A Family Friend
When Gwen got paired with the weird teenage dad for their history
project, she didn’t know what to expect. Who could have guessed he would
end up being her best friend?
Word Count: 5983
Gwen had only been at this school for about a month, but she didn’t like it much. It wasn’t necessarily any worse than her old school, but it wasn’t any better, either. At least at her old school, she still had her friends.
Her new friends weren’t bad, though. Well, maybe “friends” was too strong a word; she didn’t really know them that well, and she got the feeling that theirs was only a temporary sort of acquaintanceship. They got along fine during school hours, but she couldn’t really see them hanging out a couple years down the road.
Take Jen, for example. Gwen had met her in the history class they shared. They got along well enough; they both loved fashion, and gossip magazines, and trashy reality TV shows. But beyond that, there wasn’t much. Not enough to form a long lasting friendship. Still, she enjoyed hanging out with her, just chilling at lunch or exchanging snarky comments in class.
This particular class, they were being assigned a project. It was stupidly simple: make a presentation about whatever president you thought was the most influential. The teacher paired them up, to “lighten the load” or whatever. He sat at his desk, reading off the list of names. “Kate and Lisa. Jen and Daniel. Michelle and Gina. Gwen and David…”
Gwen stopped listening after that. David… which one was he again? She twisted around in her seat, scanning the room and trying to find a face to the name. A boy with reddish-brown hair caught her eye, flashing her a big smile. That would be him, her mind supplied. She’d never talked to him before; he seemed nice enough, though. Maybe a bit of a goody-two-shoes, but at least she wasn’t getting stuck with one of the idiotic assholes who drew dicks on the desks in the back of the room.
The teacher spent the last fifteen minutes of class explaining what he expected from them in far more detail than necessary, not that Gwen was listening. She stuffed her books into her bag, ready to leave the moment the bell rang. She had lunch next, and damn was she ready for a break. Luckily, this teacher wasn’t one of those horrendous “the bell doesn’t dismiss you, I do” jerks, so she was out of her seat the second she heard the bell.
“So you got paired with David, huh?” Jen said as they left the room. “Tough luck.”
“Why?” Gwen was confused at the sympathy in her tone, but then a spark of excitement struck up inside her. “Is there something wrong with him?” She always loved a good piece of gossip.
“I don’t know about wrong, per se; he’s just weird. He doesn’t really have any friends.”
So he was an outcast. There could be some drama there. “Why’s that?”
Jen shrugged. “Probably because he spends too much time taking care of that kid of his.”
Gwen stopped dead in her tracks. “He has a kid?” She half-twisted around to try to catch a glimpse of him as he left the classroom. He’d always seemed so mild-mannered and polite, definitely not the type to have a baby so young.
Jen nodded, pulling her arm to get her moving again. “It was a whole big thing that happened freshman year. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t hear about it already. Totally normal school year, nothing weird, nothing suspicious; we have a couple days off for Thanksgiving, and David comes back to school on Monday with a baby.”
“Whoa.” That was something she didn’t see coming. “So who’s the mother?”
“No one knows.”
“A bunch of kids have asked him, and I think Daniel even tried to steal his phone once to go through his texts, but he won’t say. And trust me, we’ve tried to figure it out ourselves. No dice. There were, like, one or two upper classmen who were pregnant at the time, but they didn’t have their kids until way later in the year.”
“Someone from a different school, then?”
Gwen shook her head half in disbelief, trying to get used to the idea. “That is not something I would have expected.”
“It’s not something anyone expected,” Jen said. It was all the school had talked about for months after it had happened. “This is seriously the first you’re hearing of this?”
Jen hummed for a moment as she thought it over. “Well, I guess people don’t talk about it so much anymore.”
“That sucks,” Gwen sighed. “I want to hear about this shit.”
“Why don’t you ask him about it?”
“You’re going to have to spend at least some time with David to get this stupid project done. Have him tell you about it then.”
“Do you think he would?” It seemed pretty personal, not the kind of information you’d hand out to a total stranger. Which, now that she thought about it, might be why he hadn’t really told any of the other kids anything.
“I don’t know. Aren’t parents always looking for excuses to brag about their kids?”
“I mean, I guess.” It was a little different than bragging, though.
Jen gave her a look that was borderline condescending. “You know I’m right. Just ask him. What’s the worst that could happen? He says no? Doesn’t want to talk to you?” She shrugged nonchalantly. “Not exactly a catastrophe. Now hurry up so we can get to the cafeteria already; I’m starving.”
The soonest Gwen managed to catch up with David ended up being just before their next history class. He was already at his desk when she came in, doing what looked like math homework.
“Hey,” Gwen said as she stopped next to him.
“Hi, Gwen,” David greeted brightly, looking up at her with a smile. “What’s up?”
“We need to find a time to work on this project.” It was due on Monday, after all. Not a whole lot of time to work, but then again, it seemed like the sort of project they could bang out in a couple of hours, so she wasn’t concerned. “Are you free after school?”
David shook his head, smile morphing into an apologetic half-frown. “I wish I could, but I have work.”
“How about this weekend?”
He thought for a moment. “Uh, yeah, I think that should be fine,” he said, though he didn’t sound very certain.
“Great. Saturday? My house?”
“Um, are you sure we couldn’t do it at my house? Or at, like, the library or something?”
“I don’t know my way around that well yet,” Gwen said with a small shake of her head. “Just come to mine, it’ll be easier.”
David bit his lip, looking a little uncomfortable all of a sudden. Gwen watched him fiddle with his pencil, and her eyebrows drew together in confusion. “What?”
“It’s just that I’d have to find someone to watch Max, and…”
He trailed off, and Gwen decided to take advantage of the moment to do a little digging.“Max is your son, right?”
David nodded. “His daycare isn’t open on weekends, and the last time I tried to get a sitter he was an absolute nightmare.” He sighed before continuing, talking to himself more than Gwen. “I guess I could try leaving him with Mrs. Duka again, but he won’t like that at all. Oh, that’s not a tantrum I want to deal with.”
“Why don’t you just bring him with you?”
“What?” David asked, attention snapping back to her. He looked almost shocked, as if he couldn’t believe she would suggest something like that.
“Bring him with you. I don’t mind.” Truth be told, she was actually pretty curious; to the rest of the school, David’s kid was old news, but this was the first she was hearing of it—old drama could still be good drama. Besides, no one had ever figured out who the kid’s mother was. It was almost guaranteed that Gwen wouldn’t know her, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t at least try to find out who it was. Maybe if she charmed him enough he’d spill.
“No, I couldn’t. Max is a handful, and he’s always making messes; I don’t want you to have to put up with that.”
“Bring him anyway; I want to meet him.”
“I—really?” His eyebrows drew together in confusion, and honestly, was it really so inconceivable that someone else was interested in his kid?
“Sure, why not?” Gwen didn’t exactly love kids, but she’d live if David brought his for one afternoon.
“Okay. See you Saturday. Maybe around one?” she said, writing her address down on the top of David’s paper.
“Yeah, see you Saturday,” he echoed bewilderedly as he watched Gwen walk back to her desk.
David stepped off the bus with Max in his arms and started walking towards Gwen’s street. Thankfully Max hadn’t been too difficult so far, but David didn’t expect his good mood to last.
“Remember, Max, we’re going to be on our best behavior today. So that means no screaming, no throwing things, and you’re going to listen to me, okay?”
Max gave a sharp kick to David’s side. “I wanna walk,” he whined.
David sighed. “If I let you walk, will you promise to behave?”
Max nodded, his curls bouncing adorably. David doubted that he actually meant it, but let him down anyway. There was no real reason not to let him walk, and besides, it’d let him get at least some of his energy out.
“No running, now, alright?” David told him, so of course the first thing Max did once his feet hit the ground was take off sprinting. David rolled his eyes and sped up a bit, watching Max carefully to make sure he wasn’t about to go somewhere he shouldn’t.
Max stayed on the sidewalk, but David should have expected that that was where his cooperation would end. Soon enough, Max had reached the curb. He stopped for a moment, like he was trying to figure out where to go next. “Wait for me there,” David called to him. Max, however, had other plans, turning the corner and starting to run again.
“No! Max!” David yelled after him, Max’s mischievous laughter drifting back to him. David upped his pace to a jog so he could catch Max before he got too far away. When he rounded the corner and saw Max toddling wobbily down the street, clearly pleased with himself, he let out an amused sigh before resuming his jog.
David caught up to him with a play-roar. He grabbed Max around the waist and pulled him back against his chest, leaning in to blow a raspberry on his cheek. Max giggled, batting uselessly at David’s face and trying to squirm away. He twisted around to face David with a smile. David smiled back affectionately and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. “Come on, little monster,” he said, standing up. “We need to go this way.”
David took his hand and started to lead them back in the right direction. He had to slow his pace considerably so that Max could keep up, but that was nothing new. “So what do you want to do after Daddy’s done with his work today?”
“Get ice cream!” Max shouted, looking up at David with a wide grin.
David gasped, pretending to be shocked. “Ice cream? In March?” Granted, it was a pretty warm day for March, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have a little fun with his kid about it.
Max nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah!”
“No, we couldn’t.”
“But I want it,” he pleaded, putting on the puppy-dog eyes he knew David was weak for.
David tried to find the willpower to resist, but it was no good. “Okay,” he eventually relented, “but only if you’re super good today. Deal?”
Max’s grin was back as he nodded in agreement, and David couldn’t help but smile in return. The kid was just too cute for him to handle, sometimes.
When they reached Gwen’s street, he started scanning the house numbers. He found Gwen’s easily enough, not too far from the street corner. The second he stepped onto the front path, however, Max changed his mind about their outing. He’d been fine with it when they left, but now he lagged as far behind David as he could. David had to practically pull him up the steps; Max dug his heels into the ground, but it did very little good.
Safely on the top step, David released Max’s hand, and he immediately latched on to his pant leg. As he pushed the bell, chimes echoing throughout the house, he felt the kid press his face into the backs of his knees. He gave his head a gentle pat, listening to the quiet thump of footsteps approach the door.
The door swung open, and David flashed Gwen a smile. “Hey,” he said. “Sorry we’re a little late.”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Barely. It’s only been, like, six minutes.”
David shrugged. “I like to be on time.”
She was about to wave him inside when she noticed the little boy watching her from behind David’s legs. She put on a friendly smile, leaning down a little so she wouldn’t tower over him quite so much. “You must be Max.”
“Oh, yeah!” David said happily. He stepped to the side and crouched down, placing a hand on the boy’s back to gently push him forward. “Max, this is my friend Gwen,” he introduced her. “She’s the one who invited us over today.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Gwen said with a sweetness that did not come naturally to her, taking a moment to really take in Max’s appearance. She had to admit, he was pretty cute. He didn’t look anything like David, though. The only feature they shared were the green eyes, but even then, the shades were nowhere near similar.
Max stared up at her, looking almost angry.
“Say hello, Max,” David gently instructed. When he didn’t listen, David took on a firmer tone. “Max.”
“Hi,” he eventually mumbled, leaning into David’s side.
David rubbed his back a bit and smiled up at Gwen before standing back up. She took that as the cue to move things along. “Well, come on in,” she offered, moving out of the doorway so that they could pass.
“Thanks,” David said, taking Max’s hand and leading him inside. “Should we take our shoes off?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
He considered it for a second, glancing down at Gwen’s socked feet, before kneeling to untie his sneakers. “Take your shoes off, Max.”
Max stomped his foot. “I don’t wanna,” he protested.
“Remember what we talked about? Best behavior.”
Max huffed, crossing his arms and pouting. David pulled his own shoes off and debated what to do with Max. Normally, he’d insist he take his shoes off, which would undoubtedly lead to a tantrum. At home he could deal with that, but he didn’t want Gwen’s first impression of his kid to be a screaming, screeching mess.
After a moment, David decided the best thing to do would be to take Max’s shoes off for him. He reached over and pulled up the velcro straps on the boy’s tiny sneakers. Max didn’t seem particularly happy as David lifted his legs to pull off his shoes, but he didn’t fight it either.
Gwen watched them together; it was a little weird. She couldn’t even picture herself taking care of a younger sibling like that at this age, let alone a kid of her own. She elected not to comment on it. “We can work in the dining room,” she said instead, leading the way.
She and her family were mostly unpacked, but there were still a few boxes hanging around that they hadn’t gotten to yet. The dining room was the cleanest room they had at the moment, not a box to be seen. Gwen sat down on the far side of the table, where she had her notes and textbook waiting to be used, and David sat opposite her. He pulled his own books and a laptop out of his bag, which he left open on the floor.
Max followed David into the room, hovering beside his chair. He looked like he didn’t really want to be there.
“Think you can play quietly for a bit?” David asked him. Max could be a little unpredictable in the ways he played—sometimes he was a tornado of energy, screaming and running and damaging furniture; other days he was content to sit on David’s lap and pretend to work like him.
Max nodded as he dug through David’s bag, pulling out a plastic dinosaur and a toy car. David studied his the toys he choose with the slightest bit of a frown. He’d probably be quiet enough, but if he was playing with his car he’d be all over the place; he’d have a hard time keeping an eye on the kid and getting his work done at the same time.
Luckily, he’d had quite a bit of practice with this sort of thing. It was how he worked at home, glancing up every couple of minutes to make sure Max didn’t leave the room or accidentally tip anything over.
It was no small relief to him that Max never strayed too far. He stayed on his side of the table, crawling underneath the chairs but never going more than a few feet away. From what he could tell, Max was having his car be chased by the dinosaur—why, he had no idea. But Max seemed entertained enough, and the only noise he was making were quiet vroom sounds, so he supposed the particulars of what he was playing didn’t really matter.
David looked up at Gwen with a bright smile, pen tapping on a clean sheet of paper, ready to start writing. The fact that he was so eager to work actually pissed Gwen off a little. Seriously? she thought, raising an eyebrow. David just smiled wider.
“Anyway,” she said, pulling over her textbook and flipping to an appendix in the back. “First things first: who are we going to do this on?” She glanced over the list of presidents, not that she really remembered who had done what.
David followed her lead, turning to the same list in his book. “Well,” he said, “there are a lot of obvious ones: Washington, Lincoln, FDR… Do you care if we end up doing someone a bunch of other groups have done?”
“I literally could not care less.”
He nodded, quickly glancing over at his son before turning his attention back to the book. “In that case, maybe FDR? There should be a lot to work with.”
“Do you want to start with a short biography?”
“Do we have to?” she almost whined.
“I think so,” David said as he opened up a new slide show for them to work in.
“Fantastic,” was her flat reply, skimming through the later pages of the book to find the right chapter. David gave her a half-smile and did the same.
They were able to get through a decent portion of their project before Max started acting up, kicking the legs of David’s chair. “Stop that, Max,” he said without looking up from his laptop. Max made a frustrated sound, but didn’t stop. “Max,” he warned, but the kicks continued. He looked down at the kid, face displeased and voice firm. “Max, I said stop.”
Max’s face scrunched up, and David could tell that he was just moments away from a tantrum. He’d been so good today; what happened? Wait… shit. David glanced at his watch and nearly groaned. It was 3:34. How could he have been so stupid?
“Sorry, he’s just a little cranky,” David explained, mentally berating himself. “I usually would have put him down for his nap half an hour ago.”
It was a little weird to hear him talk like that; to watch him switch from (mostly) normal teen to father in the blink of an eye. As far as Gwen was concerned, nap times were things that adults worried about, not people her age. But somehow, it seemed natural for him to be acting like that.
Well, if David could be mature, so could she. Max needed a nap? Why not just let him take a nap? “He can sleep in my room,” she offered.
David shook his head. “No, it’s fine. I’d rather have him where I can keep an eye on him, anyway; he gets into trouble a lot.” Leaning down on his chair, he grabbed Max around the waist. “Come here, li'l monster,” he growled playfully, scooping the kid up onto his lap and planting a kiss on the top of his head.
Max squirmed a bit, but didn’t otherwise fight him. His eyelids were drooping as he looked up at David. David smiled, brushing some of the hair out of Max’s face. “It’s nap time for you, mister,” he said, gentle but firm.
Max whined, putting on what David was starting to think of as his signature pout. “Not sleepy,” he objected drowsily.
David chuckled a bit. “Too bad,” he said, pulling Max in to lean against his chest. He ignored the kid’s continued whining, switching his focus almost entirely back to his work. He did start lightly rubbing Max’s back, though; within minutes, he was asleep.
Gwen watched them over the top of her textbook. With Max asleep, it was the perfect time to ask some questions. After all, the main reason she’d wanted David to bring Max over here was so she could figure out who his mom was. But something was holding her back. Against all her expectations, she was starting to like David; he wasn’t that bad of a guy. A little weird, sure, and way too enthusiastic about everything, but he was nice. All of the things she wanted to know were extremely personal, and she was feeling a little bad about asking him to tell her all of that.
Her curiosity won out over her guilt. “So I gotta ask… Max’s mom…?”
David sighed; he’d expected the topic to come up sooner or later—it always did. He’d lost track of how many random kids at school had come up to him and demanded he “tell them everything,” just wanting something else to add to the rumor mill (and yes, he knew all about the rumors, and the gossip, and the wild speculations). He usually deflected, or shot the question down with a simple “that’s not really any of your business.” But Gwen was different; he liked her. He could easily see them becoming friends, which is something he couldn’t say for anyone else. He wanted to be open with her. “Honestly, I don’t know.”
“You… don’t know?”
David shook his head. “I don’t know who either of his birth parents are.”
“Birth parents?” The look on Gwen’s face was one of confusion, shock, and maybe a little horror. “I’m sorry, did some crazy agency seriously let you adopt a kid when you were fourteen?”
“No, it wasn’t like that.” David’s heart twinged painfully, the same way it did every time he thought about that night. He wrapped both of his arms around Max, hugging him close. “I was walking home from school one night and I found him. In a dumpster. His parents had thrown him in there and left him to die.” His throat started closing in on itself and he swallowed thickly, pleading with himself not to cry. “I know I should have taken him to the police or something, gotten him placed in foster care, but… My own parents gave up on me when I was ten. I know what it feels like to not be wanted by anybody. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I couldn’t be yet another person to just pass him along before he was even a week old! I couldn’t set him up for that sort of life.”
Gwen was at a loss for words. “Wow,” she whispered. What else was there to say to that?
David sighed again. “I know it probably doesn’t make much sense, adopting some random kid when you’re barely older than a kid yourself. But I just couldn’t do that to him, you know?”
Not really, Gwen thought, but nodded anyway. “He seems like a good kid,” she said after a while, uncomfortable with the silence.
David let out a short laugh. “You’re just lucky you caught him on a good day.”
“Oh?” Gwen said, raising an eyebrow in an open invitation for elaboration.
David gave her a half smile. “There’s a reason I call him ‘monster.‘”
“I would, but I’m pretty sure that would take the rest of the afternoon.”
“He’s that bad, huh?”
David shrugged. “I’d like to say it’s just the Terrible Twos, but he’s been fussy for as long as I’ve had him.” David’s eyes went soft, looking down at his son. “Still,” he said quietly, “I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it.”
They were silents for a few moments before a new question popped into Gwen’s head “Sorry, it’s just… why keep it some big secret?”
He looked back up at her, confusion evident. “What do you mean?”
“You could’ve just told everyone that you found him instead of, like, making it seem like you were trying to hide something. You wouldn’t’ve had to deal with everyone asking all the time.”
David took a second to choose his words. “Max is going to feel bad enough knowing that he was abandoned. He doesn’t need other people to make him feel bad for it, too.”
Gwen went quiet; she hadn’t thought of it like that. It was so easy to forget that kids were people, too. What must it feel like to know that your parents had literally thrown you out? She could imagine all of the gossip the story would spark, and poor Max would be the one to suffer most from it. It seemed almost noble for David to be shielding him from all of that.
Max was asleep for about an hour. He was a lot more subdued when he woke up, sitting quietly on David’s lap and watching him work. Every so often he would point at something on David’s screen, demanding to know what it was and what David was doing with it. Gwen smiled as she listened to him try to explain US history at a level a two-year-old could understand.
Eventually the little boy started getting antsy, so David put him down again. He reached into David’s bag and pulled out a pad of paper and a box of crayons, sitting down under his chair to draw. David watched him for a moment to make sure he was settled before turning back to Gwen so they could finish up their work.
They were just putting the final touches on it when Gwen heard the front door opening. “I’m home,” her mom called, coming up the all.
“Hey, Mom,” she called back.
Her mom came closer, turning the corner to peer into the dining room. She had her mouth open, ready to say something, but stopped when she saw David. “Oh, hello. You must be David. It’s nice to meet you,” she said, reaching out to shake his hand when she spotted Max sitting under David’s chair. “And who is this?” she cooed, bending over to smile at him. “Aren’t you just the sweetest thing?” Max stared back at her, pouting grumpily.
David grinned. “This is Max,” he told her before leaning over a bit to catch Max’s eye. “You want to come out and say hello?”
Max stayed put under David’s chair, eyeing the woman warily. She looked like one of those women who always came over and pinched his cheeks whenever David took him out somewhere. He hated having his cheeks pinched.
David gave her an apologetic look. “Sorry, he doesn’t like meeting new people that much.”
“Oh, you don’t have to apologize. I remember those days well enough from when Gwen was little.” She ignored her daughter’s spluttered “Mom!”, continuing as if nothing had happened. “It’s so sweet of you to be taking care of your little brother for the day.”
Gwen winced, but David was unaffected. Enough people had made the same mistake that he’d gotten over the awkwardness of the situation a long time ago. “Actually, Max is my son.”
“Oh,” she said, taken aback. “I’m so sorry. I-I just assumed…”
David smiled reassuringly. “It’s alright. I know it’s a little weird for someone my age to have a kid.”
She cleared her throat awkwardly, wracking her brain for something to say. “He’s adorable,” she eventually managed.
“Thank you.” David’s smile never faltered. Gwen’s mom gave him a small nod before retreating into the kitchen. He watched her go before turning back to Gwen, still smiling. She opened her mouth to say something, apologize maybe, but David lifted his hand to stop her. It’s fine, he managed to say without speaking.
Gwen nodded absently, turning her gaze down to the table. She felt bad, even though she told herself she shouldn't—David wasn’t upset, she hadn’t been the one to make the mistake, there was no way her mom could have known; it didn’t matter. The silence between them stretched on, and Gwen hated every second of it.
“I’m thinking spaghetti for dinner tonight,” Gwen’s mom called from the kitchen after a few moments.
“Sounds good,” Gwen called back. She glanced up at David, and suddenly it seemed a little rude to be talking about this in front of him just as he was about to leave. “Do you want to stay for dinner?”
“No, that’s okay; I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“It’s no imposition,” Gwen’s mom quickly assured him, trying to make up for her gaffe.
“Believe me, it is. Max is very picky; half the time I can’t even get him to eat anything at home. It’s very nice of you to offer, but it’ll be easier if we just go.”
“Are you sure?” Gwen asked, feeling almost disappointed.
David nodded. “Thanks, though.”
He saved the slide show one last time before closing his laptop, sliding it and his books back into his bag. He leaned over to look at Max, telling him, “It’s time to go, now. Clean up your toys.”
“Do I hafta?” Max whined, pouting up at David.
“Once we’re all cleaned up, we can head to Prof’s for dinner,” he bargained. Prof’s was a diner the two of them liked; it was far from healthy, and usually David tried to avoid feeding Max that sort of junk, but he figured he deserved some sort of treat for being so well behaved all day. Besides, he was running out of foods Max ate at home.
“…okay,” he said quietly, even though he didn’t look particularly taken with the idea. His pout stayed stubbornly in place as he reluctantly began to gather up his things.
David let out a barely-audible sigh of relief, thanking his lucky stars that Max wasn’t fighting him on this. In fact, all things considered, he’d been almost unbelievably good all day. David didn’t know what he’d done for karma to grant him such a cooperative kid today, but it must have been something amazing.
Max shoved his toys into David’s bag, handing him his drawings so they wouldn’t get crumpled. David did a quick once-over of the floor to make sure nothing had been overlooked. Thus assured that Max had gotten everything, he zipped his bag closed and stood up, hefting it onto his shoulder. “C'mon, let’s go put our shoes on.”
David made his way back into the front hall, Max following quietly behind him. When David knelt down to pull on his sneakers, the kid hovered at his back, glancing behind them every couple of seconds. Gwen had followed them into the hall, stopping a few feet away at the edge of the den. She watched them, for lack of a better thing to look at.
When David had finished tying his shoes, he stood up, guiding his son towards proper politeness. “Max, you want to say thanks to Gwen for having us over?”
Max was still for a moment, eyeing the stack of papers David was holding, before he stood up on his toes to reach for them. David dropped his arm down, trying to figure out what Max wanted with the papers. After a moment, it clicked. “You want to give her one of your drawings?” Max nodded, so David spread the pictures out for him to look at. “Which one do you want to give her?”
The kid looked over his options for a moment before selecting one. He studied it briefly, then shyly slid into David’s side. He turned his gaze over to Gwen, who was staring at a photo hung on the wall and pretending like she wasn’t listening.
David gave Max a reassuring smile and nudged him towards Gwen. “Go ahead,” he said softly.
Max shuffled over to Gwen, pulling on her pants leg to get her attention. “Gwen?”
She smiled down at him. “Yes, Max?”
He looked up at her nervously for a moment before holding the drawing up for her.
Gwen gasped, as if she hadn’t been standing right there while he and David were discussing it. “Is this for me?” she asked, feigning surprise.
Max nodded, watching her like he was trying to gauge her reaction.
“It’s beautiful! Oh, I love it! Thanks so much,” she gushed, and Max beamed. Truth be told, she had no idea what it was supposed to be a picture of; it was just a bunch of multicolored scribbles. Not that she was going to let on about that—he was just a kid, after all.
She caught David’s eye as he walked over to them, flashing him a small smile which he eagerly returned. He stopped behind his son, resting a hand on the back of his head. Max twisted around to look up at him, smile brighter than the sun.
“She liked it!” he exclaimed happily, bouncing excitedly on the balls of his feet.
“That’s awesome, bud!” he said, giving Max’s hair a quick ruffle. The boy giggled, a sound that was music to his ears. “But we have to go now. Why don’t you go put on your shoes?” Max turned his head to look from Gwen to him, still smiling proudly, before walking towards the door and plopping down on the floor, grabbing his shoes to put on.
“You should feel honored,” David told Gwen, watching Max to make sure he didn’t need any help.
David smiled. “You’re the first person he’s ever given a picture to.”
That probably shouldn’t have made her as happy as it did. “I’ll treasure it forever,” she half-joked, holding the drawing over her heart.
He chuckled lightly, turning his attention back to Max. He had his shoes on and was waiting for him by the door. “All set to go, monster?”
Max nodded as David and Gwen walked over to him. Gwen pulled open the door for them; it had cooled off considerably since the afternoon. David pulled Max’s hoodie out of his bag and helped the kid put it on, glad that he had brought it despite the warmth of the afternoon.
“See you on Monday,” David said to Gwen as he took Max’s hand, leading him down the steps.
“Bye Gwen!” Max yelled to her, far too loud.
Gwen smiled and waved back. “See ya!” she called. As she shut the door, she made a mental note to pick up some kid-friendly foods for Max to have when she invited them back next weekend.