“She’s very pretty, very small, very… much a baby. I didn’t realize how much a baby would be, you know, a baby. She can’t do anything. So tiny. I think both her hands make up, like, half my thumb.”
“In her defense, you have abnormally large thumbs.”
“Huh, that’s true. Do you want to hold her?”
Danika shook her head and took a few steps backwards. She thought it was strange that her best friend’s parents trusted her so easily with this infant, with this new sister of hers. Rogel was a large person, as Danika had noted especially today, and the way his sister lay safe in his arms made her feel tinny inside, like she had swallowed a few of the pennies she used to collect from the bottom of the wishing wells downtown. He was so careful with the baby- her name was Fabiola, but Danika couldn’t bring herself to call her anything other than the baby- and the sight of this sat in a stark contrast to her ideas about Rogel.
“I don’t think that’s a great idea. Babies don’t like me. They cry.”
“Most people do, when they first meet you.” Rogel considered giving Danika the baby anyway, but then he thought better of it and kept holding her. He wouldn’t want to risk a drop on the first night his parents let him watch Fabiola. It had taken a lot of convincing to get them to leave her with him for the weekend, but after a few days of consistent nagging and promises to be the best older- by several years- brother ever, they’d relented. He also promised them that Danika would be here, and his parents loved Danika. “I think you and Fabiola should get to know each other. You’re her aunt, almost.”
Danika laughed, leaning back into the couch, “Um, no, because that implies we’d be married and, lest you sometimes forget, we are very much not married.”
“No, we are not. But! You are part of my family. And that’s true. You can’t get away now, Danika.”
Hm. Duly noted. “I guess it wouldn’t kill me to hold her. She does seem sweet.” Rogel smiled, happy to know he’d broken the last of barriers, and handed Danika the baby. She was warm and soft, not like the dolls Danika had as a little kid. She was heavier, too, and made Danika feel sleepy all of a sudden. But it wasn’t bad. She didn’t magically want to have her own babies, per se, but she was okay with borrowing this one. Rogel watched her as she watched Fabiola, and the whole night became lilting, like a lullaby someone sings when the crying turns to sleeping. “I think she’s lucky to have you. You’ll take good care of her. And I,” she continued, giving Fabiola back to Rogel, “Will be happy to watch her grow up from the sidelines.”
“I think she’s perfect.” Rogel brushed his hair out of his eyes. They were gray, and they matched Fabiola’s. Danika’s eyes were brown. They matched the carpet. “Do you think she’s perfect?”
“Maybe right now, sure, but she’s gonna get older. She’ll make mistakes too, like we do, cause she's human. She’s a person. She can’t be perfect.”
Rogel disagreed. “No. I refuse that.” He shook his head again. Fabiola blinked up at him through tiny, dark eyelashes. “Oh, do you want lunch? There’s sandwiches in the kitchen. If you wanna hold her, I can make some. We can watch something, too, I’m sure it’s getting boring sitting here and staring at this angel.”
“I can make sandwiches. And I don’t mind watching the baby. It’s fun, in a weird way.” Danika stepped into the kitchen and pulled the bread out of the cupboard, setting her ingredients out on the counter. It had been almost six months since Rogel got his own apartment, but she was still getting accustomed to this space. It was too familiar, sometimes, to be here all the time, in the kitchen and in the living room and crashing on the sofa when it got too late to drive home or when it snowed or when the movie was just too great to leave in the middle of. They were friends, of course, but every now and then Danika found herself wondering why they never managed to stay with anyone else like they stayed with each other, in terms of friendship or otherwise.
She put some ham on her sandwich and added some extra whipped cream to Rogel’s because that’s the only way he would eat his deli meats, covered in whipped cream and banana slices. Danika felt a little bit like someone’s mother, making lunch and preparing to put it all in a lunch box, maybe add a note with something silly yet caring, like, you and i stick together! and pop in a few glue sticks. Then again, if Danika was thinking of putting glue sticks in a child’s lunchbox, she wasn’t meant for motherhood. She could, however, be the fun aunt, or, well, fun “aunt”, for the baby.
“Okay! Sandwiches are ready!”
From the living room, Rogel called back, “Great, did you get the extra whipped cream? It was by the pickles, I think.”
Danika put the plate of sandwich down in front of Rogel. “Of course. I know you too well not to. And besides,” she added, glancing at the baby, “Wouldn’t you hate for her to see you upset?”
“I would hate that.” Rogel settled back into his seat with the sandwich in his free hand and the other arm still wrapped around Fabiola, wrapped tight in her new blue blanket. “Do you want to watch something? The remote is yours.”
“Really? That’s crazy. You never let me use the remote. Something about it’s my own apartment, kandi, i should be able to choose what plays on the television! Are you so occupied with the baby that you can’t click a few buttons?”
“Correction, ma’am, I actually am holding a baby and a sandwich. Therefore the remote responsibility falls to you. Please, for the love of ice cream and my mother, do not choose something awful.”
Danika knew this well by now, Rogel did not like her taste in movies or TV shows. He was into all these wild cooking shows and weird, pretentious indie movies. She, on the other hand, liked comedies. Bad ones. Like, she watched movies that disgraced the genre of comedy entirely. They weren’t even so badly made that they were funny. They were just dumb and predictable and used the same lines, on and on and on. Once, just to make Danika mad, Rogel had written a screenplay. It was making fun of her movies, blatant mockery, and she didn’t appreciate it. But now, now she had the remote. And Rogel, as he had said, had his arms full.
“Oh, I know what we can watch. There’s this movie that came out about a week ago and I’ve been wanting to watch it for so long, but the best part about it is-” Danika stopped talking. Fabiola was making horrible noises. She was crying. Loudly. Almost screaming. It was terrifying. Rogel looked as panicked as Danika felt.
“She’s glitching. Malfunctioning. How do we… Can you? This is why my parents were concerned. Oh man, okay, wait, we can handle this. Danika.” Rogel put his sandwich back on the plate. “We are the adults in this situation.”
“Yes! We can do this. She’s a baby. What do babies want when they cry?”
“They want, um, love and attention?”
Rogel nodded, then shook his head, then nodded again. “That makes sense, yeah, but, I don’t think telling her we love her is gonna make her stop screaming. She wants to sleep, or eat, or, oh. Diapers. We forgot about diapers.”
“Or not. Could be not crap. Let’s hope not. I’m leaning towards not crap.” Rogel pointed towards the door. “Her bag is over there, can you go get it? Fabiola, shhh, we’re doing the best we can. Hang on.”
Danika came back with the diaper bag. “Here you go.”
“Okay, okay. We can do this, yeah?”
Danika nodded. A few minutes later, she, Rogel, and Fabiola were back on the couch. Diaper, it seemed, was the right reason for the sudden crying. The baby was quiet now, very close to being asleep, and Danika and Rogel were feeling proud of their quick thinking. The tv was on, but they weren’t paying attention to it.
“We’re a good team, don’t you think?”
Danika took a bite of her sandwich. “Yeah.”
“It’s almost like this a preview of what we’d be like as parents.”
“Is that ridiculous?”
“Yes, I think so! We aren’t even twenty five yet. Kids should be, if at all, really far away in the future. Sometimes I forget we aren’t kids ourselves.”
Rogel noticed Fabiola had finally drifted off to sleep. He stood up and took her to the playpen his mother had set up the night before. When he came back to the couch, he didn’t say anything. Danika moved away from him, to sit somewhere he could have some space, but he held a hand out to stop her. “I guess I forget too, sometimes, that we aren’t kids anymore. That’s why it’s so cool for me when I see myself where I am, doing things like buying my own apartment, having a great job, stocking my own fridge with anything I want, being with the people I love most and knowing it’s because they choose me like I choose them. I didn’t mean anything weird by it, Kandi, I’m sorry if it came off that way.”
Danika moved back to her original seat. “I’m glad you asked me to help you babysit. And I love you too. I do. Mentioning what we’d be like as parents was kinda weird though. Don’t do it again.”
“I won’t. Next time I’ll just say this is what we’d be like as, um, the fun uncle and uncle’s friend.”
Danika laughed, “I don’t think it conveys the message you want. Why don’t I do what I’ve always done? Rogel and Danika. There we go. Rogel and Danika are coming over for Christmas. Rogel and Danika are taking care of the baby this weekend. Rogel and Danika,” she went on, and Rogel leaned the slightest bit closer, “Are very, very good friends.”
“Yeah,” Rogel nodded, “That we are.”
They kept sitting on the couch for a while, eventually they turned on the tv and watched a horrible comedy, like Danika wanted, and when she went to get her keys, Rogel and the baby stirred, a kind of goodbye. How long it would be until she saw them again, Danika wished she knew.
“For the record,” she whispered, once she was out of the apartment, “I do think she’s perfect.” Danika leaned against the street lamp, pulling the coat closer around her shoulders. There was a part of her that didn’t want to believe Rogel’s parents had had another baby, twenty three years after their first one was born. Part of her, actually, kept telling her that Rogel was lying, that the baby was wholly his, that there was someone else living at that apartment and that was the reason why Rogel had moved in the first place, to provide for this family.
And the worst thing about this theory was that Rogel would have lied to her, not once, but over and over and over again. And why would he lie?
Danika shivered. The wind was spicy tonight, or maybe it was just her breath. She needed to start bringing her toothbrush when she went to Rogel’s. He probably had an extra one she could use, tucked in a cupboard in the bathroom down the hall… Danika pressed her palms into her eyes. There was a whole map of the apartment in her mind and she wandered through it in her daydreams, night dreams, even sometimes when she was at the dentist and the light overhead was so very too bright. Ridiculous. She kept walking down the street.
Her car was cold on the way home, but once she unlocked her front door and stepped inside, she found the living room to be even more cold than the nippy wind outside. She wondered what it was about living here that made it seem so empty, because she had things scattered all around everywhere, cluttering up her tables and shelves and, yeah, it was a mess. Her mess and her mess alone. She kicked off her shoes and they slid under the front hall’s table; there were a few framed photos set up and lined next to each other, showing smiling times of Danika and her family, Danika and her friends, Danika and Rogel, and Danika and Rogel and Danika and Rogel. Again, again, again.
Danika flipped them over. She didn’t know how to look at them, not that night. There was something stuck between her ribs, like chicken in her teeth, and no matter how many times she said to herself, “Nothing, there’s nothing,” it was never floss enough.
“Time to get some rest,” she said to herself, “There’s things to do and places to be.” She walked down the hall, passing rows of suitcases as she went. Her airplane was leaving in the morning, and she felt horrible about not telling anyone, but she couldn’t make herself do it. Rogel wouldn’t understand. Danika hardly understood it all either. It had happened so fast, the calls, the emails, eventually the first and final letter, telling her she was invited to a meeting with one of the most important publishing houses in the country. She could do what she wanted, what she needed, and all she had to do was pitch her ideas with the same confidence Rogel always said she could do miracles with. Ah, Rogel.
Danika sank into her bed and pulled the comforter up to her nose. It smelled like laundry detergent and bread crumbs, a side effect of eating in her room, staying up later than she should to just get to her next word count. There were coffee stains browning the sides of her nightstand, little splotchy polka dots of motivation. Rogel had told her more than once that he would make her a new one. When she got back, if she needed to come back, she would take him up on the offer. About the nightstand. Of course. Just as she felt her eyes closing, Danika’s phone buzzed. She sat up, flipped it, and the bright light seared her brain like a steak knife sears steak.
the baby misses you!
and so do i
wanna grab breakfast tomorrow?
Danika buried her head under the covers. She didn’t want to tell him she couldn’t get breakfast. Maybe she could swing by on the way to the airport-