Blue Plaid

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Stella and Calum’s interactions generally consist of a lot of bickering and eyerolling. Which is fine, because they really only see each other when they’re forced to do so by their respective best friends. But when unforeseen circumstances leave them as the guardians of a one year old boy, they must learn to coexist as they figure out how to raise a child.Stella plus Calum plus baby? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Here’s to hoping they don’t royally screw him up in the process.

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24. Catharsis

In which Calum makes a confession. 

 Lowering Cooper from my hip to the patch of floor which served as his play area, I pressed a kiss to the top of his head before turning towards the door to see who had been lightly knocking for the past thirty seconds, pulling it open to find Alex on the other side.

"Hey, man," I smiled widely. "This is a nice surprise."

"Hey!" Despite my friendliness, he seemed a little tense. "It's not a bad time, is it?"

"Not at all," I shook my head, stepping aside and pulling the door open wider, "come on in. You know Stella's not here, right?"

She had started her GED classes a few weeks ago and luckily, my boss at my new job was more understanding about my personal life than my previous employer, so we'd worked out a system where I didn't work three nights a week so that Stella could take night classes. That being said, I was fairly certain Alex knew Stella's schedule, so it was kind of odd that he had stopped by. It wasn't like I had an aversion to hanging out with Alex, but he was better friends with Stella and we hadn't really spent much time together just the two of us.

Stepping through the doorway, he shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and shrugged nervously. "I know she's at class. I'm actually here to see you."

The fact that he specifically came by when he knew Stella wasn't around just made the entire situation weirder, but he was almost shaking with nerves and I didn't want to make it worse, so I nodded casually and glanced over towards where Cooper was playing with a stuffed dinosaur. "Oh, okay. Well, I gotta put Cooper to bed, but there's beer in the fridge if you don't mind chilling for a few minutes."

"No worries," he called out, striding towards the fridge as I turned to lift Cooper from his play mat and carry him towards the bedroom.

Flashing Alex a smile, I retreated to Cooper's room to tuck him into bed, going through our usual ritual of me singing him three different NSYNC songs before he finally nodded off and returned to the living area with the baby monitor in hand to find that Alex had made himself comfortable on the couch, beer bottle in hand. His eyebrows lifted in surprise as I entered the room. "That was fast."

"Yeah, I'm sort of a pro at it now," I grinned. I wouldn't normally brag about something like that, but it was actually a point of pride for me, considering how much anything involving childcare used to terrify me. Plopping down on the couch beside Alex, I stretched my legs out on the center table. "You should've seen me at the beginning, though. It used to take us forever to get him fed and calm him down enough that he would sleep. So what's up?"

Despite the fact that a few sips of beer had relaxed him a bit, I could tell there was still something he wanted to say and allowing him to get it out sooner rather than later would hopefully lessen his tension. Setting hid beer down on the table beside my feet, he turned his torso to face me, his gaze extremely serious. "I have something I wanna ask you."

"For sure," I replied breezily, though I was getting a bit nervous myself, "Go for it."

"I was wondering if you'd be my best man."

That was probably the last thing I expected him to say, which was why my response was completely stupid. "For your wedding?"

"Yeah, for that," he laughed softly, trying to gauge my reaction.

"Oh, wow," I stammered out. Truth be told, I was a little caught off guard, because it wasn't as though I was the most obvious choice for that position. Sure, I had been the one who'd picked up the engagement ring for him from Paris, but that had been more out of convenience than anything else. Or so I'd thought. But if Alex considered us close enough friends to ask me to be his best man, then I wasn't going to let him down. So I grinned and nodded. "Yeah, I mean, I'd be honored."

He let out a sigh of relief followed by a hearty laugh, his entire body relaxing into the couch. "You're probably surprised because we haven't known each other that long, but I don't know, I feel like we're kinda like family, you know?"

I did know. We'd known each other for about a year now, which was plenty of time for a friendship to blossom, but Alex was right; we were much more than friends. Alex and Jenna and Dani, the people who had helped Stella and I the most through one of the most difficult times in both our lives, had all become part of our extended family.

"Yeah, I get it," I smiled softly. "Thanks for asking me. I really am so grateful."

Nodding, he reached over to grab his beer, his brow furrowing slightly in concern as he brought the bottle to his lips. "You alright otherwise?"

"Yeah, it's just," I hesitated, not sure how to explain the knots of sadness being tied in my stomach. Now probably wasn't the best time to allow myself to feel this way, but now that I'd started thinking about it, I couldn't stop, "you saying that we're like family despite not knowing each other very long has me thinking about how much can change in a year."

"You mean with Stella?"

Partly. I still thought it was amazing how far we'd come. "Who would have thought I'd end up completely in love with her? We used to hate each other, you know."

"She told me," Alex let out a soft laugh, "What she didn't tell me is why."

Probably because there wasn't ever really a reason. It was more just immaturity and blindness on both our parts. "I don't really know, to be honest. I think it was just an ego thing. We're really similar, so we wrote each other off and didn't really attempt to bond and then when we were forced to spend time together, everything changed."

By the way Alex was chewing on his lower lip, I could tell he was dying to ask the most obvious follow up question, so I was at least partially emotionally prepared when he spoke again. "I've never asked Stella this question, but...do you still think about them? Cooper's biological parents, I mean."

"All the time," I replied immediately, because it wasn't something I had to think about. "Every single day."

There hadn't been a single day since I'd gotten that fateful phone call a year ago where I didn't think about my best friend and his wife. Sometimes it was fleeting: Cooper would laugh and I'd think about how much his smile resembled Georgia's, and sometimes it would last for hours, where'd I'd just drift in and out of mulling over how utterly terrifying it was that life could be taken away so easily. But no matter what, Eric and Georgia were always there, in the back of my mind and the corner of my heart.

"I guess you can't really just move on from something like that," Alex whispered and I appreciated the fact that he wasn't trying to dominate the conversation, and instead letting me come to terms with my emotions on my own.

"I tried," I admitted, deciding now was a good a time as any to vent, "For the first few months, I guess I thought pretending like it didn't happen would somehow make it easier, but Cooper is so much a mixture of both of them that I couldn't just forget. And then I just started feeling angry. It was just so fucking unfair that my best friend would never get to see his son grow up. And it was so unfair that Cooper would never know what amazing people his parents were. But it got better over time and after a while it didn't hurt so much and then I fell in love with Stella and now...now I just feel guilty for being this happy."

Alex nodded as he processed what I said before lifting one shoulder in a shrug and speaking softly. "Feeling guilty isn't going to bring them back."

"I know that," I whispered, "But that doesn't mean it's not still there."

"Don't you think they'd want you to be happy?"

"Yes." That I knew for a fact. "But I don't know, sometimes I feel like I'm living the life they should have had. Maybe I just still haven't made peace with it."

"Have you talked to Stella about it?"

I shook my head and said, "not recently," recalling a conversation we'd had on the fire escape, the night we'd decided that it was about time we tried to be friends. It was only in looking back now that I realize that was the true start of our love story.

"Maybe you should," he offered.

"Yeah, I think I will," I nodded, knowing he was right. If I let these emotions fester for too long, then they would only lead me down a path a didn't want to go. "Thanks."

"Anytime," he reached out and squeezed my shoulder before draining the last of his beer, "I should probably get going."

Swinging my feet to the floor, I walked him to the door, hugging him goodbye before sighing as I collapsed on the couch once more. Despite my weariness, I was determined to stay up until Stella came home. Alex was right: we needed to have this conversation. I needed to get all of my feelings out there, to tell her that it didn't matter that it had been a year, because I was still heartbroken and I didn't know how to fix it.

But maybe Stella would know what to do. Lord knows she'd done wonders on my heart already.

So I stretched out on the couch and switched on the television and flipped through the channels until I found one playing an I Love Lucy marathon and settled in to await her arrival.

At some point I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, I was being gently shaken awake by Stella, who sat perched on the edge of the living room table. "Cal. Calum, baby, wake up."

"Hey," I replied groggily, stretching my arms above my head as I sat up straight to loosen the tension in my muscles.

"Hey, sleepyhead," she smiled, leaning forward and resting her forearms on her knees. "Couldn't make it to the bedroom?"

Flashing her a smile, I lowered my feet to the floor and positioned my legs so that my knees were zigzagged with hers. "I was waiting for you."

"Sorry," she scrunched her nose up apologetically, "I was hanging out with some of the other students after class."

"It's okay," I assured her, "I'm just glad that you're enjoying it." Stella never really got the quintessential high school experience as a teenager, so I was glad she at least got to partially experience it now.

Her entire face lit up beautifully at the mention of her class. "I am! It's challenging, don't get me wrong, but I realized that I really missed out when I dropped out of school. The camaraderie, the competition, the bonding over difficult material. It's all kinda great."

It was pretty hard not to mimic her smile. "Well, good."

Laughing lightly, she leaned forward to press a kiss to my lips before tilting her head towards the bedroom. "Come on, let's get you to bed."

I didn't want to ruin her good mood, but I also didn't want to put off having the conversation I'd stayed up for, so I placed my hand on her thigh to keep her from standing up. "Hang on a sec, I wanna talk to you about something."

"What's up?" she asked, her eyebrows pulling into a worried furrow.

Launching into it didn't seem like the best option, so I started with some build up. "So, Alex came over while you were at class and he asked me to be his best man."

She looked momentarily surprised, but soon enough, a grin stretched her lips. "Wow, babe, that's awesome."

"Yeah, I think it'll be great," I agreed, unsure of how to continue.

But, of course, Stella could tell I had more to say and pressed her fingers against my thigh comfortingly. "Is that it?"

Shaking my head, I took a deep breath to settle my nerves and then I told her everything I'd told Alex. I told her about my anger and frustration and sadness and guilt and how even all of this had ended up with me falling in love with her, I still constantly felt like someone was squeezing my heart.

When I finished, she stared at me silently for a moment, her face showing every emotion that a human being could possibly feel, her voice coming out just barely above a whisper when she finally spoke. "Wow, you had quite the therapy session, huh?"

"So it seems." And it had been kind of cathartic in a sense. I'd been holding it all in for so long that it was nice to no longer feel that weight in my chest.

"I know we've talked about it before," she said quietly, obviously recalling the same night as I had before, "but I didn't realize you still felt that way."

"Do you?" I asked, wanting desperately not to be the only one in this situation. "Feel that way, I mean."

It took her five heartbeats to admit it. "Sometimes."

"So what do we do?" I let out a shaky sigh. It was nice to know that I was never alone. Stella would always know exactly how I felt, because she had gone through it too. "How do we move on?"

She thought about it for a minute before she responded. "We don't. I mean, we can't. For Cooper's sake."

"So what, we're just supposed to feel like shit about it for the rest of our lives?" There had to be a better solution.

"I think we just have to be honest about our emotions," she said, scratching her fingernails against my denim covered thigh, "So we can remember the good times we had with Eric and Georgia and we can feel sad that they're gone, but we can't let it destroy us. We use their memory to drive us forward and raise Cooper as best we can and one day, we'll tell Cooper the story of how all of this happened and how even though we aren't his biological parents, we'll always love him more than anything in the world."

I supposed that made sense. We couldn't escape what happened and we couldn't just forget about it either. So acknowledging the truth but not letting the sadness have control over our lives was a good middle ground. And maybe, just maybe, we'd find our true happiness in the end.

Lifting the corners of my lips into a small smile, I whispered, "When did you get so wise?"

She let out a soft laugh and shrugged. "It's all these night classes rubbing off on me."

"Hey, Stella?" I said, pausing to find the right words, my hand resting on top of hers, my index finger tracing lines across her wrist, "I'm glad it was you. I know the circumstances that led us here were tragic, but of all the people in the world I could have ended up raising my best friend's kid with, I'm glad it was you."

And I meant that. Because despite Stella and I not being each other's biggest fans at the beginning, I couldn't imagine being thrust into this situation with anyone else and making it work the way the two of us had.

Leaning forward, she kissed me slowly and softly and tenderly, speaking her words against my lips. "Me too."

 

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