"I want my daddy back."
"He passes, he's going straight for the goal, he shoots... he scores!" Joe bellowed, making Pete look up from where he sat in the cafe at the park, alongside Danielle.
"Oh, watch out David Beckham! Did you see that goal?" Joe sang, careering around the pitch while Andy rolled his eyes. Joe ran past Josh, raising his hand for a high five, but stopped when he noticed his stance. Josh stood with his hands by his side, simply staring at his feet as he blanked out his surroundings.
"You alright, pal?" Andy called, but Josh ignored him. Andy frowned. He knew Patrick should have come to the park with them. But, instead, he, Joe and Pete had taken Danielle and Josh out while Patrick had stayed in to 'do some chores'. They weren't stupid, they all knew he was planning on inviting Addison round. To save the bother of letting the kids down, they hadn't argued, but they still weren't entirely happy at the fact Patrick was at home while they were freezing their asses off in a public park.
"What's up, buddy?" Joe asked, dropping to his knees. They began to sting with the fall frost that coated the grass.
"Oh, Josh. What's wrong?" Joe put his arm around Josh as he noticed tears spilling onto his jacket. Josh shook his head and froze.
"You can tell me. Hey, it can be our lil' secret, right?"
Josh looked at him, his eyelashes wet with tears.
"Promise." He ordered him.
"Cross my heart, hope to die." Joe replied. Josh looked at him for a long time, before looking away again.
"I want my daddy back." He whispered, as fresh tears spilt down his cheeks. Joe pulled him onto his knee and surveyed him.
"What do you mean, 'back'?" He asked, softly.
Josh shrugged, and Joe realized he was going to need to talk the answer out of him.
"Is he away too much?" He asked. Josh shrugged again.
Then Joe understood.
"Is he with Addison a lot?"
Josh nodded and Joe's heart sank to the pit of his stomach.
"Do you not like her?"
Josh nodded and opened his mouth.
"I like her lots." He told Joe. "I wish she was my mommy."
Joe couldn't help but let a quiet 'aww' escape from him. He was talking to a child who wanted nothing more than to have a proper family, just like all the other kids at school.
"You do, huh?"
"She's real nice to me."
"Alright." Joe started. "So, you like Addison, but... you think your dad's with her too much?"
Yet again, Josh shrugged and mumbled incoherently.
"I want us all."
Joe frowned, trying to understand. He took a chance at the next question, holding his breath.
"You want... to be a family?" He asked, gingerly.
Josh nodded and wrapped his arms around Joe's neck, burying his head into Joe's thick jacket.
"I want to go home." He cried, sniffing. Joe was silent as he wrapped his own arms tightly around him and stood up, the confused little boy sobbing into his shoulder.
"Alright, pal. I'll take you home."
"So how's life with you, Miss?" Pete had asked Danielle when Andy, Joe and Josh had begun to play soccer earlier.
"It's okay." She replied, swinging her legs. She refused to play soccer with the others, telling Pete that 'girls don't get dirty', so Pete had no option but to sit with her as they watched the ongoing battle between Andy and Joe to score.
"Awesome." Pete nodded. "So have any dudes asked you out yet?"
"A few." Danielle shrugged, as though it was bothersome.
"Ah. Waiting for the right one, huh?" Pete asked.
"Yeah." She replied. A few moments passed while they watched Andy and Joe shove each other, Joe slipping on the cold earth and attempting to pull Andy down in the process of his own fall.
"Daddy has a girlfriend." Danielle giggled.
"Yeah, I know." Pete said, looking at her.
"Do you like her?"
"Yeah." She replied, excitedly. "She's pretty. Daddy kisses her."
Pete smiled as Danielle giggled again.
"How about Riley? You get along with her, don't you?" He asked her. He had no idea why he was asking so many questions, but something inside him sensed that he had to make sure that Danielle and Josh were entirely okay with Patrick introducing a new woman in their lives.
"We're best friends." Danielle smiled. "She loves Dora, too."
Right then, seeing the smile on her face, Pete ached to see his own son. He wondered where he was at that moment, what he was doing. He longed to know that, even though he was still a baby, whether Petey missed him too. His arms physically ached to hold him, to spin him around his head and listen to his adorable laugh as he looked into his father's eyes. As much as he resented her, a part of him longed to hold Rachel again, too.
"She does, huh?" Pete asked, his smile fading as the thought of his absent family and the ghost of a life he may have led flooded his mind. He forced another as Danielle caught his eye, to hide his own sadness from the cheery tone of Danielle's voice.
"Well, you gotta love Dora."
"Uncle Petey? Where did your baby go?" Danielle asked, as they all began to walk home. Pete tensed and looked down at Danielle as she held his hand.
"Uh... he and Auntie Rachel have gone away."
"To the stars?" Danielle asked. Pete shook his head.
"Why the stars?" He asked her in reply.
"Daddy says that sometimes people go to the stars and don't come back for a while."
"Well, yeah, that's true." Pete replied. "But Auntie Rachel and Petey have gone for quite a long time, I would imagine."
"Why didn't you go?" Josh mumbled, from where he still sat in Joe's arms, his arms around his neck and his head resting on Joe's shoulder.
"Uhm, because Auntie Rachel wanted to go alone with Petey."
"I'm not sure." Pete replied, honestly. This conversation was making him want a drink again. Danielle kept quiet after she saw Pete looking at his shoes as they walked, and Andy hurriedly started a conversation to fill the silence and to avoid any more awkward questions.
"So, what about Joe's hair? Who reckons he needs a haircut?"
As Pete and Andy stopped by their houses, Joe walked back to Patrick's home alone with Danielle and Josh. When he returned and opened the door, he was greeted with Patrick stumbling around in the hallway, hopping on one foot trying to tie up his shoe, and at the same time trying to wrap a scarf around his neck with his teeth.
"You know, you usually need hands to tie one of those." Joe said, grabbing the scarf and wrapping it around Patrick's neck.
"Thanks." Patrick said. "Hey guys." He said to the kids as they ran past him into the kitchen.
"Hi!" Danielle called back. Josh didn't reply.
"Thanks for taking them out, Addison's around here somewhere, she'll look after them for a while."
"What's going on?"
"I've gotta go to the hospital. To take these babies out." Patrick said, steadying himself by grabbing the banister and pointing to the back of his head, indicating his stitches from when he knocked himself out.
"You want me to go with you?" Joe asked.
"Nah, I'm good. I won't be ten minutes." Patrick replied, standing up straight.
"Right, I'll be back soon."
"Patrick? Can I have a quick word before you go?"
"Uh, zoom and whoosh. There's two quick words." Patrick said, taking a step forward.
"No, I mean seriously." Joe said, looking at him.
"Okay... if it's quick. I'm already late enough." Patrick said.
"Uh, we need to go somewhere private."
Patrick groaned and led Joe through to his study, where he stood facing Joe, who sat down.
"What's up?" Patrick questioned. Joe ran his hands through his hair and shook his head.
"Okay, uh, I have to tell you this... I don't really want to, but I have to."
"What?" Patrick asked, beginning to get worried.
"When we were at the park... Andy and me were playing soccer with Josh. And..."
"Oh, man. Did you beat him? He hates that. He always pouts and cries, I think he inherited that from me." Patrick said, fondly.
"No, no. It wasn't that." Joe replied. "But... he did cry."
"Why? Did you throw the ball at him?"
"No." Joe said, irritably. "No. He just... burst out crying. And when I asked him what was wrong... he told me that..."
Joe took a deep breath, feeling terrible for Josh.
"Joe? What did he tell you?"
"He told me that he wanted his daddy back."
Patrick looked puzzled and frowned.
"What does he mean?"
"That's what I thought. I thought it was because we were considering touring again. But it wasn't."
"What was it?"
"He, uh... look, this is from his mouth, okay? 'Cause I don't wanna get in a big fight with you like you and Pete did."
"Oh, man. It's about Addison, huh?" Patrick asked, his heart plummeting. Joe nodded.
"Josh thinks you spend too much time with her. At least, I think he feels a little pushed out."
"Why? I haven't done..." Patrick shook his head, trying to figure out if he had at any point made Josh feel neglected. He had always considered the kids first.
"Well, I think he's confused."
"About what? Me dating?"
"Yeah. He told me he wants you to be a family. Like, you and Addison."
"He did?" Patrick asked, his heart aching.
"Yeah." Joe nodded. "I think he's just really confused about who his family are and what part Addison and Riley are playing in his life now. Like, now they're around here more often, I think he's sensing something's changing."
"Why? There's been no drastic change." Patrick said, beginning to realize he was only making excuses to make himself feel better.
"Patrick, put yourself in his shoes. He's nearly four years old. How did you feel when your mom got into another relationship after your parents split up?"
Patrick looked at the carpet as he thought how rejected he had felt. It had never really bothered him, he just got on with life, but he did remember feeling a little replaced.
"How did you feel?" Joe continued.
"I felt... a little left out." Patrick admitted.
"Oh, God. I'm an awful father." He moaned, sinking into the computer chair and burying his head in his hands. "What have I done?"
"You haven't done anything wrong. You haven't deliberately neglected him. I think you just got a little caught up about being in love again. It's understandable."
"So what do I do?"
"I dunno. Spend some time with Josh, just let him know you're not going anywhere and that you love him."
"What about Danni?"
"Don't worry about Danni. I'm pretty sure she's okay with everything. Just, let Josh know where he stands."
"Did Danni say anything? Does she feel left out?"
"She just thinks it's funny you kiss a woman." Joe smiled.
Patrick didn't smile back. He shook his head again and sighed.
"I feel awful."
"Don't, man. Look, just take him out one day or something. Have a good time and he'll completely forget it all by the end of the week."
"And talk to him. Let him know you love him."
Patrick nodded, and Joe stood up, clapping a hand on his shoulder.
"Alright. Good. I'll see you later on sometime. Good luck with your stitches."
"Thanks." Patrick said, weakly, as Joe left the room. Upon hearing the door close, Patrick sank back and ran a hand over his face.
Was he turning into a bad father? How could he have let Josh feel like that without noticing?
"Hey, pal. Time for bed." Patrick said, opening Josh's door a little further where it stood ajar. He entered the room and was shocked to see Josh already in bed.
"Wow. Am I seeing clearly?" Patrick asked, lifting the covers off him slightly. He was curled up in a ball, his teddy tucked under his arm, and was fully dressed for bed.
"Did you change into your pajamas by yourself?" Patrick asked him. Josh nodded, but didn't say a word. Patrick sighed and knelt on his knees by the bed.
"Look, Josh. I know you're a bit upset with me right now. And I'm really sorry." He said, putting his hand on top of Josh's tiny one. He still didn't move.
"I didn't mean to make you feel bad. Daddy's just got a lot going on right now."
With no reply, Patrick sighed, feeling worse by the second.
"I'm sorry, Josh. I'm sorry for a lot of things." Patrick whispered. He remembered all the times when they were infants where he would hang over their crib and murmur apologies to them while they slept. He would tell them he was sorry for them only having one parent to put them to bed at night, that they would one day have to accept someone knew in their life, maybe even call them 'mom'. At that time, Patrick was certain it would be Amanda.
"I know you want a proper family, like all the other kids at school do. I understand." Patrick whispered, running his hand through Josh's hair. "I want one, too."
"Then why can't we have one?" Josh murmured back, unable to stop tears spilling out of his eyes again.
"It takes a lot of time, Joshy." Patrick soothed him, wiping his tears away with his finger. "But I promise, I'm working on it. I think we could be happy, me, you, Danni and Addison and Riley. Don't you?"
"I want them." Josh replied, quietly.
"I know you do. So do I." Patrick admitted. "I'm trying my best. It's hard for me. But I am trying."
Josh closed his eyes, the tears still leaking through his eyelashes.
"You're not losing me, Josh." He told him, just as quietly as Josh had spoken. "I'm your daddy, I'm always going to be here. No matter what. You know that, right?"
Josh didn't reply, again, and Patrick swallowed hard.
"I'm not going anywhere. You're always going to have me."
"Promise?" Josh whispered, his eyes still shut.
"Forever?" Josh questioned, to be certain.
"Forever and ever." Patrick replied. Josh opened his eyes and sat up slowly.
"I love you, daddy." He murmured.
"I know you do. I love you too. I love you more than anything in this world." Patrick said, pulling himself up onto the bed and holding Josh close to him.
"Me too." Josh replied.
That night, he fell asleep against Patrick, his head buried on Patrick's shoulder.
As these weeks leading up to Josh feeling neglected wore on, the times Pete returned to an empty house were unbearable. He would wander around, staring at the spots he and Rachel had once made love, or he would stand in the doorway of his son's room, his eyes fixed on the crib where his son should be falling asleep every night.
But he wasn't. Instead, Rachel had taken him back to Australia without telling Pete what time the plane was. He hadn't seen Petey since was five months old.
He began to wonder again what Petey was doing. Was he crawling? Smiling? Pete wouldn't, and had no way of knowing. He had Rachel's new number, but every time he picked up the phone he replaced it with a sigh, his confidence fading with every minute passing.
The night after he had gone to the park with Patrick's kids, he became so desperately lonely, he sat on the stairs, the phone in his hand, a printed email of Rachel's new address and contact details in the other. His fingers shaking, he acted on impulse and dialed the number.
"Hello?" The voice of the woman he'd fallen in love with rang throughout his ears. He tried to reply but the lump in his throat and the scratchy sound it omitted held him back.
"Hello?" Rachel repeated, a sting of annoyance in her voice.
Pete cleared his throat and tried again.
"Rach, it's me. Pete."
An obviously stunned silence remained on the other line, before Rachel also cleared her throat and spoke.
"Oh, hey." She said, quietly. She was obviously surprised to hear from him. Pete had forgotten how beautiful her accent was, how soft her words could be.
"How're you doing?" She asked apprehensively. She hadn't heard of Pete's drunken encounter with a stranger, and he intended it to stay that way. He'd also been keeping a low profile, and making sure his mouth was kept shut about the fact he continually repeated these encounters every Friday and Saturday. He'd kept it quiet for weeks and he wasn't about to let it slip now.
"I'm... I'm okay." He lied, lying back on the stairs and exhaling deeply. "How about you?"
"I'm good. Thank you." She said, politely. Pete was biting his lip and twirling the phone cord in his fingers when he heard a shrill, excited laugh. He shot up to a sitting position, his heart thumping excitedly.
"That was Petey, yes." Rachel said, and Pete could tell there was a slight smile in her voice.
"Oh, wow. He's laughing!" Pete whispered.
"Yeah. He's been doing that for about a month." Rachel informed him. Pete's heart sank and thudded in his chest.
"Rach..." Pete stopped and ran a hand through his head. He hung his head as it rested on his hand and shook it while trying to find the words.
"I think we made a mistake."
"No, we didn't." Rachel replied. "If we didn't split up when we did we would have grown apart, anyway."
"I need you, Rachel. Please give me another chance." Pete pleaded, shaking his head more vigorously. "Move back here."
"Look, there's no point..."
"Okay, okay." Pete resigned himself. "If you won't move back for me, move back for Petey."
"He deserves a family!" Pete told her. "He needs his mom, and he needs his dad. I need him."
"Listen to me, Pete. I can't move back there. I would be too unhappy."
"But what about me? I'm miserable! Do you have any idea how lonely it is?"
"Yes, I do. But I can't just up and leave everything here."
"You did when you lived with me!"
"That was different."
"Rachel, if we're splitting up amicably, then it has to work both ways."
"I know that."
"Then why are you on the other side of the world to me?"
"I don't know, Pete! I just needed a break from you. But now I have a home, I'm going to start looking for a part time job, and..."
"Wait, what? You're just gonna leave Pete while you're at work?"
"For your information, no. I wasn't. But I do need to buy clothes, and food, and to keep living in this house."
"So come back here, I'll move out and I'll pay everything. Please, I need you."
"We've been through this. You don't need me."
"I love you. Okay, I guess if you're not in love with me anymore, I can't change your mind. But please, don't take Pete away from me."
"I'm not taking him away."
"So what do you call moving to Australia?"
"I haven't seen him for so long. I need to. I have to see his face, and I have to hold him. That's what normal fathers do. Please. You love me, don't do this to me."
"I'm not in love with you."
"I didn't say in love. However, I do know that you love me. Maybe not as a boyfriend, husband, whatever. But you loved me once... so can't you just spare a little bit of that love and let me watch my son grow up?"
"Why don't you visit Australia? You have enough money to make the visits every weekend."
"I don't have the energy! I'm not some kind of super hero. If I could, I would. But I physically can't handle it."
"Look, my dad was always away on business. I used to resent him so much for being away, leaving my mom on her own to look after me and my brother and sister. And since I was 9 years old, I made a promise to myself that when I was a dad, I wouldn't become my dad."
"Well, maybe you should have re-thought your career."
"No, I don't need to re-think my career. Because it's possible to juggle a family life and a career. It just has to work both ways."
"Why didn't you tell that to your parents?"
"I was a kid! Anyway, my mom was always willing to help, my dad couldn't give a fuck at the time how he was making us feel every Christmas he left us alone, or every birthday we sat up waiting for the phone to ring. Plus, I'm trying to help here, and you're not making this easy for me. I'm trying to be a good dad, trying my best not to become what my dad was to me. I need you to help me here."
A few seconds ticked by on the clock on the mantelpiece. Pete listened to the wind blowing outside, his heart thudding faster and faster. It was beating so fast and so loud, he wondered whether Rachel could hear it on the other line.
"I'll think about it." She concluded. Pete's heart soared. At least she hadn't tossed the idea aside.
"Thank you, Rachel. Listen, I mean it. I want to be a good dad. I love him. I have to be there for him. I miss him so much."
"I know you do." Rachel said, quietly. "I better go, I've got to go grocery shopping."
"Okay. Please, Rachel, give him my love. Tell him daddy loves him so much, and that I will see him soon, no matter what."
"I will. Bye, Pete."
Pete opened his mouth to bid goodbye, but the line was dead.