"Happy birthday, dear Ian, happy birthday to you~!"
The little one just stared at the two women, each of them holding a squirming toddler in their arms. Esther laughed.
"He always seems so in awe when we sing to him mother. You sure there's nothing wrong with him?" The older woman chuckled.
"If there was something wrong with the lad, these old bones would know about it!" exclaimed LouLou. The two women set down the toddlers in their highchairs and began to serve the cake. Caleb, the older of the two, let out a high pitch squeal as his slice was set in front of him and began to pound his cake to mush. Penelope, the younger one, ignored her twin brother and began eating her cake a fistful at a time. Damian just stared at the twins, his portion untouched, a small crease formed in between his eyebrows. LouLou let out a hoot of laughter.
"Look at him! Poor lad doesn't know what to do with himself! Should he play or eat his cake?" She set down her piece, plucked Ian out of his chair, and began to bounce him on her knee. The little one let out a gleeful screech as he bounced up and down. The twins stopped what they were doing simultaneously and stared at Ian before they started screeching and wailing for attention too.
Esther sighed and place down her piece of cake. She walked over to the sink, wet a paper towel, and began to clean off the twins' faces and hands. "You two really need to learn to mind your manners," she disciplined as she cleaned them. LouLou just laughed at her grandchildren and daughter with Ian's little voice chiming in. "Mother, could you please stop? You're just making it worse by bouncing him like that."
LouLou sighed, "Well the poor boy needs some love. I mean, with what Kevin did-"
"Don't mother," Esther snapped as she wiped off the last of the cake off of Penelope. "Kevin said Gwendolyn was in no condition to deal with the surprise of Damian's birth when we took him in. You and I both know that."
"Yes, but it's been a year now. I think she's in the clear for postpartum depression!"
"Are you that eager to give him up mom?" Esther said as she moved toward the holo-phone. She tapped the screen, scrolled through the list of contacts, and stopped at the name 'Levins', her finger hovering over the green 'Call' button. "Are you?" she asked again. LouLou looked down at the toddler on her knee, and saw for the first time he was watching her; his big blue eyes staring at her and sucking on his fist. His eyes-which just moments ago were full of life and joy-now seemed to be full of fear.
It's as if he knows… thought LouLou. She looked at her grandchildren, still in their highchairs but now silent and gazing at their grandmother. She sighed, "I just… I just don't want them to get attached to him."
"Attached? Attached? What is he, a dog now?" Esther sneered, her hand still at the ready. LouLou glared at her daughter.
"I'm thinking about my grandchildren. Caleb and Penelope shouldn't have to live like this."
"Live like what mom?"
"Live a lie! That's what we're doing isn't it? Lying for that lousy, no-good Kevin!" LouLou set Ian back in his highchair and stood up. "He's nothing but a coward! What kind of a man is he, giving one of his sons away and keeping the other? Huh? I'll tell what he is! He's a bastard, a scumbag, a son. Of. A. BITCH!" she spat the last word through her teeth.
Esther was taken aback. Her hand dropped from the holo-phone and she stared agape at her mother. In all her years she'd never heard her mother swear, and especially not towards another being, living or not. LouLou continued to rant:
"He thinks that just because he's a highly valued member of the Plumbers, he thinks he can do anything he wants! Including giving you a newborn when you'd just left that fucker Marcus and were pregnant with twins! How irresponsible can a person be? He expects you, a single mother, to take care of three babies! That's practically like having triplets!"
"You were a single mother, and you had five children," Esther mumbled.
"That was different," LouLou said, waving her arthritic hand as if to dismiss the idea. "I never had more than one infant at a time. Plus you and Ruth were always there to help."
Esther smiled. Ruth, her older sister and twenty years her senior, had been born when LouLou was only 16. She remembered how she always used to help Ruth by looking after Matthew, the youngest. Even after Ruth joined the marines and went to college, she still tried to help the family and came home whenever she could. John, Paul, and Matthew, on the other hand, left home and never looked back.
LouLou continued: "And now here we are, a year later, and he's still with us. How long is it going to be? A week, a month, another year? You know I don't like lying, Esther, and I especially hate this. Keeping another woman's baby from her is just cruel."
"But you heard Kevin," said Esther. "Gwendolyn was emotionally unstable and the boy's birth would have come as a shock."
"But what about Ian? How do you think he will feel about this when he gets older? Suppose Kevin never comes for him. Then what? We'll have to live in a lie, forever telling people that he's adopted, he's a foster child, or some other bullshit excuse. Ian would never know his parents or his brother, and they'd never know him. Caleb and Penelope would be stuck watching somebody dear to them wither away into nothing but a bleak, dull, lifeless shell because he never knew a mother's love. And that's not fair to anybody."
The room was quiet. Nobody, not even the babies dared to make a sound. LouLou sighed. "All I ask is that you put yourself in Gwendolyn's shoes, and think about how you would feel if you only had one of your babies to love and cherish instead of the two you were supposed to have."
The old woman walked out of the kitchen. A few moments later the four hear the front door close. Esther sighed, and hit the red 'Cancel' button on the screen.
Ian would not leave them that year.