These characters are from The Trouble With Us if you haven’t read that one yet!
This was taking longer than it was supposed to.
How did Lauren say to do this?
“You’re not doing that right.”
Frustrated, I looked up from where I was poking at the frozen bag of breast milk in a bowl of hot water, trying to make thaw faster.
“What?” I asked Harper, who had somehow snuck up on me without me hearing.
“You’re gonna ruin it if it gets hot too fast,” she said, very matter of fact, like she wasn’t a whole ass ten years old.
“How you know?” I fully turned towards her now, and found her standing even closer, her little hands propped on her hips.
“I watched my mom do it for Boop all the time,” she answered, referring to her baby brother. “She got super mad at Ty, cause he ruined a bunch from her stash. I’m just trying to help you out bro.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Wow. I’m not Uncle Shad anymore, I’m bro?”
“You’re still Uncle Shad,” she laughed. “It’s just a figure of speech. Oh — RJ is awake, doing that little whiny thing. You want me to go get him?”
So much for giving B a break.
It wasn’t that I was incompetent – not completely, at least I didn’t think. I was just… trying to do too damn much at once, compounded by the fact that all this was new.
RJ was only a couple weeks old.
We’d taken the classes and watched the videos, read the books, listened to the elders, all that, and still… none of that shit had come close to what it was actually like having a real life baby here.
I was supposed to have the bottle ready before RJ woke up from his nap, but had gotten distracted, and hadn’t taken the milk out like I’d been told. Now he was awake, and Lauren — Harper’s mom, Bianca’s sister — was out running errands, so I couldn’t lean on her for help. Bianca was supposed to be resting up, healing from pushing out the Martin family head —not tending to a crying baby newborn.
Emotionally, mentally, she was good, which we were all grateful for, knowing how different it could’ve been. Physically though, she was hurting, which is why I was supposed to be on top of this shit.
“I’ll get him!”
“Harper, wait!” I tried to call after her, but she was already gone.
Not even thirty minutes since B laid down, and this was already shot to hell. This was Lauren’s week to stay with us after the baby, and I already felt like she been much more of a help to Bianca than I was. They’d both been on some heavy reassurance shit, trying to convince me I wasn’t as useless as I felt.
But I’d read the damn articles, all up in Sugar&Spice, about how niggas weren’t pulling their weight anymore at home.
Or never really had been like they should.
That’s not what my father was on with my mother though – he stepped all the way up when she needed him, and never stepped back.
That’s the kind of man I wanted to be, too.
I just had to… shit, I don’t know.
There was just so damned much to think about.
This morning, I found myself immersed in open internet browser tabs, making sure the bills would be paid, the investment accounts funded, the retirement accounts… being there. Never mind that we had savings, and residual income coming in, I had outstanding invoices and shit due, so business had to be handled. I’d taken a sabbatical to be more present with my family, so I needed that shit paid.
So I hadn’t had a problem sending a few stern emails off.
Which is what I was caught up in while I was supposed to be taking milk out to feed the baby.
I shook my head, and was still lost in thought when Harper appeared at the door again, this time with my son in her arms.
“Here,” she said, still in that wise-beyond-her-years tone. “You take him, and watch me do the bottle.”
“I’ve watched plenty of bottle get done,” I said. “And I’ve done the bottle before.”
She raised her eyebrows at me. “Then… why isn’t the bottle done?”
I scoffed, holding my arms out. “Man, give me my son.”
She laughed at me, then handed him to me, and I… watched her do the bottle.
“You’re supposed to just run it under warm water,” she told me, taking one from the fridge. “Why were you using a frozen one? These were already thawed, Auntie B took them out this morning.”
I shrugged. “She… told me to get a milk out, and I guess I just assumed freezer.”
Who the hell knew?
“If you try to thaw it with water that’s too hot, you might get it too hot for the baby to drink, and then you have to wait for it to cool off again,” Harper said. Plus, getting it too hot messes with the nutritional stuff that’s in it.”
I nodded, remembering all that from talking with the lactation consultant that the doula had brought by, when RJ was first born. “How do youknow all this?” I asked her, and she grinned.
“ I told you, from watching mommy and Ty with Boop.”
Boop, as she affectionately called her little brother, was two years old now, and was back home with Lauren’s husband — Harper’s stepdad — Ty.
Two years from now, would I be able to stay at home with my son for a week while his mother was gone?
Based on the fact that I needed a ten-year-old’s help with a newborn…
As I watched her transfer the breast milk from the little bag where it had been stored into RJ’s bottle, he started to fuss.
“Hey, it’s okay,” I told him in what I hoped was a soothing tone, patting his butt through his swaddle the way Lauren had showed us.
It seemed to work.
He opened his eyes, turning them on me with a curious, the who the hell put you in charge question clear in on his face.
His mother’s face.
Two faces I loved.
“I’m gonna get it together,” I told him, making Harper giggle as she handed me the bottle.
This was the part I had down. He seemed grateful for the sustenance, easily latching onto the specialty bottle he’d been using since birth, to dissuade something the doula had called nipple confusion.
B had been so worried, when he’d been here a full 24 hours and her milk still hadn’t come in. She’d sobbed, heartbroken, when we’d had to give him formula.
Not because she thought it was poison or any of that weirdo shit a lot of people on the internet seem to be on. It was more that… she felt like she was failing him, which was bonkers to me.
She carried him.
She talked him, sang to him.
She pushed him out in a kiddie pool in our living room, no meds.
The most badass shit I’d ever seen before in my life.
And she thought she’d failed?
That fucked me up.
There wasn’t anything I could say to make it better though— all I could do was set up a delivery of a cocktail supplements with the midwife, do some internet research, bake something called lactation cookies with a whole bunch of weird ass ingredients.
Whatever I could to help, since words didn’t seem to be enough.
It all felt silly the very next day, when she woke up with the whole front of her shirt wet, literally overflowing with what she needed for our baby.
She was relieved, so I was relieved, and it had been smooth since then.
As smooth as a very hungry, very needy, very emotional, newborn could make your life.
B was happy though.
Happy, but exhausted.
Everybody— or at least it felt like it — had pulled me aside to talk about looking out for her, making sure that as much as the baby was good, mama was good too.
Especially my mom, who was dying to be the one in the role Lauren was filling right now. But Bianca understandably have wanted her sister there first, and since we didn’t want a bunch of people around all the time, creating an energy that felt overwhelming, we were doing one extended visitor at a time.
My mom was patient though. Even in her patience she was in my ear every day, having suffered with baby blues herself. She was on me about the signs, on me about making sure “her B” was okay.
Which was why I’d insisted this morning on her taking a damn break.
“You know what we haven’t done?” she said to me just the night before. “We said we’d make sure to take photos, but we don’t have a really good picture yet with all of us,” she’d muttered to me just before she fell asleep.
My eyebrows had raised, because although she was upbeat and seemed to have a lot of energy, I hadn’t gotten the impression she wanted a camera in her face like that. I had plenty of candid shots from my cell phone of her, watching RJ sleep, nursing RJ, both of them passed out.
She was right though, I hadn’t gotten one all of us since the day he was born.
Another thing that had my head all over the place this morning.
In the back of my mind, I was composing the shot, wanted to get it all perfect, for when we looked back on it. Which camera would I use, what would the backdrop be, what we’d wear, all that.
I was going to frame it for her.
Yeah, she’d love that.
But it had to be perfect.
B started her career as an influencer before it was a big thing, which made her kind of an OG now. No matter how much she gave, people always wanted more, and she would give it in measures… until we found out she was pregnant.
She was immediately off all of that.
She hadn’t kept it a secret exactly, and quite a bit of her content through this time had been about her pregnancy experience, preparing for the baby all of that.
But it was curated.
Only giving the public a little, because she didn’t want them to have a lot.
Our relationship, our child, our family… it was precious to her. If we let it, social media, gossip blogs, all those vultures would chew us up and spit us out, and move right along to the next big name like it was nothing.
But this picture though… it was probably going to be the first one offered to the public since the birth.
Well, the first with his face.
We’d done the customary thing with our fingers in his hands, his little toes, stuff like that.
But now that he was approaching a month, and soon enough we’d have him out and about with us, it was only a matter of time. We would have to control whatever narrative on our own.
I mean… I was Rashad Martin, so the picture had to be bomb.
Just like Bianca’s maternity shoot had been.
Lots to think about.
So I did.
For a while.
Harper got bored and went off to do something on her tablet, Lauren was back from her grocery run, RJ was asleep on my chest, in the nursery, and I was still thinking through potential scenes.
“Do I even wanna know what’s on your mind, Shad?” Bianca asked from the doorway.
I looked up to find her looking cozy as hell in matching sweats.
Pretty as hell.
“Just thinking through what we’re going to do for this picture you wanted,” I said, yielding to her nonverbal request for me to give her the baby.
Her eyes widened in surprise as she cuddled him to her chest, pressing her lips to his head. “Picture?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I know it’s got to be something hot, cause I know how you do, and you know how I do. Gotta break the internet, right?”
Playfully, she rolled her eyes. “Babe… you are wayoverthinking this.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I am?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Where’s your phone?”
“Right here,” I pulled it from my pocket, and held it up.
“Okay,” she moved in close to me, tucking herself right against my chest before she looked up to meet my gaze. “Turn it on, and take our picture.”
“Like a… selfie?” I frowned.
“Like an ussie,” she corrected with a smile. “And then send it to me so I can post it.”
“B, I’ve got a whole wall full of cameras in the next room, and you want the first picture we put on the internet of our baby to be taken with a cell phone? That’s borderline blasphemous,” I chuckled.
“You don’t get your perfect bokeh background, and I don’t have any lashes on,” she giggled. “And yet… I bet it’ll be bomb. Pull it up,” she insisted.
I groaned, but… I turned the phone on.
Opened my camera, flipped it so that it showed us on the screen.
And… I had to admit, we did look pretty damn good.
“Aiight… can we at least just… hold on,” I said, earning a groan as I stepped away from her to open the blinds and let in some sun. “We gotta look toward the window. And can you shift a bit so we can—”
“Shad, your big head baby literally ripped me to my ass – take the picture, bruh.”
“All right, my bad,” I laughed, pressing a quick kiss to her temple before I moved next to her again, holding up the phone. “Okay here goes. You ready?”
She looked into the camera and smiled, and so did I, and then I pressed the button, lingering so that it would take a few.
And then… just like that… It was done.
“Let me see,” she said peeking at the screen as I pulled the photos we’d just taken up. “That one,” she said. “Where my eyes are actually open.”
I frowned. “You don’t like the one where it looks like you’re staring into a high-powered fan?”
“Don’t play with me,” she laughed. “You gonna send it?”
“Sending it right now,” I told her, attaching it to a message to send to her number. “Well… that’s done,” I shrugged.
“Thank you babe,” she said, starting out of the room. “Are you hungry? I’m hungry. Always freaking hungry,” she muttered.
“I’ll feed you, woman. Just go sit down. Aye, bring that ass back here first though,” I called after her, making her stop before we parted ways in the hall.
“What?” she smirked as I sidled up to her, wrapping my arms around her waist.
“I know you’re not walking out of here without giving me those lips,” I murmured right in her ear, making her giggle.
She turned her face toward mine, tipping her head up for a kiss that I eagerly granted.
“Hey,” she said, after I’d pulled back. “Thank you.”
She shrugged, peeking down at RJ’s face before she smiled. “For always making sure we’re good. That I’m good.”
“You don’t have to thank me for that B,” I told her, shaking my head. “There is literally nowhere I’d rather be.”
“I know,” she nodded. “But still.”