When Kirsten is thirteen years old, she tells her sister that she will only ever have daughters. She will never, ever subjugate herself to balls of mass terror, will never let herself raise the hellions that she currently goes to school with.
Kirsten likes her dolls too much, those pretty, china ones with the hand painted faces, Hailey tells her this. She also says that boys aren't all bad, just the ones with the name Caleb or Jimbo, or the one's that eat their boogers after swimming.
Kirsten screws up her face at that, scrunches up her nose and bites her lip, boogers are disgusting.
A source of protein maybe, Hailey shrugs.
Thing is though, all Kirsten has ever wanted was a little girl, but she doesn't like her prospects, not when she's 44 and stuck here with a house full of men, and a bellyful of little boy.
"It's not like," Seth starts, and he swishes the saliva in his mouth from side-to-side, runs a hand through his hair, "It's not like I'm jealous or anything like that."
"Right," Summer says, she's painting her toenails, colouring them a shade that Seth doesn't think he will ever be able to pronounce.
"It's just, I mean, they're kinda old, y'know? I don't like to think about my parents…" his face screws up a little, and he shudders overdramatically, "my parents mating, or whatever it is they do. I really, really don't, I mean, does anyone want to think about that?"
"Most people do avoid the topic." Summer says, her eyebrows are somewhere in her hairline, pink tongue sticking out the side of her mouth. If Seth looks really closely, he'll be able to see the shadow her eyelashes cast on her cheek, the freckles that sit in the space in front of her ears.
"Isn't it like, dangerous to have another kid at their age anyway?" He asks, "I mean, the Kirsten isn't exactly as strong as she used to be, her hipbones could be failing, weak, y'know? Her uterus could be all…un-uterusy."
"So," Summer says, and she sits up too quickly, sticks the tiny brush back into the tube of nail polish, "in freshman year, I was friends with this chick called Simone, had the best bone structure, I am not even kidding here, anyway, her parents were all, y'know, divorced, and she was like, a total suitcase kid."
"The point being…" He gestures a little, rolls his fingers and his eyes.
"I'm getting there, Cohen, patience is a blessing."
"Whatever, look, so, her Dad was getting remarried to this total slut, and as soon as her Mum saw, she got all like, insanely up in his face about it, and they had this huge fight. Simone said that they like, never spoke again, and they ended up going to court because both of them wanted to keep Simone, anyway, her Mum won, and Simone has lived with her ever since."
Seth blinks, blinks again, "You know, that was a really, really fascinating story, and I mean really fascinating, just-"
"The point is," Summer starts, and her arms are folded over her chest, her forehead raised and her lips in the most delectable little pout, "The point is, asshole, that you are totally like Simone's mum. You see someone you care about, in this case your parents, moving on and growing away from you, and your two seconds away from being up in their faces about it."
"Hm, wow, Summer, I can honestly say that you have sussed me out. Seriously, your logic is unflawed-"
"What I'm saying, Cohen, is that you," and she points, with one long, slender finger, "you are jealous of a kid who isn't even born yet."
"Richard," Sandy says, and his fingers graze, the lightest touch, over her navel, her belly, her ribs.
Kirsten laughs, picks his fingers off her torso, and links them with her own, "that's an awful name."
"It was my grandfather's name, y'know."
"What would we call him for short? Rich, Dick?"
"Well, neither of those are at the top of the list."
"I always liked Emmanuel."
"Tobias," Sandy says, tastes it on the tip of his tongue, "Tobias, get the heck outta your bedroom, you gotta go to school."
Kirsten laughs again, pulls her fingers away from his, and latches onto his hair. "Tobias," she says.
"It tests well, a good yelling name if ever I heard one, coz, you know, two-three syllables just work so much better than one. I mean, hear 'Seth', it's just not a good yelling name."
"Ryan is," Kirsten says, "we don't yell at him enough."
"Hasn't given us reason too."
"Yes, he has, you and me, Sandy Cohen, we're too nice."
"Alas, it's our kryptonite."
Kirsten's laughter bounces this time, off the walls, off the mirrors, off the picture frames, "too much Seth for you."
"Always too much Seth."
Ryan learnt when he was very young that, contrary to popular belief, feeling too much was in fact, very bad for your health.
It was a skill to, after that, become very, very immune to certain things, to build not only a shield, a fortification, but some sort of thirty-foot tall barrier, a mountain, a prison-wall, a blockade. To sift through situations, and figure out what deserves a reaction, and what deserves stoicism. What deserves thumping heart and angry fists and ruptured stomach, and what deserves the same tight lips and clenched fingers that entail in most circumstances.
Since moving to Orange County, this wall has grown thinner and thinner. There are holes in the foundations, mould creeps at the bottom, termites eat at the insides.
This situation, this one that has Sandy and Kirsten and a baby makes him feel more than he honestly believed it would.
Ryan has never had a little brother, he's always been the younger one, the one that needs teaching, the one that doesn't have a repertoire of experiences to draw from, the one that needs looking after. Ryan has never really been a big brother, it's always been Trey, always been Trey to teach him shit, to look after him, to beat up the guys who pick on him, always TreyTreyTrey.
So now, with a baby on the way in this new family that he doesn't deserve, Ryan can't say he's ready yet, not to be a big brother.
Keys are fiddling in the lock, tentative, staggering. Seth can't hold his alcohol, Seth will never be able to hold his alcohol, so when he stumbles in, knocks over the lamp Kirsten had bought two days earlier, and collapses onto the couch, it isn't as much of a surprise as it probably should have been.
"You know what, Ryan?" Seth slurs, his fingers clenched in the cushions littered over the sofa, "You know what?"
"You've had too much to drink."
"Not that much, but, you know what?"
"I am," he says, and he raises his arms into the air, punches out a fist. "I am jealous," he says, and it's the most honest thing he's said all day.
"I know," Ryan says, "I know, and right now you need to go to bed."
"'m not tired though, Ryan," and Seth's yawning, eyelids slipping, he's exhausted and he's drunk.
Ryan wanders over, slips an arm under Seth's waist, pulls the other boy to his feet, "You're not tired," Ryan says, "but you need to go to bed."
Ryan's not ready to be a big brother, but maybe, maybe he already is one.
Kirsten can't say that she has ever really enjoyed being pregnant. Seriously, the beach ball beneath the overalls is unattractive, as is the swollen feet, the quaking legs, the engorged and aching breasts, and, honestly, the hormones are a bitch.
"Ngh," Kirsten says, "ngh."
"Eloquent as always this morning, I see." Sandy states, and he's all smiles this morning, all cream cheese on bagels.
"I need something that is lathered in chocolate, or in salt, one extreme or the other, I can't quite decide."
Sandy grins a little more, a little wider, takes a deep bite from the corner of the bagel, "I can do you potato chips dipped in chocolate."
Kirsten pulls a bottle of orange and mango juice from the fridge, "you know you have to be pregnant when that sounds appealing."
"Y'know," Sandy starts, and he's still grinning from where he leans against the counter, "I wish I could say I was joking."
She laughs again, she laughs too much here, in this house, with this man, "I need my daily salt-sugar intake from somewhere."
"Seth came home drunk last night," Sandy says, and his face is a little more somber, a little less content.
"I heard him," she says, "he knocked over my new lamp."
"Ryan put him to bed."
"He's a good kid."
"Seth still isn't a good yelling name."
"I know," Kirsten sighs, long and deep, "I'll talk to him."
"He hasn't been himself," Sandy says, "he hasn't been himself since baby stepped into the family portrait."
"I'll talk to him," Kirsten says again, and she takes a long drink from her glass, another downfall to being pregnant is the lack of coffee allowed.
There's a stagger down the stairs, a trip and a cuss, "Language, Seth," Kirsten reminds, and Sandy grabs his briefcase, steals a kiss, and heads out the back door.
Seth stumbles in, and Kirsten has to remind herself that he's eighteen now, he's not a kid, she can't push him over her knee, spank him, send him to bed. He looks like hell though, and he hasn't brushed his hair yet, hasn't washed his face, his clothes smell like vomit and liquor.
"Well," Kirsten starts, "have fun last night?"
Seth grunts, and pulls himself over to the coffee maker.
"I sure hope so, I'd hate to think you drank yourself stupid out of spite."
"I," Seth says, "have a hangover, I am going to drink coffee, and then I am going to go to school, and then I am going to continue on as if this never happened."
"Well, that's a shame, because it did happen, and acting as though it didn't isn't going to prevent you from being grounded."
Seth takes a seat at the counter, coffee in hand, before he slams his head down onto the tabletop in front of him, "Ngh."
"Don't you 'ngh' me, honey, I'm the one that resembles a beached whale, I think I have much more to be 'ngh'-ing about than you."
Seth frowns up at her, "well, if you didn't go and get yourself knocked-up, then you wouldn't have any reason to be complaining."
"I'm not complaining, Seth, and I didn't get myself 'knocked-up' as you so eloquently put it, I'm having a baby with a man I love."
"You already had a baby with a man that you loved, or are you forgetting about him?"
"Seth," something jabs, a sharp pain in the bottom of her belly, "Seth," she frowns a little, a lot, clutches at the space just beneath her protruding belly.
"Yes," he says, "that child's name was Seth, is Seth, he is still here, notice how I use a stream of present tense…"
"Seth," Kirsten says, and the pains a little sharper now, a little more specific, "Seth," she doubles over, can't help it, the pain is out to get her.
"Seth," she looks up at his big, brown, doe eyes, and he looks like he's eleven years old again, and maybe she misses having a little kid more than she thought she did.
"Seth, I think you need to drive me to the hospital."
Hospitals were too white, too sterile, too bland, and Ryan needs wads of paper if he's to list every bad experience he's ever had at one. They've been here for nine and a half hours now, and Seth fell asleep twenty minutes ago, head collapsing onto Ryan's shoulder.
The air-conditioning in the waiting room is too cold, the magazines on the coffee table are years old, and the vending machine by the bathrooms is out of order. A nurse, her nametag reads 'Lucy', she's been filing charts behind the reception desk for the better half of an hour, the other nurses, they gossip every chance they get, about the doctors, about the other nurses, about the patients.
When Ryan looks up again, eyes desperately seeking the clock on the far wall, Sandy's there, Sandy's there, and half of his face is smiling, and the other half is ready for a serious conversation.
Sandy pulls up a seat on the coffee table in front of Ryan and the sleeping Seth, he rests his hands on his knees, casts a wayward grin at Seth's slack jaw and flickering eyelids.
"It's a boy," Sandy says, "and he's healthy."
"He's two weeks early," Ryan replies, and his arm's going numb, the one attached to the shoulder that Seth's lying on.
"Yes," Sandy says, "but he's healthy. Tobias is healthy."
"Yeah, Tobias. Kirsten always wins at these sorta things."
Ryan grins too at that, because she is a very persuasive woman.
"Question is," Sandy continues, and his eyes look imploringly at Ryan's, "question is, are you okay?"
"Am I okay?"
"With Kirsten and me, with us having another kid?"
"It's none of my business." Ryan says, and he tugs at the sleeve of his jacket, doesn't meet Sandy's eyes.
"It is your business, Ryan, I can't say that your opinion will change anything, I'm not exactly gonna be throwing Tobias out the window or anything, but, it does matter to me, and it does matter to Kirsten. That makes it your business."
Ryan shrugs, sighs long and deep, "Seth's less happy about it than I am."
"I have known Seth for eighteen years, trust me, he'll get over it. He always does."
"I'm fine," Ryan says after a few minutes, after a few minutes of silence, "I'd like to see him though, the baby."
Sandy's grin splits his face in two, he's too obvious in what he feels, and Ryan doesn't think that Sandy would last as long as he thinks he would in Chino. Then again, Sandy has so many layers, there's so much to him, that Ryan can never be certain.
"So," Seth starts, and he's closed his mouth (kinda), is rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, "another kid to welcome to the Cohen world of paralyzing self-doubt, huh?
"Looks like," Sandy says, and he ruffles Seth's already messy hair, smiles at his sleepy eyes.
"Another boy." Kirsten says, and maybe she lets out a big, deep, never ending sigh. Maybe she's a little more pleased than she should be, maybe the part of her that was still hoping for a little girl was smaller than she thought it was.
"Another boy," Sandy says, "at least we've got experience."
Ryan can't stop staring at the baby, Seth, somewhere along the lines, picked Tobias up and started telling him about Wolverine and Storm and Professor Xavier.
"I'll never get to teach someone how to put on make-up, how to sweet talk boys, never get to play tea-parties, huh?"
Kirsten's leaning too hard against Sandy, her fingers are running through her hair, "Never get to go out and buy pretty little dresses, or plastic jewelry."
Sandy shrugs, "unless we're raising Tim Curry, then probably not."
"That sucks," she says, and lets loose a lengthy sigh.
"Not really," Sandy says, "a girl would've been nice, but I wouldn't trade what we have."
Kirsten leans up and around, kisses Sandy, long and deep, "I wouldn't either."
Sandy's gone to buy dinner from the diner down the road, and Kirsten's left here, sweaty and exhausted, with her baby and her teenagers, her three boys.
"Well," she starts, and Tobias fell asleep ten minutes ago, out like a light, with his mess of dark-blonde hair, and his pink little face, "what's all this about mammoth insecurities."
Both Seth and Ryan stiffen a little, Seth rubs his skinny thighs, and Ryan's fingers clench in the sheets.
"Wasn't sure to begin with," she says, "but that just confirmed everything."
"Anyone born a Cohen, anyone who becomes a Cohen," Seth amends, and he lies down on the bed, his head level with her belly, "is destined for mammoth insecurities."
Kirsten rolls her eyes, reaches out for a hand of both boys, Seth takes it straight away, turns his face into the side of her baby-less belly. Ryan takes a little more convincing, doesn't take her hand, but maybe nudges her fingers a little with his own.
"Sandy and I have had another baby," she starts, "you should be happy. Neither of you will be forgotten, neither of you should be worried. Our family's growing a little, that's all."
"Ryan," she says, "Ryan,"
"I know," he says, "its fine, I'm fine, I'm…I'm happy."
"Good," she says, and she rubs his knuckles with her fingertips, "and Seth…"
"I know, I know," he says, and he shoots her a look, from down near her waist, and she remembers when he was small, when he was tiny and waist high, and not in high school. When he still drew her pictures, and tried to make tin spaghetti on mother's day.
"What do you know, Seth? That you were being unreasonable," she sits up, leans down and pokes a finger into his ribs, and God, he's thin, "that you were being silly and unfair and well, dumb." She pokes another finger, latches on firmer, tickles him, she likes him here, squirming and giggling and not worrying about girls, or bullies, she likes him sober.
"I was being insecure," he says, when he's finished giggling, and Ryan, at the end of the bed, he's hiding a grin, a smirk, a smile, "I was looking at it from the wrong viewpoint is all."
"Exactly," she says, "from the dumb viewpoint."
"No, just the wrong one," he says, "I have someone to corrupt now, I can introduce him to all the comics, all the right movies and music, coz, come on, we can't have him listening to like, Avril Lavigne, or Hinder, or whatever, need him listening to the good stuff."
Kirsten laughs, and Ryan does too at this, Ryan leans down on the bed, onto Kirsten's legs, "what about Ryan?"
"I tried with Ryan," Seth puts a hand to his head, lets loose a long suffering sigh, "my efforts were attempted too late, he was a lost cause, he failed."
"On the bright side," Seth continues, "when I introduce Tobias to the fulfilling world that is Star Wars, I can nickname him."
"Do I dare ask?" Kirsten says, but she's smiling still, and God she loves her family, loves them all.
"Tobi-wan-kenobi, the name is, dare I say it, perfect."
Ryan and Kirsten laugh until Sandy comes back with burgers and chips and soda.
Tobias is pretty tiny still, his eyes flicker open, and they're the colour of melted chocolate, his hair is a dark, messy blonde, and his skin is still pink, his fingers and toes still the length of a bottle-cap.
"Didn't think we'd get round to having another one," Sandy says, and Tobias is asleep on his chest.
Kirsten's eyelids are too heavy, they droop and waver and her hands and legs and body are heavy with gravity and exhaustion. "Neither did I, to be honest. Thought maybe you might have brought another one home, but didn't think I'd manage to pop one out."
Sandy laughs at this, stifles it quickly, so as not to wake the baby, "but you managed."
"Are the other two all sorted out?"
"The other two are all sorted out." Kirsten says, and she smiles a little, can still see both of them, as they lean against each other on the wooden chairs, both asleep.
"It's been a long nine months," he says, and he puts a hand on Tobias' back, feels the breathing beneath his fingertips.
"It has," Kirsten says, "it was worth it though." She rolls over, kisses Sandy gently on the lips, a feather touch.
"It was," he says, and he's tender as he kisses her back, "worth every second."