JC and I walked in for dinner, pretty late. I hadn’t been home since I left early that morning, leaving Cec alone with Baby H— hours longer than I tried to.
It wasn’t that unusual for JC to join us. He didn’t really have anywhere else to go and often found himself at our table, which we were always grateful for. He was a delightful dinner guest, always ready with a witty retort and deep thoughts on everything (though to be honest, I sometimes felt a little like he was operating on a different plane than the rest of us, just seeing a totally different world than we see).
So, JC was over. But something felt different about tonight. He seemed preoccupied, some heaviness weighing him down.
We traded pleasantries and dinner was ready.
JC’s mind was clearly elsewhere, so Cec and I caught up on how each other’s day was, with JC occasionally chiming in. All of us taking turns with H— as the meal went on.
As we wrapped up, JC cleared all the plates and did the dishes (all of them, even the ones from days ago with food crusted onto the pots, pans, plates, and bowls). An unexpected kindness.
As he was finishing, he turned to me, “Conor, I know you’ve got work in the morning, but can you stay up with me? I’m waiting to hear from a friend and…”
“Of course, JC, I mean, Cec’s tired and I’ll probably need to help with H—, but I’ll be just in our room, awake, if you need me.”
His eyes filled with a gratitude, barely masking the pain and longing that was beneath.
After bustling around for a couple of hours, we left JC out on the couch, thumbing through Steven Peck’s A Short Stay in Hell, while we went to put H— to bed. Cec was out immediately, exhausted after caring for H— all day.
I woke up to JC, shaking me, my body splayed out across the bed, hand holding a pacifier in H—’s mouth.
“Conor, I’ll never shake the angst about eternity from this book!”
“……wha…..what….what book?” I slur out, still practically asleep.
“This one!” He whispers with necessity and excitement, brandishing Peck’s novella he’d been browsing earlier.
“Mmmmmm, it’s good…huh,” I manage to slip out before my eyes close.
H— is screaming.
My world is spinning. Something is happening. I have to do something. What is that noise? GAH, I scramble for my glasses and my phone to piece together what I’m experiencing.
I blink rapidly, trying to prevent my eyes from closing involuntarily. I reach over to H— and touch her chest, making quiet, calming noises, while I try to wake up enough to help her.
Cec is already awake, checking for a bottle or a diaper. Stumbling around.
“Babe, it’s ok, I’ve got her. You sleep,” I tell her, still feeling some guilt for leaving her alone with H practically the entire day before.
I picked up H— and tried to calm her down, when JC walked in, and I realized that I’d left him totally alone with the existential angst of Hell and felt awful.
“JC, I’m so…”
He simple shook his head, his long curls gently jostling, before reaching out for H.
“Hey, H—…” he trails off, lifting her from my arms and looking deep into her eyes. “Sleep, Conor, I’ll take her.”
“Are you sure?”
He looked at me with that same bone-weary, yet kind look.
“Thank you…” I mumble as he turns to leave.
I get one more look at H— and got the strange feeling that she was helping him as much as he was helping her.