Sprawled out on the long grey couch in my brother’s flat, I flick mindlessly through the channels on the telly trying to stop myself from going upstairs to help my brother’s fiancé, Leslie. The baby has been crying for fifteen minutes straight, but Leslie made me promise to back off and stop helping so much.
“You’re not going to live here forever, Hayden. Theo and I have to figure this out on our own. She’s fine crying for a few moments.”
My jaw clenches as I stare at the clock, watching each passing moment that I’m forced to sit here and listen to my niece’s desperate cries. I unsnap and re-snap the brown leather cuffs on my wrists to try to distract myself. She wants me…I know it. I can feel it for Christ’s sake. She’s the most gorgeous and the most colicky baby you’ll ever meet, but for some reason she likes me.
“Colicky,” I huff. What an odd word for a single, twenty-six-year-old male to know. But fuck, I couldn’t not read the baby books Leslie and Theo had lying around. Especially when I bloody well live with them and hear that poor child wailing every single night. The five S’s are like the bible around here. Swaddle, side, shush, swing, and suck. No five tips have ever helped a family more, I assure you.
I glance down at my watch for the fourth time in the last three minutes and see it tick over to 11:11. I pinch my eyes shut and exhale a wish for luck. A wish for a time machine. A wish for change.
Finally, as if Leslie could hear my silent pleas, her head pops up over the cast iron railing that looks down on the sunken living room. Her face looks flushed and she is near tears. Without hesitation, I spring up and take the steps two at a time all the way to her and my brother’s loft bedroom.
“She doesn’t even like the football hold right now. I’ve rubbed her tummy, but she’s not gassy. I thought if I could strap her to me while I got ready, she’d settle down…but she won’t. She’s tired…I know she is. She just won’t fall asleep.” Leslie’s voice cracks at the end.
“I wish you’d stop fighting my help,” I say, scooping up a besotted three-month-old Baby Marisa off the bed. I tuck her into that perfect place between my shoulder and neck where my voice can tunnel right into her ear. Then I begin shushing her loudly while I swoosh from side to side in short, fast spurts. Her tiny, rigid frame instantly relaxes. A few more loud puffs of air later and her wails morph from battle cries into the cry that sounds more like she’s saying, “It’s about bloody time you got here, Uncle Hayden. Mum’s been messing about with me for ages.”
Her cries continue to calm as I swing. She doesn’t like to be bounced. Everybody wants to bounce her, but it just pisses her off more. I peek at our reflection in the long horizontal mirror on the side wall between the bedroom and the large en suite bathroom. Marisa’s eyes look dazed and heavy now. She’s seconds away from falling asleep.
“Hayden, you freaking British baby whisperer,” Leslie gripes in her distinct American accent.
“She was going to crash any second. You almost had her. This is just luck.”
She drops down onto the bed and pushes her auburn hair back from her face. “It’s not luck, Hay. You have the touch. Jeez, I don’t know what we’d do without you here.”
I huff out an incredulous laugh at that preposterous notion. She’s got no clue how much they help me a thousand times more than I could ever help them. She saved my fucking life for Christ’s sake. Yet I know that Doc is right…There is more to the world outside this flat.
I pause as I hear a soft snore coming from beside my ear and glance at the mirror to find Marisa out cold. I smile triumphantly and turn her to show Leslie.
Her face splits into a grin as she thrusts her hands into the air and does a hilarious silent scream with a little wiggly butt dance. My chest rumbles with laughter as she flops herself back onto the bed and lets out a huge sigh.
After a moment, she sits up and has a serious look upon her face. “Hayden, I know tonight is your big night and you probably have like a trillion things on your mind…but is there any way you could hold her for a while so I can make some calls and take a shower?”
“It’s a tough job, but I think I might just be man enough to do it,” I say with a wink. “Don’t tell my brother, though. He’ll thump me if he knows he missed out on cuddle time again.”
Leslie smiles in a quiet way she only ever does when she thinks of my brother. “He’s hauling the last furniture pieces for the auction over to the ballroom now. He should be back any second and you shall be relieved.”
“No worries. There’s an old football game on downstairs. I’ve got this,” I said, lifting my eyebrows and glancing down at the limp, pink, perfect bundle against my chest.
Leslie smiles affectionately at Marisa before she turns her twinkling green eyes on me. “Thank you, Hayden.”
I head downstairs thinking about how lucky my brother is to have a woman like Leslie. I’ll be proud to call her my official sister after their wedding. Resuming my place on the couch, I allow the slow, rhythmic breaths of Marisa to calm my nerves over what I’m about to do this evening.
The truth is I’ve wanted to hold Marisa all day. She is my moment in reality that reminds me there are bigger struggles happening in this world than my own. And that there are people who need me, even if they are only thirteen pounds. This perfect, fussy baby has become my safety net. My anchor. Holding her against my heart reminds me exactly why I need to always keep it beating.