‘Can’t you shut it off?’ Eric asked, an edge of annoyance in his voice as he joined Taylor in the door opening of the spare room.
‘Why me? Can’t you?’ Taylor protested as she peered into the room. ‘Though, I’ve never seen one come with an off-button.’
‘Me? It came from you,’ Eric shot back.
‘Oh yes, and it got there all on its own, did it?’ Taylor shot him a glare.
‘I didn’t…’ Eric started.
‘Have you noticed it looks exactly like you?!’ Taylor cut over him. ‘I’d say you did plenty.’
‘You’re the mom!’ Eric pointed out.
‘So because I have two X-chromosomes, I should magically know what to do with it?’ Taylor growled. ‘I have zero experience with these things.’
‘Yeah, well, neither do I.’
They were silent for a moment, both staring into the room and almost scared to enter it as if a bomb was about to explode inside.
‘Can’t we just give it to Cole and Alyssa?’ Eric suggested finally.
Taylor looked at him sharply. ‘Why my friends? Cole and Alyssa already make due with two of their own on her kindergarten teacher salary, since Cole is a full-time volunteer at the animal shelter. Why not give it to Wes and Jen? It’s not like they’re bound to notice the difference in their bank account.’
‘With three girls, I’m sure his dad wouldn’t mind.’ Eric agreed thoughtfully.
They fell silent once more.
‘We probably should do something before the cops show up,’ Eric commented.
‘You are the cops,’ Taylor snapped, but finally took a tentative step into the room.
With a sigh Eric followed her. The room was in a certain state of disorder. Furniture shoved aside to make room for new pieces in one corner. He’d probably have to do something to reorganize the room and make the layout workable again. Sometime soon, Eric told himself as he stubbed his toe against the dresser and Taylor hit her hip against the corner of the desk.
Together they reached the most offending piece of new furniture in the room and peered down into it. Limbs flailing and face red under a little tuff of dark hair, a tiny human being was screaming his little lungs out. Deciding to show why exactly he was co-commander of the Silver Guardians, Eric reached into the crib and picked up the pacifier. The infant accepted it and sucked on it for all of 10 seconds, before spitting it out again and continued screaming.
‘Now what?’ Eric asked, turning to Taylor.
‘Maybe one of us should try holding it?’ Taylor suggested.
‘As in pick it up from there?’ Eric looked at her incredulously. ‘What if we break it?’
Taylor sighed. Not to be outdone by Eric and to let him know why exactly she was a retired Air Force Captain, she reached in and awkwardly gathered the tiny body in her arms. The cries quietly minutely.
‘Didn’t they say something about feeding every two hours?’ Eric looked at her questioningly. ‘Or maybe it’s the diaper?’
Taylor glanced at the clock and cursed. Alyssa and Cole had left just over two hours ago and Alyssa had given a bottle just before that. ‘Bottle or diaper?’ she asked.
‘Fine, then I’ll pick for you,’ Taylor huffed and put the baby down on the changing table. With some effort she worked open the onesie and managed to undo the diaper. A spray of liquid arched through the air at the same time Taylor caught sight of the sticky black mess. ‘Diaper it is,’ she smirked at him and quickly left the room, leaving Eric to stare helplessly at the half naked baby.
Downstairs in the kitchen Taylor stared at the assorted bottles scattered over the counter and the box of formula sitting in the middle of it. A piece of paper sticking out from under the container caught her eye and she pulled it out. Tears sprang into her eyes, and she blamed the hormones for it, when she recognized Alyssa’s handwriting giving specific instructions on how to fix a bottle down to the time in the microwave to get the exact right temperature.
Ten minutes later Taylor returned to the spare room and found Eric buttoning up the onesie with a disgusted look on his face. He looked up when he heard her come in. ‘Never again,’ he pointedly told her, picking up the still screaming infant and handing it over to her.
‘You had better,’ Taylor glared and sat down on a corner of the guest bed that wasn’t taken up by baby stuff. After some impatient coaxing, the child in her arms settled down and contently sucked on the bottle.
‘Yeah, but I’m working on Monday,’ Eric pointed out.
‘So am I,’ Taylor shot back.
‘No, you’re not, you’re on maternity leave.’
‘Like hell I am,’ Taylor growled. ‘And remember, Wes said he’s putting you on paternity leave until further notice.’
‘I’m not staying home for that,’ Eric pointed at the baby.
‘Neither am I.’
‘Can’t let it stay home alone.’
‘Then we’re either staying home together or it goes to day care.’
‘You can’t just drop a kid off at day care and walk away. There’s waiting lists. Wes complained about those all the time and he’s the boss’s kid and commander of the Silver Guardians. Those terrorists at the day care won’t even bend the rules for him,’ Eric pointed out.
‘Co-commander,’ Taylor corrected him.
‘Details,’ Eric shrugged. ‘And anyway… no day care is going to accept it if it doesn’t have a name.’
Taylor made a face and glanced down, spotting the bottle was now empty. She put it down beside her and awkwardly raised the infant to her shoulder as she had watched Alyssa do several times that afternoon. Gently she started patting the back. After a few minutes she was rewarded with a burp… and a wet shoulder.
‘Cloth,’ she groaned. ‘That’s why Alyssa used a cloth.’
Eric sniggered at her. If looks could kill, he would’ve been a goner. Taylor stood up and placed the baby back in the crib. Clean diaper, full stomach and a pacifier to stuck on, it didn’t take long for the infant to fall asleep.
Without a word the two backed out of the room as quietly as possible and closed the door.
‘I need a shower,’ Taylor muttered, pulling at the shoulder of her shirt.
‘Mind if I join you?’
Taylor closed her eyes for a moment, but nodded. ‘Just remember, they said no sex for six weeks.’
‘Yeah, I remember,’ Eric assured her. ‘Why do people chose to do this voluntarily again?’
Taylor let out a small laugh and turned to their bedroom, knowing Eric would follow. Inside their bathroom she quickly stripped and kicked her clothes in the direction of the hamper. The former yellow wild force ranger stepped into the shower stall and turned on the water. Moments later Eric’s arms wrapped around her.
‘How did we get here?’ Taylor muttered as she leaned back against his hard chest.
‘Somewhere along the line we screwed up,’ Eric sighed, knowing exactly what she meant.
‘How could I not have known?’ Tears started spilling down her cheeks and Eric just held her closer.
‘Think of it this way; at least you still have your gorgeous body,’ Eric muttered in her ear.
‘But what do we do now? Where do we go from here? What do we do with…’
Eric spun her around and crushed his lips to hers. Once satisfied she’d shut up, he pulled back and looked her in the eye.
‘We go on as we have before,’ he told her. ‘Just with a kid to deal with as well.’
‘Do we want to?’ Taylor asked softly.
Eric sighed and rested his chin on her head. ‘Honestly, I’d rather that stabbing pain had been from kidney stone.’
‘Me too,’ Taylor agreed.
‘But… I guess I’m happy it wasn’t a tumour. And since he’s here now and we both don’t have the best track record when it comes to family… Do we really want to risk his happiness depending on anyone else but us? At least we know what not to do?’
Taylor laughed a little. ‘I guess I’m glad it wasn’t a tumour too. And obviously we have friends ready to step in and stop us from screwing this up too much. Just… give me one good reason to do this, because that one isn’t good enough,’ she muttered as she leaned into him and closed her eyes, drawing comfort from his embrace. ‘Right now, I’m all for running the other way and never looking back.’
‘We’d be doing this together,’ Eric replied without missing a beat.
Taylor’s eyes snapped open and she quickly pulled back. ‘Oh hell no, Myers! I don’t care what our friends think, we are not together. We are not in a relationship, because the moment this becomes a relationship, one of us is bound to screw it up. We had a good thing going, please don’t mess that up,’ she demanded, wiping at the tears that sprang into her eyes.
Eric gently cupped her face and brushed his thumbs over her cheeks to wipe away the tears that were now falling. ‘This isn’t a relationship, Earhardt,’ he agreed. ‘But it can’t keep being nothing either. It stopped being nothing when he arrived yesterday.’
Taylor nodded and Eric gently kissed her lips, ignoring the tears that were still rolling down her face. He reached for the shampoo and rubbed it into Taylor’s hair before rinsing it out and reaching for her shower gel.
‘So, I guess he needs a name so we can enrol him into day care for when we get back to work,’ Eric started, gently massaging her tense muscles as he spread the gel over her body.
‘We’re definitely taking that imposed leave then?’ Taylor asked, letting out a soft sigh at him working out the knots.
‘I’m pretty sure Wes has blocked our access passes by now and will keep them that way until he thinks we got this parenting thing down enough to add work back in the mix,’ Eric sniggered. ‘Wouldn’t be surprised if he has security on the door on Monday to keep us from entering the building.’
Taylor laughed and nodded. ‘Sounds like him. So, do you have any suggestions? Because I’m coming up blank.’
‘Yeah, since Karl May is our favourite author? Figured it be something we could agree on,’ Eric shrugged.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well, then how about Jack Daniel? Since that one party was about nine months ago…’
‘Karl it is,’ Taylor replied quickly. ‘Karl Myers.’
They looked each other in the eye and smiled. They’d come a long way from their first encounter with the traffic ticket and then the MutOrcs, where neither thought they’d ever even like each other.
But after finding common ground they’d agreed to meet up for a few drinks sometime. One time turned into two and two turned into a once a week thing to just unwind from their week and talk to someone who’d understand. Once a week drinks turned into working out together twice a week. An accidental peek at Taylor being in the process of dressing after one too quick a shower by Eric had led to a different kind of work out. At some point that work out had become exclusive and their friends had started saying they were in a relationship. They were not, they’d agreed on that; exclusive, but no strings attached.
Buying the house together… well, Taylor had retired from the Air Force and accepted at job at the Silver Guardians. And since she and Eric were still meeting up regularly, it made sense to just move in together when she moved to Silver Hills and not have to keep having the discussion whose house they were going to.
Once again, their friends insisted they were definitely in a relationship. But Eric and Taylor knew better; they were just good friends, living in the same house, screwing each other senseless. They’d agreed on that. Relationships involved dating and they weren’t. They’d might go out for a few drinks or see a movie, but that’s something you do with friends too. No fancy dinners and dressing it. Why go through all that trouble if they weren’t dating anyway.
And it had been working for them for years now. Their friends had gone and gotten married, had kids. But they were comfortable in their non-relationship.
That was until Taylor had suddenly started feeling shooting pains in her back at work. When they became unbearable, Eric had driven her to hospital thinking they were kidney stones. At the hospital doctors found a mass in Taylor’s stomach during the examination and expressed their concerns about her having a tumour. An ultrasound had changed all that and Taylor had been rushed to the delivery ward.
Seeing as both mother and son had been perfectly healthy despite the surprise delivery and due to uncanny demand on rooms in the ward, Taylor and her baby had been released from hospital the next day to make room for patients who did need the care.
Luckily their friends stepped up and dragged their baby stuff out of storage. Wes had drawn his credit card and stocked up on formula and diapers, since no one could picture Taylor breastfeeding, while Cole and Jen had rearranged the spare room and fitted in the crib and changing table as those were most pressingly needed. Alyssa had taken charge of caring for the new born while the still dumbfounded parents had just stood there and watched their house being taken over.
But then they all had to leave and pick up their own kids from Mr Collins, who’d been watching them, and return to their own lives. Which had left Eric and Taylor to fend for themselves for the first time in 24 hours. Leading up to them now sharing a shower and just have a moment together to take in how their lives had suddenly changed in so little time.
‘Myers?’ Taylor asked quietly as he wrapped a towel around her after shutting off taps.
‘If we’re not nothing anymore, but this still isn’t a relationship… What is this?’
‘Something,’ Eric replied, giving her a cheeky grin.
Taylor threw a second towel at his head in retaliation.
‘Sorry,’ he laughed, then turned serious and caught her eye. ‘I guess that if we must put a label on this now… I’d say this is a family?’
‘A family?’ Taylor considered it for a moment and smiled. ‘A family, I can live with that.’