F Is For Frank [Frank/Gerard standalone R]
Pairing: Frank/Gerard (Ryan/Brendon, Gabe/William, Spencer/Jon)
Disclaimer: Not true and never happened.
Summary: Frank can't even cook mac and cheese. How can he possibly live up to being a father? Maybe the new preschool teacher can help. (22k words)
A/N: This was what I was working on earlier in the week. xiexiegirl is responsible for me posting it today because no one can resist a Brendon Pout. This is kid!fic in case you didn't get it, and yeah, never thought I'd write it either but I'm sort of ridiculously in love with it :]
Frank swallowed nervously as he stared up at the building in front of him. The walls were a tan color and big windows on the second floor were filled with pieces of paper. The sky above was grey and threatened more rain than they’d already gotten in the past week.
“Okay,” he said out loud, his eyes moving to the front door that waited for him. His feet weren’t moving and his chewed on his lip ring as he stood there, willing himself to take that first step. “Everything’s going to be all right.”
“Come on, daddy.”
Frank looked down at the little girl who stood next to him, her hand clasped in his. Her big eyes, golden and green, stared up at him, and he forced a smile.
“Okay, let’s go,” he said finally, taking that first step forward and pulling open the heavy front door.
Inside, the hallways were bright. Paintings of alphabet letters ran down the length of the corridor and finger painted pieces of paper hung outside of a door behind which Frank could hear a loud chatter of children.
He continued down the hall a ways until he reached a small secretary’s office where he paused at the door. The little girl beside him hesitated back when he did, looking all around the room.
“Can I help you?” the young woman at the front desk asked politely, smiling at the child half-hidden behind Frank.
“Uh, yeah, I had an appointment with Ms. Salpeter. I’m Frank.”
The girl skimmed her book and nodded. “Yes, she’s expecting you. Right through that door.” She pointed to another door leading off the office and Frank nodded.
“Keltie,” the woman provided with a smile and Frank just nodded again, holding his little girl’s hand tighter as he walked to the door and knocked before pushing it open slightly.
The woman behind the desk glanced up as Frank entered cautiously. The pen in her hand paused above her paper and she watched him enter and then her eyes fell on the girl edging in after.
“Ms. Salpeter?” he asked nervously. “I’m Frank Iero. Um, I called earlier.”
The woman smiled brightly and rose from her desk. She was wearing a nice purple blouse and flowing skirt. Rounding the desk, she held out her hand.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Iero, and Greta will do just fine.”
“Oh, uh, sure,” Frank muttered and Greta smiled sweetly, then catching sight of the girl behind him, dropped down to her level.
“And you must be Sofia,” she greeted her nicely. “That’s a very pretty dress.”
Sofia fiddled with the hem of her blue dress. “Mommy picked it out.”
Greta glanced up at Frank, who met her eyes briefly before frowning down sadly at his daughter.
“Well, it’s lovely,” she continued. “Now, Sofia, how would you like to meet your teacher? Mr. Way is just upstairs.”
Sofia nodded slowly, her small hand tightening over Frank’s. Greta smiled again and rose, holding the door open for them.
“I’m glad you decided to bring Sofia here. I hope everything’s to your liking.”
“Uh, yeah,” Frank muttered, looking around at the brightly-colored walls and hearing the sound of children’s laughter leaking through walls as they climbed the stairs to the second floor. Sofia held to his hand tightly as they walked and he could swear his own nerves were leaking into her when Greta stopped at a bright blue door and turned to them.
“Don’t worry about her coming in in the middle of the year,” she assured Frank. “The children should warm to her fairly quickly.” Pausing, she dropped to Sofia’s level again. “I hear Mr. Way has a special project planned for Halloween,” she said in a low whisper, almost conspiratorially. “You’re lucky you came today.”
Sofia managed a smile back at Greta and Greta rose again. “Shall we?”
Frank’s shoulders jerked in a vague answer and Greta knocked on the door before turning the handle and opening it.
Inside, Frank was met with a burst of vivid colors and children. Four-year olds littered the room, some sitting on a carpet in a corner, books open in their laps while a young man with brown hair read to them, helping them through some of the words. Others were playing with blocks in another area while more still were in a plastic kitchen area. The tiny tables were covered with crayons and paper and a man Frank could swear would never fit in the tiny chair, was there, scribbling along with them.
“Gerard,” Greta called and the man at the table looked up.
His dark hair was wild and messy and Frank was surprised to see a sparkle of glitter in it as he rose from the table, leaving his drawing, and coming over to them at the door.
Standing in front of them, the man smiled at Frank and pushed down his sleeves over his arms that were covered in paint.
“Mr. Iero, this is Mr. Way. And in the corner is his assistant, Mr. Urie.”
Frank nodded, his hand still tight over Sofia’s, who looked up at him with a worried expression on her face.
“Hello,” Gerard greeted him, scratching his head and some more glitter cascaded down. Frank watched it drop to the floor and pulled his lip ring into his mouth. Gerard didn’t notice, though, and turned his attention to Sofia.
Frank blinked and realized he was supposed to be doing something. “This is Sofia,” he said and she looked up at Gerard carefully.
“Hi, Sofia,” Gerard said, crouching down to her level like everyone seemed to do. “I like your braid.”
Sofia turned shyly into Frank’s hand. “Daddy said a lot of bad words when he did it.”
Frank’s eyes widened but Gerard didn’t say anything, just looked up and smiled almost knowingly. Greta laughed but turned it into a cough when Frank glanced at her. She just gave him a fortifying smile.
Frank felt like an idiot but didn’t say anything as he crouched down to Sofia. “Hey, Sof, you think you can stay here? I’ll be back to pick you up at three-thirty, promise.”
Sofia’s eyes were searching but she nodded and Frank gave her a big hug. He wasn’t sure if he could leave.
“Do you want to play in the kitchen area?” Gerard asked and Sofia looked over to where two other little girls were fighting over the cherry-patterned apron. She looked up at Frank again and he tried to nod encouragingly but he wasn’t sure it came out the right way. She nodded, though, at Gerard and he pointed the way.
Standing in the doorway, Frank watched her carefully join the girls already there. Beside him, Greta patted his arm. “Gerard, I have to get back to the office. Mr. Iero, I’m sure everything will be fine.”
Frank nodded, getting a tightening feeling in his stomach as she left down the stairs.
When he turned back, Gerard was still there, gazing at the kids for a minute before smiling at Frank. “She’s in capable hands,” he assured Frank. “She’ll fit in pretty well.”
Frank tugged on his lip ring again and sighed. It wasn’t as though he had a choice.
“Well, um, thanks, Mr. Way,” Frank said awkwardly, watching as Sofia picked up a plastic scrambled egg. “I’ll pick her up at three-thirty.”
Gerard nodded, watching Frank curiously for a minute. “I’ll see you at three-thirty then.”
Frank nodded again and forced himself to turn from the door. He heard it click shut as he left and didn’t stop walking until he was out in the parking lot.
The sky was still dark and a light sprinkling of rain had started. He ignored it as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one as he crossed to his dented car that sat under a dripping elm tree. Taking a long drag, he looked back to the second floor where cheerful colors winked down at him, overlooking the playground below.
Sighing, he threw the cigarette to the ground and opened the door to his car, slipping inside and turning on the engine.
“Just take a step back.”
Frank sighed as he looked over at Pete, who had interrupted himself in his cleaning to give Frank a little unwanted advice.
“Keep cleaning, Pete,” he just said but Pete ignored him.
“So you didn’t expect this to happen,” Pete continued. “And yeah, it shouldn’t have. But you can’t beat yourself up over it.”
“I’m not,” Frank grumbled, sliding off the stool. “Make sure the glasses are arranged by size this time.”
Pete sighed as Frank wandered away from the bar, looking for Bob and possibly some sanity.
It wasn’t opening time yet and the bar was dark due to the rain outside. The lights under the bar were on, blue and purple, hints of red in the dark corners of the room. The tables were still piled with chairs from the night before and Frank took down a few before slumping into one of them.
Bob, who was passing with a crate of beer bottles, paused as he came to Frank. Setting the crate on the table with loud clinking, he set his elbow on top and looked at Frank.
Frank looked up. “Nothing.”
“It was preschool day today, wasn’t it?” Bob asked knowingly and Frank sighed.
“I just don’t know what to do.”
Bob paused. “You’re just gonna have to deal with it. It’s not like you can change it.”
Frank didn’t like that answer, but knew it was the truth. Instead, he just groaned and put his head down on the table. “Tell Ray I called out sick.”
“You’re already here,” Bob answered, heaving the crate back up again and heading for the bar.
Frank only groaned again and didn’t raise his head until Ray arrived and shoved him into the back, saying that if he was going to bemoan his life, he might as well do it in the back where customers couldn’t see.
At three-thirty, Frank stood against his car, smoking another cigarette and pulling up the collar on his jacket to shield against the wind that had kicked up with the rain sometime in the middle of the day.
Other parents gave him somewhat strange looks as they arrived to pick up their kids and he remained outside, finishing his cigarette and tossing it away. Licking his lips, he took a breath and headed for the dreaded front door.
Inside, it was bright and cheery, warm and not windy. Parents hustled down the halls, already bundling up their children to go out in the dreary fall weather. Frank tried to avoid them as best he could as he made his way to the room downstairs where Greta said the children were taken after naptime.
It was a big room and more blocks were scattered in a corner and loud music played from a stereo on the windowsill. Some of the kids were dancing rather badly, but Frank looked around for the mess of dark curls that he’d grown to see every morning and every night.
“Daddy!” Sofia ran to him before he could even spot her and clung to his legs, smiling up at him.
“Hey, Sof,” he greeted her, crouching down for a hug. He fingered her hair sadly; the braid was coming out already. “How was it?”
She shrugged. “We drew pumpkins today and Mr. Way said he was going to put them up on the wall.”
“That’s nice,” he commented, glancing at Gerard, who was sitting sprawled the block corner, busy building a castle that the other kids added to. He didn’t see Frank looking at him, though, as the whole thing came tumbling down around him. “Ready to go?”
She nodded, grabbing his hand as he stood and turned towards the door. They gathered her things from upstairs – coat and lunchbox – and came back downstairs.
Frank only cast one glance back to the loud room before helping Sofia with her coat and opening the heavy door for her.
“Mr. Way said when it’s sunny we can go out to the playground.”
Frank glanced at the playground to their left as they left. There was a jungle gym, climbing bars, several bright slides, and a few benches. He just grunted and let her skip ahead to the car where she pulled open the door with difficulty and climbed inside.
“What do you want for dinner?” he asked when he got in the other side and made sure her seat buckle was on. “I was thinking macaroni and cheese.”
Sofia bounced a little as she looked out the window at the parking lot as they pulled out. “I don’t like macaroni and cheese.”
“Yes, you do,” he said, taking a right out of the lot. “It’s your favorite.”
“It tasted funny last time.”
Frank frowned as he remembered. Ray had laughed when he’d heard that Frank had burned macaroni and cheese. But it wasn’t Frank’s fault. Who knew water burned off if left too long?
“It’ll be fine,” he said, not mentioning that he didn’t have anything else in his cupboards, and certainly nothing that he could cook and not burn.
At his apartment, he let her in and hardly reprimanded her when she dropped her bag on the floor by the door. It wasn’t as though there was anywhere else to put it anyway.
Wading through the mess of pink, Frank headed for the kitchen, rummaging in the fridge and managing to come up with some animal crackers and chocolate milk for a snack which he gave to Sofia as she climbed onto the stool at the counter. He didn’t have a dining room table.
Watching her eat, Frank sighed. She seemed content to munch her cookies and drink her milk but he knew it was all just passing. Sometimes she was perfectly fine and other times he didn’t know how to console her.
When she was done, he let her go into the living room and turn on the TV. He tried to at least make sure it was on some “educational” show before he slipped into his bedroom, the only real room in the apartment. Leaning against the door, he sighed. He could hear the television through the door and Sofia’s laugh at something on the screen.
Gazing around his room, he found himself wishing he’d been more prepared. There hadn’t been any time, though. His eyes fell on a photograph on his dresser and he crossed to it, lifting it. A dark haired woman smiled at him in the frame and he paused only a minute before turning it face down and heading back to the living room.
“Hey,” he said once he settled in next to Sofia, who had the remote in her hands. It was nearly twice the size of her palm. “How about we watch a movie and then I’ll make dinner?”
Sofia looked up at him, her eyes a mottled green in the grey light coming in from outside. “Okay,” she agreed, sliding off the couch and rummaging in the pile of DVDs on the floor in front of the television.
Frank supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised when she came back with Bambi and handed it to him. He’d always hated the movie, but he pressed it into the player and held Sofia close as the beginning credits started to roll.
Frank was late getting out of the house and came out still tugging on his jacket, his wallet in his mouth and only one shoe on. Hopping around, he tried to pull on the shoe but only ended up falling into the wall. Shoving his wallet in his back pocket, he ran a frustrated hand through his hair and looked around, sure he was missing something.
“Oh, shit,” he cursed, scrambling back to the door and pushing it open. “Sofia!”
The little girl appeared in the door to the bathroom, her toothbrush still in hand. Frank hurried inside, putting the toothbrush back.
“Come on, we’re late,” he said, grabbing her bag and her jacket.
“But mommy always says I have to brush my teeth in the morning,” Sofia protested when Frank swept her to the door.
“Yeah, well.” Frank searched for a good response but couldn’t come up with anything. “We’re late.”
Sofia didn’t fight him, for which he was glad, as he got her out of the cramped apartment and downstairs to the car. He didn’t even have time for his usual cigarette as he drove to the preschool.
The rain from the day before had stopped but the sky was still dark. When he arrived, he saw children outside in the playground and he took a minute before he got out of the car and helped Sofia with her seatbelt.
She jumped out of the car, swinging her tiny pink backpack and watching Frank, who stuffed his hands in his pockets and started towards the playground. She hurried to keep up with him, hanging onto the edge of his jacket as they entered the gate to the playground.
“You want to go play?” Frank asked her, looking over at the kids climbing all over the equipment. Sofia cast him another look before releasing his jacket slowly and wandering over to the same girls as the day before. They seemed to greet her nicely, though, and Frank felt a little better.
When he turned, he nearly jumped to find Gerard behind him, his hands stuffed in the pockets of a black leather jacket and paint stains on his face. Frank didn’t really want to know how they got there.
“Morning, Mr. Way,” he just muttered. “Um.”
Gerard watched Frank for a minute. “Good morning. How are you this morning?”
“Late,” Frank muttered, kicking the bark chips and watching them scatter before him. Gerard arched an eyebrow but tactfully didn’t say anything. Frank realized he was being rude and looked up, forcing a smile. “I should really get going.”
Gerard nodded. “All right. See you this afternoon.”
Frank nodded and cast a glance over a Sofia where she appeared to be in deep conversation with Mr. Urie, the assistant. Sighing slightly, he kicked the ground again and turned, leaving through the gate and missing Gerard’s continued eyes on his back.
“Preschool not going so good, eh?” Gabe asked, plunking down in the chair next to Frank and Frank groaned. “What? Did you not learn your ABCs? I’m sure they can teach you.”
“Go away, Gabe,” Frank pleaded, not in the mood to hear Gabe’s particular brand of cheering up.
“I could teach you in Spanish,” he offered. “Then you’d be bilingual.”
“Gabe,” Frank said seriously, lifting his head from his arms and giving him a look. “Go teach William Spanish or something.”
Gabe just smirked. “Oh, I am.”
Frank didn’t even groan, just shooed Gabe away and retreated to the bar. Pete was down at the other end, thankfully, and Bob was putting away beer bottles into the fridge. He looked up, though, as Frank took the stool.
“Give me a beer,” he said. “Any beer, a really strong one.”
“No drinking on the job,” Bob grunted. “Besides, you’re the manager. You could just take one.”
Frank sighed and glanced around the bar. It was still a few hours until opening and technically he was supposed to work until eight at night, but he just couldn’t anymore. He’d been coming in earlier to make up the time, but since they didn’t open until around five in the evening, it was fairly useless.
“I think I made a mistake,” he said instead, sinking down onto his hands and listening to Bob’s clinking bottles.
“No, you didn’t,” Bob replied simply. “You’re doing the best you can, so just relax.”
Frank just shook his head into his arms. “If Gabe comes back with Spanish flashcards, punch him for me, will you?”
The sun was peeking through the clouds when Frank pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of his car. He didn’t make for the school immediately, seeing the kids outside again and running all over the playground. Instead, he leaned back against his car and pulled out a cigarette. He was trying to quit, really, but so far all he’d been able to do was stop smoking inside.
As he leaned against his car, he earned a few more strange glances from parents as they shuttled their kids past to huge minivans and tiny sports cars. His own car was small and beat-up with dings in the doors, a big scrape in the back from where he’d backed into a pole one time in high school, dirt smeared over the wheel wells. It had been white once upon a time but now was a sort of brownish-grey.
When he finished the cigarette, he flicked it away and braced himself. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he made his way towards the playground, sniffing in the cold air.
He was greeted immediately by Mr. Urie at the gate, who gave him a bright smile.
“Afternoon, Mr. Iero,” he said happily.
“Er, hi, Mr. Urie,” he replied slowly.
“Call me Brendon,” he said. “Hey, so Sofia is a pretty awesome kid. She made this crazy drawing today of an octopus and it had, like, ten legs.”
Frank’s stomach clenched at Brendon’s words and was glad when Gerard appeared at his shoulder.
“Hey, Brendon, why don’t you go get the snacks? Ask one of the kids to help you.”
“Okay!” Brendon said brightly, smiling at Frank before turning and shouting to the kids. “Who wants to help get snacks?”
A chorus of “me!” met his question and he was quickly encircled by a bunch of small children, all clambering for the privilege to carry fruit snacks.
Frank let out a small sigh and turned to find Gerard looking at him seriously.
“Yeah?” he asked after a minute and Gerard quirked a smile.
“I’d like to talk to you for a minute,” he said, “if that’s okay.”
“Um, sure,” Frank agreed. “Is it about Sofia?”
Gerard paused. “How about we go inside where it’s warmer?”
Frank had a momentary flashback of being sent to the principal’s office when Gerard headed for the front door and held it open for him. Forcing himself to walk, he went inside and swallowed when the door closed with a loud thump behind him. They walked up to Gerard’s room in silence and Frank shoved his hands deep in his pockets, wishing he had a cigarette.
His eyes lingered over Sofia’s bag as he passed inside and remembered her plea that she wanted a blue bag instead of pink.
Gerard came in after him and Frank didn’t look at him. Instead, he busied himself by taking in the room.
The books were put away neatly now and the tiny chairs stood on top of the tables. The blocks were on their shelf and only an odd toy car lay on the rug. Frank thought he saw a sparkle of glitter when Gerard turned to him and leaned against his big cupboard which was full of paper, lesson plans, art projects.
“Mr. Iero,” he started and Frank interrupted him.
“Just Frank, please.” He hated being called Mr. Iero like he was older than twenty-five. “Is this about Sofia?” he asked again and Gerard paused.
“There was sort of an incident today,” he said finally and Frank groaned, biting his lip ring and twirling it with his tongue.
“Was she fighting?” he asked. “Did she hit someone? Did she have a tantrum? I swear, they just come and go and—”
“No,” Gerard interrupted him and Frank took a breath, feeling his stomach clenching nervously. He just didn’t want to fuck this up. “It, well, it wasn’t anything big, it’s just, it seemed odd and I wanted to talk to you about it.”
“Oh.” Frank shifted, keeping his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. “What happened?”
“Well, we were drawing today and one of the other kids took her crayon and she got upset.”
Frank opened his mouth but Gerard cut him off.
“It isn’t a big deal. Happens all the time, but how she reacted… It took a while to get her to stop crying and when I asked her why all she would say was that blue was her mom’s favorite color. She refused to use any other color.” Gerard was looking at Frank as though he had the answer and Frank felt the familiar tremble in his body that always came when he started thinking about it.
“Fuck,” he whispered and then his eyes widened. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry. Damn it!” He winced at his own faults and just settled for cursing himself under his breath.
Gerard didn’t seem too fazed by it and waited until Frank had composed himself and just sighed into the empty classroom.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he said finally. “Jamia was always supposed to be there.”
“That’s her mother?” Gerard guessed and Frank nodded slowly.
“Yeah. She, uh, she died last month.”
Frank shrugged. There wasn’t anything any one could say to make it better anymore.
“I just, I don’t think Sofia understands. I don’t think she gets why mommy can’t come pick her up from my house after a few hours. She doesn’t get why she has to sleep in my living room and doesn’t have her favorite bear because I can’t find it in any of the boxes.”
Gerard was quiet as Frank talked. Frank pulled his lip ring into his mouth again and leaned back against the counter.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen, you know?” he asked after a minute. “Jamia, she wanted to have a kid. I’m just the guy who jerked off into a cup and then showed up at the hospital for the birth. I was supposed to be the cool weekend dad, you know? Not the guy who can’t even make macaroni and cheese.” He sighed loudly and looked down at his scuffed shoes. “And it’s not Sofia’s fault. I’m just useless. I love her and she’s mine, but she wasn’t supposed to be mine.” He laughed self-depreciatingly. “Isn’t that a completely horrible, selfish thing to say?”
“No,” Gerard answered honestly and Frank glanced up at him.
“We had a plan,” he said insistently. “Sofia was Jamia’s dream and I was just the guy who made it happen.”
“I think you’re doing pretty well,” Gerard offered and Frank scoffed.
“Look at me,” he said, stepping back and spreading his arms. His lip and nose rings were in and the scorpion tattoo was visible on his neck. He had more tattoos but they weren’t visible beneath his jacket. “Do I look like the kind of guy who should be wiping her nose and braiding her hair? I don’t even know how to braid. Braiding is like some innate female trait. I can barely tie my own shoes let alone braid anything.”
He could feel the emotions welling up in him, the ones he tried to hide from Sofia, to make her believe that he was strong.
Jamia had been his best friend since high school. They’d gone to college together and moved to the same town. When she’d asked him if he would father a child for her, he’d hardly hesitated to say yes. He’d never imagined that she would die and he’d be left with a four-year old to take care of.
Gerard’s hand moved to his shoulder and Frank looked up sharply. Gerard had glitter in his hair and some stuck to his cheek. It was clear glitter but Frank could see it shimmer when he moved.
“I think you’re doing fine,” he said seriously. “Sofia loves you.”
Frank laughed once and then shook his head. “She doesn’t know better.”
Gerard gave him a sad smile. “All you can do is try.”
Frank nodded, biting his lip again. “Yeah. I’ll, uh, talk to her about the crayon.”
Gerard bobbed his head and dropped his hand. Frank ignored the way the warmth seemed gone afterwards and cleared his throat.
“I should go get her,” he muttered instead. “Maybe attempt not to burn the pizza this time.”
Gerard laughed and Frank felt a little better when he left the room and headed back out to the playground.
Frank was exhausted and it was only eight at night. Another Disney movie was playing on the television and the remains of the frozen pizza sat on the coffee table. Sofia was asleep next to him, her head curled up against his thigh and he was watching her more than the TV.
He could barely see the television over the mounds of cardboard boxes that were piled on the coffee table anyway. He really needed to unpack things, but there was no place to put them. It wasn’t as though he’d ever expected to have Sofia over for longer than a few hours, maybe overnight, but that was what the couch was for.
Thinking back on it, Frank realized he was probably the worst part-time dad ever. Even the bad ones had a bed for their kids to sleep on. Or they just didn’t see them at all.
He wondered how Jamia had done it. She’d never called him for help, never asked him to drop what he was doing to come take care of Sofia. She must have been superwoman, he concluded.
He needed to clean, he thought, looking around at the messy living room, the corner where Sofia’s bed had been shoved, surrounded by a fortress of boxes, pink blankets falling everywhere although Sofia insisted she wanted everything blue now.
Sighing, he couldn’t bring himself to get up from the couch. He’d been busy since getting home, giving Sofia a bath and trying to untangle her hair, doing laundry, making dinner and nearly burning an already-cooked pizza. He couldn’t believe he was so inept at everything. He felt like calling his own mother and just apologizing for how hard it must have been with him as a son.
Instead of doing one of the millions of things he had to do, Frank just closed his eyes and slid down on the couch, yawning and turning down the TV. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep pressed against his daughter, her tiny hand curled around his arm.
“Do you sleep anymore?”
Frank blinked as he raised his head from his hands and stared at the cup of coffee now sitting in front of him. It had definitely not been there when he’d put his head down.
Ray was sitting across his desk from him and waiting for his response.
“Yes,” Frank responded, dragging the cup towards him and taking a fortifying sip. “It’s just hard.”
Ray paused and then leaned forward. “I know you didn’t plan this, Frank, but maybe you should take a break, you know, figure things out.”
“What’s there to figure out?” Frank asked, aside from how the hell I can set my oven to not burn anything, he added silently.
“It’s a lot to handle.” Ray shrugged. “A new kid, all this adjustment.”
Frank frowned, looking up at him. “I’m not gonna take time off.” He couldn’t, especially now. Raising a kid was expensive, he’d found out.
“I’ll give it to you,” Ray offered. “Paid leave. Just take a week or two, figure out what’s going on and how to handle it.”
Frank shook his head. “That’s not gonna help me figure out how I’m supposed to work late at night with a kid now.”
Ray sighed and Frank knew he was being difficult, but he was positive that taking time off would do nothing more than give him limitless time to relive his failures as a parent.
“Look,” Frank said finally. “I know it sucks. My life sucks, but I can’t take time off. I can’t have that much time to myself. I’ll go crazy.”
Ray looked him over for a minute and then sighed. “Fine, you don’t have to, but slow down a little. Sleep more.”
“I’ll work on it,” Frank promised and Ray just glanced away.
“I don’t want pink blankets!” Sofia threw down her blanket violently on the ground and glared up at Frank, her eyes dark with anger and her cheeks red. “I want blue!”
Frank sighed. “We don’t have any blue.”
“But I want blue!” Sofia yelled. “Blue! Blue! Blue!”
“Sofia, you have to be quiet. We’re not the only ones in this apartment.”
“Blue!” she yelled, her cheeks reddening as she got louder. Frank could see she was on the verge of breaking completely as she stamped her feet.
“Sof, you have pink. There’s nothing wrong with pink. I like pink,” he said, his tone pleading. He still hadn’t figured out how to talk her down from these.
“I don’t want pink!” she screamed and she started crying in her anger, hiccupping and falling to the floor, pounding it with her small fists. “I want blue! Mommy had blue!”
Her tears were stronger and her words were less clear as she screamed and yelled. Frank stood helplessly above her, desperately wishing for any sort of miracle that wanted to help him in the moment.
“Sofia,” he said sadly, dropping to the floor as she cried big tears into the carpet. He didn’t know what to say and so just settled for rubbing her back calmingly as she sobbed and hiccupped into the rug. If he had been anything other than what he was, he might have joined her.
On Halloween, Frank woke up still tired from the night before. His head was pounding and he hoped to God that he wasn’t getting sick, especially not on his birthday.
Rolling out of bed, he stumbled to his dresser, pulling out clean clothes and changing. When he got out to the living room, he saw that Sofia was still asleep. He’d tucked her into bed the night before still in her day clothes with only her shoes lying in a jumbled pile at the foot of the bed. Moving over to her, he shook her shoulder gently.
“Sof, Sofia, it’s time to wake up,” he murmured and she stirred slightly, blinking in the light as she opened her eyes.
Yawning, she sat up and rubbed her eyes. Frank smiled a little and turned to one of the boxes that held her clothes. Riffling through it, he realized something. It was Halloween. And on Halloween, little kids dressed up in costumes. Shit.
Glancing back at Sofia in her bed, he paused. “What do you want to wear today?” he asked and she blinked at him.
“It’s Halloween, daddy.”
Yeah, he knew. “Yeah,” he agreed uneasily. Just one more thing to add to the column of Worst Dad Ever. “Here, I’ll get you some breakfast.”
While Sofia was happily eating her cereal, Frank returned to the living room, digging frantically through boxes for anything that might remotely resemble a Halloween costume. He came across a lot of pink things, but after remembering the night before, tossed them aside.
He was silently panicking as he stood in his living room, thinking that he couldn’t even wait until his child was five years old to disappoint her. Rubbing his face, he sighed into his hand and decided he was just going to have to face the truth; he was a horrible parent and she should know it now rather than later.
Sighing, he went to the front door to pick up the paper and was surprised to find a box on his doorstep. Bringing it inside, he checked that Sofia was still busy eating before he pulled off the top.
His mouth fell open as he pulled out a tiny princess dress, blue, with a sparkly magic wand. A note fluttered out and he snatched it off the floor.
We knew you’d forget, it read. So we all pitched in. Victoria did the sewing. Tell Sofia happy Halloween for us, and don’t thank us, just get some sleep.
Frank just stared, unable to believe it. He never would have expected this from the people at work, but he supposed, what with how scatterbrained he was usually and then adding in all the things that had happened lately, it would have been safe to assume he would forget something as important as this.
“Hey, Sofia,” he said slyly, sneaking into the kitchen, the dress behind his back. She stopped eating, the spoon big in her hand as it rested against the ceramic bowl. “I have a surprise for you.”
Her eyes widened as he pulled out the dress and the wand. Squealing, she jumped off the stool and made a beeline for him, hugging him around the knees and then grabbing the dress.
“See, you’re a princess,” he said, stroking down her dark hair as she grinned and waved the wand a little.
“I love you, daddy!” she cried and then she was hugging him again and he could swear his heart skipped a beat.
At school, Frank couldn’t resist having his usual cigarette. Sofia said he smelled funny when he did, but he just couldn’t kick the habit quite yet. He still received strange looks from the other parents, but he tried his best to ignore them. Sofia was bouncing around him in her costume, waving her wand and turning him into a frog every other minute.
“So am I a human or a frog?” he asked once he flicked away his cigarette.
“You’re a prince,” she declared and he grinned, bending down and pressing his nose to her cheek. She giggled, pushing at him as he tickled her stomach.
“A handsome prince?” he asked as she shrieked under his fingers.
“Yes, yes!” she cried and he stopped tickling her, straightening up and heading towards the playground. She didn’t grab his hand anymore but skipped on ahead, eager to show her costume to her classmates.
Inside the gate, he still felt awkward and watched as she ran off to her friends. He was glad she was making friends at least.
Gerard saw him and came over to him a few moments after he’d entered. Brendon was halfway across the playground, hanging upside down on the climbing structure while other kids climbed all over him. His costume appeared to be that of a dinosaur, complete with mask and fake claws.
“Happy Halloween,” he said and Frank nodded, a smile gracing his features.
“To you too.”
“That’s a nice costume,” Gerard commented as he watched Sofia run around with her wand, turning more people into frogs.
“Um, yeah,” Frank muttered, that feeling of uselessness coming over him again. He kicked the bark chips as Gerard gave him a questioning look. “I kind of forgot it was Halloween.”
“Halloween is my favorite holiday,” Gerard just said, ignoring Frank’s obvious awkwardness about the situation.
“Mine too,” Frank said earnestly. “I mean, it’s my birthday, it’s just, things have been so crazy.”
Gerard stopped and looked at Frank. “Well, happy birthday.”
“Thanks.” Frank kicked the ground again, wondering why he felt so awkward around Sofia’s teacher. Glancing over, he saw that Gerard had paint on his hands again and he wondered how that was even possible first thing in the morning.
Gerard seemed to feel him looking, though, and caught his eyes. “Are you staying for the parade?”
“The what?” Frank asked blankly.
“We always have like a little parade for the parents so they can take picture of the costumes.”
“Pictures,” Frank breathed. “Shit.” He got a few dirty looks from some of the parents for that and bit his lip. “I mean, darn.”
Gerard looked like he was trying not to laugh. Frank felt more and more stupid as the time went by.
“I don’t even know where my camera is,” he admitted, sighing and stuffing his hands in his pocket, all the happiness from that morning draining out of him.
“No one expects you to be perfect, Frank,” Gerard said after a moment and Frank looked up at him. The glitter was pink this time as it sparkled in his hair and Frank wondered about it again but didn’t ask as Brendon bounced over.
“Hey, Mr. Iero! You staying for the parade? Sofia’s costume is super awesome. Kudos. She loves it. Apparently I’ve been turned into a frog, but I hear if I’m good, I can become a prince.” Brendon grinned and Frank could barely see it through the dinosaur head.
“I don’t know if I’m staying,” he said reluctantly. “I have to get to work.”
“Come on,” Brendon insisted and Frank hesitated, glancing at Gerard, who just shrugged.
“Well, I guess I could stay for a little while.”
“Awesome!” Brendon cried. “It’s going to be great.” Then he bounced off elsewhere, pretend-scaring a few of the three year old dressed as pumpkins.
“It’s almost like having another four year old sometimes,” Gerard said once Brendon was across the playground. “Except one with better motor skills and who won’t cry if Tommy takes his toy truck.”
Frank actually laughed and Gerard caught his eyes with a smile. He stopped, though, and the strange flip to his stomach. Gerard didn’t notice, though, and turned back to the playground with a sigh.
“Any big plans for tonight, since it’s your birthday and all?” he asked, his eyes surveying the children while the other teachers and parents talked together.
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Frank answered after a minute of frowning at his stomach. “I guess I should take Sofia out trick-or-treating or something…”
He’d never really considered holidays, but he’d only had the kid for a little over a month.
“They have a family-friendly fun house over at the church on Elm Street.”
Frank cringed at the words ‘family friendly’ but he knew that was his life now. No more horror flick marathons until dawn or pretending to be a vampire with Jamia. He was resolved to Disney movies and spaghetti brains.
“Not your scene?” Gerard asked, smiling after seeing Frank’s reaction.
“I’d much rather be watching all the Saw movies and pretending the fourth one didn’t exist.”
“I think there’s an argument to be made for the fourth one, actually,” Gerard said and Frank glanced over, surprised.
“You watch horror movies?”
Gerard shrugged, but he had a small smile on his face. “When I can.”
“I watch them all the time,” Frank said eagerly, excited to find someone who he might actually be able to talk to about them. Jamia would watch them with him but she never really understood his fascination with them. “Or, well, I did.” He deflated slightly, remembering. “Now it’s more Robin Hood and Cinderella.”
“Both good movies,” Gerard said reassuringly and Frank caught his smile.
“I suppose,” he admitted. “I just wish there was a little more blood in Peter Pan, you know?”
Gerard laughed and Frank found himself watching him for another minute before tearing his eyes away and back to the playground.
“Happy birthday, Frankie!”
Frank was shocked and stood rooted to the floor when he walked into the bar, an hour late, but he had called ahead.
The whole staff was there, hours early, with a birthday cake. Gabe even had one of those obnoxious noise makers that he blew into the side of Frank’s head when he just stood in the doorway.
“You—” he tried to say but nothing came out.
“Yes, we did,” Ray said, coming up to Frank and dragging him forward. Pete was already begging Victoria to cut the cake, but she ignored him.
“You guys are amazing,” he finally choked out and Gabe let out an over-dramatic, “Awww.”
“Shut up,” Bob said, pushing Gabe, who stumbled sideways and ran into William. He didn’t look too angry, though, only threw an arm over William’s shoulders and leaned against him.
“I can’t believe you guys,” Frank just said, staring at Ray, who just shrugged.
“We figured you’d need something after the way things have been going.”
Frank just stared, unable to come up with words that would express his gratitude.
“I fucking love you guys,” was all he managed before he hugged Ray tightly and Victoria laughed.
“Can we cut the cake now?” Pete asked eagerly and Victoria pushed his hand away from the knife.
“You’ll cut yourself,” she scolded and Pete pouted.
“Fraaank,” he whined. “Vicky won’t let me have cake.”
Frank grinned as he pulled away from Ray and turned to the cake sitting on the table. “Well, let them eat cake.”