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Chris's Unforgettable Sophomore Year

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On the first long weekend of their sophomore year, Chris’s friends talked him into driving down to Los Angeles for a party. It wasn’t a hard sell since he grew up there. Plus, Karl, their new roommate from New Zealand since Eric had gotten kicked out, was anxious to see ‘the big city,’ as he called it.

The house was located in Calabasas behind an intimidating security gate. John had to give his name to the guard before he let them in.

Karl whistled low. “This is the real deal. First American party with the other half.”

“JJ’s a friend of my brother. I’ve met him a few times. He’s really down to Earth.”

“And what does he do for a living?” Anton asked. His eyes were glued to the immaculate landscaping outside the car window.

“He’s a director. Just indie films and shit for now, but he’s pretty good. I think I’ve got one of them at my parents’ house.”

John parked his car behind the line of them in the massive U-shaped driveway.

 

“This is fuckin’ crazy, mate!” Karl crowed, bouncing on the balls of his feet as they approached the front door.

Anton nudged Chris’s shoulder with his own. “You okay, man? You’ve hardly said two words all the way down here.”

“Yeah. Totally.” Chris forced a smile. “Just tired. I had an early class this morning.”

“Dude, I thought you were gonna skip. You could have taken a nap on the way down here.”

“I’m good. I’ll have a drink and be fine.” He couldn’t bring himself to tell his friends that the guy he’d been talking to—Joe from his sociology class—had quit returning his phone calls. It was too embarrassing to admit.

With confidence Chris wasn’t feeling, John marched up to the front door and knocked. The door opened, and they were greeted by a bespectacled round-faced man with a wide smile.

“John! So glad you made it!” He pulled John in for a bro hug and clapped him on the back. “Who are you friends?”

John introduced each of them. “And this is JJ.”

“Welcome to my humble abode.” JJ spread his arms wide. “Drinks are in the kitchen, and if you’re going to puke, please don’t do it in the pool. There are three bathrooms: two down here—one’s a powder room—and one upstairs. Have fun, guys.”

He slipped away into the crowd, and John turned to his friends. “Drinks first?”

“Hell yes,” Chris said.

They followed John into the kitchen where a pink-faced Englishman was playing bartender. “What can I get for you, lads?”

Rubbing his hands together, John surveyed their options. “How about we start with a shot of Patron?”

“To a year we’ll never forget!”

They toasted and drank, and Chris winced at the burn in his throat. He reached for the lime Karl held out, but Karl shook his head and put the lime between his own lips with the fruit facing out.

“Oh, for—“ Chris lunged for the lime and allowed Karl to steal a kiss. The people around them cheered as he glared at Karl and spit the rind into his hand. “If you wanted to kiss me, all you had to do was ask.”

Karl let out a deep, throaty laugh and patted Chris on the back. “There may be hope for you yet.”

Grumbling, Chris snagged a beer from the cooler. He’d only known Karl for a few weeks, but Chris liked him. Karl was funny and attractive, and if his love life wasn’t a revolving door, Chris might think about dating him.

The party around them was already in full swing—loud music, food, and lots of beautiful people. Chris allayed his social anxiety by eating more than his share of little smokies. It also helped to settle the alcohol in his otherwise empty stomach. He was reaching for some kind of cracker and cream cheese when a voice spoke up to his right.

“If you’re trying to make yourself throw up, alcohol might be a better option.”

Chris snatched his hand back like he’d been burned. The man next to him was smirking, but his brown eyes held mirth, rather than derision. Another of JJ’s beautiful friends. Suddenly, Chris felt inadequate standing next to this man stuffing his face. He felt a hot blush rise to his cheeks.

“I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” The man held out a hand, and his smile made Chris weak in the knees. “I’m Zach.”

“Chris.” Hastily, he wiped his hand on his jeans before shaking Zach’s.

“So, how do you know JJ? I’ve never seen you at one of his parties before.”

“He’s a, uh, mutual friend. A friend of a friend. He’s friends with my friend John,” Chris stammered.

“Ahh.” Zach nodded like he had any idea what Chris was trying to say. “Are you in the industry?”

“The industry? Oh, like an actor? No, no, no. I’m an English major at Berkley.”

Zach’s lip curled in interest. “Really? So what brought you down here?”

“John.” Chris waved vaguely. “We came down for the weekend, but I grew up down here. Are you from LA?”

“Pittsburgh. I moved out here about six months ago. I need another beer. How about you?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Zach grabbed his hand and led him through the house. Sometimes they had to squeeze between people, and Zach’s palm was warm and steady against his own. Chris felt his heart flutter in his chest. He’d only known the guy for about five minutes, but clearly Zach knew JJ, s he couldn’t be a complete derelict.

Snagging two beers, Zach handed one to Chris—with the cap on, he noted happily—and led him out to the back patio. There were less people out there, but Zach steered them to a bench in the shadows. He clearly knew exactly where he was going.

Chris sat down first, and when Zach sat next to him, he was close enough that Chris could feel the warm line of his thigh through two layers of denim. “So, what do you do for a living? I take you’re . . . in the industry.” The word ‘industry’ felt weird on his tongue, and Chris had to force himself to say it. He twisted the top off his beer and pocketed the cap.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Zach struck a pose. “I’m an actor.”

“Have you been in anything I might have seen?”

“Probably not. Just some commercials and a couple walk-on roles. I wait tables for now, like most of the other actors in this town. Why did you decide to major in English?”

“I’ve always loved language. My parents were both actors, but it just never appealed to me. I’d like to be a professor some day. I’m going to apply to Columbia next year.”

“Doctor Chris.” Zach’s laugh was deep and melodic, and Chris found himself smiling in return. “Tell me, Doctor Chris, what do you think of the zeitgeist of the Renaissance?”

“I—what?” Chris laughed nervously. “I don’t even know what that means.”

“Neither do I. I just wanted to see you blush again.”

That, of course, just made Chris blush harder. The world narrowed to the two of them as one of Zach’s hands cupped Chris’s cheek. Chris could hear his heartbeat thundering in his ears. His eyes fluttered shut as Zach closed the distance between them. The kiss was far too brief for Chris’s liking—just an open-mouthed brush of lips and a hint of tongue.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing how far down that blush goes.”

Chris opened his eyes to find Zach grinning at him as he took a swig of his beer. Heat flared throughout Chris’s body. He wouldn’t mind seeing the broad shoulders hiding under Zach’s t-shirt.

“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

And just like that, Chris wanted so much more from this man. Talking to Zach felt like talking to one of his professors. Though he wasn’t much older than Chris, Zach was worldly and educated, not to mention incredibly sexy.

After their third beer together, Chris had begun to think less about Zach’s brain and more about the way his lips pursed around his beer bottle, pink tongue darting out to lick a drop that lingered on his bottom lip.

Chuckling, Zach looked down at his lap and shook his head.

“What?”

“I really want to kiss you again, but I’m sure that’s only going to lead to an awkward boner. JJ would probably kill me if I had sex in his house.”

Chris’s brain went offline. This guy was serious about sleeping with him, and Chris didn’t want to blow his chance. Feeling bold, he said, “Well, you drove here, right?”

“Yeah.” Making him work for it, Zach just stared at him.

“We could . . . “ Chris sort of nodded his head and shrugged his shoulder in a way that he hoped implied what he meant. “You know. In your car.”

Zach appeared to consider this for a moment like he wasn’t bursting to the seams with want. “Okay.”

As Zach took his hand again, Chris felt warmth flood his body. His face burned as they weaved in and out of the crowd, but it was pride at being the person Zach had chosen fro the night.

Chris kept an out out for his friends. The only one he saw was Karl, who gave Chris a thumbs up from his position on the couch between two blonde women.

The front door shut behind Chris and Zach and the silence of the night suddenly seemed deafening in its silence. Chris felt his palms begin to sweat.

“Fair warning,” Zach tossed over his shoulder, “my car is a little small.”

He led Chris to a black Cavalier with a green door and a bungee cord wrapped around the drunk. It made something inside of Chris shift with discomfort. His own car was a gently used Acura that his parents had given to him as a graduation present.

Chris waited anxiously as Zach unlocked the door, reached into the car, and lifted the lock on the back door so he could open it. “I’m not sure about the best way to do this.” For the first time that night, Zach’s bravado faltered.

“We’ll make it work.” Chris pecked a kiss on Zach’s lips and climbed into the car. The best he could manage was pressing his back against the far window and folding his left leg onto the seat with him. He gave Zach his best ‘come hither’ look and wiggled his fingers in invitation.

With a dark expression, Zach crawled into the car and pulled the door shut behind him. With one knee on the floorboard, he knelt over Chris’s body. Neither of them were particularly comfortable, but Chris forgot about that as soon as Zach’s lips touched his.

Zach flattened himself over Chris the best he could, and Chris’s dick tightened in his jeans. He hadn’t had sex since earlier in the summer with one of his coworkers at the ice cream shop. That had been just okay, but judging by the way Zach was sucking on his neck, this promised to be much more memorable.

“Are you on the Pill?”

Wrapped up in sensations as he was, Chris almost missed the question. “I—yeah. Don’t you have a condom?” He couldn’t remember if he’d taken his pill that morning. In his mind’s eye, he could see the blister pack where he kept it next to his toothbrush on the dresser in his dorm room, but he couldn’t remember if he took one that morning. He had to have. He’d definitely brushed his teeth.

Zach’s voice pulled him out of his head.

“Trust me, I’m clean.” His dark eyes pinned Chris, and he squirmed under the intensity of the gaze. Belatedly, he realized Zach was waiting for an answer.

“Yeah,” Chris said in a small voice. “Okay.”

That sinister grin returned to Zach’s face. Chris felt like a hare caught in the claws of a hawk.

Sitting back as much as he could, Zach twisted his shirt off and smacked his hand into the seat in front of them. “This is going to work,” he said with laugh.

Chris arched his back and shimmied out of his own shirt with a little more finesse. “We’ll make it work. Fuck, do you have any lube?”

“Uhh—yeah.” Zach wedged himself between the front seats and opened the glove compartment. His position gave Chris a nice view of Zach’s tight ass. He couldn’t stop himself from palming it.

“Hey, now,” Zach chides gently as he folds himself next to Chris. Clutched in his left hand is a nearly empty bottle of KY.

“You always carry lube in your glovebox?”

“Actually, my door was making this horrible squealing noise every time I opened it, and this was all I had.”

“A likely story.” Chris was feeling confident and tipsy, so he grabbed Zach by the shirtfront and pulled him in for another kiss. “Maybe if you sit still I can just ride you like that?”

“Fuck yeah.” Zach slouched low in his seat and lifted his hips so he could slide out of his jeans. From a neatly trimmed patch of dark pubic hair, his cock curved against his belly, flushed slightly darker than the rest of him.

Chris’s mouth watered. Hastily, he divested himself of his own clothes and clambered onto Zach’s lap. He could feel the heat of Zach’s skin next to his calves and under his hamstrings. It made his balls tighten with want where they hung between Chris’s spread thighs.

Laying a kiss against Chris’s neck, Zach whispered, “Do you want me to . . . “

But Chris’s fingers closed around the bottle of lube that Zach held. “I got it.”

Chris stretched himself quickly and perfunctorily. He needed Zach inside him, and he couldn’t bear to wait much longer.

Grasping Zach’s dick in one hand, Chris held it steady as he lowered himself. The gentle pressure pushed a low whine out of Chris’s lungs. Zach’s hands remained still and steady on Chris’s hips, anchoring him. Rocking his hips only a little, Chris set a steady rhythm.

As the pleasure built, so did his movements. A particularly deep thrust from Zach sent Chris’s head into the roof of the car. Clutching himself, Chris dropped his forehead to Zach’s bare shoulder. “That hurt.”

“I’m so sorry,” Zach cooed as he ran his hands up and down Chris’s back. “Are you okay?”

“No concussion. I don’t think.” His erection had flagged, and he dropped a hand to bring it back.

Zach kissed Chris’s cheeks, his chest, his fingertips. All the while, he kept his hips pumping in a maddeningly slow rhythm.

“Fuck, that’s good,” Chris said. He ground himself into Zach’s lap. Slow and deep wasn’t usually the way Chris liked it, but with the windows fogging up and Zach’s panting in his ear, he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“You gonna cum for me?” Zach’s voice was like liquid caramel. He pinched one of Chris’s nipples between his thumb and forefinger.

Crying out, Chris tightened around Zach’s dick and came with a sigh over his own fist.

“There you go,” Zach panted. “There you go. If we weren’t in my car right now, I’d flip you over and pound into you.”

Chris’s cock twitched but couldn’t get hard again so soon. Bracing his arms above his head, he lifted his feet one at a time onto the seat so that he was squatting over Zach’s lap. “You can still get deep like this.”

Zach’s smile became feral. His fingertips curled into Chris’s flesh hard enough to bruise as Zach took him at his word.

 

Several minutes later, they stumbled out of the car weak-kneed, disheveled, and holding hands. Chris grimaced at the slimy feeling oozing into his boxers.

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” he said as they walked back into the house. “Will you get me another beer?”

“Sure.” Zach flashed him that Colgate smile, and Chris’s heart clenched.

He forced himself to walk away, to find the bathroom that was miraculously empty. Condoms certainly had one benefit—easy clean up.

Chris washed his hands and stood in front of the mirror. His hair was a little mussed, cheeks flushed, but overall, he looked more ‘I’ve had a few beers,’ than ‘I just got fucked in the backseat of a car.’

Satisfied, he shut out the light and opened the door.

There you are!”

Chris started as John’s hand closed around his bicep.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Come on, we’ve gotta go. Karl is already drunk, and Anton’s taking him out to the car so he doesn’t puke on the upholstery.”

Chris’ mind raced. He wanted to say goodbye to Zach, but he couldn’t see him among the other partygoers.

“Come on,” John said again. “They’re waiting for us.”

Feeling torn, Chris allowed himself to be pulled along. He threw a silent goodbye to Zach the aspiring actor.

 

TBC

Chapter Text

Thoughts of the handsome stranger from JJ’s party plagued Chris, but he did his best to keep them at bay. He told no one about Zach. It was a one-time hookup at a party. There was very little chance Chris would ever see Zach again, and he needed to be content with that. John and Anton had badgered him about where he’d been that night, but Chris held fast to his secret. He tucked Zach away in the corner of his mind, a fond memory when he was blissfully alone in his shared dorm room.

The weeks went by, and his classes got harder as the professors pile on work.

On one particular day, Chris skipped lunch in the caf in favor of heading back to his dorm for a nap. Just the smell of pizza was enough to make his stomach turn. He had to stop off in the bathroom to throw up.

Anton looked up as Chris came through the door of their room. “Dude, you look like shit.”

“Don’t remind me.” Chris dropped his backpack on the floor and faceplanted the bed. “I think I have food poisoning. Did you eat the lasagna last night? I thought it tasted a little funny, but I ate it, anyway. Fucking caf food.”

“I had a couple bites, but I feel fine today. Are you sure it wasn’t something you had for breakfast?”

“I don’t know.” Chris moaned pathetically and kicked as his rumbled bedclothes until he could get under them.

He slept through his afternoon class as well as dinner. When he got up, he ate a Cup of Noodles and went back to sleep.

 

Three days later, he was still throwing up, and he finally took Anton’s suggestion about visiting the on-campus clinic. All he’d been able to eat in the last few days was saltines and ginger ale. Karl had tried to give him some kind of tea, but Chris dumped it down the sink as soon as he got the chance.

Three other students were waiting when Chris signed in. He took a seat in one of the hard plastic chairs and regarded the selection of outdated magazines and STD pamphlets with disinterest.

Finally, his name was called, and he followed a portly woman in white scrubs back to a room where she took his vitals and handed him a specimen cup.

“Take his into the bathroom and put it in the tray on the sink when you’re done. We only need about a fourth of it full.”

“I’m not pregnant,” Chris said, even as he took the cup.

“Standard procedure.” The woman waved her hand. Clearly, she got this question a lot.

Sighing, Chris carried the cup into the bathroom. After it was deposited in the appointed tray, the nurse led him to an empty exam room and shut the door. He was left to stare at framed pictures of infected genitalia like it was art. While it was fitting for a college clinic, it gave Chris the chills.

He had started to wonder if they had forgotten about him by the time the door opened to admit a middle-aged woman carrying a manilla folder.

“Hi,” she said, “I’m Doctor Jones.” Her hands were warm. She reminded him of his mom, and Chris relaxed in increments. “What brings you in today?”

Chris explained his food poisoning while Doctor Jones listened to his heart and lungs. She looped the stethoscope back around her neck and pulled up a rolling stool.

“Are you on birth control, Chris?”

His eyes flicked to the infected penis above her head. “Yes.”

“And do you currently have a partner?”

“No. I’m sorry, what does that have to do with my food poisoning? Is this like a required thing, or something? Because my prescription is from my doctor. My parents know about it.”

“Chris.” The way she said his name made his heart beat faster in his chest. Something was very wrong with him. “Chris, I’m afraid you’re pregnant.” The rest of her words were drowned out by the sound of blood rushing in Chris’s ears.

She sent him back to his dorm with a stack of pamphlets and a couple vitamin samples. Anton, thankfully, was not there to see Chris cry himself to sleep.

*

As much as the thought of keeping the baby terrified him, getting rid of it wasn’t even an option. Based on the timeline, he estimated the baby would be born around June 4—just enough time for him to finish final exams. He had no intention of letting this pregnancy hold him back. His GPA was 3.9—exactly what Columbia would be looking for.

The first person he told about the pregnancy was Anton. He knew his roommate could keep a secret and that he wouldn’t judge Chris for his actions.

“Who’s the father? Can I ask?”

Chris shifted nervously. “Remember that party we went to in LA last month? I sort of hooked up with a guy there.”

“Didn’t you use a condom?”

“I’m on the Pill.” At least, he was supposed to be. He’d gone over that in his mind countless times since visiting the clinic. Anton wasn’t the kind of person to rub Chris’s nose in his mistakes.

“I don’t know what to do.” Unbidden, he felt tears sting his eyes.

“Well, the first thing is going to be to tell your parents, right? And this guy, if you want. If you can find him, I guess?” Anton shook his head. “Sorry, I’m just thinking out loud.”

“That’s the same thing I’ve been thinking. I don’t even know this guy’s last name. All I know is that his name is Zach, he waits tables while he attempts to make it as an actor, and he drives a black Cavalier with a green door.” Chris ticked off the points on his fingers. “And he knows John’s friend, JJ, I guess. So that really narrows it down to oh, anyone.”

“Well, we could start by asking JJ.”

But the look on Chris’s face said otherwise.

“Or not. We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Chris buried his face in his hands. “I don’t know what to do. That’s why I told you.”

“But you don’t seem to like any of my suggestions. Why don’t you tell your sister first? She seems pretty chill.”

“Until I tell her I got knocked up by some dude I met at a party.”

“She’s your sister. It’s gotta be easier to tell her than your parents, right?”

Chris exhaled loudly. “Will you stay in here while I call her?”

“Sure.”

Steeling his nerves, Chris picked up the phone receiver between their beds. He dialed Katie’s number and waited for it to connect. While it rang, Chris stared at Anton with an expression full of worry.

Finally, the answering machine picked up. “This is Katie. You know what to do.” Beep

“Hey, Katie, it’s Chris. Um, I have something I want to—”

His message was cut short as his sister picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Hey. It’s Chris.” Nervous, he wound the phone cord between his fingers. He’d done it since he was a child, no matter how many times his parents had told him to stop.

“Yeah, I caught the beginning of your message. What’s up?”

“I have something kind of important to tell you. Are you alone?”

“Yeah, I just got back from the grocery store.” She fell silent, then, giving Chris the space he needed to speak.

“I’m pregnant.”

“Oh,” was all Katie said. Her tone sounded more surprised than condescending, which Chris took as a good sign. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone.”

“I’m not. I—” Chris laid back on his bed as the tears began to fall. “Katie, I don’t know what to do.”

“Oh, Chris. You must be scared out of your mind. Have you told Mom and Dad, yet?”

“No. I think I’m gonna go home this weekend and tell them in person. Can you—will you be there when I do? You’re still having Sunday dinner, right?”

“Of course. Of course I’ll be there, Chris. Anything you need.”

“Thank you.” Chris told his sister he loved her and hung up the phone. “One down.”

Thankfully, Anton didn’t put a number to how many more Chris had to go.

*

Friday afternoon, Chris packed a bag and headed south. He tried not to think about who else he might run into on this trip, especially considering how slim the odds were.

He arrived home just after his mom had put dinner on the table.

“Hi, honey. We thought you were going to be late.”

“Nah, traffic wasn’t too bad.” He leaned down to kiss his mother’s cheek. “I’m gonna run my bag upstairs.”

“Oh, Chris!” his mom called after him. “I refilled your prescription and put the new pill pack on your bed!”

Chris’s steps faltered, and he had to grab the bannister to keep from falling up the stairs. Heart thundering, he raced to his room.

Sitting innocently on the bed was the aforementioned pill pack, but to Chris, it was a reminder of what a fool he’d been to let Zach talk him into condom-free sex. He snatched up the traitorous blister pack and shoved it into his bag so he wouldn’t have to look at it. Not since the day he found out he was pregnant had Chris taken a birth control pill.

He put on a happy face for his parents, told them about his classes and their plans for attending the annual Halloween party in the student union.

But when Katie showed up on Sunday morning, Chris almost lost his carefully-curated calm. He squeezed his sister and blinked back the tears in his eyes.

“Good to see you, Chris.” She gave him a meaningful look that demanded he keep himself together at least until after he told their parents about the baby.

He couldn’t think of it as a baby that he would be holding in eight months time. His belly was still flat, and his mind had yet to wrap around ‘pregnant.’

 

The Pine family sat down at the dinner table together as they had done for more than two decades. The table was the same his parents had always had: a sturdy, oak piece that seated up to eight people when the leaves were put in. Chris stared at the dark polished surface as his family chatted around him.

“Chris, could you please pass the potatoes?”

“I’m pregnant,” Chris blurted, unable to hold it back any longer.

Wide-eyed, his parents stared at him. Katie wiped her mouth on a napkin, but said nothing.

Chris felt his cheeks begin to burn. “Say something!”

“I though you were on birth control,” his father said. He sounded more confused than angry.

“I was! I thought I was. I don’t know. I made a mistake.” Chris stared down at his plate. He almost wished his parents would yell. That, at least, would let him know how they were feeling, but his parents weren’t the kind of people who shouted. They never even spanked Chris or Katie when they were children.

“Why don’t you tell us what happened,” his mom suggested.

So Chris gave them the abridged version of forgetting to take his pill, hooking up with Zach, and ending up at the school clinic.

“Do you have any plans for the pregnancy?”

“I mean, yeah. I’m going to keep it.” His family had never really expressed strong feelings on abortion either way, but Chris couldn’t bear the thought of killing this baby. His baby. For reasons he might never divine, this child was meant to be conceived.

“And how do you plan to support yourself?” His father’s question held no judgement.

Chris looked down at his plate. “I’ll get a job.”

“Honey.” His mom placed a hand on his arm. “Babies are expensive. You’re not going to be able to support yourself and a child on $5.75 an hour.”

“You don’t have to make a decision right now,” his father cut in. “We just want you to know you have options. For now, we should probably schedule a doctor’s appointment. Is the father going to be involved?”

“I don’t know,” Chris muttered.

“Well,” Katie said, “I’m sure the potatoes are getting cold.”

*

After dinner, Chris hugged and kissed his family. He had a long drive back to Berkley.

“Be safe up there, okay?” Katie said.

Chris smiled. “How much more trouble could I get into?”

His mother gave him a look, and Chris wiped the smile off his face. His parents had already been more than understanding; pushing his luck now would not be a good idea. Besides, he had more pressing issues to deal with: If he didn’t figure out a way to support himself, he’d have to give his baby up for adoption.

Chapter Text

Chris decided to tell John and Karl about the baby a few days before the Halloween party during a Mario Kart marathon. He knew his friends would want to drink beforehand, and there was no way he’d get around that without telling them the truth. John had just beat them in the Mushroom Cup, and they were all relaxed and happy.

“So, I have something to tell you guys.”

“If you’re about to say you have a crush on Dr. Cumberbatch, we already know,” said Karl.

Chris picked up the closest thing at hand—a stick of licorice—and chucked it at him. “No! It’s more serious than that.”

John dropped his controller on the floor and gave Chris his attention. “What’s up?”

“You have to promise not to judge me, and you can’t tell anybody.”

John nodded. “Of course.”

“Karl?”

“Yeah, mate. You have my word.”

Chris took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant.”

His friends stared at him.

“Say something.”

“Bollocks!” Karl exclaimed.

“Dude, I’m serious!”

Scandalized, John looked at Anton. “Did you know? You totally knew and didn’t tell me!”

“I promised Chris I wouldn’t!”

Guys,” Chris said,” My parents only found out two weeks ago. It’s not like I’ve been hiding it for months.”

Karl raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, well, in a few more months, I think we would have figured it out.”

“It was that guy at JJ’s party, wasn’t it?” John said.

“How did you . . . “

“Because I saw you go outside with him. And I didn’t say anything because I’m your friend, and I know how to keep a secret, so it really fucking hurts that you told Anton and not me.”

The words dried up in Chris’s mouth. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust John. He was still trying to grips with everything himself. “Well, I’m sorry you got hurt, but I’m the one growing some stranger’s fetus as we speak.” Chris snatched up his controller and stormed across the hall to his own room.

He and John didn’t speak again until the night of the Halloween party.

Chris was lying in his bed watching Anton put the finishing touches on his costume.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

“Yup. There’s supposed to be a Halloween marathon on tonight, so I’m planning to stuff my face and watch that. Not like I can drink, anyway.”

“But we’re missing our apple.”

“You’ll get over it. By the time you get to the party, you’ll all be so drunk you won’t even care, anyway. Now, get out of here so I can watch Michael Myers stab people in peace.”

“Don’t have too much fun,” Anton called as the door shut behind him.

Chris fluffed his pillow and reached for the television remote. The movie was just starting when the door opened and two bunches of grapes and a banana burst into the room.

“Come on!” Karl shouted. “Get up, mate! You’re coming with us to the party. You can’t sit and wallow all night. It’s just not done.”

“Come on, man. I don’t feel good.” Chris brushed Cheeto crumbs off his chest. “I told Anton to go without me.”

“Nope.” John crossed the room and ripped the blankets off Chris’s body. “You’re done moping, and we’re done fighting.”

Chris didn’t have a snappy or witty comeback to that. He was tired of fighting, too. He and John had been best friends since their first day of college. It was just dumb luck that Anton was Chris’s roommate.

“Come on,” said Anton. “We’ll get you some sparkling grape juice, and you can pretend it’s champagne.”

Groaning in a very put-upon way, Chris allowed himself to be pulled out of bed.

Once he was dressed in red with a jaunty matching hat, he had to admit that their group looked like a complete set.

With a wide grin, Karl said, “Now we’re ready.”

Chris sighed even though he was smiling. “On, lusty gentlemen!”

 

Partying while his friends were drunk wasn’t nearly as much fun when he was the obligatory sober one.

“I hope someone spiked the punch!” Karl crowed with glee.

“They haven’t done that since the 70s. These days, that’s just something they show in movies. There’s not even a punch bowl here,” said Anton.

An RA checked their student IDs at the door and they were in. Several people stopped them for pictures before they could make it more than a few steps.

“Ah, fuck, I forgot my camera,” John said.

Karl clapped him on the back. “I’m sure there will be a yearbook photographer here somewhere.”

They split up, then, John and Karl to dance and hit on girls, Anton to say hello to some of his other friends, and Chris gravitated towards the buffet table where he apparently felt the most comfortable. But no dark-eyed strangers approached him this time.

He ate his fill of potato chips, grabbed a can of Pepsi, and found an empty seat at one of the nearby tables. The speakers were blaring the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, and Chris longed for the silence and solitude of his bed.

Mind wandering, he watched with detached interest as his fellow coeds bumped and grinded their way though the night. Sure, he thought, it’s all fun and games until one of you gets knocked up. Several times, his friends tried to get him to dance, but he refused.

“You have dancing shoes with nimble soles. I have a soul of lead.”

“Dude, you don’t have to quote Shakespeare. It makes you sound like a tool.”

Chris waved them away. “Go have fun. Leave me to my pity party.”

They did, but a moment later, someone pulled out the chair behind Chris.

“I thought I told you—oh.”

Sitting next to him was not one of his friends. It was a blond-haired, blue-eyed Adonis who was giving Chris a smile that could melt an iceberg. “Tell me again,” he said. “I must have forgotten.”

“Sorry.” Chris blushed to the roots of his hair. He suddenly felt ridiculous sitting alone in his apple costume. “I thought you were someone else.”

“Well, you just looked so sad sitting here all alone. Would you like to dance?”

Chris’s stomach began to somersault. Why couldn’t he have met this guy instead of Zach?

“I’d love to, but I—”

“But he’s my boyfriend.” Out of nowhere, Karl appeared and wrapped his arm around Chris’s shoulders.

The guy who had been trying to hit on him shrank back. “Oh. Sorry, I didn’t realize.” He disappeared a moment later, and Chris let out a loud sigh.

“I don’t know whether to thank you or punch you right now.”

“Why would you punch me? Or were you seriously planning on telling that bloke that you’re—”

Karl, I don’t need your help with my love life, okay? You know what? Fuck this. I’m going back to my room.”

He left the party before any of his friends could stop him. He just wanted to be alone with his thoughts, and since he couldn’t drink his fears away, he decided to eat until his stomach hurt.

*

His mom scheduled his first appointment for the day before Thanksgiving, since he was home for the long weekend. Nothing about the appointment excited him. He still hadn’t made any headway on what he was going to do when the baby was born, and thankfully, his parents hadn’t pressed the issue. The only part that was even remotely interesting so far was the development of his bump—proof that there was a baby inside of him. It was still small enough that he could pass it off as minor weight gain from a weekend of binge eating. Anton’s eyes had begun to drift towards Chris’s midsection when he was changing clothes. Chris had to fight the urge to turn away and cover himself; it was only natural that his friends would be curious and want to look. After all, he would only get bigger.

His mom offered to attend the appointment with him, but Chris opted to go alone. He’d been seeing Dr. Greenwood every year since he was 16, and having his mom there now would just be weird.

“How are you, Chris?” Dr. Greenwood asked congenially as he walked into the room.

“I’m okay.” Chris pressed his hands between his thighs.

“So, it looks like you’re here for your first prenatal visit.”

Nervous, Chris licked his lips. He was grateful Dr. Greenwood didn’t make him say it.

“Well, today I’d just like to ask you some questions, give you the opportunity to ask me any questions you might have, and take some measurements.”

They started with the easy stuff. Any morning sickness? Yes. Pain? No. Diarrhea or constipation? Sometimes. By the time they moved into the pelvic exam, Chris was feeling significantly less nervous. But of course, Dr. Greenwood waited until his face was between Chris’s spread-too-far thighs to start asking the uncomfortable questions.

“And what about the father? How involved has he been with the pregnancy?”

Chris stared at the ceiling, wishing for a black hole to open and swallow him. “He doesn’t know about it.”

Dr. Greenwood’s eyes appeared above the drape across Chris’s knees. “Do you intend to tell him?”

Chris licked his lips again. It felt like everyone in his life was judging him more for not trying to find Zach than for the pregnancy itself. “I don’t know. I guess.”

“Are you planning to keep the baby?” Dr. Greenwood folded the drape over Chris’s lower legs. “You can go ahead and sit up.”

Relieved, Chris did. “I want to, but my parents . . . I’m going to have to find a job.”

“If nothing else, the father is legally obligated to provide financial support, regardless of his personal feelings on the matter. You’re a bright kid, Chris. I think it’s worthwhile for you to consider all of your options.”

“You mean . . . like abortion?”

“Not necessarily, and certainly not if that’s not what you want. I’m just suggesting that you look at all the options available to you. I’ve known you for quite some time now, and I know you want to do this all on your own. But you don’t have to, and this is my personal opinion: I think the father deserves to know about the baby. Don’t you think your child should know its father? At least give him the opportunity to be involved. You liked him well enough once, I’m assuming. If it turns out that he chooses not to be involved, then that’s on him, but at least you can say that you tried. For your child, if nothing else.”

“I’ll think about it.” Chris gave him a half-smile. “Thanks.”

*

Dr. Greenwood’s words stayed in Chris’s head. He kept imagining how terrible he would feel the first time his kid came home and asked why they didn’t have a dad. How would he feel knowing that he hadn’t even tried to tell Zach?

The day after Thanksgiving, Chris and his family drove to the beach like they always did when everyone else was out shopping. It was too cold to go swimming, so they stayed on the sand and played Frisbee. After a while, the elder Pines retired to the blanket, and Chris and Katie started off down the beach together.

Listening to the waves roll and crash against the shore had always been one of Chris’s favorite things. Sometimes, he and his friends at Berkley would drive to the beach, but it was so much colder up there, so the beach season was shorter.

“How did your appointment go?” Katie asked.

Chris knew she’d been dying to talk about it since their mother mentioned it in passing the day before, but he had no intention of bringing up the subject. In fact, he would have been happy if she forgot all about it. “It was fine. He just check me over and took some blood and stuff. And he suggested I tell Zach.” Deliberately, he tossed the last sentence in there so he could judge his sister’s reaction.

She just nodded. “I think that’s a good idea. He deserves to know. I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want you to feel like I pushed you in any direction.”

“As much as I appreciate that, the bigger issue is that I have no idea how to find this guy. Other than the fact hat he’s a friend of a friend, I’ve got squat. His name’s Zach, but there are probably a hundred Zachs in LA. What am I supposed to do? Call every one of them in the phonebook and ask if any of them hooked up with some guy at a party a few months ago? Yeah, that should narrow it down to about fifty.”

Katie wasn’t taking his bait. “It’s a place to start.”

“You’re seriously suggesting that I call every guy named Zach in Los Angeles?”

“No, I’m suggesting you start by talking to your friends. If you met him at a mutual friend’s party, then someone is bound to know him. DO you have a better idea?”

Chris bent down, picked up a rock, and hurled it into the ocean.

“I didn’t think so.” Glancing side-long at her brother, Katie wrapped an arm around Chris’s waist and pulled him close. If she would have commented on the watery quality of his eyes, he would have blamed it on the salt in the air.

Chapter Text

The Hunt for Zach, as Karl had begun to call it despite Chris telling him repeatedly that his life wasn’t a television show and none of them were James Bond, launched by having John call JJ. His phone didn’t have speaker, unfortunately, so Chris had to settle for listening to John’s side of the conversation.

“Hey, it’s John Cho. Roger’s little brother . . . I’m good, how are you? . . . Well, I’m actually calling with sort of an odd question. Is there anyone named Zach who frequents your parties?” John listened for a minute and then covered the mouthpiece with his hand. “He wants to know why I’m asking!”

Chris exchanged frantic looks with Anton and Karl.

“Tell him . . . I was really interested in him, but he left before I could get his number,” said Anton. He could always be counted on for thinking on his feet.

John uncovered the receiver. “He, uh, one of my friends anted to get his phone number, but we had to leave . . . Oh, okay. Yeah. Do you mind?” John mimed writing something down, and the other three scrambled to find a piece of paper and a pen. He wrote down five names: Levi, Jones, Taylor, Walton, and Quinto. “Thanks. Yeah, yeah, that does. If you happen to figure out who it is, though, could you have him call this number?”

Nervous, Chris waited while John gave JJ his phone number.

“Yeah, that’s it. Thanks again . . . you, too. Bye.” John hung up the phone. “So.” He pointed at the list. “As you might have guessed, these are the guys named Zach from JJ’s guest list. He doesn’t keep phone numbers or addresses on everyone, just names, so this is the best we’ve got for now.”

“Well, that’s better than my sister’s suggestion that I call every man named Zach in the phone book.”

Chris looked down at the list. It was a start. With a little luck, the name of his baby’s father was on this list.

“Wait,” said Karl. “Do we even have a Los Angeles phone book?”

John and Chris facepalmed simultaneously.

*

Getting a phone book, it turned out, was the easiest part of the search. For some reason they didn’t bother asking, the Berkeley library had a copy. All they had to do was photocopy the necessary pages and start making phone calls. They began at the top of the list.

“Zachary Levi,” Chris muttered as he flipped to the L section. Levi was a decent name. He repeated it silently several times as he scanned the page. “Three of them,” he announced triumphantly.

They copied the page, and Chris set it aside. He couldn’t help glancing at it a couple of times. Part of him wanted to run back to the dorm right away and make the calls. If his Zach was Zachary Levi, he could know inside of the hour. But if he wasn’t . . .

“Jones?” John said, pulling the phone book towards himself.

Chris’s heart pounded as John flipped through the pages. “I can’t look.” He laid his head on his folded arms.

“Twenty-seven.”

Chris groaned.

 

By the time they were done, they had 34 phone numbers, and there wasn’t a single Quinto in the book.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“Maybe he doesn’t actually live in LA,” said Karl.

“He’s an ‘aspiring actor.’ Trust me, he lives in LA.”

They split the list in half: 17 for Chris and 17 for John, since they only had two phones between the four of them.

“Here goes nothing,” Chris said as he began to dial the first number. The phone rang four times before an elderly woman answered. Chris cleared his throat. “Hi, um, may I speak with Zach, please?”

The line was silent for a moment. “Honey, I’m sorry, but he died about three years ago.”

“Oh. I’m so sorry.” Hastily, Chris hung up the phone and crossed that one off the list. “You’re calling the next one,” he said to Anton. “That one has been dead for three years.”

Anton shook his head. “I don’t think so. This is your project. I’m just here for moral support.”

“Please?” Chris put on his best pathetic face, the one he used when he wanted Anton to get him more crackers from the vending machine. It worked like a charm.

“What’s the next number?” Anton asked with a sigh.

Gleefully, Chris dialed the phone and handed over the receiver.

They traded off over the next few, crossing off names as they went. Chris talked to some very nice Zachs, some not-so-nice, some who went strictly by Zachary, and some who propositioned him. The ones with an answering machine or a phone that just kept ringing he marked on the print-out to call later. He wasn’t going to leave a “Hey, I’m looking for the father of my child” message on someone’s answering machine.

After an hour of dead ends, Chris dropped the phone back onto its cradle and collapsed backwards on his bed. “Maybe we should go see how Cho and Karl are doing.”

“Don’t you think if they found the right one they’d run in here?”

“Good point,” Chris said, even as his heart sank.

Ultimately, Karl and John were not able to locate the right Zach, either, though they did get one who sounded pretty damn close until he said he had no friends named JJ.

“It could be Zach Quinto.” Karl pointed at the list on Chris’s desk.

“So what if it is?” Chris snapped. “What do you suppose I do? Call up every restaurant in LA and ask if they’ve got a waiter named Zach Quinto? It’s fucking hopeless.

“It’s not hopeless,” said John. “We might have to change tactics, but we’re bound to find him sooner or later.”

Uncaring if his friends saw, Chris slipped a hand under his t-shirt. For the sake of his child, he hoped it was sooner rather than later.

*

The morning sickness finally abated as Chris geared up for finals. He knew, logically, that it was partially due to the fact that he was moving into his second trimester, but he appreciated the reprieve from vomiting nonetheless. His bump had begun to look like a proper pregnant belly, if a bit small, but he found himself touching it throughout the day.

On the occasion that the phone rang, Chris’s heart leapt, but neither JJ nor Zach called. Chris tried not to mope about it as he packed for Christmas vacation.

“What if he calls while we’re gone?”

“Well, I would expect that JJ is clever enough to call John, since he would have seen Zach. Then John would call your parents’ house. Really, Chris, it’s going to work out.”

A thought seized on Chris’s mind suddenly. “He moved here six months ago!”

“Okay,” said Anton slowly. He threw a few more shirts into his suitcase.

“Anton. He moved here six months ago, which is why he’s not in the phone book! Anton, it’s got to be Zach Quinto!” Chris was practically dancing across the floor in his bare beet as he fleshed out his theory.

Anton looked less than impressed. “Suppose it is Quinto. Then what?”

“Then . . . “ Chris’s hands flapped uselessly in the air like little birds that couldn’t decide where to land. “Shut up. It makes me feel better.” Significantly less excited, Chris turned his attention back to packing.

*

Returning to his room at his parents’ house felt familiar and yet different. He was different. He’d just been here for Thanksgiving, but leaving his friends and Berkley behind felt wrong, like he’d grown up and moved on and left his childhood and its innocence behind in LA. The room was the way he left it; his mom had only come in to put away laundry and dust, Chris knew. His dresser was still littered with deleterious from last summer: movie ticket stubs, photo booth picture strips, a wristband from Knott’s Berry Farm, and a handful of free tokens from Ice Cream Palace. The bed was made, and he knew his mom had put clean sheets on it since his last visit.

Part of him longed for the freedom and privacy of his dorm room. The other part longed to remain the little boy his mom still saw him as, regardless of the inability to unring that bell.

*

While he was home, Chris’s mom thought it necessary to make him an appointment to have his teeth cleaned. He wanted to object—he hated driving downtown—but there was no good reason to reschedule the appointment. Even at 10 o’clock in the morning on a Thursday, traffic in Los Angles was awful.

Chris drove slowly, straight past the dentist’s office as he scoured the street for a parking space. His eyes roamed over car after car. Absently, he wished he had the power to eliminate just one to make room for his own. What business did this many people possibly have right there right now?

A black Cavalier caught Chris’s eye, and as he rolled past it, the green door made him slam on the brakes hard enough that his seatbelt locked and pressed painfully against his chest. He was lucky there were no cars behind him; otherwise, he would have been rear-ended.

Heart pounding, Chris released his clenched fingers from their grip on the steering wheel. A quick glance backward assured him that the trunk was being held together with a bungee cord. Thought it was empty, it was undoubtedly Zach’s—Quinto or Levi or whatever—car. Chris had to do something, and he couldn’t sit there idling all day. Looking around his own car, Chris snatched up an empty envelope and a Sharpie from the center console.

Zach, he wrote, I met you in September at JJ’s party. Please call me. —Chris from Berkley

Beneath that, he wrote his parents’ phone number in very careful numbers.

Leaving the engine running, he jumped out of his car and slipped the note beneath one of Zach’s windshield wipers. About that time, someone rolled up behind his car honking and gesturing rudely for him to move.

“I’m fucking coming!” Chris muttered as he jogged back to his own vehicle.

Despite his visual search, there was no sign of Zach. Hopeful and a little dismayed, Chris put his car in drive and continued his search for a parking space.

 

A week went by without a phone call from Zach, and Chris started to think that maybe Zach didn’t want to talk to him. They shared one night together—it wasn’t even a proper one-night stand—and that was it. Zach didn’t owe him anything. Chris had made his own decision to not make Zach wear a condom, and now he had to deal with the consequences.

Katie, finally having had enough of Chris’s moping, dragged him out of the house to go Christmas shopping with her. “It will be good for you and the baby to get some fresh air.”

Chris just grumbled in response. Still, he found himself enjoying the time with his sister as they walked from shop to shop and searched for gifts.

He tugged Katie into a used bookstore on the corner. “Let’s go in here real quick.”

“I know you’re not going to find any Christmas gifts in here.”

“Just for a minute.” Chris always loved the smell of books, whether they were crip and new or old and musty, the scent of a book and the heft of it in his hands just felt right.

He strolled down the narrow aisles, trailing his fingertips across hardback and heavily-creased spines. Nothing particular stood out to him, but when he was in the presence of books (like at the library), the promise of so much knowledge filled him with a sense of potential. So wrapped up in his thoughts was he that he nearly tripped over a person squatted in the aisle.

“Sorry.” He stopped just inches from running the person over.

The man looked up, and Chris could have sworn his heart stopped. From beneath thick eyebrows, Zach’s whiskey eyes stared up at him, but he showed no sign of recognition. Granted, Chris looked different than he had the night he met Zach, dressed as he was in a knitted beanie with his glasses on. He was also grateful for the thick sweater that hid his belly.

“Zach?” Chris said, unable to mask his surprise.

Zach stood up to his full height and peered at Chris. He looked just as delicious as he had the night of the party, only this time he wore a striped purple hoodie and a yellow scarf around his neck.

“I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at a party a few months ago. Chris from Berkley?”

Recognition dawned on Zach’s face, and he broke into a smile. Chris’s shoulders sagged in relief. “Hey! I wondered what happened that night. I came back with a beer for you, but you were gone. I thought maybe I had pissed you off, or something.”

“No!” Chris said vehemently. “Not at all! One of my friends was sick from drinking too much, and my ride was leaving.” His cheeks bloomed with color. “Didn’t you get my note?”

“Note?” Zach raised one eyebrow.

“Yeah, I actually saw your car downtown last week. I left a note on the windshield.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry! My car had a boot on it for about two weeks. I could only afford to get it back a few days ago.”

Chris nodded. That sounded reasonable.

“What was it about?”

“Hmm?”

“Your note.”

“Oh! It was just my phone number. In case you wanted to call me. I’m at home for Christmas break, so I’ll be in the area.” He held his breath, hoping he didn’t sound too desperate. A chance meeting in a bookstore wasn’t exactly the best time to tell Zach about the baby.

“I’d like that.” Zach smiled again, and Chris felt his knees turn to jelly.

As they were exchanging phone numbers, Katie turned the corner into their aisle.

“Hey, Chris.” She glanced knowingly between the two men. “Who’s your friend?”

He held his hand out for her to shake. “Zach Quinto.”

Chris resisted the urge to pump his fist in the air triumphantly.

“Katie Pine. I’m Chris’s sister.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Seeing that Zach’s demeanor at the party hadn’t been an act (hopefully) filled Chris with warmth. They exchanged pleasantries and then parted ways.

On the street, Katie gave Chris a sly grin. “So that’s the guy that knocked you up? Not bad, little brother.”

Chris shoved his shoulder into hers, but he was smiling. “He doesn’t know about the baby, yet.” But Zach had his phone number, and Chris’s footsteps were lighter for the rest of the afternoon.

Chapter Text

Throughout the next day, Chris didn’t even try to pretend that he wasn’t waiting by the phone. He grabbed one of his favorite paperbacks off the shelf and parked himself on the couch.

The phone range a few times, but none of the calls were for Chris.

“You know that’s like watching water boil,” his mom said as she walked through the living room. Katie had told her about their meeting with Zach the day before, and ever since, she had been casting amused looks at her son.

Chris slouched lower on the couch. “He promised he’d call today.”

“Have you had any lunch yet?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“That I don’t believe. The phone isn’t going to ring just because you’re staring at it. Come on, I’ll make you a sandwich.”

“I said I’m not hungry.”

“Christopher Whitelaw.” His mom didn’t raise her voice, but she was stern. “You will get into the kitchen now and eat a sandwich. You’re no use to your baby or Zach if you give yourself a headache from low blood sugar.”

Begrudgingly, Chris dragged himself off the couch and followed his mom into the kitchen. He leaned against the counter as he watched her butter bread and drop it in the frying pan. On top of the bread went two slices of cheese with a piece of ham in between, then a slice of tomato and another piece of bread. Just the way Chris liked his hot ham and cheese.

“Zach sounds nice.”

“I guess.” Chris crossed his arms over his chest. “I mean . . . obviously, I don’t know him that well.” Not for the first time, he thanked every deity for his mom’s patience and understanding.

“Well, it sounds like he was pleasant to your sister. I can’t wait to meet him.”

“You and me both.”

“Chris.” His mom walked over and pulled him into a hug. He was tall enough now that she could hardly see over his shoulder, but nothing felt as safe and secure as being held by his mom. “You’re going to be fine. Even if he turns out to be completely awful, you’re going to be fine. You’ve always got us. That’s what family is for.”

“I’m scared, Mom.” He was afraid to tell Zach about the baby, afraid of his response, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to support himself, let alone the child, and most of all, he was absolutely terrified of giving birth.

“I know, baby. I know.” They stood there for a moment until his mom patted his back. “Okay, let me go or your sandwich is going to burn.”

“Aren’t you disappointed?” Chris asked.

“Am I disappointed that you made a mistake? Yes, but that’s part of being a parent. I’m not disappointed in you, Chris. You finished the semester with a 4.0 average. Would I have preferred for you to wait until you were in a committed relationship before you got pregnant? Of course. But dwelling on the past and what could have been is not going to do any of us any good.”

Chris watched silently as his mom slid the sandwich on a plate, cut it into four triangles like she used to do when he was a kid, and finished it with some chips and a pickle spear. She set the plate on the table and shooed Chris into a chair. His stomach growled in approval before he even took the first bite.

“Not hungry my left foot.” His mom sat down across from him as he dug in. “The only time you’re not hungry is when you’re sick, and I know, without a doubt, that you’re not. If you want another sandwich, I’ll make you one.”

As if on cue, the phone rang.

Chris froze with the second piece of his sandwich halfway to his mouth.

“Don’t you dare. I’ll be right back.”

Though it killed him to sit still, Chris strained his ears to hear his mom’s muffled voice on the phone in the other room. She returned a moment later.

“That was Zach. He really does sound like a gentleman. And such a nice voice, too. He said he just got home from work. I told him you’d call him back once you finished eating.” She gave him a sharp look. “That does not mean inhale your food. Small bites or you’re going to choke.”

If Chris woofed his food down a little faster than usual, his mom didn’t say anything. She just took his plate and gave him a smile. “You can use the phone in my bedroom, if you want.” Their parents had never allowed Chris or Katie to have phones in their rooms, and since he was away at college most of the time now, it had become a moot point.

“Thanks, Mom. You’re the best.” He pecked a kiss against her cheek before dashing up the stairs.

 

Chris sat down on the edge of his parents’ bed and dialed the phone with shaking hands. A breathy-voiced woman answered, and Chris thought he had dialed the wrong number.

“Hi, uh, I’m looking for Zach?”

“Just a moment.”

He didn’t have time to wonder who the woman was because seconds later, Zach’s deep “Hello?” came across the line.

“Hey. Hi. It’s uh, Chris. From Berkley.”

“Hey.” Instantly, Zach’s voice sounded brighter. “How are you?”

“I’m good. I’m glad you called. I was almost afraid you wouldn’t.”

“Well, it seems like you’ve been trying to track me down.”

Chris laughed nervously. “I can honestly say I’ve never had a guy leave a note on my car to try to get me to call him. That’s impressive, Chris.”

Hearing his name roll off Zach’s tongue like that made his stomach flip. “Yeah, well, I guess you could say that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since the night we met.”

“Is that so?” Zach positively purred.

Chris felt his dick twitch. He hadn’t had much interest in sex the last few months, focused as he was on studying and not puking. “I’m at my parents’ house right now, though, so . . . “

Zach’s voice transitioned easily back to an even tone. “So, would you like to go out for a drink some time? I assume that’s why you were trying to get ahold of me.”

“How about coffee?” Chris said before Zach could suggest a bar. That would be hard to explain, especially considering how much they’d drunk together the night they met. “There’s this place in Silver Like I really like. LAMILL?”

“I had it once. A bit too overpriced for me, but it will do in a pinch. Honestly, I’d rather have a late from Starbucks. No matter how much that makes me sound like a hipster.”

“I hate lattes. I like my espresso on ice. No milk. That’s just a crime against good coffee.”

To his surprise, Zach laughed hearty and deep in his ear. “How about I take you to LAMILL for an iced coffee, then? Are you free tomorrow?”

*

Chris was surprised to see Zach’s car when he pulled up outside of LAMILL the next day. He had fully expected to arrive first, but was pleasantly surprised to see that he wasn’t. He’d taken time that morning to dress himself in a loose-fitting button-up over a t-shirt. Just before he left the house, he added a cardigan since he got cold so easily.

Zach was waiting for him at a table by the window. He looked positively delicious in a tight t-shirt and a scarf around his neck. In front of him sat two cups: one hot, one iced. Chris knew right away which was his.

Zach stood up when he approached, and Chris was careful to keep his midsection away when they hugged.

“I hope you don’t mind.” Zach pushed the cold cup towards Chris. “It’s just iced coffee. No milk or sugar to commit an act of treason against espresso.”

Chris grinned around his straw. “I appreciate that.”

Talking to Zach was just as easy as it had been the first night, but every time Chris got close to telling him about the baby, he chickened out. Finally, when they had a moment where they were the only customers in the store, Chris knew it was going to be then or never.

“I have something I need to tell you.”

Zach’s eyebrows lifted in interest, and Chris drew in a breath.

“I’m pregnant.”

“Oh.” The tone of Zach’s voice made Chris’s heart fall to his knees. “I take it the father isn’t in the picture, then?”

The question caught him so off guard that Chris nearly choked on his own saliva. “You’re the father.”

Zach blinked. Once. Twice. “With all due respect, Chris, I’m going to need some proof. My mom raised me right, but if it’s money you’re after, you’re out of luck. I don’t have any. You’ve seen my car.”

“I don’t want your money.” Chris’s hand tightened around his cup. “I just want my baby to know their father. And you can call me a liar all you want, but you’re the only man I’ve slept with in the last four months, and I got pregnant in September. Do the math or don’t. My parents already said they’d pay for the paternity test. Bruce Greenwood is my OB/GYN. He’s already got a blood sample for me. Call him or don’t, but I thought you should know you’re going to be a father. Thanks for the coffee.” Chris snatched up his car keys and swept out of the building before he let himself cry in front of Zach.

*

For the next few days, Chris kept himself shut in his room. His mother made no comment other than to bring up his meals. He heard his parents arguing about it, but Chris could hardly bring himself to care. His heart was broken. He’d lost Zach. His baby had no father, and he’d probably have to give it up for adoption. Staying in bed so much wasn’t good for the baby or his body, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Someone knocked on the door, and he responded with a hollow “Come in.” At this point, he didn’t even know why his mother had bothered to knock.

Seinfeld reruns played on the television, but Chris was hardly watching. The door opened. Chris caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and he started in shock. He scrambled to sit up in bed while keeping the blankets tucked under his chin.

“What are you doing here?”

Zach shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “You wouldn’t take my calls, and I told you before that I’m the kind of person who takes care of my mistakes.”

“My baby’s not a mistake.” Under the blankets, Chris laid both hands on his belly like he could protect it from whatever Zach was going to say next.

“Can I sit?” Zach gestured at the rolling desk chair. Chris shrugged and Zach sat. “I went to see Dr. Greenwood. The baby’s mine.”

Chris snorted. “Like I told you.”

“I get that you’re pissed off, but you have to understand that I needed to know for myself. Chris, we’re practically strangers, and we’re having a baby together. You’ve had months to get used to the idea, but I just found out. Do you plan on keeping it?”

“Yes.” Chris hated how petulant his voice sounded.

“Okay.” Zach gave him a small smile. “I’m not exactly in favor of giving up my child, either.”

“Good,” said Chris. He relaxed by degrees. “So where do we go from here?”

“Well, I’m not opposed to giving it the old college try, if you’ll pardon the pun. Your mom might also have invited me to Christmas dinner.”

A thrill of excitement surged through Chris’s body. Leave it to his mom to have a better idea of how to handle his baby daddy than him. “Are you coming?”

“If you want me to. Otherwise, my roommate Zoe and I are probably just going to heat up a frozen pizza and watch movies. My brother lives in town, too, but he went back East to spend Christmas with my mom.”

How could Chris say no to that? “Of course I want you to. Bring your roommate. My mom always makes enough food for an army.” Besides, Zach looked like he could use some meat on his scrawny bones.

Chapter Text

The doorbell rang about 3:15, and Chris jumped up like he’d been shot. “I’ll get it!” He tugged the new sweater his sister had given him down over his bump. The knit material was soft and pleasant against Chris’s skin. He regretted that he’d only be able to wear it for a bit longer before he grew too big for it. It also showed off his bump, and Chris was grateful that no longer had to hide it.

He opened the door to find Zach and a beautiful dark-skinned woman. They made a great couple if Chris allowed himself to dwell on it for too long. Zach wore glasses this time, and they reminded Chris of the ones Dr. Cumberbatch wore. They suited Zach well.

“Merry Christmas,” Zach said. He pulled Chris in for a hug, and his lips brushed against Chris’s cheek. This time when they hugged, Chris didn’t try to keep his belly away. Wanting to feel the solid line of Zach’s body against his own, he leaned into him. “Chris, this is my roommate, Zoe. Zoe, this is Chris.”

Zoe gestured with the casserole dish she held. “I’d give you a hug, but my hands are kind of full.”

Chris held out his own hands. “Let me take that. Come in, please.”

 

Chris could feel the tips of his ears growing hot as his family exchanged pleasantries with Zach and Zoe. Zach handed over the bottle of wine that he carried, and Chris’s mother accepted it with a smile.

“Thank you, Zach. That’s very kind of you.” She poured each of them a glass, and Chris felt like a child being passed over, never mind the fact he was the only teenager in the house.

They settled throughout the living room—Chris’s dad in his recliner, Zoe, Katie, and Chris’s mom on the couch, and Zach and Chris on the love seat. Zach’s knee bumped his, and Chris had to fight the urge to grin.

“Thank you so much for having us over,” Zoe said. “Me, especially. We’re both from the East coast, so we don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with.”

“We’re happy to have you. Honestly, I miss having Chris and Katie’s friends in the house. It’s going to be empty again after the holidays are over. How did you two meet?” Chris’s mom gestured between Zach and Zoe.

They exchanged a glance to decide who was going to tell the story.

“We met at work,” Zach said. “We both wait tables at a restaurant called ‘La Cucina’ downtown. Zoe was my trainer on my first day. She needed a roommate, and I needed a place to live. We’ve been together ever since.”

“And you guys never . . . “ Katie left the question hanging unspoken in the air. They all knew what she meant.

“No way.” Laughing, Zach shook his head. “Zoe had a boyfriend at the time, and it was just never there for us. Honestly, she’s like a sister to me.”

That seemed to break the ice, and by the time they sat down to dinner, they were chatting like old friends. Chris hung back a little so he could watch. His sister bumped his shoulder as she walked by.

“He’s quite the catch. Any minute now, Mom and Dad are going to ask him to marry you.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Chris, but he was trying not to let himself hope for too much. This was only the third time they’d actually hung out. They hadn’t even been on a proper date yet. Chris absolutely did not want to admit that this was the kind of guy he fell hard and fast for.

They stuffed themselves on Christmas ham, and Chris’s mom broke into several more bottles of wine. Zach, he noticed, had stopped drinking after the second glass, for which Chris was grateful since Zach would have to drive home later that night.

When everyone else was absorbed in conversation, Zach took Chris by the elbow. “Can I borrow you for a few minutes?”

Chris couldn’t help the look of fear that passed across his face. Why a certain feeling of anxiety stole over him just then, he could not say. Still, he followed Zach through the front door and out to his car.

Zach opened the passenger door for Chris and then walked around to get in the driver side. He turned the key in the ignition just enough to turn on the radio. Some ballad Chris didn’t recognize was playing. Zach reached into the door panel next to him and retrieved a rectangular box. “Merry Christmas,” he said as he handed it over.

Chris frowned. “I didn’t get you anything.”

“That’s okay. Just open it. Zoe helped me pick it out.”

Chris opened the box. Inside was a cerulean blue blanket even softer than the sweater Chris wore. He sighed in pleasure as he lifted it out of the box and rubbed it against his cheek.

“It’s cashmere.”

“Oh, Zach,” Chris sighed. “This is too much.”

Zach reached over to take Chris’s hand. “Don’t worry about it. It gets cold in Berkeley. Plus, the color reminded me of your eyes.”

At Zach’s soft words, Chris looked over at him. Zach cupped Chris’s cheek in his free hand. His thumb caressed the stubble along the edge of Chris’s jaw. Chris allowed his eyes to flutter shut, and his lips parted. He heard Zach shift. Then he was being kissed. It was chaste, hardly more than brush of lips, but when Zach pulled away, Chris chased him. All he got was Zach’s thumb against his lips for the trouble. Gently, Zach traced Chris’s bottom lip.

“Your family is going to wonder where we went.”

“I don’t want to go back to Berkeley,” Chris said in reply.

“I’ll come visit you.”

“It’s a long drive.”

“So I’ll make sure to turn on the radio.”

“Does your family know? About me?”

Zach moved his hand to brush a lock of hair off Chris’s forehead. “It’s just my mom and my brother, but yes, they know. My dad died when I was 7.”

“I’m so sorry.” Zach’s words made Chris feel guilty for having two parents, still so happily married after all these years.

“Thank you. It’s been a really long time, though, so I don’t remember very much about him.”

“What did your mom say?”

“When my dad died?”

Chris smiled. “No, about me. The baby.”

“Well. She shouted at me a little bit. Told me she raised me better than that. Reminded me that condoms are 98% effective when used correctly, Zachary. Then she told me that I’m an adult and I better bring her grandchild to Pittsburgh for a visit when its old enough, and that was the end of that.”

“Sounds like your mom was harder on you than mine was on me, and I’m the one who’s pregnant.”

“What did your mom say when you told her? Or your parents, rather?”

“They were pretty cool about it, actually. They just asked what my plans are and then said they’d be there for me, but if I want to keep the baby, I have to find a way to support myself.” He didn’t want to think about that now, on Christmas of all days, but the thought weighed heavy on his mind.

“We’ll figure something out,” Zach said.

Chris couldn’t stop the next words from tumbling out of his mouth. “With you down here and me in Berkeley? Yeah, that outta work out real well.”

Zach’s hand cupped the back of Chris’s neck and pulled their foreheads together. “I moved here with only what I could fit in my car and fifty bucks in my wallet. And I made it work. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to you, and I know I’m not the kind of person you would have chosen to make a baby with, but I promise you, Chris, we will make it work.”

Chris closed his eyes. Sitting there, tucked away with Zach, he wanted to believe that they could do this, but overwhelming uncertainty clouded his mind.

*

Chris accepted Zach’s invitation to attend a New Year’s Eve party he and Zoe were hosting at their apartment. It was nothing compared to JJ’s party, but they still managed to pack an impressive amount of people into the tiny two-bedroom apartment.

Since he couldn’t drink, Chris had brought a bottle of sparkling grape juice. He consoled himself with the thought that by the time he was celebrating New Year’s Eve as a 21-year-old, he’d be able to drink. Never mind the fact that his child would be a year and a half old. Chris also dragged Anton with him so he wouldn’t have to go alone. John was also in town with Karl in tow, but they were partying with John’s older brother.

Zach surprised him by planting a kiss square on Chris’s lips when he opened the door. “I’m so glad you came. Chris’s friend . . . “

“Anton.”

“Anton, good to meet you.”

“I was at that party with Chris, but we didn’t meet then. I’m his roommate back at Berkeley.”

“Come on in. Make yourselves at home.”

Zach slipped his arm around Chris’s waist and proceeded to introduce him to his guests as his boyfriend.

Boyfriend? Anton mouthed over Zach’s shoulder.

Chris just shrugged. He hadn’t had much time during the car ride over to tell Anton what had had happened, but he and Zach had certainly not discussed putting a label on their tenuous new relationship. Not that Chris was complaining about this new development.

When Zoe saw Chris, she gave him a tight hug and kissed both of his cheeks. “Look at you,” she said, stepping back to hold him at arms’ length. “How far along are you now? I didn’t really get to ask last time I saw you.”

“Seventeen weeks today. Weird how I can pinpoint it like that.” Chris felt his skin prickling with heat, yet he’d deliberately worn a long-sleeve shirt that showed off his belly. He’d go back to hiding it when he got back to Berkeley until he couldn’t anymore.

“Well, you look good. It’s not for everyone, but pregnancy suits you. Good to see you again, Chris.” She squeezed his arm and walked away.

“And this is,” Zach said as he steered Chris towards a man who could only be “my brother, Joe.”

Chris noticed self-consciously that Joe’s eyes flicked down to Chris’s belly before he was pulled into a tight bear hug.

“So you’re the guy who trapped my brother.”

Chris nearly choked on his own saliva. “Excuse me?”

“He’s joking.” Zach gave Joe a pointed look, but Joe didn’t appear to be kidding.

Chris knew he’d hate himself for this later, but “Actually, Zach’s the one who insisted that he didn’t need to wear a condom.”

Joe’s face went from accusatory to surprise. Beside him, Zach had an identical look like he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. Hell, Chris couldn’t believe he’d said it, but he couldn’t stand there and let Zach’s brother accuse him of being someone he wasn’t.

“Well, this just got incredibly fucking awkward,” said Zach. “Joe, I told you this wasn’t Chris’s fault, at least not entirely, anyway. Chris, I’m sorry my brother’s an asshole.”

Joe mumbled some excuse, and disappeared into the tiny kitchen.

“Sorry.” Zach wrapped his arm back around Chris’s waist and led him to the couch. “He’s just being a dick.”

“I thought you said your family was okay with it.”

“They are. Joe’s just . . . I’m his little brother, and he’s always been overprotective. Especially since our dad died.”

Chris just nodded.

“Hey.” Zach tilted his chin up and kissed him gently. “I want you here. Don’t worry about what my brother thinks.”

Zoe plopped down on the couch on Chris’s other side. “Why the long face, sunshine? It’s the last day of the year. We’re supposed to be celebrating!”

Chris forced a smile. “Bring on the new year.”

 

Staying up until midnight was harder this year when all his body wanted to do was crash. He was practically asleep on Zach’s shoulder by the time the countdown to the new year began.

Chris lifted his head in time to receive a wet kiss.

“Happy New Year,” Zach whispered as the room around them erupted.

Someone thrust a plastic cup of champagne into Chris’s hand, and he passed it to Zach.

“Why don’t you go lie down in my room?”

Chris shook his head. “Anton and I are gonna go soon, anyway,” he said through a yawn.

Zach pecked a kiss on his cheek. “I’ll be right back.”

Chris murmured a reply and curled his legs up onto the couch. He could hear the television and conversations going on around him.

A moment later, Zach tugged him to his feet.

“Come on, Zach, I’m tired.”

Still, he let Zach pull him down the hall and into the first bedroom. It must have been his own, judging by the shoes piled in the corner and the ‘La Cucina’ name tag on the dresser.

Chris allowed himself to be sat down on the bed. Zach knelt in front of him and took off his shoes one at a time.

“I talked to Anton. You’re staying here tonight. I’ll give you a ride home in the morning.”

Chris was too tired to argue. He helped Zach take his jeans off and slipped between the sheets. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

Warm and too comfortable to move, Chris woke slowly. He was wrapped in someone’s arms. Zach’s, he realized. One of Zach’s hands had stolen under the hem of his shirt to rest against the gentle swell of his belly. Chris smiled at the gesture. He felt safe and cherished like this. Initially, he’d worried that Zach would reject him or the child, so this was a welcome way to wake up.

He felt Zach stir behind him, and the hand on his belly shifted. Chris put his own hand over top of it to keep it in place.

Zach drew in a deep breath and blew it out against the short hairs on the back of Chris’s neck. “Good morning,” Zach’s voice rumbled against Chris’s back.

“Good morning,” Chris replied. He was too comfortable; he didn’t want to move. “What time did you come to bed?”

“A little after three. Zoe was still up talking to Joe.”

Chris stiffened. “Did he stay last night?”

“Yeah. He’s on the couch.”

Zach pressed a kiss to Chris’s cotton-covered shoulder. “Don’t worry about him. His bark is much worse than his bite. He’ll be fine this morning.”

Chris said nothing. If his first meeting with Zach’s brother was this bad, he could only imagine what it would be like when he met their mother.

“I can hear you thinking,” Zach said. He kissed Chris’s neck, his ear.

Chris turned his head so he could receive a kiss on the mouth. “What time is it now?”

Lifting himself onto his elbow, Zach glanced at the clock before flopping back down. “A little after eight.”

“I should call my mom. She’s probably worried about me.” But Chris made no attempt to move.

They did manage to climb out of bed shortly thereafter. Like a puppy, Chris followed Zach out of the bedroom and into the kitchen to watch him make coffee. Joe was still asleep on the couch, and Chris regarded him the way one would a coiled snake.

Padding across the floor, Zach opened the refrigerator. “Are you hungry? I’ve got some eggs . . . cereal.”

Chris shook his head. “Not yet. I don’t usually eat breakfast first thing in the morning. Do you?”

“No. My breakfast tends to consist of coffee and cigarettes.”

“You smoke?” Chris couldn’t mask his surprise.

“Off and on. Depends on what I have going on or if I’m drinking. I won’t smoke around you or the baby, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I just didn’t picture you as a smoker.” Nobody in Chris’s family smoked, and he’d never spent much time around smokers.

The coffee finished percolating, and Zach pushed a cup towards Chris. “How’d you sleep?”

“Like a rock. I don’t feel like I can get enough sleep lately.”

“You can go back to bed, if you want.”

“I’m okay.” Chris took a sip from his cup. “What did you say to Anton last night?”

“I just told him you were dead on your feet and that you were going to spend the night. He actually stayed and partied for another hour.”

“Oh. Good.” Knowing that he hadn’t ruined anyone’s New Year made Chris feel a lot better about going to bed so early. “So, uh, boyfriend?” Chris kept his eyes on the cup of coffee he held so he wouldn’t have to see Zach’s reaction.

“I’m sorry. I should have talked to you about that first. If you don’t want—”

Chris’s head shot up. “No!” Remembering Joe asleep on the couch, he lowered his voice. “No, I mean, it’s okay. I like it.” His face was on fire; he could feel it.

Zach took a step forward. “Yeah?” He tilted Chris’s chin up so he could look him in the eyes. “You want to be my boyfriend, Chris?”

Words failed him, and all Chris could do was nod.

“Good.” Zach smiled. He leaned in, and Chris closed his eyes in preparation for the kiss he knew was coming.

Zach did not disappoint. One of his hands wound around Chris’s waist. Zach drew them together, and the curve of Chris’s belly met Zach’s flat stomach a moment before they kissed.

Chris moaned softly into Zach’s mouth.

“Wow, could you guys get a room?”

Chris and Zach sprang apart. “Jesus, Joe! This is my apartment, you know.”

Joe snorted. He reached between them for the coffee pot and poured himself a cup. Putting his back to the counter, he eyed Chris and Zach.

Chris knew he looked like a child who’d gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but he couldn’t help himself. He wanted Zach’s brother to like him.

“It’s not really polite to fuck in public spaces, especially when you have guests.”

Chris cleared his throat and tugged at the hem of his shirt. He wished he had a hoodie or something to put over it. Joe made him feel like he was advertising or something.

Lifting his coffee to his lips, Chris downed the rest of it in one go. “I should probably get out of here. Can you drive me home?”

“Yeah, let me get my keys.”

Chris didn’t miss the pointed look Zach gave his brother.

 

“I’m sorry,” Zach said once they were in his car. “I know he can be an asshole sometimes, but he means well.”

“Okay,” Chris said softly. He kept his gaze out the window.

“Are you okay?”

Shifting in his seat, Chris said, “I gotta pee. Can you find a place to stop?”

Zach saw an exit for a McDonald’s and pulled off the highway. The car hardly rolled to a stop before Chris had his seatbelt off and was jumping out of the car. Nobody had been exaggerating when they said that pregnancy wreaked hell on your bladder.

He got back in the car with a relieved sigh.

“Sorry. I should have gone before we left.”

“No problem.” Zach stared at him for so long that Chris began to grow uncomfortable.

“What? Did I forget to zip my fly or something?” He looked down to make sure.

“No, come here.” Zach beckoned with his finger.

Chris leaned closer, and Zach smacked a kiss on his lips.

“That’s all.” Grinning, he put the car in reverse.

Chris’s own smile stayed on his face the rest of the way to his parents’ house.

 

Chris let himself in the front door. “Mom! Dad?” he called. “I’m home!”

“In the study, Chris!”

He walked down the hall and found his mom at her desk. “Did you have fun? You had me worried when I got up and you weren’t home.”

“Yeah. I ended up staying the night. Zach drove me home.”

His mom’s eyes narrowed. “You weren’t drinking, were you?”

“Mom! Geez, no! Of course not. You think I want my baby to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome? No, I fell asleep, and Anton went home without me.”

“It was just a question, Chris. I’m your mom. It’s my job to worry.”

“Well, I did get to meet Zach’s brother.”

“Oh? And how was that?”

“I don’t think he likes me very much. He accused me of, and I quote, ‘trapping’ his brother.”

“Maybe he misunderstood the situation.”

“Or maybe he’s just a dick. This morning, he came into the kitchen when Zach was—he told us to get a room, but it was just a kiss.” Being around Zach so much was starting to make Chris long for a physical relationship.

“Honey, not everyone is going to react the same way to the news of an unplanned pregnancy. It may not seem like it, but the arrival of this baby is going to affect Zach’s brother, too. Whether you like it or not, you’re carrying his future niece or nephew.”

One of Chris’s hands rubbed over his belly. At times, he hated how obvious it was that he was carrying a child.

*

When his parents left to run errands the following day, Chris planted himself on the couch and called Zach.

“I don’t have much time. I’ve got to go to work soon.”

“I’m glad I caught you, then.”

“Oh. Did you need something?”

“Just to hear your voice.”

When Zach spoke next, Chris could hear his smile. “Are you satisfied, then?”

Squirming lower in his seat, Chris said, “Not quite. You know, it’s been . . . a while.”

“You haven’t . . . since we . . . “

“No.” Chris’s reply was soft.

“Oh.” Zach drew in a deep breath. “I don’t know whether that’s arousing or depressing.”

“Let’s go with the former.”

“When do you go back to school?”

“I’m leaving a week from today. We start back next Monday.”

“That will give us enough time.”

Heat flooded Chris’s body. Ever since Zach showed up at his house, Chris had been able to think of almost nothing other than getting in bed with Zach. Too bad Joe interrupted what could have been a delightful moment. “Oh?” He tried to keep his tone light and seemingly uninterested.

“I’m off tomorrow, and Zoe has to work.”

“Well, I don’t—I don’t want our relationship to be just about sex.”

Zach’s laugh was low and sultry. “Asking for it doesn’t mean that’s all this is. Believe me, many times since September I’ve thought about having you in my bed spread out beneath me.”

Chris had to press the heel of his hand into his crotch to keep himself under control. “Yeah?” is all that comes out of his mouth.

“Oh, yes,” Zach continued. “Come over tomorrow, and I’ll show you what I’ve been thinking about.”

When Chris hung up the phone, he couldn’t get his hand down his pants fast enough.

*

Zach answered the door wearing a pair of lounge pants and a sweater over a white button-up. His feet were bare, and he looked absolutely delicious.

“Good to see you again,” he said as he pulled Chris into a hug.

Chris loved feeling those arms around him. Hugs from Zach were wonderful because he squeezed tight like he never wanted to let go. When Zach did finally release him, he took a step back and pulled Chris into the apartment. “It’s good to see you, too.” He knew, once he went back to Berkeley, that these moments would be few and far between.

They settled on the couch, and Chris felt the awkward silence filling the space. The spoke at the same time.

“So—“

“I—“

Zach gestured with his hand. “You go first.”

“I was just going to say that this is the first time we’ve actually been alone together. Somewhere that’s not your car, at least.” He chuckled, but it was just his nerves. “What were you going to say?”

Zach ducked his head. For the first time, he looked sly. “Just that you look good. Pregnancy suits you. I hope that’s not weird to say.”

Chris smiled. “That’s better than telling me I look fat.” He looked down at his lap and then back up.

Zach’s eyes looked darker like the pupils had swallowed his irises. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way you look.” As Zach’s eyes roamed over his midsection, Chris shivered. “May I?”

He didn’t realize what Zach was asking at first. “Oh!” he said as it clicked. “Of course.” He leaned back on the couch to give Zach more access to his belly.

Reverently, Zach laid both of his hands palm-down atop Chris’s shirt. Sounding amazed, he said, “Your skin is so warm.”

“Yeah, well, my hands are freezing.”

Zach scooted closer. One knee pulled up, he sat sideways on the couch. “Give me your hands.” He held his own out.

Chris placed his hands in Zach’s and made a soft noise of surprise when they were pushed under Zach’s two shirts and against his warm skin.

“Better?”

“Yeah.” Chris licked his lips. Feeling Zach’s skin beneath his hands was already starting to affect him. And then Zach laid his back on Chris’s belly. Chris watched the amazement on Zach’s face as he mapped Chris’s curves. Other than Dr. Greenwood, nobody had yet touched him like this. Not even his mother or his sister had asked to feel.

“Seventeen works,” Zach murmured, more to himself than to Chris. “Almost halfway. Are you feeling all right?”

Chris shrugged, jostling Zach slightly. “Some days are better than others.”

“How about today?”

“Today is very good.” Emboldened, Chris spread his hands on either side of Zach’s belly and then hooked his fingers around the curve of Zach’s waist.

Zach spider-walked his own fingers across Chris’s belly but paused when he got to the hem of his shirt.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind,” said Chris. For all the intimacy they’d shared, the evidence of it a physical thing between them, they still felt like strangers to one another.

Slowly, like Chris would change his mind if Zach moved too quickly, he peeled the shirt up and tucked it in the curve between Chris’s belly and his chest. Seeing it on display made Chris uncomfortable, but for the look of wonder on Zach’s face. His fingers moved like he was trying to memorize every freckle or faint mark on the skin. The touch tickled, it was so light. At long last, Zach leaned down to press a single, soft kiss next to Chris’s navel.

Chapter Text

The day before he left for Berkeley, Chris visited Dr. Greenwood for his first ultrasound. To his great surprise and pleasure, Zach had agreed to accompany him.

Chris was grateful for Zach’s comforting presence as the ultrasound led them back to an exam room.

“First child?” she asked cheerfully.

“How could you tell?” Chris asked.

The girl—Kelsi—smiled. “New parents have a certain look about them. Is this your husband?”

Chris exchanged a shy glance with Zach. “Boyfriend.” It was the first time he had said it out loud, but it felt good. It felt right. Chris lied down on the table and pulled his shirt up while Kelsi settled on his right side, Zach on his left. The sonographer prattled as she prepared her machine and squirted gel on Chris’s belly.

“Oooh,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that to be warm.”

“We keep it warm. Nobody wants cold gel on their belly.”

Chris couldn’t argue with that. He craned his neck to see what was happening on the computer screen, but none of it made any sense to him.

Kelsi fell silent as she put the transducer against Chris’s skin. He and Zach waited in anxious silence for her to speak again.

“Looks like we’ve got a healthy baby in there.”

Chris released the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He held out his hand and Zach was at his side in an instant.

“Would you like to know the sex?”

The men exchanged a look again.

“No,” Chris said. “We want to be surprised.”

Kelsi moved the transducer a bit more. It felt weird—not bad, but different. After a few moments, a whooshing sound emitted from the speakers.

“That’s the heartbeat.”

Chris thought his smile was going to break his face in half. There was entirely too much emotion in his chest for him to make coherent words come out his mouth.

They left the office with several printouts. The pictures didn’t look like much, but Chris could make out the baby’s head and a foot.

“I feel like this makes it more real.”

“More real than this?” Zach’s broad hand palmed Chris’s belly.

A grin tugging at the corner of his lips, Chris said, “You know what I mean. It’s our first picture of our baby.”

That brought a look of wonder over Zach’s face, and Chris felt lighter than air.

*

Driving back to Berkeley was harder than Chris had anticipated. He and Zach had had an emotional goodbye in front of Chris’s parents house.

“Call me as soon as you get there, okay?” Reaching up, Zach thumbed at the tears in Chris’s eyes.

Too afraid he’d cry harder if he spoke, Chris could only nod.

“Oh, baby.” Zach folded him into a hug, and the dam really broke.

Chris wasn’t entirely sure why this was hitting him so hard. Most likely, it was a combination of relief that he’d both found Zach and received a positive response to his decision to have the baby, along with the grief and angst of leaving Zach behind after they’d only just found one another.

“I’ll see you this weekend. Friday afternoon, I’ll be there before you even get out of class. That’s only four days. You can handle four days. Plus, you’ve got friends to catch up with and classes to focus on. You’ll have plenty to distract you.”

Nodding, Chris gave Zach one last squeeze before pulling away to wipe his face.

“Take care of his little one for me, okay? Zach bent down to plant a kiss on Chris’s belly.

“Of course.”

Now, Chris was on the highway, and he couldn’t stop the tears from falling. He’d tried singing to the radio, but every song reminded him of Zach. Damn pregnancy hormones.

Just outside of Los Banos, he stopped to pee and stretch his legs. People’s gazes had begun to linger on his swollen belly, and he wanted to cover it with his hands and shout, “Yes, I’m pregnant! What of it!” Instead, he smiled politely like his mom had taught him and kept walking.

He bought a bag of chips and a bottle of water.

The cashier gave him a long look. Snapped her gum. “What are you having?”

“A baby,” Chris answered automatically.

The woman was undeterred. “Boy or girl? It looks like you’re carrying low, so I’d say boy.”

“I’m waiting to find out.” He snatched up his purchases.

“Good luck to you.”

Though he couldn’t say why, it bothered him immensely when strangers commented on his pregnancy. He’d already heard plenty of comments from them on why they were sure he was carrying a boy or a girl. Not that he cared about their opinions because he was 100% certain that at least 50% of them were wrong.

Back on the road, Chris rolled down the window and turned the radio up. Two more hours.

 

The others were already congregated in his and Anton’s room when he arrived.

“Look what the cat dragged in!” Karl crowed. “Good lord, Pine, you look much bigger than you did when you left.”

“Thanks,” Chris said sarcastically as he heaved his bag onto his bed. He was hot and tired, and his feet were killing him. All he wanted to do was crawl into bed and call Zach, but it seemed neither of those things was going to happen.

“Some blokes would see that as a compliment.”

“Good break?” John asked. “We’re gonna need the story about how you ‘accidentally’ ran into Zach.”

Chris sank heavily into his desk chair so he could toe off his shoes. He let out a sigh of relief. “It’s not much of a story. I ran into him in a bookstore. More accurately, I nearly ran him over in a bookstore. He was kneeling in one of the aisles and I almost tripped over him.”

“Awe, that sounds like something straight off of Lifetime: Falling for my Baby Daddy.”

“He’s a cool guy,” said Anton.

“You met him? How come I didn’t get to meet him?”

“Yeah,” Karl chimed in. “When do we get to meet him?”

Chris gave him a long-suffering sigh. “Because Anton went to his party with me. He’s coming up on Friday. Now, if you guys would be so kind as to relocate this party across the hall, I’d love to call him so he knows I didn’t die on the highway and then sleep until my class tomorrow morning.”

His friends filed out to their own soundtrack of kissing noises and laughter.

At last, Chris was alone. He lied down on his bed, pulled the covers up to his chin, and reached for the phone. The number he had already memorized, and he dialed it by heart.

Zoe picked up the phone. “Hello?”

Chris’s heart fell just a little. “Hey, um, it’s Chris. Is Zach there?”

“Just a minute.” Zoe put the phone down, yet as the moments began to tick by, Chris started to wonder if she’d forgotten about him.

“Hey,” Zach said finally as his voice came over the line.

If Chris gushed, Zach didn’t call him on it. “I’m back at Berkeley.”

“How was the drive?”

“Okay. Long. Hot. The guys were hanging out in my dorm when I got back here. I had to kick them out so I could call you.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Tired.” Something squirmy and uncomfortable crawled up from Chris’s gut and settled in his chest. He brought up a hand as though he could rub it away.

Zach hummed in reply.

They fell silent, and the squirming feeling got worse. “Do you work tonight?” He’d forgotten to ask before he left, and now he felt a crushing disappointment in himself. Maybe it was just heartburn, he tried to tell himself.

“Yeah, I need to get ready soon.”

“Oh. I can let you go.”

“No, that’s okay.”

Another lull of silence.

“What class do you have tomorrow?”

“Advanced Writing and Intro to Biology.”

“Sounds exciting.”

Chris barked out a laugh. “I have two hours of lecture and then an hour and a half of lab. I’m not at all looking forward to that.”

“Are you going to be able to do all that?”

“Well, it’s biology, not chemistry, so it will probably just be stuff like looking at cells under microscopes, not mixing dangerous chemicals.”

“I’m just worried about you.”

“I appreciate that.” Chris rolled onto his side. “Well, I guess I’ll let you go. I’ll see you Friday, right?”

“Friday.”

Hanging up the phone, Chris let out a heavy sigh. He squeezed his eyes shut, and tears leaked out of the corners.

*

The beginning of the semester swept Chris up like a rip current. Friends and acquaintances had begun to notice the belly Chris had managed to hide for so long during the first semester. He found himself admitting over and over that yes, he was pregnant, and no, they didn’t know the father; he was back in Los Angeles. Some of the bolder questions asked if Zach was in Chris’s life, to which he responded that they were boyfriends. These words were often met with smiles and understanding, but sometimes Chris got the impression that some people though Zach wasn’t worthy of Chris’s bed or his affections, even though they knew nothing about him.

As much as he didn’t want to, he also had to disclose his pregnancy to the head of the English department.

“Dr. Cumberbatch?”

At the soft knock on the open office door, the professor looked up. “Chris.” His face twitched into something that resembled a smile. “Come on in.”

Nervous, Chris tugged his sweatshirt down and smoothed it into place to ensure his belly wasn’t hanging out. He dropped his backpack and sat down on the edge of one of the chairs in front of Dr. Cumberbatch’s desk. His eyes roamed over piles of papers, well-thumbed books, and a smattering of pens and highlighters.

The professor was partial to Jolly Ranchers. He almost always had one in his mouth, and they were scattered across the desktop, along with a little dish of them. Dr. Cumberbatch picked it up and held it out. “Would you like one?”

“No, thanks.”

Shrugging, Dr. Cumberbatch unwrapped a blue one and popped it into his mouth. “How can I help you, Chris?”

“I, uh, wanted to talk to you.” Chris shifted in his seat. “I’m pregnant.” No matter how many times he’d said it, Chris still felt the same sense of discomfort.

To his credit, Dr. Cumberbatch kept his eyes on Chris’s face. He folded his hands together and placed them on the desk top. “How do you feel this is going to impact your education?” Always Socratic, never judgmental, Dr. Cumberbatch.

“Well, I don’t anticipate that it will. I just wanted you to know. I’m planning to keep the baby, and I still want to go to grad school.”

“That’s a lot of hard work: college and a baby. Are you going to be raising it alone?”

“No, it will be me and my—“ For some reason, he still tripped over the word—“boyfriend.”

“And your parents?”

“I mean, they’re paying for school, and I technically still live with them. But they said that if I want to keep the baby, then I have to support it myself.”

“College, a job, and a baby.” It sounded so much more daunting coming out of Dr. Cumberbatch’s mouth. “When are you due?”

“June 10th. That will give me time to finish finals, spend the summer with the baby, and be back for fall semester.”

“While working full-time?”

Chris’s heart fell. He hadn’t thought that far.

Dr. Cumberbatch unfolded his hands and sat back in his chair. “I don’t mean to bring you down, Chris. I would just hate to see you waste your potential. Is this what you really want?”

The baby or grad school? Or was he talking about Zach?

Chris left Dr. Cumberbatch’s office with his stomach in knots. His future was rapidly becoming a mountain that he feared he might never be able to climb.

Chapter Text

Although Chris wasn't anxious to leave his British literature class--he could listen to Dr. Cumberbatch lecture for hours--he *was* anxious to get back to his dorm and see Zach. The second the professor dismissed them, Chris was on his feet. He hardly gave his class a backwards glance as he hurried across campus to his building.

The stairs nearly did him in, but Chris pushed his way to the fourth floor. Next year, he would hopefully be in an apartment. He didn't let himself think about whether Zach would be there.

To his great consternation,
Chris found the door locked. "Zach," he sighed as he dug for his key. Maybe his boyfriend was waiting for him naked. Chris searched faster. He found the key, fit it in the lock, and the door swung open.

The room was empty.

"Zach?" Chris said tentatively as he stepped into the room. He looked around, under the bed like his boyfriend could be hiding in the closet-sized dorm room. Tears stung his eyes as he flung his backpack down. Was Zach not here yet, or was he blowing Chris off?

Trying not to overreact, he reached for the phone. That was when he saw the note in Anton's handwriting.

Zach called. Has to work. Be here tomorrow.

Chris's heart sank. He picked up the phone and dialed Zach's number.

He answered right away.

"It's Chris."

"Hey, baby." The endearment sent heat through Chris's body. "Did you get my note?"

Chris drew in a deep breath, but he couldn't keep himself from sobbing out, "Yeah."

"Oh, Chris." Zach's tone was filled with empathy. "Honey, I'm so sorry. Someone called out, and I have to go in to work tonight."

Chris drew in a shuddering breath. "What about Zoe?"

"She's already scheduled. Listen, my manager promised to let me off first tonight, and as soon as I wake up tomorrow, I'm heading to Berkeley."

"You promise?"

"Yeah, baby, I promise."

 

After he got off the phone, Chris blew his nose and tried to get himself under control. He and Zach would be together in the morning.

Since he found himself suddenly free for the evening, he agreed to accompany his friends to trivia night.

“We need someone who knows Shakespeare,” John said.

“Because you get so many questions about King Leer.”

They found a table and ordered a round of drinks: a Roy Rogers for Chris and beers for everyone else.

“I thought your man was coming to town,” Karl said as he shoved a handful of peanuts into his mouth.

“He, uh, had to work.” Chris hated the words even as they rolled off his tongue.

His friends remained quiet, and they refused to meet his eyes.

“Look, I know how it sounds, okay? But I talked to him. He said he’ll be here tomorrow.”

“And what if he’s not? Then what?” John gave him a hard stare. “What are you going to do when tomorrow never comes and he stops answering your calls?”

“Are you trying to make me feel like shit? Don’t you think I’ve already run through those possibilities in my head?”

Anton and Karl watched the exchange like it was a tennis match.

“I’m just worried about you, man. How long have you actually known this guy? Like three weeks? I mean, I realize you’re having his baby, but don’t you think it’s odd that he bailed on you the first opportunity he got?”

“Dude, give him a break,” said Anton.

John took a long swallow of beer. “I’m just trying to be honest.”

The trivia host got on the microphone and their conversation switched to answering questions for the game, but Chris’s mind kept playing John’s words.

Don’t you think it’s odd that he bailed?

Of course he did. He wanted to believe the sincerity of Zach’s voice and the way he called Chris baby. But he also worried that maybe Zach had just been trying to placate him, and now that he was five hours away, it would be easy for Zach to put him off until Chris quit wondering, and finally just gave up.

He was more quiet than usual during the game and hardly spoke three words on the way back to the dorm.

When it was just he and Anton, his friend said, “You okay, dude? For what it’s worth, he sounded really apologetic on the phone. He was hoping he’d talk to you instead of me.”

“Okay.”

Chris had nothing to say to that. Zach would show up or he wouldn’t.

*

They dragged themselves out of bed the next morning and banged on Karl and John’s door. A rumpled, sleepy John answered the door.

“Dude, are you guys coming to breakfast? It’s almost over.”

John mumbled a reply that Chris couldn’t understand. A moment later, John emerged with an equally half-asleep Karl in tow and the four of them trooped to the caf.

Karl wrinkled his nose at Chris’s glass of chocolate milk. “I don’t know how you drink that stuff. You could practically chew it.”

Chris set his nearly-empty on the table. “Usually, I cut it with skim milk, but that just doesn’t taste as good anymore.”

“Listen to you. ‘Cut it.’ Like you’re a bloody drug dealer or something. I think this pregnancy is rewiring your brain, mate.”

“They don’t call it pregnancy brain for nothing.”

“That’s it.” Karl threw his hands up. “I’m never getting pregnant. My spouse is going to have to bear the children because I can’t sacrifice my mind.”

“I think it’s a little late for that,” said Anton.

John and Chris chuckled.

Being with his friends had helped Chris keep a positive outlook, in spite of John’s words the previous day. So what if Zach didn’t come? Chris still had his friends to support him.

 

Laughing and joking, they walked back to the dorm together. For a moment, Chris felt the way he had freshman year: no pregnancy, no baby, no boyfriend. He was just another student lucky enough to gain admission to Berkeley. And for just one moment, he though about what his life would be like if he wasn’t pregnant anymore. But then he saw Zach leaning against his door, and Chris thought his his heart might burst, it was pounding so hard.

Upon seeing Chris, Zach pushed away from the door. His own smile was wide as he opened his arms for a hug. Chris walked into the circle of Zach’s arms, and he couldn’t stop his eyes from filling with tears. “I didn’t think you’d come.”

Pulling away, Zach pressed a kiss to each of Chris’s cheeks. “I’m right here.”

“So,” Karl drawled behind them. “Are you going to introduce us to your friend?”

 

“I can’t believe you’re really here.” Chris stroked the stubbled line of Zach’s jaw. He couldn’t stop touching him, like he couldn’t convince himself he was real.

“I told you I’d come.”

“Yeah, but that’s easy to say. Berkeley isn’t exactly next door to LA.”

“I’d have come if you were in Portland. You mean a lot to me, Chris.” He slid his hand over Chris’s belly. “You both do.”

Chris closed his own hand over Zach’s. “Really, I need you to know how much it means that you’re here. The guys almost had me convinced that you weren’t coming.” Admitting his fears took some of the weight off his chest. Having Zach in front of him helped to allay the fears he’d built up over the course of the week.

He shifted his body so that he was on his side. Zach followed suit, curling up behind Chris’s body. “Your heart’s racing.”

“That’s because I’m alone in bed with my boyfriend for like the second time ever.”

Zach nosed at the hair behind Chris’s ear. “What about Anton?”

“Trust me, he’s not coming through that door unannounced.” Taking Zach’s hand, Chris placed it decisively on his dick.

“You don’t waste any time, do you?”

“Should I?” Twisting in Zach’s arms, Chris claimed his mouth in a wet kiss. The angle wasn’t the best for his back, but as Zach’s fingertips skittered over Chris’s neck, Chris found that he didn’t much care about his aching back. “I really want you to fuck me.”

Zach stared intensely into Chris’s eyes. “Are you sure?”

“Put your hand back on my dick and ask me that question.”

Zach’s reply was swallowed up in another kiss. Zach’s mouth moved like he was afraid of hurting Chris, but with an undercurrent of desire. His tongue curled around Chris’s mouth, hot and panting little puffs of air that drove Chris absolutely wild. Pulling at their clothes, they undressed one another down to bare skin.

Seeing Zach’s long limbs spread out across his bed was nothing like their cramped first encounter in Zach’s backseat, but right then, Chris has no intention of taking his time. He got off the bed to dig in the top drawer of his dresser for lube.

Zach propped himself up on one elbow. “You have a really cute butt.”

“You think?” Chris glanced over his shoulder. He didn’t spend much time thinking about his ass, but he’d gotten plenty of compliments on it. In his opinion, it was too big, and sometimes difficult to cram into a pair of pants. With the baby weight he’d gained, he was afraid it had only gotten bigger.

Looking at himself in the mirror was hard lately. His belly and booty made him look like a different person, and he was sure nobody had given him a positive glance all week. Even Anton tried to look away when Chris was undressing.

But Zach was looking at him like he wanted to devour him whole. He had spread out across the bed, arms behind his head, like he hung out naked all the time. He was paler than Chris, but covered in dark hair.

Chris shivered in the warm air of the room. His full cock bobbed against his belly as he returned to the bed. Starting with both hands on Zach’s ankles, he guided them upwards, watching as the soft hair passed between his fingers and under his hands. Crawling up the bed, his face and hands met at the juncture of Zach’s thighs where his cock sat hard full, jutting up from a thicker clump of pubic hair.

“I want this,” Chris said, blowing out his breath against the head of Zach’s cock. “Inside me.” Instead of sucking Zach’s dick, Chris continued his way up his boyfriend’s body, tracing the line of hair up his belly, and digging both hands into the thick patch across Zach’s chest. His thighs framed Zach’s hips, and Chris lowered his own just enough to brush their cocks together, even though he couldn’t see either of them beyond his belly.

Picking up the discarded tube of lube, Chris pressed it into Zach’s hand. “You wanna do this for me? I don’t think I can.” He steadied himself on his hands and knees over Zach’s body. From his angle, he could see between their bodies the evidence of their arousal. Chris’s ass clenched in anticipation.

Zach held Chris’s gaze as his fingertips traced Chris’s crack and one of them circled his hole. Chris sucked in a breath as that finger, slick with lube, pressed into him.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.” Pushing back against Zach’s hand, Chris showed him just how okay he was.

They progressed to three fingers at Chris’s insistence, and he fumbled the lube into his hand so he could coat Zach’s cock in it. “That’s good. That’s good.” Anxious, he swatted at Zach’s arm. His balls felt like they were going to burst if he waited any longer.

Zach looked uneasy, even as his wet hand found its place in the crease of Chris’s hip, but Chris screwed up his eyes as he re-situated himself and sat slowly back on his haunches to take Zach’s dick inside of him. Zach’s thumbs rubbed slow, maddening circles on Chris’s skin, and when Chris finally opened his eyes, he saw that Zach was watching him. The intensity of the gaze sent a thrill of heat down Chris’s spine to settle in his balls like a heavy weight. Involuntarily his hole clenched around Zach’s cock, which gave an answering twitch.

It was like they were in an endless feedback loop of pleasure that grew even more intense as Chris began to rock his hips in small movements. Soon his body grew accustomed to Zach’s girth, and he was bouncing high enough to slip off of Zach’s dick completely. They both sighed in dismay as Zach’s long fingers caught his dick and pushed it back inside.

“My legs are getting tired,” said Chris, though he kept working them.

“Okay, get off a second. Lie down next to me.”

With Zach’s help, Chris swung his leg over, and they reworked themselves into their original position with Zach spooning him.

“Better?” Zach asked as he lifted Chris’s leg at the knee so he could fit his dick back between Chris’s cheeks.

The reply was a grunt as Zach fisted his cock. So much better.

 

Even after they’d both cum, they stayed in that position, Zach’s softening cock slipping out of Chris’s body on its own. Zach mouthed kisses against the bare skin of Chris’s shoulder like he was trying to hit every freckle.

Sighing softly, Chris wiggled closer and tucked their joined hands under his chin. They still had a lot to talk about, but for now, Chris just wanted to enjoy this moment.

Chapter Text

Chris’s friends knew what they’d been doing—probably heard them through the paper-thin walls, but Chris didn’t care one bit. He’d finally gotten laid for the first time since September, and he didn’t care if the whole building knew.

As soon as Chris opened the door, his friends crowed in delight. Red blossomed across Chris’s cheeks and the bridge of his nose.

“Does it count as a walk of shame if you’re both still here and it’s the middle of the afternoon?” John asked without taking his eyes off the television. He and Anton were battling it out at Mario Kart again, and currently, Anton was kicking his ass.

From the top bunk, Karl grinned down at them. “So, how was it, Zach? Worth the 4-month and 5-hour wait?”

“He’s not answering that. You don’t have to answer that. Don’t answer that.”

Zach held his hands up in supplication. He sat down in the beanbag as Chris took the desk chair. They all knew Chris would have a hell of a time getting back up if he sat in the beanbag.

Driven by Peach, Anton’s car soared across the finish line. Three cars later, Bowser grumbled his way across it. John set his controller down with a sigh. “I’m done. Who’s got next?”

“I think it’s Zach’s turn,” said Karl.

Zach shrugged. “Sure.” He traded places with John and sat down in the stupidly comfortable rocker in front of the television.

“We’ll start you off with something easy,” Anton said as he navigated through the menu and chose the 50cc Flower Cup. They watched silently as the lights counted down and the race started.

“So, Zach.” John clicked his tongue on the hard “k” sound at the end of the name. “We didn’t get to chat before Chris dragged you away for an afternoon delight. What do you do for a living?”

Chris sighed. “Come on, guys. We’ve been through this already.”

“But not with him.”

Expertly, Anton wove Peach in and out of cars and easily claimed first place.

“I’m an actor, but I wait tables on the side.”

“So, you’re a waiter,” said Karl.

“Yes, but I’m an actor.”

“Name one thing you’ve been in that I would know.”

“I was on an episode of Touched By An Angel.”

Karl did not look impressed.

On the screen, Luigi slammed into an on-coming car and spun off the track. Zach sighed in frustration.

“Where did you go to school?”

“Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.”

“How old are you?”

“23.”

“How many kids do you have?”

Zach gave Chris a sidelong glance. “Just one on the way.”

“How long have you lived in LA?”

“Almost a year.”

Helpless, Chris watched his friends fire questions and Zach deflect them with ease.

“Have you met the family, yet?”

“Yep.”

“Does your family know about Chris.”

“Yeah.”

“What do they think?”

“My brother’s pretty excited, but my mom gave me the business. She’ll come around.”

“Any plans to get married?”

The room fell silent.

Peach sailed across the finish line with Luigi hot on her tail.

Chris stopped breathing.

Zach set his controller in his lap as the end-of-race video played. “We haven’t talked about that.” He met Chris’s eyes so briefly it couldn’t be considered a glance.

“Ready for the next match?”

“Yeah.” With his eyes on the screen, Zach pressed his lips into a thin line. The match started, and Zach surprised everyone by nailing the acceleration and speeding to the front of the pack instantly.

“Lucky shot,” Karl muttered.

But try as he might, Anton couldn’t edge past Luigi. Every time he got close, Zach would fend him off with a shell he’d been saving for just that reason.

Silently, they started the third match.

Anton looked flustered; nobody ever beat him at Mario Kart. Chris watched with a smug smile as Zach proceeded to destroy Anton’s win streak, and Luigi took the top spot on the winner’s podium.

“You’ve played before.” Anton set down his controller and flexed his fingers.

“My brother bought me an N-64 for Christmas.”

Chris busted up laughing at the incredulous looks on his friends' faces.

*

“I’m not ready for you to go back to LA,” Chris said. They were curled up together in his narrow bed, but Chris was grateful for the long line of Zach’s skin against his own.

Zach brushed the bangs out of Chris’s eye. “Are you coming down on Friday?” He didn’t say it was Chris’s turn, but they both knew it was.

Chris pretended to think for a moment. It was only the second week of the semester, so he had the time. “Yeah, I could probably swing it.” Deliberately, he made it sound like he might not, but nothing was going to stop him from seeing Zach the following weekend.

Butterflies welled up in Chris’s belly as Zach peppered kisses across his face. He’d already cum twice tonight, and the odds of his dick rising to the occasion for a third were good despite how tired he was.“I can’t,” he groaned. “I can’t go again.”

Placing a final kiss on Chris’s brow, Zach hushed him. “I just want to hold you.” And in that moment, Chris just wanted to be held. Everything else slipped away. There was no dorm, no friends across the hall. No Berkeley or parents or pregnancy or a baby. It was just Chris and Zach.

Chris inhaled long and slow. He could smell the faint scent of Zach’s cologne and the scent of his mom’s laundry detergent. She’d insisted he bring his sheets home over the holiday so she could wash them. Usually, he went up to a month without laundering them, but with Zach around, he was going to have to rethink that habit.

They’d cleaned up after they were done—a quick shower together amidst fumbling kisses and laughter. Chris could still smell cum, but it wasn’t necessarily unwelcome. In a weird way, he felt proud, like he and Zach had made their mark. They were together, they were a couple, and accordingly, they had as much sex as possible over the course of 12 hours.

 

Chris must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew, sunlight was streaming through his window, and he was alone in bed. Fumbling for his glasses, Chris slid them on his face and sat up. No Zach. He tried to tamp down his disappointment as he pulled on his pajama bottoms. Surely, Zach wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye.

A pressing need in his bladder momentarily distracted Chris from his search, but then he realized the lanyard with his dorm key was missing, too. He imagined he would find Zach and his key in the same place.

After laying down the heavy dictionary that served as a doorstop to keep from locking himself out (not that he couldn’t just wake up Anton across the hall), he headed towards the bathroom at the end of the corridor.

Sure enough, as Chris reached up to push the door open, it swung inward. Zach stood there in his shorts and nothing else, and Chris had to force himself not to get excited.

“Good morning.” Zach brushed a quick kiss against Chris’s cheek as he slipped past him. “I grabbed your key.” He held up the lanyard.

“It’s cool. I put the doorstop down.” Still half-asleep, Chris waved Zach away and walked into the bathroom.

When he returned to his dorm, Zach already had the coffee pot percolating, but Chris walked right past him, crawled back into bed, and pulled the blankets over his head.

“You’re really going back to sleep?”

“It’s Sunday.”

“But I’m making coffee.”

“Where’s my blanket?”

“You’re laying under it?”

“No, the blue one. The one you gave me.”

“Do you want it, like, on you?”

One of Chris’s blue eyes reappeared as he reached his arm out. “Just give it to me.” He sat up, and the sheets slipped down his body. He wrapped the cashmere blanket around his shoulders like a shawl. “Is that for me?” He stared at the coffee cup Zach was filling.

“Should you be drinking coffee?”

“Please. One cup isn’t going to hurt the baby.”

“And how many did you drink last week?”

“Zach, come on. I’ve been drinking so much less than usual. Please?” Chris put on his best pout, and Zach relented, but not without a stern, “I want you to promise you’ll cut back.”

“I will! I have.” Chris pulled the steaming cup to his face and inhaled deeply.

“I didn’t see any—“ Before Zach could say the word “creamer,” Chris had taken a large sip.

Smacking his lips, Chris shook his head. “I drink it black. If you need cream or sugar, you’ll have to go across the hall. Anton doesn’t drink coffee.”

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t need all that caffeine.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said—”

“No, I heard what you said. but I don’t think you meant to say it. See, I didn’t need your help the first three months of this pregnancy, and as you can see, we’re doing just fine.” The blanket slipped off of Chris’s shoulder, leaving it bare, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“Chris, I didn’t know you were pregnant, and I’m not trying to control you or something, I just really don’t think caffeine is good idea for you or the baby.” Zach looked helpless and confused as he dropped his hands in his lap.

Chris didn’t want to fight, but the words just welled up inside him and spilled out his mouth. Now, there were tears welling in his eyes, and he waved his free hand at his face as he tried to fight them off. “I can’t—“ was all he managed to choke out before the tears overwhelmed him and spilled over his cheeks. Zach moved towards the bed, but Chris fended him off. “It’s okay. I’m okay. Damn pregnancy hormones. Cry over everything lately.” He set his coffee cup on the nightstand and took his glasses off to mop at his eyes.

Naturally, Anton chose that moment to knock on the door. “You guys decent in there?”

Zach and Chris called out simultaneously.

“Yeah!”

“No!”

“It’s his room,” Chris hissed.

Zach couldn’t argue with that.

“Come in!” Chris called out before blowing his nose loudly.

Anton entered the room and looked suspiciously between Chris and Zach. He was too perceptive for his own good. “Everything okay in here?”

“I’m fine,” Chris sobbed. “Really, I’m fine. I’m just overemotional right now, and I can’t help myself.”

Anton looked unconvinced, but he let it drop.

Zach stood up. “I should probably get going.”

“Already?” Chris’s heart clenched. “We haven’t even had breakfast yet.” He hated to think that Zach was leaving because Chris had upset him. Never before had Chris been so codependent or suffered from such separation anxiety. Probably, it was due to the fact that he spent months searching for Zach. The though that he might lose him now was debilitating.

“It’s a long drive. I can just grab something on the way.”

“Okay,” Chris said, even as his eyes began to fill with tears once more. This time, he didn’t protest when Zach wrapped him in a hug. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” he sobbed into his boyfriend’s shoulder.

Zach just made soothing sounds and rubbed his hand up and down Chris’s back. Behind him, the door opened and closed.

“Was that Anton?”

“Yeah.”

Chris let out a shaky breath.

“You doing okay?”

He nodded and pulled away, once again reaching for the tissues. “I’m a crier, but I swear I don’t usually cry this easily.”

“It’s okay. I just feel bad that you’re so upset. I really didn’t mean anything by the coffee remark. If drinking coffee means that much to you . . . “ Zach trailed off as he readjusted the blanket around Chris’s shoulders and folded the ends together over his heart.

“I’m not mad about the coffee. I can live without it. I’m just upset because it feels like you just got here, and you’re leaving already. Honestly, I’ll be fine. You’re gonna call me when you get home, right?”

“Of course.”

In the end, Zach relented and ate breakfast with Chris and his friends in the caf. Chris appreciated the opportunity to show off his not-unattractive-and-yes-very-real boyfriend, and Zach got to comment on Chris’s chocolate milk obsession, but “I mean, it’s got calcium,” wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

Their quick goodbye in the parking lot turned into a ten-minute make-out session, but Chris was grinning as he fell backwards onto his bed.

“Here,” Anton said. “Zach told me to give you this after he left.”

Chris sat up and frowned at the twenty his friend was holding out. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s a twenty dollar bill. If you want a better explanation than that, you’ll have to ask Zach. In about five hours.”

So Chris fumed his way through laundry, lunch, and homework. By the time the phone rang, his anger was at maximum strength. “Hello?” he growled into the receiver.

“Hello to you, too,” Zach said, his voice much more pleasant than Chris’s. “I’m home.”

“Great. What the fuck is this money for?”

“You?” Zach sounded genuinely confused. “I thought you could use it.”

“I’m not a fucking prostitute!” There, he said it. And it felt good. He’d been holding it in for five hours.

“Okay,” Zach drawled. “Next time, I’ll bring diapers instead.”

Chris couldn’t tell if his words were a question or a statement. He was sure, however, that he wasn’t nearly as angry as he had been. “Okay.” It felt like an agreement. Even if Zach was confused, Chris was satisfied. Stockpiling diapers was a good idea. What he didn’t need was his boyfriend leaving behind a tip like Chris had been an adequate fuck.

Chapter Text

Pacing up and down the aisles, Dr. Cumberbatch slowly returned the response papers. They weren’t even proper essays, but since this was a 3000-level course, Dr. Cumberbatch insisted they would be held to a “standard befitting their level of academic inquiry.” Nervous, Chris fidgeted in his seat as he waited for Dr. Cumberbatch to reach him. They’d been tasked with reading a dry selection from their text that Chris found to be less than entertaining, but informative nonetheless. Chris had spent hours perfecting his two-page response and creating meaning out of an otherwise bland reading.

Dr. Cumberbatch took two steps forward, laid a paper on the desk to Chris’s left, and then he set a paper face-down on Chris’s desk. The anticipation was almost too much for him to handle.

As soon as Dr. Cumberbatch moved past him, Chris flipped the paper over. His eyes alighted on the red 9 at the top of the page, and his heart sank. He’d worked so hard on the paper. The only comment Dr. Cumberbatch had left said Good insight—try to frame your theory more sharply next time

What did that even mean?

Confused, Chris looked up as Dr. Cumberbatch reclaimed his place in the front of the room. Half of the lecture went in one ear and out the other for Chris because he couldn’t stop thinking about the grade he’d gotten on his response. A 9 still equated to a 90 and netted him an A, but it was an A on the cusp, like he’d skated by with his grade, rather than nailing it. He wasn’t a “9” student, not in a lit class. If he wanted to make it to Columbia for grad school, he needed something better than a 9.

At the end of the class, Chris packed his bag slowly. He waited until the other students filed out of the class before he left his seat. Paper clutched in his hand, he approached the desk at the front of the room.

“Dr. Cumberbatch?”

“Yes?” He looked up like he hadn’t heard Chris approach.

“I just wanted to ask you.” He brandished the paper like it was a shield. “What you meant by this?”

Dr. Cumberbatch pushed his glasses up his nose and glanced at Chris’s paper. It felt like an eternity before he spoke. “Your argument, while valid and logical, lacks a clear, critical information. You’ve cited the text, but I would have liked to see you bring into the response an additional voice.”

Chris bit his tongue before he could say something stupid like Then, why didn’t you say so?

“Chris.” Dr. Cumberbatch looked contemplative, the way he did before he presented a radical idea to the class. “Are you doing okay?”

The question took Chris aback, and he was sure it showed on his face. “I . . . guess?”

“You seemed distracted today.”

Chris’s stomach dropped. How could he explain that he was distracted with thoughts of his paper grade without sounding like he didn’t care enough about the rest of the class? He wasn’t just some grade-monger.

Silently, Dr. Cumberbatch stared at him as he waited for an answer.

Finally, Chris said, “I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately.”

At that, Dr. Cumberbatch looked briefly disappointed, but he schooled his features. “Well, if you intend to do better than that, I’d advise you to pay more attention during lecture.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Chris left the classroom feeling like a scolded puppy. He worked had on his next response, sure that it would earn him at least a 9.5, so when he turned his paper over and saw an 8.5, he had to restrain himself from packing his bag and leaving.

This time, Dr. Cumberbatch anticipated Chris’s approach. “Yes, Mr. Pine?”

Chris’s hand shook as he held out the paper. “I think I deserve a better grade than this.”

“And I think your writing deserves more effort than this,” Dr. Cumberbatch said blandly.

“But I did work hard!” Chris shouted. “I worked my ass off on this paper!”

Ignoring Chris’s outburst, Dr. Cumberbatch snapped his bag shut and stood up. “If you expect to get into Columbia, then I suggest you start acting like the caliber of student Berkeley produces.” With that, his shoes clicked out of the room and left Chris alone.

*

Chris’s packed bags were already in the car, and he didn’t bother to swing back by the dorm before he hit the road. He’d throw his paper in the passenger seat and it sat there mocking him while he drove. Either Dr. Cumberbatch was genuinely trying to push Chris harder or he was, in his own way, punishing him for getting pregnant.

From the first time Chris had met Dr. Cumberbatch as an over-eager bespectacled high school student, he’d been captivated by the teacher.

One of the College Bound advisors had taken a group of interested students up to Berkeley for a visit in the fall of their senior year. While Chris was excited about getting away from his parents for the weekend with John and Anton, he practically vibrated with excitement at the thought of seeing Berkeley. Ever since he’d known what college was, he’d wanted to go to Berkeley.

They were herded through a tour of major campus buildings, the student union, one of the dorms, and finally, the gym, which Chris could care less about, except for the fact that they were grouped according to their preferred major with the head of that department. Anton and John were paired with the history and engineering departments respectively, which was ironic because John later changed his major to international finance and Anton to engineering.

Chris, along with two classmates who would never attend Berkeley (only one of them even got accepted), were seated at a round table with Dr. Cumberbatch. In his deep, rumbling voice, he’d given them the highlights of the English department: the yearly student conference, current projects, and noteworthy alumni. By the time they left, Chris was smitten, and his friends teased him mercilessly about it.

“Somebody’s got a crush.” John smirked, bumping his shoulder into Chris’s.

“Me?” Chris made a face. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” Even as the words left his mouth, he knew how ridiculous they sounded.

Anton smirked. “We saw you making puppy-dog eyes at the professor. ‘Oh, Sir, I want to be in your department so bad. Please accept me into your program.” He batted his eyelashes for emphasis.

Chris rolled his eyes, even though he felt a hot blush stain his cheeks. It was no use. Anton and John would continue to rib Chris about Dr. Cumberbatch, especially when he was accepted into the program and tripped over his words every time he needed to speak to the professor.

Now, though, Chris was beginning to regret his decision to approach Dr. Cumberbatch about his papers. His intention had never been to incite his professor’s anger, but Chris couldn’t help but feel like Dr. Cumberbatch was punishing him for getting pregnant by giving him shitty grades on his papers.

Chris sighed.

It sounded ridiculous, even inside the comfort of his own mind.

He pulled into his parents’ driveway and frowned at the unfamiliar Mercedes. Probably one of his parents’ friends. He grabbed his bags out of the back seat and trudged into the house.

“Hey, I’m home!” Dimly, he heard the sound of voices in the living room as he jogged up the stairs.

The bags were dumped on his bed, and he headed back downstairs to see if his mom had made dinner yet. But as he opened the fridge to survey his options, his mom called out to him.

“Chris! Honey, could you come in here, please?”

Groaning, Chris shut the fridge and rubbed a hand over his belly. He hated visiting with his parents’ friends, but hopefully it would be a quick introduction and he could escape.

His parents were seated on the couch across from a couple on the love seat. They looked like a typical American family one might see on television.

 

“Chris,” his mom said, “this is Oscar and Molly Jefferson.”

Chris raised a hand in greeting. “Hi.”

“Have a seat, son,” his dad said.

Feeling suddenly anxious and uncomfortable, he claimed the recliner his dad usually sat in.

His dad leaned forward and braced his forearms on his knees. “Chris, the Jeffersons are going to adopt your baby.”

It felt like all the blood had suddenly drained out of his body. Had he not been sitting, he may have fallen flat on his ass. “I’m sorry, what?” There was no way he heard what he thought he heard.

“The Jeffersons are going to adopt the baby,” his mom said in a softer tone than his dad. “Since you’re not going to be able to afford it, we made the decision for you. The Jeffersons are both lawyers. They’ll be able to give this child the best life.”

Chris’s mind raced as fast as his heart. He wished he had Zach next to him to ground and defend him. “Okay, who said I can’t afford the baby—that we can’t? It’s not just me. Zach wants this baby, too, and we’re going to make it work. You can’t just—” Unable to stop them, he felt the tears welling in his eyes. He wiped at them angrily as he continued. “You can’t make these decision for me—for us! I’m an adult!”

The Jeffersons exchanged a look. “Maybe we should . . . “

“Christopher, watch your tone,” his dad said. “As long as you live under this roof—“

“Then I won’t!” Chris leapt to his feet. He knew he was overreacting, but he couldn’t help himself. Despite his parents shouting his name, Chris fled the room and slammed the front door on his way out.

Chapter Text

“Zach!” Uncaring of the neighbors or anyone else who might be around, Chris pounded on the apartment door. “Zach, open up! It’s me!”

The door opened, but it was Zoe on the other side.

“Chris!” She took in his disheveled appearance, the tear tracks on his cheeks. “What’s wrong? What happened? Get in here.” She ushered him into the living room. “Zach isn’t here. He’s at work. What happened? Can I make you some tea? Let me make you some tea.”

Chris sank onto the couch cushions as he watched Zoe fill the kettle and put it on the stove. Finally, he spit out the words that had been rattling around in his head during the drive over there.

“My parents want me to give the baby up for adoption. They ambushed me with some . . . people when I got home today. They didn’t even ask me what I wanted to do. They said it like it was a done deal. Here you, Chris: We’ve sold your baby to the highest bidders, and here they are! They’ll be back to collect your child in four months. I tried to tell them I’m not going to do it, and my dad was all, ‘As long as you’re living under my roof, you’ll follow my rules.’ So I left. I didn’t know where else to go. I’m sorry.” Chris felt the tears coming again, and he fanned his hands in front of his face.

“Hey.” Sitting down, Zoe pulled Chris into a hug. “You don’t need to apologize. I don’t think I could have stayed there and listened to that, either.”

The tea kettle whistled from the kitchen.

“I’ll be right back.”

Chris nodded and wiped at his face. With a watery smile, he accepted the steaming cup that Zoe brought him.

“Zach should be home pretty soon. Assuming he gets out of there on time.”

Chris took a sip from his cup. “I just needed to get out of my house. I can’t . . . “ He drew in a shaky breath and willed himself not to start crying again.

“We could watch a movie. Zach and I have quite the collection.”

Knowing it would take his mind off things, Chris curled up on one end of the couch under a blanket as Zoe put in a movie. He woke up some time later to the sound of the front door slamming.

“Fuck that place!” Zach shouted, storming past the couch and into his bedroom where he slammed the door again.

Bleary-eyed, Chris sat upright and tucked the blanket around his body.

Zach returned a moment later dressed in loose pajama bottoms and a grey t-shirt. He’d taken his contacts out, and now had a thick pair of glasses perched on his nose. Chris’s own felt dry and crusty, but he’d left his glasses at home, along with the rest of his stuff.

“I was supposed to be out of there an hour ago, but Greg decided he’d rather let—Chris!” Zach’s monologue stuttered as he realized his boyfriend was sitting on the couch. “Sorry, I didn’t see you when I came in. What are you doing here? Not that I’m not glad to see you. I just thought you were staying at our parents’ house tonight.”

“I’m just gonna.” Zoe pointed towards the hallway.

Zach sat down as Zoe disappeared into her room. “So, what’s up?”

Chris leaned his head back against the couch. With his eyes this dry, it hurt to blink. “Do you want to long version or the short version?”

“The short version, I guess.”

“My parents have decided that I’m giving up the baby, and when I got home, there was a couple in the living room who think they’re getting our child, so I left.” Saying it this time carried much less of a sting than it had earlier. Now, Chris just wanted to take his contacts out and go to sleep.

“Oh, honey.” Zach held out his arms and Chris gratefully crawled into them.

“I’m not giving up the baby.”

“Of course not.” Wrapping his arms around Chris’s middle as well as he could, Zach smoothed his palms over the fabric covering his boyfriend’s belly.

“I don’t want to go home. I don’t know how I’m going to face them. What I’m going to say.”

“Just tell them how you feel. Tell them . . . “ Zach took a deep breath and blew it out against he back of Chris’s neck, rustling the short hairs there. “Tell them that we’ll make it work. We don’t need their help.”

Chris wasn’t sure he believed the words, but he couldn’t let himself think about the alternative.

 

Early the next morning, Chris left for home. He couldn’t put off the inevitable forever, and he was too anxious to stick around. Zach kissed him again and promised to see him later. It was all Chris could do to force his feet out the door.

The house was quiet as he pulled into the driveway. His parents would already be up, his dad perhaps on a run. Heaving a sigh, Chris headed inside.

He managed to make it all the way to his room without any sign of his parents. Of course, his solitude was broken a moment after he closed his door.

“Chris?” his mom called as she knocked softly. “Honey, can I come in?”

Seeing no other option, Chris called back, “Yeah. I guess.”

The door opened, and his mother stood there looking pale and fragile. Chris’s anger dissipated like a wisp of smoke. “I know you’re upset with your father and me, but you have to understand that we only want what’s best for you, Chris. We’re your parents.”

“I know.”

“How well do you even know, Zach? He’s only been around for a few months. How can you be so sure he’s going to stick around when things get tough?”

Chris had no answer for her. Sure, he’d thought about those same questions, but he had to trust that Zach was genuine. If nothing else, he’d be in Chris’s life until their baby was grown.

“Honey, we’re just trying to give you options.”

“Really, Mom? Because I’m pretty sure your exact words were ‘These are the people who are adopting the baby.’ That didn’t sound like much of an option.”

“I’m sorry. Your father and I—“

Mom.” Chris groaned. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Can I please just go take my contacts out before we get into this? I slept in them last night, and I need to throw them away.”

Giving her son a sad smile, his mom said, “I’ll be downstairs.”

Chris stalled as long as he could, though he still sighed in pleasure when his eyes were freed of his dry, cried-in contact lenses.

Glasses perched on his nose, he changed into clean clothes and headed downstairs. His mom handed him a cup of coffee before sitting down at the table.

Taking the olive branch for what it was, Chris joined her. “I’m sorry I left last night. I know you must have been worried.”

“I was, but I figured you were at Zach’s. I was more embarrassed about the way I acted in front of the Jeffersons. I should have—your father and I should have talked to you before we invited them over. I know as well as you that no one can force you to give the baby up.”

“Finally, we agree about something.” Chris held his cup aloft before taking a sip.

*

Since Zoe was scheduled to be at work until after midnight, Chris and Zach had the apartment to themselves for the evening.

Curled up together, shirtless in Zach’s bed, Chris should not have started giggling, but he couldn’t help himself.

Zach pulled his mouth away from Chris’s neck. “Seriously, what is so funny right now?”

“I’m sorry, I’m just thinking about that scene in Billy Madison when he’s got Miss Vaughn in his tent and she says, ‘You’ve got your teacher, alone, what are you gonna do?’ And I sort of feel like that right now.”

The look Zach was giving him just made Chris laugh harder. But as Zach pulled away, Chris reached for him. “I’ll stop,” he said between chuckles. “I’ll stop, I promise.” He forced himself to calm down. Zach helped by reaching for his dick. Firmly.

In an instant, Chris’s head was back in the game.

“Blame my hormones,” he muttered into Zach’s mouth.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Zach’s hand pushed its way into Chris’s jeans. Chris tossed his head back onto the pillow, and Zach took full advantage. Hot and wet, his mouth traced the tendons in Chris’s neck. It had been way too long since they’d been together like this.

Afterwards, Chris lay on his back. Zach had his head on Chris’s chest. He was tracing idle designs on Chris’s belly while Chris combed his fingers through Zach’s hair.

“I’m scared,” Chris said after a long silence.

For a moment, only the humming sound of the refrigerator in the quiet apartment answered him.

“Zach?”

“I’m awake.” Drawing a deep breath into his lungs, Zach sat up. He gathered the blankets around his waist. “What do you think about me moving to San Francisco?”

At first, Chris was too stunned to reply. A thousand thoughts ran through his mind. “What about when I graduate? When the baby’s born? What about your job? This apartment with Zoe? Your acting . . . stuff?”

“Well, I didn’t say tomorrow. And we’ll figure it out. You just need to focus on finishing school and—”

“Don’t. Quit . . . trying to placate me. You only ever tell me what I want to hear. What do you really think, Zach? Do you really want to leave Los Angeles?”

“Did you really want to get knocked up by a one-night stand? No, but here we are.” Reaching out, Zach took Chris by the hand. “I’m not trying to placate you. I’m trying to convince you to make some decisions with me.”

Chris wasn’t sure how to respond to that. His parents had already tried to make his decision for him, and now Zach was asking him for answers he didn’t have. “I don’t know, Zach. Let’s say you do decide to move to the Bay area and you find an apartment and a new job. How long will that take? A month? At least? By that point, it will be spring break, and I’ll be home for a week. Let’s just stay where we are for now. We don’t need to make any decisions yet. I’ll be home at the end of May, I’ll have the baby, and then we can decide what to do next.”

“Okay.” Lying back down, Zach pulled Chris into his arms. “How much time do we have until Zoe gets home?”

Chapter Text

While his grades in Dr. Cumberbatch's class had started to improve, Chris wasn't sure his professor's opinion of him had. His replies when Chris sought him out after class were clipped and curt. Gone was the inquisitive, encouraging man who had admitted Chris into the program in the first place.

"He doesn't hate you," said Anton as they walked across campus.

It was a chilly day for February in Berkeley with the temperature hovering just above freezing. They were bundled up against the cold in hard and scarves.

"You don't get it. I used to sit in his office for hours talking about stuff we've read, philosophers, ideas . . . Now he acts like he doesn't have any time to talk to me."

"Maybe he's busy. You know . . . professors, specifically department heads, don't have all this extra time to sit around shooting the breeze with their students. I don't think any of my professors even know my name.

"Well, your professors teach 300-student sessions and farm the labs out to grad students. I'm past that. My class with Dr. Cumberbatch is 300-level. I had to get special permission--his, no less--to take it."

They arrived at the cafeteria. Chris held the door open for Anton as someone else was coming out, and they waited outside.

It was Dr. Cumberbatch. He gave them a cursory glance and a nod. "Hello, Chris."

"Hi, Dr. Cumberbatch."

The professor kept walking, and Chris and Anton darted into the welcome heat of the building.

"See? He hardly even looked at me!"

"What was he supposed to say?" Anton straightened his spine and pinched his expression. "Why, hello, Christopher. Fancy meeting you here. The pizza is extra greasy today. Would you care to stand in the cold and discuss a feminist take on Lord of the Flies?"

Chris punched his arm. "You're such a dick."

He let it go, but the worry still ate at his mind.

 

Zach came up that weekend. He was waiting in the hall when Chris got back from class.

"Anton wasn't here to let you in?" Chris leaned in for a kiss. "How was the drive?"

"I haven't seen any of your friends, and the drive was the same. Not bad. George wanted me to work tonight, and I told him to go fuck himself." Zach followed him into the room and dropped his bag on the floor. Leaning in for another kiss, he slid his hands up under Chris's shirt. Chris caught him by the wrists.

"Your hands are cold."

"Exactly. I want you to warm them up."

Reluctantly, Chris let go of Zach and allowed him to plant his child hands against the warm curves of Chris's sides.

"I missed you."

"I missed you, too." Chris wrapped his own arms around Zach. As his belly continued to grow, it was becoming harder for them to touch like this.

"I have a surprise for you."

"Yeah?" Chris glanced over at Zach's bag.

"Not that kind of surprise. I landed a part."

"Baby!" Chris pulled back so he could see Zach's face. Then he kissed and hugged him again. "Zach, that's fantastic!"

"I mean, it's nothing big. Just one episode on a new show called The Sopranos about this Italian mob family. I'm going to be playing some . . . lackey. But, hey, it's exposure. And it pays."

"Well, you never know. They could ask you to stay longer if you do a really good job.”

Chuckling, Zach let go of Chris. “That’s a cute thought, but that’t not exactly how it works. We’re shooting next weekend, so you’ll probably want to save your visit for the week after so we can actually spend time together.”

“Can’t I visit you on set? That would be so exciting!”

“If I was going to be there for a while, yeah, maybe.” Zach gave a self-depricating smile. “As it is, I’ll likely be there for one day, maybe two. But I don’t want you to dive all the way down to LA just to hang out with Zoe.”

“I have other friends in LA.”

“So you do.”

*

Missing a weekend with Zach, as much as it sucked, was worth it when Chris heard about his boyfriend’s experience.

“James, who plays Tony Soprano, is super friendly, really a great guy. And Tim—the director—he said, get this, Chris, he said, and I quote, ‘You’re very relaxed. Like you’ve been doing this all your life.’ And then he told me he’d like to work with me again!”

Chris could hear the smile in Zach’s voice. It made him ache with the desire to have his boyfriend with him.

“Chris, you have no idea how exciting this is. I’m used to doing pointless crap like Doritos commercials and ads for . . . itch cream.”

“Did you . . . I mean, I don’t know if it’s really my place to ask, but how much did they pay you?”

“500 bucks.”

Chris’s heart sank. “That’s it?”

“What do you mean ‘that’s it’? Babe, that’s enough to cover rent for the month and then some. For one day of work. Chris, if I could just get a regular role on a show like The Sopranos . . . baby, we’d be set.”

It was a nice thought, but it wouldn’t crowd out of his mind the other thoughts about the odds of Zach actually landing one of those roles, of this working out, of them keeping the baby . . . He tried to hide it, but Zach must have heard him sniffle.

“Babe, are you crying?”

“No.” But as soon as he said it, the tears began to fall in earnest. “Yes. I’m just worried about how we’re going to make this work with you in LA and me in Berkeley, and I should have listened to you when you were here a few weeks ago and you wanted to talk about this.”

“Just try to calm down. We don’t have to decide anything today, certainly not while we’re three hours apart and you’re working yourself into a panic.”

That, at least, got a laugh out of Chris. He cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder while he searched for something to blow his nose. All he could find was a couple fast food napkins, so he made do.

“Feel better?”

“No,” Chris replied. “I’m five months pregnant and it sucks. I hate it when you’re in LA.”

“I know. But you’re coming home next weekend, right? And then it’s Spring Break. Just a little longer. What’s Anton up to? Maybe he and the guys can help you take your mind off things.”

“He’s sitting here rolling his eyes at me.”

Across the room, Anton was, indeed, making faces at Chris. His friends all come to accept Zach as a necessary interloper, but at times they made it known that they missed how things “used to be.”

“I better let you go, then. He’s probably expecting a call from his most recent date,” said Zach.

“Hardly, he hasn’t been on a date in weeks.”

Anton raised an eyebrow.

“Have a good night, Chris. I love you.”

“Love you, too.” Chris hung up the phone.

I love you too,” Anton cooed.

“Don’t be jealous. I know Karl has propositioned you twice this week alone. I’m headed next door. You coming?”

Anton stretched out on his bunk and folded his hands behind his head. “Nah. I think I’m gonna hit it early tonight.”

Shrugging, Chris left Anton behind.

He found John and Karl seated around a makeshift plywood table playing cards with another of their friends, Jen. They looked up when Chris walked in.

“Pine!” Karl said. “Good, we need another player. I’ll deal you in the next hand.”

“It’s okay. I think I’ll just watch I’m broke, dude.” he had plenty of money in his account, but it was his parents’ money, and he couldn’t bring himself to spend it on something as frivolous as poker when he had a baby he couldn’t afford coming in a few short months. “Hey, Jen.”

“Come on. I’ll spot you.” Karl slid a stack of quarters to the empty side of the table.

“Hey, Chris.” Jen flashed him a smile.

“I’m not playing. You can move your quarters all over the table and deal a hand for the invisible man. I’m not moving.”

Karl huffed and reclaimed his quarters. He shuffled the deck and dealt the cards.

Silent, Chris watched the game play with interest. The players wore impressively serious expressions, but it was Jen who seemed to be winning. Chris was unsurprised, though he couldn’t understand why Karl kept inviting her to their poker games if it just meant he’d lose.

“John?” Karl said.

John glanced over his cards, then tossed them on the table. “I’m out.” Leaning back, he nodded at Chris. “How’s Zach?”

“Good.” Chris felt a smile creep across his face. “He got a part in a show called The Sopranos.”

“I love that show!” said Jen. “I watch it when I’m home because my parents get HBO.”

“Well, that explains why I’ve never heard of it.”

“Is it a big part?” asked John.

“Just one episode, but he said he’ll be able to pay the rent from it.”

Karl whistled low. “I’m going into the wrong business. Place your bets, gentlemen.”

John tossed two quarters into the pot.

Jen raised an eyebrow. “I’ll double it.”

“Oh, fuck.”

Karl slapped his cards down on the table, but John met Jen’s bet. Since she was the one to raise, everyone’s eyes turned to her. A smirk tugged at the corner of her lips as she laid down her hand—a pair of jacks and three queens.

“A full fucking house,” John said. He threw his hand down—two pairs. “I thought you were bluffing.”

Jen pulled the pot towards herself and began stacking quarters. “I wouldn’t have raised the bet if I wasn’t sure I could beat you.”

“You know, guys,” said Chris, “You could learn a thing or two from her.”

“Did we invite you over here? I think it’s time you take your pregnant ass back across the hall,” said Karl.

Before Chris could answer, the door opened and Anton came strolling in.

“Okay, I give up. I can’t sleep, and I’m bored.”

John pulled out the extra chair and patted the seat. “You’re just in time. We need someone else to give all their money to Jen.”

Rolling his eyes, Anton slapped a $5 bill on the table. “Let me show you all how it’s done.”

John picked up the cards and began to shuffle.

 

They called it quits around 2 a.m. Chris was nearly asleep on John’s bed, and the boys were broke.

Jen scooped up her pile of quarters and dropped them into her purse. “Damn, this thing is heavy. How much did I win tonight?”

“Twenty bucks from each of us,” said John, “and Anton owes you a bottle of vodka.”

“Grey Goose. I don’t want that cheap shit that tastes like rubbing alcohol.”

Eyes blurry and unfocused, Chris stood up. “I’m going to bed, guys. I’m beat.”

“I’m right behind you,” said Anton.

They stumbled into their room without bothering to turn on the light; both boys crashed into their beds.

Chris was just falling asleep when Anton’s voice rang out into the darkness.

“You know, we’re not going to be able to do this next year.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’ll have a baby, dude. And you and Zach will be, like, living in the married dorms or whatever.”

Chris didn’t answer, and pretty soon, he heard Anton’s breathing even out as he fell asleep. It took much longer for Chris, and when he did, he dreamt he was walking through fire.

Chapter Text

On the last night before break, Chris was finishing a paper when his phone rang. He let it go until it was almost too late. Anton was studying in the library, and he may have been calling for a ride home.

“Hello?”

“Hey, gorgeous.”

Chris felt his ears turn pink. “Hey. I didn’t think I was going to talk to you until tomorrow.”

“Well, there’s been a slight change of plans.”

“Please do not tell me you’re shooting a movie in Canada or something.”

Zach’s laughter echoed down the line. “No, no, nothing like that. Actually, uh, my mom is going to be here on Monday.”

“Oh. Okay. Is that bad?” Chris had only heard stories about Zach’s mom. She sounded like a tough cookie, but that also came from raising two boys alone. More than anything, Chris hoped she liked him.

“Not necessarily. She just sort of sprung it on me. She took vacation for the next week, so . . . “

“So we’re not going to have any alone time,” Chris said to finish Zach’s thought.

“Right.”

“Well, that sucks.”

“I’m sorry. Like I said, she just told me that she was coming, and I couldn’t really tell her not to.”

“It’s okay. My parents will be thrilled to met her. They can all commiserate about what a pair of fuck-ups we are.”

Zach let out a hollow laugh. “I think I’ve already got the market cornered there. My mom was very against me moving out here, even after I got my degree in drama. Knocking you up was just the icing on that cake. No offense.”

Humming in reply, Chris fell silent.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for that to come out so harsh. You’re not a fuck-up. My mom is just . . . she’s very traditional, so she always imagined that I would be married before I had kids. Don’t be surprised if my mom grills you about when we’re getting married.”

A wedding wasn’t a subject they’d even broached yet.

“How am I supposed to answer that? I feel like I’m going into a job interview blind.”

Zach sighed. “Chris, it’s just my mom. I don’t mean to make her sound like an ogre. Be honest, be polite—she’s going to love you.”

“Famous last words before she drags you back to Pittsburgh by your ears.”

*

Chris drove straight to Zach’s apartment from Berkeley. He’d be at his parents’ house for the week, and with Zach’s mom in town, Zach would be sleeping on the couch.

Giving the door a cursory knock, Chris walked in. He didn’t have a key, but the apartment was unlocked.

“Hey, guys, it’s me!”

“We’re in the kitchen!” Zoe’s voice rang out.

Chris dropped his bag on the couch and walked into the kitchen.

Zach was leaning against the counter drinking a beer while Zoe kneaded dough.

“Hey, baby.” Zach pursed his lips for a kiss that Chris willing bestowed.

“What are you making?”

“Pizza,” said Zoe.

“We’re having a few people over tonight. I hope that’s cool.” Zach slid an arm around Chris’s waist and pulled him close.

“Yeah, I guess.” Sharing one of his only nights with Zach was a hard pill to swallow, and he had a hard time masking the disappointment on his face.

“It will be fun. And it’s just a couple of people. Zoe’s only making two pizzas.”

“Three. You boys eat a lot.”

Chris gave them a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “Well, one of us is pregnant, so I count as 2.”

“Yes, you do.” The hand that held Zach’s beer patted Chris’s belly awkwardly with three fingers.

Giving Zach a painful grin, Chris patted him back. “So, have you met Zach’s mom before?”

“Yep. She flew out for Christmas last year.” Zoe separated her ball of dough into three piles and reached for the rolling pin. “She’s not nearly as scary as Zach’s led you to believe.”

“Hey. My mom’s not scary.”

“Yet, you told me that I can’t possibly fuck up as badly as you. Zach, you made her sound like Joan Crawford.”

“Zachary!” said Zoe. “Really, Chris, you’ll love Margo. She’s very East Coast Catholic—”

“‘East Coast Catholic’? What the hell does that even mean?”

“—but a total sweetheart. She’s the kind of person who would really do anything for someone in need.”

Zach nodded in agreement.

“Think about it like this,” Zoe continued. “Was your mom stoked when you first told her you were pregnant? Of course not. Zach’s mom is the same. The only difference is that she hasn’t even met you yet. At least your parents have had a couple months to get to know Zach.”

“Well, this is depressing, isn’t it?” Zach finished his beer and reached for a new one.

Side-eying his boyfriend, Chris asked, “How many of those have you had?” He’d like one himself, but that wouldn’t be happening until after he had the baby.

“This is my second one.” Zach pressed a beer-bitter kiss to Chris’s lips. “I’m not getting drunk.”

Feeling every bit the stereotypical pregnant partner, Chris made a face and crossed his arms over his belly.

 

Zach and Zoe’s friends arrived just as the pizzas were coming out of the oven. The first two—obviously brothers—were tall and blond and Chris felt inferior just looking at them. The third he recognized from the party where he met Zach.

“Okay, so this is Chris—other Chris, or not-my-Chris, I guess, his brother Liam, and out friend, Simon.”

“I’ve met you before.” Chris pointed to Simon. “At a party in September.”

Simon squinted at him. “Is that so? Sorry, but I don’t remember seein’ ya.”

“Come on, guys!” Zoe shouted. “Pizza’s getting cold!”

“Can I get you guys a beer?” Zach asked.

In reply, Liam held up a case. “We came prepared.”

Since all Zach and Zoe had was a card table with two folding chairs, they relocated the chairs and piled around the coffee table. Somehow, Chris got wedged on the couch between Simon and Zach.

“This is good pizza, Zoe,” Other Chris said. “You make it yourself?”

“Completely from scratch. The dough alone took me an hour because I had to let it rise.”

“It’s good,” Liam agreed.

Chris didn’t miss the way Zoe’s face lit up at the praise. It looked like somebody had a crush.

“So, how do you all know each other?”

Zach reached for a napkin. “Well, Zoe and I work with Liam at La Cucina. Chris used to work there too until he went all hot shot and landed a role on That 70s Show.”

That’s where I recognize you from!”

“I’ve done a couple not-so-big movies since then, but yeah, it was enough for me to quit my day job.”

“He’s done what the rest of us are trying to do,” said Zoe.

“You’re an actor, too?” Chris asked Liam, who shrugged.

“I guess. I mean, I don’t take it as seriously as my brother does, so that’s probably why I’m still waiting tables.”

“Liam’s still trying to find himself,” his brother said.

“Fuck you.”

“And Simon,” Zach said over the siblings’ banter, “is a writer. He writes screenplays.”

“Anything I might have seen?” Chris asked eagerly.

Simon shook his head. “My stuff’s all indie. Odd sense of humor I’ve got. Must be cause I’m British.”

Chris didn’t know if he was supposed to laugh, so he kept silent.

“Basically, we’re all trying to follow in Chris’s footsteps,” said Zach.

“Yep.” Other Chris leaned back and took a long pull from his beer. “I’m slumming it today with you plebes.”

Liam snorted. “He gets one decently paying job and it all goes to his head.”

“No judgement,” Zach said. “I wanted to cry the day he put his two weeks’ in.”

“Awe, you miss me that much?”

“No, I want to switch places with you.”

Chris smacked him in the leg. “Thanks!”

Zach threaded their fingers together. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

An awkward silent settled over the group. They all know what a precarious situation Zach and Chris were in with the baby, yet no one had an answer.

Zoe jumped up. “Can I take your plates?”

 

Gradually, the conversation shifted from tense financial talk to more relaxed topics like the latest drama at work and baby names.

Personally, I like the name Jonathan,” said Liam.

Zach sputtered into his beer. “That’s my ex-boyfriend’s name. Absolutely not.”

“I’m kind of hoping it’s a girl.” Chris rubbed a hand over his belly. It had become somewhat of a nervous habit.

“I’ve always liked the name Layla,” Simon said.

“I knew a Layla once,” said Other Chris. “She was kind of a downer, and I’m pretty sure she was addicted to prescription painkillers.”

“So not Layla, then!” Zach said with a laugh.

“How about Morgan?” Zoe suggested. “That could be a girl or a boy’s name.”

Chris shrugged. He had a couple names in mind that he hadn’t even shared with Zach yet, so there was no way he was spilling them out now.

The conversation shifted again, and more beer was drank. Simon, Chris learned, didn’t drink, but Liam and his brother put a good dent in their case.

“That’s what they bring me along for,” Simon said as they got up to leave. “I’m the habitual DD.”

“And we appreciate you.” Other Chris took Simon’s face in between two meaty hands and smacked a loud kiss on Simon’s mouth.

Liam seemed to be holding his liquor better than his brother, but he also may have drank less. “Thanks for dinner, Zo. Always a pleasure.” He hugged her and Zach, but when he got to Chris, he paused. “All right if I hug you? I’m kind of a hugger, and you’re Zach’s boyfriend, so . . . “

“Sure.”

Liam’s hug was tight but quick. Chris felt a pleasant warmth spread through his body at Zach’s friends’ easy acceptance of him. If only his own friends felt the same way about Zach.

Finally, the door closed behind Simon, and Chris sank back onto the couch with a sigh.

“Come on.” Zach held his arms out. “You’re not sleeping on the couch tonight. Your back will thank me.”

Groaning, Chris allowed Zach to pull him to his feet. “Oh!” His hand flew to his belly and he stood shock-still.

“What?” A look of concern on his face, Zach froze. “What is it?”

Chris wrapped his hand around Zach’s wrist. Eyes on his boyfriend, he pressed Zach’s hand into the right spot. “There.” He felt the same fluttering and watched Zach’s eyes grow wide. They shared a smile followed by a kiss. Zoe could find out in the morning. For now, this moment was theirs.

Chapter Text

In the middle of a deep sleep during which he was dreaming about something he’d never remember, Chris was woken by Zach thrashing about next to him. Chris rolled over. He had to abandon a particularly comfortable sleeping position on his side with a pillow between his knees and another under his belly.

“What is wrong with you?” he hissed into the dark.

A wad of cloth hit him in the face.

Then, Zach’s voice. “I don’t know how you sleep with that thing. I woke up because it was trying to suffocate me to death.”

With great care, Chris spread the cashmere blanket across his belly, where it had been when he fell asleep. “You gave it to me. Maybe it’s trying to tell you it doesn’t like you.”

“What?” Zach’s sleep-laden tone was becoming even more confused.

“I gotta pee now that I’m awake,” Chris replied. With some measure of effort, he leveraged himself out of the bed.

When he returned, Zach was on his belly sleeping soundly. Chris smiled at the sight. He slipped back into the bed and turned on his side facing away from Zach.

Once the pillows were back in place between his knees and under his belly, he let out a satisfied breath and closed his eyes.

A moment later, Zach shifted behind him. He wrapped an arm around Chris’s waist, and the heat of his body was a comfort against Chris’s back.

*

Chris’s parents were much more excited to see him then he was them when he went home on Sunday morning.

“How’s Zach?” his mom asked.

Chris bristled at the sound of his boyfriend’s name. Ever since the debacle with the adoption discussion, Chris had had his guard up when it came to the intersection of his parents and his boyfriend. “Good.”

“What did you guys do yesterday?”

Chris shrugged. “Friday, a few of Zach and Zoe’s friends came over, and then yesterday we just hung out.” Zoe went to work and he fucked me from behind while I knelt on the couch.

“That sounds like fun. How about Zach’s mom? When does she get in?”

“Tomorrow morning.” Chris hadn’t wanted to tell his parents Zach’s mom was coming in, but Zach had insisted. She would be suspicious if the Pines were unaware of her visit, and they didn’t need to drive a wedge between their families.

“Good. I called Katie. I thought we could all have dinner together one night this week.”

“Great, I’ll call Joe,” said Chris sarcastically.

“I’d love to meet him, too.” His mom’s words were said with so much genuine emotion that Chris was mentally kicking himself all the way to the coast and back. He’d only met Joe a couple of times, and while he was pleasant and friendly, he was still a decade older than Chris, and Joe made him feel like a disobedient child.

Chris forced a smile. “Can’t wait.”

 

Much to Chris’s dismay, Zach was open and even receptive to the idea. “Well, I know my mom really wants to see Joe, anyway, so we can sort of kill two birds with one stone. Come on, it will be really good to finally get our families together—your parents and Katie and me and Ma and Joe.”

Chris twisted the phone cord around his fingers. Waiting for all this to happen was, in some ways, more nerve-wracking than the actual Pine-Quinto meeting “One big happy family.”

“Oh, speaking of . . . How would you feel about going to the airport with me tomorrow? I know you’re not super stoked about meeting my mom, but she really wants to meet you, and I’d love to have you with me.”

Chris sighed. As much as he wanted to say no, as badly as he wanted to sleep in until noon tomorrow, he knew how much this meant to Zach. “Okay.”

*

A knock on Chris’s door woke him up the next morning.

“Honey?” his mom said. “Zach is downstairs.”

It took a minute for her words to register. “Fuck!” Chris bolted upright in bed. He let out a litany than his mom would smack him for as he pulled on a pair of (hopefully) clean jeans and a hoodie.

“Just gonna brush my teeth!” he called down the stairs as he jogged to the bathroom. All in all, he was awake and downstairs in less than five minutes.

Glasses askew and hair a mess, he skidded to a stop in the entryway, where Zach stood waiting patiently.

Unlike Chris, his hair was neatly gelled, his contacts were in, and he most assuredly had put on deodorant this morning.

“I’m so sorry. I was up too late last night, and I forgot to set my alarm.”

“Hey.” Zach placed a hand on Chris’s waist and gave him a quick kiss. “You’re fine. You look great. We have plenty of time.”

Chris turned and called back into the house. “Mom, I’ll be back!” He didn’t wait for her reply before he grabbed Zach’s hand and headed out the door.

It was about an hour drive from Silver Lake to LAX in traffic. Chris stayed quiet most of the way. He leaned his head against the window and watched the city fly by. Zach put on the radio, but Chris did his best to tune it out. He’d heard enough Britney Spears to last a lifetime, and he was ready for her to fade into obscurity.

They pulled into the short-term parking, and Zach killed the engine.

“Are you ready?”

Chris looked over the rim of his glasses. “Do I have a choice?”

Zach patted his thigh and reached for the door handle.

They walked into the terminal building, and it took Chris’s eyes a moment to adjust to the sudden dimness compared to the harsh LA sun.

“What airline is she on?” Reflexively, Chris looked up at one of the many monitors announcing arrivals.

“Zachary!”

Chris couldn’t see who’d called Zach’s name or from which direction, but a moment later, Zach was embracing a petite, stout woman with a shock of bottle-red hair. Margo Quinto was not what Chris had expected. She had to be at least a foot shorter than either of her sons, and at first glance, Zach looked nothing like her.

When they finally released one another, Zach looped his arm around her shoulders. “Ma, this is my boyfriend, Chris.”

Standing there awkwardly, he wasn’t expecting to be pulled into a hug. Margo only came up to Chris’s shoulder, and between his belly and her breasts, it was difficult to get a proper hug.

Margo pulled away and cupped both of Chris’s cheeks in her hands. “Oh, my goodness! Let me get a look at you.”

Feeling like a piece of livestock, Chris waited patiently as she looked him over.

“You, my dear, are quite a looker. Zachary told me you were pretty, but he didn’t tell me you were this good looking. My word, what’s a nice boy like you doing with my son?”

Caught off guard, Chris looked over Margo’s head for help with answering her question.

Margo patted his cheek. “Come on. Have either of you had breakfast? I’m starving.”

Over a hearty meal of eggs and bacon and pancakes and biscuits at a little hole in the wall off West Century Boulevard, Chris discovered that he loved Zach’s mom. She was loud and opinionated and funny—so different from his own mother, but no less pleasant.

“So, you’re in school at Berkeley, Chris?”

He swallowed and wiped his mouth on a napkin. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And what’s your major?”

“English.”

Margo looked from Chris to Zach. “English and Drama. How do you two plan to support my grandbaby?”

In turn, Chris and Zach shared a glance. Chris was trying to telegraph help me—this is your mom.

Zach seemed to get it because he dived into an explanation of his guest-starring role on the Sopranos. “And Chris is planning to get his PhD.”

“And who is going to watch the baby while you two are off having these big exciting carers?”

Zach sighed. “Ma.”

“I did it, Zachary, with two boys by myself.”

“I know.” Zach sounded twelve rather than twenty-two.

“What you don’t know is how hard it is to work all day, come home, make dinner, get you and your brother to bed and then do it all over again the next day. And right now, there’s two of you and one baby and one job? Between you? Chris, do you work?”

He shook his head.

“So your parents support you.”

“Yeah.”

“How old are you, Chris?”

“Nineteen.”

Margo looked at Zach. “Nineteen.” She shook her head and Chris felt the full weight of Mama Quinto’s disappointment fall upon them.

*

The convergence of families happened at a local restaurant. Between the four cars, Chris was the only one in the backseat. He felt for all the world like a child arriving to dinner.

Zach and Margo were just getting out of the Cavalier when the Pines arrived.

“Zachary, are you ever going to get this door fixed or painted, at least?”

Zach caught Chris’s eye and winked. “Maybe someday, Ma.”

Their parents exchanged pleasantries as the boys watched them size each other up. Chris hung back. His eyes tracked a new car that pulled into the parking lot.

“That would be Joe.” Zach couldn’t hide his glee at seeing his brother.

“Joey!” Margo hugged her eldest. “It is so good to see you, honey.”

Chris covered his laugh with a cough. Their mom called him Joey? Chris couldn’t wait to use that one against him.

“Good to see you, Chris.” He wasn’t expecting Joe to hug him, but he couldn’t do much when Joe circled him with his beefy arms.

Joe hugged Zach and then Chris’s mother. He exchanged a manly handshake with Chris’s father. “Are we going in?”

“I mean we can,” said Chris. “We’re just missing my sister, Katie.”

By collective agreement, they went inside and were seated at a table.

Katie hurried in just after the server finished taking their drink orders.

“Sorry I’m late! I got stuck in traffic.” She dropped a kiss on Chris’s cheek and slid into the open chair between him and their father. “Hi!” She waved at the Quintos across the table. “I’m Chris’s sister, Katie.”

They went through another round of introductions and then the awkward silence set in. Unsurprisingly, it was Margo who broke the ice. “How do you two feel about . . . this?” She gestured at Chris and Zach, and Chris fought the urge to cross his arms over his belly.

“Well, we weren’t thrilled at first, to be completely honest,” said Chris’s mom. “Chris is only nineteen, and Zach . . . he’s a very nice young man, but we had higher hopes than this for Chris.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Chris muttered.

“Trust me, I’m not thrilled about the situation, either. When Zachary called me, I reminded him that condoms are 98% effective. I made sure he knows how to use one, too.” Margo gave her son a stern look.

“Zach’s the one who suggested they not use one, Ma. Did he tell you that?”

“I was on the Pill!” Chris exclaimed.

“Okay.” His father held up his hands. “It’s a difficult situation. We did suggest to Chris that he consider adoption—“

“What?” Margo exclaimed.

“Mom—“ Zach tried.

“You’ll send that child to Pittsburgh before I’m going to let some stranger take my grandbaby!”

“Excuse me!” Katie raised her voice loud enough to be heard over the din. Everyone gave her their attention. “With all due respect to everyone here, this baby belongs to Chris and Zach. These are their decisions to make. We may not agree with them, but the best thing we can do is support them.”

With a small smile, Zach put a hand on Chris’s thigh.

“We’ve already told Chris that once the baby’s born, it’s his responsibility to support it. We’re helping him pay for college right now, but . . . “ His dad shrugged.

Margo nodded. “I’m not in a position to raise another child, but I’m willing to do it if that’s what it takes.”

“Well, the point is that we want the boys to take responsibility for their actions.”

“Right, but their ‘actions,’ as you’re calling it, is creating another human life. What do you expect them to do? Go on welfare and live in public housing?”

The Pines were clearly uncomfortable with the suggestion. Still, his mom said, “Well, it’s not ideal, but if that’s what it takes, then yes.”

“Oh, hell.” Joe rolled his eyes. “I will help support them, if that’s what it takes. I don’t have any kids, and I make a decent living.”

“What are your plans? What are you going to do after the baby’s born?” Katie asked.

“We don’t know.” Chris’s tone held an edge of exasperation. He was tired of people asking questions he couldn’t answer.

The server reappeared with their drinks, and the discussion ended there.

 

After dinner, Joe volunteered to drive his mom back to the apartment so Zach and Chris could have some time alone together.

In the car, Zach turned the heat on high as Chris rubbed his hands together. “Sorry, it takes a minute to warm up.”

“No problem.” Chris clenched his teeth together to keep them from chattering. Sixty degrees wasn’t cold, but for Los Angeles, it was Arctic. If the temperature dropped below 70, Chris reached for a sweater. Yet, he steadfastly refused to wear socks. “I’m a Californian,” he’d told Zach like that made any sense.

The car began to heat up as they hit the highway.

“Well, that could have been worse,” Zach said.

“Could have been a lot better, too.”

“At least our parents seemed like they were getting along by the end of dinner.”

“Your brother hates me.”

“He offered to help us with the baby. That’s saying something, right?” Zach flexed his fingers on the steering wheel. “He doesn’t hate you, Chris. He hugged you twice tonight, then he practically offered to fund your kid’s college education.”

Your kid.” Chris leaned his seat back and rubbed a hand over his belly. “Ever since he or she started kicking, Baby Quinto hasn’t let up. They don’t know the meaning of the word ‘sleep.’”

Somehow, though, Chris managed to fall asleep on the drive home. It could have been the warmth or the steady rumbling of the car of the scent of Zach’s cologne. Most likely, it was that the baby seemed to fall asleep for twenty minutes. Chris was relaxed by Daddy’s presence, too.

Chapter Text

Since Chris was home, his mom scheduled an appointment with Dr. Greenwood. Once he got farther along, he’d need to come home every two weeks and then he’d have to go in once a week. He’d asked Zach to go with him, but since Margo was in town, Zach had asked for a rain check. Chris’s own mother had offered to go, and while Chris was resistant to the idea, it was still better than going alone.

“Good morning, Chris,” Dr. Greenwood said as he entered the room. “Gwynne. And how are we feeling today?”

Chris shrugged one shoulder. “Good, I guess.”

“Zach’s mom is in town for the week,” Gwynne supplied for him.

“Well, that sounds exciting. Is this the first time you’ve met her?”

“Yep.”

“Chris.” His mom prodded him.

“What?”

“Be nice.”

“I am.” Chris drew out the second word, making it sound more like a whine.

Dr. Greenwood began to take Chris’s vitals and listened to his heart. As he did that, he asked more questions about Chris’s emotional state, his stress level. “How’s school?”

“Okay, I guess. Pretty sure my English professor hates me for getting pregnant. That kind of sucks.”

“Why do you think that?” Dr. Greenwood traded his stethoscope for a light to look into Chris’s ears, eyes, and throat.

“He doesn’t really talk to me anymore, and when he does, it’s like he can’t wait to get away from me.”

“Is that increasing your stress level?”

“A little bit, yeah.”

“How are you sleeping? Waking up in the night at all?”

“Sometimes, to pee. I seem to sleep better when I’m next to Zach. The baby seems . . . calmer.”

“It’s likely in response to your mood—you’re calmer, so the baby is calmer. Have you felt a lot of movement recently?”

“Just a little bit. Enough for me to feel it and for the baby to kick my bladder.”

“You’ll have to get used to that,” Dr. Greenwood said with a chuckle. “Go ahead and lay back for me so I can get a measurement.”

Exhaling loudly, Chris lied back on the bed. Getting down was easy; sitting back up was the hard part. He rolled his shirt up and watched as Dr. Greenwood laid a soft tape measure against his skin. “Twenty-three point two. Just where we need to be.” He put a firm hand on Chris’s back and helped him sit up. “Any nausea or vomiting recently? Constipation? Diarrhea?”

Chris shook his head.

“Cramps? Bleeding?”

“Just peeing every five minutes.”

“Completely normal, though I hate to tell you that that’s going to get worse as your due date approaches. And speaking of, we’ve got your due date down for . . . “ The doctor checked his notes.

“June 15th,” Chris said.

“Yes, June 15th. What I’d like to do is order a sonogram. Then we can confirm the due date—not that that means anything to the baby, anyway—but we can also identify the sex of the baby at that appointment as well.”

“Can I call when I get home to schedule that one? I’d sort of like Zach to be there.”

“Sure. I would just prefer to have it done sooner rather than later.”

“I’ll make sure he schedules his appointment when we get home,” his mother said from his left.

“Great. Well, Chris, everything seems to be in order. Do you have any questions for me?”

Chris glanced at his mom and then back down at his lap.

Gwynne grabbed her purse and stood up. “I’ll just be outside whenever you’re ready.

The door closed behind her, and Dr. Greenwood gave Chris an expectant look. “What’s up?”

Chris twisted his hands in his lap. “I’m just wondering how long it’s safe to have sex.”

“Right up until you deliver, as long as you’re comfortable. Some people even believe an orgasm can trigger labor if you’re close enough to your due date.”

“And it’s not dangerous for the baby?”

“As long as you’re careful and don’t put yourself in any danger, the baby won’t be in any danger. Laying on your back and elevating your hips is a good idea, while climbing into a sex swing is probably not. User your best judgement.”

Nodding, Chris thanked the doctor and joined his mom in the hall. He couldn’t wait to tell Zach that they were cleared to have sex. Until Chris had the baby and kicked Zach out of the bed for a few months.

*

His mom made sure he called Zach as soon as he got home.

“Hello?” The voice didn’t sound like Zoe or Zach. “Uh, Mrs. Quinto?”

“Yes? Who is this?”

“It’s Chris. Uh, is Zach there?”

“He’s just stepped out of the shower. Hold on a moment.”

Chris waited while she passed the phone off to Zach.

“Hey. How did your appointment go?”

“Good. Everything looked good. Dr. Greenwood wants to schedule an ultrasound, but I wanted to talk to you first because I’d like you to be there. We can find out the baby’s sex. If we want. We don’t have to decide now. It’s just an option. But I’m planning to come home in two weeks, so I thought maybe we could go next Friday afternoon.”

“Sure, but don’t you have class?”

“I’ll skip it. Not like Dr. Cumberbatch will notice, anyway.”

Zach was quiet for a minute. Then, “Okay. My mom wants to know if you’d like to come over for dinner tonight.”

“Let me just check with my mom to make sure she’s not planning for me to be here.” Chris put his hand over the receiver and called into the other room. “Mom, do you care if I go to Zach’s for dinner tonight?”

“That’s fine, honey,” she called back.

“Sure. I’ll get my stuff together and head over, if that’s cool.”

“Sure, see you then.”

*

Surprisingly, Zach was waiting outside the building when Chris pulled up. He walked over as Chris killed the engine and opened the door.

“Hey. Is something wrong?”

Chris found himself pushed back against the car as soon as he shut the door. One of Zach’s hands was on his hip while the other cupped his cheek. Zach kissed him fiercely, deeply, like he’d never get another chance. It was all Chris could do to wind his arms around Zach’s neck and hang on. Zach’s aggression slowed, and he pulled away to catch his breath. He rested their foreheads together, sharing air.

Chris licked his lips, tasting both of them. “Not that I’m complaining, but what was that about?”

Zach gave him a wicked grin. “I can’t do that in front of my mom.”

 

Margo and Zoe were sitting on the couch chatting when Zach and Chris walked into the apartment.

“Chris.” Margo stood up to give him a hug. “It is so good to see you again.”

Chris forced a smile. “You, too.” He hadn’t yet decided if she actually liked him or if she was just pretending for Zach’s sake.

“Zachary said you had a doctor’s appointment today. How did that go?”

“It was fine. Just a check-up. Everything seems normal. My doctor wanted to schedule a sonogram, so we’ll go do that in a couple of weeks.”

“Do you know what you’re having?”

“We haven’t . . . “ Chris shared a look with Zach. “We haven’t decided if we want to know, yet.”

Margo gave him a gentle smile. “Well, I wouldn’t say no to a granddaughter. With two boys, the closest I’ve gotten to a girl is Zoe. Not that I don’t love you, honey.”

Zoe smiled. “I know.”

“So what’s for dinner?” Zach asked pointedly.

“Zoe and I were thinking tacos. Chris, do you like Mexican?”

“I’m from Southern California,” he said like the answer to the question was obvious.

“Good. Zachary and Zoe can go get them, and Chris can stay here with me and visit.”

Chris’s look of fear clearly didn’t have the desired effect because Zach nodded in agreement.

“Sure. There’s a good place right around the corner, so we should be back in about 15 minutes.”

Chris accepted the quick kiss from Zach and then watched as the door seemed to close in slow-motion.

“You seem like a nice boy, Chris.”

A nice boy. “Uh, thanks?” He gave Margo a weak smile. She sat next to him like she could be any number of TV moms, but this wasn’t just any mom. This was Zach’s mom. And more than anything, he wanted her to like him.

“Have you ever been to the East coast?”

The question caught him off guard. “Not to Pennsylvania, if that’s what you’re asking. I have been to Florid a few times, though. My grandma used to live in Boca Raton before she passed away.”

“I’m sorry she’s gone.”

“It’s okay. She used to make me eat this really awful cherry pie that tasted like cough syrup. Somehow she thought it was my favorite, but I always tried to feed it to the dog.”

Margo smiled. “Zachary loves cherry pie. Miles used to make it for his birthday every year.”

“His dad?”

“No, his ex-boyfriend. His dad was Joseph. Miles and Zachary broke up right before Zachary moved out here. I’m surprised he didn’t tell you about him.”

“His ex?”

“No, his dad, sorry. I switched gears too quickly there. Those boys look so much like their dad you’d have thought Joseph was the one who gave birth to them, but it was me. He wouldn’t have minded getting pregnant, but I wasn’t willing to share him.”

Chris smiled politely and listened as Zach’s mom talked about her dead husband, but his own mind was spinning so fast, smoke was practically steaming out his ears. Who the hell was Miles—of the cherry pie, every year, no less? And how had Zach never mentioned him? The way Margo talked, Miles was Zach’s deceased husband. The only problem was that unlike Joseph, Miles wasn’t dead.

After that, Chris could only pretend to concentrate on the conversation. He answered Margo’s questions, and even drummed up a few simple ones of his own. By the time Zach and Zoe got back, Chris was a bundle of nerves. The tacos tasted like cardboard, and all he wanted was to get home so he could lock himself in his room and think.

Zach must have noticed something was wrong because he asked about it on the way downstairs to Chris’s car. “You feeling okay? You hardly said five words tonight.”

“I’m just tired.” He could hardly look at Zach right now. All he could see was Miles lovingly wiping cherry pie filling off Zach’s chin.

“Taco’s not agree with you?”

“Just tired,” Chris repeated.

“Did my mom say something to upset you?”

Zach.”

“Sorry,” Zach replied without sounding apologetic. “Are you mad at me? If you are, I don’t know what I did.”

“No.” Chris opened his car door and sighed. “Who’s Miles?”

Zach’s expression softened. “Chris . . . “

“Goodnight, Zach.” Heart heavy, Chris got in the car and shut the door without a backwards glance.

*

“Did she even say why they broke up? For all you know, Miles—“

“Please don’t say that name.”

“—broke up with him.”

“It was the way he looked after I asked him, though. Like he was still so devastated about the end of that relationship.”

Kate slathered a french fry in ketchup and popped it into her mouth. “Or he was about to tell you that it was the worst relationship he’d ever had, and he was sorry his mom ever told you about M—“

Chris glared.

“—him.”

“I haven’t talked to him.” Sighing, Chris poked half-heartedly at his burger. Usually he loved burgers and fries, but he had no appetite today.

“Are you avoiding him or is he avoiding you?”

“A little of column A and a little of column B.”

“Going back to Berkeley tomorrow without talking to him is a very bad idea.”

“I know, Katie!” Chris pushed his plate away. “And don’t say it’s my hormones. You’d be pissed off too if your boyfriend conveniently forgot to tell you about his ex with whom his mother is still in love.”

“Yes. Keyword: mother, not Zach.”

 

At Katie’s prodding, Chris called Zach when he got home. He knew, without her needling, that leaving town without hashing this out could spell the end of his relationship. Margo should have been on a plane bound for Pittsburgh, and while Chris felt bad about not saying a proper goodbye, he needed some time to deal with the storm of thoughts raging in his mind.

Zach answered on the first ring.

Unprepared as he was, Chris blurted out, “Hey. It’s me. Chris.”

The other line was quiet for so long that he added, “Zach?”

“I’m here.”

Again, silence.

Chris blew out a breath. Clearly, he’d have to talk since he started the cold shoulder. “Did your mom leave?”

“This morning. She asked me to tell you goodbye and apologize if she said something to upset you.”

Chris winced. He deserved that. But, “Tell me about Miles.”

“Chris.” Zach said his name on a sigh.

“Please?”

Sounding more put-out than before, Zach sighed again. “What do you want to know? We dated for 3 years, and my mom wanted us to get married, but Miles didn’t want to leave Pittsburgh. That’s the whole story. What about it pissed you off so badly? Should we hash out all of your past relationships now, too?” He didn’t sound angry, though, just resigned, which made Chris feel even worse.

“Well, your mom said—“

“That Miles used to make me fucking cherry pie. Yeah, she told me. Did you think that was a euphemism for sucking my dick on command? because you’re a better lay, Chris. Is that was you wanted to hear? I’m happier with you than I was with him—except for right now—and I can’t control the ridiculous shit my mother says. She already apologized about 15 times, by the way.”

“Zach, I’m—“

“Save it. When I’m ready to hear your apology, I’ll call you.” The phone went dead in Chris’s hand.

Chapter Text

Chris managed to keep it together all the way back to Berkeley. He distracted himself by thinking about his research project for Dr. Cumberbatch’s class that was due at the end of the semester. A good chunk of his research waited on his desk. He still needed to track down a few more articles and start writing.

Absolutely no thoughts of Zach.

None.

Then he saw a billboard advertising a production of Phantom in San Francisco, and that plan went to shit.

 

His hard-won control was hanging on by a thread, so when he opened the door to his room and his friends shouted, “Surprise!” Chris burst into tears.

Instantly, he was wrapped up in a group, which just made him cry harder. It was Anton, Chris’s sweet, gentle roommate, who managed to pry him away from the others and calm him down enough to talk.

Dabbing at Chris’s eyes with a tissue, Anton said, “What happened, sweetheart?”

Taking a deep breath, Chris kept his eyes on Anton’s socked feet to compose himself. “Zach and I had a fight.”

“Did you guys break up?”

Chris shook his head as he drew in a breath. “No. I don’t think so, anyway. His mom was telling me—”

“You met his mum?” Karl interrupted.

“Yeah. She came for a surprise visit because she knew I was on spring break. Zach and Zoe went to get dinner, and Zach’s mom told me that Zach’s ex used to make him cherry pie, but when I asked him about it, he was super evasive, and now I guess we’re not talking and I don’t know what to do.”

Someone pushed a glass of water into his hand, and it gave him something to focus on other than the tears welling in his eyes. He took a long drink.

“Well, if Zach breaks up with you, he’s an idiot,” John said. “If he does, sue his ass for child support.”

Chris started laughing, then, almost uncontrollably. “He doesn’t have any money!”

Anton pulled him into a hug.

“I’m sorry I ruined the surprise.” Chris sniffled and wiped his nose. “Let me call my mom to let her know I got here okay. I should—I should probably call Zach, too.”

Anton stood up and herded Karl and John to the door. “We’ll be across the hall if you need us.”

 

The first phone call was easy. As Chris dialed the second number, his hands trembled. At least Zach didn’t have caller ID, so Chris didn’t have to worry about him ignoring the call.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Zoe, it’s Chris. Is Zach there?”

“I’m sorry, he’s out right now. Can I give him a message?”

Chris’s stomach dropped. “Yeah, just let him know I got back to Berkeley.” He hung up the phone before Zoe could reply.

Taking a deep breath, he looked around the room at the impromptu baby shower his friends had tried to throw him. There was a stack of brightly-wrapped packages on the floor next to a car seat. A round cake sitting on the desk bore the text “Congrats!” on its small face.

Chris’s heart swelled with affection. He fingered the ribbon on one of the balloons that read “It’s a boy!” It was tied to a matching “It’s a girl!” balloon. The corner of Chris’s mouth lifted. Not even he and Zach knew the sex of the baby yet. They hadn’t even gotten a chance to talk about whether or not they wanted to find out early. At this point, Chris wasn’t sure if Zach would even be at the sonogram appointment. He looked over the stack of presents again, but he couldn’t imagine opening them and fawning over baby stuff knowing Zach was stewing in LA. Instead, Chris climbed into bed and closed his eyes.

 

The ringing phone woke him up.

Chris laid there for a minute, hoping it would stop or Anton would answer it, but it just kept ringing. With an irritated sigh, Chris thew back the covers and reached for the phone.

“Hello?”

“Chris? I’m sorry if I woke you,” said Zach.

“No, it’s fine. What’s up?”

“Zoe said you called. And then hung up on her?”

“I just told her to tell you I got home. I think the call got disconnected after that. I’m glad you got the message.”

“Oh.”

“Are you coming up here this weekend?”

“I guess. Do you want me to?”

“We should probably talk.”

“Yeah, we should.”

*

The presents stayed in the corner of Chris and Anton’s dorm through the week. His friends didn’t mention the surprise party again, and Chris was too embarrassed to bring it up. The week was hard enough without adding his relationship problems. What little free time he had was spent in the library working on his paper for Dr. Cumberbatch. He wasn’t sleeping well, partly due to the pregnancy and partly due to stress.

He had completely forgotten about Zach driving up for the weekend until he got back to his dorm around 7 Friday night and found Zach sitting on his bed.

“I am so sorry.” Chris dumped his bag full of books on the desk. “I was in the library working on my paper.”

“It’s okay. Anton let me in.”

“How long have you been here?”

“About an hour. I had to work the lunch shift.”

“I’m sorry,” Chris said again.

“Quit apologizing.” Zach sighed in irritation, which just made Chris want to apologize again. “Have you eaten?”

“What?”

Dinner. Have you eaten it yet?”

“No.” The thought made him realize just how hungry he was.

 

They went to a diner near campus so they could talk, but Chris couldn’t make himself start the conversation.

“Let’s talk about Miles,” said Zach.

Chris nearly choked on his food. “Why?”

“Well, that’s what started this whole fight. Go ahead and ask me anything you want.”

“I don’t have any questions.”

Zach’s dark eyes seemed to bore a hole in Chris’s skull. “I’m sure you do. Go head, ask me anything.”

“Fine. Why does it seem like your family hates me? Your brother outright accused me of trapping you, and as soon as your mom was alone with me, she started gushing about your ex! Not to mention the fact that she told my parents she’d take the baby back to Pittsburgh. Is that the plan? Get me to sign away custody so you can take the baby back to your mother and raise it with Miles?”

“Where do you get this shit?” Zach just stared at him. “Chris, I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from, but it just doesn’t make any sense. Nobody is trying to take the baby away. Is that what this is all about?”

“No!” Chris slapped his hands down on the table. “This is about you and me! How are we going to support this baby?”

Zach didn’t have an answer.

Taking a deep breath, Chris said, “I think I’m going to leave Berkeley.”

“Chris, if you’re that worried about what happened with my mom—“

“It’s not just that. Ever since I got pregnant, Dr. Cumberbatch has basically treated me like Hester fucking Prynne. So I was thinking that if I transferred to UCLA, I could move back in with my parents. That would save us some money, and I’d be closer to you.”

“But you love Berkeley.”

“Not lately, I don’t.”

“What about your friends?”

“Anton and John are from LA, so it’s not like I’ll never see them. Plus, it’s not like I’ll have much free time once the baby is born.”

“Not that I’m not thrilled about the thought of having you closer, but have you talked to your parents about this?”

“I mentioned it to my sister.”

“What did she say?”

“She understands.” Christ stabbed at the ice in his glass with his straw. “So, are we good?”

A smile curled the edge of Zach’s mouth, and he covered one of Chris’s hands with his own. “Yeah, we’re good.”

“Good. Let’s go back to my dorm and fuck.”

*

“Oh, god. Right there, right there, don’t stop.” Reaching back, Chris clutched at Zach’s hip to urge him on. The narrow dorm bed was hardly big enough to hold the two of them and his neighbors could probably hear them through the paper-thin walls, but Chris could care less.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m gonna—I’m gonna—“ With a strangled cry, Chris came, untouched. His toes curled and his brain filled with white noise. His world narrowed to wave after wave of pleasure coursing through his body and out his cock.

Zach placed a line of kisses down the knobs of Chris’s spine and licked a wet stripe up the curve of his shoulder. Still hard, his cock throbbed inside of Chris.

“Wow,” Chris sighed. “I’ve never come like that before.”

Chuckling, Zach eased his cock out and earned a soft groan in response. “You’re so much tighter after you come.”

Chris barked out a laugh. “Let me roll over. I can’t stay like this much longer.”

Like he was handling delicate china, Zach helped Chris onto his back. Zach brushed a lock of hair out of Chris’s eyes. “You’re beautiful.”

Chris felt his skin flush down to his chest. Looking down at himself, he couldn’t even see his dick past his belly. To his own eyes he just looked fat. He threw an arm over his eyes and let his breath out in a sigh.

He felt Zach’s thumbs in the hollows of his hips. A whisper of Zach’s careful fingers cradling his balls and then a nudge of Zach’s dick against his hole was all the warning Chris had before Zach pressed inside him again.

“Ow, ow, ow!” Chris pushed against Zach’s chest with both hands. “Get some more lube, would you?”

“Sorry.”

Zach looked apologetic as he rubbed the inside of of Chris’s knee with one hand and reached for the lube with the other. He squirted some directly onto his dick but took care to lube himself thoroughly and pushed two fingers up inside Chris. Even though he’d already come once, Chris’s hips bucked up of their own accord when Zach’s fingertips brushed his prostate.

“Still sensitive?”

Grinning, Zach pressed up more firmly. Chris made a noise of what could have been pain or pleasure.

“Just put it in, already. We don’t have all night. Anton could be back any minute.”

Zach lifted one of Chris’s legs and kissed his bare ankle. “So romantic.” Nevertheless, he rested Chris’s heel on his shoulder and replaced his fingers with his dick. The extra lube helped him slide in much earlier, and they both groaned this time.

“Much better,” said Chris.

Zach wasted no time building up to his earlier pace. Pretty soon he was panting, and Chris knew he was close. “You gonna come for me, baby?” Pregnant as he was, the best Chris could do was run his hands up and down Zach’s arms.

Zach grunted, stilled, and Chris felt his insides flood with warmth. Still panting, Zach pulled out and collapsed on the bed. “Why are you always in such a hurry? Don’t you ever want to just take your time and make love?”

“We can make love after I have this baby. You try being patient when you’re carting around a ten pound watermelon that sits on your bladder.” Reaching out to pat Zach’s cheek, Chris closed his eyes. They’d be okay.

Chapter Text

“Come on, then, let’s have another!” Karl clapped his hands with glee.

It was Saturday afternoon, and they were all gathered in the room watching Chris open his baby shower gifts. They’d traded the cake that no one ate for a package of brownies. Chris had eyed them dubiously, but Karl swore they came from the store. “Mate, do you really think I’d give special brownies to a pregnant person?”

Regardless, it was a much more jovial meeting than the first baby shower. Even Jen had come over for the occasion. She’d pressed a brightly wrapped package into Chris’s hand and kissed his cheek.

For now, Chris had unwrapped a package of diapers and a Liverpool Football Club onesie. Chris reached for the next box on the stack. All eyes were on him as he read the tag. “To Baby Pine. Love, John.” Chris’s eyes flicked to his best friend as he ripped away the paper. Inside, he found a stack of bibs, bottles, a couple binkies, and a baby towel. “Thanks, bro.”

As he reached for the next one, though, his friends jumped in. “That’s for Zach!”

One eyebrow raised, Chris handed the slim package to his boyfriend. He watched with anticipation as Zach tore off the paper and cracked open the cardboard box. “Oh, my god.” Laughing, he dipped his chin to his chest.

“What?” Chris craned his neck to see over the box flaps.

Out of the box Zach pulled a tube of lube, a “Saxophone Love Melodies” CD, and a man thong.

His friends were laughing their asses off, but Chris just shook his head. “Very funny, guys.”

“Hey,” said Karl, “we’re just looking out for Zach’s best interest. We all know you’re going to need some coaxing to get freaky after you pop that baby out.”

“Yeah, but this—“ Chris reached for the thong and stretched the waistband between two fingers—“is not going to do it for me.”

“You mean you don’t want to see me shake my skinny white ass in that?”

“I think that’s going to kill my boner for the next five years.”

“And we’re done with that.” Zach grabbed the scrap of fabric and threw it into the corner.

“Here.” Jen held out a square box wrapped in metallic giraffe paper. “This one’s from me.”

As Chris ripped away the wrapping and took the lid off the box, he discovered a patterned backpack. “Is this . . . “

Jen simply grinned. “Open it.”

Zipper after zipper revealed pockets for bottles, diapers, pacifiers, baby wipes, diaper rash cream—even a travel mat for changing the baby on the go—and it was fully stocked. “Jen—this is too much.”

She waved a dismissive hand. “After beating your boys’ asses in poker, it was the least I could do.”

“Well, I really appreciate it.” Wiping at his eyes, Chris set the bag aside and John nudged him. “Dude, are you crying?”

“Shut up, I’m pregnant,” Chris said, but the attention just made the tears fall faster. Zach rubbed his knee, yet Chris pushed him away. “I’m fine, I’m fine. I just—thank you guys, so much.”

“Last one.” Zach held out a box no bigger than the palm of his hand.

Eying it, Chris’s heart began to pound. He tried to telegraph with his thoughts, tried to convey with his eyes, Don’t do this. Don’t you dare do this to me. Not here, not now.

The smile on Zach’s face taunted him. “Open it.”

Ignoring the looks his friends were giving him, Chris snatched the box out of Zach’s hand.

Slowly, like he was handling a tiny bomb, Chris opened the box. He took a good look at the contents and clapped the box shut. “You’re an asshole!”

“What?” His friends were nearly climbing over one another to have a look. All the while, Zach was laughing his head off.

“What?” Jen’s voice rose above the din. “What is it? What did he give you?”

“It’s a key!” Chris shouted. Then, he, too, began to laugh.

As his friends stared at one another in bewilderment, Chris opened the box and held up the key.

“It’s to my apartment,” said Zach.

Karl snorted. “Well, I didn’t think it was a key to your heart."

"Am I the only one who thought there was a ring in that box?" John asked.

"No!" they all chorused, even Chris.

"I thought you were proposing to me, you jackass!"

"Would you have said yes if I did?"

Under the heavy weight of his friends' gazes, Chris's heart began to pound. "Fair point."

Smug, Zach spread his hands to say he was right.

 

Later, when they were squished together on Chris's tiny bed and sure Anton was asleep, Chris whispered into the dark. "Are you still awake?"

"Yeah." Zach's voice was heavy like he'd nearly been asleep.

With great effort, Chris rolled himself over so he could see his boyfriend in the darkness of the room. "I'm really glad you came up this weekend."

"Me too."

"Why did you put that key in a ring box?" His tone wasn't accusatory, and the key to Zach's apartment was threaded on his ring.

"I really wasn't trying to trick you. Zoe gave me the box, and I didn't even think about it at first. The realisation sort of hit me as I was handing it to you."

"I just wasn't expecting . . . Anything like that. We haven't . . . talked about that."

"Well, you're pregnant, but we've only been together for three months. Were you--I mean, have you thought about getting married?"

"It's crossed my mind." Chris's tone was casual like it had only been a passing fancy, but in truth he'd put more than a little thought in to it. Granted, his thoughts were nothing more concrete than what he might wear, how his mother might cry, and how Zach might looked standing UGH the altar with him. "Maybe, if we stay together . . . I mean, it would make sense."

Zach propped his head on his hand. "Do you want to, though?"

Butterflies swarmed Chris's chest at the tender look on Zach's face. "I think I'd like to. Some day." He takes a deep breath. "Do you want to? I know you were engaged . . . before."

"Definitely." The speed of Zach's answer loosens something tight in Chris's chest. "Miles and I didn't break up because I didn't want to get married."

"Okay." Chris closed his eyes. "You can go to sleep now."

Chuckling, Zach pulled Chris close.

*

"Are you nervous?"

Chris held his hand out for Zach to take. "A little, yeah."

"Don't worry, it doesn't hurt," the technician, Trina, said brightly.

"I'm not really afraid of it hurting so much as finding out something is wrong."

"It's going to be fine." Zach rubbed his thumb over the back of Chris's hand.

"Let's take a look." It took a moment for Trina to find what she was looking for on the screen as she moved the transducer over Chris's belly. "Here we go." She tiled the screen so they could see it. "That's your baby. And that," she pointed to a fluttering point on the screen, "is the heartbeat."

Chris squeezed Zach's hand tightly.

"Would you like to know the sex?"

Zach raised his eyebrows at Chris. "It's up to you."

"I don't know." Chris smiled nervously. "Can you, like, put it in an envelope so we can look at it later if we want to?"

"Sure."

Tina also printed them a couple of sonogram photos to take home.

"Can I have another one?" asked Zach. "To send to my mom."

"Of course!"

 

They left the office feeling lighter than they had in a month. On that note, they drove to LAMILL so Chris could get an espresso and Zach a half-caf soy latte with a shot of vanilla.

Between them on the table sat the envelope with the baby's sex inside on a piece of paper.

"So." Zach pushed at the envelope with the tips of his fingers. "Do you think we should open it?"

"It would make picking out names easier. Not that it really matters if we choose a unisex name. Have you thought of any?"

Taking a sip of his latte, Zach shrugged one shoulder. "I kind of like the name Riley. Or Shane."

"Riley sounds like a dog." Riley also sounded way too much like "Miley" for Chris's taste. "I'm exhausted already. I can list probably fifty character names from classic literature off the top of my head, but none of those are names I'd like to give my kids. Could you imagine being saddled with 'Jurgis Quinto' for the rest of your life?"

"Haven't you ever heard the song 'Boy Named Sue'?'

Chris stared at him blankly.

"It's a classic country song about a boy who grow up with the name Sue, and he's got to fight his way through life because he's bullied over his name year you're right that's a terrible idea. If it's a boy, we can name him something normal like Taylor Michael or something."

Chris laughed. "Maybe not that generic, but yeah. And to be fair, Taylor is a gender neutral name."

"Let's not name our child--boy or girl--Taylor."

Still, the envelop sat between them like a ticking time bomb they had to deactivate by choosing the right wire. Zach picked it up and spun it between his fingers. "What do you think? Should we look? Or should we give it to Zoe for safe keeping?"

"Well, we're going to find out in June, either way. The real question is whether or not we want to wait until then to find out." Reaching for the envelope, Chris said, "Or whether we want to tell anyone else."

"And what if they tell us we're having one and it's actually the other? Or what if we end up with twins?"

"Oh, please don't say that." Chris clutched his belly. "There's no way I'm big enough to carry twins, and I think taking care of two babies might actually be the death of me."

"I don't think we're having twins. Just one healthy baby. That's all I want."

"So, you think we should look?"

Intent, Zach watched as Chris broke the seal on the envelope. He opened it just enough to peek inside, smile, and slide the envelop across the table. Zach picked it up, looked inside for himself, and laid the envelop back down on the table. Smiling at Chris, he said, "Well, then."

Chapter Text

As the weather grew warmer, school got harder, and Chris became more uncomfortable. Presently he was lying on his bed in only a pair of gym shorts fanning himself. "Why is it so hot?"

"Because you're pregnant. I'm not nearly that hot," John said from his place at Chris's desk.

They were supposed to be working on homework for their shared biology class, but Chris couldn't concentrate. "Speaking of that, I have something I need to tell you."

"I would say you're pregnant, but since that's already the case . . . uh, did Zach finally propose?"

"No, this is a bit less intense. I'm actually thinking about transferring to UCLA."

"Shut up!" John was understandably shocked. "Dude, seriously? Does Zach know?"

"Yeah, I already talked to him about it. He's happy if I'm happy."

"I--wow. I just wasn't expecting that. I figured he'd move up to San Francisco or something."

Chris made a face. "There's not as much, well, not really any work up. LA is really the best place for him to be, so it's the best decision for us. That, and I'm pretty sure Cumberbatch hates my guts for getting pregnant. I can't handle that for two more years, especially not once I'm only taking lit classes."

"Well, I'll miss you for sure. I always pictured the three of us--and Karl now, I guess--graduating together."

"We will, though! Just not at the same UC campus."

Smiling sadly, John shook his head. "You know it's not the same."

"I know. But nothing about my life has been the same since September. I never should have let you talk me into going to that party."

"Oh, hell. You're nuts over Zach, and you'd be lost without him. Don't even try it. Poor Anton is going to have a new roommate."

"No, he is not! You guys are planning to rent a house next year. I was in on that discussion, remember?"

"Well, his roommates are going to be me and Karl, so that's new roommates, Christopher."

"Very funny, Jonathan."

"That's not my name."

"I know, and I don't care." Chris sighed. "If I transfer to UCLA, I'm moving back in with my parents, and that fucking sucks."

"What did they say about it?"

"They don't actually know. I haven't told them yet."

"What do you think they'll say, then?"

"I'm hoping they'll be excited about having me and the baby at home."

 

Chris's parents, as it turned out, were not nearly as thrilled about the idea as he wanted them to be.

"You're going to give up Berkeley for what? Being a single mother and going to school at UCLA?"

"Geez, you make it sound like I'm slumming it. It's still the University of California. And I'm not 'giving up' anything. I'm still going to finish college. This way, I'll be closer to Zach, and we can share expenses and childcare."

"Do you also plan to work? Babies are expensive, Chris. How are you and Zach going to buy diapers and formula on part-time wages?"

Chris stared down at his plate. "Well, I kind of thought you guys could help."

"We're already paying nearly $10,000 a year on tuition, room, and board, and you want more?" his dad said.

His mother's approach was gentler. "Honey, we're not going to kick you and our grandchild out on the street, but that's all the help we can give you financially. You're going to have to find a way to support yourself." The unspoken 'if you ant to keep the baby' hung in the air.

"I'll figure it out," CHris said in the same way he pledged to finish school with a high GPA. "I'll make it work. I will. And Zach gave me a key to his apartment."

This bit of new seemed to take his parents by greater surprise than Chris's decision to move home.

"Are you moving in with him?"

"No, I'm moving here. To live with you guys. In my room. Zach just gave me a key to make things easier, I guess." But now that he'd said it, Chris was starting to question himself. Zach hadn't said anything about the key. He handed it over and that was that. Had he been trying to ask Chris to move in? Had Chris been too obtuse to notice?

Nervous, Chris shifted in his seat. He felt like he was on trial. "I don't know."

"Do you want to move in with him? Live with him?"

"I . . . " Chris sighed. "I haven't thought about it. I haven't thought about anything. I suck. I got pregnant by some guy I barely knew, and now I'm throwing my life away by transferring out of Berkeley. I get it. I'm the absolute fucking worst."

"Chris, honey, that's not what we're saying at all." His mom walked around the table to hug him. "Baby, we love you. You are our son, and we are proud of you no matter what. We just want you to consider all your options, look at all the possibilities. If you want to move home, baby, you are always welcome here. And if you want to live with Zach, that's okay, too, but I think you should talk to him. Giving someone a key to your house is a big step, and I don't want you to take it too lightly."

"I'm not, Mom. I know what I'm doing. Zach and I talk all the time."

His mother gave him another squeeze and went back to her seat.

His dad gave him a tight-lipped smile. "Your mother and I want what's best for you, kiddo, and if you want to make a family with Zach, then we're behind you a hundred percent. And if he hurts you . . . "

"Dad." Blushing furiously, Chris stared down at his plate. He knew how much his parents loved him, and he never would have gotten through most of the problems in his life without their support.

"How did your appointment go, Chris?" his mom asked. "You didn't say anything when you got home, so I take that to mean good news."

"Yeah. Everything's normal, and the baby's healthy." Chris pushed the mashed potatoes on his plate around with his fork. "She, uh, offered to tell us the sex."

Both of his parents gave him their full attention.

"So what are you having?" asked his dad.

"Would you be mad if I told you that Zach and I kind of want to keep it just between us for now?"

His mom looked disappointed, but she smiled anyway. "If that's what you've decided, then that's your choice. Of course we'd like to know, but we'll find out soon enough. It would be nice to know if I should start buying little dresses or little baseball caps."

Chris shrugged. "Buy both."

"Is that a hint?"

"Yeah, Mom, it's a hint that I'm having a baby, who won't care if you dress it in a potato sack."

"So you won't mind if I buy my grandchild a Giants hat."

"I'll burn it before it has a chance to touch a single hair on my baby's head."

Laughter filled the dining room. It was good to be home.

*

Monday Chris stayed with his parents so he could go look at UCLA. The first time around he hadn't bothered because he knew he wanted to go to Berkeley and anything else would have been settling. His mom had offered to go with him, but Chris took Zach instead.

"This is nice," Zach said as they got out of the car.

"You don't have to pretend for my sake. We both know Berkeley's a better school. This is basically just a formality.

Lacing their fingers together, Zach gave Chris's hand a squeeze.

The admissions counsellor wisely avoided asking why Chris was leaving Berkeley and instead focused on extolling the virtues of UCLA. Chris wanted to tell him to save it and hand over the enrolment papers, but his parents had raised him better than that.

"After we're done here, I'll take you over to meet Dr. Bridges. I told him you're coming, and he's pretty excited to meet you."

Chris smiled politely. He'd bet his left arm that Dr. Bridges could care less about the transfer student who couldn't hack it at Berkeley. All Chris wanted was to enroll, get his diploma, and get out. Grad school would always be there if he decided to go.

As they walked across campus, the admissions counsellor pointed out various places of interest, but Chris's mind was elsewhere. Thankfully, Zach picked up the slack by asking questions and sounding more excited than Chris.

They entered one of the buildings and walked to the end of a long hallway. They could hear a few notes of a sorrowful song winding its way into the hall, and Chris’s ears perked up. The music, it turned out, was coming from the last office door, which was open.

“Dr. Bridges?” The admissions counselor knocked against the wood. “I’ve got Chris Pine here.”

The head of the English department was nothing like Dr. Cumberbatch. He was quite a few years older, with shaggy hair and a wide mustache. He held out his hand. “Call me Jeff. Nice to meet you, Chris. And who’s this?”

“I’m Zach,” he said. “Consider me moral support.”

“Good to meet you both.” Jeff sat back down behind his desk. “So, Berkeley. What happened there?”

Surprised, Chris exchanged a helpless look with Zach. “Well, I just want to be closer to home.”

Jeff shook his head. “Don’t bullshit me, son. You can’t kid a kidder. I’ve seen your transcript. You’ve got a 3.8 GPA, so either that baby is cutting down on your study time or something else is going on.”

Chris’s mind raced as he debated how much he should tell this man he’d just met. “How about I just say that not everyone at Berkeley is supportive of my recent life choices.”

“Cumberbatch.”

Chris’s heart sank like a stone.

“Don’t look so frightened, Chris. I’m in the business of enrolling students, not driving them away. I’m not going to call him up as soon as you leave. Benny and I go way back. He tends to fall on the more conservative side, and he makes his opinions known. You’d think, working at Berkeley, that it would be the other way, but there you have it. I imagine he said something about your . . . life choices?” Jeff’s gaze flicked down to Chris’s belly.

“It wasn’t really anything he said so much as the fact that he quit talking to me altogether.”

“Well, I can tell you right now that I’d love to have you at UCLA.” He proceeded to give Chris some of the program highlights, which included a high number of his students moving on to graduate school.

Chris felt like he’d known Jeff for years by the time their meeting came to an end.

“Drop by any time, Chris. I look forward to working with you.”

As they walked down the hall, Zach nudged Chris’s shoulder. “Someone’s got a crush.”

“Oh, shut up,” Chris said, even as his face burned with heat.

“You have a thing for professors. It’s okay. Should I put on my glasses and ask you to call me Dr. Quinto?”

“I should have left you at home.”

Laughing, Zach followed Chris into the California sunshine.

Chapter Text

In order for Chris to complete his withdrawal from Berkeley, he had to get a series of signatures. The final one—and the one he was dreading the most—was Dr. Cumberbatch. Chris would have been perfectly happy to hand in his final and see his crush-cum-adversary again never.

The office door was ajar.

Clutching the paper in his hands tight enough to wrinkle it, Chris knocked. The seconds ticked by. Chris shifted from left foot to right foot. The paper crinkled.

Finally, when he was about to turn around and leave, a voice called out. “You may enter.”

Steeling all the nerve he had left, Chris did just that. Clearing his throat, he said, “Dr. Cumberbatch, I—“

“I know why you’re here.” Gone was the genial man who welcomed the young scholar into his ivory tower; instead Chris was faced with a sharp, serious man with nothing but distaste in his eyes. He removed his glasses, set them on the desk, and gave Chris the full weight of his stare. “UCLA, Chris? Really? I thought you wanted to go to Columbia after this.”

“I did—I mean, I do. How did you know? About UCLA, I mean.”

“The dean told me. I’m disappointed I didn’t hear about it from you first.” He leaned forward. “Are you sure you’re making the right decision?”

“About UCLA or about my boyfriend?” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“That depends which one you think is doing greater damage to your future.”

Chris didn’t know how to reply to that. He brandished his form like it was a shield that could protect him from the words. “Could you please sign this?”

Dr. Cumberbatch pursed his lips, and in his quiet way, took the paper and added his signature with a flourish. “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“Thank you,” said Chris. He wanted to add more, to thank the professor for everything he’d done, but in the end, Chris just left.

 

Transferring out of Berkeley was so much easier than Chris had imagined. For some reason, it felt like breaking out of prison. Like they’d haul him back as soon as they found out. Chris knew it was ridiculous, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that leaving would never happen.

On their last night together as Berkeley students, Chris and his friends went out one final time. “The Last Boys’ Night,” John and Karl had dubbed it.

“Guys, I’m moving back to LA. I’m not dying. I can still come up and see you on weekends and vice versa.”

“No way.” John shook his head. “Between studying and feeding the baby and fucking Zach, you aren’t going to have time for anything for like the next twenty years.”

“Come on, you make it sound like I’m dying.”

“Your social life is,” Karl muttered.

“Give him a break.” Reaching for the door handle, Anton pulled it open and stepped aside.

The restaurant was packed with students. It was a local joint that served mostly burgers and fries and local beer. For all the places to eat in LA, Chris was really going to miss this place.

“What can I get you boys?” This server was one they’d seen often enough. She was old enough to be their mother, and drew her mouth on in bright red lipstick.

“A pitcher and . . . “ John glanced around the table. “Three glasses, since this one’s expecting.” He patted Chris’s belly like someone would an obedient dog.

“I’ll have a Coke,” Chris said as he grabbed John’s wrist and put it back in his own lap.

Their server disappeared, and the four friends were left to themselves once again.

“So, this is it,” John said.

“Yep,” Anton agreed.

Chris shifted in his seat. Karl hadn’t been with them long, so he didn’t look as uncomfortable as the rest of them.

They returned back to the dorm several hours later. The door closed behind Chris and Anton, and it sounded like a judge’s gavel sealing his sentence.

“This is it,” Chris sighed, echoing John’s words as he looked around the room that had been his home for two years.

He’d packed up almost everything except for his toothbrush, a few essentials, and the picture he’d taped up the day they moved in. It was of he, John, and Anton on graduation day. They were all smiles with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Off to Berkeley without a care in the world, and no idea what awaited them.

Absently, Chris rubbed his hand over his belly.

“Is Zach coming to get you tomorrow?” Anton’s question startled Chris out of his reverie. “No, we’d have two cars, and that wouldn’t make sense.”

“Are you going to his apartment from here, then?”

“No, I have to drop off the stuff that’s left at my parents’ house.” Chris knew very well that Anton already knew the answer to those questions, so why was he asking? “Is there a point you’re trying to make?” He didn’t intend for his question to come out sounding so sharp, but he couldn’t take back the words.

As always, Anton remained calm, unreadable. “I’m just worried about him taking care of you. You’re going to be so far away, with a baby, at UCLA.”

“This isn’t the part where you tell me you’re in love with me, is it?”

Anton’s expression hardened. “In your dreams, Pine. Promise me you’ll call if you need anything.”

“Anton, I’m going to be closer to my parents than to you. I’ll be living in their house.”

“Promise me.”

“Okay, I promise. Are you happy?”

“Are you?”

The baby kicked beneath Chris’s hand, and he drew in a deep breath.

*

“Oh.” Stopping in his tracks, Chris clutched at his swollen belly.

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Chris waved a hand. “Just the baby kicking.”

He’d been home for nearly a week now, and while Dr. Greenwood hadn’t put him on bedrest (yet), he’d told Chris to take it easy. Between his parents and Zach, that meant lying around while they fetched him snacks. The first couple of days were nice, but then Chris started to get bored. Just now, he’d managed to sneak into the kitchen for a glass of water while Zach was in the bathroom.

“Here, let me—“

“No!” Jerking the glass out of Zach’s reach, Chris watched in horror as it slipped out of his hand and shattered on the linoleum floor. In bare feet, Chris could only stand there helpless. He burst into tears.

“Just don’t move.”

As Zach dashed into the hallway, Chris called out, “Where the fuck am I gonna go?”

Zach laid down a couple bath towels so Chris could walk safely into the living room while Zach cleaned up the mess. “I’ll bring you a glass of water.”

“How benevolent of you.”

When Zach came back into the living room, eh handed Chris a glass of water and sat down on the other end of the couch. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I’m fine.” Chris kept his eyes on the television.

They sat in silence until Zach sighed and broke it again. “Chris, seriously, what’s wrong? One minute you’re crying, the next you’re pissed, and I know you’re pregnant—“

“I’m pregnant, Zach, yes. Have you noticed?” he gestured to his belly. “Not crippled, not incapacitated. I expected this from my parents, but not you. Dr. Greenwood’s exact words were ‘Take it easy,’ not ‘Chris, you’re on bedrest.’”

“I just want to take care of you.”

“I know! I know. But Zach, you’re smothering me. I’m perfectly capable of getting a glass of water from the kitchen as long as you don’t fight me for it.”

Zach looked like he wanted to say more, but he wisely kept it to himself.

“You want to feel the baby kick?”

Eyes bright, Zach stretched out across the couch until his head was in Chris’s lap. Chris took his hand. He had to move it several times before Zach felt anything.

“There. Right there.”

Beneath their hands, the baby was kicking one little foot into the wall of Chris’s belly. For as odd as it felt from the outside, it felt even weirder from the inside.

“That’s so cool.” As he spoke, Zach’s eyes were fixed on his hand and the movements beneath it. “In just over a month, you’re going to be out here with us, little one.”

“We should probably start picking out some names from out list.”

“You know, I really like—“

Whatever name Zach had in mind was drowned out by the sound of Zoe coming through the front door. “Good, you’re home,” she said by way of greeting. “I wanted to tell you that I found this envelope on the living room floor. Do your parents know you’re having a—“

Zach snatched the envelope out of Zoe’s hand before Chris had even realized he’d moved. “No, they don’t. And you weren’t supposed to, either.”

“Well, don’t leave stuff like that hanging around, then.”

Huffing, Zach folded the envelope and shoved it into his pocket. “I’m just glad it was you instead of my mom. She would have been on the phone with Chris’s parents straight away before lecturing me for keeping it a secret.”

“Well, I’m sorry if I ruined the surprise. I didn’t tell anyone.”

“Just don’t tell anyone you knew before they did,” said Chris. “My mom might never forgive me.”

Chapter Text

Being 19 and pregnant seemed a whole lot more fun on TV than it was in real life. Every two weeks, Chris’s mom would ferry him to Dr. Greenwood’s office for a check-up. Should wouldn’t let him drive himself “in case something happened.” Zach came over when he could, but mostly Chris wandered around the house alone.

He’d taken to walking the neighborhood. Early in the morning, few people were out, other than a couple of joggers. Waddling as he did, Chris couldn’t walk very far or very long, but it beat the hell out of sitting on the couch. The time also gave Chris plenty of alone time to think. His life had changed dramatically over the last few months. This time last year, he’d been finishing up his freshman year, saying goodbye to Eric, and planning out a summer at the beach. This year, he’d said goodbye to John and Anton and was preparing for a summer of midnight feedings and changing diapers.

Alone with his thoughts, Chris was starting to wonder if he’d made the wrong decision. And then there was Zach. From the moment he’d confirmed the baby’s paternity, he’d been by Chris’s side like a sentinel standing guard over him and their unborn child. He just wondered how long that would last.

*

A group of protestors caught Chris’s attention as they pulled into the parking lot. His mom had to work, so Katie was driving him to his weekly appointment.

“Life begins at conception,” Chris read off one of the signs. “Are they for real?”

“You know as well as I do that they’re never going to stop,” said Katie. “Are you okay getting out, or do you need help?”

“I got it.” He had to pull himself up like some shellfish emerging from its mantel, but that he managed on his own was a small victory. He was ready for this to be over.

As he and Katie walked towards the building, however, the vultures descended.

“Abortion is murder!”

“You’re going to Hell!”

Chris did his best to avoid eye contact and keep walking, but it was hard enough without people deliberately blocking his path.

“Excuse me,” he said in his most polite tone as he tried to skirt the pro-lifers, but they were like hydra. Sidestepping one only led him straight into the claws of another.

“Chris!” Katie reached for his elbow to steady him a moment too late.

Two of the protesters had cornered him, their signs with pictures of fetuses in various stages of gestation pressed into his face. Chris’s arms windmilled in a futile attempt to catch himself. He landed hard on his left asscheek, and the crowd fell silent in shock.

They parted as one of Dr. Greenwood’s nurses came rushing towards Chris. Katie had already gotten an arm around him and helped him to his feet by the time the nurse reached them.

“I told you all to get out of here! Now! Before I call the police! Chris, are you okay?”

Annoyed but shaken, he nodded. “Good thing I’m here for a check-up. Fucking morons. Can’t you see I’m way too pregnant for an abortion, anyway?” Huffing, he allowed Katie and the nurse to help him into the office.

 

“I heard you took quite a spill out there. Does anything hurt?”

“Just my pride,” said Chris sourly. “Isn’t that illegal? Can’t you arrest those people, or something?”

Dr. Greenwood shook his head. “Unfortunately I can’t do anything because they’re not on our property. If you wanted, you could press charges since they knocked you down.”

Considering this, Chris sat quietly as Dr. Greenwood listened to his heart. Pressing charges probably wouldn’t do any good. Sure, he was pregnant, but nobody laid a hand on him, and no harm came to him or the baby.

Dr. Greenwood noted Chris’s new measurements and reclaimed his seat. “Four more weeks, huh? How do you feel?”

“Like I’m ready to get this baby out of me. Everything hurts, I can’t get comfortable, and somehow I’m horny all the time even though I’m starting to forget what my dick looks like. And my feet for that matter.”

“That’s completely normal, for better or worse. How about emotionally? How are things with Zach?”

The paper beneath his body crinkled as Chris shifted. “Okay, I guess. I haven’t seen him as much as I thought I would now that I”m home. He works a lot. It’s . . . hard.”

“Have you tried talking to him?” Dr. Greenwood’s face creased with concern. “He’s your partner, Chris. It’s his job to support you during this pregnancy, but you’ve got to remember that he’s not a mind-reader. He can’t know what you need unless you tell him.”

Unfortunately, Chris felt like he shouldn’t have to ask for what he needed. Somehow he thought that if Zach was a “good” partner, he’d just know what Chris needed.

*

His parents were out for the night, so Zach came over to save Chris the drive. The Pines had gotten used to Zach’s presence, but Chris and Zach still preferred to take their alone time where they could get it. So Zach made burgers with hand-cut fries, and they ate on the living room couch.

“You haven’t had any weird food cravings,” Zach mused as he stacked their empty plates on the coffee table.

“Nope. Does that make you sad? Do you have a sudden urge to run out and buy me pickles and ice cream?”

“Just noticing. Not everyone gets cravings. How was your appointment today?”

Chris told him about getting knocked down, and Zach’s eyes flashed with intensity. “They’re lucky I wasn’t there.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “What would you have done? Shouted? Knocked them over the head with their own stupid signs? It’s fine. Dr. Greenwood said there’s nothing wrong. I’ll just be more careful next time. Besides, they were all gone by the time I came back out, anyway.”

“I’ll go with you next time.” Zach laid a proprietary hand on Chris’s belly, and Chris felt himself flush with heat. Probably a good time to have that talk Dr. Greenwood recommended.

“Can—can I ask you something? Ask you for something, I mean.”

“Of course. Anything.”

“You work a lot.”

“I do.” Zach’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“I’m not saying . . just hear me out, okay? Before you say anything, just let me finish.”

Zach obediently closed his mouth, and Chris took a breath.

“I am really, really fucking lonely right now. I still have four weeks until I have this baby, and it feels like an eternity. I’m alone all the time anymore. My parents work, you work. My friends are off doing whatever the fuck it is they’re doing. And I’m stuck here.”

“Chris, I can’t—”

Chris held up a hand. “Please? I’m almost done.” He pulled the sleeves of his cardigan down over his fingers. “I thought maybe you could stay here a couple nights a week? I know you have to work, and sometimes you get home late, but it would just be nice to see you, if only for a little while.”

Zach’s expression softened. “Of course I’d do that. Would your parents be okay if I stayed here? They’re kinda . . . not terribly fond of me.”

Chris rolled his eyes. “What are they going to do?”

“Uh, kick me out? Kick you out? Where would that put us?”

“Oh my god, they’re not going to kick me out just because you spent the night!”

“I just want to be respectful.” Taking Chris’s hands in his, Zach looked him in the face. “No matter how you look at it, this is still their house, and they’re not going to warm up to me if I abuse the privilege of being here.”

“Fine. I’ll ask them when they get home. Do you wanna have sex?”

“What?” A smile split Zach’s face. “How do you go from that to sex?”

“I’m always horny anymore,” Chris said in a voice that was little more than a whine.

“Well, we’re not doing it on the couch. I can only imagine your parents coming home in the middle.”

They retreated to Chris’s room. It took some maneuvering to find a position that was both comfortable and pleasurable. Finally, they settled down with Zach spooning Chris from behind. They made love long and slow. Chris kept their joined hands under his chin and bit down on Zach’s knuckles when he came.

Afterwards, they lay next to one another in the dark talking and holding hands.

“I’m so scared,” Chris whispered.

Zach squeezed his fingers. “About giving birth or transferring to UCLA?”

“Yes. Zach, a year ago, I didn’t know if I’d ever have kids, and I was full-steam ahead from Berkeley to grad school. Sorry, I know we’ve talked about this 1,000 times, but it just catches up with me. Dude, pretty soon I’m going to be pushing this baby out of me. You sure you don’t wanna trade?”

Zach laughed. “I’ll tell you what. If you want, I’ll have the next one.”

“I like that plan.” Though he wasn’t sure if they’d have more kids or if they’d even be together long enough to watch this one grow up, Chris felt content.

Sated, they lay together until the opening of the front door heralded his parents’ arrival.

Chris groaned. “I should go down and talk to them.”

“You want me to come with you?

“No.” Kissing Zach’s shoulder, Chris pushed himself out of the bed so he could pull on some clothes. “You stay here and keep the bed warm.”

 

He took the stairs slowly. Being pregnant threw off his center of gravity, and it was hard for Chris to walk anywhere.

He found his mom in the kitchen putting away leftovers from the restaurant and just generally puttering around.

“Hi, baby.” Taking Chris’s face between her hands, she kissed his forehead. “I saw Zach’s car in the driveway. Is he still upstairs?”

“Yeah. He’s asleep. I, uh, wanted to talk to you about that, actually. He and I talked. We’ve—I’ve been thinking. I was thinking, and I talked to him about it.”

His mom waited patiently for Chris to wrap his tongue around the words, but he could tell she was preparing to shoot down his request.

“I want Zach to stay here a couple nights a week—and before you ask, no, he’s not moving in. I just—need him around more until the baby’s born. I’m so alone here.”

“Okay.”

“Okay? That’s it?” Chris almost started crying in relief.

“That’s it. It wouldn’t be fair to keep you two apart this late in the game. But it is not a permanent arrangement, do you understand? Zach is not moving in here. Your father and I cannot support this baby, let alone your boyfriend.”

“He’s just gonna spend a couple nights here. I promise.”

“And he’s not getting a key.”

Chris nodded. He deliberately neglected to mention that he already had a key to Zach’s apartment. “Of course not. I’ll let him in. He won’t be here without me.”

His mom pursed her lips. “How are you doing? Honestly. You’re in the home stretch now.”

“I’m okay. I’ll just be happy when I can go for a jog again. How was dinner? Did Dad go to bed already?”

“He just went to change. It was very nice. The Valdezes say hello. They can’t wait to see the baby.”

“Yeah,” Chris replied noncommittally. He put one hand over his belly. For at least the first month, he didn’t plan to hand over his child to anyone who wasn’t an immediate family member.

“I’m headed to bed. You should probably turn in, too. That little one needs you at your best.” Reaching out, Chris’s mom patted his belly.

Chris’s cheeks colored at the gesture. “Night, Mom.”

For as excited as he was to have this baby, he was also nervous about having the share it with the rest of the world. His instincts told him to seal off the door to his bedroom with Zach in it and not let anyone else in. The closer his child’s birth drew, the more anxious Chris became.

Chapter Text

By unspoken agreement, Chris and his parents had decided not to turn the spare bedroom into a nursery. In the fall, Chris would be back in school. By the time the baby need a room, Chris would have a real job and hopefully be in his own place, with or without Zach. Preferably with, but Chris didn’t want to think about that right now.

They’d gotten two cribs—one for Chris’s parents’ house and one for Zach’s apartment. It cost them more money than they had wanted to spend, but it made sense. Chris’s parents gave them a carseat. It was only one, but they figured they could move it when necessary.

Zach had begun stockpiling diapers. Every paycheck he bough a few more packages and stuffed them into the closet. Chris’s heart skipped a beat at how excited Zach seemed to be.

Chris was dreaming. He and Zach were on an airplane. Chris was still heavily pregnant, and his conscious brain wondered what he was doing on an airplane now. He didn’t even know where they were going.

“Zach.” Chris nudged his boyfriend’s knee. He had to get out and go to the bathroom, but Zach wasn’t responding. The pregnancy had been wreaking havoc on his bladder, and Chris was growing desperate. “Zach. Let me out, come on, I gotta pee.”

With a start, Chris’s eyes snapped open. He pushed himself into a sitting position and immediately felt the wetness between his thighs. “Crap.” Had he seriously wet the bed? But as he moved to stand up, a fist-like cramp seized his midsection. Extra double crap. He hadn’t wet the bed.

Trying to stay calm, Chris waddled to the bathroom. He washed his hands and changed his pants.

Holding on to the bannister tightly, he headed downstairs. “Mom?”

“I’m in the living room! How was your nap?”

“My water broke.”

“Oh. Oh!” His normally calm and collected mother seemed momentarily frazzled. They were still a week ahead of his due date. “Where’s your bag? Are you okay? How far apart are your contractions?”

“I’ve only had—“ He clutched his belly and breathed deeply as another tremor rippled through him. “That’s the second one. Bag’s upstairs next to my bed. Will you grab my blanket, too? The blue one. And call Zach?”

“I need to call your father, too.”

 

She returned a moment later with Chris’s bag in one hand and his blanket in the other. Despite the California heat, Chris took the blanket and cuddled it to his chest. He followed his mother to the car.

The drive in LA traffic took just over 20 minutes, and by the time they got to the hospital, Chris’s contractions were about five minutes apart. They took him straight to the delivery room and called Dr. Greenwood.

“Mom, did you call Zach?” Chris begged to know.

“No, but I’ll go right now.” She leaned down and kissed his forehead. Chris’s blanket was tucked around his shoulders and he rubbed the corner of it against his cheek.

The nurse checking his vitals looked up from her clipboard. “How you doing, kiddo?”

“I’ve definitely been better. How much longer do you think it will be?”

“At this rate? Not much.”

Chris’s chest tightened anxiously. He didn’t want to have this baby without Zach.

Dr. Greenwood showed up before Chris’s mom returned. Wide smile on his face, he said, “Chris! Ready to have that baby?”

“I guess.” Another contraction ripped through him, and Dr. Greenwood watched as the nurse timed it. “You’re almost ready to start pushing.”

“I can’t get like a—an epidural or something?”

“Sorry, bud; you’re too far along for that. You’ll have to do it the old fashioned way.”

There was a knock on the door and Chris’s mom reappeared.

“Did you call him? Is he coming?” Chris asked desperately.

“I called the house, and Zoe gave me his work number. It took a while to get him on the phone, but he’s on his way.”

“Nine centimeters, Doctor.”

“I can’t push, yet.” Chris felt like crying. “Zach isn’t here.”

“Honey, this baby might not wait.”

Despite the urge to fight everyone in the room—Zach would be there, dammit!—he could only grit his teeth and groan through the next contraction.

“Baby is starting to crown,” Dr. Greenwood announced.

“Okay, Chris, I need you to relax for a second and push on the next contraction.”

“No—I can’t—Zach’s not here yet—he’s—mom!”

She squeezed his hand tightly as he felt another contraction coming. Nurses on either side of him held his socked feet and gave him something to brace himself against.

“Okay, Chris, time to push,” Dr. Greenwood urged.

Chris pushed for all he was worth, even as his heart was screaming for him to wait. The last thing he wanted was to deliver this baby without Zach. They had him curled and pressed like a worm in a vice. Everything below the waist was cramping and burning like it was going to implode and catch fire at the same time. Distantly, Chris could hear his screams getting louder, but he couldn’t stop himself.

“The head is out!”

“Doctor, Dad is here.”

Eyes screwed shut tight, Chris panted through the pain. He barely cracked his eyes open when someone took the hand his mom wasn’t holding.

Zach stood there in his black La Cucina polo like everything Chris had ever needed. He gave Chris a watery smile.

“Okay, Chris, this is it!” Dr. Greenwood shouted.

Zach pressed their faces together as Chris gave an unholy scream and pushed as hard as he could.

A shrill scream pierced the air. Exhausted, Chris collapsed into the pillows, but he did not release Zach’s hand.

“Congratulations,” the nurse said as she placed the tightly-wrapped bundle in his arms. “It’s a girl.”

Chris couldn’t take his eyes off her. He couldn’t believe she was here.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here sooner,” Zach murmured.

“It’s okay. Do you want to hold her?” Chris finally spared him a glance. “You’re still wearing your apron.”

Zach shrugged. “Let me hold my daughter.”

Handing the baby to Zach was the hardest thing Chris had done, second only to pushing her out of his body. “Careful.”

Zach cradled the baby to his chest. She looked so tiny wrapped in his arms. Five pounds, two ounces, she was small, even for a newborn.

Watching the exchange with warm eyes, Chris’s mom said, “Have you picked out a name?”

“Amelia Ann Pine-Quinto.”

“Amelia,” Zach whispered, brushing her cheek with his forefinger.

*

Since Amelia was born in the evening, she and Chris only spent about a day and a half in the hospital. They had plenty of visitors—Chris’s parents for most of the day, Zoe, Anton, and John, and newly-christened Uncle Joe, and Aunt Katie. Zach, of course, slept in a roll-away cot next to Chris’s bed.

Zach offered to drive Chris and Amelia home, but Chris’s parents declined. The car seat had already been secured in the backseat of their SUV, so it wouldn’t make sense to switch cars. Chris himself was too exhausted and nervous about driving the baby through Los Angeles to care much.

 

Chris sank down onto the couch. Beside him, Amelia slept on in her carseat. Already, they could tell she was an easy baby. She only fussed when she was hungry, and she slept so much that Chris was worried something was wrong with her.

“That’s just how babies are,” his mother assured him.

His parents disappeared upstairs to give them some time to “settle in.”

Leaning his head back, Chris rubbed his chest. His breasts were tight and sore. Full of milk, they hurt constantly.

“How are you holding up?” Zach asked. He was hovering awkwardly in front of the couch with his hands shoved into his pockets.

“Everything hurts, I’m exhausted, and why are you still standing there?”

Zach took up the empty space beside him, and instantly Chris leaned back into Zach’s body. He took Zach’s hands in his and pressed them against his breasts, massaging lightly. Chris groaned.

Leaning close, Zach hooked his chin over Chris’s shoulder and kissed his neck. “How long until we can have sex again?”

Chris pinched his thigh. “This isn’t an offer. Ass. Keep it up and we won’t have sex again until Amelia’s in high school. Or you push a human out of your body. I’m flexible.”

Zach’s hands stilled, but they stayed on Chris’s body. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For keeping her. For finding me. You could have just . . . well, you had options. You could have . . . taken care of it, and I never would have known. I wouldn’t have you. Either of you.”

“Who knew fatherhood would turn you into such a sap? Isn’t that weird? We’re parents now, Zach. Speaking of, when is your mom gonna be here?”

“Sunday. So we have one more day here, and then we’ll go to the apartment.”

“What do you mean ‘we’? Can’t your mom visit us here? You guys don’t have room for all of us.”

“Well, I just thought . . . never mind.”

“What?”

“It’s nothing.”

“No, what? Zach, come on.”

“I just thought that since you’re . . . I mean, you live with your parents, so I thought we—you and me and Amelia could spend some time with my mom. As a family. Zoe already said she can stay with Liam so my mom can sleep in her room.”

“Okay. That would—yeah, that’s fine.”

Amelia finally woke up and began to fuss. Chris started to get up, but Zach laid a hand on his arm. “I’ve got her.” With deft, careful fingers, Zach unbuckled the car seat and lifted the baby out.

Chris had already pulled his t-shirt up over his breasts. They were hardly large enough to keep the material from slipping back down. As soon as Amelia was settled against his chest, she began rooting around for a nipple. Chris hissed when she found it. He placed one hand on her tiny back to feel the way it rose and fell with her breaths.

“Does thbat hurt?” Zach had become fascinated by watching Chris breastfeed.

“Not right now. But it does when she latches.”

Zach winced in sympathy. “I love you.”

“I love you, too. Will you grab me one of those towels? There’s a really good chance she’ll spit up when I burp her.”

“This is our life now.”

“Need I remind you, again, which of us thought you didn’t need to wear a rubber?”

“Well, it’s a little late to return her to sender.”

“I wouldn’t want to.” Chris was already in love. He leaned down to brush a kiss against the satin-smooth curve of her little head.

Chapter Text

Before Zach could even ask, Chris refused to take Amelia to the airport. Instead, he made himself comfortable with the baby on Zach and Zoe’s couch. The coffee table looked like an advertisement for Babies ‘R Us with all the supplies they’d laid out “just in case” he needed something while Zach was gone.

He and Amelia were in almost exactly the same position when Zach and his mom walked through the door two hours later.

“Oh, my word, Zachary, there she is.”

Zach was grinning. “In the flesh.”

Pasting a smile on Chris patted Amelia’s diaper-padded behind. He’d had about four solid hours of sleep since the day before.

“Can I hold her?”

She may have been Amelia’s other grandma, but Chris was resistant to handing her to anyone other than Zach. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, she just ate, so she’ll probably go to sleep soon.”

“Honey, I raised two boys. I can handle this angel. Why don’t you go lie down? You look like you could use it.” She glanced at Zach on her way to the couch. “Have you been helping him?”

Despite his exhaustion, Chris smiled. “Other than two shifts he had to go work, he’s been with me ever since she was born.”

Margo seemed pleased with that. “Okay, let me hold my granddaughter.”

Chris half-stood to place the baby in her arms. He tucked the edge of Amelia’s blanket tighter around her little body. “You are perfect.”

“She is perfect.”

“We think so.” Zach walked over to the couch and wrapped an arm around Chris’s shoulders. “You sure you don’t wanna go lie down?”

“Go on.” Margo waved a hand as she sat in the chair.

“Okay,” Chris sighed.

 

Zach closed the bedroom door behind them.

“You don’t have to stay in here.” Chris was already crawling into bed in his sweatpants and t-shirt.

“We haven’t had a moment to ourselves since you gave birth. That’s why my mom is here. I’ll probably only stay until you fall asleep, unless you’d rather I not.”

Closing his eyes, Chris made a noncommittal noise. “I don’t care.”

“Baby,” Zach drawled. Slowly, so as not to jostle Chris too much, he climbed into the bed. He tucked up behind Chris and wrapped an arm around his waist.

Chris threaded their fingers together, then he tucked them up underneath his shirt. “This is weird.”

“Hmm?” Zach lifted his head from the pillow.

“This.” With their joined hands, Chris patted his now-flat belly. He still carried some baby weight, but it was nothing compared to his size a week prior. Finally fitting back into his favorite pair of sweatpants was perhaps the best part next to Amelia. “You haven’t been able to put your arms all the way around me in months.”

“Nope.” Humming low in his throat, Zach took advantage of the situation. He wormed his other arm underneath Chris’s body and pulled him tight to his chest.

“Wake me up in 20,” was the last thing Chris said before he fell asleep.

 

He woke with a start to the sound of Amelia crying. His breasts throbbed in sympathy.

Zach was holding the baby and trying to soothe her when Chris stumbled out of the bedroom. He made grabby hands for his daughter as he sat down on the couch.

Amelia quieted once she got a nipple in her mouth.

“How long was I asleep?”

“About four hours.”

“I said 20 minutes. Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“You needed the sleep. Amelia’s fine.” Zach curled a warm hand around Chris’s knee.

“Where’s your mom?”

“She went to the store so she can make us dinner tonight.”

“Bless her.”

Watching as Chris nursed and burped their daughter, Zach sat quietly. “Her eyes are so blue.”

“They might change. Her hair will probably get darker.” Chris brushed his palm over the silky tuft atop Amelia’s head.

“She looks a lot more like you.”

“She’s your daughter.”

“I know. I’m not disputing that. I’m just making an observation.”

“Let’s just hope she doesn’t act like you.” Chris gave Zach a sideways glance, but he was grinning.

*

“I don’t know, Zach, maybe she isn’t yours.” Resting Amelia on his thighs with both hands bracketing her, Joe made faces at his niece. “I think she looks more like Uncle Joe. You look like me, don’t you, sweetie?”

Chris was sitting at the end of the couch with his legs curled under him. He gave an unimpressed roll of his eyes. “The resemblance between your beards is uncanny.”

“She’s a beautiful baby,” said Margo. They could all agree on that.

“I gotta say: I never thought Zach would have kids first. Has it been hard? Getting used to having a newborn?”

“This is going to sound weird, but after being pregnant for 9 months, it’s not that much of a change. I mean, of course actually having a baby is a lot different than being pregnant with one, but we’ve had so much time to get used to the idea and prepare for her. I will acquiesce and admit that nothing could have prepared me for the exhaustion of taking care of a newborn. And the pain in my breasts. Sorry if that’s gross, but everything about breastfeeding hurts. Just keep that in mind, Joe, if you ever get pregnant.”

Eyes still on Amelia, Joe said, “Maybe some day I’ll give this little one some cousins. Do you guys plan on having any more?”

“Hopefully not until you both have a full-time job,” Margo said curtly.

“Definitely not right now.” Zach let out a nervous laugh. “I think Chris might stab me if I come anywhere near him with those thoughts on my mind.” The look Chris gave him said he wasn’t wrong.

Amelia began to fuss. Chris twitched toward the baby, but Joe lifted her up. His nose wrinkled. “Somebody needs a diaper change.”

With a laugh, Chris relaxed back into his seat. “I think now is a great time to practice, Uncle Joe. Have you ever changed a diaper before?”

“I have. Not as many as you guys, I’m sure.”

Zach kept a close eye on his brother and gave a few pointers. Joe changed Amelia and snapped her back into her giraffe-printed onesie. “Everything about her is just so small.” He ran his knuckle up and down the sole of a tiny foot no larger than his forefinger.

“She’s hardly seven pounds,” said Zach. “Though she might be now. I swear she eats constantly.”

“Yeah, you would know,” Chris said sarcastically.

“I have eyes. And I told you I’d feed her if you pump.”

Chris crossed his arms over his chest like a shield. “I’ve heard that hurts. Like really bad.”

“Honey, it hurts either way,” said Margo.

“You must really love my brother to go through all this for him.”

“Not just for him.” Grateful, Chris accepted his baby from Joe.

*

Two days before she was scheduled to leave, Margo insisted Chris and Zach get out of the apartment for a date night, despite Chris’s claim that he was too tired.

Telling himself it was just to appease Zach’s mom, Chris put on his favorite pair of pre-pregnancy jeans and a clean white t-shirt. He even smoothed a little product through his hair. What he wasn’t expecting was for Zach to look so good in a short-sleeve red button-up.

Zach jingled his keys. “You ready?”

Chris casted a quick look around the living room. He had his wallet, Zach had the keys, and Margo had Amelia. “Yeah, I think so.” He paused to kiss Amelia’s forehead. “We probably won’t be back any later than eight. If she gets hungry, the formula’s on the counter—“

“Chris, honey, I’ve got it. Trust me, we’ll be fine. You two go out and have some fun.”

“Come on.” Zach slung a hand across his shoulders. “Mama Quinto’s got this.”

They decided on an all-night diner close to home. It was cheap and wouldn’t keep them out too late.

Biting into his cheeseburger, Chris let out a groan of satisfaction. “This is heavenly.” Nothing he’d eaten in the last two weeks could even come close.

“Wow, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you like that burger more than you like me.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

Zach wiped his mouth. “I actually want to talk to you about something.”

For the first time since he was served, Chris set his burger down. His stomach had dropped to his knees. No good conversation started with “talk.”

“Okay.”

“Remember how George was trying to give me some extra shifts?”

“Yeah.” Chris wasn’t sure he liked where this was going.

“Well, he offered to make me the assistant manager.”

The silence between them stretched as Chris let that sink in. “Okay,” he said again. “So, what’s that going to mean?”

“Well, it’s more hours. I’ll be working 30 instead of 20. I’ll also get a raise, which means more money.”

“What about acting? Are you, like, done with that?”

“No,” Zach drawled, sounding unconvincing. “It’s just . . . I mean, we really need the money. Diapers aren’t cheap.”

“What about hours? Are you working days or nights or what? What are we looking at?”

“Five nights a week working dinner. Plus overtime, if it comes to that.”

Chris fell quiet. A couple weeks ago he’d been fighting to have Zach at his house a few nights a week, and now that would be reduced to exactly two, if he was lucky.

Zach took his hand across the table. “Chris, this is going to be good for us and Amelia. You’ll start at UCLA in the fall. I’ll be able to stay home with her during the day, and you’ll have her at night. It’s ideal, really.”

“And then I never see you. How is that ideal?”

“Chris, what do you expect? Wh-what was your plan? Put her in daycare? Awesome—with what money? And your parents can’t take care of her. They both work. I really fail to see how this isn’t the best solution.”

Like so many aspects of his pregnancy, Chris hadn’t thought this through. But every option felt like a dead end. He knew parenthood was about sacrifice, but it felt like he and Zach were giving up everything.

“I guess,” he said, not believing his own words. “When do you start?”

“Next week. I told George I wanted to wait until my mom went home.”

“Okay.” Chris looked down at his burger. It didn’t look nearly so good topped with bad news.

“Chris? Chris Pine?”

It took him a minute to place the bald head walking toward him. “Eric?”

“Long time no see! How the hell are you, mate?”

Chris had no choice but to accept the hug that Eric all-but forced on him.

“Still at Berkeley?”

“No, I actually transferred to UCLA. I’ll start there in the fall.” Chris rubbed a nervous hand over the back of his neck.

“Shite, you fail out?”

“No, I had a baby and moved back home.”

“No shite?” Eric’s eyes glanced down Chris’s body and back up. “You’ve certainly been busy since I’ve been gone. Who’s the lucky guy? It’s not Anton, is it? That bloke is smart as hell, but I’m not sure I’d want him as my baby daddy.”

“Actually,” Chris gestured across the table, “this is my boyfriend, Zach. Zach, this is my old roommate, Eric.”

Eric gave him a masculine handshake. “Good to meet you.”

“So what are you doing here?” Chris asked. “I thought you went back to Australia.”

“I did! I’m a model now. An agency in Melbourne picked me up, and I’m here for a few days walking in a show for Felix D’Artilligion. Ever heard of him?”

Chris shook his head.

“It doesn’t matter. Anyway, it was good to see you! I’ll have to look you up next time I’m in town. Maybe we and the boys—and Zach, of course—can go out for a drink, or something.”

“Yeah, that would be cool. Good to see you, man.”

Eric walked away, and Chris regarded his half-eaten burger with dismay.

“Are you ready to go?” asked Zach.

“Yes.”

 

In the car, Zach turned to Chris rather than putting the keys in the ignition. “I’m sorry tonight was such a bust.”

Chris sighed. “It doesn’t matter. I’m just stressed out and tired. I guess I’ll have time to sleep when Amelia goes to college.”

Groaning, Zach lowered his forehead to the steering wheel.

“Hey. Come here.”

Zach turned his head to see Chris beckoning him with a single finger. He sat back up. Chris cupped Zach’s cheek in one hand and leaned closer. Their lips met in a chaste kiss. Opening his mouth slightly, Chris ran his tongue over Zach’s bottom lip. Before Zach could respond, however, Chris pulled away.

“I love you, and I truly appreciate how dedicated you are to me and Amelia.”

Zach smiled. “I love you, too.” He pecked another kiss on Chris’s lips before turning to start the car.

*

The boys opened the door to the apartment slowly because they expected that Amelia would be asleep.

“You’re back early.” From the couch, Margo gave them a once-over. “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah.”

“It was good.”

“That doesn’t sound very convincing.”

“Where’s Amelia? Is she asleep?”

“I put her down about an hour ago, and she’s hardly made a sound.”

“I’m gonna go check on her.”

In the bedroom, Chris found his baby girl fast asleep in her crib. Her little chest rose and fell with every breath she took. He could sit here for hours watching her.

From the living room, Chris could hear Zach and Margo talking in low tones. He knew Zach was explaining his new role at work to his mother. Rather than join them, Chris opted to sit with his little girl a while longer.

Chapter Text

The weeks passed, and the little family fell into a routine. Zach’s days offer were never consistent or back-to-back, but on every one, Chris packed up Amelia and headed to the apartment. Zoe wasn’t always there—she was still working at La Cucina and spending some of her nights with Liam. Most recently, she’d landed a starring role in a film called “Center Stage.” She was playing a young dancer in a ballet company. Zach wouldn’t say it, but Chris knew he was feeling no small measure of jealous at his friend’s success.

On this night, Zoe and Chris were sitting on the couch talking when Zach got home from work.

“Hi Honey,” Chris said. They didn’t often use nicknames, but he couldn’t help the rush of affection he felt at seeing Zach come through the door.

“I fucking hate that place,” he said, each word slow and measured.

“What happened?” Zoe patted the space on the couch between them. “Sit down and tell us about it.”

“I will. Hang on.” Zach disappeared into the kitchen, and they heard the crack of a can opening.

“Okay, so.” Toeing his sneakers off, Zach sat down on the couch and propped his feet on the coffee table. He took a swallow of his beer before speaking. “First—actually, is Amelia asleep?”

“Yes. Thank you for asking.” Chris pecked a kiss on Zach’s lips, nose wrinkling slightly at the bitter taste.

“Okay, so first I get there and George tells me we’re almost out of tomatoes. No, I’m not fucking kidding,” he said before Zoe could ask. “So I clock in and before I do anything else, I slice up about 4 containers of tomatoes and put one on the line. George leaves, and 15 minutes before he’s supposed to be there, Julio calls to say he’s not coming in.”

“Why didn’t you call me?” Zoe interrupted.

“You were on set all day; I wasn’t going to do that to you. Anyway, I got Kristen to come in, but she had to find a sitter first, so I got to wait tables for an hour.”

Chris hummed in sympathy.

“Oh, wait. That’s not even the best part. Mimi—you know the little tiny one who usually works days?”

Zoe nodded.

“She got into a screaming match—an actual screaming match in the middle of the dining room with a customer over a fucking bowl of soup. I spent probably the last hour of my shift on the phone with corporate. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if the woman sued.” Sighing, Zach looked at Zoe and then at Chris. “How was your night?”

“Amelia had an explosive diaper and then peed all over herself when I was changing her. That was fun.”

Laughter bubbled up in Zach’s chest as the tension bled out of him. “I would so much rather be here with you guys cleaning up baby poop than be at La Cucina for another hour.” He turned his head toward Zoe. “How about you? How was filming?”

“Long. I didn’t get home until 7, and we went over the same scene for like four hours today. I’m exhausted.”

“Sounds like you’ve got me beat. Are you going with us tomorrow?”

“John’s thing? I might. I might also take advantage of having the apartment to myself . . . paint my toenails . . . I’ll see how I feel.”

“No pressure.”

“And on that note.” Zoe stood up and stretched her long frame. “I’m going to bed. Please don’t defile the couch while I’m gone.”

Zach kissed her cheek. “No promises.”

“Night, Zo.”

As soon as her door closed, Chris stretched his legs out across Zach’s lap.

“Are you going to bed, too?” asked Zach.

“In a bit. I want to spend some time with you first.”

“Did you miss me?”

“I always miss you when you’re gone. It’s lonely sitting around the house by myself.”

Zach leaned forward to set his beer on the coffee table. He unfolded over Chris. There wasn’t quite enough room for the two of them to fit comfortably, so he maneuvered Chris onto his side and squeezed between him and the couch.

“We’re going to John’s tomorrow, and your parents are keeping the baby. If you want, we can skip the barbecue and spend the day alone instead.”

“No, I definitely want to see my friends. I’m just complaining.”

Nuzzling against his cheek, Zach kissed Chris’s neck. “What can I do?”

Chris made a noise of dissent.

“No, what?” Zach slipped his fingertips beneath Chris’s shirt and teased the soft skin of his belly.

“Zoe said not to defile the couch.”

“You always do everything Zoe says?”

Chris turned his head, and Zach caught his mouth in a kiss. They moved against one another languidly. Chris rolled over to face Zach and wedged a thigh between his legs. In response, Zach let out a noise of surprise against Chris’s lips. Pressed together, Chris could feel Zach’s chest against his sensitive nipples.

They might have gotten further had it not been for the whimper that issued from the baby monitor next to them. Zach fairly vaulted over Chris to reach Amelia before her cries could wake Zoe.

When Zach returned with the grizzling baby in his arms, Chris had foregone his shirt all together. He accepted their daughter and she began nursing right away.

“Is it bad that I’m disappointed that Amelia got your shirt off before me?”

Chris gave him a look.

Trying not to pout, Zach sat back down. He took Amelia when she was done eating so he could burp her.

Chris pulled his shirt back on. “I can’t believe how much she’s grown already.”

“I know. Pretty soon we’ll be enrolling her in preschool.”

“You take that back, Quinto. She’s going to stay tiny and perfect forever.”

“I wish,” Zach said softly. He slouched lower on the couch so he could rest the baby on his chest. She was already falling back to sleep. Somehow, she looked even smaller in Zach’s arms.

*

The party at was already in full swing by the time they got there. John greeted them at the back gate.

“Chris! Zach! Good to see you guys! Can I get you a beer?”

“I’ll take one,” said Zach.

“Not me.” Chris waved him off. “I’m breastfeeding.”

“How is the smallest Pine? Oh, she’s like a Pinecone!” John crowed at his own joke as he led them to several coolers full of ice. He handed Zach a beer and Chris a Coke.

“Well, technically, she’s a Pine and a Quinto, but she’s good. She’s with my parents right now.”

“Zoe didn’t come, either? Or is she coming later?”

“She’s at home giving herself, in her own words, ‘the ultimate at-home spa treatment.’”

“That must be hard . . . living with a baby that’s not yours. No offense, guys.”

“None taken. I probably wouldn’t want to live with someone else’s baby, either. Seriously, Zoe’s a fucking champ. Then again, Amelia’s only at the apartment two, maybe three nights a week. Today, she’ll be at Chris’s, and then for like the next three days because I work.”

John nodded, but it was clear he didn’t know what else to say. “Well, there’s plenty of food—burgers and hot dogs. Help yourselves, guys.” With a wave, he wandered off into the middle of the party.

“You wanna eat?” Zach asked.

“Always.”

 

They filled their plates and found an empty space at one of the picnic tables. Chris knew most of the people at the party, but many of them were also friends of John’s brother. As they ate, they watched the others ebb and flow like waves.

“Is that . . . “ Zach paused with his fork halfway to his mouth.

Trying to follow Zach’s line of sight, Chris looked over his own shoulder.

“Holy shit, it is.” Zach got up from the picnic table to greet a diminutive man wearing big plastic glasses. “JJ!”

They shared a hug, replete with genial backslaps.

“Chris, come here, I want you to meet someone.”

As they shook hands, Chris realized how he knew the man. JJ gave him an appraising look. “So you’re the guy who took Zach away from my project.”

“Sorry?” Confused, Chris drew his eyebrows together.

“I’m doing a film in Vegas next month. I wanted him for the lead, but he told me about you and the baby. I get it, of course. And I’m sure we’ll be able to work together in the future.”

“I’m sure.” Chris nodded and smiled as Zach and JJ chatted about the industry, but his mind was spinning a hundred miles a minute. He broke away from the conversation with a squeeze to Zach’s wrist.

Wandering back over to the table, Chris picked at the remnants of his meal. His stomach was full. Decisive, he picked up their plates and dumped them in the nearest trash. Several people stopped him to say hi, ask about the baby. News about his transfer to UCLA had spread quickly, and lots of his friends expressed their dismay that they wouldn’t see him in the fall.

Most exciting to see was Anton. He’d come to visit Chris and Amelia in the hospital, but they hadn’t seen one another since.

“How is everything? How’s the baby?”

“Good. She’s with my parents right now.”

Anton nodded. Though neither of them wanted to admit it, the dynamic of their friendship had changed. Quickly, they ran out of things to say.

Chris wandered around the periphery of the yard. Somehow, throughout the year, he’d drifted away from these people he used to think of as his closest friends.

Zach found him as he sat in the grass watching a group of people play corn hole. “You ready?”

Chris started at the voice in his ear. He accepted the hand up and brushed off the seat of his shorts. “Yeah.”

*

They drove past the exit for Zach’s apartment and then the exit for Chris’s house.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

They kept driving north and took the ramp towards Beverly Hills. Chris was even more confused when they turned into UCLA. Zach drew the car to a stop in front of a wide, sloping lawn that led to a stately university hall.

“I know you’re wondering why we’re here.”

“Among other things, yeah.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the part JJ offered me.”

“It’s not—”

“I don’t expect you to make all the sacrifices.” Zach’s dark eyes pinned Chris. “Transferring here—living with your parents . . . that’s huge. The role I turned down . . . I would have been gone for at least 3 months and made half the money I could make at the restaurant in the same time.”

“But I don’t want you to wake up in five years and hate your life. Sooner or later, you’re not going to like managing a restaurant with a theatre degree. I don’t want you to resent me for . . . tying you down and let that drive a wedge between us.”

“You have two more years in school, right? Amelia will be 2. If an opportunity like Vegas comes along, then maybe you guys can come with me, or you’ll have a job by then.” He paused for a self-deprecating laugh.

“But what if these opportunities stop coming around? I mean, that’s how this industry works, right? You get work, you build your, like your reputation, and then you get more work. How is taking two years off going to help when you haven’t even broken in yet?”

Zach looked completely at a loss for words. It was clear he had considered this himself and still came up with no answers. “What do you want me to do?”

“Call JJ and see if you can still take that role.”

“Chris.” Zach said his name slowly like he was talking to a small child. “I’ll be gone for 3 months. There’s no way they’ll even hold my job that long.”

“Fuck ‘em. Hopefully, after this, you won’t need to work there anymore, anyway. Besides, it’s a shorter drive than to Berkeley. I can see you on the weekends. It’s only 3 months.”

“Okay, and who’s going to pay my rent? Buy diapers?”

“I told you I’ll get a job.”

“When are you going to have time to work and go to school and take care of Amelia?”

“Zach, we’ll figure it out. You were so excited when you got that part that paid 500 bucks. What happened to that guy?”

“He had a baby. See, this is why I didn’t want to tell you.”

“Look, you’re not going to let me quit school, and I’m not going to let you quit acting. You can call that a fair trade or a compromise. Even if we have to get on food stamps, I don’t care. I just want you to be happy.”

Taking Chris’s face in his hands, Zach kissed him firmly. “I love you so much.”

Chapter Text

Balancing a baby, a diaper bag, and a carry-on was no easy task. Belatedly, Chris thought they should have put Amelia in one of those baby slings, but it was way too late for that. They made it though the flight and off the plane with no major issues. Amelia slept most of the way, other than a minor crying fit at take-off.

They spotted Zach’s mom at the bottom of the escalator just beyond the security checkpoint. She gave them each a tight hug.

“And who’s this little angel, huh? Grandma missed you!”

Amelia couldn’t do much more than shake her little hand and giggle spit bubbles, but it made Margo smile.

“I’ll take her for you,” she offered.

“Oh.” Reluctantly, Chris released his hold on the carrier.

 

The drive into the city took them up and down so many hills and around so many turns Chris felt himself getting carsick. Finally, they pulled into the driveway of a two-story brick house on a hill.

“Are there any flat streets in this city?”

“Put those calves to work, Cali boy. Just imagine: I used to shovel this in the winter.”

Sighing, Chris shouldered the diaper bag and followed Zach and Margo into the house.

“Look at you!” On the mantel, Margo had photos of Zach and Joe and their dad. One of those happened to be an appropriately-awkward senior portrait. Zach had already seen his parents’ collection of child-Chris pictures, so it was a nice change to see these.

“Mom, are you okay if I take Chris upstairs?”

Margo already had Amelia out of the carrier and was cradling the baby against her chest. “Of course. Make yourself at home, Chris.”

The hall upstairs was much smaller than Chris was expecting. Somehow, they’d crammed a bathroom and three bedrooms into such a small space.

“Mom’s room.” Zach gestured to the one on the left. “Joe’s old room.” The one on the right. “And this,” He turned the handle to the door next to the bathroom, “is my old room.”

Gone were the tchotchkes and nicknacks that would have marked this room as Zach’s. Instead, Margo had turned it into a guest room with floral curtains.

“Is it weird to say that it feels weird being in your childhood bedroom when I still live in mine?”

“Nah. This is the room I lost my virginity in.”

Eyes wide, Chris whirled around.

“I’m kidding!” Zach said with a laugh.

“Good.”

“I lost it in Joe’s room.”

Even though Zach was still laughing, Chris smacked him on the arm. “Not funny.”

Chris collapsed backwards onto the bed with a small oof. “This is pretty nice.” He folded his arms under his head and regarded his boyfriend. “How old were you when you lost your virginity?”

Zach raised an eyebrow.

“You brought it up.”

“I was . . . 16. You?”

“17.”

The other eyebrow went up. “You’re only 19 now.”

“I’m almost 20! Plus, I don’t really plan on adding to my number any time soon.”

“I sure hope not.”

“Trust me, one baby daddy is more than enough.”

Zach’s laughter echoed off the walls.

*

For lunch Zach insisted on taking Chris to Primanti Brothers.

“French fries and coleslaw on the sandwich?” Chris looked dubious.

“Just trust me,” Zach insisted. “It’s a ‘Burgh staple.”

Feeling overwhelmed, Chris looked down at the menu. Fried egg on a burger plus fries and coleslaw? It was too much, even for him. He just couldn’t imagine how all that food would fit on a bun. Unable to make a decision, he practically closed his eyes and pointed to something at random. Everyone assured him he couldn’t make a bad choice, so he tried to let that settle him.

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Margo said. “I’ll be right back.”

When his mom was out of earshot, Zach settled a warm hand on Chris’s thigh. “What do you say we take a nap when we get back to the house?”

“I like the way you think.” Grinning, Chris leaned in for a kiss. As he settled back into his own chair, Zach’s expression grew serious.

“Oh, fuck.” He ducked his head and pretended to look for something in Amelia’s diaper bag. “That’s my ex,” he hissed.

“Miles?” Chris replied a little too loudly. He winced as the long-haired man looked their way.

“He’s coming over here, isn’t he?”

Chris masked his reply in his glass of water. “Yep.”

Zach emerged from the diaper bag with a pacifier shaped like a mustache.

“Zachary?” Miles’s voice was softer than Chris had imagined. Without warning, he leaned in and gave Zach a hug.

Chris bristled.

“I had no idea you were home.” So this was Miles of the cherry pie. Up close, he looked all of 16 or 17.

“Yeah, we just got into town like two hours ago.” Zach looked between his ex- and current lover. “Miles, this is my boyfriend, Chris. Chris, this is Miles.”

Miles waved without offering a hand. “And who’s this little guy?” He leaned towards the baby, and Chris had to keep himself from flipping the table to get Miles away from his child.

“This is my daughter,” Zach said slowly, allowing it to sink in, “Amelia.”

Miles couldn’t contain his surprise. “Yours?” He gestured between Chris and Zach.

“Yep.” Chris allowed the last sound to pop as if he was daring Miles to make a comment about it.

The awkward silence between them was broken by Margo’s reappearance.

“Miles McMillan.”

He turned around to receive a big hug from Zach’s mom. “How are you, honey? Long time no see.”

“I’m good! Going in to my senior year at Pitt in the fall.”

“How about your parents? Your sister?”

“Good, good. Everyone’s good.” His smile was blinding and perfect like the rest of him. “My friends are probably wondering what happened to me. It was good to see you, though! Give me a call, Zachary. Maybe we can get together this week. It was nice to meet you, Chris.” With a wave, Miles was gone.

Chris wanted to hate him on principle, but he was so friendly and bubbly it was hard not to like him.

*

Curled up together in Zach’s old bedroom while Margo took care of Amelia, Chris finally felt safe enough to bring up the topic of lunch. “So . . . that was Miles.”

Chris,” Zach groaned into the pillow.

Sighing, Chris flopped onto his back. “All I’m gonna say is that he wasn’t as terrible as I imagined.”

“You thought I had bad taste?”

“Of course not. I just imagined Miles as like . . . awful, somehow. And he seems like someone I could be friends with.”

“Mystery solved. Can we go to sleep now?”

“Are you gonna meet him later this week?” The question was more curious than probing.

Zach’s eyes snapped open. “Chris, I don’t know. What is it gonna take to get you to go to sleep?”

Rolling onto his side, Chris slipped a hand under his cheek. “Dr. Greenwood cleared me for sex last week as long as we take it slow.”

Zach’s expression softened. He reached out his hand and traced Chris’s lips with a single fingertip. “Is that what you want to do?”

“We’ll have to be quiet.”

Rolling away from him, Zach got up from the bed.

“Where are you going?”

Zach tossed a smirk over his shoulder. “The lube is in the suitcase.” Victorious, he turned with the tube and a condom.

“You were optimistic.”

“Never hurts to be prepared.”

Chris twirled the condom between his fingers. “You know I can’t get pregnant while I’m breastfeeding.”

“Not taking any chances this time.” Zach crawled over top of him, pushing Chris onto his back.

“Oh, okay. Hello.”

Warm hands slid under his shirt. “I want to take my time with you, but with my mom and the baby downstairs, we probably shouldn’t take too long if we’re going to squeeze an actual nap in, too.”

“Well, we’ve got a child, so we should probably start honing our quickie skills.”

They shimmied out of their clothes and rolled onto their sides facing one another.

“We could just trade handjobs,” Zach said, reaching for Chris’s dick.

Chris bucked into the contact. He wrapped his leg around Zach’s hip to bring them closer. “Keep doing that.” With his hands free, he grabbed for the lube.

Zach mouthed at his throat. “I could do that, too.”

“Faster this way.” Chris panted, openmouthed, as he slid the first finger inside himself. It had been over two months since he’d given birth, and even longer since he and Zach had sex.

Hiking Chris’s leg higher on his hip, Zach released his cock to run a hand from the back of Chris’s knee to his ass. He didn’t interrupt what Chris was doing, just sort of rubbed his skin. The second finger slid inside. Zach pulled him back into a kiss. Fire pooled in Chris’s belly. More than anything, he wanted to feel connected to his lover again.

“Okay.” He clutched at Zach’s arm with a tacky hand.

Rolling onto his back, Zach pulled Chris atop his body. In spite of Chris’s objections, Zach tested his readiness with his own lube-slick fingers. He settled his hands on Chris’s narrow hips. “I want you to go at your own pace.”

Reaching back, Chris grabbed Zach’s dick. He gave it a few strokes just to be sure. The head kissed his hole, and Chris tensed reflexively.

“As slow as you need,” Zach reminded him. Dark eyes held Chris’s gaze. Anticipation bubbled inside his stomach. His cock lifted ever-so-slightly.

Bracing one splayed hand on Zach’s chest, Chris focused on relaxing his muscles. Inch by inch, he slowly sat down on Zach’s cock. When he was fully seated, Chris let out his breath in a sigh. All the while, Zach skimmed his fingers over Chris’s thigh, his belly, his arms. Slowly, gradually, they built a rhythm together that had Zach pressing up into Chris’s body. It was everything their first time should have been.

As he drew closer to climax, Chris bent down for a kiss. Zach wrapped both arms around him to press their chests together. Chris groaned.

“As good as this is, this position is killing my hips.”

They rearranged themselves on their sides. Zach was still able to wrap his arms around Chris’s chest and now he had access to his cock.

“Much better,” Chris said as Zach slid back inside. He dropped his head backwards onto Zach’s shoulder and allowed the sensations to wash over him. .

*

“Did you guys have a good nap?” Margo obligingly handed the baby to her son.

“Yeah. Jet lag is the worst.” Zach looked down at Amelia as he rocked her. “Did you have fun with Grandma?”

“She’s such a good baby. Hardly even fussed while yinz were upstairs. She must get that from you, Chris. Zach was a fussy baby.”

Chris laughed. “He’s still fussy. It takes him twice as long as me to get ready before we go out. I’m good in a t-shirt and jeans, but he’s got to do his hair and put on his make-up.”

Zach rolled his eyes. “I only put make-up on before I go on stage.”

“Speaking of that, when do you leave for Los Vegas?”

“About a month,” said Zach. “It’s the week after Chris gets back to school.”

Margo looked at Chris. “You’re going to miss him.”

“I’m already having a hard time just thinking about it. I mean, it’s sort of like the long distance we did when I was still in Berkeley, but this is only 3 months, and we’re planning to see each other on weekends.”

“How about the baby? Who’s going to take care of her?”

“There’s actually a daycare at school,” Chris said with a smile. “It’s staffed by students in the Early Childhood Education program, so it won’t cost me anything. I’ll just take her to school with me and pick her up when I’m done.”

“How about you, Zachary? How are you going to manage without that little munchkin for 3 months?”

“I don’t want to think about it.” Zach looked down into Amelia’s little face. Her eyes were still blue, but her hair had already begun to darken. “A year ago, I never could have imagined having a baby, but she is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Hey!”

“Other than you!”

Chris snorted. “Just don’t forget that she would not be here if it wasn’t for me.”

“Pretty sure I contributed at least half of the necessary ingredients there.”

“And I baked her for 9 months. Swollen ankles . . . back aches . . . diarrhea—“

“O-kay—”

“And my nipples, Zach. I fear you may never be able to touch them again.”

“Little ears!” Margo said.

“She can’t understand what I’m saying.”

“Well, I can.”

Suitably chastised, Chris steered the conversation away from his nipples.

*

“I wish you could have seen it! His eyes were like this big around.” Neal mimed holding his hands in the shape of circles up to his eyes. “He’d had his license for what? Four months?”

“Four months,” Zach confirmed.

“So it’s the first night his mom let us take her car out—”

“Her new car,” Corey cut in.

“Yes, good point. Her new car. So we’re headed back to Zach’s and there’s this curve coming down the hill. Mind you, it wasn’t even snowing.”

“It was hot that year because I was definitely wearing a t-shirt.”

“Right. So, we come down the hill—probably doing 60 in a 40.”

Zach and Corey nodded in agreement.

“Just as we get to the curve—BAM!” Neal clapped his hands together. “Instead of taking the turn, Zach hits the guardrail, loses control of the car, and flips us not once but twice. How none of us died that night I’ll never know.”

Hand pressed to his mouth, Chris was torn between laughing and wincing. “Clearly, you guys were okay, but did you get out of the car? Did the police come? Wow. My parents would have skinned me alive.”

“The car was totaled,” said Zach. “My aunt had to give my mom a ride to the police department to pick me up because I was a minor. I’m surprised she didn’t beat my ass then and there. She took away my car keys for 6 months after that.”

“Well, you’ve seen the car he drives, right?” said Neal.

Chris could clearly picture the black Cavalier with its green door. Not only was Zach still driving it, but it was also the place where they conceived Amelia.

“His mom wouldn’t buy him a car after that stunt, so he saved up and bought that right after he graduated college. I still can’t believe it made it to California. Did you ever get the trunk fixed?”

“No,” Zach said with a laugh.

Hanging out with Corey and Neal felt like hanging out with his friends back home. They’d only been together for a couple hours, but Chris felt like he’d known them forever.

Amelia, who was being held by Corey, began to fuss.

“I think she’s probably hungry,” Chris said, holding out his hands.

Zach stood up. “I got it. Just hold on to her for a second.”

In preparation for this trip, Chris had agreed it wise to buy a breast pump for the sake of convenience. Snagging a bottle from the diaper bag, Zach headed into the kitchen.

“So, I met Miles,” Chris said as casually as he could manage.

Corey and Neal shared a look.

“I can hear you!” Zach called from the other room.

“I don’t care!” Chris called back.

“How did that happen?” asked Corey.

“We went to, um, the restaurant with the french fries on the sandwich.”

“Primantis,” Corey and Neal answered simultaneously.

“Yeah. Anyway, he was just, like, there, and he came over to say hi.”

Zach’s friends remained curiously silent.

“Are you guys friends with him?”

“Nope.”

“Not at all.”

“You’re not going to get any dirt from them,” Zach said as he walked back into the room.

“I’m not looking for dirt.” Chris watched as Zach took Amelia back from Corey.

“I told you there’s nothing else to the story. What are you trying to find out? If he’s secretly my ex-husband? Or that we actually have a child together?”

Chris shrugged. “I just wasn’t expecting to meet him.”

“Believe me, I had no intention of ever introducing you two.”

“Frankly, I like you better, Chris,” said Corey.

Neal nodded. “I second that.”

They fell quiet as Zach fed the baby. Chris felt like he was at home with Zach and his friends and their daughter. Pittsburgh was starting to feel as much like home as Los Angeles. In just under a year, Zach had invaded every part of Chris’s life, and he wasn’t the least bit sorry about it.

Chapter Text

Three years later

“Amelia, who’s this?” Chris tapped the television screen.

“Daddy!” she squealed and clapped her hands together. She looked at Zach sitting on the couch and her little face scrunched in confusion. She looked at the screen, back to Zach, and back again.

“Come here, Munchkin.” Chris picked Amelia up and carried her back to the couch. “It’s pretend. Daddy plays pretend.”

“Like Princess?”

“Yes! Like when we play Princess.”

She still didn’t look convinced.

“Amelia.” Zach held out his arms and she clambered into his lap. She stared up at him with solemn blue eyes. “You know how Daddy goes to work sometimes?”

“Yeah.”

“So, when Daddy goes to work, he plays dress up and pretend and they record it and put it on TV.”

“Do you live in the TV now?”

That got a laugh out of him. “No, baby, I don’t live in the TV.”

Long before the show was over, Amelia fell asleep with her head pillowed on Zach’s thigh.

“Do you think we should have let her watch this?”

Chris shrugged. “She won’t really understand it, anyway.”

The episode ended and Zach shut off the TV. “What did you think?”

“It was good.”

“Like really good or you’re just saying that because you’re my boyfriend good?”

“Can’t it be both?” Zach just shook his head.

Gently, he gathered Amelia in his arms and stood up. Chris followed him into her bedroom.

She’d recently become obsessed with Lilo and Stitch, so they had redecorated her room Hawaiian-themed, complete with a “big girl” bed. They still had trouble getting her out of their bed and into her own, but they were working on it.

As Zach laid her in the bed, Chris pulled the blue comforter over her tiny shoulder. He also made sure her stuffed Stitch and the haggard bunny she’d had since she was a baby were snuggled up beside her. Each of her parents gave her a kiss and tiptoed out the door, leaving only the hula girl nightlight behind.

Zach poured them both a class of wine before he joined Chris on the couch.

“Thanks, baby,” said Chris.

“Did you get your paper turned in?”

“Yes.” The word came out in the middle of a yawn. Chris had been up since 4 and spent eight hours at LAMILL slinging espresso. It wasn’t ideal, but it paid the bills while he was in grad school. Plus, he got free coffee on the clock, so it wasn’t all bad. “I don’t know if it’s any good, but I got it turned in.”

“So, big day tomorrow, huh?”

“I know. We should probably be in bed.”

“We’ll be up late again tomorrow. It will be okay.”

“Did you pick up Amelia’s dress from my mom?”

“It’s in her closet ready to go.”

“And your tuxedo?”

“Everything, including the shoes, is at Zoe’s.”

Chris nodded. One less thing to worry about. “Are you nervous?”

“Yes and no.”

“It will be great. And just think: This time tomorrow it will all be over.”

“Thank goodness. I mean, It’s beautiful, and I’m so glad it’s happening, but it’s exhausting.”

Chris slipped his hand into Zach’s. “I know what you mean.”

*

The next morning, they got up and prepared to part ways.

“Come here, baby,” Chris said. He squatted down and held out his arms. “Give Tatti a kiss.”

Obediently, Amelia raced towards him and threw her arms around his neck. She plopped a wet kiss on his cheek.

“You be good for Daddy, okay? I’ll see you later. I love you, baby.”

“Love you too, Tatti.”

Chris accepted a hug and a kiss from Zach. “Try to stay calm.”

“No promises.”

They exchanged ‘I love yous’ and Zach took Amelia by the hand. “Are you ready?”

“Yep.”

“You got Stitch?”

“He’s right here, Daddy,” Amelia said, holding up the plushie like Zach couldn’t see it in her hand.

“Oh!” He faked surprise. “Okay, good.”

Leaning in for one more kiss, Zach said, “I’ll see you there.”

“Love you.”

Standing at the window, Chris watched until the car was out of sight. His life was inside that vehicle. With a sigh, he turned away from the window so he could start getting ready.

 

Chris practically melted as he watched Amelia coming down the aisle with her little basket of flower petals. Her dark hair was too short to do much other than put it into little pigtails on either side of her head, but it looked adorable. And the purple flower petals in her basket matched the color of her dress. She seemed to forget that she was supposed to throw them until the very end and just sort of dumped them out in front of the altar. She lunged for Chris’s knees, but he directed her to go stand with the other girls.

The music swelled, and Chris’s heart began to race. At the other end of the aisle, the doors opened. Zoe was stunning, but Chris had eyes only for Zach. His tuxedo was traditionally black and white but for the little purple boutonnière on his lapel. In front of the altar, Zach and Zoe assumed their places. Chris’s eyes were already shining as Liam took Zoe’s hand and the ceremony began.

It wasn’t very long, but halfway through, Amelia got antsy. When Zach couldn’t get her to stand still, he gave Chris a pleading look. Though he was several rows back, Chris motioned to his daughter. With glee, she ran to him and remained on his lap for the rest of the ceremony.

When it was time for the bridal party to recess, Amelia refused to leave, so Chris had to hold her with her basket in the crook of his arm until it was their turn to exit the pew.

One-armed, Chris gave Zach a hug and shook Liam’s hand. “Congratulations, you guys. And thanks for having Amelia in the wedding. I’m sorry she didn’t stay up there with you.”

Zoe was all smiles. “That’s okay. Are you gonna take some pictures with us, sweetie?”

Suddenly shy, Amelia buried her face in Chris’s neck. He rubbed his free hand over her back. “She’s probably just not used to all the people.”

Next in the receiving line was Zach, and Chris leaned in for a quick kiss. “Do you want me to take her?” Zach asked.

“Amelia,” Chris said in a softer tone, “Do you want to stay here with Daddy?”

“Uh uh,” she answered decisively, shaking her head against Chris’s chest.

“Okay. Where’d you put Stitch? Can you take this?” Chris straightened his arm to allow Amelia’s basket to slide into his hand so he could pass it off.

“It’s in the little antechamber off the entryway where we were waiting to go in. There’s a table just to the left when you first go in.”

“Okay, I’ll go grab it after everyone comes out.” He snagged another kiss and stepped out of the way so the other guests could greet the newlyweds.

*

Amelia dealt with the pictures long enough to get a few group shots and one of her with Zoe and Liam before she had a total meltdown. Chris picked her up and carried her outside the church .

They were sitting on the front steps, Chris singing a silly song to make Amelia laugh when Zach emerged from the building.

“Are they done?”

“With me, at least.” Zach shoved his hands into his pockets. “Are you feeling better, Amelia?”

Currently, she was squatted down in her purple dress watching a beetle crawl across the sidewalk. She clearly hadn’t heard a word her father said.

“We can head to the reception, if you want.” Chris stood up and dusted off his suit. “Get her something to eat, get us a drink.”

“I’ve gotta be announced with the rest of the bridal party.”

“Right.” Chris smiled sheepishly.

Zach put a hand on the small of his back and brushed their cheeks together. “Go ahead. Get settled, and I’ll met you guys there.”

“Okay. Amelia Ann, do not put that in your mouth!”

*

“Gentleman of Honor Zachary Quinto escorted by Best Man and brother of the groom Chris Hemsworth.”

The crowd clapped politely as Zach and his counterpart entered the room arm-in-arm.

“And now, for the very first time, please give it up for Mr. and Mrs. Liam Hemsworth and Zoe Saldana!”

Chris was seated at a round table with John and several other of their friends. Amelia was supposed to be at the head table with the rest of the bridal party, but since she arrived early with Chris, he sat her in a chair next to him.

After dinner, Zoe and Liam got up for their first dance. The bridal party was invited onto the floor next.

“Tatti,” Amelia stage-whispered. “Why is Daddy dancing with Uncle Chris?”

The others at the table tried to hide their amusement at the innocence of the question.

“Because Daddy is Aunt Zoe’s Gentleman of Honor and Uncle Chris is Uncle Liam’s Best Man. That means they dance together.”

“Are they gonna get married next?”

“No, baby.”

Amelia seemed satisfied with the answer. “Can I dance?”

“Sure.” Chris grinned as she climbed down from her chair. “But go straight to Daddy.”

She took off like a purple blur towards Zach and her Uncle Chris. When he spied his daughter, Zach released his dance partner and scooped her up. He perched the toddler on his hip and took her little hand in his much larger one. Chris saw the photographer circling them, and he made a mental note to ask Zoe for a copy of the picture.

When the floor was finally open to guests, Chris joined his family. Amelia stayed on Zach like a limpet and they swayed together.

“Do you think you’d like to do this some day?” Zach asked.

Chris looked around the room at the smiling faces, the love and happiness in the air. “Maybe some day.”

For now, he was content to enjoy this moment. He pulled his daughter and his boyfriend close. Each year together had been better than the last, and Chris intended to keep it that way.