“Careful, Aba.” Owen steadied Olga by the elbow as she stepped on the temporary treads. Saturday morning visits to check on the Capitol Hill house remodeling progress were a regular occurrence. “The stairs will be back to normal soon. We decided to get new steps to match the new floors.”
“The house is so big for just the two of you and a baby. Cleaning’s going to take a lot of time.”
Following his grandmother and husband, CJ dismissed her concern. “Something none of us will have to worry about, Aba. We’re hiring a service to do it.”
Ritchie had been to Miami a couple of times in the past few weeks. Once, to organize and help coordinate the move. Another, to supervise the packing company. Done, he flew back to Washington with Olga. She was staying at the Georgetown townhouse as they had discussed; this was the first tour of her future abode since arriving.
“But why did you need such a large place? You could have bought something smaller. Something less expensive.” Olga often seemed to forget money was not an obstacle for her grandsons. Having grown up in modest surroundings, she often commented on what she called the siblings’ extravagant ways.
“First, it’s not just CJ and me and the baby, Aba. You’ll be here too. And we hope she won’t be the last great-grandchild we give you. We want more.”
“And then there’s Owen’s family in Australia. We want to have room for them to stay with us. Same with our other out of town friends. We figure Chipper will be a regular visitor. And his sister Cristina might stay here whenever she comes to DC.”
“Is that the girl in New York? The one getting divorced?”
CJ grinned and nodded. Damien Prado’s attempt to coerce his wife into being a full-time homemaker had backfired. He forced himself on her wanting to get her pregnant again but instead found himself being served divorce papers soon after. Ethan Feldman was her lawyer, and he epitomized the image of divorce attorneys as sharks. Damien would regret his actions for a long time. When Ethan was done with him, he would have to give up a high percentage of his assets and future income.
“That’s her. You’ll meet her and her baby daughter soon. Our friend Brad’s been talking to her a lot. She promised she’d come to DC as soon as she settles into her own apartment. Before she starts working again. She’s been staying at our place in New York for the past couple of months.”
Throughout most of the house, drywall was up with bare studs visible in a spot or two. The top-floor master suite was the furthest along. Olga pointed at a stack of raw wood by the front window. “What’s that for?”
“Baseboards, door casings, crown molding, and chair rails for the nursery. One day it’ll be an office for CJ and me. What do you think, Aba?”
“I’m sure it’ll be beautiful, but I’m still not convinced you needed this big a place.”
“Too late, Aba.” CJ gave his grandmother an affectionate, noisy kiss. “Okay, let’s talk about one of the main reasons Ozzie and I wanted to bring you over today. The baby will have her room next to ours, but we thought you’d like to pick yours. Either one of the middle floors and either front or back of the house.”
“The lower one, so I can be closer to the kitchen. I don’t care which bedroom. Can we put your rocking chair in the front space of the same floor?” A warm smile lit up Olga’s face when she looked at her grandson.
Owen was familiar with the referenced item; it was one of the few pieces of furniture the woman kept when her house sold, and most of its contents were disposed. “Why do you call it CJ’s rocker, Aba?”
The smile on her face grew, and her eyes appeared unfocused as if she was lost in memories. “Because we bought it when he was born. I rocked CJ and Ritchie to sleep on it a lot. It’ll be nice to do the same thing with your daughter.”
“Perfect!” The connection his kid would have with him and his brother excited CJ. “We’ll make that the girls’ floor. When she’s ready, we’ll move the baby to the bedroom next to yours. The piano can go in the same area as the rocker.”
“We’re buying one sooner or later, Aba.” Owen’s expression was a mixture of sadness and anticipation. “My sister used to play, and we hope at least one of our kids will want to learn.”
Anticipating the baby’s birth and the move to their house, CJ and Owen were not meticulous about organization. Amazon deliveries of baby supplies and household items multiplied as both events neared. Stacks of cardboard boxes bearing the company’s lopsided-smile logo were stacked everywhere.
Amidst the chaos, fatherhood crashed into their lives like a tsunami. A groggy CJ reached for his phone. “Hello?”
“CJ? Hi. It’s Valerie. Gina’s friend?”
He heard imaginary alarms in his mind. “Valerie, yes, of course. Is something wrong with Gina?” CJ glanced at a stirring Owen next to him.
“No, no, nothing’s wrong.” She sounded extremely chirpy. “But you guys may want to get over to the hospital. Her water broke and contractions started already.”
“You’re with her?” When he looked over to his side, Owen’s eyes were open. “I’m gonna put you on speaker. Ozzie’s awake. It’s Valerie.”
“Good morning, Ozzie. Yeah, I’m at her place. I’ve been staying here for the past few days. Listen, she’s ready to go. I need to hang up so I can order an Uber. We’ll see you at the hospital.”
Alternating waves of elation and fear battered CJ as he and Owen readied to head out. For the first time in longer than he could recall, CJ felt insecure.
“I’ll drive. You take the bag.” For once, Owen was alert and not complaining about waking up early. “I’ll stop in front of 7-11. You run in and get us coffees. Okay?”
“Yeah… I have a feeling it’s going to be a long day.” CJ glanced at his phone and groaned. “Fuck! Three in the morning! Why can’t women go into labor during normal hours?”
Owen’s chuckle relieved some of the stress they both felt. “Asshole! Okay, you run in, and I’ll e-mail my boss. When are we going to text people?”
“Let’s wait ’til sunrise at least. We’ll let the dads know, and they can start calling others then.”
“Okay, I’ll reach out to Australia when we get to the hospital.”
Hands and arms washed, and wearing gowns over their street clothes, CJ and Owen stood to the side of the delivery room. Each of Gina’s contractions and accompanying grunts over the previous hours had made them jump.
“You guys can come closer if you want. I promise not to bite.” Gina’s feeble smile faded as another contraction rocked her. Valerie held her hand and encouraged her to breathe.
When she signed up for Lamaze classes, Gina had asked CJ and Owen if they minded her partner being a friend of hers. The men raised no objections. Instead, they encouraged her to do what made her feel better. As CJ put it, she was giving them a gift. The most precious gift possible. Even though they were paying her a fee and all expenses, Brett and César insisted on doing something special for the woman facilitating their first grandchild. Gina would return to her native Alaska with no outstanding student loans.
“I think we’re about ready, let’s get the doctor in here,” the nurse staring between Gina’s spread legs said. “She’s sufficiently dilated.”
Finally, at 9:50 a.m. on April 22, 2020, the newest Abelló came into the world. The obstetrician snipped the umbilical cord; CJ and Owen had arranged for cryogenic storage of the cord blood and stem cells extracted from the placenta. The nurse wiped the newborn and approached the new fathers. “Okay, guys, you have a perfectly formed daughter. Congratulations. You said you brought your own blanket to wrap her? Who gets to hold her first?”
Unable to form words, CJ nodded, reached into the backpack they’d carried, and pointed at Owen. At last, he found his voice. “Let him hold her”—he draped a white cotton cloth over his husband’s outstretched arms—“this is the same blanket Ozzie, his brother, and his sister were wrapped in when they were born.” Pam Liston had sent it to them months before with a note explaining its significance.
While Owen held the baby and rocked her, CJ took his phone out and snapped a couple of pictures; they had been so engrossed in what was happening, they had not contacted anyone yet. “I’m sending it out, Oz.”
“Don’t forget my mum, dad, and Spence. What are you saying?”
CJ had been typing after taking the shot; smiling, he turned the screen around so his husband could see it. The inability to articulate his thoughts, to pair emotions and words was new. It was impossible to tear his eyes away from the wrinkled face visible from the fabric-wrapped bundle in Owen’s arms. The message sent to family, The Squad, and The Elite was simple: Elizabeth Liston Abelló is alive and kicking!
CJ’s smile grew when he saw it was Ritchie calling. Sidwell Friends School did not allow cell phones on during school hours, but CJ knew his brother had been flaunting the restriction for the last week, anticipating the birth. “Gratz, big brother! Or should I start calling you, Daddy CJ?”
“You do, and I’ll kick your butt. Where are you?”
“On my way to the principal’s office. I kinda screamed in the middle of the hallway when your text came through. A teacher said some crap about me breaking the rules by having my phone on. So, how do you feel?”
CJ let out a sigh. “Exhausted… Excited… Exhilarated’s more like it. Relieved she’s healthy. Amazed at how tiny she is. Totally, like totally in love with her. And, with her other father who’s holding her right now. Scared shitless. Ready to protect her. To fight anyone and anything that might threaten her.
“Ritchie, you have no idea all the emotions running through me. I can’t believe Ozzie and I created something so damn beautiful and ugly at the same time.”
“Did you just call my niece ugly?”
“Just look at the picture, bro. You’ll agree. She’s like most newborns. Wrinkled, blotchy, almost hairless… She’s fugly, but she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Have you been drinking?” Thanks to Ritchie’s chuckling, the question came through in halting bursts. “I’m not sure you’re making sense.”
“Don’t be stupid. Of course I’m not making sense. Although I am. Oh, when you asked me how I felt? I forgot determined. So damn determined to make certain she grows up knowing she has two men in her life who will never abandon her. Who will protect her, nourish her, and love her unconditionally.”
CJ didn’t have to explain what he was talking about. The siblings had talked about their mother often in the last year or two. Surprisingly, Ritchie was the one who still harbored some resentment towards his deceased parents because of how they rejected his brother due to his sexuality. CJ had reached a modicum of closure.
“Make it three men instead of two. I’ll always be there for her along with you and Ozzie. Bro, gotta go. I’ll explain what’s going on to the warden and let the guards know I’m taking the rest of the day off. Whether they like it or not. I’ll see you at the hospital as soon as Uber can get me there.”
Ritchie may have been the first one to react to the birth announcement, but only for a fraction of a minute. CJ had texted his fathers, grandparents, Ozzie’s family, and the two groups of friends.
Voicemail alerts and text message chimes from two phones provided enough of a soundtrack for the nurse to comment. “I need to take her away for a few minutes, guys. Go to the room we set aside for you while we measure and weigh her. Sounds like you have a few more people to talk to anyway.”
To their surprise, there was no reply from Brett or César. CJ and Owen at last figured out the reason when the newly-minted grandfathers showed up with Olga minutes after Ritchie did. Although his younger brother was the first to hold her after the newborn’s fathers, watery eyes abounded as in turn, each hugged the small bundle.
“Fuck! I don’t want to move to Colorado anymore. I don’t want to be away from her.”
“Forget it, Ritchie. Don’t even kid about it. She’ll be all proud and stuff when she becomes aware her uncle’s an Air Force pilot.” CJ mussed his brother’s hair with affection. “But you gotta start watching the language, bro. Can’t go dropping F-bombs around her.”
“Yeah, well, between you, Ozzie, and them”—Ritchie jerked his head sideways to indicate the grandfathers—“I have a feeling F U C K will be part of her vocabulary soon enough.”
“Vocabulary? Quarter word!”
“Shut up, Jarhead.” César hip-butted his husband. “What’s bothering me is these two have made me a grandfather at forty-two. I only have a touch of gray, and I’m feeling old.”
The jubilant reception greeting the birth of his daughter shocked CJ. He was the only surprised one. His cousin Rod summed it up best. “A man who impacts the lives of those around him as much as my little cousin does—often unaware of the effect he has—will elicit this type of response when he becomes a father.”
“Damn, Rod. When the fuck did you get so eloquent?” Grins, giggles, and a couple of grunts followed Brett’s quip.
“Language, Jarhead. Liebe’s an Abelló. Her superior brain’s assimilating language already. We don’t want her sounding like she was raised in the barracks.” César softly bounced as he spoke. His immense smile could have been for either his husband or his granddaughter, but his eyes did not waver from the tiny girl in his arms.
CJ smacked himself on the forehead. “Oh, for goodness sake. Come on, Oz, we’re taking our daughter home. All these grownups acting like idiots’ too much for me.” The smile on his face belied the statement.
The parade of visitors streaming through the townhouse—where CJ and Owen decided to spend the days after their daughter’s birth—had ebbed. Only family remained. Pamela Liston had arrived the previous day as had Rosario and Sebastián Abelló; the new fathers barely had to lift a finger since. They had returned to their apartment earlier in the day to ready it. There was always a grandparent or great-grandparent willing to hold, feed, or change Liebe.
“Bro, I’m going to get the food. Anything else I need to pick up?” Ritchie had already placed the order with the restaurant. Even if earlier in the day than most weeks, Chinese food was still on the Sunday menu.
César palmed his granddaughter’s behind, raised her while sniffing the air, and wrinkled his nose. “You’re leaving now that she needs changing? Fine uncle you are.”
“Let him go and give me the baby. I’ll take care of her.” Pam reached for her granddaughter and cuddled her for a moment before slipping into one of the basement bedrooms.
When CJ returned to school the next day, and Owen’s paternity leave ended in a few weeks, it would be where the girl spent most days under Olga’s care. Until their own house was ready for occupancy.
“Who wants a glass of wine? I’m opening one of the bottles Mum brought with her.” Owen’s mother had carried a six-pack of the most recent Liston Semillon on the plane with her.
“Open a couple of them, Oz. I think one bottle will last about thirty seconds in this crowd.” CJ’s piercing glance at Rosario made his grandfather chuckle.
The young couple returned to their apartment much earlier than most Sundays. They were exhausted, and although an infant fed formula ate less frequently than a breastfed one, they knew they would be woken more than once overnight. CJ had to be in school the next day, so Owen promised to handle the middle-of-the-night feedings while on leave. Aside from caring for Liebe, his only chores on Monday would be to ensure the printed announcements were mailed. He would also post the first picture of their daughter on social media; they expected fresh waves of messages afterward.
While Owen showered, CJ sat on his blue-leather corner armchair holding the baby. “So, Liebe, what’s up? You enjoying your first few days?” He had read that talking to infants as if they were adults helped them develop faster than if baby talk was used. “We’ve taken lots of pictures and videos. One day, when you see them, you’ll realize how many people love you and are excited you’re here.”
His left hand cradling his daughter and clutching her to his chest, CJ used his other one to thumb through his phone. “So, you have an uncle who’s a student at the University of Miami right now. His name’s Chipper. You’ll meet him soon enough when he comes visit. He’s a singer and sent us a little present last week. It’s a song he recorded when his first niece was born. It’s an old Billy Joel tune. I’ll play it for you now, but I promise I’ll learn the words so I can sing it sometime soon.”
He adjusted the volume so the words and music were but a soft, background sound.
“Goodnight my angel, time to close your eyes And save these questions for another day I think I know what you've been asking me I think you know what I've been trying to say I promised I would never leave you Then you should always know Wherever you may go, no matter where you are I never will be far away.”
The song was nearly over when a second voice joined in, singing the last stanza.
“Goodnight my angel, now it's time to dream And dream how wonderful your life will be Someday your child may cry, and if you sing this lullaby Then in your heart there will always be a part of me Someday we'll all be gone But lullabies go on and on They never die That's how you and I will be.”
When Owen had memorized the lyrics, CJ had no idea, but the smile on his face conveyed his delight. “Pretty good, Oz. You want to put her to bed while I go clean up? She’s already asleep.”
“Nah, mate. This is her first night in the apartment and in her own crib. We do it together. Might as well get her used to the idea her two dads are always going to be around to take care of her.”
Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series.
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