Zach’s alarm went off at eight. It was a Saturday, a warm summer day. Zach rolled over and looked at Shaun’s sleeping face and smiled. He gently shook Shaun’s shoulder,which resulted in Shaun snorting a bit with a start.
“Shaun, time to wake up, we have a big day today.” Zach smiled, he and Shaun came up with an idea to surprise Cody with a trip to the Los Angeles zoo, it was Shaun’s idea, when he heard that Cody had never been to a zoo before.
Shaun yawned and smiled over at Zach, going in for a kiss. It was a simple peck on the lips, but it always made Zach’s body tingle when the two of them kissed.
The two men got out of bed and went to go wake up Cody. They had agreed to tell him that they had a surprise for him, but were going to leave out where they were actually going. When they entered Cody’s room, Zach gently shook the sleeping boy.
“Codes, time to get up.” Zach said gently. In moments, Cody was awake, and jumped out of bed.
“Is it time for my surprise?” The little boy exclaimed excitedly.
“Almost, buddy. Just go and eat breakfast first and get dressed then we’ll go.” Zach assured him. Shaun took Cody into the kitchen, while Zach hopped into the shower.
“All right little man, what are you in the mood for?” Shaun asked.
“Fruit loops!” Cody said happily. Shaun smiled at the little boy.
“Sure thing Cody.” He poured the cereal into a bowl and added the milk, and gave Cody his favorite spoon, the one shaped like a dinosaur. After he gave it to Cody, he poured himself a bowl and joined Cody at the table.
“Shaun, where are we going?” Cody asked. Shaun just grinned,
“Can’t tell you, it’s a secret. Uncle Zach would be mad if I spoiled the surprise.”
“Okay.” The little boy responded. Shaun felt warmth in his chest; Cody was such a good kid, and deserved to be spoiled a little bit. It was then that Zach came into the kitchen.
“Showers all yours Shaun.” He poured himself a bowl of cereal and sat down next to Cody. Shaun smiled, and finished his cereal, slurping the milk at the end, which made Cody laugh.
“All right, I’ll be ready in twenty minutes.” Shaun said, heading to the bathroom. Zach could hear him turn on the shower, and start singing, Shaun was a big “sing in the shower” kind of person. Zach chuckled. Cody looked up at Zach, who was eating cereal when he tried asking the same question he asked Shaun.
“Zach, what’s my surprise?” He asked. Zach laughed at the small boy.
“Can’t tell you. It wouldn’t be a surprise anymore.” He said, “Come on, let’s get you dressed.”
The pair went to Cody’s room, and Zach went into the dresser. “What are you in the mood to wear, Cody?” The little boy thought for a minute before saying.
“I wanna wear my Spider man shirt!” He said.
“You got it Codes.” Zach pulled out the shirt and a pair of underwear and socks and a pair of jeans. Helping the boy get dressed, Zach was just tying the laces of his shoes when Shaun appeared in the doorway.
“You guys almost ready?” Shaun asked, seeing Cody’s shirt he grinned at the boy. “Rocking Spiderman today, buddy?” Cody nodded vigorously.
“Yeah, Spiderman is the coolest.” Shaun laughed.
“You’re right about that little man.” The trio locked the apartment door and went to Shaun’s car. Cody jumped into his car seat and fastened himself in, after being checked over by Zach, the two men got into the car. Shaun had decided he was driving the night before. It wouldn’t be a hard drive, it was just getting on route five, and staying on it until they got to the zoo drive. Just in case, Zach had printed directions on MapQuest. Shaun popped in a CD that Zach had made him. It had all of his favorite songs, some from the Beatles, and some other artists he liked.
“Okay, everyone ready?” Shaun called out from the driver’s seat.
“I am! I am!” Cody said excitedly.
“Everyone buckled up?” He said. He was a big believer in seat belts. Zach smiled.
“Yeah Shaun, we’re good.” Zach said.
“All right, let’s get this show on the road.” He said, pulling out of the parking space, and starting turning out of their neighborhood, getting on the road that would lead them to Route 5. Zach looked down at the printed directions.
“Okay, so we just stay on this road for about an hour, then we turn off.”
“Got it.” Shaun said with a nod. While they were driving, they played the license plate game. Cody ended up winning big points for seeing someone all the way from Pennsylvania.
“Are we there yet?” Cody asked, after about an hour of driving.
“Almost buddy, it’ll be about twenty more minutes.” Zach said. Cody looked out the window, getting more excited. When they pulled off on the zoo’s main road, Cody asked another question.
“Are we still in Los Angeles?”
“Yup buddy.” Shaun said, looking in the rear view mirror at Cody. After what felt like an eternity to Cody, they pulled into the parking lot. Cody’s jaw dropped when he saw the sign that said “Zoo”.
“You took me to the zoo?!” he exclaimed. Shaun and Zach smiled at each other.
“I figured we could see the animals.” Shaun said. “Is that okay Code-man?” He asked, turning around to look at the boy.
“Yeah! I wanna see the animals!” Cody said. When they got out of the car, they stood in line at the admission booth, the smiling girl at the booth told them their total came to fifty eight dollars, Zach reached for his wallet, but Shaun beat him to it. Zach was about to protest when Shaun smiled and said,
“It was my idea, I’ll pay.” Zach gave a small ghost of a frown and was about to point out that he had money from his part time job at the diner, when Shaun laughed. “If you really want to pay, buy us lunch later.”
He said as they entered the zoo. Immediately they were greeted to a group of harbor seals, lounging on their rocks by their pool of water. Cody ran over to get a closer look.
“Look at the seals! They are cute.” Cody said, pointing at them. Shaun laughed,
“Yeah, they are cute. They look like dog mermaids, don’t they?” Cody laughed at that. Continuing on, they saw the enclosure for the alligator. Cody was in awe of how big it was.
“Look at those teeth. I heard they eat meat.” He said. Zach chuckled.
“Don’t worry, he’s down there and we’re up here.”
They continued on the path, when they got to the petting zoo portion of the zoo. There was couple of miniature horses milling about in the paddock.
“Do you want to pet them Cody?” Shaun asked, the little boy nodded. One of the keepers let them into the enclosure with a few horse treats, which Shaun had given one to Cody. The horses walked up to the little boy, nudging his hand. The keeper smiled at Cody,
“When you feed him, hold your hand out flat, so he doesn’t accidentally bite your fingers.” She said. Cody did as she directed, and the horse picked up the apple treat with its lips, leaving some saliva on Cody’s hand.
“Eww, horse spit.” Cody said. Shaun was at the ready with a bottle of hand sanitizer. Zach’s horse seemed almost to give him the side eye, as though it was debating on to take the treat. Shaun’s made friends with his fast after he fed it, letting him stroke its mane. Cody’s allowed him to pet its face. Zach had successfully convinced the horse that yes in fact, it was okay to take the treat, and was scratching it behind the ears. The girl who had let them in turned to Cody.
“Would you like to see the Guinea pigs?” She asked. Cody looked surprised, he had never seen a guinea pig before. It was obvious from his look of surprise when she brought him over, that he didn’t know what they looked like.
“They look like mice.” Cody said to the girl.
“They are related to mice, they’re rodents.” She said. “Some people keep them as pets.” She continued, holding one in her arms for Cody to pet. Zach could feel himself start to break into a smile, when he saw Shaun looking at him, with an expression that had love all over it. Zach caught him staring and smiled back. Cody ran back over to them.
“Zach can we get a Guinea pig?” He asked.
“We’d have to have a talk about that buddy.” Zach responded.
“Okay.” Cody said simply. Shaun made a mental note to bring up his whole idea of getting a pet for Cody to Zach.
They looped around past the alligator, and walked along the path until they saw signs that said “Australia house”. They continued along the path and saw a wombat. Cody looked down at it.
“Is that a rodent too?” He asked, Shaun shook his head.
“No buddy, that’s a wombat.” Cody looked up quizzically.
“What’s a wombat?” He asked.
“They are a type of marsupial.” Shaun said.
“It’s an animal that carries their babies in a pouch. So they can carry their babies wherever they go.” Shaun said.
“Can you carry me Shaun?” Cody asked. Shaun laughed.
“Well I don’t have a pouch on my belly, but I can carry you on my shoulders.” He responded and knelt down, allowing Cody to climb up onto his shoulders. Holding on to the boy’s legs while Cody held on, he stood up. Zach watched the two of them interact. Shaun was so good to Cody, acting more like a father then simply Zach’s boyfriend. A warmth spread through Zach’s chest as he watched Shaun point out the wallabies, one of which had a baby in its pouch.
They continued along the path, when they got to the gorillas. Cody was in awe at the large apes.
“Zach, are those monkeys?” He asked.
“No Codes, they are gorillas. They are apes.” Cody watched as the large silverback gorilla was groomed by a smaller, female gorilla. Zach knew that gorillas groomed each other as a social activity, he had watched a documentary once as a teen when was there was nothing else on tv to watch.
When they were done with the gorillas, they approached the zebras.
Cody looked down at Shaun’s head.
“Those look like the horses we saw before, but they have stripes.” Shaun laughed.
“Yeah, little man, they are zebras. They are cousins of horses, but they live in Africa.”
“Why do they have stripes?” Cody asked. Shaun didn’t have an answer for that one, and read they little sign.
“I’m not sure, buddy.” Shaun said.
“Actually, there are several hypotheses about why zebras have stripes.” A voice that they recognized said. It was the girl from the petting zoo. She pushed her glasses up her nose. “There are theories that they repel insects, provide camouflage through optical illusion, confuse predators, to reduce body temperatures, or even help animals recognize each other.” She said. Zach was about to open his mouth to try to explain when she turned to the boy. “What that means is, they keep bugs off them, keep them hidden, confuse anything that would try and eat them, keep them cool, or help zebras tell each other apart.”
“Wow! That’s so cool!” Cody said. The girl smiled. Shaun grinned back at the girl.
“Thanks, we both learned something today Cody.” He laughed. The girl laughed.
“One of my professors assigned me a paper about that topic. It was fascinating doing the research.” She said.
“Oh, you’re a student?” Shaun said, the smile never leaving his face. The girl nodded.
“Yes, I intern here, I’m trying to become a veterinarian.” She said. Zach walked over to the three of them.
“Zach here is a student too, he goes to Cal Arts.” The girl’s eyes widened.
“That’s so impressive! I dabble in art myself, but my true passion is taking care of animals. Anyways, it was nice chatting with you. I should probably get back to my rounds. I’m Carly.” She said.
“I’m Shaun and this is Zach. This little guy here is Cody.”
“It’s nice to meet you and your son, you two seem like good parents.” Zach was going to correct her when Cody answered first.
“Zach is like my daddy, and Shaun is like my daddy too. So I have two daddies.” The answer made the girl laugh.
“If you need anything, just let the staff know you talked to Carly. Bye!” She walked off, Cody waving at her.
Shaun and Zach locked eyes. A little smile playing on Shaun’s lips, Zach felt himself grin. It had only been about two months since Jeanne left Cody. They hadn’t really talked about what they were to Cody, but clearly, Cody felt like they were his parents. It gave Zach pause, because he wasn’t sure if he should correct Cody or not. They were like his parents, when Cody fell down and skinned his knee learning how to ride a bike, it was Shaun who was there, comforting him and cleaning him up. When he couldn’t sleep, it was Zach and Shaun’s bed that he slept in. When he woke from a bad dream, it was the both of them who stayed up with him, calming him down until he fell asleep again. It was the both of them who cooked him food and bought him clothes. Zach was pulled out of his thoughts by Shaun, nudging him.
“You okay?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“Can we see the elephants?” Cody asked.
“Sure buddy, we’ll go there next.” Zach said. When they got to the elephant enclosure, Cody’s jaw dropped.
“They’re so big! I didn’t think they would be this big!” The little boy exclaimed in wonder.
“They are the biggest land animal, buddy.” Shaun said. “These are Asian elephants. The ones from Africa are bigger.” Shaun finished, proud of himself for knowing animal trivia.
They went into the viewing pavilion, giving them a closer look, one elephant sucked water up into its trunk and sprayed water all over its back.
“Shaun, can I get down? I wanna look closer.” Shaun obliged, letting the small boy get down. Cody pushed his face up against the glass, watching as the elephants milled about, making rumbling noises. “Why are they making that noise?” Cody asked.
“They are talking Codes.” Zach answered, remembering the nature documentary.
“I wonder what they are saying…” The little boy said.
“They are saying hello to you.” Shaun said. Cody laughed and waved at the elephants.
“Hi elephants!” The little boy said laughing.
When they were done looking at the elephants, they got to the lions. There was a male and two females. The lions lounged lazily, basking in the warm summer sun.
“Why do boy lions have hair around their heads?” Cody asked.
“I think it shows other lions how tough they are, and let them show off to girl lions. Remember that book we showed you with those really colorful birds? Like that.” Zach said
“Oh, that’s so cool!” Cody said. The male lion let out a yawn.
The next enclosure was giraffes. The two giraffes snorted as people milled about, looking up at them.
“Look at how tall they are!” Cody said.
“They are tall like that because they eat the leaves on the very tops of the trees.” Shaun said. After the giraffes, Cody spied an okapi.
“What is that?!” He said. Shaun had to look at the little sign.
“It’s called an okapi. They are related to giraffes, it says.”
“But they have stripes like those zebras.” Zach let out a laugh. “Why do they have stripes Shaun?” Cody asked.
“Maybe for the same reason the zebras do, like Carly said.” Shaun said with a shrug.
They continued along the path, passing the chimpanzees, a gibbon and a ring tailed lemur, which Cody loved, and to an ostrich that seemed to be sizing Shaun up, waving its neck and fluffing its feathers, finally getting to the tigers. Cody watched at the tiger paced about, before settling itself, licking itself. They saw hippos, floating in their pool, and a black bear lounging in the corner of its enclosure.
They kept walking, passing a beautiful snow leopard, walking past the tapir, Cody laughed at it.
“It looks like a pig-elephant.” The little boy giggled. The tapir almost seemed to respond to the remark, letting out a snort. “Why does it have a nose like that?” Zach laughed.
“Like the elephants, it lets them grab things with their nose.” Zach said, Cody giggled.
“I wish I could pick things up with my nose that would be cool.” It was Shaun’s turn to laugh, as he put his hand to his nose and made a grabbing gesture with his fingers. Cody laughed at that really hard.
They got to the anteater, which Cody commented on, calling it “weird looking.” The anteater went about its business, sticking its tongue out. They passed the otters, playing in the water. The three of them got to the rain forest exhibit, and saw colorful toucans, and a sloth that hung upside down and almost seemed to smile at them. They looped around and saw the jaguar, lounging in the tree.
They arrived at the aviary, Cody looked through the gate of the roofed enclosure.
“What’s in there?” He asked.
“It’s where they keep all the birds. It has a roof like that so they can’t fly away.”
When they got inside, they were greeted by flamingos, and a very talkative macaw, and a harpy eagle that stared at them intensely.
“These birds are so big!” Cody exclaimed, he had never seen birds bigger than a pigeon. When they left the aviary, Shaun looked at his watch. It was already almost three. They had been there practically five hours.
“You hungry Cody?” He asked. In all the excitement of seeing the animals, Cody didn’t realize he hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast.
“Starving.” He said.
“Okay buddy, there is a restaurant up here.” Zach said, remembering the “Fork in the Road” they passed coming in. They entered the restaurant, cool air hitting them as they walked into the building. The girl seating people looked at them.
“Three people?” She asked. Zach nodded, and she grabbed three menus and walked them to a table. On the menus, there was all sorts of different kinds of pizzas, sold by the slice. The waitress came to take their orders.
“Hi, I’m Stephanie, I’ll be taking care of you today. What would you like?”
“What kind of pizza do you want buddy?” Zach asked.
“I want extra cheese!” Cody exclaimed. The woman laughed and jotted that down. She turned her gaze on Shaun.
“I’ll have the…white cheese pizza.” Shaun said, handing the menu back to the woman. The woman nodded, writing down his order. She turned to Zach.
“Can I get the pepperoni?” He asked the woman nodded.
“What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a Coke.” Zach said.
“I’ll have iced tea.” Shaun said. “What about you, Cody?” Shaun asked.
“I want root beer!” Cody said. Shaun obliged, since they gave him soda very rarely. The woman wrote down their orders.
“That will be out in about twenty minutes.” She said with a smile, and walked off to place their orders. She came back a minute later with a coloring page for Cody, with three crayons, giving Zach a knowing smile, she left again.
Cody started to color, and was coloring the lion in the picture red.
“What was your favorite animal you saw today, Cody?” Shaun asked.
“I really liked the elephants.” Cody said, still focused on coloring the lion.
“Me too.” Shaun said, “What about you, Zach?” He said, a small smile on his face.
“I liked that okapi. It was unique.” Shaun let out a laugh,
“It was clearly the most artistic animal here.” Shaun said. Zach was about to respond when Stephanie returned with a tray of their food and drinks.
“Here you go.” She said, putting Cody’s slice in front of him. The slice was covered in thick cheese. She gave Zach a smile as she gave him and Shaun their own slices. “Be careful, the cheese is hot. You three enjoy your pizza, wave me down if you need anything.” She said before departing.
Cody dug into his pizza, the cheese stretching and coming off in strings. Shaun and Zach each took a bite of their slices, making exaggerated yummy noises for Cody, who giggled. They ate in a comfortable silence, occasionally making a comment about the animals that they had seen. When they were finished, Stephanie brought over their check. Zach dug into his wallet and placed the money on the table, he had left enough to pay and give a decent tip. When they got up to leave, Stephanie waved at them.
“Thanks for stopping in! Enjoy the rest of your visit.” She said.
Before they left, Shaun spied a booth called “Sweet Treats”, giving Zach a grin.
“I think this calls for ice cream, don’t you?” He said, causing Zach to laugh.
“Ice cream!” Cody said.
Shaun stood in line and returned with three cones, he had gotten mint chocolate chip for himself, bubblegum for Cody and gave Zach coffee flavored ice cream. The three of them walked back to the car, eating their ice cream. They finished their ice cream and went into the zoo gift shop. Zach bought a stuffed elephant for Cody, and Shaun bought him a poster for his room with the animals on it. Cody found a bunch of magazines with animals in them called Zoobooks. Shaun bought him the elephant issue, and made a mental note to buy a subscription when they got home. They started for the car, they both could tell that Cody was getting tired. As they started the drive home, Cody fell asleep in his car seat, clutching the elephant. Shaun looked over at Zach, a small grin on his lips.
“Well? What did you think of our first day trip as a family?” Shaun said. Zach smiled back and him and put a hand on his leg.
“Thank you, Shaun, for everything you do for Cody and me.”
“Of course, Zach. We’re a family now.”
“I love you Shaun.”
“I love you too Zach.”
As Shaun drove, Zach looked out the window. If you had told him three months ago he would be in a relationship with a wonderful man, had an apartment and was taking care of his nephew with Shaun as a father figure, he wouldn’t have believed you. Smiling to himself, he was happy that this was his life now.