Title: Baby Makes Four(15/22)
Rating: PG-13 overall
Disclaimer: I own nothing (except Gracie's character)
Summary: In the midst of an ugly divorce, Michael fights to hold on to his daughter.
AN: Sorry this took so long; I had some pretty major problems with my now deceased laptop.
The sun rises on a warm November morning, stirring me from a comfortable sleep. I blink from the sudden glare of light and look at the clock over Jason’s head. 6:25 am. Instead of forcing myself out of bed, I bury my face in Jason’s dreadlocks. He doesn’t stir as I cover my head with his hair, just involuntarily drapes his hand over my back. I hear David’s light snoring on my other side, his face nuzzled into my neck and the warm air comforting me. Warm and happy in this cocoon we’ve made of tangles sheets and male skin, I smile and gently fall back to sleep.
* * * *
“Michael,” I hear someone call. Wanting to remain in the blissful state of sleep, I ignore the voice. The same person begins to shake my back to wake me up. “MJ,” the voice says. “Wake up.” I groan and swat the hand away from me. Then I hear, “it’s Gracie’s school.”
Almost instantly I spring from whatever daze I was in and yank the phone out of David’s hand. “Hello?”
“Hello, Mr. Johns. This is Carrie Brown down at Ashton Elementary. I was just wondering if you knew if Gracie’s been sick these past few days.”
I blink stupidly, dumbfounded. “No,” I say, my voice laced with confusion. “No, I don’t think so. Did you call Stacey’s apartment?”
“Yes, Mr. Johns. We called several times and we tried Ms. Vuduris’ cell phone as well, but there was no answer.”
My mouth drops open. “I’ll get to the bottom of this. Thank you for calling, Ms. Brown.”
“You’re most welcome. Please keep us posted.”
In one swift motion I throw the phone on the bed and grab my jeans from the floor and put them on while racing to the closet for a new shirt. David and Jason are asking me hurried questions, but I’m too distracted to hear them. She’s taken her away, I know it. Stacey’s taken Gracie away from me. My thoughts are angry and so jumbled up that I can barely sort through them. Where have they gone? What’ll happen if I can’t find them? Is Gracie alright? What the hell was Stacey thinking? I’ll have her put away for this, I swear I will. I run to the front door, vaguely aware of my lovers following me and shooting rapid questions at me, though I am out the door before they can catch me.
As I start my car, I can see David and Jason reflected in the rearview mirror, concern in their eyes as they wind an arm each around the other’s back, still calling out for me. As I pull out of the driveway, I can only see the two of them in the mirror and guilt seeps into my heart.
Concentrating solely on their faces, I calm myself down enough to take my cell phone out and dial my home number.
“Michael. What’s going on?” David says, his voice rushed and worried.
“I’m sorry. Gracie hasn’t been in school. I have to see what’s going on.”
“Do you…you don’t think that…”
“I don’t know, mate. I’m gonna find out. I’m going to…” I can’t finish the sentence, my eyes brimming with tears.
“Don’t worry, M. I’m sure she’s fine.”
“Yeah,” I can hear my voice crack and clear my throat of the obstruction. “I’m heading over now. I’ll call you. I love you both.”
“We love you, Mikey. Don’t worry.”
* * * *
I pull into the parking in a hurry and run into the building. Not wanting anything to do with the sluggish elevator, I take the stairs two at a time and run down the carpeted hall to number 1399 and knock loudly on the door.
As the seconds tick by, I start to sweat and a rather large group of butterflies forms in the pit of my stomach. “Stacey!” I yell as I knock again, more hurriedly this time.
I breathe a sigh of relief as my daughter’s voice wafts through the cracks in the door. “Gracie, honey, it’s Daddy.”
I hear her gasp and the unmistakable sound of her jumping up and down on the floor when she’s excited. “Daddy! I can’t reach the door!” I smile as I envision her standing on her tiptoes in order to reach the lock on the door.
“Go get mommy to unlock the door for you,” I tell her. “I’ll wait right here.”
“The door is unlocked.”
Furrowing my eyebrows, I try the handle. The door creaks open. Tiny fingers reach around the open space and I let her wrap her hand around mine. As Gracie comes into full view I gather her in my arms and hold her close. I kiss her cheek four times, making a high pitched sucking noise each time my lips touch her face. “How’re you doing, kid?”
“Is Mommy here?”
Gracie turns her head and stares at a closed door. Turning her head back to me, she puts a finger to her lips. “Mommy went back to sleep.”
“Again?” I ask her. It’s barely ten o’clock in the morning, almost two hours after Gracie was supposed to be at school.
Gracie nods. “Mommy said she was taking another nap and she said to be good and quiet when she’s sleeping I can’t use the phone or touch the stove either.” I chuckle at her run-on sentence that only young children could get away with, though I worry internally about everything she said to me.
“Why did you answer the door, then?”
Gracie shakes her head as she says, “Mommy didn’t say anything about the door.”
I sigh and carry Gracie into what I supposed was her bedroom - a tiny little space with an air mattress on the floor and two blankets on top of it. My mouth drops open and Gracie puts her head on my shoulder and swings her arms around my neck. I take everything in, appalled at the conditions in which my young daughter was living.
“Daddy?” She asks after a moment.
“Can I go back to school yet?”
I smile down at her. “Of course. I’ll bring you right now. Let’s get you dressed, ‘kay? Show me where you keep your clothes.”
I set her down and she pads off into the corner of the room where a solitary cardboard box lay, containing everything in her closet. I look around the room. A small door led to an even smaller bathroom, but there was no closet in this supposed second bedroom.
She pulls out an outfit and dresses herself while I wait in the hallway. Curiosity getting the better of me, I peek into Stacey’s bedroom door. She, too, has an air mattress on which she is fast asleep, snoring loudly. Telling myself that I’d be back to talk to her later, I closed - no, slammed - the door shut and waited. There was no break in her snoring, and if she even stirred I would have never known it. A part of me does wish that she were dead.
Gracie comes out of her room with her backpack slung over her shoulders and a big smile on her face. “Did you brush your teeth today?”
“Oh, yeah!” She drops her book bag on the floor and runs into her bathroom. I hear the sound of water running as I pick up her backpack.
“Did you eat breakfast today?” Gracie shakes her head and takes my hand, leading me into the small kitchen. I look around at the chipping white paint and the tacky linoleum of the floor and shake my head. Gracie points to a cabinet above the counter which holds one box of cereal. I take the box down and, realizing that there isn’t any time for her to eat it properly, so I pour some of the Froot Loops into a bag for her and give her a banana and a juice pack as well. “How’s that?”
“Yummy! Thank you, Daddy!” I smile and pick her up again, telling her she can eat her breakfast in the car and bring her to the parking lot.
I walk behind her as she again leads the way to her classroom. She turns in and runs to put her book bag away and joins runs back to me. I kneel down and put my hands on her arms, lifting one momentarily to smooth her hair. “I’m going to talk to Miss Amber for a moment, okay?”
“She’s coming over here!” She says with a smile on her face and turns to greet her teacher.
“Hi, Gracie! Welcome back!”
“It’s good to be here!” It’s amazing how much she can learn from David. I shake my head and laugh.
Miss Amber says, “Why don’t you go and play? We’re having story time in a few minutes.”
“Okay!” Gracie faces me and gives me a hug. “Bye-bye, Daddy! I love you!”
“I love you too, Gracie bear.”
She pulls away from me and looks into my eyes. “When am I gonna see you again?”
I smile and am happy to at least be able to give her an answer. “I’m going to pick you up tomorrow after school and we’re gonna do something. ‘Kay?”
“Yay!” She gives me another hug, we kiss each other on the cheek, and she dances off to play with a group of girls by the blocks.
I stand up and face Miss Amber. “I’m sorry she’s missed so much school lately. Stacey’s…” I trail off, not knowing what to say, but thankfully Miss Amber holds up a palm and smiles at me.
“Don’t worry about it, Michael. She really didn’t miss that much and she already knows her ABCs and her numbers, which is what we’re doing this week. She’s really adjusting fine. Don’t worry so much.”
Again, she stops me. “I know. You can’t help but worry. I’ve got a two year old myself.”
“Well, thank you again. Gracie loves it here.”
“We love having her. I think that maybe you ought to take a stroll down to the principal’s office and check in with Carrie. Just to inform her that Gracie’s back and is okay.”
I nod. “Will do. Thanks again. Bye.”
I call another goodbye to Gracie as I’m walking out the door and head down to Carrie Brown’s office.
“Are you Michael Johns?” The secretary sitting at the desk wants to know. I smile and say yes. “Oh, my. I love your music, Mr. Johns.”
“Michael, please.” I say, never wanting to ignore a fan.
“Are you here to see Principal Brown? I’ll notify her right away.”
“No need, Maria. I’m here.” And Carrie Brown appears it seems out of nowhere and walks towards me. “Hello, Michael. I trust everything went alright?”
“Yes, thanks. Gracie’s in with her class now.”
“Good, good. Thank you for bringing her in.”
“Any time. She couldn’t wait to come back.”
Carrie smiles. “That’s great.”
“Listen, I’ve got to run, but thank you once again for calling me.”
“Of course. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Michael!” I hear as I’m closing the door behind me.
As I close the door and start to walk away, I can hear her squealing with delight from inside the room.
* * * *
I return to Stacey’s apartment to find her still asleep. Growling to myself, I step up to the bed and shake her - hard. She doesn’t stir. “Stacey. Stacey.” I yell at her and she still didn’t move a muscle, and her snoring was still going strong. I look down at my ex and wonder subtly how I allowed things to get to this point.
I sigh and grab a pad of paper and a pen I knew was in her purse and write:
Stacey, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you, but I took Gracie to school this morning while you were sleeping. You’re welcome. Michael.I walk out of the room, again slamming the door behind me.
* * * *
On the drive home, I take out my cell phone and dial my home number. It only takes a ring and a half before I hear Jason’s voice, breathless and laughing, on the other end.
“Hi. What happened?”
“Gracie’s fine. I’ll tell you about it when I get home,” I say. “What’s up with you guys?”
“I got to the phone before David could.” Jason pulls the phone away from his mouth and says to David, “Go away, I’m talking.” Then, as Jason and I are still laughing, I hear a smack which I can only assume was David swatting Jason on his ever so perfect ass. Then, the laughing stops. “Michael,” Jason says, his voice suddenly serious. “Are you sure everything’s okay?”
“I’ll tell you when I get home, ‘kay babe? I’m almost there.”
“Okay. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
I hang up and call my lawyer.
End Part 15