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With A Little Help From My Friends

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It starts, as things so often do, with a phone call.

It’s just after dinner and Eddie is in the middle of washing dishes while Christopher works on a puzzle in the living room, when his phone buzzes in his pocket. Hands wet and soapy, he isn’t paying much attention to the number on the screen as he hits the answer call button and cradles the phone between his neck and shoulder while he reaches for a dishtowel.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Diaz? Oh, thank goodness.” It’s a woman’s voice, sounding tired and relieved at once. “It’s Carol Klein—my son Kevin is in Christopher’s class?”

At once, Eddie’s mind flashes back to parent-teacher night, trying to place the name and the voice. He lands on the memory of a woman with wild dark curls and a bright smile talking about phone trees and homeroom parent schedules and he’s fairly certain he’s got the right person.

“Right, of course—hi, Carol,” he replies. “And Eddie is fine, really.”

“Eddie—I’m sorry for calling so late,” Carol apologizes. “It’s just that I’ve been organizing the parent chaperones for the planetarium field trip tomorrow and I just got a call that one has come down with the flu. I hate asking last minute, but I noticed you had marked on Christopher’s form that you might be available—if you aren’t, I understand, I’m just scrambling a bit…”

Eddie leaves the dishes and sits down heavily at the kitchen table. Frankly, he’s dead on his feet—the week has been full of long, difficult shifts, and he had been looking forward to having the next two days off to catch up on sleep and clean the house and run errands—but he also knows that Christopher has been talking about this field trip for a month and while they could probably find someone else…

He rubs a hand over his face.

“You know what, I am free actually. I can do it. What do you need?”

“Oh, you’re a lifesaver—I owe you one. The bus is going to leave from the school a little after nine and then return around three. I was thinking that all of us parents could meet at eight-thirty to go over group assignments and lunch plans and everything else while the kids are getting settled in the classroom,” she says. “And I’m bringing coffee for everyone, so let me know what you’d like and I’ll add it my list.”

“Just black is fine,” Eddie replies.

“Dad!” Christopher calls from the other room. “Are you coming? You said you would help when I finished the edges!”

“Yeah, buddy, I’ll be right there,” Eddie calls back.

On the other end of the line Carol laughs.

“I’ll let you go,” she says. “Thanks again, Eddie. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“See you then.”

Eddie hangs up the phone and tosses it on the table. He glances over at the sink and decides the last pan can use some soaking anyway, gives himself one more moment to linger in the chair, and then finally forces himself up to help with the puzzle.

“Alright, buddy, what have we got here?”

Even with the puzzle and the excitement of a field trip the next day, Eddie does manage to get Christopher off to bed at a decent hour. And then there’s nothing to do but sleep himself and wonder what exactly he’s gotten himself into by agreeing to spend the next day with a bunch of precocious nine and ten-year-olds.

As it turns out, it’s actually…relatively painless. Well, except for the part where Eddie unintentionally commits an unwritten cardinal sin by suggesting that Christopher sit next to him at lunch—it’s force of habit, he doesn’t really think about the fact that it’s not just the two of them until Christopher gives him a look like he’s grown a second head and goes to sit with his friends at the other end of the table.

“Don’t worry, it’s normal,” Jessica, one of the other moms, says as she sets her plate down on his other side. “No matter how much they love you, at this age almost nobody wants to be the kid who hangs out with their parent on the field trip.”

“I thought I at least had a couple more years before the ugh, dad, you’re not cool, stop embarrassing me-s started,” Eddie replies with a rueful smile.

“Oh, trust me, it’s all a front. When you did show-and-tell last year? I swear, those kids talked about nothing else for two weeks. It was all Mr. Diaz this and Mr. Diaz that. You’re one of the cool parents.”

Eddie laughs. “Now that’s hard to believe.”

Just then, one of the smaller girls in the class—Eddie’s pretty sure her name is Lucy—wanders over, biting her lip and rocking back and forth on her heels shyly.

“Mr. Diaz, can I sit with you?”

Jessica snorts and bumps his shoulder with hers.

“Um…” Eddie blinks, then moves his plate a little to create more space. “Sure. Of course you can.”

“Told you,” Jessica teases under her breath as she takes a bite of her sandwich.

At the end of the day, when they’re back at the school and Eddie has Christopher settled in the truck, Carol calls his name before he can climb in and head out.

“Thanks for today, Eddie, you were a natural,” she says.

“It was no problem, really,” he replies. “I had fun, Chris had fun, we didn’t lose anyone or have any injuries…so. All good in my book.”

“Yes, very true,” Carol laughs. “You know, I wanted to let you know…several of us parents get together once, maybe twice a month or so and we’ll go out to lunch or go bowling or grab coffee—it varies really, just something fun—anyway. You’re welcome to join us if you’d like. I can add you to the email chain.”

Not for the first time that day, Eddie’s surprised. It’s not that he’s opposed, more that the invitation is unexpected. He’s not particularly social—when he is it’s with the team or with Buck or with his family, all of them in each other’s houses, in each other’s lives both at work and away from it. Outside of them…

It occurs to him that he’s never really known how to make friends.

The silence stretches awkwardly long and Carol’s smile dims.

“No pressure, of course,” she starts, and Eddie snaps out of it and shakes his head.

“No—sorry—that sounds great,” he assures. “I’d love to.”

“Wonderful! Okay—I’ll let you know when we figure out the next one.”

“Okay. Um—and, you know, if you ever need more volunteers for classroom stuff like this,” Eddie offers, “I won’t always be available, but if I am I’m happy to help, whatever it is.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replies.

And she does. Over the next few months, Eddie ends up on classroom snack duty three times, helps build the class booth at the school carnival fundraiser, and bakes—with surprisingly positive results—for two different bake sales. And he also…has fun.

The parent group—

“We call ourselves the Classroom Clique,” Sarah says at the very first outing Eddie makes it to, and Jessica rolls her eyes.

Nobody calls it that,” she interrupts.

“I do.”

“You’re the only one.”

—is…actually really great. In addition to the outings, there’s a book club, a recipe-swap group chat. Carol keeps a list of tried and tested babysitters and they all have stories, both good and bad, about doctors, therapists, insurance companies—

It’s a whole network. And the first time—although certainly not the last—Eddie ends up stuck working overtime and panicking about who is going to pick up Christopher because it was supposed to be him, he suddenly has at least ten other people he can call and he realizes it’s a support system too.

He starts having actual plans, going from of course I’m free to Christopher is having a sleepover and I’m watching the game with Henry’s dad, to Jacqueline is playing the lead in a musical and we all promised to go support her.

“Who are you texting?” Buck teases him one night when they’re over at the loft and Chris has fallen asleep on the couch. It’s not a school night, so Eddie isn’t as concerned about the time, has enjoyed lingering in Buck’s kitchen, the two of them shooting the breeze between putting away leftovers and cleaning up. Eddie only pulls out his phone when Buck goes to the bathroom and is laughing at a rapid-fire series of texts when he comes back.

“Oh, Kiara,” Eddie replies, finishing his reply before tucking his phone away. “She’s trying to complain about this week’s Bachelor episode, but I’m behind, which is apparently the worst thing in the world.”

Buck blinks. Opens his mouth. Closes it.

“There are so many pieces of that sentence that I could ask about, but instead I’ll just say—who’s Kiara?”

“Andrew’s mom?”

Buck’s still staring blankly.

“Andrew is Christopher’s friend that he did the science fair project with?” Eddie clarifies.

“And you…text with his mom…about reality television?”

“Technically, there are several of us,” he replies, pulling his phone out again and opening the group chat before passing it over. Buck’s eyebrows shoot up.

“The Classroom Clique,” he reads, and Eddie rubs at the back of his neck and shrugs. Okay, so maybe he also calls it that.

“It’s a bunch of us parents from Christopher’s class—we text and hang out sometimes—our kids are friends, we’re friends, we volunteer for classroom stuff together…”

“So you’re not dating any of these women,” Buck says, scrolling through the chat looking strangely fascinated.

Eddie’s startled into a laugh. “God no,” he replies. “For one thing, they’re all married. For another, you would know if I was dating someone, Buck.”

“Just checking.” Buck hands back the phone and looks at him for a long moment.

“What?”

Buck shakes his head. “I just—” He laughs. “You’re a PTA dad.”

“Just because I helped with three fundraisers—”

Their eyes meet and both of them dissolve into further laughter as Eddie puts the phone away again.

“It’s nice to have friends outside of work,” Eddie says when they’ve calmed down. “I haven’t ever really…had that. But they’re good people, you’d like them. I know they’d like you.”

“Well, maybe I could meet them sometime,” Buck replies. “Get to know the people who apparently got you into trashy reality television without any of us knowing about it.”

Before he can think better of it, Eddie throws out—

“Carol’s throwing a party next Saturday. It’ll probably be a bunch of kids running around and a bunch of parents gossiping, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you wanted to come with us.”

Buck looks away as the smile on his lips softens into something smaller, like Eddie’s almost not supposed to see it. But he looks back before Eddie can reflect on it too much.

“And meet the Classroom Clique,” he teases. Eddie rolls his eyes good-naturedly.

“And meet the Classroom Clique.”

“Sure. Why not—I’m free.”

Which is how Eddie ends up at Carol’s house a week later, caught between Carol and Jessica as he keeps one eye on Christopher in the pool while occasionally stealing glances at Buck who has been cornered by Sarah across the yard.

“You could have told me you were seeing someone,” Carol says. “Molly and Greg have been trying to talk you up to one of the single moms they’re friends with from the third grade class. I tried telling them you weren’t going to go for a set-up, but it definitely would have helped to know you’re taken.”

Eddie nearly chokes on his soda. “I—what?”

“You…brought your boyfriend? To introduce him to your friends? That is what’s happening here, right?”

“I—that’s—” Eddie feels thrown. As he looks back to Buck, the other man laughs, bright and loud, at something Sarah says and starts gesturing wildly. “—Buck’s just a friend.”

Carol and Jessica exchange glances. Carol sips her glass of wine.

Buck glances over and catches Eddie staring—somehow, his smile gets brighter, and Eddie’s face heats as he looks away.

Jessica hums.

“You know, I had a friend once who used to look at me like that,” she says.

“Oh?” Eddie replies, feeling like he’s walking into a trap but unsure why.

“Yep.” She pops the p and holds up her hand, wiggling her fingers so her wedding ring catches the light. “I married him.”

“Don’t tease the man, Jess, he already looks like he’s been hit with a sledgehammer,” Carol chides. “You know, if you need it, Eddie, I can get you something a lot stronger than soda.”

Eddie clears his throat roughly, shakes his head. “I’m fine, I’m just—”

“Buck! Dad!” Christopher. Waving at both of them from the water.

“We see you, buddy!” Buck calls back. “You look great!”

“He’s good with Chris, huh?” Jessica asks.

“The best,” Eddie acknowledges. His voice sounds far away to his own ears, his world tipping on its axis. Buck is his friend. His best friend. Except that he’s suddenly looking at him, at them, their relationship, and realizing—

They don’t spend time together the way he does with other people. With them it’s just…quiet, lazy, domestic. They don’t really make plans most of the time, they just show up at each other’s homes, waltzing in and out like they belong there. As far as Eddie’s concerned, Buck does belong there. But he doesn’t feel like that about anyone else.

And with Christopher…Eddie has new friends now, friends who can look after Christopher, who are good with him…but Eddie is still the parent who sends four emails before each sleepover just in case, who leaves the babysitter a million emergency numbers and still checks his phone multiple times to make sure he hasn’t missed a call, who worries and frets and hovers from a respectful distance because he wants his kid to have space to grow.

But he doesn’t worry when it’s Buck. Buck cares about Christopher as much as he does, will worry and fret and show up like a parent rather than a family friend. Buck’s been there for Eddie since the beginning like—

Like a partner.

Eddie inhales sharply and Carol squeezes his shoulder.

“I’m gonna get you that drink,” she says.

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” He thinks he might need it after all.

“Are you okay?” Buck asks later once they’re back at Eddie’s house. Christopher tired himself out in the pool and was easily put to bed, but that leaves Eddie alone with Buck and his own thoughts, which is a dangerous position to be in. “You’ve been quiet since we left.”

“Yeah,” Eddie replies, managing a smile. “Yeah, I’m fine—did you, uh, did you have fun?”

Buck grins. “Yeah, I did. You know, you were right—your friends are pretty great.”

“They are,” Eddie agrees.

Buck tips his head and looks at him carefully, the smile sliding off his face. “You sure you’re okay? You know, if something’s wrong, you can tell me.”

“I—” Eddie swallows hard. He’s still reeling, and his thoughts are a mix of I think I want to be with you and we’re not just friends, are we, which is perhaps why when he opens his mouth, what comes out is—

“I don’t want to be your friend.”

The words don’t catch up to him until Buck steps back, shock and hurt flashing across his face, and then Eddie swears.

“Shit, no, that’s not—what I meant was—I—” He’s always been terrible at words, at talking about how he feels, and he’s no better now. But he just wants to make that terrible look on Buck’s face go away, wants to never make him look like that ever again, so Eddie takes one step, then another, fists his hands in the front of Buck’s shirt and yanks him down to kiss him.

Buck makes a startled sound against Eddie’s lips—the angle is awkward at first, noses jamming together and teeth clacking from how abrupt it is—but then one of Buck’s hands curves around the back of Eddie’s neck, they adjust, and Buck shivers and presses closer.

“Oh,” Buck breathes when they break apart. “You meant—”

“I don’t want to just be your friend,” Eddie says, the words finally sorting themselves out. “I’m not—I’m not sure whether we were ever really just anything, but whatever we were, I want—I want more than that. I want everything.”

Buck leans in and steals another kiss, quick but fierce.

“Yes,” he says quietly. “I—fuck, Eddie, I’ve wanted you forever. So…yes.”

And Eddie can’t do anything else but pull him back in again.

In the morning, he reaches for his phone and snaps a quick photo of the back of Buck’s head and shoulders, only just visible under the twisted sheets. He sends it to Carol and Jessica.

Thanks.

Jessica sends back a string of exclamation points.

Carol just says what are friends for and a wink emoji.

Eddie huffs a laugh as Buck rolls over.

“Are you done gloating to your friends?” He teases, voice rough with sleep.

Eddie sets his phone aside and leans down to kiss him.

“For now.”

They don’t get up for a long while.