The plastic handle of the Tesco’s bag was beginning to cut into Lance’s hand as he stood at the door of the hospital room unsure what to do, if he should knock or call out. Finally, Becks shifted around and spotted him. Her lips quirked in a half smile. She looked exhausted, absolute rubbish if he was honest but also probably happier than she’d looked in months.
“Come on in, Lance,” she said with a deep sigh but it was a friendly one.
Andy spun around, he had a bundle in his arms wrapped tight in a white and blue hospital blanket. He rushed over before Lance could get more than a couple of steps in.
“Look what Becky went and did.” He leaned over so Lance could get a good look at the bundle.
The baby was red, bald, and lumpy, and looked a bit like Winston Churchill in his later years. Andy was grinning like he’d just found Saxon gold.
“Well would you look at that, it’s a little human. Good job, Becks.”
“Thanks,” she said before biting down on an ice chip.
“Got a name yet?”
“Nah, still debating.”
Lance had spent a month of lunches and afternoon teas listening to Andy debate baby names with himself only to come back the next day and find that Becky hadn’t liked them.
“Well,” he held up the bag. “I brought nappies. Figured you’ll be needing those first. “
Lance put the nappies down by a bunch of flowers someone must have sent then didn’t know what to say. Andy’s focus had shifted back to the bundle and Becky was still chewing on ice chips.
“I guess I’ll—”
A nurse and doctor bustled in. “All right, men out of the room. Time to check on mum.”
No one seemed to notice or perhaps didn’t care that Andy was holding the baby as they were shooed from the room and the curtains drawn.
Lance took a moment to look over Andy. He looked like rubbish as well. “So, how’d it go?”
“Long. But really Becks did all the work. I was just there so she’d have someone to swear at. I think even the nurses were impressed.”
“Becks does have a mouth on her.” It was one of the things Lance liked about her.
Andy looked around conspiratorially. “Mate, I really have to take a leak. Can you just--” he started handing the baby to Lance. Lance took a half step back. “Come on, it’s easy, here.” Andy thrust his new born son and heir into Lance’s arms, took a half second to make sure his head was supported, then rushed off in the direction of the loos.
Lance looked down at the baby who had fluttered its eyes open for a second then shut them again. He’d never had a strong paternal instinct. He chalked it up to the fact that he knew he had a daughter out there already. That, and for as much as he loved Maggie, he knew from day one she was crazy and would be equally crazy as a mum. Becky would be a good mum though. Already a school teacher. Good head on her shoulders.
“Hello there,” Lance whispered. “I’m your uncle Lance. I’m a detectorist. Your da is a detectorist as well, a pretty good one so don’t you believe him when he starts banging on about archaeology and digging in dirt for bits of pot and bone.”
Andy was in front of him again a second later taking the babe back into his arms. “Thanks, mate. Can not explain how long I’ve been holding that in.”
“You got plans for the day?”
“Was planning to check that new field off Gay Bowers Road. Just a preliminary sweep.”
“Oh, okay.” They both looked down, Andy at the baby, Lance at his feet. He knew this was going to happen. Weeks before Andy had figured out Becky was pregnant, he’d already known this was how it would happen. Andy was his best mate, but he’d have to be a dad first. “So, you know, they’ve got these carry pouches now that blokes can wear. Strap the baby to your front, do whatever you need to do.
“Is that so?” Lance didn’t let himself sound excited. Being a detectorists was usually a solitary endeavour. Having Andy by his side all these years had been a happy bonus.
“Well, no rush mate. The shell casings and pull tabs of Danebury aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
Andy smiled. “Sure. No finding a Saxon hoard without me though.”
Lance made himself smile back. “Can’t promise that, but I swing around once you're home. Bring a curry so you two don’t have to cook.”
“Sounds good.” The baby squeaked sounding more like a kitten than what Lance thought of as a baby. “You know nothings gonna change, mate. Not really. We’ll figure it all out.”
“Yeah. Of course. Never had a thought to the contrary.”
There was the sound of heavy feet approaching. Andy looked up and Lance looked over his shoulder. The rest of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club with Sheila in the lead were coming down the wide hall and getting side eyed by the nurses.
“Here’s the rest of the gang. I’ll clear out, give you and Becky some space.”
“I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you.”
Lance went out the side door before the rest of the group could swoop in.
A crow squawked loud enough that he could hear it even through the headphones. He’d been hoping for gold today. He always hoped for gold but he was hoping for something nice that he could show off to the lad when he was older and say I found this on the day you were born.
So far there was nothing. Not even pull tabs as he slowly marched along the freshly ploughed rows. There was a whistle of distortion and he backed up, waving his detector over a spot then got down on one knee. It hadn’t sounded like gold but it sounded like something.
The freshly turned earth was soft and it quickly revealed a crisps bag.
“Typical.” He looked up to show it to Andy. A crow landed nearby instead. “Crisp pack,” he said to the crow. The crow tilted its head then flew off. He folded the bag neatly and slipped it into his back pocket before filling in the hole.
“I will come and pick you up,” Becky reiterated out the window. “Stan is not getting near that yellow nightmare of Lance’s.”
“You never complain when I drive Andy.” Lance felt the need to defend his brilliant ’77 Triumph even knowing full well is wasn’t remotely child compatible by modern standards.
“I didn’t spend 41 weeks growing him.”
Andy gave Becky a kiss. “We will be fine. Go take the afternoon off. You’ve earned it.”
Becky frowned, gave a hard eye first to her husband, then Lance (though he wasn’t sure what he’d done to deserve it), then gave her son a kiss before getting back in her much more modern car and slowly driving off.
Lance looked Andy over. He had Stan strapped to his chest, his detector across his back, and a bag hanging from each shoulder because apparently you need the same amount of equipment to care for a baby for an afternoon as you need to climb Everest.
“Are you sure you’re going to be able to manage this?” Lance asked.
“Absolutely. Been practicing in the front drive. Look a fool to the neighbours but who cares. Let me just put the bags down and we can get to work.”
Lance shook his head as Andy marched to the field. “Maybe we’ll find gold today. I can tell him he found gold on his first time out.”
They didn’t find gold. Lance found a shotgun shell. Andy found a 5 pence piece from 1987. They sat under the tree. Lance made them both tea while Andy fiddled around with a bottle of milk and thermos of hot water and a thermometer. Stan latched on it with gusto.
“Did you catch QI last night?” Lance asked as he sipped his tea.
“Tried to. Fell asleep five minutes in, woke up for General Ignorance.”
“It was a good one. You should catch it on the repeat.”
“I’ll try. Maybe once I’m getting a little more sleep.”
Lance laughed. “So, another four or five years.
Andy laughed as well. “At least I made it out here.”
“Yeah mate, Yeah, ya did.”