Patrick is nine years old when his cousin Michelle has a baby. For weeks beforehand his mom knits frantically, booties and hats and jumpers, and Patrick finds himself holding skeins of wool for her to wind into balls until his arms ache. He helps her in the kitchen too, cooking meals that will be easy for her to freeze and reheat when the baby comes — because as his mom tells him, it will take up all Michelle’s time and she’ll be too tired to worry about things like cooking. Patrick doesn’t have any particular interest in the baby, but he likes Michelle; she always asks him questions about school and his friends and then pays attention when he answers her, rather than treating him like a dumb little kid.
They hold her baby shower at their house, and Patrick and his dad are banished for the day. His dad takes him to the park and they throw a ball around until Patrick’s legs are aching from all the running around, and then they sit under the shade of a tree while his dad unpacks a picnic. It’s nice, spending time with his dad, and it’s nice to have a break from all the baby talk that has been echoing around the house lately.
Patrick’s dad laughs when Patrick tells him this. “Well, babies are always exciting, son. Though I think they’re a lot more exciting when they’re your own. You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Patrick nods. It still all seems a bit weird to him, but he trusts his dad.
When Michelle has her fourth baby Patrick is sixteen, and this time when he’s kicked out of the house for her baby sprinkle he goes to Rachel’s. He takes a DVD with him, one he grabbed from work yesterday, and they curl up on the couch in her living room with Rachel’s head on his shoulder and the popcorn resting on Patrick’s lap. After the movie has finished and gone back to the menu screen, they make out for a while, Patrick’s hands on her waist and Rachel’s hair tickling his ear, until the front door slams and alerts them to her parents coming home.
They go for a walk, fingers interlaced together as they meander through the park. He complains for a while about how distracted his mom has been lately, her attention singularly focused on baby stuff like it is any time anyone in his family is pregnant, and Rachel nods and hums and squeezes his fingers supportively.
“You’ll be grateful when it’s you, though.” She tucks her hair behind her ear and blushes violently, staring down at the ground. “I don’t— I just meant— if she’s doing all this for her nieces and nephews’ kids, imagine what she’ll be like when it’s her grandchild. You won’t have to do a thing.”
And it’s… weird to think about. Having kids and getting married and being an adult is all some vaguely terrifying, nebulous future that Patrick tries not to look at very hard. When he thinks about having a wife and a child and a white picket fence, it’s all a little hazy, like he’s trying to look at it through the fog of something that won’t quite clear. He nods and makes a vaguely affirmative noise under his breath, and then he changes the subject to the upcoming hockey season.
Nana and Grandad Brewer are hosting their annual summer barbecue, and Patrick’s entire family is in attendance — his aunts and uncles, his cousins and their kids, various partners. The huge family sprawls all over the spacious yard, most of the women organising dinner while the men chat about work and sports. Patrick is with neither of these groups, instead finding himself roughhousing with a gaggle of children between three and ten, all shrieking about “Uncle Patrick” (technically he’s actually “first-cousin-once-removed” Patrick, but that seems hard to explain to a bunch of kids). He chases them round and round, laughing as they trip over themselves to get away, their high-pitched giggling echoing across the lawn until finally Patrick collapses in a heap and lets them clamber all over him. It’s only once they’re summoned for dinner that he pulls himself up, grateful he had the foresight to wear his yard work jeans so he doesn’t have to stress about the grass stains now covering them. He steps into the line around the table next to Rachel, wrapping his arm around her waist and pressing a kiss to her temple as she hands him the plate she’s already picked up for him.
On Rachel’s other side, his cousin Julie grins at him. “I was just telling Rachel how lucky she is.”
“What do you mean?”
Under his arm Rachel tenses, her gaze fixed to her plate as Julie continues. “You’re going to be a great dad one day, Patrick.”
Rachel’s sudden discomfiture makes sense. She’s always so careful not to push for more, not to scare him off, not to talk too much about the future in case it results in yet another breakup. He wishes he could understand why trying to place her in the still-hazy vision of his future feels like forcing a puzzle piece that isn’t cut to fit.
“Um, thanks.” The thing is, he can see it. He can see a hoard of kids with Rachel’s hair and his eyes; he can see teaching them baseball and guitar and how to swim. But when he envisages it, he feels detached from it, as though he’s watching someone else’s life.
He’s twenty-seven years old. He and Rachel have been together over a decade, on and off; maybe it’s time to stop trying to envision his future and just plan it.
Maybe it’s time to start looking at jewellers.
Patrick really kind of wishes he’d been able to see exactly how Jocelyn managed to convince David to throw her a baby sprinkle. He’s been on the wrong end of her dogged cheerfulness once or twice himself, though he thought David would be far less of a soft touch than he is. Still, he needles David even as he tries to guide him towards a slightly more appropriate party, because he is who he is, and he picks up the package from the counter with a smirk once David’s expression is sufficiently riled.
“See, this is why I hate babies.” The words are tossed out casually behind Patrick’s back as he takes the package into the stockroom, which means David doesn’t see the look of shock Patrick can feel slipping onto his face at the words. Because it’s not like he’s ever looked at David and thought to himself, this man exudes parental energy, but… he’s not really used to that sentiment being expressed quite so boldly, and it rattles him more than he would have thought it would.
He spends a few extra moments in the back, thinking hard. He’s always assumed he’d have kids one day, but he’s also always assumed that those kids would be with, if not Rachel, then some other woman, which is obviously no longer on the table. There were a lot of things he just assumed about how his life would look, because that’s what everyone around him did. And one of the many wonderful things being with David has taught him is that he can carve his own path.
That they can. Together. Because when he thinks about his future now, it’s no longer fuzzy and indistinct. It’s here, in this store, and David’s soft smile is the sharpest part of the image.
It takes two days after the Crows premiere for David to turn to him in the dark and whisper, “Are you absolutely, one hundred percent sure?”
Patrick doesn’t have to ask him what he means. He knew that the post-painkiller conversation has been weighing on David, the merest hint that they might not be on exactly the same page regarding their future enough to drag up the old insecurities that mostly stay buried these days, wrapped under layer upon layer of Patrick’s unwavering and unconditional love for him. He also knows that his assurances at the time, hazy as they were thanks to the aftereffects of dental surgery, focused a little more on David not wanting to have kids than they should have.
“When I used to think about having kids, I’d think about teaching them things.” He picks carefully through the words, needing to make sure he gets this right. “Sports, music… whatever. I wouldn’t think about holding a baby in my arms and loving them unconditionally, or waving them off for their first day of school.” He rolls onto his side, barely able to make out David’s shape in the dark — but he can feel the wide gaze fixed on him anyway. “David, you were the one who showed me I can make the space I want in the world. After the wedding’s over, I’d love to start a Little League team here, maybe help Jocelyn out with the drama department at the high school. But none of that is about filling a void, okay? I can like kids without needing my own. I don’t want or need kids to be happy with you. I’m already the happiest I’ve ever been.”
There’s a long silence, and a suspiciously wet-sounding cough, before David speaks. “Well, you do already dress like a Little League coach.”
Patrick laughs, too loud in the otherwise still room. “So glad to have your support.”
Between the Rose Apothecary expansion and Patrick’s Town Council campaign, baby Cara is almost nine months old by the time they make the trip up to West Canthor to meet her. He’s seen plenty of photos on Rachel’s Facebook page, but the shock of curly red hair on such a small person is still a sight to behold and he scoops her up with a grin, laughing at the ill-concealed look of horror on his husband’s face when suspiciously sticky fingers find their way into Patrick’s hair.
Later, Patrick somehow finds himself manning the barbecue while David is perched on one of the plastic chairs having an in-depth conversation with Andrew about Italian architecture. Cara is on Andrew’s lap, clearly enjoying being bounced on one knee and engrossed in her toy while the two adults chat over her head. He’s watching the interaction, smiling to himself at the way David has managed to position himself just out of reach of Cara’s grasping hands, when he suddenly notices the bottle being held under his nose and he takes the beer gratefully.
“Thanks for taking over the grilling.” She grins at him as he takes a long swig, the beer cool and refreshing in the evening sun. “Sorry my husband went full architect mode on your husband.”
“Oh, David loves it.” He turns the sausages over and flips the meat patties, keeping an eye on David’s medium-rare. “Any excuse to talk about something art-adjacent with someone who actually understands him.”
They both watch as Cara leans forward, her attention caught by the silver chain wrapped around David’s wrist, and David smoothly nudges his chair back in the grass without so much as a break in what he’s saying. Patrick chuckles, and Rachel shoots him a curious look.
“So… are you and David planning on having kids?”
“Nope.” The answer comes easily and thoughtlessly, and he doesn’t realise until he scoops and scrapes the onion and glances back up that Rachel is still watching him, her expression pensive.
“And you’re okay with David not wanting them?”
The question doesn’t prickle under his skin the way it did when it came from his Aunt Kathy, or Nana Brewer, or Jocelyn. Of all the people in the world, he thinks Rachel has the right to wonder.
“It’s not like I’m giving something up for him. I never had particularly strong feelings either way.”
Rachel laughs. “Can’t relate.”
“No, David can’t either.” He moves David’s patties onto a tray, and adds the sausages while letting the rest of the meat cook a while longer. “He has such strong feelings against them that I think he was worried that anything more ambivalent than that was actually me wanting kids and putting that aside for him.”
“But it wasn’t.” She doesn’t frame it as a question, but he answers it like one anyway.
“It wasn’t.” He has another drink as he turns to her. “I would have been happy to have them, sure, but I’m just as happy to not have them. Kids were never really a factor in me feeling fulfilled either way.” He takes a deep breath, watching the way she watches her husband and daughter, relaxed and radiant. “But you always deserved someone who wants kids as much as you do. I never would have been able to give you what you have now. I’m glad you found him.”
Rachel turns to him, lips parted in surprise for a moment before they relax into a smile. She slips an arm around his waist and tugs him close, squeezing him with a surprisingly strong grip.
“You would have tried so hard. It would have been a lot worse for you than it was for me.” She rests her head on his shoulder and for just a moment he’s fifteen again, the smell of her shampoo making him feel warm and comfortable and ridiculously fond. It was so easy, back then, to mistake this feeling for romantic. “I’m really glad you ran away, Patrick. Even if I hated you for it at the time.”
Patrick barks out a laugh, swiping quickly at the corners of his eyes. Across the yard David looks up at him, his attention pulled by the invisible thread that always seems to connect them, but Patrick gives him what must be a reassuring enough smile because after a moment his shoulders relax and he turns his attention back to Andrew. “If it makes you feel any better, I hated myself for it at the time too.”
“Oh, it does.” They both laugh, the tension broken, and detangle themselves as Patrick moves the rest of the meat to the tray. Together they take the meat over to the table and everyone settles in, Cara in her highchair and David surreptitiously placing himself in the opposite corner. Patrick leans over, his hand finding David’s thigh as David drapes an arm around his shoulder, and he knows they all wound up exactly where they were meant to be.