This is what’s transpired the past seven weeks: My son Max started dating Brittany Schoenmeier, a cute girl he’s known since kindergarten, dating for two weeks before cheating on her with Avery Constantini, another cute girl he’s known all his life, making Brittany break up with him, but not hate him, because a week later, Brittany got back with my idiot son, not knowing he’d started dating Avery, whom Brittany has of course known all her life, too, leading to Max dating both girls for about a week, a glorious week for Max, I’m sure, until three hours apart last Saturday, Max found out both girls were pregnant with his child, leading Max into my study one night—admittedly, the kid looked like hell—to tell me he’d fathered not one, but two unplanned babies, Max seventeen, a B-minus student when he tried, never even having a paper route let alone a life plan, explaining to me how “the girls,” Brittany and Avery, both wanted to keep his baby, both loving him so much, they were willing to not only love him, but all live together, under one roof, to form what Max called a “21st-century family,” the roof in this plan meaning my roof, as me and his mother were the only involved parties with a roof we could call our own, let alone any kind of money and—Max researched it—insurance to cover this whole mess, my plan good for everything for both girls if Max married one, got divorced, then married the other, as long as DNA amnis proved his paternity, which they did, resulting in me and my wife Jill in one room and Max, his ex-wife Avery, and his wife Brittany sleeping down the hall, each girl four-and-a-half months pregnant, Max working at a pizzeria twenty hours a week with two months to go before graduation.
Jill’s thrilled. She loves having the girls around, never having had daughters—loves the idea of two little babies running around, too. This is our blessing, she claims, for us to only have one child but two daughters-in-law, girls she oversaw in the lunch room, pointed out in school pictures, would run into at the mall, lovely and polite girls who already treat her like their mom; Avery’s mom died ten years ago and Brittany’s mom’s a Bible-thumper who, along with her husband, has disowned Brittany, a promise I’m betting will stick. Jill’s own mom has Alzheimer’s, while her father goes blank whenever Jill explains Max’s predicament, too depressed about his wife or perhaps because he doesn’t believe her. My parents are both dead, but I have one brother, Matt, and his attitude is typical Matt: Max is the luckiest bastard on earth, two cute nubiles camped in his bedroom, carrying his children, loving him, and the best part, Matt says, “Loving each other, too.” I know what Matt’s insinuating, a line of thought I halt before he gets going—Brittany and Avery are both underage, both call me “Dad,” and neither of them is shy about crawling around the house in their underpants. Matt calms down, and in exchange, I don’t throttle him.
There’s only one person I can talk to about this situation: Avery’s dad. I’ve known Jesse, like our kids, since kindergarten, and even though we weren’t friends, in the twenty years since high school, we’ve reached the point of nodding if we pass each other on the street. Jesse has never been right since his wife died, never got anything going like a career, him and Avery sharing a studio apartment, Avery on the couch bed and him in the easy chair down the hallway, him respecting her need to be a young woman. Like me, Jesse doesn’t like any of it, is embarrassed as shit. As often as he can, he visits Avery and Max (and, I guess, Brittany), drinks a couple of beers with me in the garage, and wants more than anything for us to invite him to live with us, eyeing the room across from the kids’. I counter this with comments like “It must be nice to have some privacy, now that Avery’s gone.” It’ll eventually lead to him offering help for when the babies come, buying the formula and diapers, maybe even one of those twin strollers, because my end is covered and Brittany’s self-righteous parents won’t contribute shit. I like Jesse, am glad he agrees with me, but there’s no way he’s moving in. Jill jokes she could have two men if Max can have two women, a joke I find funnier every time she tells it.
Because God is hilarious, both girls go into labor the same day. It makes sense, I think, because Max impregnated both girls, he’s admitted, the same night, and also because—and this is my theory—the girls were cohabitating, in the same room, in the same bed, and their pregnancy cycles aligned—if it works for menstruation, why not birthing?
The waiting room at the hospital proves as stressful as anyone would guess. Jesse excuses himself every half-hour and comes back drunker each time. Jill calls everyone she knows and sets Twitter update records. Max, the dad-to-be, whose life is about to become a lot less fantasy-based, stares blankly at the Pepsi machine in front of him. Me, who half wants to be Jesse-drunk, half wants to be Jill–happy, tries to imagine how I’ll handle it if something goes wrong, both girls so young, so tiny, both delivering ten days early.
The Avery baby comes out first, a girl, at 3:01 a.m., sixteen hours into labor, and next door, Brittany’s baby emerges at 4:15. The girls get a special room, decorated by a staff of nurses who went crazy with balloons and crepe paper. Sometime around sun-up, I’m told Avery’s baby is named Paris Brittany Johnson and Brittany’s baby is named Paris Avery Johnson, which might be the stupidest part of all this, not that I say this aloud. Both girls are adorable and I hold them, one in each arm, and make the picture Jill takes of us the cover photo on my phone; I’m not inhuman, tears forming just as the picture’s snapped. I also take minor joy in seeing Max, who has gotten a free pass up to this point, ghostly with terror, babies ready to cry and poop and combine the two until he’ll wish he was a virgin again, not getting dates, not thinking anyone would ever like him. I think back to that Max and wonder which I’d prefer now, the boy who didn’t think he’d ever be loved or the terrified still-boy who will become a man years before I ever did.
Night comes and it’s time for grandma, grandpa, and grandpa to go home. We drop Jesse off—he makes three obvious allusions to our guest room on the five-minute drive—and I get Jill to bed, her preparations for the babies’ arrival overwhelming her, so much so she finally shuts up about how much she loves the name Paris. I need to sleep, too—two days from now will mark the end of sleep for three months for all of us.
Before I go to bed, I climb up to the attic and hunt down our high school yearbooks. I thumb through senior year first, when I dated Jill the whole time, initiating the path to today. Jill was in drama, several candids of her in costumes spread throughout. Aside from my senior photo, there’s only one shot of me, black glare paint under my eyes after the homecoming game, a loss. Next I crack my junior yearbook and flip to Lanette Mikowski, my girlfriend for two years at that point, the girl I thought would be Jill, especially when I got Lanette pregnant when we were sixteen. The moment she told me, I proposed, Lanette accepted, and we were in heaven. Then her parents forbade it. They wanted nothing to do with me, our baby, or anyone else finding out. Three days later, they sent Lanette to Wisconsin to live with cousins and have the baby, which she’d give up for adoption, then come home and not come near me again. My parents cried foul, tried to stand up for me, but it didn’t matter. Lanette had a miscarriage three months in, but stayed in Wisconsin and I have no idea, today, what she does now. The September after she left, Jill sat next to me in civics and that was that.
Every day since, I’ve thought of Lanette and that baby, how we felt the two glorious hours after I proposed, two blissful hours before we told her parents and they kicked me out of their house and I never saw Lanette again. Had Lanette stayed, maybe she wouldn’t have had that miscarriage. Maybe we’d still be together, a different daughter or son in my life, maybe more kids, maybe not, me happy as I am now, never thinking twice about Jill, just another pretty girl I knew from school.
These last few months, I’ve been picturing Lanette and Jill together in my current house, two loving wives, nobody thinking it odd, everyone happy. I picture another son—a boy two years older than Max with my nose and Lanette’s eyes—them growing up as brothers, inseparable. I picture barbecues, three-way catch in the yard, me teaching them every path to manhood, to happiness. This is why I’ll cherish these two baby girls of Max’s now, why I accept their moms, and why my son, stupid and scared and exhausted, will get everything he needs, can stay in my house with his family as long as he wants, after I die, after Jill dies, this home his home and theirs for all times.