“Jeremy,” he said, looking at the sweet infant cradled in his arms.
Jeremy was an okay name, she thought. Lord knows, after seven other boys, there wasn’t a name she hadn’t already thought of.
“Alright,” she said. “Jeremy.”
In twenty-seven years, Jeremy would be known as Scout, and she’d be known to his teammates as his loving ma. And the young man, looking at his new son with love in his eyes, he’d be known as Spy, a rat bastard who’d left that family. But that would be twenty-seven years later. Right now, it was only Jeremy, brand new innocent Jeremy, with his two loving parents— one of whom couldn’t ever imagine leaving him, and the other knowing that he probably would. Because that man, that odd French man in the ski mask, was too debonair, too wayward, too young , frankly, to settle down in Boston and give up a life of espionage for a life of toys and tots.
But he was looking at Jeremy with love in his eyes. She sighed in the hospital bed. She ought to let him— “Jeremy”— be held by his father as much as possible, before he left.
“Boys?” she called out, walking into the small home in Boston. “Do you want to meet your brother?”
Half-brother, he really was. Really bad luck, in her opinion, that the one man she’d bedded after her other sons’ father had left her life had gotten her pregnant.
One of the middle ones, not more than four, tugged on the Spy’s suit jacket, wanting to see the new little brother that he’d have.
He was clutching the bundle of blue blankets with a protective ferocity that she recognized. “C’mon,” she prodded. “Let him see his new brother.”
Spy decided to squat down on his knees. He turned Jeremy to the curious child, who looked at the still-scrunched up infant’s face.
And poked it.
The wail that Jeremy cried made Spy stand up, retreat straight to the bedroom he shared with Jeremy’s mother, and shut the door, so he could keep his son close for the rest of the day.
“It’s okay, sweetie, you know how it is.” She sighed, ruffling her other son’s hair.
One of the older ones, looking out from his bedroom doorway, frowned. That wasn’t the way it was. Their dad let them see their brothers, and their dad wasn’t so mean about it.
That day, the first “Gathering of the Real Brothers” commenced. Obviously, Jeremy was not invited.
The appointed leader, the oldest of the brothers, started the meeting. “He ain’t our dad, that’s plain enough— stop chewin’ on the flashlight, this is serious business!”
The first meeting had some issues— namely, that half of the brothers in the meeting were too young to understand what was going on. But still, they were there, underneath a blanket tent between two sets of bunk beds.
“He ain’t our dad,” he continued. “He’s an okay guy, but he’s not Dad at all.”
The Vice President— second oldest— asked, “So what’s that make Jeremy?”
“It’s obvious, ain’t it? Jeremy doesn’t have the same dad as us, and brothers share dads. End of story.”
“But he got Ma. We all got Ma.”
The President of the Brothers thought. And thought some more. And his twelve-year-old brain figured it out, figured something out that would only end up hurting little Jeremy, little Scout. “He ain’t a full brother. He’s half a brother. So we don’t call him ‘brother’. We use half of the word. He’s our ‘bro’.”
“Jeremy is our baby bro!” Vice Secretary— the six-year-old in the room— clapped his hands.
“Sure, but he ain’t our baby brother . He’s our bro.”
“Got it. Baby bro.”
Baby Jeremy. One year old, barely walking, always babbling, wearing a little Talking France on his t-shirt. It was all so familiar to his mother, but so new to his father. She found it somewhat sweet, the way he was lining up pillows to the side of little Scout as he practiced walking, so if he fell he wouldn’t hurt himself, or the way he’d stopped smoking around the child— he kept a pipe of unlit tobacco at the ready, and lit it up when Jeremy was with his mother, but he refused to let the smoke waft into the baby’s lungs.
All of it was sweet. None of it would last. There was a tipping point.
“Yo, Pops, you’re making mac and cheese for all of us, right?” Scout’s brother had tugged on the suit jacket, not paying attention to what he was saying, just wishing for some delicious macaroni goodness.
Spy was paying attention to what he was saying, and the spoon he was using to stir clattered against the pot. “Yes,” he said, but he quickly walked away, lunch forgotten for all.
He lay in bed that night, thinking. It had been a year. So many jobs turned down. He’d told himself it was temporary, but now that he’d thought about it, less and less executives had been calling him. It had happened, spies getting too settled in family life. They probably thought it was happening to him. No one wants an operative who cares too much about his family.
Jeremy cried. Since he’d been moved to the children’s room with the rest of his brothers, he’d been crying every time he woke up, something he hadn’t done since he was six months old.
Spy moved to get up.
“I’ll get it.” A hand patted his and the mother of all eight boys stood up, yawning.
Spy kept thinking, in the inky darkness of the night. They were her sons. He’d treated Jeremy like he was his and his alone, but… they were hersons.
He made a decision.
A week later, Scout’s ma had woken up to a note on the bedside table, the suits in the closet gone, and a cold space in the bed beside her. She sighed. She knew it would happen, the instant she overheard one of her youngest call Spy “pops” when he wasn’t paying attention. She had actually just started to have hope that he would stay.
She read the note. He wouldn’t be coming back.
Jeremy was too young to remember. That was a good thing, at least.
She looked at a small snapshot on her dresser. Her, the man in the suit, and baby Jeremy, just learning to walk on his own, one hand being held up by each of his parents.
She took it out of the frame and almost tore it in half. But she looked at the photo again. One of her older sons, playing with the camera that day, had captured a beautiful moment.
There was an honest smile poking out of that ski mask, so proud to see his son taking his first steps. She looked happy, too, laughing at the careful way he had watched Jeremy so he wouldn’t fall. And Jeremy, well, Jeremy was the sweetest little toddler in that photo, just figuring out how to put one foot in front of the other.
She sighed, and taped it up to the back of her closet— the boys knew well enough to not go in there. She’d look at it, and feel bittersweet memories come up.
Poor Jeremy. At least he wouldn’t remember.