The house husband, p.1
The House Husband, page 1
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2017 by James Patterson
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I love my family. Truly, madly, deeply. But some days I could just…
Hey, I don’t want to complain. It just gets hectic sometimes. What am I saying? It’s hectic all of the time. Like when you’re wrangling dinner for three hungry children, none of whom like to eat the same thing.
For instance, last month our oldest, Jordan, decided he was a vegetarian. It was family movie night, and we’d put in Bambi. Safe choice, right? Hah. When Jordan asked why that mean hunter shot Bambi’s mother, we told him the truth (we always tell our kids the truth): the hunter was gathering food for his family.
Well, poor Jordie looked at us, looked down at the cheeseburger on his tray, then looked up at us again and said, “They ate Bambi’s mother?!” And that was the end of meat for our oldest boy.
Our middle child, Jonathan, will only eat protein in nugget form. He doesn’t care if it’s processed or organic or even made of Bambi’s mother. If it’s a breaded nugget, he’ll eat it. And nothing else.
As for our sweet baby Jennifer…well, she insists on feeding herself and the food usually goes everywhere except in her mouth. Her high chair ends up looking like a crime scene. It would be easier to drape yellow tape across it than to wipe it all down.
Somehow I manage to get enough nutrients into their young bodies to sustain life another twelve hours (that is to say, until breakfast), help the two older boys with their baths, hose down our baby girl in the kitchen sink, squeeze them all into jammies, crack open the adventures of Babar, Lord of the Elephant Kingdom, for story time, and then finally, at long last…bedtime.
But my day’s not over. You’re forgetting about the crime scene in the kitchen.
After sorting the dishes and wiping down all surfaces and taking Jennifer’s high chair to a toxic-waste dump (where it will be buried for at least fifty-eight years before becoming safe for human contact), I gather up the trash and recycling and walk them out to the plastic bins behind our town house.
We’re lucky enough to live a stone’s throw from beautiful Fairmount Park and the Schuylkill River. Sometimes I put the kids in their coats and take them down to the river to watch the regatta teams pull and push their way around.
But proximity to the park means you get all kinds of critters creeping out of the woods. Such as squirrels, which love to gnaw at our plastic garbage bins. Fun fact: squirrels were first introduced to American parks right here in Philadelphia back in 1847. Someone decided that visitors to Franklin Square would be amused by the little buggers, so they released three of them, along with some food and nesting boxes.
Well, I’m sure squirrels were jolly fun back then, but today their descendants are brazen little jerks that chew through industrial-grade plastic to get to our garbage.
Which reminds me. I should have one by now.
I walk downstairs to our finished basement, and sure enough, there’s a nut-brown squirrel angrily shrieking and bouncing around the wire cage. Well, Mr. Bushy Tail, maybe you shouldn’t be breaking into people’s garbage bins? After pulling on the rubber gloves and slipping on the breathing mask, I carry the squirrel to the back room with the furnace and the hot-water heater.
Once I close the door, the room is perfectly sealed; there’s no way anything can escape—not even air. Which is the idea.
I turn the nozzle and listen to the gentle hiss. It’s incredibly soothing. Mr. Bushy Tail has no idea what’s about to happen to him.
Which is also the idea.
Teaghan Beaumont holds her baby boy and runs through her options.
She’s already changed his diaper—twice. Offered him the breast, but he twisted away, grumpy. Given him a few drops of simethicone, in case he was suffering from gas pains. Nope. Perhaps he’s overtired? Yeah, well, so is Teaghan. Join the club, kid.
Baby Christopher wails on and on, despite her strolling the length of their apartment with him nestled on her shoulder, cooing to him, singing to him. Though maybe Teaghan should stop that; her husband always says she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.
“It’ll be okay, tough guy,” Teaghan murmurs over the baby’s pitiful screams. “It’ll be okay.” She’s not sure if she’s reassuring her son or herself.
It’s 3:00 a.m., and in five hours Teaghan will have to return to the Job after six long, wonderful, wearying weeks of maternity leave. Technically, she’s allowed eight weeks, but their savings account doesn’t care about technicalities. They need her paycheck now.
Her husband, Charlie, is a freelance writer, and his paychecks come sporadically at best. And during these past six weeks, Teaghan doesn’t think he’s opened his laptop once. Not that she blames him. How could he concentrate on work when he has a beautiful new son in their apartment?
Charlie has always wanted a family, having grown up in a house full of rambunctious kids raised by loving, supportive par
But Charlie reminded her that time was running out, and Teaghan knew he was right. Talk about a biological raw deal. Men could technically father a child well into their nineties, but forty-year-old women attempting to carry a child are considered “high risk.” The phrase always bugged Teaghan. High risk? As if the contents of her uterus might explode?
“It’s okay, little one,” she murmurs. “It’s okay. Your mommy might be losing her mind, but I promise, you’ll be fine.”
His cries bounce off the upstairs walls of their duplex brownstone apartment. Her childless hipster neighbors upstairs must be loving this.
Despite her advanced age of thirty-six, Teaghan gave birth to a healthy baby boy with ten fingers and ten toes and an amazingly powerful set of lungs. (Boy, can he yell.) Teaghan, however, didn’t fare as well. She was forced to have an emergency C-section, which made her feel like an invalid and look like Frankenstein’s monster from the neck down. She can’t move without a surprising new pain popping up to say hello. And aside from the C-section scar, nobody told her about the swollen-breasts thing. Whoa, Nellie. They hurt even if someone glances at them.
But worst of all—and this is the thing that Teaghan never expected—she doesn’t know how she’s going to be able to leave her baby boy for eight or ten hours.
Separation anxiety has never been a thing in her life. She’s never felt homesick. Sure, she loves her goofy husband, but if their paths don’t cross for a few days, that’s perfectly fine.
But the idea of handing her baby over and saying, See ya in time for dinner feeding, kid…it just feels insanely wrong. Every cell in her body seems to be screaming NO! STAY HOME WITH HIM!
But her time is up.
She walks baby Chris downstairs to their bedroom—in their carved-out piece of an old brownstone mansion, the living room and kitchen are upstairs, and the two bedrooms are in the basement. She gently nudges her husband with her foot. He groans but doesn’t move. She nudges him harder.
“Come on, Charlie,” she says, loudly, over the baby’s wails. Charlie has the gift of being able to sleep through them. (Apparently, this is another genetic advantage afforded to men.)
“Nuhghhh,” her husband replies.
“I need you to take him,” Teaghan says. “I’ve gotta pump my breasts and clean my gun.”
Ruth, my wife, finally arrives home at 8:20, which is a bit later than promised. Thank God the boys are already asleep. Otherwise they’d go rushing into her arms, like Dad? Dad who? But that’s fine. What matters now is that she’s home safe, and I’m finally able to squeeze in a little “me time.”
The minivan is down the street; I got lucky earlier today and found a spot after a quick run to the supermarket. Parking on this block can be like medieval combat, and I hate to surrender the space. But what am I supposed to do? Stay cooped up in the house all night like a prisoner? No way. Togetherness is important to a healthy family, but so is time apart.
I navigate the narrow streets of Fairmount all the way past Broad, then turn right onto 10th Street. I mapped out the route online for optimal travel time—I don’t have all night, after all—and this seemed to be quickest.
Still, I’m a dad in a minivan, so other drivers see me as an obstacle to speed around, not a fellow commuter. It’s like Mad Max out here, with me fighting them block to block. Things are a bit easier once I cross South Street and I’m out of Center City altogether.
That said, parking in South Philly is even more of a nightmare than it is where I live. I circle a few times, straining my eyes as I hunt for a space big enough to park this child-friendly behemoth. What makes it difficult is that I’m near the narrow and clogged streets of the famous Italian Market, where Rocky Balboa once ran. After spending twenty minutes winding through the neighborhood, it becomes very clear why Rocky didn’t bother to drive.
Finally, I catch a glimpse of a battered Jeep pulling out onto the street. I hammer the accelerator and make it there before anyone else. However, this is not exactly a space meant for a minivan. I’m not even sure how the heck the Jeep fit here. Somehow I defy time and space and squeeze myself in. I look at the street signs and realize I’m four blocks away from where I’m headed. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but again, I don’t have all night.
So I hurry a bit as I peel off my mock turtleneck and khakis and pull the uniform over my body. My belly’s a little bigger than I’d like. Sure, I have a six-pack, but it’s sort of buried under another six-pack, or maybe even a half case. But if you eat enough meals standing up over a sink—usually whatever the kids didn’t finish—you’re going to grow a gut. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take the kids to the park and run around with them. Let Jonny sit on my shoes as I crank out a few sit-ups. It’ll probably make him giggle to see Daddy huffing and puffing.
Uniform finally on, I take my clipboard and tool bag and walk down Christian Street. While the Italian Market is only a few blocks away, this part of South Philly is relatively quiet, especially on a late fall night like this. I double-check the address on the clipboard, then knock on the insulated front door.
The woman who answers is Donna Pancoast, thirty-five, and the first thing I notice is that her eyes are a little puffy. Maybe from crying. Maybe from drinking. I’ll know soon enough, I guess.
“PGW, ma’am,” I say, trying to suppress the urge to giggle. “Your radon detector isn’t working, I understand?”
PGW is short for the Philadelphia Gas Works. Everybody knows that gas is silent and potentially deadly. Nobody wants to take any chances when it comes to a leak or a faulty detector.
But Ms. Pancoast here has no idea what I’m talking about.
“I didn’t call the gas company.”
“Is your husband home?”
The look in her eyes confirms everything. The mere mention of the word husband causes her eyes to dim a little bit. She’s been crying. And drinking, too. I can see the almost empty carafe of red wine on the dining-room table.
“Ray!” she calls back into the house. But she also steps aside to allow me to enter.
I’m telling you, it’s the uniform. Give yourself a slight air of authority, and people will pretty much let you do anything.
The house is one in a row, one of the older types. Native Philadelphians call them row homes, though technically they should be called row houses. A house is a building; a home is a house with a family inside it. The distinction is important. Nobody says, “There’s no place like house.”
And indeed, this home contains a family. They’re all in separate rooms, of course, lost in their individual pursuits. Dinner was most likely consumed separately, too, which is a shame. You don’t know how much it kills me that my whole family is only able to dine together on weekends, but that’s out of work necessity. With the Pancoasts, it’s a matter of choice.
Donna calls up to her husband again with more irritation creeping into her voice.
“Ray, would you please come down here now!”
“All right, all right, what’s the matter with you?”
When Ray comes down the stairs, I can understand why his wife resorts to excessive drinking. He’s a squat, hulking boar of a man and even uglier in person than he is in the newspapers.
“Mr. Pancoast, your radon detector is malfunctioning. Could you show me downstairs so that I can give you a replacement?”
“I didn’t call about a faulty radon detector. Think you got the wrong house, buddy.”
“We check them wirelessly now,” I lie. “One of our trucks drove by earlier today and picked up the alert.”
Note: I am completely m
Pancoast eyes me up and down for a minute, then decides I’m no kind of threat.
“Yeah, come on, I’ll show ya.”
I follow him down into the cramped basement, which is a mess. As he walks toward the gas meter, I pull a pipe wrench out of my tool bag, making sure there’s just the right amount of space between us. Too far, I’ll miss. Too close, I won’t be able to swing properly.
“Right over here.”
“Where?” I ask, pretending I don’t see.
I squeeze tight on the pipe wrench and prepare myself. He’s just a big squirrel. A 240-pound, hairy squirrel with a beer belly and halitosis.
“Right there, what are you, bl—”
Metal connects with skull, and it’s good night, Mr. Pancoast. He collapses to the ground with all the grace of a sack of potatoes being heaved onto a locking dock.
“I’m not blind, Ray,” I whisper, even though he can’t possibly hear me. “I see everything, as a matter of fact.”
It’s not hard to find the correct pipe. One thing about Philadelphia row houses: they’re reliably predictable.
I slip on my breathing mask and prepare to do my thing.
The whole thing takes less than an hour and a half, start to finish. How that’s for efficiency?
When I pull up to my block, my original spot is gone, of course. But look! There’s an even better spot open, closer to our house. The parking gods are smiling upon me. Sure, this is a good omen.
It’s after 10:00 p.m., and Ruth’s already in bed, with Jennifer curled up close to her. I almost hate to disturb them. As quietly as I can, I strip out of my clothes (don’t worry; the PGW uniform is hidden away where no one can find it) and slip under the warm covers. I feel Ruth stir a little. Sweet little Jennifer, meanwhile, is dead to the world, God bless her.
“Sorry to wake you,” I whisper to my wife.
Ruth murmurs something that sounds vaguely like English but on further analysis may actually be 100 percent gibberish.
by James Patterson / Literature & Fiction / Mystery Thriller / Young Adult have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes