoline. She’s a bright student and the best undergrad I’ve ever had. You need all that genomic data to even write a semi-decent publication anyway. She can data mine for you while you’re gone. You’re paid on stipend and I determine how it’s distributed. You’ll have a reduced paid leave so I can make this a summer internship for her.”
“Rúben, I don’t know what to say,” Isak was speechless.
“Say you’ll train Karoline. Say you’ll let her keep working on the project when you’re back. Say you’ll publish her as a coauthor,” he asked.
It was all very reasonable. “Of course. All of the above. Rúben, Dr. Ramires, I can’t thank you enough for how kind you’ve been to me and to Even.”
Rúben rose his hand as if to keep Isak from thanking him further. “You know Rosalind Franklin, yes?”
Isak nodded in recognition.
“Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. She’s right. I don’t ever want you to think you have to choose between being a great scientist and a great father. You can certainly be both. And you will be both – scientist and father – but let me make this as clear as I can because it’s really important,” Rúben said, “Isak, you are first and foremost, a father. You should never be more worried about disappointing the scientific community than disappointing your child.”
“I want to be the best father I can be. I promise,” Isak swore.
“When my daughter, Marina, was nineteen, she sat her mother and I down at the dinner table and she tried to tell us something. She was crying. I’d never seen my daughter more scared, and I mean genuinely scared. She told us she was gay.”
“I didn’t know that,” Isak swallowed. Dr. Ramires talked about his daughters all the time, but he’d never mentioned anything about Marina’s sexuality before.
“I have to tell you, Isak, it took me by complete surprise. I just never suspected. Apparently, she’d been struggling for years to tell us, nervous for reasons I don’t even know. I told her it was okay and I was proud of her and hugged her tight and said, and I’ll always regret this, ‘I just need to get to know you again’,” Dr. Ramires explained. “And you know what she said to me?”
Isak shook his head, slightly unnerved by the sincerity with which his director was speaking, “She said, ‘You already know me, Papa,’ and then I was the one crying!” He laughed half-heartedly. “It’s true. I do know my daughter, but maybe not as well as she’d hoped – certainly not as much as I thought. But I’ll always feel like I hadn’t been paying attention enough. That if I’d paid more attention, she wouldn’t have felt so scared to tell me and that it wouldn’t have been such a surprise to me. And I understand it’s hard to come out, I do. But I always think back to what I could have done differently or what I could have said differently that would have made it easier on her.”
Isak blinked back the saltwater in his eyes. Part of him wished his own father had spent this much time thinking about him. He doubted he did. It was always easier to just not talk about things.
“The point I’m trying to make here, Isak, without completely falling apart at the seams, is that I don’t want you to wake up one day at 46 and not recognize your daughter or your son. I want you to pay attention. It’ll make you a better father, a better husband, and a better scientist.” He stood up from the bench, “Come on now. I want you tell the rest of the lab group if you’re ready.”
Isak stood, unable to keep back everything he was feeling, and hugged the short man tightly, “Thank you. Thank you so much,” Isak spoke. He hoped Dr. Ramires could feel how grateful he was.
When he arrived home that evening, feeling warm and sentimental, he was surprised to find Even lying on the couch, script in hand and reading glasses settled on his nose.
“Glasses?” Isak shouted, “You finally got glasses!”
“Hey,” Even laughed sitting up to make room for Isak, “Don’t mock me!”
“I’m not mocking you, baby,” Isak replied, “I just can’t believe you finally did it. Plus, you look hot with them, very ‘young new dad’ you know?” He sat down by Even’s feet, pulling them into his lap and massage them.
Even laughed, “Oh good. I was feeling old in them. I think they make me look more like papa than mama. She thought papa had FaceTime’d her when I did today. She’s so full of it.”
“What made you finally do it?” Isak asked.
“Monday, I filmed an entire ten-minute scene out of focus. If Mari hadn’t noticed, the entire episode would have gone that way,” Even admitted.
“Aww, Ev,” he laughed, “I’ve been telling you!”
Even lifted one of his feet around Isak’s body to trap him sideways between his legs, scooting forward. He wrapped his arms around Isak’s chest and kissed his cheek, “Thanks for always nagging me about getting glasses. Just goes to show how much you love me.”
“I just paid attention is all,” Isak shrugged, “You were always squinting trying to read stuff up close.”
“Don’t you think they’re the same?” Even nudged him.
“Love, and attention,” Even explained.
“Dr. Ramires said something like that today. Are you too conspiring together?” Isak smiled.
Even shook his head, “How did that go today? Did he take it well?”
Isak nodded, “So well, Even. So fucking well.”
“Yeah?” Even pulled back to look Isak in the eye, still holding his arms around him.
Isak smiled so wide his cheeks hurt, “Long story short, he’s giving me paid leave for the summer. He doesn’t want me back in the lab until August the earliest.”
“What?!” Even nearly shrieked. “Are you kidding?”
“Nope,” Isak affirmed.
“I know,” Isak laughed.
But then, very seriously. “You’ve gotta talk me up when I go back to work, Even. You’ve gotta tell him how great his papa is when I’m at work,” Isak said seriously.
“Isak,” Even sighed, “He’ll be a baby. He won’t understand shit.”
“I don’t care!” Isak kept on, “You get three more months than me spending every minute of every day with him. Promise me?”
Even succumbed, holding up his pinky which Isak quickly linked around his own.
“You’re so dramatic.”
Isak rolled his eyes, further proving Even’s point.
“Mhm, I can’t believe it. Isak Valtersen – house husband – stay at home papa,” Even teased.
“Oh shut up,” Isak shoved him, forgetting the grip Even had on him and tumbling down with him.
“I love you,” Even laughed, leaning up to kiss Isak all over his face, forgetting about the glasses.
“Careful,” Isak laughed, taking them off his face and setting them on the coffee table. He leaned down and kissed Even deeply. “Mmm, that’s better.”
“You know what we haven’t done in a while?” Even hummed.
“Make out on the couch,” Even wiggled his eyebrows.
“What? Like a couple of teenagers?” Isak laughed.
“Exactly,” Even grinned, dipping down to kiss at Isak’s neck.
Isak closed his eyes, humming contentedly.
Even shifted his legs wider so Isak could fit between them better and kissed him hungrily, a hand playing in his hair. Isak couldn’t help laughing when Even reached the other hand down to grab at Isak’s ass.
“Why are you laughing?” Even laughed back.
“You are, too!” Isak was red in the face.
“Sooo,” Even punctuated with a peck, “What’s so funny?”
Isak laughed again, thinking back to how mortifying it had been in the moment, the memory that was resurfacing now. “Remember when Jonas walked in on us that one time?”
“You mean ‘Jonas isn’t waking up anytime soon’,” mocked Isak’s confidence.
Isak rolled his eyes. “Good thing we have nothing to worry about this time.”
Even paused at that, “In just six weeks we won’t be the only ones in the house.”
Isak froze. “It’s crazy. Part of me wishes he’d be here tomorrow.”
“And the other part?”
“The other part is terrified,” Isak admitted.
“I know,” Even agreed, wrapping his arms around Isak’s lower back. “I think all new parents feel that. But we’re ready. We’ve got time off work, the nursery’s all set up, we’re set on diapers for months.”
“Magnus really went overboard didn’t he?” Isak laughed.
“All our friends did,” Even admitted. “All we bought was the crib and the changing table.”
“And Adam made us that rocking chair, holy shit,” Isak added.
“I know right!” Even was getting excited. He sat up, pulling a heavy Isak with him. “Come on,” he started walking him down the hallway.
Even flipped on the light and Isak’s heart swelled. He would never grow tired of looking at the room they’d created. They both knew they wanted light blue walls and yellow curtains. There were hand-painted animals dancing around the room and stuffed animals everywhere.
“This is my favorite part,” Isak flipped the light back off to look up at the galaxy that appeared on the ceiling. Even had spent months painting all of the tiny glow in the dark stars and planets.
“You’re giving him the universe,” Isak smiled, wrapping his arms around Even.
“We’ll give him all of them,” Even agreed.
“How is Linn?”
It was the first question Even’s mom asked every time they were together.
“Nice to see you, too, Ma,” Even laughed.
“Oh, of course of course, but really, how is she?”
“She’s doing great. She texts us about every hour to complain about her ankles, but we don’t mind,” Isak filled in.
“She’s an angel, that woman,” Liv laughed. “When I was pregnant with this one, I use to yell at George that I was just gonna cut my feet off. He was such a pain.”
“Liv dear, you’re being morbid again,” George called in from the kitchen.
Liv rolled her eyes, “Come on boys, I have something for you.”
She led them through the flat to the living room making them both sit on the couch and close their eyes. Isak could sense her bringing something into the room. He knew the gifts would never stop with them. Even’s parents had already spoiled them so much.
“Open!” Liv ordered excitedly.
Isak’s eyes landed on a gray bassinet with a tiny little space perfect for a baby.
“Is that?” Even blinked, “Ma, how in the world do you still have that?”
“She never throws away anything,” George muttered. Liv hit his stomach with the back of her hand.
“That was mine,” Even explained. “I’ve seen it in pictures.”
“I’ve been holding onto it. You never had any siblings so I figured I would just keep it for you until the time came,” Liv spoke quickly. “When they’re so little, you just want to be around them all the time. And if she or he starts crying in the night, you’ll want to be right there for him.” She used her hand to slightly rock the bassinet. “It sways too, gently, you see?”
Even stood and hugged his mom, “I love it. I love you. Thank you,” he gripped her tightly.
“So, Isak,” George started, “Wouldn’t it be something if he was born on your birthday?”
Isak laughed, “Oh yeah, I wouldn’t mind at all sharing a birthday.”
“Wait, he?” Even lifted his head from his mom’s shoulder.
“Oh fuck,” Liv muttered. “Damnit, George.”
“What?” George was utterly confused.
“You said ‘he’ though,” Even mumbled looking over to Isak.
Liv dropped her head in her hands, “I called Linn. I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have told your father. I should’ve known he’d slip up. Always forgetting things, never the right things.” She turned to George, “You can remember the sex of the baby but not that we’re not supposed to tell them!”
George looked like a deer caught in the headlights, “What?” He looked over to Isak, “But Isak, you said ‘he’ didn’t you?”
Isak shook his head, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Well shit,” George sat down with defeat. “I’m sorry, boys.”
“He,” Even spoke softly. “We’re having a son.”
Isak shrugged. “I’ve been kind of picturing a boy all this time anyway,” he admitted.
“I really am sorry, son,” George looked to Even with remorse.
Even shook his head, “No, it’s okay, Papa.” He was smiling brightly, “It’s okay.”
When they’d all settled on the couch, Even holding Isak’s hand, Isak piped up, “What was it like? When you brought home a newborn after being just the two of you for so long.”
Liv looked over to George, “It actually wasn’t just the two of us at first.”
“No?” Even asked. Apparently, this was news to him as well.
“My little brother, Thomas, he lived with us for a while,” George explained.
“Uncle Tommy died when I was two,” Even leaned over to explain.
“Oh, I’m, wow, I’m so sorry,” Isak stumbled over his words.
“It’s okay, dear,” Liv smiled. “As a baby, Even really loved Tommy.”
“I didn’t know that,” Even spoke.
George nodded, “Mhm, he was the first one to make you laugh. And once you started, you never stopped. Every time he walked in the room, you lost it completely, just started laughing and screaming.”
“Oh George,” Liv piped up, “Let’s pull out the old videos, huh?”
Even and George found old video tapes from Even’s childhood in the hallway closet. The camera looked old, even for the late 90’s.
“I bought this baby in college,” Even’s dad said proudly. Isak was beginning to think the love for film and video was genetic. Even methodically hooked up the black video camera to the TV and sat on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest. Isak thought he looked so young for 26. As soon as the fuzzy video appeared on the screen, Isak could hear the laughter before he saw Even’s face.
It’s impossible to hear a baby’s laugh and not smile. Even’s baby laugh was just like his laugh now, it filled rooms and hearts.
Isak heard George’s voice from behind the camera, “Who is it, Even?”
Finally, Even’s cute little face appeared. He was sitting in his mom’s lap.
Liv whispered in her son’s ear, “Who’s that, Ev?”
Isak looked at the time stamp on the screen 19 07 1997. He was barely 5 months and the happiest little baby Isak had ever seen. He started lifting his arms up and bouncing in his mom’s lap as he squealed. A pair of slim arms that Isak figured belonged to his uncle Tommy lifted up Even. Tommy had the same big smile as Even and kissed his nephew’s cheek making him squeal again and let out another peel of laughter. “Tommy missed you, baby!” Tommy laughed.
From the corner of his eye, Isak could see George wiping the wetness from his eyes. Liv must have noticed, too. “How about the one from your first birthday, huh, Ev?”
Even changed the tapes carefully and Isak couldn’t help laughing at the image on the screen.
Even in a high chair, almost completely naked and completely calm with a face covered in blue frosting.
George was laughing, too, “No, no, play it from the beginning!”
“Paaa,” Even whined.
“What?” Isak didn’t understand.
Even rolled his eyes, “You’ll see.” He rewinded the tape and the images flew by so fast Isak couldn’t quite figure out what was happening. Next thing Isak knew, a very clean and happy baby was kicking his feet in the high chair, obviously excited about the cake.
Liv set the sake down in front of him. Someone else must have been filming because just after they all sang Happy Birthday, George was sneaking behind Even and gently pushing his little face right into the cake. Isak could hear Liv in the video yelling “George!”
“Oh my God!” Isak shrieked as George bellowed with laughter.
Even was fighting a laugh, too. “Apparently it’s tradition.”
Just then, Even’s cries were so loud as he lifted his frosting covered face from the cake. Tommy appeared and wiped some of the frosting from Even’s face onto his own nose and like magic Even stopped crying and was frozen in awe of his uncle. Tommy took another swipe and put it in his mouth, “Mmmm”-ing at the taste. Even started to giggle.
“He’s like magic,” Isak noted.
Even got up to join him on the couch, putting his arm around his shoulders, “I don’t remember him very well, just through the videos really.”
“He certainly loved you,” George smiled through wet, glassy eyes.
On June 16th, at about three in the afternoon, Isak got a call from Linn. He was in the middle of a lecture with Sana and didn’t hear the rings. When the class finished twenty minutes later, he had nine missed calls – 1 from Linn, 2 from Even, and 6 from Eskild.
Just then Sana got a call from Even.
It was happening.
Isak answered Sana’s phone and Even immediately asked, “Isak?”
“Even,” Isak walked in a circle in front of the building. “Is it happening? Oh my God!”
“We’re driving to you right now,” Even said calmly.
“What?!” Isak shrieked, “Take her to the hospital! Go to the hospital! I’ll meet you there.”
“The tram takes like an hour to get there, baby!” Even was suddenly frantic.
Sana yanked the phone, “You don’t make pit stops when a women’s in labor, Even!”
Isak couldn’t keep his feet still, pacing quickly around her.
“Yes,” Sana nodded. “Yes, I promise.” Then she hung up.
“Sana!” Isak panicked.
“Calm down. Yousef is already on his way to pick me up. He’ll take us to the hospital,” Sana instructed calmly.
Isak just nodded, “Yeah, yeah, okay. The baby’s coming. Holy shit. The baby’s coming.”
Sana grinned, “I’m happy for you. Now come on, he picks me up on the corner.”
Yousef wasn’t expecting to see Isak when he and Sana crawled in the car. “Hey Isak! What’s up?”
At the same time, Sana and Isak shouted, “Linn’s in labor!”
“Oh!” Yousef shouted. He looked over to Sana in the passenger seat, “Hospital then?”
“Please,” Isak buckled himself in.
On the way there, he called his mom. She barely got two words in. Isak told her all the details and brought her up to speed. She ended the call with an excited, “I love you, honey. I’ll be there!”
At the hospital, Linn had already been wheeled into one of the rooms. Eskild and Even were waiting in the lobby for them. Isak and Sana walked in with backpacks. They must have looked so young. Even grabbed Isak by his cheeks and kissed him before grabbing his hand and lead him over to the elevators.
Isak called over his shoulder, “Eskild! Will you let everybody else know?”
“Of course!” Eskild shouted back, phone already up to his ear.
“Did you call your parents, Ev?” Isak asked once the elevator doors closed.
“Yeah, they’re on their way but I don’t know if they’ll make it in time. They’re coming from Stavanger. Mama had a conference,” Even spoke quickly.
Isak squeezed his hand, “It’ll be alright. They’ll get here. Mama’s coming now.”
“I’m nervous,” Even admitted.
Isak brought up his hand and combed his fingers through his hair, “I know. Me, too.”
Even kissed him again, “Linn seems completely chill.”
“Really?” Isak asked, confused.
“Yeah,” Even nodded. “She was playing her PSP in the car.”
Isak laughed. They had nerves for Linn to spare.
When they got to the desk on the 5th floor, they asked the receptionist, “Which room for the Larsen Hansen delivery?”
“It’s family only right now, gentlemen. Which of you is the father?” she asked politely.
“Uhh,” Even looked over at Isak, “We both are.”
“Room 28, boys!” the nurse behind her informed.
“Oh!” the receptionist perked up, “My apologies.”
Isak smiled and nodded and then they were headed down the hallway in search of Room 28. Linn was already inside, set up in the bed, still playing her PSP and chewing on ice chips.
“Isak, Even,” the doctor greeted. “It’s probably going to be a long night. She’s dilated but not close enough yet. Now would be a good time to call your friends and family if you want them here. I’ll be back in a few hours. Nurses Morten and Chris are assigned to this room. You may see them coming in and out.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Even nodded.
“Oh, please,” Linn muttered to herself, “More men the merrier to watch me push a baby out of my vagina.”
“Linn!” Isak laughed.
Deadpan, Linn lifted her head, “I look up, and all I see is men.”
The two of them pulled chairs over to her bedside. “How are you feeling?”
“Not bad,” she spoke truthfully. “But I apologize in advance for anything I say to you in the next twelve hours. I’m prepared to go super Saiyan bitch, alright?”
“Of course, of course,” Even nodded.
“Anything for you,” Isak added.
Linn nodded in agreement.
“So, my pops spoiled the surprise,” Even told her.
“What?” she was surprised, “So you know, then?” She was smiling.
“We know,” Isak nodded.
“Have you given any thought to what you’re going to call him?” she asked.
Isak looked over at Even, “I think we both know.”
After chatting with Linn for a while, Isak went back downstairs to meet up with his friends and family, hugging each of them. “I’m sorry you all rushed here for this. Doc said it’s going to be a while. You may want to go and get dinner.”
“I ordered pizzas!” Magnus shouted.
“Hey man, is there anything we can do?” Jonas asked, pulling Isak aside.
“Actually,” he fished his house key out of his pocket. “Even and I have a hospital bag at the house. We didn’t have a chance to run home and grab it. Could you grab our phone chargers, too?”
“Of course, we’re on it,” he grabbed Eva’s hand.
“Hey, where’s Lisa?” Isak called.
“She’s with my mom! Don’t worry about anything. It’s all going to be fine!” Eva shouted as they walked through the main entrance doors.
“Hey, honey,” Marianne tapped him on his shoulder.
“Mama!” Isak hugged her tightly, not letting her go.
“Oh, honey,” she laughed, “You’re gonna snap me in half!”
“I’m glad you’re here, Mama. I’m freaking out,” he admitted, still burying his head in her neck.
“You’re alright. All new parents freak out,” she comforted.
“I just want it to go smoothly. I can’t wait to meet him.”
“Him?” Marianne asked.
Isak nodded, blinking back tears, “We’re having a son.”
His mama lifted her hands to brush the wetness away from his cheeks, “You’re gonna be a great father.”
“Thank you, Mama.” He sidestepped nervously on his feet, “Should I call papa?”
“Does he know you and Even are expecting?” she asked carefully.
Isak shook his head, feeling even more like a child. He hadn’t spoken to Terje in over two years. He didn’t even know if he was still in Oslo.
“I think you should do what you and Even think is best,” Marianne spoke wisely. “It’s your son’s day. You decide what’s best, okay, honey?”
Isak nodded and hugged her once more.
Linn groaned loudly and threw her head back against the hospital bed.
“Linn, are you okay?” Isak asked with concern. She had already had a few contractions that terrified him and made Even pale in the face.
“I’m fucking starving,” Linn complained.
Morten, one the nurses was checking her vitals, “I’m sorry, Linn, but you can’t eat anything once you’re in labor. Want some more ice chips?”
“Fuck your ice chips,” Linn muttered.
Morten didn’t say anything so Linn repeated herself more slowly with more anger, “Fuck. Your. Ice. Chips.”
Isak winced and looked up at Morten with apologetic eyes.
Morten just shook it off like he’d heard much worse.
Linn tensed up and winced, gripping tightly onto Even’s hand. “Even, listen, as soon as this baby’s out, I want kebab.” She looked over to Isak, “Kebab or I riot.”
Isak nodded, “Anything for you, Linn.”
Linn winced again, “Ow ow ow ow.” She breathed heavily through her mouth. “Oh my fucking god.” Isak watched Linn’s hand clamp tight around Even’s.
“Linn,” Even spoke, “You’re going to break my hand.”
Morten hummed, “She might be ready for an epidural.” He looked over his shoulder at the other nurse, Chris, “Go and get Doc, huh?”
“On it,” Chris left quickly.
Isak looked over at Even, mouthing, you okay?
Even nodded slightly. All the color had drained from his face. Isak didn’t really believe him but wasn’t about to address it in front of Linn.
“I’ve seen moms go from 4 centimeters to 10 in no time at all. This could all start happening very soon,” Morten spoke. Isak narrowed his eyes at Morten who was perfectly qualified but kept sticking his whole goddamn foot in his mouth.
Isak shook it off. “Even?” He tried to get his attention, “Will you take a walk with me?”
Even minutely nodded and extracted his hand from Linn’s grip.
“We’ll be right back, okay, Linn?” Isak assured her.
“Good, you won’t want to be here when they stick that giant needle in my back,” she agreed.
Even whimpered and waned paler.
Outside in the hallway, Even leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor. Isak crouched down in front of him, his hands cupping his face. “Ev?”
Even closed his eyes and held up his hands to grip at Isak’s wrists. “Sorry, just need a minute.” He let out a long breath, his cheeks puffing up as the warm air fanned against Isak’s throat.
“Why are you freaking out right now?” Isak asked, trying but not succeeding to hide his concern.
Even shook his head vehemently, “I’m not freaking out.”
Isak has always thought Even was the worst liar. As if Even could read Isak’s mind, he gave in and deflated, “Okay, I’m kind of freaking out.”
“Is it the whole ‘new dad’ thing?” Isak asked.
“No,” Even shook his head again, “I just, I keep thinking about how there’s gonna be a baby, just like, comin’ out Linn’s body, like somehow that’s a normal thing that people have been used to for millennia and – Isak, have you ever thought about how fuckin weird that it?”
Isak almost couldn’t keep a straight face, “You’re…? You’re freaked out by child birth?”
Even rolled his eyes, “I’m not freaked out, I’m just,” his eyelids fluttered, “kind of woozy thinking about it.”
And then Isak was laughing. And a few seconds later, Even was laughing and then they were both sitting on the floor of the hospital hallway despite there being a perfect pair of chairs not three feet from them.
Isak chuckled, “I hope you’re not ‘kind of woozy’ about changing diapers because there’s no way I’m changing all of them.”
Even laughed and leaned forward to rest his forehead against Isak’s, “How am I more freaked out by child birth than Linn?”
Isak agreed, “She’s more concerned about when she’s going to eat next, not about pushing a human being out her vagina.”
Even groaned and let his head fall back against the wall.
After over six years of loving Even, Isak was amazed they were still learning new things about each other.
“What if I faint in there?” Even asked, genuine worry on his face.
Isak shook his head. “You’re not gonna faint, Ev.” He was trying not to laugh, “We’ll have you sit in a chair next to Linn,” he added, “Just in case, of course.”
Even just nodded and looked up towards the ceiling.
“Hey,” Isak nudged his shoe with Even’s, “You’re gonna be okay. I promise.”
“Thanks,” Even smiled, some of the color returning to his face.
Isak stood up and offered his hand, “Come on, let’s get you in some scrubs.”
“There you guys are,” Magnus ran up to them in the hallway. “I had to lie and say I’m Linn’s boyfriend to get back here.”
“What?” Isak laughed.
Magnus shrugged, “Jonas is getting the pizzas. Anyways, here’s that bag. What did you pack in it, bricks?”
Even hugged the hospital bag in his arms like it was a steadying weight.
Isak rolled his eyes at Magnus, “You never know how long these things can take.”
“Well, we’re all rooting for you guys and Linn. We can’t wait to meet your kid,” Magnus replied sincerely.
“Oh, and Elias and Adam went to go get Leif. Can you believe Linn forgot to tell her own brother she’s going into labor?”
Isak looked at his watch, “Jesus, it’s almost midnight.”
“Yeah, hopefully he makes it here in time.”
“I’d tell Linn but I don’t think she wants anyone to say anything to her unless it’s about food.”
“We can bring her some pizza?” Magnus offered.
“Not until the baby’s out, doctor’s orders,” Even sighed.
“Shit, that sucks,” Magnus replied.
Even laughed, “It does suck. I’m afraid if I eat anything in front of her she’ll never forgive me.”
Isak hadn’t thought of that, “We should get you some food,” he put his hand on Even’s pale cheek, “Bring some color back to you, huh?”
It really was necessary, but like good friends, Isak and Even quickly ate a vending machine sandwich outside Linn’s hospital room before putting on some scrubs. As soon as they walked in the room, Linn knew.
“Fuck you!” she whined.
“What?” Even held his hands up like he was about to be arrested.
“You assholes ate,” she groaned.
“How the hell did you know that?” Isak asked.
“I could smell the tomatoes from in here, dipshits.”
Just then, Leif walked in, dressed in pajamas and his hair a mess, holding a burrito.
Linn looked ready to explode, and not just because she was pregnant and about to deliver their baby. “Leif, I love you, but I swear to God if you don’t get that thing out of here in two seconds.”
“Shit!” the fifteen-year-old cursed.
“Hey!” Morten scolded, mostly just because the kid was young.
“Fuck off,” Leif and Linn said in unison.
Isak couldn’t help but laugh, “Hey Morten, you got a fridge in a break room or something where Leif can store his burrito?”
Morten agreed, took the burrito and disappeared.
Leif sat down in the chair next to his big sister, “You’re very pregnant, Linn.”
“Almost not anymore,” she replied.
“So pregnant you forgot to tell me you went into labor.”
“Got distracted,” she grinned. She reached up and ran her fingers through her brother’s fiery red hair, trying to calm the wild strands, “Thanks for coming, bro.”
Leif smiled and held her hand.
A moment later, Linn went into another fit of “oww”s and “ooh”s and “shit shit shit”s.
It was nearly one in the morning when Linn began pushing. At 2:13 in the morning, June 17th, Linn’s screams and shouts were replaced by the smallest cries Isak thought he’d ever hear.
The doctor lifted the little purple body and walked closer toward Linn, “Ready to hold him?”
“No, no,” Linn shook her head, breathless, “Give him to his papa first.”
And then Isak was looking down at their son, covered in goo, in Even’s arms. Any fear Isak had that Even would faint dissipated as he saw the look on Even’s face. He looked as if he would never stop holding him.
But eventually he did and Even carefully lifted the little boy into Isak’s arms. Time seemed to stop. All that mattered was that soft little nose, those tiny wrinkly fingers, and Even’s firm hand on his shoulder. “Well aren’t you beautiful?” Isak whispered.
Even’s other hand gently cupped around their son’s head, “Hey, little one.”
It was one of the hardest things Isak ever did, letting that boy out of his arms for the first time. But he knew the hospital needed to carry on. Their boy need to be cleaned, weighed, measured, poked and prodded.
Even cried when they did the heel stick and their son’s cries filled the room once again.
What may have been less than an hour but felt like days had passed, their boy was wrapped up in blankets and placed in their waiting arms. Isak watched as Even’s thumb stroked over their baby’s ear, his eyes closed peacefully and his tiny chest rising and falling.
Isak kissed Even’s cheek gently and whispered, “I’ll go see if your parents are here, okay?”
“Thank you,” Even whispered back, not taking his eyes off the little boy.
As soon as Isak came through the doors into the lobby, he saw George and Liv stand up immediately. They must have seen him through the door window.
“It’s Isak!” he heard Eva shout.
So many smiling faces were waiting to hear what he had to say.
“We have a healthy boy.”
Cheers erupted around him and Jonas was the first to attack him with a hug.
Once all the congratulations and the commotion calmed down, he turned to his mom and Even’s parents. “Would you like to meet your grandson?”
Isak took them back to the hospital suite they had been moved to. Even was in the same spot, stuck to his chair, stuck to his son. He looked up at his parents, his eyes shiny and a big smile on his face. Isak and Marianne held back while Liv and George sat in chairs on either side of Even.
“Would you like to hold him?” Even asked his father.
“Can I?” George asked almost nervously.
“Of course, Papa.” He lifted the baby carefully into his father’s waiting arms and helped him get settled. Liv immediately took Even’s hand in her own.
“Hello there, little one,” George said fondly. Isak’s heart clenched just hearing the familiar phrase.
“Papa, this is Tommy,” Even spoke.
George couldn’t tear his eyes away from Tommy, but everyone in the room couldn’t mistake the tears falling from his glassy eyes. “Tommy,” he said gently.
Even drooped his head down to rest on his mother’s shoulder. She turned her head to kiss his hair, “My sweet boy.”
Isak felt his mother move closer and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, hugging her tightly. “I love him so much, Mama, both of them.”
She nodded, “I know, sweetie.”
Isak didn’t know what to say. He was too overwhelmed in the moment.
“Time is going to move differently for you now, Isak. Time changes when you’re a parent. Now your life is about making memories for that little boy right there. One day, you’re going to meet Tommy’s child.”
Isak was silently crying, looking into his mother’s eyes. She wiped away the tears from his cheeks, “You’re going to be so proud, baby.”
Time is different now.
Chapter 6: garlic sauce
August. Tommy, 15. Isak POV.
Isak knocked on the door with heavy hand. The music was relentless, spilling out from every space between the door and the jam.
He knocked louder. “Tommy!” he shouted.
Suddenly the music paused.
An unsure “Yeah?”
“Can I come in?” Isak asked.
“Uh, sure,” Tommy’s voice still sounded unsure.
Isak opened the door to Tommy’s bedroom and gently closed it behind him. His son was lying in bed, his phone held up to his face, his thumbs tapping at an unprecedented speed.
Tommy’s hair was light, long and wavy, falling into his eyes constantly. Isak didn’t know how his son could stand it, but it was what Tommy liked so he let it go long ago. His jeans were ripped all along the knees and his gray muscle shirt fit loosely on top of a white crewneck sweatshirt. His fifteen-year-old kid wasn’t exactly a bean pole, but he was still young and not yet forming the muscles Isak hadn’t formed himself until he was around 18. Tommy loved his muscle shirts though. His white socks were a dark, dirty gray on the bottom, a hole exposing the pink heel of his left foot.
“Hey Dad,” Tommy sat up in bed, tossing his phone onto his bedside table, “What’s up?”
Isak tried to hold back the smirk at his son’s unmatched ability to be completely oblivious sometimes. “We’ve talked about this already, the music’s too loud,” Isak explained.
“But Dad,” Tommy whined, “It’s not even 16:00!”
Isak brought a finger up to his lips, “Shh, your Papa’s sleeping.”
“Oh,” Tommy spoke quietly. He maneuvered his legs to throw them off the edge of the bed and sit more upright, leaving room for his dad on the end of his twin bed.
Isak took a seat next to him on the bed, his heart clenching as his son hung his head, fiddling with his hands. “I thought he was getting better,” Tommy admitted. “Yesterday, he was even cooking and we watched that old musical he loves.”
“I know,” Isak sighed. He too had been hopeful that Even was on the up from his latest depressive episode, but as they’d grown older, the rise back to normalcy post episodes became an up and down journey for Even. Isak didn’t want his son to know that he was a little disappointed about it, too – not in Even, but in the circumstance.
“You like Moulin Rouge, kid, I know it,” Isak teased him instead.
Tommy rolled his eyes, “Yeah, maybe the first five times. I’m sick of it now.”
“Better not tell Papa that,” Isak nudged his shoulder.
Tommy nodded silently. Isak looked at his watch, it really was only five minutes to 16:00.
“How about we go get some kebab?” Isak asked, “How’s that?”
Tommy smiled and looked up at his dad, his brown eyes warm and golden, “Yeah?”
“Yeah, let’s do it. I don’t want to cook and I know you don’t want me to either,” he said with self-deprecation.
“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” Tommy laughed.
Isak patted his thigh, “I’ll meet you downstairs, okay? I’m just going to leave a note for Papa.”
Isak opened the door carefully to their bedroom, his eyes tried adjusting to the darkness, but it was difficult still to make out Even’s sleeping form until he shuffled on the bed, pulling the covers tighter around his shoulders. “Isak?” Even asked.
“Oh, I thought you were asleep,” Isak spoke quietly, still.
“Not with George Harrison’s voice that loud,” Even commented on the music.
“Sorry, I asked him to turn it down,” Isak replied.
Even shook his head, “It’s fine. It’s not fair to him.”
Isak walked over to the bed and sat next to Even, running his hands through his hair softly, “It’s okay, Tommy understands.”
Even sighed, not having the energy to argue with Isak.
“Listen, we’re going to go out for kebabs. I was going to leave you a note,” Isak told him. “Can I bring you back some food?” Isak offered.
Even shook his head again.
Isak knew he would, but he still planned on bringing food, “Okay.” He got to the door, about to shut it behind him when Even called out quietly, “I love you, Isak.”
“I love you, too, Even.” Isak smiled softly.
There was garlic sauce smeared on Tommy’s chin, his lips shiny and smiling as he shoveled more into his hungry mouth.
“I used to eat like that,” Isak smirked, twirling his fork in the kebab. “You know what my mom told me?”
Tommy shook his head, “What?” he asked with a mouthful.
“She said I’d never get a girl with eating habits like that,” Isak laughed.
“Seriously?” Tommy laughed.
Isak nodded. “Luckily I didn’t need to worry about that.”
Tommy laughed harder, more sauce dribbling down his chin. He lifted his arm up to wipe it on his sleeve, but Isak stopped him and placed a napkin on his arm instead.
Tommy looked at him, ready to tease his dad.
“Don’t start,” Isak cut him off before he could, “Stains are hard to get out.”
Tommy nodded and wiped his chin. After a few moments of silent eating, Tommy spoke up, “Are you worried I can’t get a girl, Dad?”
Isak looked up from his kebab, anticipating a smirk on Tommy’s face, but his son looked serious.
“No, son, I’m not worried at all.”
“Are you worried I won’t get a girl?” Tommy asked even quieter.
“What? No, you’re kind, smart, handsome,” Isak assured him, “You don’t need to worry, kid.”
Tommy sat back in the booth, “That’s not what I meant, Dad.”
Isak could see the hesitation on his son’s face. “Talk to me.”
“What if, I mean, what if I don’t know what I like?” Tommy said, his face flushing red.
Was Tommy trying to come out?
“Do you mean…?” Isak started, not wanting to force anything out of his son.
“Sometimes… I think… about Bo… like that,” Tommy spoke carefully, “I think.”
Isak smiled, “Tommy?”
He looked up at his dad.
“You know I’m the last person who would be upset if you dated other boys, right?”
Tommy shook his head, “I don’t think, I don’t know. It’s not like,” he sputtered.
Isak put his hand on Tommy’s forearm, anchoring him, “Breathe.”
Tommy took in a few deep breaths, breathing out through his nose.
“I think about Sunny sometimes, too.”
“It’s okay if you like girls and boys, Tommy.” Isak smiled, patting his hand, “It’s okay if you still don’t know. Thank you for telling me.” Isak could remember finally admitting to himself that he liked Jonas when he was about fourteen or fifteen. He was in denial for a long time growing up, thinking maybe he just wanted to be like Jonas, but when he saw Jonas and Ingrid holding hands for the first time, it became painfully clear what was in his heart. He wondered briefly if Tommy’s friend Bo would like Tommy in return.
“I just, I thought I was straight. Some jackass in my class said I was queer just because I have two papas, and I just, I wanted him to be wrong, I really did.”
Isak winced, “I’m sorry someone said that to you. That’s not right.”
“Why can’t we just fucking evolve already?”
“Hey, watch your mouth.”
“Sorry,” Tommy put his hands up in surrender, “I just mean, why does it take so long to change people’s hearts? It’s not that complicated. People just need to grow up and move on with their lives and stop criticizing mine.”
Isak sat back in his chair, dumbfounded.
“What?” Tommy shrugged.
“How’d you get so smart?” Isak asked, smiling.
Tommy rolled his eyes, “I’m your son, aren’t I?”
Isak chuckled, “Finish your kebab.”
Tommy nodded. He looked weightless.
On the walk home, Isak asked, “Have you talked to Papa about this? You know, thinking about Bo and Sunny?”
“Papa already knew,” Tommy smiled.
“Huh?” Isak asked, “When was this?”
Tommy shrugged, “A couple months ago?”
“Why did you wait so long to tell me?” Isak asked, trying not to sound hurt.
He didn’t succeed.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, I just, I was less sure months ago, and I thought Papa might get it, you know? I don’t know. I’m sorry,” Tommy sighed.
“Don’t be sorry,” Isak wrapped his arm around Tommy’s neck, “You tell people in your own time and how you want, okay?”
Tommy nodded, “Thanks, Dad.”
The walked together, nearly reaching the house when on the corner, Isak asked, “So Bo, huh?”
Tommy rolled his eyes, “Dad, let me live.”
Isak held his hands up, “Just asking!”
Tommy shook his head, “I’m gonna go do some homework.”
“Good,” Isak replied, “Don’t play your music too loud.”
“Yes, Dad,” Tommy called over his shoulder as he bounded up the stairs to their home.
“Don’t forget it’s your night to feed the dog!”
“Yes, Dad!” Tommy said, disappearing inside.
Isak looked up at his and Even’s bedroom window from the front of the house and smiled, ready to crawl in bed with his husband and take a short nap.
Chapter 7: lingonberry crepes
October. Tommy, 4. Even's POV.
“We have to get this experiment done tonight,” Isak explained over the phone. “If we wait until tomorrow, it could set us back more than a week. We need to use these cells now. I can’t ask the undergrads. They have a big exam tomorrow morning. It wouldn’t be fair.”
“I get it,” Even sighed and turned off the kitchen sink. He looked over at his four-year-old, who was content drawing something large with horns in blue crayon. “What time will you be home then?”
Isak paused and Even could picture him running his hand through his hair, rubbing at his shoulder, “I think around 1.”
“One in the morning, Isak? Why kind of experiment is this?” Even asked.
“The worst one imaginable,” Isak half-laughed. “I have to take out the cells and treat them every fifteen minutes for a few hours and then wait around for an hour and put them in new solution and repeat the fifteen minute treatments. I should be done around 00:30 or so.”
“Wow,” Even couldn’t imagine.
“I’m sorry,” Isak apologized, his voice quiet on the phone.
Even shook his head, “Don’t be sorry. It’s alright. I’ll get Tommy in bed. Do what you gotta do.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Isak,” Even replied.
“Can I talk to Tommy?” Isak asked.
Even walked over to their kitchen table, sitting down next to their son, “Tommy?”
He looked up from his drawing for the first time in a several minutes, “Yes, Papa?”
“There’s a phone call for you,” Even smiled.
“For me!?” Tommy exclaimed, setting down his crayons. “Who is it?”
“It’s Daddy,” Even laughed, “Here,” he handed over his cell phone. “Say hi.”
“Hi, Daddy, where are you?” Tommy asked, hoping down carefully from his chair.
The child began pacing across their kitchen floor, both hands cradling the cell phone.
“Papa made tyttebaer crepes!” Tommy exclaimed.
“Yes, we left some for you, Daddy,” Tommy explained like it should be obvious.
“What does that mean?” Tommy asked after a pause.
Even couldn’t make out what Isak was saying on the phone.
“But you said cells were tiny, Daddy!”
Even could hear Isak’s laugh and see the smile bloom on his son’s freshly bathed face.
“That’s silly,” Tommy announced, a giggle building in his tummy. Even walked over to scoop up his son and carried him to their living room where they plopped down on the couch.
Tommy readjusted to sit comfortably on his lap. “Yes,” Tommy replied. “Yes.” He huffed, “Yes, Daddy, I brushed them already!” He must have been talking about his teeth since he brought a finger up to his mouth. Even laughed.
“Okay. Good night, Daddy,” Tommy spoke, “I love you, Daddy.”
He held up the phone for Even’s waiting hand.
“I’ll be quiet when I come home,” Isak promised.
“Just come home to me when you can,” Even replied. “I don’t care if you bring a parade. We miss you.”
“I miss you guys, too,” Isak sighed.
“I love you, Isak. I’ll see you soon,” Even replied.
“Don’t wait up for me,” Isak instructed, “Make sure you get your sleep.”
Even rolled his eyes, “Yes, Daddy.”
Since Daddy wasn’t home, they decided to watch a movie together. Tommy picked The Land Before Time, one of his favorites, much to Even’s agreement. Tommy fetched a warm blanket and burrowed into his father’s side, yawning every once in a while as his father’s big hand combed through his soft, damp hair.
When the movie was almost over, Tommy fell into a deep sleep, his head on Even’s thigh and his little hand holding Even’s knee.
Even turned the television off and carefully picked up Tommy who instinctively wrapped his arms and legs around his father as he carried him upstairs to bed. Even pulled the forest green covers around his son and found his favorite stuffed animal, a brown dog names Cooper, amidst the blankets and tucked him in next to Tommy. Even kneeled down to run his fingers through Tommy’s hair once again and kissed his flushed cheek.
Around midnight, Even heard the sound of socked feet padding in the hallway and the soft open of his bedroom door.
“Isak?” he muttered, half asleep.
“Papa?” Tommy’s voice spoke out. Even opened his eyes to see Tommy in the doorway, Cooper under one arm and the other holding open the door by the handle. He sniffled.
“What’s wrong, baby?” Even sat up in bed.
Tommy ran toward the bed and jumped up to crawl over to his father. His face was wet with tears and his wet lip trembling. He crawled his way into Even’s waiting arms, dropping his head down on Even’s right shoulder.
“Hey, you’re okay. It’s okay. Papa’s here,” Even shushed him. “What happened baby?”
“I had a bad dream,” Tommy sniffled again.
“What happened?” Even asked.
Tommy shook his head. “Can I sleep with you tonight?” he asked, his small body still shaking in Even’s arms.
Even didn’t say a word, just lied back down in bed, his son still cradled in his arms. He pulled the covers up over the both of them. Tommy held on tighter. Cooper ended up smashed in Even’s arm pit.
Tommy shivered and Even ran soothing fingers through his hair. “Go back to sleep, baby.”
“I don’t want to close my eyes!” Tommy whined.
Even shushed him gently, “It’s okay. I’ve got you. Papa won’t let anything happen to you,” Even promised.
Tommy whimpered softly, “I dreamed Sharptooth got me.”
“You’re okay,” Even replied. “Papa and Daddy will always protect you.”
“Will you stay with me until the sun comes up?” Tommy asked hesitantly.
“Yes, Tommy. You can sleep here all night. When you wake up, Daddy will be here, too.”
Even felt Tommy nod against his chest.
About an hour later, Even once again heard the door creak open softly. He blearily looked up to see Isak silhouetted against the hallway light.
“Be careful getting into bed,” Even whispered.
Isak’s eyes must have landed on Tommy, softly sleeping in the middle of their bed.
“Bad dream?” Isak whispered back.
“A dinosaur,” Even explained.
“Ahh,” Isak nodded, “Maybe no more Land Before Time before bed?”
“Maybe,” Even agreed.
Isak quietly removed his layers at their tall dresser. He took off his button up and slipped on a faded black T-shirt over his boxers before padding over to the bed to slip in under the covers. He gently rubbed Tommy’s warm back and leaned over to press a kiss to Even’s waiting lips.
“Sorry it’s so late,” Isak apologized.
“It’s okay. I’m glad you’re home,” Even replied. Even thought he smelled rain. “Is it raining out?”
“A bit, yeah,” Isak whispered, then, “Rúben said to take tomorrow off,” Isak spoke. “He said he’ll take the next leg of the experiment.”
Isak nodded. “Do you just have the writer’s meeting at 10:00 in the morning?”
“Yeah,” Even replied, “I don’t expect it to be much more than a couple of hours. I’m planning on coming home by lunch.”
“Good,” Isak smiled, “I plan on a lazy pajama day with my two favorite boys.”
“That sounds great,” Even agreed.
They both looked down at the sleeping boy between them, happy that if anyone or anything was to come between them, it was Tommy.
Well, Tommy and Cooper.
Chapter 8: milk
August. Tommy, 3 weeks. Isak POV.
At three weeks old, Tommy hardly ever fussed. He was such a calm baby that Isak wrestled with the thought that maybe something was wrong. Surely infants cried more and slept less than this he had thought.
Tommy’s cries were few and far between – sometimes when he was hungry, usually when he was tired, and occasionally when he was gassy. But even then, it never took much more than some milk, a nap, or a gentle pat to the back to calm his cries.
Even and Isak had started running low on one of those resources, so Isak was making a trip to Linn and Eskild’s.
She buzzed Isak through and opened the door to her apartment bundled in an oversized sweatshirt with leggings and wool socks despite it being July.
“Hey Linn,” Isak walked in, hugging her warmly on his way. “Everything going okay?”
Linn nodded, shuffling into the living room, “Just sleeping a lot, working a little.”
Isak noticed the very accurate drawing of the liver’s circulatory system. “Those veins look great,” he noticed.
“Thanks,” Linn smiled weakly.
“You sure you’re doing okay?” Isak asked again.
Linn rolled her eyes, “Seriously, I’m fine. It’s been nice actually. Eskild and I watched a bunch of movies yesterday, I go for walks, I do my relaxation exercises. It’s all good, just really cold lately,” she emphasized by bringing her arms tight around her waist.
“Well, I’m glad. We really appreciate you pumping for us. You really didn’t have to offer,” Isak thanked her.
Linn shrugged, “My body was going to do it anyway.” She strolled into the kitchen, opening up the freezer and grabbing the pouches of breastmilk to place in a bag for Isak. “I’ll probably start weaning around Christmas time. I hope that’s alright.”
“Of course,” Isak nodded. They’d planned to introduce solid foods and transition to formula within six months anyway.
“How is the little guy?” Linn asked, smiling.
“You mean since you saw him three days ago?” Isak laughed.
She punched his arm.
“He’s beautiful, Linn.” Isak replied, “He sleeps so much, hardly ever cries. He doesn’t like tummy time too much, but I’ve read most babies don’t. He loves the bath, hates getting out of the bath. We love him.”
She shook her head, “You’re gone for him, Isak.”
Isak nodded, fully aware, “I know.” He added, “Even’s parents want to come visit all the time.”
“They’re excited to be grandparents,” she spoke.
“Yeah,” Isak nodded, “I know. And I’m glad, I just get jealous.”
“You? Jealous?” Linn teased.
“Alright, alright,” Isak held his hands up. “Stop your bullying.”
She smiled, “You best be getting back to your little family then.”
“Come for dinner soon?” Isak offered. “We’ll, err, Even will make something. You and Eskild come over whenever you want.”
She agreed, “That sounds nice.”
“Promise?” Isak asked.
“Promise,” Linn stuck out her hand for him to shake.
Instead, Isak pulled her in close and hugged her tight. He kissed her cheek, “I love you, Linn. Thank you.”
“Love you, too, kid,” she squeezed him back.
Isak entered the house as quietly as possible just in case Tommy was asleep. He placed the breastmilk in the freezer, washed his hands, and checked the time – just after 14:00. The house was so quiet he would have thought it empty if it weren’t for Even’s shoes by the door and the diaper bag in the living room.
He walked up the stairs quickly and padded down the carpeted hallway to his and Even’s bedroom. It was a strange sensation, no longer looking for Even first when he entered their bedroom. His eyes were always drawn to the basinet now, then Even. When he saw the basinet was empty, his eyes landed on Even.
Even was reclined against some pillows, a paperback book in his left hand and held open against his hip. His right hand was laid gently on Tommy’s back who lied on his stomach on Even’s chest, sound asleep. He was still so little. The onesie a little long on him, his legs curled up beneath him like he was still in the womb, his head turned to the side, tiny mouth agape with shiny pink lips. Isak’s heart melted.
Even pushed his reading glasses back up the bridge of nose and turned the page all while barely moving to avoid waking his sleeping son. He didn’t even notice Isak until Isak rounded the bed.
“Hey,” Even whispered.
“Hi,” Isak smiled, gingerly climbing onto the bed to rest his head against Even’s shoulder. He lifted his left hand to lay below Even’s, the warmth emanating from his baby so comforting. “How long has he been out?” Isak asked.
“Maybe fifteen minutes,” Even guessed.
“I don’t think I could ever get tired of this,” Even admitted. “I could stay like this all day. I love these cuddles.”
“I want a turn later,” Isak replied with a grin.
“I know you do,” Even laughed, trying to rein it in so as not to wake the baby.
He wasn’t very successful. Tommy stretched his tiny little arms and the knuckles on his right hand brushed against his cheek.
Isak rubbed his back soothingly as Tommy blearily opened his eyes. A great big yawn rolled through his little body.
“Oh, it’s so exhausting being three weeks old, isn’t it?” Isak teased the infant. The baby boy just stared up at him.
Even smiled, “Can you take him? I need the bathroom.”
Isak nodded, sitting up and bending his legs at the knees. He lifted Tommy so that he laid with his back against Isak’s thighs. Isak supported his head as he peered into those big, wondering eyes. He rubbed the little boy’s ears gently with his thumbs.
Tommy’s lips started moving, his small pink tongue poking out. He brought his fist to his mouth, getting it wet with droul. Even came back in the bedroom just then.
“I think he’s hungry,” Isak mentioned.
Even held up his finger, “I’ll go warm a bottle downstairs.”
“We’ll come with you,” Isak lifted Tommy up against his chest, resting his baby’s head on his shoulder and followed Even out the bedroom.
Isak sat down on the couch. Tommy started fussing before the bottle was ready, so Isak gave him a finger to suck on which calmed him considerably. Even walked over with the bottle and a burp cloth and sat down next to Isak, wrapping one arm around his shoulders as Isak readjusted Tommy in his arms.
They were both mesmerized by the way Tommy got right to eating as soon as the bottle was in reach. One of his hands reached up and rested on the bottle.
“Our boy can eat,” Even noticed.
Isak nodded, “He’s gonna be a vacuum cleaner, isn’t he?”
Even agreed, “Can you imagine when he’s a little older and starts eating solids?” He smiled, “He’s gonna be a mess all the time.”
“It’s okay. He likes the bath.”
“For now,” Even mused.
“Jesus, he’s eating so fast,” Isak worried. Just then, Tommy detached his lips, taking in a breath. He paused for just a few moments and then was back at it again.
Even laughed, “He heard you.”
Isak laughed, too.
The bottle was nearly gone by the time Tommy stopped, losing interest in the feeding.
“I should go switch the laundry. Will you burp him?” Isak asked.
Even gladly accepted the baby, holding him against his shoulder and lightly patting and rubbing his back. Isak watched as his husband kissed the side of Tommy’s face and then disappeared down the hallway.
He would change the laundry quickly, ready to have his son in his arms again.
Chapter 9: carrots
January. Tommy, 9. Even's POV.
Even knew he wasn’t the only one who missed Isak. Tommy had been quieter lately. Well, he’d always been a quiet kid, but it seemed even more so in the past few days that Isak had been in the U.S. for a research conference.
Today, the ride home from school was nearly silent. Neither Tommy nor Even made a move for the listening to music. Mostly his son looked tired. It was easy to feel that way in the midst of winter like this, when the sun doesn’t rise until well into the morning and it’s gone by 16:00. The night settled around them and dulled the air. It felt like sound didn’t travel as well. Driving home, the low hum of the engine and the sludgy crush on the snowy road was the only sound to supplement Even’s internal worries. He could imagine Isak’s sharp intakes of breath, his quiet, “careful, Even,” and white knuckles on the hand that would surely be grabbing what Isak had come to call the “oh dritt” handle from the roof of the car. But Isak was in Boston and Tommy didn’t share the same fear of driving Isak did.
Before, Even thought the game of trying to figure out if he was sinking low or just feeling down was the worst feeling, other than the actual crashes that came after every high. It turned out he was wrong, it was a worse feeling to be playing that game with his son. Truth was, neither Even nor Isak knew whose DNA Tommy shares. They didn’t intend to find out. They hadn’t seen the point in it, so they wouldn’t unless it became necessary. As far as they were concerned, Tommy was as much Even’s as he was Isak’s. As for Tommy, he was only nine. Maybe he wasn’t that curious about it either, or maybe he didn’t understand the complexities of it yet. Point was, he had never asked.
Regardless, Even rather not spend every excited or quiet moment trying to diagnose his son like so many had done to him growing up.
Instead he asked him, “Did you have a good day at school?”
Tommy nodded, still looking out the window. From the looks of it, Even wouldn’t be getting much more of an answer from him than that.
Even glanced back in the rearview mirror again. “Did you turn in your book report today?”
Tommy nodded again.
“Are you feeling okay?”
Tommy sighed deeply and made eye contact with Even through the mirror, “I’m fine, Papa.”
Even let it go for the rest of the drive.
By the time they got home, Tommy disappeared almost immediately to his room once he removed his gloves, scarf, and extra layers while Even was left at the bottom of the staircase wondering just why his son was acting so strange. He thought for a moment about following Tommy up the stairs and getting to the bottom of it.
He had a foot on the bottom stair and froze, trying to decide what to do. Ultimately, he headed into the kitchen instead and sat at their counter to make a phone call. It was too late to call Isak. He would be in the middle of a keynote speaker’s presentation and wouldn’t be able to answer the phone. He called up his Mama instead but remembered mid-ring that she was still lecturing her students in class for another ten minutes. He quickly hung up and texted her, “Give me a call when you’re out of class?”
Liv called immediately after her class ended. Even could hear her voice echo in the deserted lecture hall. She skipped hellos. “How are you, Ev?”
“I’m fine, Mama,” he shut his eyes. He sounded like his son.
“You sure, baby?” she asked.
He bit his lip, “How… When do you think you started to notice…?”
“Just tell me what you’re trying to say,” she encouraged.
Even sighed, “Tommy seems quite down.”
“He probably just misses his daddy,” she offered.
“I’m not sure. Isak only left yesterday,” Even explained. “And when we got home from school today, he went straight to his room. He wouldn’t talk to me in the car.”
“Honey, maybe something happened at school?”
“Maybe, I just thought he would talk to me about it on the drive. I kept asking him about school and got hardly any response. I’m just worried, Mama.”
“I know. Everyone has bad days,” she replied. “Just give the boy some time. Maybe he just needs to decompress on his own. Everybody needs alone time sometimes.”
“As always,” she answered. Even could hear her smirk.
“Thanks for talking me down, Ma,” he replied.
“Anytime, dear. Are we still on for dinner next weekend?”
“Of course,” Even promised.
“Good good. Your father’s been looking forward to it.”
“Us, too. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Ma, okay?”
“Talk to you then. Bye, Ev.”
Even would give Tommy an hour, he decided, and then he would try to connect with his son again. In the meantime, he plopped on the couch to resume his book. But that didn’t last long with all the worries in his head. He started cleaning round the house to settle his anxious energy.
Upstairs was still quiet forty-five minutes later, so Even started psyching himself up, ready to firmly but gently get whatever it is out of Tommy. He anticipates frustration, maybe anger. It’s useless preparation when he gets outside Tommy’s bedroom door and hears the quietest sniffles and paper rustling.
It breaks his heart and he thinks maybe he shouldn’t go in yet. Maybe he should call Isak when he’s out of his conference first to figure out how they should handle whatever this is.
Maybe Tommy’s being bullied. Even doesn’t want it to be his first thought, but somehow it is. He doesn’t want to say he could see it. Tommy’s kind and smart. Why should he be bullied? But maybe being kind and smart is reason enough.
He stares at the door a little longer before another noise makes it through the wood, this one sounding more like a sob.
“Can I come in, please?” Even asks, trying to keep his voice level, hoping it doesn’t betray his concern.
After a quiet moment, Tommy’s voice breaks, “okay.”
Even’s inside in seconds.
He crouches down low so he’s at eye level with Tommy who sits at his desk, his two fists balled on the tabletop.
Even looks down at the papers, several covered in long division problems, most crossed out angrily with heavy amounts of graphite. Tommy doesn’t dare look at his papa.
“Will you tell me what’s going on, please?”
Tommy doesn’t reply, steadily focused on trying to breathe, his face red and his cheeks wet.
“Baby?” Even combs a few fingers through Tommy’s hair, trying to coax it out.
He watches his son’s fists uncurl and sighs in relief until Tommy brings them to his own eyes, a new wave of tears rocking through him.
“Oh,” Even reaches forward, pulling Tommy’s upper body towards him in a hug. It’s awkward because Tommy’s hands are still covering parts of his face, his elbows digging into Even’s chest. He lets the emotion flow through Tommy, holding him close, rubbing a hand between his shoulder blades. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, I promise, it’s okay,” Even whispers.
He can feel Tommy’s arms adjusting, the sobs not rocking through his body anymore. He wipes at his eyes. Even does too for good measure. He rests his hands on Tommy’s shoulders where they curve to meet his neck, “What’s going on, kid?”
“We had a quiz in maths on Tuesday,” Tommy says, like that explains it.
Even nods, “I remember.”
“I failed it, Papa,” Tommy admits, his eyes welling up, “I got every dividing problem wrong. I only go the times ones. Mrs. Dahlsson gave me some more problems to practice,” he turns to the papers on his desk, “I can’t get any of them right!”
Even glances down at the math problems again. He isn’t sure the last time he did a long division problem, but it’s like riding a bike, right?
“Alright, come on, let’s take this downstairs,” Even decides. He’s picking up Tommy’s papers and pencils, grabbing for his maths book.
“Papa,” Tommy says, almost like a question.
“When I’m upset with something, I find it best to change my surroundings,” Even explains.
“You’re not mad that I failed?” Tommy asks, wincing, like he’s afraid to hear the answer.
“Oh, son. You’re working hard on it even now. To me, you haven’t failed. Now come on, come downstairs with me. Let’s work on this at the table,” he suggests.
Tommy wipes at his face one more time, standing up from his desk chair and following his Papa down the stairs.
They set up a space for the both of them to sit at the table, and Even finds a calculator from Isak’s desk. Tommy sits down and waits for his father, won’t even pick up the pencil until Even gets back.
“Okay, your Papa’s old. This could be hard for me to remember,” Even admits, “But I’m going to try, okay?”
Tommy nods, almost all energy out of him.
“How about you show me how you do the multiplication problems?” Even starts. He writes on the paper, “How about, 2735 times 7? Show me how you do this one.”
Tommy picks up the pencil and starts writing out the problem. As far as Even can tell, he’s doing it correctly, the same way Even would. Tommy gets to an answer and circles it, setting the pencil back down wordlessly. Even checks it on the calculator and shows Tommy, “Good job. Okay, so dividing is just the opposite of multiplying, right?”
Tommy nods, “Like adding and subtracting.”
“Yes, right, opposites. Okay, so let’s try an opposite now.” He writes it out, “19145 divided by 7,” and hands the pencil back over.
Tommy stares at the problem at first and Even can see the frustration in his kid’s eyes. He ends up just writing 2735 as the answer.
“Okay, so how did you do that? Did you do it all in your head?” Even asks, smiling.
“No, I just, I don’t know, I can’t figure out, I’m not sure,” Tommy starts rambling, his face growing redder, his eyes becoming glassier.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. We’ll figure it out, okay?”
Tommy calms himself down, “Okay, Papa.”
Even starts working out the problem, trying to explain as he’s going along, “Does 7 fit into 1?”
Even shakes his head, “Er, um, is the number 1 greater or less than 7?”
“Less than,” Tommy answers.
“So, is 1 divisible by 7?” Even supplies.
“No?” Tommy answers, unsure.
“You sure?” Even asks.
Tommy looks at the numbers again, “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Good, so now, we try the next number.”
“Not quite,” Even explains, “When the first number is too small to fit the number you’re trying to divide by, the next number is the first number and the second number. So, we try 19 now.”
Tommy takes the pencil.
“So, is does 7 fit into 19?”
“Yes,” Tommy answers.
“How many times can you fit 7 into 19.”
Tommy thinks about it, “two times?”
Tommy quickly writes the 2 in the answer space. “But what happens with the left overs?”
“Right, so 2 times 7 is?”
“Write the 14 under the 19. Yeah, just like that. Now we can subtract the two numbers,”
Tommy writes in the 5 underneath.
“And I like to draw an arrow to show which number is coming down from the top to make the new number to test. So we’ve used 1 and 9 together. Go ahead and bring down the next 1.”
Tommy’s quick to draw it in, and asks, “So, how many times can 7 fit into 51?”
Even smiles, “That’s right. See if you can finish the problem.”
Tommy keeps going as Even gets up and walks over the fridge. He grabs some baby carrots and rinses them and pours them in a bowl. When he comes back with them, Tommy is quick to grab one, chomping down on it while he fills in the rest of the problem.
“Yes, you’ve done it!” Even congratulates him.
Tommy smiles, biting another carrot.
“Why don’t you try some of the problems your teacher gave you again?” Even offers.
“Okay,” Tommy clears the space up and starts a new problem.
Even leans forward on his elbow, watching his son work, a carrot in one hand, the other solving problem after problem. He looks so concentrated and Even is glad to not see the frustration or the tears anymore. It’s amazing how much he’s reminded of Isak at this moment. He can still remember nights begging Isak to come to bed, to stop the studying, to give himself a break. Isak used to beat himself up about bad grades, too. Even never really understood why Isak would let a 4 bother him for weeks. Maybe he still doesn’t, but he sees the same drive in his son and how can he not be proud of his ambition?
Tommy gets stuck again once the numbers get bigger but Even helps him through it, and it’s even quicker how Tommy picks it up this time.
They get through the problem set quickly and before Even knows it, Tommy is running back up the stairs to grab his last quiz. He redoes every problem he missed there, as well.
Even notices the stamp in the corner. Because he failed it, Tommy needs to get a signature from a parent. Even signs it as Tommy finishes up the last problem.
Tommy looks relieved, but as he notices the signature, his demeanor changes once again.
“Will Dad be angry?”
Even waits until Tommy looks back up at him before he answer, “No, I don’t think he’ll be angry. I think he’ll be proud that you’ve learned how to do the problems now, just like I am. You know, Dad and I are happy to help with your homework whenever you need.”
Tommy sighs with relief and grabs another carrot, “Okay, thanks, Papa.”
“Do you have any more homework?” Even asks.
Tommy shakes his head.
“How about some cartoons then?”
“Can we keep eating carrots on the sofa?” Tommy asks.
“Sure, why not?” Even agrees.
They’re waiting for an episode of Daffy Duck to load. Even nudges his foot against Tommy’s, “Hey.”
“I love you,” Even tells him.
Tommy smiles, speaking through a bite of carrot, “I love you too, Papa.”
“No more crying over maths, huh?” Even teases lightly.
Tommy rolls his eyes and kicks his father back as the familiar tune of the Looney Tunes intro begins playing on the screen.
“Tommy?” Even asks over the music.
“Yeah, Papa?” Tommy answers, not quite looking away from the tv.
“You know you can ask for help on more than just homework, right?” Even asks. “You know you can talk to us about anything, right?”
Tommy finally looks over at his father and he’s got the smallest smile playing on his lips.
Chapter 10: chicken tacos
Tommy, age 15. Isak's POV.
“Dad? Papa?” Tommy called out as he walked through the front door.
Isak and Even had been talking at their kitchen table when they heard their son getting home.
“Kitchen!” Even called out.
Isak turned his head toward the hallway, anticipating seeing their son, but instead, the first person to join them in the kitchen was Bo.
“Oh, hi Bo,” Even greeted him. Tommy joined them shortly behind his best friend.
“Halla,” Bo gave a small wave.
“How’s school going?” Isak asked. “I heard the exam in Maths was pretty tough last week.”
Bo nodded, “Yeah it was rough. I don’t know what Mr. Lund’s been smoking.”
At that, Isak couldn’t help but laugh. It was difficult to tell whether Tommy’s sense of humor was rubbing off on Bo or vice versa.
“What are you two up to now?” Even asked, standing up with his and Isak’s mugs and taking them to the sink.
“We’re just gonna listen to some music and stuff upstairs,” Tommy answered.
“Oh stuff, huh?” Isak teased.
He noticed the slight flush appear on his son’s cheeks. And then, a devious look crossed Tommy’s face. “Yeah, stuff as in the smack we bought from the neighborhood dealer.”
“What?” Even turned around from the sink in about .02 seconds.
“Just kidding, Papa!” Tommy laughed.
“Go on, get out of here,” Isak rolled his eyes playfully.
Tommy saluted them and pulled a giggling Bo by his arm upstairs.
Once Isak heard the door upstairs shut and the soft hum of some acoustic music (Bo’s choice), Isak turned to his husband, “Were we ever that funny at that age?”
Even shook his head, “We’re still not that funny.” He was beaming with pride.
Their conversation turned to the sort of boring little things – the items that should go on the list for the next grocery trip, the latest mortgage payment, the football match score, a new duvet for the bed, the oil change for the car – but Isak wouldn’t change it for the world. The boring things with Even were nice, too.
When it started to turn to evening, Even got comfortable in the kitchen while Isak re-read the latest draft of his lab’s next publication, making notes of which sections needed more work, trying to anticipate what the reviewers would want more from them.
“Do you think Bo will stay for dinner?” Even asked.
Isak set the papers down, “I’m not sure. I’ll go up and ask,” he replied as he stood from the table.
Upstairs, the music had been turned off and it was quiet except for the two voices coming from Tommy’s room. Isak had half a thought to walk lightly or even pause in the hallway before making his presence known. But then he thought about how terribly guilty he would feel if Tommy caught him eavesdropping.
Quickly, he knocked on Tommy’s door.
“Yeah?” he heard Tommy ask.
“It’s Dad. Can I come in?” Isak asked.
“Sure,” Tommy answered.
Inside, Bo was lying on his stomach on the twin bed while Tommy sat with his knees pulled up to his chest in the bean bag on the floor.
“What’s up, Dad?” Tommy asked, not looking particularly happy to see him.
Isak felt strange and like he’d walked into something he shouldn’t have.
“Your papa and I were just wondering if Bo would like to stay for dinner. We’re making chicken tacos,” he turned to Bo, “But we have some avocados and black beans, I’m sure we can make some vegetarian ones for you, Bo.”
“Umm, that’s okay, thanks. I should get going actually,” Bo replied as he pushed himself up from the bed.
Isak noticed Tommy staring at his feet, not making any moves to get up and follow Bo out the door.
Bo seemed to notice, too. “I’ll see you in school Monday,” he finally said, giving up and walking out the door.
“Hey,” Isak nudged the bean bag chair with his foot, “Aren’t you going to walk your guest out?”
“He’s not a guest, Dad,” Tommy sighed dropping his chin between his knees.
“He’s your friend and for some reason he doesn’t feel welcome at dinner. You understand that?” Isak was disappointed.
“Oh and that’s my fault somehow?” Tommy was mad at him now.
“That’s not what I said,” Isak replied calmly. “Why don’t you take a few minutes to figure out whatever it is you need to tell us and then join your Papa and me downstairs?”
“I’m not hungry,” Tommy spoke back, refusing to look at his father.
“I wasn’t really offering, Tom. You’ll join us downstairs for dinner.”
He caught Bo as he was putting his shoes on, “You know you’re always welcome to stay for dinner, right, Bo?”
“Thanks, but I really should get home. Maybe next time?” Bo answered.
Isak let him go, telling him to text Tommy when he got home safe, to which Bo nodded. He unlocked his bike from their gate and started pedaling away.
In the kitchen, Even was cutting up the chicken, “No Bo then?”
Isak didn’t answer. He plopped in a chair and sighed into his hands.
“Isak?” Even asked, realizing something was off.
“What? With Bo?” Even asked.
Isak shrugged, “I don’t know. Something happened up there. And Tommy was being rude to Bo and doesn’t want to eat now.”
“Well, he doesn’t have to eat right now,” Even tried.
“No, he can watch us eat while he explains himself,” Isak answered him.
“Isak,” Even said, his voice sounding pained a bit.
“What?” Isak shrugged.
“Do you think that was the best way to handle this?” Even winced.
“Honey, he made his friend feel unwelcome in our home. Aren’t you disappointed too?”
“Sure I am,” Even sat at the table.
“So what? What was I supposed to do then? What would you have done?” Isak was getting irritated.
“Hey,” Even put his hand on Isak’s, “I don’t know, but I probably would have talked to you first.”
Isak recognized that Even wasn’t trying to fight him on this. Isak did wish he’d spoken to Tommy differently. He started to realize that he probably sounded like how his own father used to talk to him the second he did anything wrong. He felt like shit.
“You’re right. I wish I had done that differently,” Isak told him. He grabbed Even’s hand back, “I’m sorry, I am.”
Even shook his head, “It’s okay. We’re a team, you and me.”
Moments later they could hear Tommy’s heavy steps down the stairs. He joined them at the table, his shoulder slumped and his eyes on his hands that were fidgeting against the table top.
“Thank you for coming downstairs, Tommy.” Isak told his son, “I want you to know I’m not angry. I’m just worried about you, okay?”
Even leaned forward, “You want to tell us what’s bothering you, son?”
Tommy head started to shake minutely.
“Did something uhh,” Isak started, “Did Bo say something to you? Did he say something that made you feel unsafe?”
“Jesus, no, Dad,” Tommy sighed. “He’s Bo. He picks up caterpillars on the sidewalk and moves them to the grass so they won’t get stepped on.”
“We just want to know you’re going to be okay,” Even explained, “It’s hard for us to see you like this, baby. We just care about you so much.”
At that, their boy started to cry. And not quiet cries. Full body cries.
“Tommy,” Isak and Even reached across the table for his hands at the same time, just trying to ground him, “Tommy, please, please talk to us,” Isak implored.
Tommy took one of his arms away to wipe at his eyes, trying to get his breathing under control at the same time. Through labored breaths, he let it go, “Bo and Sunny are dating now.” He sniffed the snot back up his nose, “They’ve been dating for a month.” He wiped at his eyes again, “I was gonna tell Bo. I was going to tell him about my feelings. And now I just feel stupid and like I’m losing both of them.”
Even got up and walked around the table to sit in the chair next to his son. He cradled his head and pulled him against him, letting him cry. He rubbed his back.
Isak pulled his hands up to his face. He was transported back, to the summer he turned sixteen. He could remember Jonas coming over, convincing him to go to the skate park with him. They had talked and laughed for hours, Isak barely able to keep his balance on the board while Jonas soared. It had been getting late although they hadn’t known it since it was so bright outside still. He remembered the way his heart started racing when Jonas told him he didn’t want to be with Ingrid anymore, that he couldn’t stop thinking about someone else. Isak remembered letting him think, for just a second, that maybe Jonas was talking about him. That maybe, just maybe, Jonas liked him back. And then he told him about Eva. And Isak sat there and smiled and listened to Jonas and supported him and told him he needed to tell Ingrid. But of course Jonas wouldn’t until later that summer, until after he became involved with Eva. He hugged his friend that night and thanked him for telling him. He walked home and then he collapsed in his bed, crying until his eyes felt sore.
All of Isak’s disappointment in Tommy was gone. All he felt was overwhelming empathy.
Tommy had stopped crying so hard, leaning back and away from Even’s arms. Even rubbed his back once more, waiting for Isak to speak.
“Tommy?” Isak tried.
“Yes?” Tommy replied, he sounded exhausted.
“I know you’re hurting a lot right now,” Isak tried to explain.
Even studied him carefully, waiting for what Isak would say.
“Please don’t tell me it gets better, Dad, Please don’t,” Tommy spoke, shaking his head.
Isak mirrored him. “I’m not going to tell you that, son. I just want you to know – it’s okay to be really sad. Do you understand me?” he waited for Tommy to look up at him, “Okay? You don’t have to pretend you’re not sad. You can just be hurting right now.
“Okay,” Tommy nodded, “Okay, Dad.”
Even spoke up, “You should eat something tonight, but you don’t have to eat now, okay?”
“If you want to talk, we’ll be here. If you want to rest, you can go,” Isak added.
“I want to be alone for a while,” Tommy decided.
“That’s fine,” Even told him. “We’ll always be here for you.”
Tommy nodded and stood up from the table. When he reached the stairs, he turned around, his hand on the railing, his eyes red. “Thank you, Papa, for cooking.”
“Yes?” Isak answered.
“I’m sorry, you know, if I disappointed you.”
“I love you, Tommy, you know that,” Isak told him. He meant it.
“I do,” Tommy nodded, “I know.”