Author's Note: This took me far too long to write. I blame school. Anyway, onto chapter 3 of this things. Story-ho!
Tom flitted in and out of sleep, not even the light of day that shined in through the windows disrupted him as he dreamed in black and white and shades of gray. Dreams filled with half conversations and snippets of memory. He heard soft noises in the back of his head like the voices of ghosts or children. Perhaps both.
Ghost children…very spooky.
However, a different sound aroused his senses and woke him from the whirling dreamscape. The room was dark save for a shaft of light and empty, present company excluded. Blinking a few times before rubbing his cheek, feeling the prickle of nighttime stubble on his fingertips, Tom tried to remove the sleep from his face, looking around the bedroom in the process as if something would appear. He still had his clothes from the day before on though they were now stiffer and felt weird on his skin, and it would appear he had slept on top of the sheets, the bed mussed up less than it usually was.
The night before had been a flood of sensations and feelings as he and Jackie had discussed their situation back and forth between themselves. Thoughts on kids and their own ability to take care of things. Jackie had mentioned having had several dogs when she was growing up, but Tom had been quick to remind her that children weren't quite the same as dogs. Dogs were furrier. Even that joke had gotten a laugh, and some frayed nerves were treated with levity until the unease ebbed away and there was nothing left but weariness, the two of them succumbing to sleep atop the bed where they had been sitting, huddled up close together as if to defend against any further surprise and distress.
Tom's head felt warm though the rest of him was colder from waking up alone, and his mind was fuzzy, but he could still hear the sound that had woken him up in the first place, something moving outside. Life outside the confines of the room. Sitting up he stretched his arms over his head, a few joints cracking. He was thankful to morning drowsiness for putting a haze over his nerves given the fact that yesterday's events were still fresh and stressful, though today seemed to be starting out much better. Then again, it had only just begun. Horrible things could still happen, but Tom just didn't have the mental awareness at the given moment to think about it. Placing his feet on the floor, Tom was taken aback by the fact that he still had his shoes on. Oh well. He pulled them off and rubbed his feet before attempting to stand up once again.
He managed to make it to the door but paused momentarily as his brain dug around for just how doors worked before continuing. Left foot. Right foot. That was how you walked wasn't it? He picked up his head and tried not to stare at his feet. Something smelled like coffee…probably coffee. Smelled nice and tasted less nice.
The kitchen door swung open easily, perhaps a little too easily as it hit against the wall with a loud crack.
"Good morning. What're you doing up?" Jackie asked, surprisingly composed despite the noise. Tom could quite tell if it was because she didn't mind or if she was focusing so hard on not worrying that she couldn't be bothered to put forth the extra effort and care about how hard Tom could slam the doors. He did it often enough.
"I could ask you the same question," Tom mumbled, maintaining enough consciousness to see Jackie standing at the kitchen counter with the coffee he'd smelled, already dressed and ready for the day. He could smell the soap she used from where he stood.
"It's Monday. I'm an adult who has a job. Remember?" she replied as she moved past him to go sit on the couch. He didn't follow her but kept his gaze trained on the counter, foot holding the door open.
"It is?" Tom paused, figuring in his head as he finally turned to the couch. Days always seemed to mesh together these days. "Oh, yeah…and no one wants to hire me. I have no skills, and I'm crazy," he said sleepily as thoughts fell awkwardly from his mind with no attempt at segwaying. The man dragged his feet and dropped onto the couch with all the grace of a square wheel, sitting there limply as sleep started to round on him once more.
"Crazy's a hard thing to do," Jackie shrugged as she drank her coffee, the smell of it making Tom's nose twitch. "Seems to exhaust you enough."
"You look better," Tom commented choosing to ignore the latter part of the woman's comment. "Feel better?"
"A bit. Stomach's still acting up, but I figure I'm just going to have to get used to that," the woman replied. "Was thinking about calling the doctor. You know…get on track with this thing," she continued, touching her stomach lightly and pulling her hand away just as quickly as if she had touched something hot. Tom nodded still not completely there though present enough to notice the quick movement. He figured his nerves would be all up in arms once he was fully awake, but it was nice to discuss such things with some level of calmness, natural or induced by drowsiness. "But yeah, just want to be safe, and make sure I didn't mess anything up. For all we know this could just be a bad scare."
"I doubt it," Tom shrugged unsure from which corner of his mind the response had come.
"You seem kinda sedated."
"I figured. Well, I gotta go. Don't destroy anything while I'm away, okay?"
A kiss on the cheek and a pat on the head, and Tom was alone again, slipping back into sleep until the sound of a parent and their child arguing down the hall awoke him with an unpleasant jolt. He became suddenly hyperaware of the "not clean" feeling of his clothes, no less wrinkled and stiff from having slept in them, and that simply would not do. It took a lot of effort to get off the couch, but Tom managed to bring himself up to a stand once more and shuffled as fast as he could back to the bedroom and into the bathroom. The bathroom in the hall was good and all, but Tom wanted space today. Space to think and bring himself back to world of the living.
Stripping he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Fair skinned, near constant stubble on his chin, blue and scar tissue. He didn't look long before turning away, adjusting the temperature of the shower until it was just right. Burned a little. Made his skin red and tingly. Stepping in it did just that, the steam making him dizzy. Sliding the shower door open slightly a rush of cool air caught him, the fresh air filling his lungs and clearing his mind and allowing it to wander.
What had those people in the hall been talking about? Did it even matter? A parent and their child. He thought that was what it had been. Perfectly normal and still arguing. What chance did he have if not even people that were supposedly perfectly functional had difficulty?
"I'm doomed," Tom said to his toes and into the water, turning the heat down so that the temperature was more cool than hot, pushing the thought to the side. He picked up his head and grabbed whatever girly scented soap Jackie had in that shower. He preferred less flower for his personal use, but it smelled nice on girls. Whatever. He wasn't running down the hall to get his "man soap". This would do, and hey, he'd smell pretty. Impress all the bums on the street or some shit like that. That and girl soap lathered up in the most satisfying way. Looked like soft snow or lighter than air cotton.
Lather, lather, rinse…sweet smells and bubbles. And still pasty. Oh well. Maybe next time.
Tom turned off the shower and stepped out onto the mat, shaking his head and the rest of him, water droplets flying off, Tom quietly wondering if someone would buy it if he said he was raised by wolves. Would that make this kid…his kid, part wolf? Perhaps.
He figured he really shouldn't have been thinking about this. He was suddenly quite certain of this fact. He was only going to upset himself unnecessarily. Besides, this kid might not even exist. Be an illusion brought on by drugstore pregnancy tests and paranoia. Of course, that thought didn't particularly thrill him either. He'd already felt his heart racing, but to have it suddenly stop…
What'd he want? That was the million-dollar question and had always been. He couldn't even tell anymore, but then again he couldn't recall ever knowing everything that he wanted in the first place. Maybe he did want this. A family of his own and a white picket fence and some normalcy, but then again maybe he was being stupid and just feeling things. His feelings were only trustworthy on occasion. Maybe less often than that.
But then again, he'd never been in this situation before. Nothing close to it apart from health class in high school when he'd taken the project of carrying around a baby doll perhaps a little too seriously. Well, it wasn't his fault that the "mother" didn't want to do her fair share for little Christie. Doll or not, wasn't that that the point of the project? Maybe he was thinking about it too much. Maybe that had nothing to do with anything. Maybe everything. Maybe…maybe he should have just stopped analyzing and actually have been productive rather than just standing naked and thinking. Grabbing a towel he dried himself off and wrapping the towel around his waist he returned to the mirror, wiping away fog.
"Hello again," Tom smiled falsely at the reflection. He made a few faces, watching the familiar lines in his face and some of the ones he didn't recognize. "If all else fails I'll just get a puppy," he announced, shaking his head and then proceeded to finish cleaning up, deciding to shave and lose the homeless look to some extent. He'd try growing a beard next week to keep warm during the winter months. Retying the bandana around his head, covering up the memory and hopefully some of the embarrassment, Tom left the bathroom and dug around for a bit before finding a t-shirt and jeans that he found were acceptable with the underwear he felt like wearing that day.
Spider-Man boxers always put him in a good enough mood.
Perhaps if he just kept acting normal everything would be normal. Everything would be right in the world and he'd be able to forget about al of this. Or maybe he'd just be in denial. Either way, he knew how to deal with both. Walking back out of the bedroom he looked around the apartment. He was feeling energized, anxious. He couldn't just sit around for the rest of the day. Usually that was more than enough to entertain him, but everything about the place seemed constricting all of the sudden. Fresh air sounded like fantastic idea, and hopefully the sights of the city would give him other things to think about other than the fantastic weight he was still feeling.
His feet no longer felt like lead as he walked, and he even managed a friendly smile at one of the neighbors that had stared at him only the night before. Perhaps, it had been less of a smile and more of a bearing of teeth in case the asshole wanted to stare at him again some time. Next time Tom figured he'd go for the jugular if it came to that. But now was not the time for such fantasies, and the brisk air caught him with the opening of the door to the outside and drew his senses to attention.
There was construction going on a few streets over, and Tom stopped to stare for a bit, making sure to move out of the way of all the people that were in a hurry, pressing his chest against the fence, not doubt leaving marks in his skin. He watched the people walk buy between lulls in construction. Plodding on to work like ants and buzzing like bees, or rather, more like wasps if Tom had any say in it. A city full of stingers and biters. Seemed accurate enough.
It was surprisingly easy to zone out to metallic sounds on concrete and banging, and he stood there for longer than he'd intended, metal digging into him through his shirt. Building something, creating it. Tom's mind was all too eager to make metaphors about creation and conception, and he decided he'd had enough of construction watching. The last thing he wanted to be thinking about was jackhammers and how some people compared them to the strangest things.
And down the street he went, emptying his mind of anything remotely unpleasant.
The world was so dull on Monday mornings, even later morning. People were at work, it wasn't even lunchtime. Even the bums out on the street seemed to have more to do than he did. Tom was hungry, but the idea of going someplace alone that was enclosed seemed utterly unpleasant. Like being drawn into a shiny trap by greasy bait, the doors closing behind you as if you'd tripped the wire. It was early yet for hot dog vendors, but Tom figured that whatever o'clock was as good a time as any.
Hot dog carts. Tiny, somewhat shiny, easy enough to find, and smelling heavily of mystery meat and carbonated beverages. The vendor gave Tom a weird look he watched him set up his cart patiently. Tom wondered if it was because of his appearance or because of how relatively early he had arrived, but he didn't care enough to think on it too long and ordered his hot dog quickly and efficiently with too many toppings and plenty of napkins. As soon as he paid he turned and walked down the street further and stuffed his face with hot dog, pausing momentarily as he heard the sounds of more construction, his mind rounding back on jackhammers and then onto his hot dog.
Stupid hot dog. Stupid shape. Stupid associations.
He shook his head, tossing what was left of it in the nearest trashcan, cursing his stomach for making him feel both hungry and nauseous. Tom looked ahead and shoved his hands in his pockets, suddenly aware of how cold it was as a strong breeze nearly knocked him over. The outside wasn't seeming nearly as friendly as it had the other day and not even as friendly as it had been earlier that day. He resigned himself to heading back home and put his blinders up as best he could as he walked. Seemed the world and his mind were out to get him so he figured the only way to deal with it was to ignore it all. Maybe then he'd get half a second to just…to just…he didn't even know.
The door to Jackie's apartment opened easily, and Tom realized he'd forgotten to lock it. For half a second he felt his heart stop as he looked around. There was clearly no damage, but Tom felt deflated. If he couldn't even remember to lock a door how could he possibly remember all the things that would come along with a kid? He'd said he wanted to keep it, but had that really been what he felt or just an attempt to be comforting? What if things didn't work out as nicely as he desperately hoped they would?
He couldn't figure it all out. Bouncing ideas and thoughts off of himself had never been his strength. He needed to talk, but he didn't want to call Jac. He picked up the phone, fingers inputting a familiar number.
"Hello, Sebastian Favreaux."
"Huh? Oh, hey man, I was wondering about you."
"You were? I mean…uh, well, hey."
"Thought you might have gotten your stupid self castrated or something."
"Never mind. You call me about anything in particular?"
"I'm sure you can figure it out. You're the smart one."
"Yeah, but it's nicer to get you to say it first."
Tom shook his head. "Sebs…you and your manners…" he began. "Look, I talked to Jac last night…after she decided to let me in, and well…seems I'm gonna…you know. Midget."
"You serious?" Tom flinched at the surprise.
"Yeah, Jac's going to talk to a doctor soon…you know, just in case. Might just be a scare, but if it's not then we're pretty fucked I guess."
"Wow, you really are serious," the other man said, sounding both mildly confused and proud. "And I wouldn't say fucked. Not this early on. Save it for the teenage years."
"Uh huh…and that's why I called you. I don't know if I should be serious. Shit Sebs…I mean, this is kinda cool and all, but I just…I'm such a fuck up, and you know-"
"Shut up. Please, do yourself a favor and shut up."
"I'm trying to, but shit. How can I-"
"What'd I just tell you?" Sebs asked sharply.
"Thatta boy. I'd imagine you're worried if you can handle it?" Sebs continued, his voice changing from chastising to about five degrees off of being comforting. Tom appreciated the effort. "Think your track record with humans in general would suggest otherwise?"
"Look, I'm gonna be really honest with you right now, okay?"
Tom wrinkled his nose but sighed knowing that is would come whether he wanted it or not. "Yeah, go right ahead, Mr. Know-It-All. Enlighten me."
"I can't guarantee enlightenment, but maybe a little sense will be more than enough. You're an idiot, and you know that. A bit of an asshole when you really get down to it."
"How's that supposed to help?"
"I'm getting there. Anyway, I know damn well how much you devote yourself to things you care about. If you really want to do this than I'd bet money that you'd be good at it, maybe even a bit too enthusiastic," Sebs said, his voice firm and exacting. "So, tell me, do you really want to do this?"
Tom bit his cheek and picked at the fabric of the couch. Did he really want to do this? He thought hard on it, picturing a kid, his kid. Something small and his. Something the world couldn't take away from him. Not like everything else. And Jackie had been fine with keeping the kid…his kid! Didn't that mean something? Despite who he was and how he'd been, she still said yes. She cared for him regardless. The idea gave Tom a strange feeling in his gut, but it wasn't the nausea from before. Just a sort of lightness. Not unpleasant, but it wasn't exactly the best feeling. And didn't he care about her too? If this kid was to be in fact real, certainly he couldn't just walk away? Definitely not. Not in this situation…or really, any situation that he could imagine himself in.
"Yeah…yeah, I do, Sebs, and that's why I'm nervous. I want this to work out. If it doesn't…well, seems I just fuck up everything I have good intentions for. You must know that too."
Sebs was quiet for a bit. Tom could just hear him thinking on the other end of the line, the wheels going round at an annoying pitch. "The fact that you give such a damn is already an advantage. Not everyone in this situation has someone like you to worry like you do. You're worked up because you actually care. Just try…I dunno, breathing or something. Relax."
"I know…I know, but…I just want to be able to trust myself on this. I know Jac can handle it. She doesn't need me. My usefulness in this whole mess is pretty much done with, but that doesn't matter. I care so much, and it scares me. When I care…when I care people get hurt, Sebs…I don't want to hurt anyone. I've done enough of that."
"Tom, you're not going to hurt anyone. You haven't hurt anyone in a really long time."
"But I have, Sebs. I have hurt people…physically, and don't get me started on emotionally. It's just…I've wanted so badly to be normal, and this in a way almost gives me that chance," Tom said, his voice going soft and thoughtful. "I don't want to ruin it. Sebs, I don't know if it's possible for me not to ruin it, but I know I will."
"I can't guarantee that you will or won't," Sebs said dryly. "But it might help if you just give yourself a chance."
"I did once…"
"And you learned nothing from it? That is sad." The words were sharp, and from his seat on the couch Tom sank deeper as if he'd been struck, and he faltered.
"Well, n-no, I did le-"
"So, show the world what you fucking learned. You don't need to show me. I know. Now, look, I've got a lot of work to do. You're going to be fine, right?"
"Yeah," Tom nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine."
Tom hung up the phone and shifted until he was comfortable again, trying unsuccessfully to remember when exactly he'd sat down on the couch. It was still early enough in the day, just starting to get past normal lunchtime. Plenty of time for Tom to let his mind play games, and he figured he might as well indulge it.
Picking up on where he'd let his brain explore earlier he thought on kids, what it would be like to have one be his. A little, climby, thing that made a mess when it ate. Despite himself he smiled. It was almost cute in theory. Perhaps he could do it. It wasn't so scary…well, it was, but he could handle it couldn't he? He'd been around kids plenty in his life. The only difference now was that it wasn't a sibling or cousin. Besides, he wasn't doing it by himself. Jac said she'd be there, and she'd said it so sincerely.
"You know, Tom…I feel a little better about all this. I was scared to death you'd hate me…"
"I wouldn't do that. You know that. I mean…I acted like a dick, but I don't hate you."
"I know, but I was nervous. If I had to do this myself well, I don't know if I could."
"I'm sticking around. It's what I do."
"Thanks…I'm sticking around too."
He felt more at ease, the image of Jac and this fantasy child playing in his mind like an old family-movie. His mind had created a quiet placed filled with the images of families in yards and bike rides. Tom didn't even notice as he relaxed, sinking into the couch again, feeling warm and comfortable as he lulled himself to sleep with thoughts of romping in the park and school talent shows.
"Is life really that tough?" Jackie asked, rubbing the man's head fondly as he woke from the nap he hadn't planned on taking. Could you even call it a nap if it lasted for hours?
"You'd be surprised," Tom yawned, not bothering to sit up, enjoying the feeling of fingers on his scalp, almost leaning a bit into it with as little effort as he could. Felt good…
"You really should get your hair cut. I mean, you're not hippie levels, but I'm starting to think you might really be the wolf-man under this fur," Jac smiled, pushing Tom's hair back a bit.
Tom whimpered groggily. "Ah, quit fussing with my head. It's sensitive…"
"Alright, what'd you do all day?"
Tom was tempted to tell her of his almost break down but chose to shrug his shoulders. "Nothing really…just did a lot of thinking. I suppose you can grant me that?"
"Yeah, no worries. You eat?"
"Yep," he lied, well, sort of. He'd managed to keep his food down, so he was counting it as a success.
"Good. I was thinking of ordering something tonight…you want Mexican?"
"Do I ever not?" Tom replied as some of his energy returned to him at the mention of food. There was never a worry so great as to fully deter him from food. "So, you do anything interesting?"
"My mom called…" Tom tensed up, and Jackie laughed. "Calm down. I didn't say anything."
"God, as if your dad didn't have reason enough to castrate me."
"Calm down. He'd probably leap for joy if I was…if I am…you know. He's been on my case about kids since I got out of college. I could have gotten knocked up by some bum out on the street. My dad wouldn't care. I'd say you're a few steps above a bum."
"Thank you so very much for the compliment," Tom replied with all the sarcasm he could muster. He could understand Jac's need for levity, but he wasn't quite in the mood for it. His mind was still fuzzy from sleep, and it was lagging a little.
"Get off your high horse, Princess. Oh, I also set up an appointment for next week."
"Oh, right. Doctor," Tom said, the word coming out of his mouth awkwardly. He hated doctors. It didn't even matter the type. Didn't like them. Not their look. Not their feel. Not their smell. He'd had his fair share of doctors and then some.
"Yeah, get some blood work. Sort this whole thing out," Jackie nodded, taking the seat next to Tom and leaning on him. "I tried not to think about it today…I feel a bit guilty…"
"It's the only thing I could think about," Tom admitted. "Talked to Sebs. Told me I was stressing too much…"
"I think some stress is allowed…I'm kinda glad you're stressed though," she grinned. "I didn't want to be the only one. It'd be terrible if you were calm. I'd hate it. It'd make me feel bad."
"Yes, but it's honest."
"Fair enough. I think we can assume it's a big thing for pretty much everyone, so I guess this makes us…normal?"
"Yeah, fancy that," Jackie nodded. "We're pretty normal when we want to be."
"Burrito eating, normal, people who are gonna have a burrito eating, weird, kid…I can live with that," Tom shrugged, smiling at his sincerity.
"Me too," Jac replied. "I guess that means you want a burrito then?"
"Beef…with extra jalapeños and cheese," he grinned, showing sharp teeth.
"You got it." Jackie sat up and gave him a quick peck on the cheek before getting up grab the phone. Tom shifted into a straighter sit and watched her, laying out their conversation in his head. They weren't too weird were they? Tom knew full well he was far from typical, but could something be atypical and still be normal? Tom figured it made as much sense as anything else.
As much sense as a weird, burrito eating, kid with a one-eyed, mentally shaky father and a stubborn but patient mother. And if someone couldn't make sense of that than they clearly just didn't have enough imagination.