Opening Perry's front door was always a gamble, because I never knew what was going to greet me.
I peek cautiously around the door. The aliens are back. Their leader - the gigantic one with the leathery gray scales and the enormous flame-thrower, swaggers around the apartment, swigging Perry's scotch straight from the decanter and shouting phrases that sound a lot like, "Knit the oscillator!"
I pull away from the door before the foot soldiers spot me. Time to call in the reinforcements.
Okay - maybe it wasn't that bad. Still, I was in a precarious situation; I had to watch out for myself.
I peeked cautiously around the door. The apartment looked empty, but I knew not to put much stock in that. "Perry?" I whispered. "You home?"
Sometimes I'd get here to find Perry sitting on the couch reading, or at the table updating charts, or in the kitchen making himself a fire hazard. He'd come over and kiss me and say, "Hi, honey; how was your day?" I'd launch into a detailed description of everything that had happened since we saw each other last, and then he'd put his hands on my shoulders, look deep into my eyes, and say, "Now, Mary Jane, you understand that when I say, 'How was your day,' I do so because it seems like a kind of nice thing to do, and not because I give a damn, right?"
Those were good days.
The door to the back bedroom door flew open. "J.D.! SHUT UP!"
Today wasn't going to be one of them.
A soft plastic squeezy-block careened towards my head. I dodged it at the last second, and it hit the wall with a defeated wheeze. I looked down at it, then back up as the screeching voice kept coming at me. "I JUST GOT JACK TO SLEEP, AND I DON'TNEED YOU CLOMPING AROUND IN HERE, SHOUTING FOR YOUR FUCK BUDDY!" Jordan's eyes had this weird pinkish tinge to them, and I could tell that her head wanted to start spinning around. A piercing wail rose from the back bedroom. Jordan glared at me. "See what you've done?" she demanded before stalking out of the living room. Even I wasn't stupid enough to reply to that.
After Jordan slammed Jack's bedroom door behind her, so hard the glasses on the bar rattled forward half an inch, I picked up the squeezy-block. It was cheerfully orange and blue. Two sides bore a big block 'O;' the rest showed pictures of things that started with 'o.' Owl. Orange. Octopus. Ovals.
I sighed and sat down on the couch.
The front door opened, and Perry rushed inside. When he spotted me on the couch, he sighed and swore softly. "Damn it. I was hoping to beat you home." He held up the plastic grocery bags in his hand. "Peace offerings for the harpy in the bedroom."
Normally I would've gotten on Perry for calling Jordan a harpy. She didn't like me - hell, she didn't particularly like Perry - but she was a good mother, and I knew what would happen to Perry if she suddenly decided to pick up and move Jack to Thailand - something she'd threatened to do. After our encounter that afternoon, though, I was willing to let it go.
Jordan reappeared, this time carrying Jack in her arms. He was quieted but still awake.
Perry's face turned into a 120-watt light bulb, like it always did when he was in the same room as his son. "Hey! There's my little linebacker!" He rubbed Jack's stomach. "How's my guy, huh?"
"He was great," Jordan snapped, "until OtherDad there started yelling and woke him up."
Perry turned to me accusingly. "J.D.!" he admonished. "There's a nine-month-old baby in the apartment; you have to learn to be quiet."
I was too tired to protest. Too tired to apologize. Too tired to give a damn.
With a triumphant toss of her head, Jordan turned and walked into the kitchen. The instant we were out of her field of vision, Perry leaned over the back of the couch and kissed me. "I'm doing the best I can, J.D," he whispered. Straightening again, he and his peace offerings followed Jordan to the kitchen.
I believed him. I believed this was the best he could do. And I couldn't think of anything that depressed me more.
Life with Perry hadn't been easy since Jack was born, but I was trying to get along. I kne how much Perry had risked when he stood up to Jordan and told her that if she wanted him in Jack's life, she'd have to accept me as part of the deal. She very easily could've taken Perry's son out of his life forever.
Still, it didn't seem fair to me that Perry and I had been together for over a year, and yet she was the one who lived with him. She was the one who got to yell at him for putting empty milk cartons back in the refrigerator and demand that he stop for curly fries on his way home from work. I was just that goofy guy Perry was fucking, the guy she couldn't get rid of. I was...OtherDad.
Jack started crying every morning at 2:47, without fail. He was more reliable than any alarm clock - if only any of us got up at 2:47 in the morning. I wondered what happened at 2:47 every morning to wake him up.
The advance scouting party for the alien invasion force repels into the darkened room. They only have one chance to prepare Earth for the invaders.
The captain looks around carefully, noting the room's sole occupant. She activates her communicator and tells the mission leader, "This room is guarded by only one Earthling - a very small one."
"And stinky." One of the scouts - a genial, Jerry Lewis/class-clown sort of scout - says. His companions laugh. Feeding off the attention, he goes looking for the source of the stink and pokes Jack's diaper.
Jack wakes up screaming at the exact frequency necessary to create a temporal rift. The aliens flash out of existence, unaware that they are caught in a time loop that will force them to repeat this event, over and over until...oh, until the White Sox win a pennant, at least.
Perry and Jordan's routine for dealing with Jack's crying was like a well-oiled machine. They took turns getting up with him, and they knew exactly what to do - in exactly what order - to calm him down. That night, when he started up, I waited for Perry to roll away from me and start the routine. Instead he tightened his arm around my waist and burrowed in closer.
"Perry?" Nothing. "Perry?" I elbowed him lightly in the ribs.
"Not now, J.D.; I'm having a great dream about the Swiss," he mumbled.
I rolled my eyes. "Perry, isn't it your night with Jack?"
"We traded. Listen." Sure enough, Jordan's door opened. "Said she had some big meeting on Monday morning, so I'm taking tomorrow night."
Abruptly, Perry lvered himself up on his elbow and looked down at me. "You know the schedule?"
I rolled over to face him. "An ear-splitting scream wakes me up at quarter to three every morning, and on half of those mornings you have to leave the bed. I know the schedule."
I suddenly wished we had more light in the room, because I couldn't read the look Perry was giving me. He didn't say anything, though, and after a minute he lay back down. "Not our gig tonight," he said. "Go back to sleep."
But I couldn't. Not for a very long time.
Ah, Saturday mornings. For the first time in two months, neither Perry or I were on call, and there was nothing on the agenda but Count Chocula, cartoons, and my man.
Who was standing with Jordan in the doorway to Jack's bedroom, carrying Jack in his car seat.
"What's going on?" I demanded, though given "Invader Zim" on the TV and a bowl of super-sweetened cereal balanced in my lap, it probably sounded more like whining.
"Jack's doctor's appointment," Perry said. When I looked blank he added, "The nine-month, 9,000-mile checkup? It's been on the calendar since the day the li'l dear came home from the hospital."
"Come with us, OtherDad," Jordan said, adjusting Jack's blanket. "We'll make the pediatrician guess which one of you we're there for."
I entrenched myself further down into the couch. "No, thank you," I said tersely.
"But, J.D., pediatrician!" Perry was damned close to bouncing. "Lollipops! Scooby Doo band-aids!" All Perry had to do to get in touch with his inner child was roll out of bed in the morning.
"No. Thank. You." I had moved on to 'churlish.'
"Oh, whatsa matter, OtherDad?" Jordan's voice took on a sing-song quality that I found myself really resenting. "Sad because your little friend has to go away and face the real world of grown-up responsibility?"
Perry dropped next to me on the couch. "I promise, J.D., we'll be back in an hour and a half. After that, I'm all yours."
I eyed him suspiciously. "All yours?"
He nodded. "We will do whatever you want to do."
Perry, in full medieval garb, takes his place before the throne and launches into the opening chorus of Camelot, while I, his faithful Lancelot, wait in the wings to--
"Not that," Perry said harshly. "Anything else."
"Okay. Fine." I felt a little better. Until Perry pushed himself off the couch and grinned widely at Jordan.
"Got that out of the way. Let's go." And put his arm around her as they walked out.
I hung around the apartment for the next hour and then decided I didn't want to be there when the happy family came home. I called Elliot and said I wanted to buy her lunch. Unfortunately, she was working, so lunch meant I had to go to the Sacred Heart cafeteria on my only day off.
"This sucks," I told my ketchup packet.
"What?" Elliot leaned across me for the pepper shaker. "The food, or your situation with Dr. Cox?"
Snorting, I tried to rip the packet with my teeth. "Both. What do they seal these things with - mortar?"
"Here." Elliot took the packet out of my hands and made a tiny rip across the corner. "You know, you're not being very nice to Jordan." She handed the packet back.
"What?" I kept fiddling with the ketchup.
"You don't need to do that."
"You made half a rip in it. That won't do any good. See?" I squeezed the plastic, and a gush of red splatted me in the face. Elliot busted up. "It's not funny."
"It's really funny. I warned you." She handed me a wad of napkins. "So you should be nicer to Jordan."
I don't know how Elliot getting my ketchup packet open led to me needing to be nicer to Jordan, but even though their relationship had turned out to be the worst idea since Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elliot was always quick to defend Jordan. "Why?" I demanded. "She's awful to me."
"This isn't what she was expecting when Dr. Cox asked her to move in with him."
Naked, Jordan, Perry, and I face each other across the vat of cooking oil--
Elliot held up her hand. "You can stop that train right there, buddy. I mean she didn't expect you."
"Perry told her--"
"I know he did, but--" Elliot shook her head. "She wants to be a good mom, J.D. It's not easy."
"What about me?" I shot back. I could feel myself losing it. "I don't know where I fit in this new arrangement. I don't know if I'm supposed to have any place in Jack's life - or Perry's, anymore."
Elliot shrugged and stabbed a carrot with her fork. "You're OtherDad."
"Exactly." I gritted my teeth. "OtherDad."
The rest of the weekend was uneventful enough that, by the time Perry and I had to work together again on Monday, I could deal with him fairly normally. 'Normally' for us meaning hours of hostility followed by a quickie in a storage closet or empty exam room, followed by hours more hostility. It worked for us.
So when Perry jerked his head towards his office at about 6 on Monday evening, I knew exactly what he was after. By the time he'd latched the door I was out of my shirt and halfway through the double knots in my shoe laces.
"Virginia, what in God's name are you doing?"
"I was - I'm--" Perry was still fully dressed, which I hadn't noticed before. "I - we're not going to have sex, are we?"
Perry shook his head wearily and slid into his desk chair. "Unfortunately, no. Not right now."
"Then why am I in here?" I sounded defensive, but you would, too, if you were standing half-naked in an office that suddenly felt a lot more like it belonged to your boss than your lover.
"Would you sit down, please?"
"Why?" I held my shirt in front of my chest, feeling very exposed.
"Because I said so, newbie - now sit. And for God's sake put your shirt on; I don't need to be thinking about sex while we do this."
Glowering, I pulled my shirt back over my head and dropped into a chair. "I'm dressed; I'm sitting. What?"
Perry sighed. There were dark smudges under his eyes that I hadn't noticed before. I shoved it down. This was no time for sympathy. "As you know, Jordan and Ben are going to inherit a shitload of money when their grandparents die. Though I swear their grandparents are the undead, and the U.S. will see a Black, transsexual, lesbian president before they see a cent of inheritance." I raised an eyebrow, but I was not going to laugh. Perry sighed again. "Regardless, Jordan's convinced that they will eventually kick off, and in the meantime she has to kiss their asses and not do anything to piss them off."
I waited. My skin was itching all over.
"And they're coming to town on Wednesday night."
I could picture it all too clearly. Senile old people, as mean as Jordan and as reckless as Ben, careening around Perry's apartment, knocking things over and insulting dÃ©cor and inhabitants.
"Jordan!" old Grandpa Sullivan wheezes, shattering one of Perry's cut-crystal tumblers. "You have appalling taste in music."
"Who made this slop?" Grandma pokes her walker into dinner - and right through the plate. "It's about as appetizing as decade-old rubber."
"This baby is positively hideous. And you--" They fix their myopic eyes on me, advancing threateningly. "What is it they call you? 'OtherDad'?"
And that's when I get it. The reason I'm sitting in Perry's office. No shattered tumblers; no poked plates - not for me, anyway. "You want me gone. You don't want me there when Gran and Gramps money-bags show up." I was shaking like I was being electrocuted, but I refused to let Perry see me cry.
"J.D., listen to me--" Perry started, almost begging, but I was in no mood.
I stood quickly. "No, I understand perfectly, Perry. And I'll go. I'll stay away on Wednesday and let you and Jordan and Jack put on the perfect American family dinner theater charade. But you better be damned sure the money's worth it, because I'm not sure I'm coming back on Thursday."
I was already out the door.
When I'm so furious I can't see straight, or when I hurt so much I feel like I'm breaking from the inside, I do one of two things: I have a lot of raw, angry sex, or I go to sleep. It's like self-protective narcolepsy. Since the person I have sex with was the person I was mad at, I curled up in the staff room and was out in twenty seconds. I don't usually remember my dreams, but I'm pretty sure the ones I had during that nap were bloody and violent and involved me decapitating Perry.
When I woke up, I felt better. Not good, and not done being mad and Perry and Jordan, but like their lives were in less danger if they crossed my path. My shift had ended sometime during my nap. I wasn't going to acknowledge that Perry must have told everyone to leave me alone while I was sleeping. I made two vows as I left the hospital: one, I would not talk to Perry about anything not work-related until the Sullivan grandparents were gone - at the earliest, and two, I would change my underwear as quickly as possible, because mine were seriously climbing up my ass-crack.
Ever since Turk and Carla's wedding deprived me of my roommate, I'd been living with Elliot. Which wasn't bad, just...different. Very, very different. Living with a woman you used to date requires a whole different set of survival skills than living with your male best friend. Elliot and I hadn't seen much of each other around the apartment lately, though - must've been the weird hours the hospital kept us on. So I had fairly little idea what she got up to when I wasn't around.
I was about to get quite an education.
When I opened the door, there was Elliot, in her bra and underwear, dancing around the living room, singing breathily along to Bel Biv Devoe.
She shrieked and tumbled over the end table. "J.D.! What are you doing here?" She scrambled to her feet.
"I live here."
"Whatever. What are you doing here?"
"Perry and I had a fight. What are you doing?"
She tried to look defiant. "When I have a bad day, sometimes I like to dance."
"In your underwear? To Bel Biv Devoe?" I was keeping my gaze firmly above her shoulders.
"In my own living room. Yes." She sighed. "Go ahead and look."
My eyes did a quick scan of Elliot's body. When I got back to her eyes, I grinned. "Still awesome."
She groaned and scouted for her pants. "J.D., just - how long are you going to be here?"
"Who knows?" I dropped onto the couch. "I do live here. Maybe I'm here for good. Maybe I'm never leaving this apartment again.
"Don't say that!" Elliot shut off the stereo. "People come over here." Landing next to me on the couch, she asked,
"Was it a really bad one?"
"Jordan's grandparents are in town on Wednesday. I can't be there."
I punched the throw pillow. "Damn it, aren't I a part of that family?"
Elliot's face scrunched up. "Well...yes and no."
"Yes and no?" I turned fast to look at her. "Whatchu talkin' about, Elliot?"
"God, J.D., that's not even funny when you and Turk do it." Rolling her eyes, Elliot pushed off the couch. It says a lot about my state of mind at that point that she was still roaming around without a shirt and I didn't even notice. Well, I barely noticed. "Look," she said, turning to face me, "who gets up with Jack when he starts crying in the middle of the night?"
I shrugged. "Perry or Jordan. Whoever's turn it is."
"Is it ever your turn?"
I blinked up at her. "Why would it be?"
Sighing, she pressed on. "Who takes Jack to his doctor's appointments?"
"Jordan - and Perry, if he's not working."
"You don't go?"
"Yes, you would, and you should." Elliot sat across from me on the edge of the coffee table. "You say you want to be part of Perry's family, but you don't want the parts of the family that take effort. All you want are the sex parts and the free dinners."
"Hey," I snapped, "there's nothing wrong with the sex parts. And I'm $130,000 in debt - sometimes free dinners are the only reason I eat at all."
"I know all of that." With a shrug, Elliot stood and started searching for her shirt. "But maybe what you want is something more."
My head dropped against the couch cushions. As I stared at the ceiling, I sighed, listening to Elliot getting dressed, still humming "Poison." In a way I supposed she was right. But if getting banished from dinner with senile old grandparents hurt this much as it stood, how much worse would it have been if I'd really been as in the middle of Perry's family as Elliot seemed to want me?
After staring at the ceiling got boring (and kind of disgusting - what had Turk and I done to make the ceiling dirty?), I stood and went to my bedroom. It was only 7:00; I could change into sweats, hit the gym - maybe get a real jog in.
My closet was empty. "What the--" I ran to the dresser and yanked open all the drawers. They were empty, too. My bookshelves had pretty much been cleared, and the nightstand. I didn't even have a toothbrush in the bathroom. "Elliot! Where's my stuff?"
She came to the doorway of her room holding a silver sandal in one hand and a high-heeled black boot in the other. "What?"
"My stuff. Where's my stuff?"
Elliot blinked fast, bending down to slip one foot into the sandal. "What stuff?"
"You know, the stuff I own. Clothes, books...stuff you keep in a place when you live in it."
"All your stuff is at Dr. Cox's place." Finished buckling the sandal, she stood.
She bent over for the other foot, but I couldn't stand by anymore. Jumping forward, I closed my hand over hers. "A pair, Elliot, please."
She looked from the boot in my hand to the sandal on her foot and giggled. "Oh, yeah." Unfazed, she returned to her room.
I followed her. "All my stuff can't be at Perry's. I never took all my stuff to Perry's."
"Not all at once." Elliot reemerged from the back of her closet carrying both of the black boots. She stepped into one and zipped it up. "Over time."
I stared in mute horror. She wasn't going to - yes, she was. She was going to try to put the boot on over the sandal. "Um, Elliot--"
She looked up at me. "What?"
I pulled back the hand I'd extended and turned away. "Nothing. Nevermind."
Elliot hadn't been any help, so I spent the rest of my night with Rowdy, who at least was glad to see me. I gave him a good brushing, because it looked like Elliot had been neglecting his grooming, and told him stories about life at Sacred Heart. I fell asleep with his cold little nose pressed into my neck. Just me and man's best friend - the way it should be.
The next two days at the hospital were tense between Perry and me. I held to my vow not to speak to him about non-work issues, and he seemed to respect that. But it hurt. Every time I saw him looking like he was going to say something to me, I wanted to tell him, "Do it, Perry, please. Bend even a little, and I promise I'll break." But he didn't, and I didn't, and I spent Tuesday and Wednesday feeling like a family of woodchucks was busy gnawing my heart to bits.
Wednesday night I felt the need to gripe to Elliot about the lack of my food in the refrigerator. "There were things of mine last time I was here," I said, eyeing her accusingly. "What did you do to them?"
Elliot shuddered. "I threw them out before they could grow legs and walk away. The last time you were here was four months ago; some of your mold colonies were evolving into sentient life forms."
Growling a bit, I stole one of Elliot's Cokes from the refrigerator door. She owed me, after chucking all of my food. I snorted. Four months. Whatever.
As I popped open the can, swinging the refrigerator door shut with my foot, I spotted a picture I hadn't seen before. "Hey, Elliot!" I called, reaching for it, "where did you get this picture?"
She looked at it and smiled. "Carla gave it to me. It's a nice picture, isn't it?"
I nodded absently. The photo was of Jordan holding Jack, standing next to Perry and me. Perry had one arm draped around Jordan's shoulders, the other wrapped across my chest. Both of my hands were hooked over his forearms. I vaguely remembered it being taken - Turk and Carla's rehearsal dinner, Turk's mother crying and snapping pictures of everyone at weird moments. Smiling, I flipped the picture over. The note, in Carla's scary-neat handwriting, read, 'Jack (3 months) with his mom, his dad, and his other dad.'
My chest tightened, and my vision got super-focused, like a killer robot in a low-budget sci-fi movie. There it was, the nickname that had been pissing me off for the past nine months. Only I suddenly realized: I'd been fixating on the wrong part. I stared at Elliot. "I have to go." Shoving picture and soda can into her startled hands, I rushed to the door.
"J.D.!" She was right behind me. "Where are you going?"
"I'm an idiot!" I told her as I raced into the hallway.
"Well, sure," I heard her call. "But where are you going?"
Less than fifteen minutes later I was outside my real home. Shoving open the door, I was briefly aware of bewildered-looking little old people and Jordan's panicked glare before I zeroed in on Perry, who stood as I came to his end of the table. "J.D., what are you--"
"I love you, Perry," I said. "I tried really hard not to, but I do. I want this to be my home, and I want you and Jack and yes, if she has to be, Jordan, to be my family - if you'll still have me."
Jordan realized what Perry was going to do half a second before he did. She started making arm motions that were supposed to mean either 'No! Stop!' or 'I'm ready for take-off.' Perry ignored her as he took my head in his hands, grinning, and murmured, "As long as you want us." Then he kissed me hard.
When he released me for air, we staggered apart, staring at each other. Then we realized what we'd done and turned to watch the reactions of the other people at the table.
Jordan was going to kill us. She was really going to do it this time. Grandma and Grandpa Sullivan looked like their false teeth were going to fall right out of their wide-open jaws. Perry took a breath to say something, though I had no idea whathe thought he could say that would fix this.
Grandma Sullivan started clapping.
We all turned to look at her. She clapped harder and harder, a huge grin breaking across her face. "Oh, Jordan," she cooed, bringing her hands together gleefully, "how sweet of you. Dinner theater!"
My eyes widened. Well, that was one way around the problem.
Grandpa Sullivan huffed suspiciously, staring from Jordan to Perry to me and back to Jordan. Then he smiled. "Ah, yes, I see now. Very clever, Jordan. I knew you'd never get involved with such a dismal prospect." He waved a wrinkled hand at Perry, who flushed as I tried to smother a laugh behind my hand.
"No. Of course not, Grandpa." Jordan's expression hadn't changed at all. She was still going to kill us. "Hah hah. This is J.D., a friend of Perry's from the hospital. It was his idea to, um..."
"Entertain you," I suggested.
Jordan rolled her eyes, but she nodded. "Exactly."
"There's another show at 10:30," I said. "Please keep drinking, and tip your servers!"
Perry stomped on my foot. "Too much, Gigi."
"Right." I rubbed the top of my foot where he'd stepped on it.
Perry looked from my foot to my face apologetically. "I'll make that up to you later," he whispered, and I almost melted from the relief. It wasn't going to be easy, but we were fixing things. I nodded.
"Come over here and sit by me, young man," Grandma Sullivan offered, patting the empty chair next to her. Smiling, I took the chair, realizing as I did that Perry must have left the spot open to protest my exile. I looked over at him and grinned. Maybe fixing things would be easier than I'd thought.
As Perry slid back into his chair, his eyes widened, and he turned to stare at Grandpa Sullivan, who stared at his plate with a too-innocent expression. I snickered. I think Grandpa Sullivan just goosed him.
I was still grinning as Jordan started passing around the green beans. I was home.
The advance scouting party for the alien invasion force repels down into the darkened room. They only have one chance to prepare Earth for the invaders.
"J.D." Poke. Poke. "J.D."
"I'm up. I swear." I tumbled out of bed, trying not to trip over the shoes next to the nightstand. Jack had been screaming for nearly thirty seconds. Staggering down the hall, I called, "Hang on, Jack. OtherDad is coming." I yawned. If I could make it to his room without falling asleep.
I was on auto-pilot. Check the diaper. Check the food situation. Sing quietly. Was "I Like the Night Life" an inappropriate song for a ten-month-old?
"Hey, Jack," I said, smiling as I picked him up from the changing table. "It's okay. I'm here." The instant he was up, he was quiet, happily gurgling himself to sleep in my arms. I settled in the chair next to the crib and waited for him to fall fully back to sleep.
Jack's first word will probably be 'Dada.' His second will either be 'Mama' or 'Hellcat,' depending on whether Perry or Jordan spends more time with him. As long as his third is 'J.D.' or 'OtherDad,' I'll be cool.
Or maybe 'alien.'