Night fell early around this time of the year. The dark sky pushing away the sun that cast a golden blanked over the city, exposing it to warm colors and hiding it in deep shadows.
The sunset within the blink of an eye, just leaving the moon to watch over them. Bright and round – it was almost a full round circle hovering at the firmament – it added to the lingering idle mood. And Shuichi, despite knowing it better, was surprised that it was still early when he took a glance on his watch. Jodie would soon be back with their oldest son from football practice.
He put his book aside and got up from the couch in a smooth movement, stretching himself and stifling a yawn. It had become surprisingly silent in their apartment since Jodie had left – it was rarely ever this silent in their home ever since they had got children. Shuichi gave in to the suspicious quiet and went to his daughter’s room, knocking on the door until her little voice told him to come in.
Shuichi opened the door a crack and leaned into the room, sticking his head around the door. He found his two other kids lying on her bed, listening to soft tunes from an audio box. While his daughter did look over to him, there was no response whatsoever from her little brother.
Raising an eyebrow at them, Shuichi stepped into her room to get a better look at them.
Her face looked sleep-wrinkled and a red line across her cheek looked like a confirmation to his suspicion– they both fell asleep earlier. He groaned.
“You know he shouldn’t be sleeping at this time,” he chided her mildly, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Please wake him up, baby.”
The last thing he wanted to deal with was an energetic, active baby past their bedtime. While he turned out to be a quite easy child, it still was a struggle to get him to sleep some nights.
“Okay, dad,” she replied as she sat up.
Shuichi nodded and left them alone. Yet he let the door open to have an ear on them while he went to prepare dinner.
However, the peaceful silence around him didn’t last forever. He barely got to get all ingredients together when he heard a faint little whine from his kid’s room that turned into a distressed cry in a matter of a few seconds.
“Shhh!” He could hear his daughter try to calm her brother. “It’s okay.”
But apparently, nothing was okay for the little guy. He wouldn’t calm down a single bit, instead, his cries got louder and more desperate.
Shuichi refrained from cooking dinner to going to check on his youngest kid.
“What’s wrong, El?” he wanted to know.
Tears were welling up in his eyes, running down his red cheeks and dripping on the sheets.
“I don’t know, dad,” Eleanor replied with a worried tone in her voice. “He was good when I woke him and then he wasn’t.”
Sighing, Shuichi picked up his crying son and rocked him slightly in his arms. An act, that soothed him, before he could even express any kind of validation for his current state.
“Did it shock you so much to wake up next to your sister?” He asked the toddler jokingly.
The boy responded with another little cry, still too young to appreciate his humor.
“I’m still better than Matty,” she retorted, hands on her hips, with a stern expression on her face – and with that, she looked like the perfect young copy of Jodie that she was.
“Is that so?” Shuichi smirked.
“Yes! He farts in his bed and looks mean when you wake him up!”
Shuichi chuckled and ruffled her hair with one hand.
“Don’t let him hear that.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Both his oldest kids had big mouths that said the darndest things. Something Jodie and his mother blamed him for, and even his old foster mum he was still in contact with, blamed him for his kids’ savageness. All the good traits and behavior came from Jodie, but their dirty mouths were his products.
“Anyway, clean up here before mum comes home.”
“Yes, dad.” She nodded and proceed to put the audio box and the toys away they seemed to have played with earlier.
Back in the kitchen, Shuichi had to put his child down in order to get their dinner ready. Something he thought was easier after the boy had calmed down. Instead, the tears shot back in his eyes as soon as his little socked feet came close to contact with the dark laminate. He wiggled and kicked and uttered a distressed, high-pitched cry, clinging to his arms.
“It’s alright, buddy.”
“Papa…” He sobbed, voice breaking.
“I’m not leaving you alone. I just need to let you down or I can’t cook dinner.”
The kid shook his head viciously and his little hands clutched to his shirt with more force. Shuichi didn’t know what his problem was, but it was neither a full diaper nor hunger. And as soon as he took him back on his arms, the tears stopped.
Shuichi tried to prepare dinner in some way or another with his child in his arms, but it wasn’t working well. He gave up trying when his child made some unexpected kicks on his arms that caused him to drop the raw eggs he held in his hand. They cracked open on the floorboards and caused a mess he wasn’t able to deal with properly.
As soon as he crouched down, the kid got nervous again and started whining. It was upsetting him as much as he felt sorry for his child’s stress.
“Okay, Archie, I’m not letting you down, but I need to clean the floor.”
“Hmm,” the boy uttered squirmy.
Shuichi sighed and got up to get a rag to clean the mess. It wasn’t easy to get the slimy eggs off the ground with one hand while he balanced this little human on his arm.
He hoped for a change when he heard his daughter padding into the kitchen.
“El,” he called her from below. “Can you take your brother for a moment?”
However, the brother didn’t like the idea of getting away from him at all. His uncontrolled kicks got harder, and he screamed into his ear as if he was abusing him by setting him on his own two feet or giving him into his sister’s care.
“Come here, Archie. I’ll hold you.” Eleanor offered and walked towards them with her open arms.
She attempted to pick him up from Shuichi’s arms despite his struggles, causing him to cry louder and more desperate. She still didn’t back off but wanted to ease her little brother’s distress.
“Just leave it be,” Shuichi said before he went back up in a straight position.
He started rocking his son again and stroke his back. It was pointless to try to get him down. He didn’t want to.
“Is he alright?” His daughter asked concerned.
She looked up to him with her big blue eyes, all sad and confused. A look that he had seen on Jodie’s face too, several times in his life.
Shuichi smiled a little. He patted her hair and stroke her cheek in a soothing manner.
“He will be alright, don’t worry,” he reassured her.
And he was. Just moments later, Archie was quiet again and enjoying the closeness he had to him. Shuichi kept stroking his back occasionally.
“But would you clean the ground for me?”
His daughter did and he assisted her by reaching her a bowl to put the egg-accident in.
By the time Jodie came home with their oldest son, there was still no dinner ready. Not even a bit. Instead, Eleanor was sitting at the table, drawing something, and Shuichi stood at the kitchen counter, cuddling his child in his arms.
“Is anything wrong?” Jodie asked confused as she entered the kitchen.
“Yes,” Matthew said, as he came to the kitchen right after her, observing the situation. “dinner isn’t ready.”
“No reason to complain,” Jodie literally nudged him. “Go, take a shower and when you’re done, dinner will be ready as well.”
“I doubt that,” he muttered. “But waiting here would be a waste of time anyway.”
He turned on his heels and left to the hallway.
“Don’t forget to put your dirty clothes in the laundry,” Jodie called after him. Then she rolled his eyes.
Jodie sighed as she walked over to him. “He’s driving me mad tonight,” she muttered.
Shuichi chuckled. No doubt, they had their work cut out with their kids. He leaned past his boy to give Jodie a little kiss.
“Don’t worry about it,” he rasped in a low voice. “I had to take two of that kind here on my own myself.”
His daughter, who was still in earshot, stuck her tongue out to him.
“See what I mean?”
“Yeah, you’re having such a hard life,” Jodie teased him with a crooked smile that soon after turned into an amused little laugh. “I feel so bad for you.”
“Hah,” Shuichi spat, turning his back to her to get himself a bottle of water from the fridge.
Jodie soon got serious again, seeing the way the little boy clung to him. “But honestly now, did something happen?”
“Yeah. We’re just a bit clingy tonight. Nothing to worry about, except that you have to cook now.” He smirked.
She didn’t look happy at the thought, and he could see how her eyes darted to the fridge for a second where they had some flyers of delivery services pinned.
It was tempting to order something, but they had to use the vegetables if they didn’t want to waste them.
And so Shuichi began to instruct Jodie to cook. She did well, and he was able to lend her a hand here and there, but what didn’t work was to let the kid down. Jodie had turned on the radio to cast away the silence around them. And Shuichi started to distract Jodie from the cooking once it was on the stove by brushing her hair to the side and planting little kisses on the back of her neck or wrapping his free arm around her waist, while he had his child rest on his hip. He kept looking at Jodie from the side until she got irritated by him and tried to push him away.
Neither of them had noticed that their daughter had slipped out of the kitchen to leave them alone. Them and the toddler, who didn’t seem to care as long as he was on Shuichi's arm.
It wasn’t until Jodie turned the stove off, that the little bundle on Shuichi’s arm stirred. He mumbled something unintelligible and then turned his head to stare at Jodie.
“Mama…”, he whispered.
“Hello sunshine,” Jodie smiled at him.
He leaned to Jodie on Shuichi’s arm and tried to grab her boob, though he didn’t quite reach it. He wanted to get closer to Jodie, but he seemed to realize that he was getting out of his father’s arms that way.
Shuichi watched him as his index finger wandered into his mouth as he looked like he was reconsidering his wants and needs at this moment.
“Do you want on mum’s arms, buddy?” He asked, almost a little hopeful at the sight of Jodie taking care of him.
But the disappointment came quick and merciless. Archie shook his head and wrapped his little arms around his neck.
Maybe later, at dinner, he’d agree to let go of him and maybe, he would also sleep early when he wanted to just snuggle with Jodie and nurse. Shuichi had the hope that he neither slept long before with his sister nor clung to him all night.