Chapter 1: Betrayal
Today was supposed to be one of the happiest days of their lives, but instead, it became possibly the worst. Gregg and Angus walked out of the hospital completely devastated. Out of all of the tragedies in their lives, this one seemed to hurt the most. Angus’ abusive household, the sheep incident, the cult, Casey’s death, Gregg almost dying, none of them seemed to compare to the agony they both felt in this moment.
Earlier that year, Angus had agreed to raise a child with Gregg. When they were deciding which route to take in order to get a kid, they chose to find a surrogate. It took a while, but after about six months, they found one. Once the arrangements were made, the surrogate was impregnated, and all that was left was to wait.
Gregg and Angus grew pretty close to the surrogate, who’s name was Samantha. As the big day grew closer and closer, Gregg and Angus realized they should probably start buying baby supplies, maybe even throw a baby shower.
When they threw the baby shower, Mae, Bea, Jen, and Gregg’s family showed up. Matthew couldn’t make it. He was still serving the military, and he was posted out of the country at the time. He apologized but congratulated the two on their upcoming parenthood.
Angus was able to transfer to a position at his work that would allow him to work from home. Luckily, his job as a computer support specialist was entirely possible to do from their apartment. He just needed some gear from the company, which they happily provided him. He had shown that he was a good worker, so they didn’t want to lose him.
Finally, after babyproofing everything and setting up the apartment for their new family member, the day had almost arrived. When Samantha’s water broke, it was a huge rush to get to the hospital. Both Gregg and Angus had to rush out of their jobs to meet her there.
Once in the hospital, the wait was unbearable. The doctors had requested that Gregg and Angus stay outside to make sure the delivery went as smoothly as possible. Gregg paced back and forth in the waiting room while Angus sat, his mind completely blank from all the thoughts that vied for his attention.
When a doctor called for Gregg and Angus, they both nearly ran over to him. The doctor seemed slightly shocked, but then, he failed to hide the pity and guilt that found its way onto his face.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve been sent to inform you that Samantha has had second thoughts about giving up the baby. She’s decided that she wants to keep it.”
They both felt some invisible force squeeze their hearts. It wrapped around, making it hard to breathe. This couldn’t be happening, not after all of the work they’d done.
“What the hell do you mean?!”, asked Gregg, his voice rapidly raising.
“I just told you. She wants to keep the baby.”
“That’s bullshit! Let me see her!” Gregg tried to move past the doctor, but he was cut off by him.
“I’m sorry, but she requested that no one be let in besides family.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? One of us is the biological father of that baby! How are we not family?!”
“She doesn’t want to see you. We have to respect the wishes of the patient.”, said the doctor.
“I think we got past respecting her wishes when we spent 9 goddamn months preparing with her to have this baby! Now, let me through!” Gregg tried to push the doctor out of the way, but he was surprisingly strong.
“Sir, if you don’t stop, I’ll be forced to call security.”
“Gregg, stop. There’s nothing we can do about it.”, said Angus.
Gregg turned around, “What do you mean?! We deserve an explanation from her at least!”
“I know, but if she doesn’t want to see us, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The fact that Angus wasn’t supporting him caused Gregg’s anger to die in mere seconds, replaced by an overwhelming hopelessness. He stepped back from the doctor, who wished he didn’t have to turn them away. He felt bad for them, but it wasn’t in his power to do anything, either.
“I’m really sorry. I wish I could help you. You have to understand that I don’t have a lot of power in this situation, either.”
Gregg became despondent, only giving a small nod and an “Mhm” before beginning to make his way to the front doors.
“Come on, let’s just go.”, muttered Gregg. Angus silently followed him back out to the car. The doctor watched them leave. This wasn’t the first time he’d ever had to tell a parent they couldn’t have their child, but he didn’t feel any less guilty about it.
The car ride home was silent. Gregg was visibly shaking. He was trying so hard to stop himself from crying. Angus only held a blank expression on his face, yet the painful aura that surrounded him was palpable and suffocating.
When they got home, Angus held his hands on Gregg as they walked back up to their apartment. When they reached their floor, Mae and Bea were there. They were there with a cake to celebrate the new baby, but when they saw the looks on Gregg and Angus and that they didn’t have a baby with them, they became increasingly worried.
“What happened? Where’s the baby?”, asked Mae. Bea looked at Angus, wanting an answer as well. The look he gave her back told her everything she needed to know.
“Come on, Mae. Let’s go.”, urged Bea, pushing Mae to go back downstairs.
“Wait, what? W-what happened?”
“I said let’s go.”, repeated Bea with a severity that caused Mae to give in almost immediately. Bea took her back downstairs, giving Angus one last pitying look before she went out of sight.
Angus unlocked their door and took Gregg inside. They mindlessly took off their jackets and their shoes, like they would on any other day when they got home.
Gregg simply plopped down on the couch, bent over, still trying not to cry. Angus sat next to him. There was once again more silence between them. Gregg was the one who finally broke it.
“It’s not fair, Angus.” His voice was barely a whisper, yet in the silence of their apartment, it was clear as day.
“I know it’s not, bug.”, replied Angus.
“It’s not fair.”, Gregg repeated, louder this time. He buried his face in his hands. Angus didn’t respond this time. He didn’t know what else to say. Gregg was right. It wasn’t fair, but there was nothing he could do about it.
“It’s not fair!” This time, Gregg was almost yelling. He began whimpering. That whimpering grew into sobbing, which then grew into wailing. Angus felt tears slide down his cheeks as he struggled to hold himself together. He gently pulled Gregg into an embrace. Gregg responded by gripping his shirt and crying into his chest. Angus stroked the back of his head to try and calm him down.
Mae and Bea could hear Gregg’s cries from their living room.
“I don’t get it. Did something happen to the baby?”, asked Mae.
“I’m not sure. All I know is they don’t have a baby, and judging from the looks on their faces, they probably won’t be getting one.”, said Bea.
“I hope the baby’s okay at least.” Thoughts about her parents and all of the miscarriages came to mind.
“I’m sure we’ll find out what happened soon. Right now, they just need their space.”
“I guess you’re right. What should we do now?”, asked Mae.
“I’m not sure. I think I want to go to sleep.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
An eternity would be an understatement when describing how long the pain seemed to last. Even when Gregg lost the will to cry anymore, it still lingered. It took a while, but Gregg’s now silent sobs carried him off to sleep. Angus was left to lose himself in the depths of his despair.
Angus held onto Gregg. He was his only source of comfort right now. He finally let himself cry. With Gregg asleep in his arms, he cried. He cried until he couldn’t anymore. When he found that the tears refused to come out anymore, he carried Gregg to their bedroom, laying him on the bed and covering him before climbing in next to him. Sleep struck quickly and without warning.
The two of them were too tired and broken to dream that night. When they woke up, it felt like just seconds ago that they had fallen asleep. Gregg woke up first, followed by Angus. When Angus woke up and found himself alone in bed, he got up to look for his husband.
“Gregg?”, called Angus, still not fully awake yet. Gregg wasn’t in the living room or the kitchen. Angus was getting a bit worried now.
It wasn’t until he went into the second bedroom that he found Gregg. The second bedroom, that was the one they had prepared for their new baby. Gregg was on his knees next to the crib, his hands wrapped around the bars. He was crying. It seemed like he had been for a while since his eyes were red, and his cheeks were puffy.
“Gregg?”, called Angus again, “Are you okay?” That was a stupid question. Of course, he wasn’t okay.
“What do we do now, Angus? What are we supposed to do?”, asked Gregg, completely disregarding Angus’ question. He didn’t even look at him when he said it. His eyes were too fixated on the painfully empty crib in front of him.
Angus didn’t know what they were going to do after this. He was just as lost as Gregg was, but he knew he had to be the one to take charge. Gregg was too emotionally unstable to figure out where to go from here on his own. The only question was what did Angus want to do?
After a moment of contemplation, he decided what they had to do. “We have to try again.” This sentence came out as a matter-of-fact statement. Gregg looked over to Angus, confused.
“What? How are we supposed to do that? Finding Samantha took forever, and then we had to wait nine months after that before we even got a shot. What if it happens again?” Gregg’s voice seemed hopeless. His resolve had been shattered after last night. At first, he had been the one to suggest becoming parents, but now, he was questioning it all.
“That’s why we’re not going to get another surrogate. No, this time, we’re taking a different route.”
Gregg now seemed intrigued, “What would that be?”
“We’re going to adopt.”, said Angus with finality.
“Really? Are you sure? If we do that, then they won’t be ‘ours’. Are you okay with that?”
“You’re wrong, Gregg. They’ll be just as much ours as this one would have been. Honestly, we should have started with this. Why should we go through so much effort to make a biological baby that’s only going to have the genes of one of us when we could go and give an already born child a home? We were being selfish.”
Gregg stood up, pulling himself up from the hole he had dug for himself. “If that’s what you want, then I’m with you all the way.”
Angus smiled solemnly, “It’s settled then.”
“Alright. Let’s give this a second chance.”, said Gregg, turning his head back to the crib. “What should we do with all of the baby stuff? The odds of us getting a baby are pretty small.”
“Let’s just keep it. If we do end up getting a baby, then we’ll have what we need, and if not, we can save it for if someone else needs it.”, replied Angus.
“Okay. Yeah, we’re actually doing this.” Gregg hugged Angus, “I love you, cap’n.”
Angus returned Gregg’s embrace, “I love you, too, bug.”
The air, which had just moments ago been completely saturated with sadness and despair, was now bittersweet. It wouldn’t be that easy to get rid of the pain of their loss, but this was definitely a step in the right direction. As long as they stood together, nothing could truly keep them down.
Chapter 2: Begin Anew
After Angus breathed some life back into both Gregg and himself by suggesting an adoption, the couple went out and ate breakfast. There was silence as the weight of their grief refused to disappear. Myriad emotions ran rampant in both of their heads, making it almost impossible to start a coherent conversation. Luckily, amongst all of the sadness, there was some hope now at least.
Once they had finished eating breakfast, Gregg got up, “I think we should go talk to Mae and Bea. I know they’re probably wondering what happened.”
“That’s probably a good idea.”, agreed Angus, taking both of their dishes out into the kitchen and placing them in the sink to wash later.
They walked downstairs to where Mae and Bea’s room was, Gregg knocking on the door once they got there. An exhausted-looking Bea opened the door, rubbing her eyes like she had just woken up.
“Oh, Angus, Gregg! Uh, how are you?”, she asked nervously.
“We just wanted to talk to you about… you know…”, started Angus, but he couldn’t finish. Bea cut him off.
“Yeah, I get it. Come on in. I’ll go wake Mae up.” Bea began walking to her and Mae’s room.
“Oh, if you two are still sleeping, we can come back later.”, said Angus.
“I actually just got up. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure that Mae would rather talk sooner than later.”, assured Bea, as she exited from view, leaving Gregg and Angus to sit down on the couch in the living room. They could hear Bea quietly waking Mae up. Mae resisted a bit, but when Bea told her that Gregg and Angus were there, all they heard were the sounds of Mae quickly getting up and getting dressed in some decent clothes.
Mae was the first to come out into the living room, “Hi, guys. So, how have you been doing?” She looked much worse than Bea, like she had been up all night.
“As well as can be expected, I guess.”, replied Angus.
Mae looked at Gregg, “I… heard you crying last night, Gregg. Are you okay?”
Gregg’s eyes drifted away from Mae’s gaze, “Not really. It was a… bad night.”
“What even happened? Is the baby okay? It didn’t… die, right?”, asked Mae cautiously.
“No, no, nothing like that.”, said Angus.
“Samantha took the baby from us.”, said Gregg.
“What? Why?”, asked Bea.
“She never gave us a reason. She wouldn’t even let us see her. We were turned away by a doctor.”
“What the hell?! She can’t just do that!”, said Mae angrily.
“That’s what I said.”
“After all of the work you put in, she’s just gonna turn around and screw you like that?!”
“Yeah, that about sums it up.”, said Gregg.
“Screw her! She could have at least told you before she gave birth or before you spent all of that time and money getting your apartment ready for the baby!”
“It’s not like we can do anything about it now. We just need to move on.”, said Angus.
“So, what now?”, asked Bea, “What’s the plan?”
Angus exchanged looks with Gregg before deciding it was okay to speak, “We’re going to try again.”
“Really? You’re gonna try for another baby?”, questioned Mae.
“No. We’re doing it differently this time. We’re going to look into adoption.”
“That means they’re not going to be your biological child, then.”, Bea pointed out.
“That doesn’t matter. There’s less risk involved here. We won’t need to worry about something like this happening again.”, said Angus
“So, you’re just going to try again? Are we just going to forget about what happened? Are you just going to forget about your baby?!”, asked Mae, angry that they seemed to be moving on so quickly.
“They’re not ours anymore!”, yelled Gregg, “And of course, we’re not just forgetting about them! It’s just that there’s nothing we can do anymore! It’s over.” Gregg ended up being the first in the conversation to begin crying.
“I’m sorry. That was out of line.”, apologized Mae. She was getting better at learning how to draw back her emotion-fueled comments, but she wasn’t completely there yet. The therapy had been helping, though.
“No, it’s fine. We’re all really emotional right now.”, said Angus, rubbing Gregg’s back to calm him down.
“So, when are you guys planning on adopting?”, asked Mae.
“I’m not sure. Probably as soon as possible if Gregg’s okay with it.”, replied Angus.
“I’m ready when you are. I want to do this.”, said Gregg with resolve in his voice.
“I guess that means we’re starting today, then.”
“Okay. You can leave whenever. Thanks for taking the the time to fill us in.”, said Bea.
“No problem. I do think we should get going. It was nice talking to you.”, replied Angus. He stood up, motioning for Gregg to leave with him.
“Later, dudes.”, said Gregg, markedly less depressed than he seemed when he walked in. Angus seemed less depressed as well. The hope for another chance allowed them to keep their heads held high through everything.
Gregg and Angus left, leaving Mae and Bea alone.
“I still can’t believe it.”, said Mae.
“I know, Maeday. I’m sure it’ll work out.”, replied Bea.
“Gregg and Angus didn’t deserve it. They’re so good.”
“I know they are. Look, come here.” Bea motioned for Mae to scoot up next to her, and Mae complied.
Bea wrapped her arm around Mae, “Everything’s going to be fine, okay?”
There was silence for a few moments.
“So, what now?”, asked Mae.
“Let’s just sit here for a little while.”, said Bea.
“I’m good with that.”
Gregg and Angus went back up to their apartment. When they got inside, Angus went over to his computer.
“What are you doing?”, asked Gregg, following him.
“I’m going to look up some local adoption agencies is. We can contact one tomorrow.”, answered Angus, turning on his computer and opening up his web browser.
“Tomorrow? Why not today? We have time.”, questioned Gregg.
“I think we need a break today. We’ve been through a lot. Thrusting ourselves into this probably isn’t a good idea. We need time to recover so that we’ll be at our best.”
Gregg wanted to protest, but he knew Angus was right. They would have people to impress. If they couldn’t convince the right people they were capable parents, they wouldn’t be able to get a child at all. There would be interviews to go through and paperwork to fill out. They couldn’t afford to screw this up.
“Fine.”, Gregg said.
In a few moments, Angus was able to locate an adoption center in Bright Harbor. He wrote down the phone number and address and placed it into his wallet.
“There. We should be set now.”, said Angus.
“So, what now?”, asked Gregg.
“I’m not sure. I don’t really feel like playing video games right now.”
Gregg pondered for a moment before coming up with an idea, “Movie night?”
“But it’s not night.”, replied Angus satirically.
Gregg walked around covering up all of the windows with whatever he could find, like blankets and sheets, until it was dark throughout the house.
“There. It’s night now.”, he said matter-of-factly.
Angus actually laughed a bit at Gregg’s display, “Alright. Movie night it is, then.”
The two spent the rest of the day watching various movies together. It helped to alleviate the sorrow they were feeling. The entire time, they cuddled together on the couch, wrapped in a blanket. Eventually, they both found themselves dozing off. Looking at the time, it was almost 9 at night. They actually spent the entire day watching movies.
“I think it’s time to go to bed. We have a busy day tomorrow.”, said Angus.
“Agreed. How can I be so tired from just sitting and watching movies?”, asked Gregg.
“Who knows? It’s just our biology, I guess.”
They both got up and went to their bed. They lied down, ready to sleep, but something was keeping them up.
“Cap’n, are you asleep yet?”, whispered Gregg.
“I can’t sleep.”
“I’m just so stressed about this adoption stuff.”
“I know. Me, too.”
“What if we’re not good enough?”, asked Gregg.
“What? Why wouldn’t we be good enough?”
“I don’t know. It’s probably just anxiety or something.”, replied Gregg dismissively.
“Gregg, there’s no such thing as ‘just’ anxiety. There is no just about it. Now, what’s worrying you?”
“I don’t know. It’s just I was preparing myself so much for this baby. I felt so ready. I built up all of this stress and worry, and just as I’m about to get through it, they’re just taken away from us! I don’t know if I can do that again!”, said Gregg, beginning to cry again.
“That’s not going to happen again. We’re adopting. We don’t have to go through the stress of waiting for them to be born this time.”
“But so many other things can go wrong! What if I screw something up, and something happens to them?!”
“That’s not going to happen, either.”, replied Angus, “I know you wouldn’t let anything hurt them. I mean, you almost got yourself killed trying to save some random stranger!”
“Yeah, and that was stupid! I almost left you, and Mae, and Bea, and everyone else behind for some guy I didn’t even know! Mae and Bea almost broke up because of me! What if I die, and I leave you alone with our child because I do something like that again?!”
“Gregg, you can’t worry about dying like that. We’re all gonna die someday, and we don’t really have any control over when that happens. As long as you don’t throw yourself into deadly situations every day for no reason, you can’t feel like it’s your fault.”
“It doesn’t even have to be our fault that something bad happens to them, though. Sure, maybe I won’t screw up, but so many other things could happen. What if the people at the orphanage just don’t think we’re fit to be parents? Then, we’re screwed! Or, what if we get to know our new child, and then the original family comes back and makes us give them up? I can’t lose another child, Angus! I can’t do it again!”
Angus pulled Gregg in tighter and let him cry into him, “Those things aren’t going to happen, Gregg. The chances of the original family coming back are slim at best. There’s a reason those children are up for adoption. Their parents either aren’t around, aren’t able to take care of their child with what they have, or their parents just don’t care. Besides, by the time the adoption process is over, we’ll be the ones with custody over them, so even if the parents did come back, they wouldn’t be able to take them from us.”
“But what if they just don’t let us have a child in the first place?”, asked Gregg.
“That would only happen if they thought we weren’t capable parents.”
“What if I’m not good enough?!”
“There’s no reason you aren’t good enough. 6 years ago, maybe not, but you’ve grown so much since we moved here. I know we’re ready. There are so many things that could go wrong, but we can’t obsess over them. They’re only things that could go wrong, not things that will go wrong, and if there’s anything preventable that could harm our child, I know you’ll step up, and I’ll do my best to step up, too.”
There was a pause. The crying stopped, but Gregg’s breath was still shaky, “I don’t really see how I’ve grown up at all since we moved. I’ve spent the past 24 hours crying while you were actually getting stuff done. When we we’re at the hospital and I almost got security called on us, you actually acted responsible and got me to stop. I’m still the same, immature piece of shit I was 6 years ago. I thought I was past it, but as soon as something bad happened, I started acting like an idiot again.”
“Gregg, you have every right to cry and be angry right now. This isn’t an easy thing to go through. Sure, I may be the ‘responsible one’, but the only reason I can bring myself to act responsibly all the time is because of you. If it were just me, I would still be stuck in Possum Springs without the motivation to get anything done.”
“I haven’t actually done anything, though.”
“That’s not true. When you were recovering from almost dying, you were the one who comforted me when I couldn’t stop thinking about it. You’re the one who suggested we become parents in the first place. You’re the one who finally got me to leave my shitty mother for good.” Angus raised his hand, showing Gregg the engagement ring he got him, “You’re the one who went out of his way to buy this really expensive ring when I would have been fine with anything. I married you for a reason. You’re an amazing person.”
“…Really? You mean it?”, asked Gregg.
“Of course. You’re an amazing person, and you’ll be an amazing father. I promise.”
“Okay. If you really think that, then I’ll do my best to live up to it.”
“Good. I will, too. Now, do you think you’ll be able to get some sleep now?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I could sleep.”, replied Gregg.
“Alright, then. I love you, Bug.”
“I love you, too, cap’n.”
“Goodnight.”, said Angus.
“Goodnight.”, said Gregg.
Sleep came with ease after that. Gregg’s worries didn’t disappear, but Angus was there to bear the weight with him, and that was enough. Tomorrow would be the start of a new journey, one that they were both ready for.
Chapter 3: Long Road Ahead
The next morning, Angus got up and contacted the local adoption agency he had found. Gregg was still asleep, and he decided not to wake him up. It would be better if he wasn’t stressing out during the phone call.
It didn’t take long for someone to answer the phone, “Hello, this is the Bright Harbor Adoption Center. How may I help you?” The voice on the other line was quite jovial, almost to the point of overcompensation.
“Um, yes, I was interested in an adoption.”, replied Angus.
“That’s great! Now, the adoption process can be fairly complicated. Is this your first adoption?”
“Okay. In that case, there will be some things you need to do before we get this rolling. First, you’ll need to take some pre-service classes. Over the course of a few weeks, you’ll need to attend 10 sessions of training. This is necessary to ensure that you know how to handle raising a child from adoption. Second, you’ll need to undergo a home study to make sure that you are able to adequately provide for the child. Then, of course, there is some paperwork that needs to be done. Are you still interested in adoption?”
“Yes.” Angus’ answer was forthright, without hesitation.
“Good. Can I have your email address? We can send you the paperwork you need to fill out through there if you want. If that won’t work, you can always come here and pick up the papers yourself.”
“Email is fine.”, said Angus. He told the other person his email address.
“Alright, we’ll send you the papers as soon as possible. If you don’t receive them within 24 hours, contact us again, and we’ll work with you to make sure you get them.”
“Thank you. Is that all?”, asked Angus.
“Actually, since this is your first time, you should know we hold orientation meetings every Monday at 6 pm at the adoption center to introduce people considering adopting to the process and challenges that come with it. It works as an overview so you can see what you’re getting into before making any big decisions. Would you be interested in that?”
Angus thought for a moment, “Hmm. That might be a good idea. Sure, I’ll come.”
“Good to hear. We’ll look forward to seeing you there. Other than that, there isn’t much more I can give to you.”
“Okay. Thank you for all the help. Bye.” Angus hung up the phone. He went over to his computer to see if they had sent the files to him yet. They hadn’t. He couldn’t expect them to send it that quickly. The stress was just fogging his judgement a bit.
After realizing he’d need to wait awhile to get the email, Angus went out and made breakfast. He made some pancakes, and it seemed to take his mind off of the adoption for a bit. The sound of the pan sizzling with the pancake batter woke Gregg up.
Gregg yawned, walking out into the kitchen, “Hey, cap’n.” He sniffed, “Ooh, pancakes. Let’s go!”
“Hey, Gregg.”, said Angus.
“I called the adoption center just a little bit ago. We-“ Angus was cut off.
“Really?! What did they say!”
“Calm down, I was getting to that.”
Gregg reeled himself back in, “Oh, sorry.”
“What I was going to say was that I should be getting the paperwork we need to fill out shortly. After that, we can start the adoption process. Now, we’re going to need to take some classes on raising adopted children. I’m not sure on the specifics, yet. All I know is that we’ll need to attend 10 sessions over the course of a few weeks. Also, we’ll need to do a home study. You probably already knew that, though.”, Angus explained.
“Wow. We get to take classes on how to raise them?”
“Yes. It’s a requirement. We can’t adopt until we take those classes.”
Gregg laughed as if relieved, “That’s amazing. I was worried I’d have to figure it out all on my own.”
“I know. Me, too. It’s going to cost some money, though.”
“That’s fine. We both have decent jobs now, right? We’ll be fine.”
“Mhm.” Angus finished the pancakes and put some on a plate, placing it down in front of Gregg. After he gave him the syrup, he headed back to their room, “I’m gonna go check my email for the papers.”
Gregg already had a mouthful of pancake. Angus was able to make out something along the lines of, “Okay.”
When he checked his email, Angus saw that there was a new message. To his relief, it was the papers he needed along with some additional information. He turned on his printer and printed out all of the documents. While he waited for all of them to print, he went and ate some pancakes with Gregg.
“So, did you get them?”, asked Gregg.
“Yeah. They’re printing now. We can fill them out after breakfast. Also, there’s going to be an orientation for people new to adoption tomorrow at 6 at the adoption center.”
“Great! Wow, this is actually happening… I still wish we didn’t have to do this, though.” Gregg’s tone and expression became gloomy.
“Do you think the baby will be okay?”, asked Gregg.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine. It’s probably best not to think about it.”
“Yeah… How long do you think this adoption is gonna take?”
“Probably months. A lot goes into an adoption. There’s the paperwork, the training, and then we have to spend time with the child to make sure we’re good for them.”
Gregg sighed submissively, “I was afraid you would say that.”
“I know it sucks, but it’s better that it’s hard for good parents to adopt than it is easy for bad parents to, right?”
“I guess. What are we gonna do in the meantime? Just live our lives like normal?”
“For the most part, yes. We can start packing away the baby stuff…” There was a finality to that statement that sent a fresh wave of grief over the room.
After an awkward pause, Angus cleared his throat and continued, “…We’ll also need to make sure this place is as clean as possible for the home study. I never got around to dusting or vacuuming with how busy we were.”
“Right. When do you think it’ll be?”, asked Gregg.
“Probably soon after we hand in the forums. After we get things rolling, things are going to be busy. We have a lot of work to do.”
“Crap, we have to go back to work tomorrow.”, said Gregg, annoyed.
“Yep. The last thing we can afford is to lose our jobs. I can work from home now, though, which is convenient.”
“It’s amazing what technology can do nowadays.”, commented Gregg.
“I know. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if having large office buildings died off in the next decade or so. It’s almost more convenient to just have people work from home at this point, at least for my job. You obviously wouldn’t be able to do that.”
“Sure, I can! They just need to invent a solid hologram that copies everything I do.”
Angus laughed a bit, “I don’t think we’re that far yet. We’ve only just figured out how to do normal holograms, let alone solid ones. You might be able to do it with a robot of some sort, some motion sensors, and a 360-degree camera, but that would be really expensive.”
“Come on, technology, move faster!”, whined Gregg, “I need to become the world’s first robotic bartender!”
“Just give it time, bug. It’ll happen eventually.”
“What if I can’t wait that long? I only have so many years left in me before I have to retire.”
“There’s not really much you can do about that, is there?”
Gregg pouted for a moment, but then an idea popped into his head, “I know! Angus, you’re smart. Go invent a time machine! Then, we can just travel to when I can be a robotic bartender!”
Angus laughed more heartily this time, “Gregg, if I could invent time travel, we’d be rich right now. You wouldn’t need to be a bartender. Also, I hate to break it to you, but chances are, bartenders are going to be replaced with robots rather than bartenders becoming robots.”
“That’s not gonna happen. Bartenders don’t just pour people drinks, you know. We have to socialize with people. It’s part of the job description. I don’t think robots can have conversations yet.”, argued Gregg.
“You’d be surprised. We’re getting closer and closer to making that a real thing.”
“Whatever. That doesn’t matter right now.” Gregg got up, going to put his now empty plate in the sink, “So, are we gonna fill out those papers or what?”
Angus had also finished his breakfast. “Yes, let’s do that.” He went and put his plate in the sink with Gregg’s. Then, they went and got the adoption papers from the printer.
“Gregg, could you go get me a pen? I’m pretty sure there was one on the table in the living room.”
“Aye aye, cap’n.”, replied Gregg, giving Angus a playful salute as he ran to the living room. Angus was left for a moment to stare at the papers.
“We shouldn’t be doing this. I should be holding a baby in my arms right now.”
“Just be happy you’re giving it another go.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
“Just think. You’re going to be giving another child a new home now. Don’t you think that, maybe, this is better?”
“I know, but it just doesn’t feel right. We’re sitting here, laughing and getting ready to get another child. Shouldn’t I still be sad, angry even?”
“It’s okay for you to be happy. A little laughter isn’t saying you aren’t sad or angry. It’s just you recovering from the grief. You can’t stay sad all the time… especially not with Gregg around.”
“I’m honestly surprised he’s doing so well.”
“It’s probably just a mood swing. You still need to be ready for when he hits another depressive episode.”
“Yeah, I will.”
“I’m back!” Gregg ran up to Angus and gave him the pen.
“Thanks, bug.” With that, Angus started filling out paperwork. The first to go was just an application for the adoption training course. That was pretty straightforward. Then, there was the application for the home study. Angus put in a request for a weekend study. Hopefully, it would happen sooner rather than later, but he was sure plenty of other people wanted it to happen on the weekends, too, so he didn’t get his hopes up. After that, came the big one.
“This is the adoption paperwork.”, said Angus, staring at it with bitter optimism. The first things to fill out were the basic personal info things. Names, phone numbers, emails, etc. Then, he came to the million-dollar question. Why do you want to adopt a child?
“What are you thinking, cap’n? How should we answer it?”, asked Gregg, “I’m not great at this kind of stuff.”
Angus thought about it. It had been so long since he’d answered that question. Once Samantha was pregnant, all he thought about was how amazing it would be to finally have a baby. The question of why never came up after that. It took a few moments, but Angus was able to remember back to the day they decided to become fathers in the first place. He remembered the nightmare. He remembered what Gregg said to him.
“I think… maybe, we should get you someone else to love, maybe even more than you love me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was thinking that if you wanted, we could… get a kid. Like, we could have a child, and then, you would have someone besides me and your brother to call family.”
“I think I’ve got something.”, said Angus, beginning to write.
We want to adopt because we’ve both experienced first-hand how bad it can be for a child to grow up in a home feeling unloved. We want to make sure the same mistakes aren’t repeated, even if it is just with one person. We want to show someone the love we were never given growing up, what it’s like to have a real family. Unfortunately, we can’t have biological children, so we’ve resorted to adoption instead.
“Does that look good?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah. I think it does… We’re going to fix your family, Angus, starting with this.”
“But we already started, Gregg. You started it when you decided to take my last name.”
Gregg blushed. His eyes darted around a bit, and he smiled almost like he was embarrassed.
“Aw, it was nothing. Gregg Delaney sounds better than Angus Lee anyways.”
“Hmm… Yeah, it kind of does.”, agreed Angus playfully.
Angus then came across the next big question. “What sort of special needs, if any, do you feel you’d be better prepared to deal with than others?” Most people would think special needs meant physical or mental disabilities, but there was more to it than that. Special needs also included older children and those hailing from different ethnic groups. Needing to be adopted as a pair or group of siblings also falls under special needs.
“You know a lot about dealing with bipolar disorder from me, and I’ve obviously been through it firsthand, so I’m sure we could help someone with that.”
“Yeah, that works. What about physical needs?”, asked Angus.
“Uh, honestly, I’m not sure. I’d say anything really. Physical handicaps aren’t as hard to deal with as mental ones most of the time.”
“Okay, I agree. What about age, ethnicity, and sibling groups?”
“Well, I don’t really care what age or ethnicity they are, but could we really handle more than one child? Our jobs aren’t the best in the world in terms of pay, and we’ve never raised a child before.”
“Yeah, I think it’s best that we keep it to one child. Anything else is fine, though.”, agreed Angus.
Angus started writing. He mentioned what Gregg had said about bipolar disorder, but he paused after that. After a moment of thought, he also wrote that they would be willing to take anyone coming from an abusive household. Gregg saw this but didn’t say anything about it. Angus then wrote the rest of what they’d agreed upon. The rest of the paper was typical stuff, and with that, they had finished it all.
“So, what now? Is that everything?”, asked Gregg.
“Seems like it. We’ll go to that orientation tomorrow, and then we’ll hand in all of the paperwork while we’re there.”
“Great! We’re actually doing this again…” Gregg found himself stuck between grief and excitement. It was a hard spot to be in. Was it really okay to be doing this so soon?
“Well, I guess we have the rest of the day off. What time is it?” Angus checked the time on his computer, “It’s almost 11. It’ll be time to prepare lunch soon.”
“Really? It’s that late already?”
“There was a lot of stuff to fill out.”, replied Angus.
“What are we supposed to do for the rest of the day?”, asked Gregg.
“We should start putting away the… you know…”
“Right. Where should we put it?”
“For now, just put it in the closet. The babyproofing stuff can go in one of the drawers in the kitchen.”
Gregg nodded and got to work. Besides lunch, they cleaned non-stop until around 4:30. Some of the stuff had to be dismantled for it to fit in the closet. There was a period of rest, followed by dinner, some late-night cuddling, and then bed. They went to sleep a bit early. Tomorrow would be a busy day.
Chapter 4: A Learning Experience
There they were, at the adoption center. They had all of the papers with them, and they arrived in time for the orientation. There was a surprisingly small amount of people there. The room it was taking place in was fairly large with a podium and screen at the back and rows of chairs set up going to the back of the room. There were about 200 chairs, but not even a quarter of them were filled by the time it started. No one sat near anyone else.
Gregg leaned over to Angus and whispered to him, “Is this seriously everybody?”
“So it would seem.”
“That’s really sad. There are all of those kids without homes, and almost nobody wants to help them.”
“We almost didn’t come here, either. Most people would rather have biological children, and most people don’t have to go through what we did.”
“Why did it have to happen to us, then?”, asked Gregg bitterly.
“I don’t know… At least we’re going to help some other child, though.”
“Yeah, I guess…”
Someone walked up to the podium and did a mic check. This grabbed everyone’s attention and brought it to them, a middle-aged woman. She was a red bird. As she looked out at the pitifully small crowd, her eyes became weary and filled with disappointment.
Taking a deep breath, she started, “Hello, everyone. I’m glad you could all be here today. I’m Ms. Perna, and I am here to tell you all about the adoption process. I’m sure many of you are wondering what exactly goes into adopting a child.”
There were a few nods from the audience but nothing more. Everyone wanted to save their questions for later, including Angus and Gregg.
Ms. Perna cleared her throat and continued, “Well, I guess we’ll jump straight in then. Now, does anyone know what things one must do before adopting a child?”
A man up front raised his hand. Perna pointed to him, “Yes?”
He stood up, “From what I understand, there are classes you need to take beforehand, and you need to do a home study.”
“Yes, those are both things you need to do to make sure you can properly raise an adopted child. They are mandatory. You can’t adopt until you do those things.”
“Could you explain exactly what the classes are?”, asked the man.
“Sure. Over the course of 10 weeks, you will learn not only basic parenting skills, but also the intricacies of raising an orphan. We’ll teach you about how to handle things that you wouldn’t find in normal children most of the time. A lot of these kids have been abandoned, and some have come from broken homes, and that can leave the child with some lasting issues that you will need to deal with. Of course, we can’t cover everything that could ever happen, but we do provide you with general tools and strategies that can apply to a wide variety of situations.”
“Thank you.”, said the man, sitting down. He turned to another man next to him and began talking quietly to him.
“As long as we’re explaining things, I’d like to take a moment to go into more detail about the home study. Now, the home study is an integral part of making sure that we’re giving these children proper homes. During the home study, an agent will come and examine your home and ask you questions about yourself. You’ll be asked about why you want to be a parent and what makes you qualified. We’ll ask about your daily routines and past experiences with parenting, if any. Of course, we will also do background checks on the parent or parents. It may seem like a lot, but it’s worth it if we can keep children from going into bad homes.”
No one seemed to have any questions past that, so she decided to continue.
“Now, as for the adoption process itself. If you haven’t yet, there are papers you need to fill out to register for the adoption process. You can contact us and have us email them to you, or you can pick them up at the front desk when you leave. You will need to fill them out and hand them into us here when you’re ready to begin. Once that happens, you will take your training classes and do your home study. Once that’s done, we’ll process you and decide whether to let you adopt. If we decide that you’re fit to be parents, we will introduce you to a child based on your specifications in the documents you hand us.”
A woman in the back raised her hand. Ms. Perna pointed to her and motioned for her to stand and speak.
“What sort of specifications are there?”
“You mean for the children? Well, we’ll need to know what special needs you feel you’d be able to effectively deal with. Don’t feel obligated to say you’re willing to take anyone, but also be open to the possibility of not getting exactly what you ask for. Tell us about things that maybe you have experience with. Also feel free to tell us about things you aren’t prepared to handle. We’ll look more into exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are during the home study.”, Perna explained.
“Um, another question. What are ‘special needs’ exactly?”, asked the women.
“Ah, yes, we get this question a lot. Many people think special needs only applies to debilitating mental or physical conditions, but that’s simply not true. Many things could qualify as some form of special needs. Different ethnic backgrounds, older age, children that need to be adopted with other siblings, those could all fall under special needs. Does that answer your question?”
“Yes, thank you.” The woman sat down.
“Now, on to the next thing, matching your family with a child. Once your paperwork is filled out, you’ll get a caseworker. They’ll handle the home study as well as many other things in the adoption process, including this. They will come to you with records of various children who best matched the specifications you listed in your original adoption forum. You will get to search through them and you will be able to send in an inquiry for anyone that you think suits your family. This is the hardest part for some. It will be a while before your inquiry if either denied or verified. I’d say expect to wait around a month. If at any point you want to ask about the inquiry, you should feel free to contact your caseworker.”
Angus took out his phone and went to his notes app. He started typing in the important things about what she was saying.
“Once a child has been matched with you, they will be placed in your home for a period of anywhere from 3 to 9 months. During this time, your caseworker will visit every 30 days to see how things are going. Once the period is over, and you’ve been shown to be a good parent for the child, we can finally have it legalized. The child will finally be a permanent member of your family. Now, I know that this all seems like a lot, but I promise you that it’s worth it. Are there any questions that you want answered?”
A woman raised her hand, “Is there anything we could do while we wait through the adoption process that might help with the adoption?”
“Well, there are a few things you should definitely do. Get a decently-sized bed. That’s very important. I’ve seen too many people have their home study conducted, and when they get asked where their new child will sleep, they realize that they forgot to get a bed. Usually, this isn’t too much of a problem, as you can get a bed later, but it would help your image if you were prepared for this stuff beforehand. Also, if you think you’re getting a younger child, get some toys and such. We’ll provide you with what we know about their hobbies in their case file. Chances are, they don’t have much in the orphanage. Things like that will go a long way toward building a good relationship with the child.”
The woman looked shocked. It seemed she hadn’t even thought about stuff like that. “Uh, thank you.” She sat down. Angus realized he hadn’t thought of that either.
“I guess we’re buying a bed on our way home.”, said Gregg, laughing nervously.
“Yeah…”, said Angus, thinking about something. He was forgetting something. Then, it came to him, “Wait. Did Mae and Bea ever get rid of their extra bed?”
“I don’t know. Honestly, it’d be weird if they kept it for over a year, so probably not. I could check, though.” Gregg pulled out his phone.
“Yeah, do that.”, said Angus, tuning back into the conversation that was going on.
“…So, no, previous parenting experience is not required. That’s part of the reason we do training classes.”
“All right, thank you.”, said the man that had apparently asked a question.
“Okay, anyone else?”, asked Ms. Perna.
There was a period of silence. Then, Ms. Perna began to speak, “Alright, then. If that is all-“, her eyes locked onto the space next to Angus, “-Oh, yes, do you have a question, sir?”
Angus looked over, and Gregg had his hand raised. His head was lowered, scared and even a bit ashamed. He stood up. It took him a moment to ask his question.
“…Is it normal to be terrified by this?”
There was a pause before Ms. Perna answered, “What exactly are you terrified by? This meeting? Is it how intense the process is?”
Gregg cut her off before she could guess again, “The adoption. Raising a kid.”
She seemed to immediately understand, “Right. That. Well, of course, it’s normal. Everyone feels terrified by the prospect of raising a child, especially their first one.”
“What if we’re not ready?”
“That’s why we have the classes, the home study, the time you spend with the child before they’re legally yours. It’s all to make sure you are good parents for that child. If you’re really not ready, you’ll have ample time to realize it before anything permanent happens. Personally, though, I don’t think anyone is ‘ready’ for their first child, but thinking that you aren’t might be a good thing. It means that you know that raising a child isn’t easy, yet you’re still here, ready to do all of this so you can have one. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
Gregg smiled a bit, “Thank you. That’s all.” He sat back down. Angus looked at him, but he didn’t look back. Gregg’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He took it out and looked at it.
“Wow, they actually kept it! Looks like we’ve got a free bed!” Gregg went from scared to jovial in mere moments. Angus was almost weirded out by it, but he had gotten used to it by now.
The meeting didn’t last much longer. Nothing else very important was brought up. Gregg and Angus went up to the front desk afterward.
“Yes, is there something I could help you with?”, asked the receptionist.
“Yes. I’d like to hand in our adoption papers.” Angus handed them the papers, and they looked through them.
“Okay, I see you’ll be going through our adoption training course. The next round of classes starts next Tuesday. They’ll be every Tuesday and Friday from 6 to 9. Is that okay with you?”
“Yes.”, replied Angus.
“Also, we need to set a date for the home study. How does May 3rd sound to you?”
It was currently April 13th. That gave them a few weeks to prepare.
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“Great. I’ll get you down for those dates. That should be all.”
“Thank you very much.”, said Angus, beginning to walk away. Gregg followed him. They went out to their car, and Angus started driving them home. Gregg was playing on his phone, so there was a period of silence.
“Gregg?”, said Angus.
Gregg looked up from his phone, “Huh?”
“I just wanted you to know that I’m scared, too.”
“What? Oh, right…”
“Everything’s going to be fine.”, assured Angus.
“I know, I know, I’m just worried for no reason.”
“I think we’ve done a bit too much worrying lately. Just think about how amazing it’ll be once we finally have a child! We’ll get to be there and watch them grow up! Think of all of the great memories we’ll make!”, said Angus in an attempt to get Gregg’s mind off of his worries.
Gregg seemed to take the bait, “Yeah. It’ll really be great, won’t it?”
“We’ll make sure of it.”, said Angus.
As intended, Gregg began to get caught up in the fantasy that was having the perfect family, “We’ll do all sorts of stuff together! Hopefully, it’ll still be summer when we get to start taking care of them. We can go out and have so much fun and stuff! We could go to an amusement park, or we could just go to a normal park, or we could…” Gregg began launching a torrent of potential activities at Angus.
Angus simply smiled and listened to Gregg’s excited ramblings. He was happy to get his mind off of everything for a bit. Hopefully, Gregg wouldn’t get too caught up in the fun times they’d have with their child. Being a good parent means being there for your child through everything, both good and bad. He was sure Gregg understood that, though, so for now, he let him indulge in the fantasy without putting a damper on it with responsibilities.
Chapter 5: Breaking the News
After getting home from the orientation, Gregg and Angus went to get the extra bed from Mae and Bea. They knocked on their door, and Mae answered.
“Hey, guys. We got out the mattress for you. It’s right inside if you’re ready to take it.”, said Mae.
“Alright, let’s get this thing upstairs.”, said Gregg, proceeding to go inside.
Angus followed Gregg and Mae to where the mattress was. It was big enough for a full-grown adult to sleep on, which was all they really needed. When they went into the living room to pick it up, they saw Bea on the couch, doing something on her laptop. She waved to them as they came in.
“Do you want us to help you get that upstairs?”, asked Bea.
“Nah, the two of us can do it.”, replied Gregg, wrapping an arm around Angus, “Right, cap’n?”
“Yeah, we should be fine. Thanks for the offer, though.”, agreed Angus.
“Okay, suit yourself. Um, can I ask you something?”
“Sure. What is it?”, asked Angus.
“When are you planning on telling everyone else about the baby?”
Both Gregg and Angus realized they’d have to tell everyone about what happened soon. They’d want to see the baby.
“I… hadn’t really given much thought to it.”, said Angus.
“Yeah, what are you gonna do? My parents said they wanted to see the baby, too. What should I tell them?”, asked Mae.
“Well, we’ll need to tell my parents, Angus’ brother, and Jen. Other than that, we’ll have to explain it to some of our co-workers, but that’s really it. Them and your parents are the only big ones.”, said Gregg.
“Okay, how about this. Mae, Bea, you two can tell Mae’s parents, and we’ll get in contact with Gregg’s family and Matthew.”, suggested Angus.
“I’m fine with that. How about you, Bea?”, asked Mae.
“Sure. I can understand if you don’t want to talk about it more than you have to.”, agreed Bea.
“It’s settled then.”, said Angus.
Gregg went around to the back of the bed, “Come on, cap’n. Let’s get this upstairs.”
“Mhm.”, replied Angus, moving to the front of the bed. Gregg counted down, and Angus and he lifted. They awkwardly shuffled out of Mae and Bea’s apartment. When they got to the stairs, Gregg was reminded of the smell of glue and the pain of falling down a flight of stairs.
“You better not drop this on me.”, said Gregg.
“I’ll try, but no promises.”, replied Angus facetiously.
“If I die, I swear I’ll come back and haunt you as a ghost.”
“I guess I better not drop the bed, then.”
There wasn’t much space in the stairway to fit the bed through which forced Gregg and Angus to press themselves against the walls, dragging themselves up. It made them grateful that they lived right above Mae and Bea.
Finally, after a lengthy climb up the miniature mountain of stairs, they slid the bed into their apartment.
“So, are we going to use the baby’s room for this?”, asked Gregg.
“Yeah. Let’s get it in there.”
In a few more moments, the bed was in the room and laid out in the corner. When they finished, Gregg and Angus both let out sighs and let their muscles relax.
There was a short silence, save for some slightly labored breathing. As the weight of the bed left them as well as the levity joking around brought them, the weight of burden and grievance replaced it. They had to tell their families the news.
“I guess we should probably tell them now, right?”, asked Gregg.
A stone of anxiety plummeted into Angus’ gut, and invisible strings of sadness and doubt squeezed his lungs, making it hard to breathe.
“Yeah, we should.”, responded Angus.
“Okay. How do you wanna do it?”
“Video chat.” Angus’ voice was blank but to the point.
Gregg became concerned, “Are you sure? You know, you don’t have to have a face-to-face conversation with them yet if you don’t want to. I’m sure they’d understand.”
“I’m sure. They deserve to hear it straight from us.”
Gregg paused for a moment, scared of having to look his family in the eye when he told them their baby was taken from them, but if that’s what Angus wanted, he was willing to oblige. “Fine. We can do it that way if you really want to.”
Angus nodded and went over to his computer. While he prepared to start a video chat, Gregg pulled over a second chair and sat. He was about to send out a call to everyone, but his finger stopped before he clicked on the button.
“What are you going to say?”
“Will you tell them about the adoption?”
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Just press it.”
Angus clicked after a short pause. Gregg didn’t seem to notice Angus’ hesitation.
The call went out. The first to pick up was Jen. Then, Gregg’s mother answered the call and called Gregg’s father over. It took a few moments, but Matthew was able to pick up as well. It was easy to see he was in his barracks.
“Hey, brother. How’s it been?”, asked Matthew, “I see that you gathered the whole family together. It must be important.” Matthew smiled, “Am I gonna get to see my new baby nephew today?”
Angus opened his mouth as if to say something, but he wasn’t sure what to say. He was interrupted by Jen before he could say anything.
“Yeah, come on! Where’s our newest little bundle of joy?”
Gregg looked at Angus, whose eyes couldn’t bring themselves to look at the screen, instead opting to stare at the keyboard.
Angus was losing himself in a grief and panic-stricken train of thought.
“I can’t do this. I can’t tell them.”
“I can’t expect Gregg to do it, can I?”
“Things weren’t supposed to be this way.”
“Why did she have to do this to us?”
He felt a jolt in his shoulder.
“Cap’n! Come on, snap out of it!” Gregg was shaking him back to reality, that place Angus wished he could get away from. He couldn’t let himself, though. He had a responsibility, to his family and to Gregg.
When his vision came into focus, Angus saw a few wet dots on a few of the keys on his keyboard. Looking back up at the faces on the screen, he found staring back at him the faces of worry, realization, pity.
Angus pushed his glasses up and rubbed his eyes.
“There… is no baby.”, Angus finally said, “…Samantha decided to keep it.”
“What the fuck…”, muttered Jen.
“Did she say why?”, asked Matthew.
“No. We weren’t even allowed to see her after the baby was born. She requested that we not see her. We were only told that she wanted to keep it, and that was that.”, said Angus.
Angus knew that the adoption had to come next, but he had no idea how to transition into it. Luckily, Gregg had something to say on the matter. Wiping his own tears aside, he started talking.
“After a bit of thought, we decided we wanted to try adoption instead.”
“Really? That’s great!”, said Gregg’s mother.
“Yeah, it is. When do you think you should be adopting?”, asked Gregg’s father.
“It’ll be months before a child could be under our custody, but we’re hoping to get to meet them this summer if things go well.”, said Angus.
“Oh, that’s nice. That’s not too long.”
“I know you’ll want to see them, but actually, I think it might be better to not introduce them until we have full custody. Is that okay? We just want to avoid any unnecessary grief on your ends.”
Everyone began reluctantly nodding, throwing in the occasional “Mhm.”
“That’s fine. If that’s what you want to do, we’ll all support you.”, said Matthew.
“Thanks. We really appreciate it.”, said Angus.
“Um, I know this probably isn’t the best time to ask, but are you ever planning on telling mom about this?”, asked Matthew.
Angus’ face darkened when their mother was mentioned, “No. I’m done with her. Does she even still live in that house anymore?”
“No. I got a message a few months ago telling me she had been moved into a nursing home after she broke her hip trying to walk up some stairs. Are you sure you don’t want to see her? I mean, I get why you don’t want to, but she won’t be around for much longer.”
“Why would I want to tell her? Why would she care?”, asked Angus.
“I don’t know. Part of me hopes she actually cares about us somewhere in that head of hers.”
“She doesn’t, and if she did, she sure did a hell of a job showing it.”
“I’m sure she’d like to at least see her grandchild-“
“There is no way I am ever letting my child near that psychotic bitch!”, Angus yelled.
Matthew reeled back for a moment before recomposing himself, “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”
The anger within Angus died off as quickly as it appeared, “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be.”
The sudden outburst made the conversation extremely awkward and uncomfortable.
“So… what now?”, asked Jen.
“That was really all we called to talk about. We knew you’d be wondering about the baby, so we thought we’d tell you all now and get it over with.”, said Angus.
“Oh, okay. If that’s the case, I should probably get going. It’s getting late.”
“Yeah, me, too.”, said Matthew.
“I guess we’re all getting off, then.”, said Gregg’s dad.
“Yep. Seems like it. It was nice seeing you.”, said Gregg.
“Feel free to call any time. Maybe, you could even visit.”, said his mother, giving a heavy wink.
“Yeah, I’ll try to visit soon, I promise.”, replied Gregg.
“Okay. We’re gonna let you go now. Bye.”
“Bye.”, said Gregg as they hung up.
“Goodbye, you two. Good luck with the adoption.”, said Matthew. Gregg and Angus waved as he exited the call.
“Hate to say goodbye to my favorite cousin, but I’ve got work tomorrow.”, said Jen.
“I’m still your only cousin.”, replied Gregg.
“Which means you’re still my favorite. It can’t be anyone else, right?”
“Yeah, whatever. Goodnight.”
“Bye.” Jen got off, leaving Gregg and Angus alone.
“We should probably follow in their steps and go to bed.”, said Angus, turning off his computer.
“Yeah, I’m tired. Moving that bed was really hard. I’m just gonna go. I’ll meet you there.” Gregg got up, stretching and yawning before dragging himself over to their bed. Angus secretly smiled at how cute his yawn was. He wasn’t sure why, but it always seemed to get to him. It didn’t take long for him to follow Gregg into bed, and sleep came moments after.
Meanwhile, Mae opened her laptop and sent a video call to her parents. She hoped they would remember how to answer it. They had just gotten their own computer recently, and Mae struggled to explain to them even the simplest of things. Luckily, they could at least understand how to press the accept call button, and Mae’s mother soon showed up on her screen.
“Hey, mom. Hey, dad. How have you been?”, greeted Mae.
“Pretty good, I must say. I just started reading a new book.”, said Candy.
“Ooh, what’s it about?”, asked Mae.
“Well, there’s this guy with telepathy who slowly goes insane as he dives deeper and deeper into people’s deepest, darkest thoughts.”
“Can he not control it? I would probably just never use telepathy again if it got that bad.”
“He tried, but his curiosity is like a drug, forcing him to continue, even though it’s slowly killing him from the inside.”
“Wow. That must suck. I hope he never reads my mind. He probably wouldn’t be able to function if he saw what goes on in my head.”, said Mae, pointing to her head as she talked.
“Yeah. That would probably end badly. Anyways, I’m assuming you didn’t call just to say hello and talk about cool books. Am I right?”
What Mae had meant to do returned to her, “Oh, yeah, I actually need to talk to you and dad. It’s about Gregg and Angus’ baby.”
Candy’s expression darkened, “I’m assuming that since those two aren’t here, something happened, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Something happened.”
Candy looked at her for a moment before calling to Stan, “Stan, honey, can you come down here? Mae needs to talk to us about something.”
Mae and Bea could hear something said in the background, but they couldn’t make out what it was. It didn’t matter, though, as Stan was heard walking down the stairs before coming into frame.
“Hey, kitten. How have you been? Is everything good with Bea?”, greeted Stan.
Mae looked annoyed. She hated it when her dad called her ‘kitten’ in front of other people. “Yes, everything’s been fine. That’s not what I wanted to talk about.”
“Oh? What did you want to talk about?”
“It’s about Gregg and Angus’ baby.”
“Oh, yeah! I forgot about that! How did it go?”, asked Stan excitedly, oblivious to his wife’s anxiety over the answer.
“Gregg and Angus didn’t get the baby. Their surrogate decided to keep it after it was born.”, answered Mae. Candy seemed unbelievably relieved. She had been preparing for the worst. At least the baby was alive.
“What? Why?”, asked Stan.
“She never gave them a straight answer. She stopped them from seeing her in the hospital altogether.”
“That’s just not right. You can’t just do that to someone. You can’t just let someone think they’re getting a baby and then rip it away from them last second like that.”
“She sounds like a real bitch.”, said Candy disdainfully.
Mae’s mouth was agape. Had she really heard her mother say that just now?
“…Wow, mom. That was really… blunt.” Blunt was the only word Mae could think of to describe how abnormal this was.
“It’s true, though. Like your dad said, you don’t just do that to someone. Please, let them know I’m sorry for them.”
“Yeah, let them know they’re not alone. If they need anything, don’t be afraid to ask. I’m not sure how much we can do, but for how much those two have done for you, we’ll do whatever we can to help them.”, added Stan.
“Okay. I’ll tell them you said that. Now, I should get going. I need to get some sleep. We’re starting a new project tomorrow. This building they’ve got us making is really complex. I’ll need to be on my A-game.”
“Okay, sweetie. Thanks for telling us about this. Good luck with your project tomorrow. Also, good luck in whatever you’re doing tomorrow, Bea.”, said Candy.
“Thank you, Mrs. Borowski.”, replied Bea.
“How many times do I have to tell you, just call me Candy.”
“Oh, sorry, Uh, thank you, Candy.”
“Yep. Okay, you two go get some sleep.”, said Candy.
“Goodnight, kitten.”, said Stan.
“Goodnight, dad.”, said Mae, annoyed once again before shutting down her computer.
Bea smirked at Mae, “You know, Maybe, instead of calling you Maeday, I should start calling you kitten.”
“Don’t you dare!”, warned Mae.
“But it’s so tempting.”
“If you call me that, you’re sleeping on the couch tonight!”
Bea laughed and rolled her eyes, “Fine, whatever. Let’s just go to bed.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”, said Mae, giving Bea a glare. Then, the two of them went to bed, falling asleep soon thereafter.
Chapter 6: Home Study
The weeks began to slowly march on, each one bringing Gregg and Angus closer to their goal. The classes were going smoothly so far. They were both happy to have them. Eventually, the day of their home study came. They weren’t told when to expect an agent to be arriving, only that it was that day.
Angus started becoming increasingly anxious his mind cycled through every possible thing to check for in their apartment. Everything had to be clean, safe, and orderly. Even though he was usually the one telling Gregg not to worry, it didn’t stop him from scouring the place for anything that might be wrong.
Gregg knew it would be best not to get in the way of Angus’ hunt, so he simply sat on their couch, silently winding himself up into a big ball of stress. That was until Angus’s search made its way to the couch, and Gregg was forced to stand while Angus flipped over every cushion to check for anything out of the ordinary. He was mumbling to himself, but Gregg couldn’t tell what he was saying. Soon, he was able to return to sitting and building up his stress.
It was a Saturday, which would normally entail rest and recover, but neither were had in any amount. The wait was unbearable, but finally, after an eternity, there was a knock at the door. Angus was the first to reach it, but Gregg was less than a second behind him. Angus took a deep breath and opened the door as calmly as possible.
“Hey, guys.”, said Mae. Gregg and Angus groaned despairingly. “Geez. I didn’t know the sight of me was that awful. Is there something on my face?”
“No, no, that’s not it. We thought you were our agent for the home study.”, said Angus.
“Oh, right. That’s today. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“It’s fine. What do you want?”, asked Angus.
“Well, I was actually going to see if you two wanted to come with me and Bea on a double date for lunch, but that’s obviously not happening.”
“Yeah, sorry, dude. We can’t not be here when the guy comes. That would look pretty bad.”, said Gregg.
“Maybe next time.”, said Angus.
“Alright. I guess I’ll head on back then. See ya.” Mae turned around and started to wave, but she stopped when she saw something down the hall. Gregg and Angus were confused for a moment, but when Mae stepped to the side, they saw a stranger walk up to them, a cat with white fur. He had a suit and tie on and was overall very formal-looking.
“Are you two Greggory and Angus Delaney?”, he asked, looking at some papers he had in his hand. He had several files with him as well as a small case which probably contained even more papers.
“Uh, yes.”, answered Angus.
The man smiled and extended his hand, “Hello. I’m Michael Quinn, your adoption agent. You can just call me Michael, though.” Angus shook his hand, then Gregg. “So, which one of you is Greggory?”
“Me. I prefer just Gregg, though.”, said Gregg.
“Noted. That makes you Angus, yes?” He pointed at Angus.
“Do you like Angus beef?” Michael gave a childish grin.
“Um… Sure, I don’t mind it.”, replied Angus uncomfortably. He wasn’t expecting the person conducting their home study to be so casual, especially this early on.
“Well, I love me some Angus beef, if you know what I’m sayin’.”, joked Gregg, sporting his own devilish grin.
“Gregg!”, scolded Angus, unable to keep himself from blushing.
Michael laughed, and Mae, who hadn’t left yet, decided to chime in, “Yeah, he loves that Angus beef. Trust me, I’ve heard him get some before.” Mae quickly darted out of there after that crude statement.
Gregg and Michael were laughing up a storm while Angus was left wishing he could die. By the time they were done, Gregg was crying from laughing.
“Oh, man, that was great. We should probably get down to business, though.”, said Michael.
Angus closed the front door, “Yes, let’s get started, please.”
They all went out to the living room. Angus had set up a chair for Michael to sit in while Gregg and he sat on the couch.
“Has anyone told you that you look like Palecat from Demontower?”, asked Gregg.
“Yes, I get that a lot.” It was true. He had the same white fur as Palecat. He was also just the right size. After Gregg said that, Angus couldn’t stop himself from imagining what Michael would look like in a Palecat costume.
“Anyways, I’m going to ask you some questions about yourselves. I want you to answer honestly and as in-depth as possible. Okay?”, said Michael.
Angus and Gregg both nodded.
“So, first question. I would like to know what sorts of backgrounds you come from. What were your families like?”
Gregg looked at Angus. He looked angry. Angus used to be sad whenever his parents were brought up, but now, he always seemed angry. Gregg noticed it happening after his final visit to his mother.
Michael also took not of Angus’ expression, “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. I got the impression that you didn’t have the best home life from your application. This is just what we’re supposed to ask first.”
“No, it’s fine.”, said Angus, “My family is mostly made up of some of the biggest pieces of shit you could ever meet… I was abused on a daily basis. My younger brother, on the other hand, never had to deal with any of their shit. He’s currently serving in the military. He was the only decent person in my home. My dad beat me regularly, and my mother would lock me in our pantry for days at a time and starve me. My dad left when I was in high school, and I ended contact with my mother just last year. That’s the gist of my family. I never got to know anyone outside of those three.”
“Hm. I see. I’m sorry that you had to go through that.”
“Don’t be. The only ones who should be sorry are them.”
“Okay… So, how about you, Gregg?”, asked Michael.
“Well, my family wasn’t nearly as bad as his. I was never abused or anything. We grew distant pretty early on, though. One year, when I was still in elementary school, they decided to pawn me off on my uncle for the summer because they didn’t want to deal with me. After that, we stopped talking as much, and I eventually cut them out of my life completely after high school. I only started talking to them again last year. The only other person in my family I got close with was my cousin, Jen. That’s about it.”
“Alright. Thank you for being so open about this with me. It’s obvious neither of you had the best families. That will actually lead us into our next question. With both of you having troubled childhoods, statistics would indicate that you’re both more likely to become inadequate parents. How can we be sure this isn’t the case?”
“Well, I would hope that because we went through all of that, we’d be better equipped to avoid making the same mistakes now.”, replied Angus.
“Of course, but it also means you have much experience with what good parenting looks like.”
“That’s true… I guess we really can’t give you a concrete answer. We’ll do everything we can, but in the end, we won’t be able to know how well we’ll do until we get to try it for real. Sure, we’re taking a training course, but that can only cover so much. I’m sorry if that’s not exactly a great response, but it’s all I’ve got.”
“No, it’s fine. Like I said, I want you to be completely honest with me. That’s all I ask.” Michael took some notes and continued, “So, our next question is about your education and current employment. What education do you two have, and what jobs are you currently holding?”
“We’ve both only been through high school. Neither of us had the chance to go to college. I work as a computer support specialist from home.”, said Angus.
“I’m a bartender at a club a few blocks away called the Moonlit Wonder. Despite the name, I managed to score a daytime position. I also occasionally work night shifts.”, said Gregg.
“Okay. How much money do you two make?”, asked Michael.
“Together, we make about 100,000 per year.”, answered Angus.
“Good, good. So, besides your family, who you’ve already gone over, what other major relationships do you keep, and what are your social lives like?”, asked Michael after writing more stuff down.
“We’ve got two of our best friends living right above us! You’ve already met Mae. She lives with her girlfriend, Bea. We’ve been basically family for years now!”, said Gregg.
“In terms of our social lives, I don’t really interact with people too much, especially now that I work from home. I have some online friends, but that’s about it.”, said Angus.
“I meet a lot of people at my job, but I’m only friends with my co-workers and maybe the occasional cool regular. We’ll go out drinking sometimes, but that’s about it. I’m also a part of Angus’ online group of friends now, but we never meet in real life.”, said Gregg.
“Alright. Now, tell me what you do on a daily basis.”, requested Michael.
“Okay. Um, besides work, I really just stay home, watch tv, and play video games on my computer.”, replied Angus.
“It’s basically the same for me. We’re not very active people at the moment.”, agreed Gregg.
Michael simply nodded and took more notes. “One last thing. I’d like to go more in-depth with why. Why do you two want to become parents? What made you want to do this? You had to have known this wouldn’t be easy.”
“Yeah, we knew that. If you want to know what sparked the decision, it was over a year ago. Gregg already told you he was a bartender, right? Well, one night, we brought Mae and Bea with us to hang out, and he had the night shift that night. There were these two people fighting over something having to do with money. Gregg tried to intervene, and he got stabbed in the process. Once he was out of the hospital, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had a pretty bad nightmare the night we got home, and it woke Gregg up. After that, he offered to start a family with me. He said it would be good for me to have someone besides him to love and hold onto. Once my brother left for the military, he was really all that was left.”, explained Angus.
“Okay. What about you? What reasons do you have for wanting a child?”, asked Michael to Gregg.
“Well, there are a few reasons. One, I just think it would be really cool to raise someone. Now that we’re at a place where we’re stable and happy with our lives, I think it’s a good time to start a family. Also, I think Angus deserves to have a family he can be proud of. Sure, this won’t change his shitty parents, but at least it’s something, right? I can at least give him that much.”
Angus was touched by Gregg’s sentiment. He wished he gave himself more credit, though. Gregg was more than enough for Angus to be happy with his family.
Michael smiled as he topped off his notes, “Okay. That should be good for now. All that’s left is to take a look around the place to check for any safety hazards and we should be good.” He got up, and Angus led him through a quick tour of the apartment. It only took around 10 minutes. After that, it was time for Michael to leave.
“Alright, everything seems to be in order. Now, I was wondering if you could send me some references. I’ll send you my email so we can keep in touch. If you could give me the contact information of maybe some friends, family, co-workers, bosses, anyone you think wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for me, that’d be great. Other than that, we only need to do a mandatory background check, and we should finally be able to get started on getting you matched with a child. Expect another visit from me in a few weeks, so we can get more into that.”, said Michael.
“I’ll be sure to do that. Thank you for your time.”, replied Angus.
“There’s no need to be so formal. You don’t need to thank me. If anything, I should be thanking you. All I want to do is get these orphans into good homes, and it’s people like you who help me do that.”
“Oh, uh, your welcome, I guess?”
Michael sighed, “There’s always the uptight and overly responsible one, isn’t there? I guess that’s a good thing, though. Anyways, enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You, too.”, replied Angus as Michael closed the door.
“Well, that wasn’t as long as I thought it was going to be.”, commented Gregg.
“Yeah. So, what now?”, asked Angus.
Gregg checked the time, “We could go on that double date with Mae and Bea if they haven’t left yet.”
“Sure. I’ll text them.” Angus got out his phone. It was strange to him that what once used to just be the four of them hanging out was now called a double date.
“I guess it makes sense. It’s still weird, though.”, he thought. It didn’t take long for Bea to text him back. She said to dress formally. They were going somewhere fancy. Angus asked what the occasion was, but Bea simply told him that she’d tell him once they got there.
Angus wanted to know what was going on even more now, but he didn’t pry. When he told Gregg they had to dress formally, he whined and complained about not getting to wear his leather jacket and jeans and being stuck in a stuffy suit and tie. It wasn’t long, however, that they went out to meet Mae and Bea at their car.
Chapter 7: Double Date
The drive to the location of the double date was a short one. It seemed like a high-profile place. Everyone was dressed in very formal attire. Now, Angus knew it had to be something special. What was it, though? It wasn’t anyone’s birthday or the anniversary of any significant events. There was no way Bea would agree to a place like this if it wasn’t something big going on.
Once they were inside, they were greeted by someone at the entrance, “Welcome. Do you have reservations?”
Bea pulled out her id, “Santello. Table for 4.”
“Right this way.”, the man led them into the restaurant.
“Reservations? Wow.”, thought Angus. He wished they had warned him ahead of time. They almost couldn’t make it because of the home study.
Once they were seated, they were told to wait for a waiter for just a moment. Angus seized the moment to start asking questions.
“So, are you going to tell us why you of all people would decide to drop what I’m assuming is a lot of money on taking us to a place like this?”
“Come on, Angus, be patient. Let’s at least order our food first before you start interrogating me.”, replied Bea with a smug smile. She was clearly happy about something.
Before Angus could respond, a waiter came up and asked them what drinks they’d like to start with. Angus went to just order a soda, despite the other exotic sounding drinks on the menu, but Bea stopped him, “Come on, you can do better than a soda. Please, order anything. I’ll be paying.”
Angus wasn’t even sure he was talking to Bea right now. This was insane, but he gave in and ordered some purple drink with a name he couldn’t pronounce. He knew he would probably regret it, but if Bea was insisting, he figured he’d give it a shot. Gregg and Mae both ordered a drink that managed to be multiple colors all at once just because it looked cool. Bea ordered a martini. She was the only one getting an alcoholic drink.
After the waiter left, Angus began his questions again, “If you don’t want to tell me why we’re here, fine, but why didn’t you check with us before you made reservations for all four of us. We had our home study today. We almost missed this.”
“Yeah, that was totally my fault. I forgot about that. I was just really excited.”
“Why?”, asked Angus.
“Nice try, but no. I’d rather we not be interrupted by a waiter in the middle of the moment.”
“Does Mae know what it is?”
“Nope.”, replied Mae, “I think I might have an idea of what it is, though.”
Angus sighed, “Fine, I’ll drop it.”
“Trust me. It’ll be worth it.”, promised Bea.
Their drinks came. Bea, being the only one to get a normal drink, enjoyed hers. Mae and Gregg took sips of theirs before spitting it back out into paper towels and drawing attention from nearby tables.
“How could something so colorful be so bad?!”, exclaimed Gregg.
Angus slid Gregg’s drink over to him and drank some himself. It was incredibly strong and bitter. He swallowed it but slid it back, not wanting to drink anymore, “Okay, wow, that is something.”
Angus looked at his own drink. He was afraid to try it, but he did anyway. As soon as he did, his mouth was engulfed in sweetness. It was overwhelming. It wasn’t as bad as Gregg’s, but the overly sugary taste wasn’t something he could drink a whole glass of.
“I knew I should have just gotten a soda.”, said Angus.
Bea laughed, “Come on, trying all of the crazy stuff is part of the fun… Well, it’s fun watching other people do it at least.”
Angus did have to admit that the looks on Gregg and Mae’s faces were pretty funny.
“Okay, sure. I guess we should look at what this place has to eat.”, said Angus, picking up a menu. There were plenty of options, and he could recognize most of them this time, being a decent cook himself.
Angus chose a nice-sounding casserole. Next to lasagna, a good casserole was one of his favorite things to make and eat. They were so flexible. Gregg decided on a medium-rare steak. His love of meat was limitless. Mae settled on some salmon. If she couldn’t have tacos or pizza, fish would always be the next thing on the list, or any seafood, really. Bea went for a salad. With Mae around, Bea could only enjoy a good salad if she made something else for Mae, which she never really felt like doing. Mae refused to ever eat a salad, and she held her position very strongly to Bea’s minor annoyance.
Their waiter soon came back and took their orders. Then, they were left to talk amongst each other again.
“Hey, Mae. How’s that computer coming along?”, asked Gregg. Mae had been saving up for a gaming computer as her next big purchase.
“Pretty good. I have a thousand saved up.”, replied Mae.
“You have a thousand dollars, and you don’t have a computer yet?”, questioned Angus.
“No. Good computers are expensive.”
“Okay, when we get home, I am ordering you enough parts to build a gaming computer that can run almost any game on high settings for under 500 dollars, and I will build it for you.”, said Angus.
“Wait, really? You can do that?”, asked Mae.
“How do you think I got my computer to run so well? It’s not like we had tons of money to throw around back when we used to live in Possum Springs. Over a thousand dollars on anything wasn’t affordable back then. Trust me, you’ll get a better computer for so much less this way.”
“Wow. Thanks, big guy. I’m so glad we’ve got you in our group. I mean, not just for computer stuff, of course, but it is still pretty nice that you can do stuff like that.”
Gregg wrapped an arm around Angus, “That’s my husband for ya. He truly is the smartest out of all of us.”
“Well, Bea was valedictorian.”, replied Angus.
“Yeah, but that’s school skills. You have actual skills.”
Bea raised an eyebrow at Gregg, giving him a warning look.
“Uh, I mean, I’m sure Bea has actual skills, too. I didn’t mean that you didn’t have skills. I was just saying that school smarts aren’t everything, you know?”, said Gregg nervously, shrinking away from Angus.
“Uh-huh, sure.”, said Bea.
“Yeah, Bea has lots of skills.”, said Mae, “I mean, she’s had to manage stores for years, and do you know how many types of nails she had to know about?”
“I don’t see how knowing about different kinds of nails is very useful.”, said Gregg. Bea glared at him, which caused him to nervously look around, keeping his eyes as far away from hers as possible.
“It’s not the nails that matter. It’s the fact that she can remember things well.”, said Angus.
“Right, yeah. Um, let’s change the subject, please. If I keep talking about this, Bea’s gonna try to murder me in my sleep or something.”, pleaded Gregg.
“Trust me, she totally would.”, said Mae, “She’s better at stabbing people than you.”
“Mae!”, yelled Bea.
“What?! No way! There is no way she is better than me!”, argued Gregg. Other customers began looking at the ensuing argument.
“You act like being able to stab people is a good thing.”, said Angus.
“In some cases, it is! Like, what if you need to protect yourself?! I’ve been fighting with knives since we were in middle school! Bea’s never been in a knife fight!”
“Well…”, started Bea.
Gregg gasped, “Mae! You didn’t!”
“Didn’t what?”, questioned Mae.
“You haven’t been knife fighting with her instead of me, have you?! That was our thing, Mae! How could you do this to me?!”
“Gregg, calm down. I haven’t been knife fighting with Bea, okay?”
Gregg calmed down a bit and sighed, “Okay. So, what sort of knife fight have you been in, Bea?”
“Well, it was back when you got stabbed. After that guy stabbed you, and Mae ran off, I took your knife and chased after them. He tried to attack Mae and then me, but I was able to cut his arm, so he couldn’t fight with it anymore. I left a fight with the guy that almost killed you unscathed.”, explained Bea.
“That’s not fair! I was protecting that other guy!”, argued Gregg.
“And I was protecting Mae. What’s your point?”
“I didn’t have enough time to get my knife out! You already had it out! If I had had my knife out, I would have won easily!”
Mae lit up, a lightbulb going off in her head, “I know how we can settle this! You two can have a knife fight!”
“What?! Hell, no!”, replied Bea.
“What? Are you too scared? Do you know you’ll lose?”, said Gregg.
“No, I don’t want to because getting stabbed isn’t my idea of a good time.”
“Come on, Beabea.”, Mae pleaded, “You’ll only be stabbing each other in the hands.”
“I don’t care. I’m not going to fight Gregg with knives. I’m not fighting Gregg, period. He probably is better than me. Let’s just leave it at that.”
It wasn’t long after that before their food arrived along with a small warning about their volume and not disturbing the other customers. Everyone began eating and enjoying their food. It was then that Bea brought out a folded piece of paper and slid it to Angus. Angus looked at Bea in confusion.
“You seemed to want to know so badly, so I’ll let you see it first.”, said Bea.
Angus picked up the paper and unfolded it. He began reading.
Dear Beatrice Santello,
We here at Bright Harbor Community College would like to congratulate you as one of this year’s students accepted into our school’s academic curriculum.
Angus didn’t need to read any more to grasp the weight of the piece of paper he was holding.
Angus smiled excitedly, “Bea, this is… No way…”
“What is it, cap’n?”, asked Gregg, trying to look over his shoulder.
“Bea’s going to college.”, said Angus. He finally understood why Bea would be so willing to splurge on this fancy restaurant for them. To her, this was more than worth celebrating.
“I knew it! Yes, you finally did it!”, exclaimed Mae, hugging Bea.
Bea was beaming as the contents of the paper were revealed. She knew that all of the effort she went through to hide it until now was probably pointless, but she wanted this moment to be amazing, flawless, and with no interruptions. This marked her finally reaching that dream she had given up on all of those years ago.
“This is great! What are you studying?”, asked Angus.
“I’m majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology.”, answered Bea.
“Psychology? I thought you wanted to be an engineer? You were always the math and science type.”, questioned Angus.
“What’s sociology?”, asked Gregg.
“When are you starting?”, asked Mae.
“Okay, everyone calm down. I can’t answer you all at the same time. First, I’ll be starting next semester at the end of August. Second, sociology, in a nutshell, is the study of human society. Last is why I decided to major in psychology. It’s pretty simple, really. I want you all to think about your lives. Think about your lives and tell me what all of you have in common.”
“Where are you going with this?”, asked Angus.
“Do I have to spell it out for you? It’s because of you. The three of you are why I’m doing this.”
“Yes! Think about it. Before we all made it to Bright Harbor, our lives were pretty traumatic. We all had our life-altering tragedies or mental breakdowns. I’m honestly surprised we all became functioning members of society with Dr. Hank as our town’s psychologist. I wish I could’ve helped you. I wish someone could’ve helped me. I don’t want other people to feel like they don’t have those options. That’s why I’m majoring in psychology.”
“That’s really admirable of you.”, said Angus.
“Thanks. You know, Mae’s seeing a counselor. It’s really been helping her. I know it may not be my place to ask, but have either of you considered seeing one here in Bright Harbor? They’re so much better than Dr. Hank here.”, asked Bea.
“No.”, said Angus without hesitation.
“That was pretty fast. I’m not saying you have any serious mental issues or anything, but I’m sure there has to be something that you might want to talk about. I’ve actually considered seeing one myself. We’ve all been through a lot. It might be good for us to have a professional outlet.”
“No. I don’t have any problems. I’m happy. Nothing’s wrong anymore.”, said Angus, aggravated.
“Okay. What about Gregg?”
Gregg was lost in thought when the question was thrown at him. The mention of his name broke him out of it, though. “Huh? Oh, me? I mean, I’ve never really considered it before. Aren’t those people really expensive?”
“Does your work give either of you mental health insurance?”, asked Bea.
“Mine does.”, answered Angus.
“Okay. There are plenty of counselors who accept insurance. There wouldn’t be any out of pocket expense. You’d just need to have a time set aside every week or every other week to see them.”
Gregg thought about it. He was having some doubts after Angus’ response, though. “I mean, if Angus doesn’t need it, I don’t really see how it would make sense for me to start going. His life’s been a lot worse than mine. I don’t think I need it.” He seemed slightly disappointed as he gave his answer.
Angus could immediately see that Gregg was lying. He’d gotten so used to Gregg hiding his feelings from him that he developed something like a sixth sense for it.
“He wants it, doesn’t he?”
“That’s no reason not to go. Think about how many people wouldn’t see these people if they thought like that. There’s always going to be someone who has it worse than you. You can’t let that stop you from helping yourself. Now, if you don’t want to go, then you don’t want to go. That’s your choice. If you’re happy like you are, that’s great. I just want you to know that just because your life is going well, it doesn’t mean there can’t be things that are hurting you. One common trend in people with depression or anxiety disorders is that a lot of them have lives that should be making them happy, but they aren’t happy. That’s no reason to think less of what they’re going through.”, explained Bea, “The same goes for you, Angus.”
“I said no! Stop trying to get me to see a counselor when I don’t need one! Yes, my life was shitty, but it’s over now! I’m never going to see my mother or my father again! They can’t hurt me anymore!”, replied Angus angrily.
“I never mentioned your parents.”, said Bea.
“What else would you be talking about?!”
“What else? Are you serious? What about the cult? What about Casey? What about when Gregg almost died? What about your baby?”
Angus felt the gravity of the things he didn’t say pulling on the pit of his stomach. How could he forget about all of it so easily? His anger died off instantly.
“I’m not seeing a counselor.”, said Angus quietly, now focusing on only his food.
“…Fine.” Bea saw that she went too far and backed off.
Mae and Gregg looked at each other, taking in what just happened. There was an awkward silence for a few minutes as everyone ate, but eventually, Mae and Gregg were able to spark up a casual conversation to carry them through the rest of the meal.
The meal came to an end, and Bea paid as the four prepared to leave.
“…I’m sorry about all of that stuff I was talking about. It isn’t my place to try and get you to see a counselor.”, apologized Bea. She internally scolded herself for letting her excitement of this new future for her push her that far. She wasn’t qualified to psycho-analyze people! She hadn’t even started! Still, she had felt something off about Angus recently. It was probably just his stress over the baby and the adoption, though.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. I’m happy now. I have Gregg, after all.”
Gregg blushed, “Aww, I’m so flattered.”
“As long as you’re happy, I’m fine.”, said Bea.
After that, they all went out to the car and drove home. It was pretty late by the time they got home, and it wasn’t long before they were all fast asleep.
Chapter 8: Denial
It was raining today, a light drizzle. It was actually quite relaxing, the light pattering on the windows, the light gray sky. Angus was awake. He was sitting on the couch, listening to mother nature’s soothing symphony. It did little to ease his mind. He couldn’t stop thinking about last night.
“I don’t have a problem, right?”
“No, I can’t. Everything’s fine now. I won’t let them hurt me anymore.”
“They are, though. Why else wouldn’t you be thinking about all of that other stuff Bea mentioned. Face it, a death cult is objectively worse than abusive parents. Loved one’s almost dying could be considered worse by some.”
“No. They aren’t a problem anymore. They’re gone. I don’t need my parents anymore.”
“But what if-“
“Hey, Angus!”, called Gregg, interrupting Angus train of thought.
“Oh. Hey, bug.”
“What are you doing?”, asked Gregg.
“Nothing… Just relaxing. It’s raining out.”
“Really? Sweet.” Gregg knew that rain meant one of three things, playing in the rain, video game marathon, or extra cuddle time… It was usually video games or extra cuddle time.
Angus checked the time on his phone. It was around 10am. He had gotten up about half an hour ago.
“So, what do you want to do today?”, asked Angus.
“I’m up for anything, bug.”
Gregg thought for a moment, and then, his stomach began to rumble.
“I guess that means breakfast, then.”, said Angus, getting up and going out to the kitchen. He looked through their cupboards, “We really need to go shopping. We only have cereal.”
“I’m fine with cereal.”, said Gregg. Angus made them both bowls, and they sat down at their table.
“So, Bea’s finally going to college, huh?”, said, Gregg, as they began to eat.
“Yeah. She’ll be the first person from our group to graduate from college.”, said Angus.
“You could have been the first.”
“Yeah, but then, I’d be in a lot of debt right now. Things worked out. Thanks to you, I even managed to land a job as a computer support specialist. Seriously, no one would have accepted me without a college degree if it weren’t for you finding that guy at work.”
“Yeah. Larry’s a cool guy.”, said Gregg.
“Right, Larry. I can’t believe I didn’t remember his name. I never saw him where I worked.”
“He didn’t work in your department. I forgot exactly what job he had there. We don’t really talk about work. The whole reason he goes there is for his break from work. Do you guys not have a café or something? I always see a small rush of people whenever you’re on your lunch break.”
“We do, but the food’s pretty mediocre. Honestly, those people you’re getting are probably from our support department. A lot of people just can’t deal with all of the idiots we get. Trust me, it’s the worst part of the job. That’s not the point, though. The point is that we made it just fine without the college education. Mae’s also doing great from what I hear. Bea’s the only one right now working a job she doesn’t like, but now, that can change.”
“Mhm… so… about last night…”, started Gregg, hesitant to finish.
“What about it?”, questioned Angus.
“Well, I was just wondering if you were okay.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why would there be a problem?”
Gregg looked at Angus in slight disbelief, “Huh?”
“I asked why there would be a problem.”
Gregg swallowed down the knot in his stomach, “It’s just that when Bea started talking about counseling and stuff, you got really defensive.”
“It wasn’t her place to try and push us into seeing one. That’s all there was to it.”
“I know, but she was just offering a suggestion. You kinda snapped at her for just offering some advice.”
“She’s seeing things that aren’t there. She’s just excited about college. It’s getting to her head a bit, that’s all.”
“I don’t know… We have been through a lot… Are you sure it wouldn’t help even a little?”, asked Gregg.
“Bug, is there something bothering you?”, asked Angus.
“I mean, sure, there are things that might be good for me to talk out with a professional, but it’s not about me. I’m worried about you.”
“You don’t need to worry about me, Gregg. I’m fine.”
“I’m not sure that’s true anymore.”, Gregg’s voice rose, “Ever since you left your mother, it seems like you just keep getting angrier and angrier whenever your parents are even mentioned.”
There was a pause. Then, Angus sighed, “I promise you I’m fine. If anything gets out of hand, I promise I’ll get help, okay? You don’t have to worry about me.” His voice was warm, soothing, with no sign of any mental or emotional imbalance.
Gregg wanted to believe him, and he sounded so convincing, so he accepted it, “If you say so, I’ll believe you.”
“Thank you.”, replied Angus.
“This is my problem. You don’t need to get involved. I’ll get over it like I always do.”, he thought.
They finished eating breakfast soon after that. They still had the rest of the day to pass, though.
“So, what now?”, asked Angus.
“Ummm… Weren’t you going to help Mae buy parts for her new computer?”, asked Gregg.
“Oh, right. I forgot. I’ll text her.” Angus pulled out his phone and sent Mae a message, “Man, having reception still feels amazing.”
“I know, right? And we don’t have to fiddle with the wi-fi anymore, either.”
Mae got back to Angus in moments. She asked if he could come over. He messaged her back saying yes and asking if she wanted Gregg to come. She said she didn’t care. If he didn’t want to, it was fine.
“So, looks like I’m going to see Mae for a bit. Do you want to come?”, asked Angus.
“Nah. I’ll let you handle this one. I’m gonna go play some SPO. You wanna play after you’re done?” SPO was the acronym used for Sword People Online.
“Sure. That should kill some time. I guess I’ll get going then. Be back in a bit.” Angus walked to the front door, giving Gregg a wave as he exited.
He walked upstairs to Mae and Bea’s apartment and knocked on their door. Mae answered a few seconds later.
“Hey, big guy. Come on in.” Mae ushered Angus inside and closed the door behind him. She led him into the living room.
“Where’s Bea?”, asked Angus, taking notice of the fact that Bea wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
“She’s sleeping still. She was up late last night. I woke up at around 1 in the morning and saw she was still up on her laptop. She said she was just excited from telling us all about her going to college last night. I even saw her looking at the college’s website. I fell back asleep right after, so I don’t know exactly how late she stayed up.”
“Oh, okay.” Angus was worried that it might have been more him than college that kept Bea up. He did kind of blow up at her… No, he responded completely normally. Who wouldn’t get mad if your best friend tried to tell you that you needed mental help?
Angus sat down with Mae and began to help her.
“Okay, I don’t know anything about what I need to build a computer, so I’m gonna let you lead the way, cap’n.”, said Mae, giving him a playful salute.
“Please don’t call me that.”, said Angus.
“Aww, why not? Gregg calls you that all the time.”
“Exactly. Gregg calls me that because it’s his pet name for me. He is my husband, you know. You calling me that just feels weird.”
“Yeah… You’re right. Sorry.”
“Eh, don’t worry about it. Let’s just get down to business. How much money do you have saved up for a computer?”, asked Angus.
“Last I checked, just over 1100.”
“Nice. That means we can get you a nice graphics card and a good processor. Those are easily the most expensive things you need. You’ll also need a monitor, a hard drive, a motherboard…” Angus went on listing parts, many of which Mae didn’t know anything about. Angus was in the zone, and she planned on just letting him go.
Angus went online and went to a website Mae didn’t recognize.
“These people sell computer parts cheaper than I’ve found on any other legit site. They’re really obscure, which is probably good. The demand for their products is low, so their prices are lower.”
“Yeah, I know. I understand supply and demand. Bea always mentioned it whenever she would talk about her job back at the Ol’ Pickaxe.”
It was like Angus didn’t hear Mae’s comment. He was muttering things to himself, running numbers in his head, considering what the best investments would be in the long run.
Mae watched as her cart filled with part after part. By the time Angus was done, the final price was just below 1000 dollars. That plus taxes and the shipping and handling brought the total to almost 1100 exactly.
“Wow. Right on the mark.”, said Mae.
“Yep. This thing’s gonna be a monster. It’ll be way better than my computer or Gregg’s.”
“Of course. The computer I made was only with a couple hundred dollars, and the one Gregg got me was pre-built and only slightly more expensive than this one. So, are you ready to put in the order?”, asked Angus, looking like a child on Christmas.
“Man, it’s like you’re more excited about this computer than me. Yeah, I’ll put in my information and stuff, and then you can go ahead and buy it.”, said Mae, taking her laptop from Angus.
Angus became red with embarrassment. He hadn’t meant to get as excited as he did. He loved computers a bit too much. It didn’t take long for Mae to finish inputting her information. After she was done, she handed it back to Angus, “Here. I don’t feel like finding the buy button again.”
Angus took the laptop and navigated back to the cart. He then purchased the parts.
“That should be it. The parts will be here in a week or so. When they get here, just text me and I’ll get it built for you.”
“Aw, man. I have to wait a whole week? Whyyyyy?”, whined Mae.
“Because shipping parts from across the country takes a while. Don’t worry. It’ll be here before you know it. Just be patient.”
Mae sighed, “Yeah, I know. You can go now if you want.”
“Okay. I’ll get going. Gregg wants to play Sword People Online.”
“You’d better help me grind to max level when I get my computer.”
Angus got up, “You can’t just grind to max level. You’ve got to play through the story before you can access any of the end-game content.”
“Is the story good?”, asked Mae.
“It’s regarded as one of the best in the MMO genre, so yes.”
“Okay. If it’s a good story, then I’ll play through it.”
Angus got up, “I can make an alt and play through it with you if you want. I’ve been thinking about trying some of the other classes out.”
“If you want to, it’s fine. I don’t really care, though.”
“I’ll think about it. I’ll see you later.”
“Yep. Have fun.”
Angus exited the apartment, shutting the door behind him. He heard a click, probably from Mae locking the door. When he got back to his apartment, Gregg was in the kitchen grabbing a soda.
“Hey, cap’n. How’d it go?”, asked Gregg.
“Good. She should have a computer in about a week.”, replied Angus, grabbing himself a soda after Gregg.
“Sweet! I can’t wait!”
“So, do you still want to play?”, asked Angus.
“Yeah, I was just getting a drink. What are we gonna do?”
“There’s actually going to be an event this week. There are going to be vendors selling limited gear until next Monday. It’s supposed to be really expensive. We should probably farm up some gold.”
“Sounds good. Let’s do this.”
They spent the rest of the day grinding dungeons and monsters for money in Sword People Online. It was a fun way to end the weekend. It would be back to work the next day. They also had the follow-up visits from Michael to think about. None of it was today, though, so it didn’t matter. They would deal with it as it came like they always did.
Chapter 9: Back in That Horrible Place
A few more weeks passed after the home study and double date. Gregg and Angus were able to finish their adoption classes in that time. Michael had contacted them, giving them a date for a follow up to the home study. It would take place on the 26th of May. When the day came, they were more than ready to move forward with the process.
To pass the time, Gregg and Angus sat and watched tv in the living room. Gregg insisted they watch Saturday morning cartoons. He said it was to prepare them for never having access to the tv again, but he really just wanted to watch them for himself. There was still a place in his heart for children’s cartoons.
“I still don’t understand why trading card games would determine the fate of the world.”, commented Angus, as the main character on screen proceeded to pull miracles out of his ass, “And they don’t even follow the rules. I used to play this game. I’m surprised it even still exists.”
“Who cares? It’s just a cartoon.”, replied Gregg.
“Just because it’s a cartoon, that doesn’t mean it can’t at least try to follow the rules.”
“Come on, loosen up. You know the ass pulls can be fun, even if they don’t make sense.”
“I’m not saying that a good ass pull isn’t cool every once and a while, but I’ve watched plenty of shows where they actually made sense and you could guess them if you were clever enough. In this, every miracle that happens is just because of the characters magically top-decking the card they just so happened to need at the last second.”, argued Angus.
“Alright, fine. I’ll agree with you and let you complain about it for now. I don’t want to see you ruining cartoons with all of your logic once we have our kid, though.”
“What if we end up getting an older kid? Do you think they’ll even still like cartoons?”, asked Angus.
“Please, we’ve been watching cartoons all our lives. Don’t think I don’t see you binging anime on the weekends.”
Red washed over Angus’ complexion, “That’s not what I meant.”
“Hey, there’s an idea! We can all watch anime together. It’ll be our form of family bonding.”
“Don’t you think we should be going out and doing stuff with our child instead of sitting inside and watching tv?”
“Let’s be honest. How often are we actually going to take our kid outside with us to go to the park or something? We live in the city now. We can’t just tell them to go out and play by themselves like we could in Possum Springs. They would probably get kidnapped or something.” A sudden sadness hit Gregg, “Even being in a small town like Possum Springs didn’t stop kids from being kidnapped and killed.”
There it was again. The cult. No matter how many years passed, it just wouldn’t stop coming up. It never became less gut-wrenching no matter how many times they talked about it. Then, there was Casey…
Angus thought about what Gregg said, and as much as he hated to admit it, he was right. They lived in a dangerous world, one where sending your kids to play outside alone wasn’t really an option. A lot of the quality time they would spend with their child would occur inside.
“Yeah, you’re right. We’ll still do it sometimes, though.”, replied Angus.
“Mhm, even if they don’t want to. We don’t want them turning into lazy couch potatoes after all.”, agreed Gregg, smiling and breaking out of his small sad spell.
There was a knock at the front door.
“Is that Michael?”, asked Gregg.
“Probably.” Angus got up and turned off the tv. Gregg went to answer the door. Sure enough, it was Michael.
“Hey, man. Welcome back.”, greeted Gregg, leading him into the apartment.
“Good to be back. How have you two been?”, asked Michael.
“We’ve been good. We’re done with our adoption classes. The exam they gave at the end was easy.”, replied Gregg, taking Michael into the living room.
“Maybe a bit too easy.”, said Michael, a bit of cynicism leaking into his tone.
Angus moved a chair to face the couch, offering for Michael to sit in it. He gladly accepted. Gregg took his seat on the couch.
“Would you like something to drink?”, asked Angus to Michael.
“What do you have?”
“Just some soda. I need to go shopping later.”, answered Angus, slightly embarrassed he couldn’t offer anything more.
“Sure, why not?”, said Michael.
“Could you get me one, too?”, asked Gregg.
Angus nodded and went out to the kitchen. A few moments later, he returned with 3 cans of generic cola. He passed them around to everyone.
“Thank you.”, said Michael.
“Yeah, thanks, cap’n.”, said Gregg.
Angus took his seat next to Gregg. They were ready to get down to business.
“Alright. Now that everything is set, it’s time to get to work. To start, I’d like to inform you that your background checks have been verified. You’re both good to go. I also went and got some statements from the references you sent me. I’ve heard good stuff about you.”, said Michael.
“That’s good. What else is there?”, asked Angus.
“Well, I was going to ask you about your adoption course, but from what Gregg told me, it was easy. I also have the test results, of course, but they never really amount to much in the long run.”
Angus raised an eyebrow at that. “Why not?”
“Let’s just say that anyone can pass that test, even the worst parents you could ever meet, and with flying colors, too. It’s more of an obligation at this point than an actual method of weeding out bad people.”, replied Michael. There was a pause as both Gregg and Angus felt the air of confidence they had built up from how easy the test was become contaminated with that dreaded, poisonous doubt.
Michael saw it was making them uncomfortable and decided to continue, “That would actually lead us into the next part and what is one of the best parts for most up-and-coming adoptive parents, getting you matched with a child.”
Both Gregg and Angus both lit up when they heard those words. Michael saw this, and his mind lit up as well. They were the ones. He just hoped they would accept…
“It’s time to make my move.”, Michael thought as he pulled out papers from his briefcase.
“You know, that face shows me so much. Your eyes, those are what I’ve been looking for.”, said Michael.
“What?”, questioned Angus. He and Gregg were confused. What was this about their faces all of a sudden?
“I’m going to ask you for a favor. Whether you accept or not is entirely up to you. I am about to be asking a lot from you.” Michael took out a single manila folder and dropped it in front of them.
Neither Angus nor Gregg knew what was going on. Angus took the folder and opened it. Inside was a child’s file. There was a picture of them from not too long ago. The child in the picture was a raccoon. He looked to be in his adolescence.
Michael began to talk before Gregg or Angus could ask any questions, “This boy’s name is Liam. He’s currently 10. He’s just finished elementary school.”
“Why are you showing us this?”, asked Gregg.
“Long story short, I want you two to adopt him.”
Gregg and Angus looked at each other, speechless.
“I know this is kind of sudden, but just hear me out.”, requested Michael.
“What’s so special about him?”, asked Angus.
“I was just about to get to that. Liam, he’s been through a lot. He’s one our adoption agency’s biggest failures.”
“What do you mean?”, asked Gregg.
Michael sighed and cleared his throat, preparing to continue, “Liam was abandoned as a baby. Luckily, we found him and got him to a good home soon after. When he was just 7, though, his adoptive parents died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. They immigrated from overseas, and there wasn’t any other family that could take him in. He ended up back with us at our orphanage. A few months later, another family took him in. They were one of the bad seeds our pathetic tests and checks couldn’t find. After a year of neglect and abuse, one of the parents overdosed on heroin, and Liam was taken by child protective services.”
“What exactly were his second parents like?”, asked Angus, morbid curiosity and empathy taking over.
“When we recovered Liam, he was badly bruised all over his body. We found records of broken bones as well from his doctor at the time. We couldn’t get him to tell us exactly what they did to him.”
Angus felt angry, enraged even. He was just like him. He wanted to yell, but he needed to keep it in. He couldn’t make a scene, not when they were so close. He had to make it go away. He could be angry later.
“That still leaves over a year until now. Has he just been in the orphanage since then?”, asked Gregg.
Michael scoffed, “No. If it had just been one bad situation like this, it wouldn’t be considered one of our agency’s biggest failures, would it?”
“There was more?”, asked Angus, trembling a bit at what he knew had to come next.
“Yes. Another family took him in a few months after the last one. They seemed nice, just like the last ones. It was just an act, though. All they wanted was the benefits that came with adopting children, support money and free labor. It was the same situation again, but this time, we didn’t find out until Liam was hospitalized. He was suffering from a severe case of malnutrition and dehydration as well as several bruises and broken ribs. From what the police gathered, he finally decided to fight back during one of his beatings, and this was the punishment he got for it.”
Angus was clutching his stomach. He could feel himself about to throw up. His breathing was constricted to the point of barely being enough to keep himself from passing out. The anger he was feeling before had become something else.
“Angus, are you okay?”, asked Michael.
Gregg looked over and noticed what was going on. He had been too lost in his own thoughts to notice his husband’s suffering.
“Woah, cap’n, what’s wrong?”, asked Gregg, placing a supportive hand on Angus.
Angus stood up, abandoning Gregg’s offer for help, “I… I need to go. I need to go.” He stumbled out of the room, rushing to the bathroom and slamming the door behind him. He knelt over the toilet, holding a hand over his mouth.
“It hurts. Everything hurts.”
“What’s happening to me?”
“I’m going to throw up.”
Before Angus could vomit, he felt suffocated, claustrophobic. As it turned out, going to the bathroom was a bad idea. The room was small with no windows.
“Like the Pantry.”
“I need to get out.”
“Get me out of here!”
Angus got up and tried running through the door, forgetting that it opened inwards from where he was. A shooting pain went through his shoulder as he ran into the door. He yelped in pain, even though he hadn’t even rammed into the door that hard. As he was reminded of the direction of the door’s swing, he pulled on the doorknob. It flew open, hitting the wall with a loud thud.
“Angus, what’s going on?!”, asked Gregg with a sense of panic.
Angus wasn’t sure what was going on himself. This had never happened before.
“It’s too small. The sink. I need the sink. Everything hurts. I’m gonna throw up.” Angus’ sentences were barely coherent. They all came out as one long string of words.
“Do you need to go to the hospital or something?”, asked Michael.
“No, no hospital. They can’t find out. It’ll make everything worse.”
Gregg was able to at least understand that Angus needed to get to the sink. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t just puke in the toilet or what he was talking about, but he knew that trying to get him back into the bathroom wasn’t happening. Gregg took Angus to the kitchen sink. Michael followed them, not sure what to do.
Once at the sink, Angus was ready to vomit, but something kept him from doing it.
“You can’t. You can’t make a mess. You’ll have to go back there.”
“Wait… Wait, what? What am I talking about? What’s happening?”
“I’m an adult. She can’t even do that anymore.”
“Why would I feel like I was there again?”
“We don’t even have a pantry…”
Slowly, the pain Angus thought was there went away. The need to vomit died down. He regained control of his breathing again.
“Angus, it’s gonna be okay. Just breathe. Calm down. I’m right here.”, said Gregg, holding Angus close to him. He was so scared.
The warmth of Gregg helped Angus calm down considerably. It was replacing the sensations he had just been feeling with something comforting. A few moments later, Angus was well enough to move back from the sink. He wasn’t going to throw up.
Angus looked down at Gregg, who was still holding onto him. He looked terrified and helpless.
Angus placed a hand on Gregg, “Bug? I’m… I’m okay.”
“That was not okay, Angus! What the hell just happened?!”
“I don’t know. I was just listening to Michael talk about Liam, and all of a sudden, I started feeling sick to my stomach. I thought I was just feeling bad about what he had to go through, but then, something snapped. I was going to throw up, so I went into the bathroom. When I got in there, my whole body started hurting. I got really claustrophobic for some reason, so I started panicking. After I got out and got to the sink, I couldn’t bring myself to let myself throw up. For some reason, I felt like I would get in trouble if I made a mess in the sink.”, Angus explained.
“What do you think caused it? Like, I know it was hard listening to Michael, but that wasn’t normal.”
Before Angus could answer, Michael stepped in, “Angus, I know your childhood was pretty bad. Have you ever considered the idea that it might be affecting you still? I’ve seen this situation enough times to know that you don’t just forget about parental abuse like that. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve seen this happen a lot with kids, and more often than not, it turns out to be some degree of PTSD.”
“You’re right about one thing. I’ll never forget what my parents did to me, but it’s not a problem anymore. I do not have PTSD. This has never happened before. I’m sure it was just a one-time thing. Maybe, it was something I ate.”, argued Angus.
“It may have stayed dormant until now because you’ve never experienced anything that’s triggered a flashback before now. This happened when I told you about Liam, and it seems like you’ve been through a lot of the same stuff as him.”, said Michael.
“Yeah, it is really similar. I’m worried about you. I know you want to act like everything’s all right, but it’s not. You really scared me just now. Why won’t you just admit that you’re hurting? We can get help. It’s not hard.”, said Gregg.
“No! I won’t give them the satisfaction of hurting me ever again! I’m fine!”, yelled Angus.
“If you think raising Liam is going to be too much for you, we can look through the other files.”, offered Michael.
“No, I’m not letting him be taken by some other random stranger! I won’t let him get hurt again!”
Michael looked at Angus silently for a moment. “Angus, I know you mean well, but this is a delicate situation we’re talking about. You’re going to be the stay-at-home dad. You’re not going to be able to avoid his past. If you’re going to care for him, you’re going to need to see a mental health counselor. If you don’t, I can’t in good conscience give him to you.”
Angus was taken aback, “You can’t be serious.”
“This isn’t a joke. This is a child’s livelihood we’re talking about. If you’re not willing to face your own inner demons, how can you expect to help Liam face his? To him, you’re going to be the only one who knows what he’s been through, and he needs someone like that, someone he can open up to. I know you can do it. You’re both good people, and I know you can be the family he needs. Please, do it for him.”
Angus was forced into a corner. He couldn’t avoid it anymore. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He felt like he’d just lost a lifelong war. He had to give in, though. He had to save him.
Angus wiped at his face, “Fine. I’ll do it.”
Chapter 10: Consoling a Breaking Mind
After Angus’ episode and his agreement to get help, Michael referred him to some people he knew that would know how to work with him. He agreed to submit their inquiry on Liam, assuring them that they’d most likely hear word on the decision within a month. He also reminded them that if Angus didn’t hold up his end of the deal, he could easily reverse the decision. With that, he left, leaving Gregg and Angus alone.
Once Michael was gone, Angus sat on the couch, burying his head in his hands. He began to sob. Seeing this, Gregg sat himself down next to him and hugged him.
“Fuck!”, yelled Angus despairingly.
“Come on, cap’n, it’ll be okay.”, said Gregg.
“No, it won’t! Of all of the times for this to happen, of course it would be fucking now!”
“I know it sucks, but I think it’ll be good for you. I’ve been worried about you, and whatever just happened isn’t something I want you to have to go through again. You really scared me.”
“I just want it to be over! Even when I never see my parents, they still find some way to fuck with me! Why can’t they just leave me alone?!”
Gregg felt guilty, guilty for not seeing what was happening sooner. He saw Angus suffering, and he just accepted it when he said he was okay. He should have said more, pushed harder, but he hadn’t because he was a coward, a failure, a worthless piece of shit. Gregg was Angus’ husband. He was supposed to be the one who dealt with things like this, not Bea, not some random person they’d only ever talked to twice, but him.
“I’m sorry, Angus. You shouldn’t have had to go through that. We can get you help now, though.”, said Gregg.
“Why should I have to share all of my personal thoughts with some random stranger?!”, asked Angus.
“If you want, I can go with you. Would that help at all?”, asked Gregg.
“You don’t have to go with me, bug. This isn’t your problem.”
“It is my problem!”, yelled Gregg, “This is all my problem! It’s my fault it even got this bad in the first place! I should have done more! I shouldn’t have let you go when you told me you were okay, and you clearly weren’t!”
Angus looked at Gregg, confused, “None of this is your fault, Gregg. This has nothing to do with you.”
“But it is! You’re my husband! You’re supposed to be able to trust me to be there for you! I know I’m not great at solving problems and stuff, but I should’ve tried at least.”
“Look, it’s not your fault, okay? I just didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t want anything to be wrong, especially when we’re trying to get a kid. I really thought I was fine, but that clearly isn’t true. I can’t really deny it anymore. Damn it!” Angus was angry, scared, and stressed beyond belief. He really didn’t want to deal with this.
Nothing more was said for a few moments as both Angus and Gregg wound down.
“Man, I just don’t get it.”, said Gregg.
“Huh?”, replied Angus.
“Why you? Why is it you of all people? Why do you have to deal with all of this shit? You’re too good for this, cap’n. You don’t deserve it. It should have been me. You were always so nice and smart, and I was always out trespassing and vandalizing shit. I should’ve been the one that got abused. I probably deserved it.”
“Gregg, we’ve had this conversation before. Nobody deserves what happened to me, least of all you. The universe doesn’t care about who deserves what. I was just unlucky in that part of my life. It’s not like it lasted, though. I found you. Sure, a lot’s happened since we met, but not all of it was bad.” Angus held up his ring, “You gave me this, after all. This is the greatest fortune I ever could have hoped for.” He laughed, “It’s probably why I never had any luck. Life was saving it all for that moment.”
The nod to the ring prompted Gregg to look at his own, reflecting on everything it meant, “Yeah. The day we got married was amazing. I just wish Mae hadn’t ruined it for Casey’s parents… I wish Casey could have been there… Why did it have to be Casey? He never got to do anything with his life… Goddamn it! I got off track. This isn’t supposed to be about that.”
“I think we’re both getting off track. I need to start calling up some of these people.” Angus picked up the list of people Michael had referenced him to.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?”, asked Gregg.
Angus stared at the paper for a few seconds. He had a different idea.
“You don’t have to go with me, but I think you should see one of these people by yourself.”
“What? Why?”, asked Gregg.
“Because I don’t want you to have to go through what I just did. That was horrible. You’ve been through just as much as I have, and you don’t really talk about it, but sometimes, I feel like you want to. I’m sorry I can’t really help you when it comes to Casey. I haven’t been through grief like you, Mae, or Bea. I was friends with Casey, but I never got close to him like you did. You don’t have to, but I think you want to. You seemed disappointed turning it down when we went out with Mae and Bea.”
Gregg felt ashamed of himself. Angus saw through him that easily?
“I don’t know… I just feel kind of stuck, I guess. We all avoided talking about it after the incident, and when we decided to tell Casey’s parents, Mae let it out before we could get together and tell them. It’s hard not being able to tell anyone. Honestly, it was kind of stupid to tell them in the first place. We left dozens of people to die down in the mines. They could have called the police or something. Our lives would be ruined… How am I supposed to tell someone I don’t even know what happened?”
“I’m pretty sure these people aren’t allowed to leak information about us from our sessions.”, replied Angus.
“Oh.” Gregg took a moment to think, “I guess I would be up for it.”
Angus smiled. Then, something else came to mind.
“I need to talk to Bea.”
“Huh?”, replied Gregg.
“I need to apologize to her. I made a big scene when she was nice enough to take us all out for dinner, and she even ended up being right about everything.”
“Oh, right. That would probably be a good idea.”, said Gregg.
Angus got up and let out a sigh, “I’m gonna go see if she’s home.”
“Alright. Good luck. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Angus exited the apartment and walked downstairs. He had no idea what he was going to say.
When he reached their door, he took a deep breath and knocked. After a few moments of silent anticipation, footsteps approached the door. There was a click and the turning of the doorknob. Would it be Mae or Bea?
Angus saw that familiar, reptilian face. It was Bea who answered the door.
“Angus? What’s up?”, said Bea, soon after taking note of Angus’ puffy cheeks and humbled expression, “Did something happen? You look like shit.”
“Yeah, something happened. Can we talk for a bit?”, requested Angus.
“Sure, come in.”
Angus was led inside.
“Is Mae here?”, asked Angus.
“No. I actually got her to go out and buy groceries for once.”
“Wow. That couldn’t have been easy.”
Bea snickered, “It wasn’t too hard. It just took a little… incentive.”
“Oh, I see.”, replied Angus sarcastically.
“Did you want to talk to Mae, too?”, asked Bea.
“No. I actually wanted to talk to you alone.”
“I guess this is convenient timing then.” Bea sat on the couch, Angus sitting on the other end. “So, what did you want to talk about? Did something happen with the adoption? I know you were supposed to be visited by that guy again today.”
“Kind of, but not really. It’s mainly about when you took us all out to dinner, and we got into that argument.”
“Right. I said it was fine. I was getting too personal. I shouldn’t be trying to diagnose you with problems that aren’t there.”, said Bea.
“They are there.”
“There are problems. You were right about everything.”
Bea was shocked, “Wait, what? I was right?”
“Yeah. When we had that argument, I really believed I was okay, but it’s different now.”
“So, what made you change your mind? What happened?”, asked Bea.
“Not even an hour ago, I… Something happened to me. I got really sick and panicky out of nowhere, and I made a big scene in front of our adoption agent. He said it may have been a PTSD flashback, and I can see why. When I went into the bathroom to puke, the first thing I thought of was the pantry. I hurt all over like I had all of the bruises again. My stomach hurt like I was starving.”, explained Angus.
Bea winced as he told her what it was like. Being right felt horrible.
“I’m really sorry that happened. It’s weird, though. Why haven’t you had a flashback before? If you have PTSD, you should have been seeing signs well before now.”
“Well, I guess I haven’t really had any triggers for it in my life until now. Nothing set it off. There were always things going on to distract me from it. Now that we’re trying to settle down and raise a kid, I guess I just couldn’t avoid it anymore.”
“What exactly set you off?”, asked Bea.
“Our agent came to us with an offer. For whatever reason, they thought we were the best option for raising this one specific child. His name is Liam. When he started talking about his past, it was just like mine, except he actually lost good parents beforehand. I wanted to be angry. That’s how I usually deal with stuff surrounding my parents and stuff nowadays. I guess that’s not really healthy. Anyways, I didn’t want to have an outburst in front of him, so I held it in, and that’s when it happened. After he saw what happened, he said that I would have to get mental help if he was going to let us raise him, and after hearing about what happened to him, I couldn’t bring myself to let him go, so I accepted.”
“Do you need someone to go to? The person Mae’s seeing seems pretty good.”
“Nah, I was given a list of references. Besides, I don’t think you’re supposed to see the same therapist as your friends.”, replied Angus.
Bea sighed, “Yeah. This sucks. Everyone keeps falling apart, and all I can do is trust them to strangers. I’m surprised Gregg’s the only one who hasn’t decided to see a counselor yet.”
“Actually, he’s starting, too.”
“Okay, scratch that, I guess. What’s going on with him?”, asked Bea.
“He keeps bringing up Casey.”
“Oh. Yeah, Mae does, too.”
“I wish I’d known him better.”, said Angus.
“I wish I’d known him at all. All I ever really did was… replace him.”
“There’s not anything we can do about it now.”
“Do you still think those people, the cult, deserved to die down there?”
“Yes.”, answered Angus without pause.
“I still can’t see it. They really thought they were doing what was right. That doesn’t excuse any of it, but… I don’t know.”
“They had their beliefs, and I have mine. Killing people for stupid reasons like that isn’t excusable. Think about the lives they ruined, not just the ones they ended. Do you know how many times Gregg wished he’d died instead, how much he thought he deserved it? They deserved it, all of them.”
“Did my dad deserve it, too?”, asked Bea, suddenly on the verge of tears.
Angus’ breath hitched, and his heart skipped a beat. He forgot about that completely. There wasn’t an answer he could think to say.
“Bea, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”, said Angus.
“No, you’re right. He… he probably deserved it. I just never thought he would ever… do something like that.”
There was an awkward silence between the two. The conversation had fallen into an uncomfortable void that made it impossible to continue. The silence was eventually broken by Bea.
“Well, good luck with your counseling and stuff. I’m glad you’re finally getting help.”
“Thanks. I guess I’ll get going now.”, replied Angus, standing up and stretching.
Angus left the apartment and went back upstairs. When he got back, he found Gregg asleep on the couch.
“I guess a nap wouldn’t hurt.”, thought Angus. He squeezed himself in behind Gregg and held him close, sleep hitting only moments after. They both needed it after everything that happened.
Chapter 11: Beginning to Heal
Angus wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to let his past back into the spotlight. He didn’t want to think about it, talk about it, especially with someone he’d never met before. It had to happen, though. It was for Liam, Gregg, Bea, Mae, everyone in his life who actually cared about him.
It was a Saturday just before noon, and Angus was sat in a small waiting room with Gregg. They were both here for counseling. Taking the list Michael had given him, Angus found two people who worked in the same building and managed to schedule matching times with them.
The clock struck 12, and soon after, a person walked out of the hallway leading to the offices, followed by another person a few moments after. After that, another person came out and walked over to Gregg and Angus. He was a tall, semi-muscular dog with brown fur and grey suit with stripes.
“Are you two Greggory and Angus?”
“Yes, that’s us. I’m Angus.”, replied Angus, a knot in his stomach.
“Alright. You’ll be with me. I’m Dr. Riese. Greggory here will be with Dr. Cassus a few rooms down the hall from me. He should be waiting outside his office.”
“Got it. Come on, bug. Let’s go.”, said Angus, standing up.
“Heh. ‘Bug’. That’s a new one.”
Angus’ face turned a brighter red than it was naturally, “Oh, that’s my, um, nickname for him.”
“I gathered that. Does he have one for you?”
Gregg firmly planted an arm on Angus’ shoulder, “I call him cap’n.”
“Hm. Are these in-jokes or something? Normally, couples just take the obvious route. Cutie, honey, etc.”, asked Dr. Riese.
“We do that, too.”, said Gregg.
“No, they’re not really based on any sort of joke or anything. They just kinda happened.”, said Angus.
They had reached Riese’s office. There was someone else down the hall waving at them, probably Dr. Cassus.
“Alright. Angus, you come in with me. Greggory, Cassus is waiting for you right down there. He is currently waving at you.”
Angus went into Dr. Riese’s office.
“Bye, Gregg. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”, replied Gregg, heading off down the hall.
Once Gregg was gone, Dr. Riese closed the door to the office and sat in his computer chair.
“You can sit wherever you’d like.”, said Dr. Riese.
In the room were both a chair and a couch. Angus decided to take the couch.
“Good. Now that we’re settled in, are you ready to get started?”, asked Riese.
“Sure.”, replied Angus.
“Okay. You said that Michael recommended you to me, yes?”
“Um, yeah. Do you know him?”, asked Angus.
“We’re actually friends. We met when he first started work as an adoption agent. He wanted to get to know child psychologists.”
“You work with children?”
“Not exclusively, but yes, I do. Now, when I heard it was him who recommended you, I was curious, especially since you aren’t a child. What’s your relation to him?”
“He’s our adoption agent.”, answered Angus.
“Really? That is interesting. Is he still working with you?”
“Yeah, actually. I’m surprised he still thinks I’m capable.”
“If I may be so bold, what exactly prompted his recommendation of seeing a mental health counselor? If this is too much to start with, it’s fine.”
“Well, in the middle of matching us with a child, I… had some kind of flashback.”
“Flashback? Like, PTSD?”, asked Dr. Riese.
“May I ask what it was that caused it and what exactly happened during it?”
“Well, he was trying to get us to adopt this specific child, Liam.”
“Wait, it’s you two? You’re the people he found?”, asked Riese in slight disbelief.
“Has he told you about us or something?”
“He said he might have found ‘the ones’. He never mentioned your names or anything. Wow. You’re here, and he’s still thinking about giving him to you?”
“Yeah. It’s probably not gonna happen.”, said Angus ashamedly.
“I don’t know. If he’s sticking it out for you after something like this, he must like you a lot.”
“He said it was because Liam needed someone who could understand him.”
“And you can? So, does that mean…”
“Yeah, I was abused as a child.”, answered Angus for him.
“And that’s what caused it? The flashback?”
“Has this happened before?”
“Never. This has never happened before now. Why would that happen? Why would I not see anything for so long?”, asked Angus.
“Well, this could be a case of delayed-onset PTSD. How long has it been since you were abused?”
“We’ll be coming up on a decade in a year or two.”
“Wow. That’s a long time. Now, I know this is going really fast, but do you think you could tell me about the nature of your abuse?”
Angus found it hard to get an answer out. It had been so long since he ever talked about his childhood in great detail. Despite this, he swallowed his anxiety and began to speak.
“Ever since I was little, my dad would beat me for any little thing I did wrong. If I knocked a drink over, he would hit me. If it ever sounded like I was talking back to him, he would get out a belt or just punch and kick me. If it was ever anything serious, they’d have to keep me home from school while I healed. They couldn’t let it get out that they were doing this to me.”
Riese nodded and wrote some notes down, “What about your mother? What was she like.”
Angus felt shivers crawling up and down his spine, “She was worse. When my dad beat me, it would only last for maybe 5 minutes, more if it was really bad, but with my mom, it was so much worse. She… She would lock me in our pantry if I ever did anything to wrong her. Whenever I was in there, it would be for hours, even days at a time. I would always be starving. Sometimes, I felt like I was actually going to die in there.”
“Did this abuse ever cause any long-term medical problems?”
“I’m not sure. It may have made my asthma worse, but that’s all I can think of. I have a few scars, too, but those don’t really matter. They don’t bother me.”
“Well, I’m sorry you had to go through that. How long did you live with your parents?”
“I left as soon as I finished high school. I moved into an apartment with Gregg, and we lived there until we moved here.”
“You haven’t always lived here?”
“I used to live in this place called Possum Springs.”, said Angus.
Dr. Riese’s face lit up at the name, “Possum Springs? I remember hearing about that town. Didn’t it used to be one of the most successful mining towns in the country?”
“From what I’ve heard, yeah. It was never like that for me, though. I had to live in it while it became one of the biggest shitholes you could ever imagine. The only people still living there are people too poor to move, which is a lot of people, but not enough to keep a town alive.”
“Wow. It really did fall from grace, huh?”
“Mhm.”, replied Angus.
“Well, it would seem a lot of things weren’t great for you in your childhood.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Yes, but that’s not the point. The point is that these things are out in the open now. We can talk about them. We can figure out if what you’re going through really is delayed-onset PTSD or not. This is a good thing. Most people don’t come out with this much information on the first day.”
“I need to. I need this shit out of my life, whatever it is.”
“That is my job. I’m here to help you through whatever’s bothering you and to make sure it negatively impacts your life as little as possible.”
Angus sighed, “I wonder how Gregg’s doing?”
“I’m sure he’s fine. He’s in good hands.”
Gregg was currently taking things much slower than Angus. He had only just finished introductions with Dr. Cassus.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Gregg.”, said Dr. Cassus.
“Uh, same here.”, replied Gregg.
“Alright, now that we’ve gotten to know each other a bit, I guess it’s time to start doing what you actually came here for.”
“Right…”, said Gregg anxiously.
“So, what would you like to talk about. What’s the reason you came here?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“Um, well, there are a few things, I guess. I need to ask you something, though.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“You’re not allowed to tell anyone else about what I tell you, right?”
“Ah, confidentiality. Under most circumstances, no, I am not allowed to tell anyone about what you tell me here. The only exceptions would be if you were a threat to someone else, or if I were forced to testify against you in court. Those are the only real ways I can break confidentiality, outside of other extremely rare circumstances.”, explained Dr. Cassus.
“Testify? He could testify against me?”
“No, that’s ridiculous. Those people have been missing for, like, 7 years. There isn’t going to be a court case. No one made it out of that cave.”
“Does that mean he could tell the police, though? What if they started an investigation?”
“What am I supposed to say?”
Gregg’s breathing became more rapid, and he began to sweat anxiously. His eye’s tried desperately to avoid Dr. Cassus’.
“Gregg? Mr. Delaney, can you hear me?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
Gregg’s eyes snapped to his, forced there by the call of his name.
“Are you okay?”
“No. No, I’m not.”
“Are you afraid to tell me something?”
“N-no. It’s nothing. I wasn’t gonna say anything.”, said Gregg frantically.
Dr. Cassus knew he was lying. He was worried now. What was he trying to hide? He had to make a compromise.
“Okay. How about this. I promise that no matter what, I won’t tell anyone as long as you aren’t planning to hurt anyone. Is that fair?” All in all, this was a smart question to ask. If the person he was talking to still refused to tell him, he knew that someone was probably in danger, and hiding most other things wouldn’t be too hard.
“Really?”, asked Gregg.
“Yes.” This was good. This probably meant no one was in danger at least.
“…Fine. I’ll tell you.”
“Good. So, what is it?”
“Well… I used to live in this small town called Possum Springs. Around 7 years ago or so, only a few months before we moved here, me and my friends got wrapped up in some crazy shit. We… discovered this cult in a cave outside of our town.”
“A cult?”, questioned Dr. Cassus.
“Yeah. They, like, murdered people. They had this hole they would sacrifice people into.”
Dr. Cassus was astounded. He never expected this.
“Were they ever caught?”
“No. They had police officers in the cult, so we couldn’t tell the police about it.”
“How did they get away with killing people? Didn’t people notice?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“They only killed people they saw as worthless. Missing person posters would go up, but not enough people cared for there to be a massive uproar. They also didn’t do it too often. They only took someone every month or so.”
“Are they still there?”
This was the part Gregg was afraid of.
“No. After we found them in the cave, they actually let us go. We couldn’t do anything about them, and most of us were good workers, so they didn’t want to lose us. One of them, though, was mad at me for shooting him in the arm with my crossbow, so he tried to drag my friend, Mae back down after we got off of the elevator in the cave. We managed to pull her out, but the elevator collapsed, and there was a cave in. We all managed to escape, but the cult didn’t. We… even had our friend blow up the exit we found to make sure they all died. There were dozens of missing person’s posters going up over the next few days. None of them ever came up with anything.”
The room was quiet for a moment. Dr. Cassus was still taking in what Gregg had just told him. It was more than he’d ever expected.
“I’ve never heard anything like that before. I’m not sure what to say.”
“You won’t tell anyone, right? You can’t. I can’t be the one who let it out and ruined all of my friends’ lives!”
“Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. As much as I hate it, that was probably the best outcome. How many people did they kill?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“They said dozens.”
“They would’ve killed dozens more, too if you hadn’t done what you did. It must be hard not being able to talk about it with anyone other than your friends.”
“We don’t even talk about it that much. Whenever it comes up, we usually just try to gloss over it.”, said Gregg.
“Oh. It must be even harder, then.”
“Not really. I understand if they don’t want to talk about it. There’s something else, though.”
“There’s something else they won’t talk about. We had a friend, Casey Hartley. He was a great guy. Before I found Angus, my husband that you saw earlier, it was just me, him, and my other friend, Mae. We had so much fun in high school. He had dreams. He wanted to leave that shit town… He never got to leave, though. Almost 2 years after high school ended, Casey went missing, and… you know where I’m going with this.” Gregg wiped away tears that started to form.
“That’s… really unfortunate.”
“No one else gets it! No one else gets how I feel. The only who might is Mae, but I can’t talk about it with her because she already deals with enough shit on a daily basis as it is.”
“What about your husband?”, asked Dr. Cassus.
“He was never as close to him as I was. Besides, I shouldn’t be bringing it up around him anyway. He doesn’t need anything else on his mind right now.”
“If you don’t talk about it with anyone, how do you deal with it? How do you handle grief?”
“I don’t know. I feel stuck. I just want to accept that he’s gone, but my life keeps getting better, and it keeps making me feel like shit because he never got to have what I have, even though he deserved it more than me.”
Dr. Cassus raised an eyebrow at Gregg, “Why do you think he deserved it more than you?”
“Because he actually tried! I only got here because Angus got me to get off of my lazy ass and do something! Casey was at least doing something to be able to leave, even if it wasn’t really that great.”
“What was he doing exactly?”
Gregg paused. He didn’t want to tell him what Casey was doing before he died. He knew he would immediately think less of him for it. Lying had already failed, though, so he decided to just come clean.
“…He made and sold drugs with his cousin. It’s the reason the cult used for killing him.”
“And you think that was a good thing?”, questioned Dr. Cassus.
“Of course, I don’t!”, yelled Gregg, “I know it’s illegal, but it was all he could think to do! Do you know how hard it was to get an actual job in that goddamn town?! Everyone looks down on him because of it, but he didn’t have a choice! It was either that or sit around wasting his life away like I almost did!”
“You’re right. I don’t know what it was like trying to find a job in Possum Springs. It doesn’t seem like it was easy. I can’t agree with dealing drugs, but I can see where he may have been coming from, especially if it was already in his family. It certainly didn’t mean he deserved to die.”
“I just don’t get why it had to be him. It should have been me. Even if Angus would have been sad, he could’ve found someone else easily. He’s too nice and smart for it not to happen.”
“Gregg, that’s not a healthy way to be thinking. You can’t tell yourself that other people deserve more than you. There’s no point. It just hurts you more.”, said Dr. Cassus.
“I know, but I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s why I agreed to come here in the first place. I want to just get rid of all of these bad feelings, but I don’t know how.”
“Well, it’s good that you can see it as a problem. That’s always the first step. I’ll make sure that by the time you stop seeing me, you’ll be able to move on from all of this.”
It took a moment, but Gregg smiled.
Today was it. The fateful day had finally arrived. Michael emailed them only a few days ago saying he would come to decide whether he could trust Angus and Gregg with Liam. The day had come, and waiting for him to show up was excruciating.
Angus was busy in the kitchen baking brownies. He had a few reasons for this. It gave him something to do, and he just really wanted a brownie right now out of pure stress. Plus, Michael would probably appreciate having one. It would add good cooking skills to his list of positive traits for raising children.
“Are you making brownies?!”, asked Gregg excitedly.
“Yes! Brownies for lunch!”, cheered Gregg.
“I’m still making lunch, bug.”, said Angus.
“You can have it if you want. I’ll just be over here shoving my face full of brownies.”
“No, Gregg. You’re going to eat lunch. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can just skip out on meals.”
“Well, technically an adult.”, thought Angus.
“Yes, it does! That’s exactly what being an adult means!”, argued Gregg.
“No, being an adult means being responsible for getting your daily nutrients yourself.” Angus put on a fake sad voice, “Besides, I’m going to go through all of this trouble to cook you a nice meal, and you’re just going to waste it?”
Gregg crossed his arms and pouted a bit, “Fine, I’ll eat lunch.”
“Thank you, bug.” Angus planted a kiss on Gregg’s cheek, which instantly brightened him up.
“Works every time.”
When the brownies were done, Angus took them out and placed them in front of a small fan in the kitchen. He was about to start on lunch when he heard a knock at the door. He felt a spike of anxiety course through his body.
“Is that Michael?”, asked Gregg.
“Probably. I’ll get the door.”
Angus walked over and opened it. It was Michael.
“Hello.”, said Michael.
“Hi. Come on in.”, said Angus.
“Actually, before I do that, I wanted to go over something with you real quick.”
“What is it?”, asked Angus nervously.
“Did you do what I asked last time?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“How has it been going?”
“Who are you seeing?”
“Yes, yes, Riese. Good choice.”
“Is that all you wanted to ask me about?”, asked Angus.
“What has he told you so far? What advice did he give?”
“Well, after reviewing my symptoms and stuff, he came to the conclusion that delayed-onset PTSD is more than likely what’s happening. He’s got me seeing a therapist for a few months.”
“Oh? How has that been?”, asked Michael.
“I really hate it.”
“Figures. Therapy is never a fun experience. Have you had any more incidents like the one that happened during our last visit?”
“Only once. It was during one of my therapy sessions.”
“That’s good. That mean’s it’s getting better.” Michael stopped and thought to himself for a moment, “I think you’re ready.”
“Really?”, questioned Angus, a smile stretching across his face.
“Yeah. Now, I do have one last question.”
“What is it?”
“Do you think you’d be ready today?”
“Yeah. Better yet, how about right now?”
Gregg, who had been listening to the conversation, pushed past Angus, “Wait, wait, wait. Now?!”
“Yep. You were approved to take him. I can bring him up now if you’d like.”
“Oh, my god, yes!”, exclaimed Gregg.
“All right. I’ll be back up in a minute.” Michael headed back downstairs, leaving Gregg and Angus to process the sudden arrival of fatherhood.
“It’s actually happening. It’s finally happening.”, said Gregg, stupefied.
“We need to be prepared. Liam’s been through a lot. He’s probably not going to warm up to us right away.”, said Angus.
“Right. We’ve just got to show him all of the love we can.”
Angus nodded resolutely. Only a few seconds later, Michael came back into view. He was holding the hand of someone.
“All right. Here he is. This is Liam.” Michael brought Liam out in front of him.
Gregg’s smile was brighter than the sun and just as wide. Angus’ heart was beating rapidly on his insides.
Michael knelt down to look at Liam, “Hey, buddy. These two are going to be your new dads. Say hi.”
Liam looked up at them, “Hi.” His face exuded animosity, apathy, a wall between him and everyone around him.
“Okay. Liam, I’m gonna have to leave you here. I know it’s scary, but these two will be different, I promise. If I end up being wrong, and you ever feel like you’re in danger, you know who to call.”
Michael stood up and looked to Gregg and Angus, “I’m trusting you. I know you’ll do great. I’ll be back to check on Liam on a monthly basis until we finalize the adoption.”
“Okay. Thank you so much.”, said Angus.
“You’re welcome. Goodbye.”
Michael closed the door as he left, leaving Angus and Gregg with Liam. Immediately, Gregg knelt down to Liam’s level to face him.
“Hey, little guy. How are you?”
Without warning, Gregg pulled Liam in for a hug, “I’m so glad you’re finally here.”
Liam seemed scared at first, but he eventually returned to his apathetic look. Angus saw this and was disappointed. He probably shouldn’t have expected a change of heart that fast, but it still hurt. Gregg pulled away, and he didn’t seem fazed by the lack of an emotional response at all.
“What’s that you got there?”, asked Gregg, pointing to a bag that Liam was holding.
“Oh, uh, it’s just my clothes and stuff.” The bag was pitifully small.
“That’s all your clothes? Well, I guess we’re gonna have to go clothes shopping.”
Liam seemed surprised by the fact that Gregg wanted to buy him new clothes. The last time he’d been clothes shopping was with his original parents.
“Really? Th-thank you.”, said Liam.
“Don’t mention it. Hey, we’ve got brownies. They came out of the oven just a little bit ago. Let’s go see if they’re cooled off yet.” Gregg led Liam into the kitchen and felt the brownies. They were the perfect temperature, warm but not hot.
“Looks like they’re just right. Here, I’ll get you one. You can sit at the table if you want.”
Liam complied and took a seat at the kitchen table. Angus sat across from him. He smiled. Gregg was handling this surprisingly well so far. He had completely taken over without a second thought.
Gregg grabbed a plate, put a brownie on it, and placed it in front of Liam.
“These brownies are the best! Go on, try it!”, said Gregg excitedly.
Liam looked at the brownie longingly, but also suspiciously. Food at the orphanage was sparse and not very good, and this brownie seemed like an escape from that, but he was afraid of being burned, of Gregg’s words being a cruel joke. He placed a finger on the surface of the brownie. Then, he slowly pushed it in. It was exactly as Gregg had said. They were just right. He finally picked it up and took a bite. It was amazing, words being unable to describe what it felt like.
“So, how is it?”, asked Gregg in anticipation.
Liam swallowed, “Uh, good.”
“You bet they are! In fact, I’m gonna get one myself.”
Gregg went and grabbed his own brownie. By the time he got back, Liam had almost finished his. It was so good.
“Wow. That was fast. You almost eat these things as fast as me.”, joked Gregg, taking a huge bite out of his brownie.
When Liam finished, he was disappointed. At least it was good while it lasted.
“Do you want another one?”, asked Gregg.
Liam was taken by surprise again. He hadn’t expected to be offered another one. He wanted it so bad, but he couldn’t.
“N-no thank you.”, he said.
“Wow. No one’s ever been able to resist taking seconds before, especially not me.”
“Yeah, I always have to stop him from eating all of them.”, said Angus.
Liam let out a weak laugh, “I’m just not that hungry right now.”
“That’s too bad. I was just about to make lunch.”, said Angus.
“Oh, really? Um, I guess I could have lunch.”
“Sounds good. I’ll get started.”
Angus got up and went to the refrigerator, “Gregg, put it down.”
Gregg slowly put back the second brownie he was in the process of taking.
“Hey, Liam. Do you like cheeseburgers?”, asked Angus.
“All right. I’ll make that then.”
While Angus got to work on making the cheeseburgers, Gregg wanted to try and have some fun with Liam.
“Hey, wanna go watch tv or something?”, he asked.
“Okay.”, replied Liam, following Gregg out to the living room.
Gregg picked up the remote and started flicking through channels on the tv.
“So, what kind of shows do you like to watch? We have basically anything. This is a smart tv, so we can stream a bunch of different shows on demand if you don’t feel like searching through a bunch of channels. That’s how I usually watch things on here.”
“Uhh…” Liam wasn’t sure what he wanted. It’d been a while since he had the chance to decide what he could watch. He wasn’t really interested in the shows he used to watch back when his life was normal.
An angry grunt of pain came from the kitchen, “God- Gregg, could you go grab a band-aid please?”
“I cut myself. It’s bleeding pretty bad.”
“All right. I’ll be right there.” Gregg tossed the remote to Liam, “There. Put whatever you want on. I’ll be right back.”
Gregg went to the bathroom where they stored the band-aids, leaving Liam to choose something to watch on his own. For some reason, the seemingly simple choice of what show to watch was daunting. After 2 years of not having a say in anything, it was almost overwhelming.
In the midst of the decision, something within Liam took over. The question Gregg had asked him earlier was warped in his mind. What he wanted to watch became what Gregg and Angus wanted to watch, but what would that be?
Gregg said he usually just streamed his shows, so he stopped channel surfing and began going through the list of different titles that they had. What did adults like? His previous dad liked documentaries. Liam found them boring as hell, but they seemed like an adult thing to watch. Would these new people like them, though?
“You can’t know. There’s no way to know. Just pick something.”
Liam ended up putting on a rom-com. Adults liked those, right? He hoped they wouldn’t be mad with his choice. Gregg came back in less than a minute later.
“All right, I’m back. Everything’s taken care of. Did you pick something?” Gregg looked at the screen, “Oh, this movie. Didn’t know you were the romantic type.”
“Is this okay?”, asked Liam, unnerved by Gregg’s response. Was this not what he was expecting? Did he not like it? What would happen if he didn’t?
“Yeah, of course. It was never really my type of movie, but I still enjoy them.”
“We can watch something else if you don’t like this. It’s fine.”
“Calm down, I said I would enjoy it. I’ve seen this movie before. It’s not bad.” Gregg noticed the uncomfortable look on Liam’s face, “Do you not want to watch it?”
“No, it’s fine. You said you liked it, right? It’s fine.”
“You just picked this movie because you thought I’d like it, didn’t you?”
Liam shrunk back, ashamed, scared, vulnerable. He didn’t know how to answer.
Gregg sighed, “Right. I almost forgot… This was probably a bit much, wasn’t it? Sorry.”
Sorry? What was he apologizing for? Liam was shocked, stunned by the unwarranted act.
Gregg fell deep into thought, “I guess I have to choose something, huh? What would you like, though?”
After a few moments of consideration, he smiled and mumbled to himself, “That might work. Angus said he loved that show when he was a kid, and I still haven’t watched it yet. Let’s try it.”
Gregg started typing in the show in question, which was annoyingly difficult with the remote, “Now, Liam, I’m gonna put something on. If you don’t like it, I want you to know you can tell me. I won’t be mad or anything if you’re worried about that. Okay?”
“Okay.”, replied Liam weakly.
As Gregg was about to press play, Angus came out with cheeseburgers.
“Hey, Liam. What do you want on your burger?”, he asked.
“Just cheese if fine.”
“All right. What are you two watching?”, asked Angus, as he went and set down the 3 plates he had. He saw what Gregg had picked out, “Oh, I remember this show! I remember watching it back when I was little.”
“It was your very first crime, too.”, added Gregg.
“As much as I hate to admit it, yeah, it was my first crime.”
“Crime?”, asked Liam, confused and concerned.
“Oh, right, he doesn’t get it. When I say I did crimes, I don’t mean actual crimes. It was just a playful name me and my best friend used for dumb, teenage stuff we used to do.”, Gregg explained, “Well, what he did actually was a crime.”
“What did he do?”, asked Liam.
“I pirated this show from the internet. My parents wouldn’t buy it, and it wasn’t available with our cable provider, but it looked cool. Now, I don’t want you to ever do that. If you want to watch something, come to me, and we’ll talk about paying for it if we don’t already have access to it through our cable provider.”, explained Angus.
“Okay. So, what is this about?”, asked Liam.
“Well, this show is about a young boy who goes on a quest to learn the 4 elements and save the world from the fire nation. It’s really cool. It’s one of my favorite cartoons.”
“Why explain it when you can just watch it? Come on, sit down. Let’s start it.”, urged Gregg.
Angus sat on the opposite side of Liam as Gregg, “All right, start it, then.”
Gregg pressed play, and they began watching. Liam was sucked in immediately, and then, he finally smiled. The taste of Angus’ cooking, the excitement of watching cartoons, the warmth and love from his new fathers, it all felt amazing. He finally felt like he was home again for the first time in years.
Hey guys, it's me. I'm sorry to say that I have some bad news. I'm going to be going on hiatus for a bit. My writing's been really slow this summer, and I ran out of chapters. This story has been more difficult than my last one. Researching things about adoption, parenting, etc. takes time, and figuring out how to integrate the necessary information into the story isn't easy. Combine that with spending a lot more time with friends this summer, and it makes it difficult to keep up. I'll be on hiatus for a little while, but I'll still be writing. When I get to a point where I'm confident I'll be able to make it to the end of the story before I'm out of chapters again, I'll start posting again. I'd just rather not post as soon as a chapter is done, because often times, I'll find mistakes or things I want to change a few days or even weeks after I finish writing one. I know this sucks, but the story will be better this way. Thanks to all of you who have been reading so far. I'll be back as soon as I can.