Summary: Fred goes on a road trip with his baby daughter to visit his missing girlfriend and maybe find a way to get her back again. His best friend Kate decides to tag along against everyone's wishes and she adds some drama to the mix for both the teenagers and the baby.
Disclaimer: Lex O’Leary and Jeff Delricci belong to NYgoldfish54. Elle is one of those rare things the two of us share. Fred belongs to me and will never cease to do. Oh, yeah, Kate McKinley shows up in this story - she's also mine.
Chapter 3. Jeff’s Help
Jeff Delricci was Lex’s best friend. They’d known each other their whole life and Fred didn’t doubt for a second that Jeff missed Lex just as much as he did.
Seven months was a long time; Fred was painfully aware of that. During those months, he hadn’t spoken to Jeff at all. Not surprising, Jeff had been one of those who’d wanted to beat him up for what he’d done to Lex. While Fred had tried to get along with Lex’s brothers for the sake of Elle, there was no reason for Jeff to hang around after Lex disappeared. The two of them hadn’t been close friends; they’d hung out because of Lex and gotten along for the same reason, but they were hardly anything more than acquaintances.
Now, as Fred was well-aware of, their common interest had always been Lex. They both loved her and wanted nothing else but the best for her. It would probably require some great sacrifices from the both of them, but Fred was sure they could get along if it mattered enough. And he couldn’t think of anything that mattered more than Lex.
If Jeff had been surprised when Fred called him, he’d disguised it well. Jeff nearly hadn’t shown off a single expression at all during their conversation, but had found Fred’s suggestion acceptable and agreed on meeting up so they could talk. Fred was glad he hadn’t been forced to convince Jeff more, as he hadn’t come up with a very thought-out plan himself.
Fred decided not to let Kate know about the plan itself. He wasn’t sure if it would work out, and she could be quite overbearing when she had opinions of her own, which he knew she would have for something as stupid as this.
After Mac came home from school the same Thursday, Fred begged him to take care of Alex and Sebastian for a few hours. Asking Mac to take care of Elle would be pointless, as Fred knew Mac would refuse before he’d even thought it through. Fred eventually bribed him with $100, which always worked extremely well.
“When’re you coming back?” Mac demanded as Fred got Elle dressed for the trip out.
“I don’t know. Tonight. It might not take very long at all.”
“Where’re you going?”
“Just out, seeing a friend. Call me if you need me, but only if it’s an emergency.”
“How much of an emergency?”
“If they’re close to death, dying or in some other lethal jeopardy, call me. If they’ve choked on something, just turn them upside down and yell at them to take smaller bites. Got it?”
“Fine, whatever. Little sis going too?”
“Unless you want to watch her too,” Fred muttered tiredly.
“Just asking,” Mac said disinterestedly, walking back to the kitchen. “Two brats are enough. Don’t need your illegitimate child on my hands.”
“I didn’t call her a brat.”
Fred hurried to get out the door before Mac came up with more questions regarding proper babysitting. As long as they didn’t kill each other, Fred didn’t care what happened.
Jeff and he had agreed to meet at a coffeehouse uptown; Fred guessed Jeff didn’t want his other friends to know about their get-together before he knew what Fred really wanted. It felt a bit absurd, the whole idea, but Fred was far beyond caring, now when Lex was his main focus.
Jeff was already there when he arrived, making Fred a bit more stressed than before. He suddenly had no idea what to say. “Sorry I’m late, I had to find a babysitter for my brothers,” he explained, sitting down opposite Jeff at a table by the window.
“It’s okay, I figured you had stuff to take care of,” Jeff said simply, taking a quick look at Elle before meeting Fred’s eyes. “You take care of your brothers?”
“Yeah, my mom’s not around a lot, you know, and she reckons I help out now when I live for free at her place with Elle. It’s kinda unfair, but it’s better than nothing,” Fred ranted, knowing he was too nervous to speak any slower.
“Alright. What did you want?” Jeff asked without wasting any time on small talk. “You said it was about Lex.”
“Yeah. I mean, I really appreciate you coming here, since I know you don’t really like me, but I thought-”
“Fred, get to the point,” he sighed impatiently. “Is it about the kid?”
Fred shook his head. “No. I just had to bring her too, my brother doesn’t really like her and I don’t trust him to take care of her. She’s been sick and I didn’t want her to be at home without me.”
“He doesn’t like her?” Jeff asked, taken aback. “Why not?”
“Kate says it’s sibling rivalry. I guess Mac doesn’t adjust very well to having her around.”
“Kate McKinley?” Jeff said with a slight smile. “You’re listening to Kate McKinley’s advice on children’s behavior?”
Fred shrugged, grinning. “I couldn’t find anything about it in the baby book.”
Jeff seemed to warm up a little now when he knew that they weren’t immediately prone to start fighting. He leaned across the table to take a closer look at Elle. “I haven’t seen her in a while. I came by Lex’s place back in June or May, can’t remember which, and Laurie was there with her, so I met her then.”
“She told me. Laurie, I mean. Elle doesn’t talk yet,” Fred explained, looking at Elle, who in turn was hiding her face from Jeff. “She’s a bit shy around new people. Kind of attached to me, actually. Some sort of phase.”
“She’s pretty,” Jeff stated. “She almost looks exactly like Lex did when she was a baby. You’ve seen the pictures, right?”
“Yeah, I know. I love that about her,” Fred mumbled, nudging at Elle’s face. “They look so alike that it’s almost scary.”
“Elle’s got darker hair, though,” Jeff said. “I guess it’s because your hair is darker than Lex’s.”
“Probably. She’s adorable. Not at all a tedious little baby, except for when she’s around my brothers. They tease her a lot.”
“Hey, it’ll make her tough,” Jeff smiled.
“Yeah. So, should we start talking about Lex and risk getting into an argument?” Fred asked plainly.
Jeff nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s best. Civil conversations can be really strained.”
Fred found a high chair to place Elle in, and while ordering himself some hot chocolate he asked the waitress if she could heat Elle’s formula. “I had an idea,” he told Jeff while they waited for their orders to arrive. “I know this will sound really stupid, like most things I say, but I figured you’d be the one to talk to, since you always know what to do.”
“Tell me,” Jeff said.
“You know how Lex’s dad won’t let any of us near her? I’m sure he would send her to Argentina if I ever stepped close to her again, but I really want her back. I don’t have any reason that’s not completely selfish; I just want her back.”
“I want that too, dude, but we can’t do anything. I know how it works; you’d lose Elle, Fred.”
“I know. But maybe-”
“It’s worth it? Fred, you can’t risk it. If they take Elle away now, you’ll never get her back, even when Lex returns.”
“That’s not what I was gonna say. It wouldn’t be worth losing Elle, I know that. I would never do something that stupid. I love her, she’s my daughter. Losing her would be the final straw of everything.”
“So what did you mean then?” Jeff requested.
“She’s miserable out there, Jeff. I mean, completely devastated. I don’t know if she’s called you or not, but she’s called me, and she’s so sad. She hates it there and she misses us. She wants to come home,” Fred told him quietly, feeling how hard it was just to speak about it. “We have to do something. I don’t know what, but we can’t let her stay unhappy. She’ll never be the same again if we do.”
Jeff took a second to melt what he’d been told, frowning thoughtfully. “How do we do that?”
“We go there.”
“Where? To Michigan? Fred, that’s hundreds of miles away. It’s almost in Canada!”
“I know that, but we can fly. We can make up a plan, and go there, without letting anybody know, and we’ll visit her. Not bring her with us home, or take her away from school. Even if it’s only for a minute or two, we’ll just go there and let her know we’re still thinking about her.”
“Is that the plan?”
“Well, it needs some work. I was hoping you’d polish the plan until it made sense,” Fred clarified with a look in his eyes filled with anticipation. “I can’t pull this off by myself. And you could need my help, or at least my money. Do you think you could help me?”
Jeff leaned back in his seat with a troubled expression on his face. “Well… The plan is insane,” he said straight-out. “The chance of getting caught is great. We’d risk Elle’s safety. It’s not much to work from…”
“And?” Fred asked worriedly.
“…but it’s worth a shot if we try to work together, and if it makes Lex happy, I’m all for it.”
Fred sighed with relief. “Thank you.”
“When should we do it?” Jeff asked, sounding slightly enthusiastic about the whole deal.
“How much time do we need?”
Jeff looked thoughtful again. “It’ll take a few days to work out the details. At least a week, I’d say.”
“Next Saturday?” Fred suggested.
Jeff nodded concurringly. “We can’t tell anybody. I mean, nobody can now. Don’t tell Kate, I won’t tell the other guys. Don’t tell your brothers, I won’t breathe a word about it to my parents. If Lex’s brothers or sister find out, they’ll do anything to keep us away. The less that knows, the less chance it is about it getting out. Okay?”
“Yeah, ‘course. Don’t tell Lex either. She’ll worry and tell us not to do it.”
“I haven’t spoken to her,” Jeff said. “She hasn’t called me.”
“Oh. Well, I bet she calls me because she wants to know how Elle’s doing,” Fred hurried to say excusably.
“It’s okay. She knows I still care about her,” Jeff smiled. “She always knows that.”
“I tell her you’re okay when she calls. I tell her what I know about you guys.”
“Yeah… You know, I’m startin’ to feel a bit bad about not being around more. It seems stupid know, when it’s obvious we can get along fine anyway. I still don’t like how you screwed up Lex’s life by getting her pregnant, but I don’t hold you responsible for Lex being sent away. That blame goes solely to her father,” Jeff explained firmly. “I mean, you seem to take care of Elle and care for her a great deal. I didn’t give you enough credit for it. I thought you’d leave Lex and let her take care of the baby on her own.”
“It’s okay. I know everybody expected that. I didn’t take it personally. Most of you don’t know me very well. I was just Lex’s boyfriend. No wonder you got mad when I got her pregnant.”
“Just so you understand,” Jeff shrugged. “I don’t like what you did, but I like that you’re taking responsibility for it. I don’t like the thought of you raising Elle alone, as I don’t like the thought of Lex having to raise her by herself. A kid needs two parents. I’ll help you try and get Elle’s mom back, I promise.”
“Thank you,” Fred repeated. “It means a lot to me. Elle’s a great girl. She deserves a mother like Lex.”
“I know. We’ll get her back.”
“We’ll get her back,” Fred echoed, looking at Elle as her bottle arrived to the table. “Do you think you could tell me more about what’s happened, so if Lex asks I can tell her?”
“Sure. Nothing’s been goin’ on lately. We’ve rehearsed a few times, but it’s not really the same without Lex, so we’re givin’ it a break for now. Umm… Matt and Sammie’s dating again. Although, they weren’t dating a few weeks ago, so that may change.”
Fred smiled to himself. He remembered the jargon in the band Lex was in. Before she got pregnant and had to leave, she was in a band with Jeff and five other close friends. Lex had an amazing talent when it came to music. Fred hoped her spirit for it wouldn’t be broken when she returned. “Do you see Laurie and Robbie a lot?” Fred asked, referring to Lex’s siblings.
“Sometimes. I still go there on occasion. When I know her dad’s not around.”
“I do too,” Fred admitted. “Her mom invites me to dinner sometimes. It feels a bit weird to go there when Lex’s not around, so I try to come up with some excuse most of the time. I guess I feel stupid for being there because I was the one who got Lex in trouble. It feels wrong when her mom’s so nice to me, even though I don’t deserve it.”
“But you still go.”
“Yeah. Elle’s got a right to see her grandmother and family. And they’ve got a right to see her. Mrs. O’Leary adores her. It makes me feel even worse about Lex.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it,” Jeff said. “Lex’s mom is nice to everybody. She forgives even the worst of deeds. How else do you think she can stay married to that idiot husband of hers?”
Fred smiled. “She is so nice, both to me and Elle. She offers to help out with money and she buys Elle presents every time she comes to visit.”
“That sounds just like her,” Jeff agreed, also smiling. “I should’ve… I don’t know; I should’ve made an effort to see her. The baby, I mean. It is after all Lex’s kid, and I should’ve… helped out more.”
“You don’t have to,” Fred promised. “I understand that you were angry.”
“I was, but I shouldn’t have let it go out over the little one. Lex wouldn’t have wanted me to. Elle’s all there’s left of Lex now, when she’s not around herself. And she’s really adorable. She reminds me so much of Lex.”
“And she does that without an effort,” Fred added. Elle stared back at him when he wouldn’t look away. She was holding her bottle with a firm grip, taking a few sips now and then, without ever letting go of the bottle.
“So… What can she do?”
“Not a lot. She’s just startin’ to get a hang of things. She’s really good at some stuff, like stuff that’s described as advanced skills in the book. Like standing up if she holds on to something and arguing with Alex.”
Jeff laughed. “Skillful. Can she say something?”
“Nah. She babbles a lot, though. I think she’s got that from me.”
“D’you think she’ll be a good singer?” Jeff asked curiously.
“I don’t know,” Fred said. “She likes music. She smiles when she hears a song she likes.”
“Do you let Laurie baby-sit her often?”
“Not really. When she wants to, I guess. I don’t really like handing her away if I’m not around her. Kate looks after her if I can be within hearing distance. I trust Laurie enough to let her have Elle for a few hours, though. And sometimes she stays with Lex’s mom for a day. I never let her be away over night, though.”
“I guess that makes you a good dad, then,” Jeff decided, taking a sip of his coffee. “Not many teenagers would do what you’ve done.”
“Well, you know, I’m exceptional,” Jeff grinned.
“Right,” Fred laughed. “I always forget that.”
“Have you done anything else for her, like a baby christening or something?”
“No, I wouldn’t do that. That’s the kind of thing I want to hold off until Lex gets back. It feels wrong to do it without her presence. I figure that’s something she wants to plan and organize and be here for. I wouldn’t take that away from her.”
“That’s cool. She’d like that.”
“Were you afraid someone else would be assigned godfather?” Fred asked with a smile.
“You never know what sort of thing that goes on around your back,” Jeff replied with a shrug. Elle held out her bottle towards him. “Thanks darling, but I prefer my food solid. She doesn’t seem too shy.”
“Well, she’s probably gotten used to your voice by now,” he guessed, wiping Elle’s mouth with a napkin. “You’ve mentioned Lex’s name a lot, she seems to respond to that.”
“I’m glad you brought her along,” Jeff said. “I would’ve wanted to meet her.”
Fred was about to answer when his cell phone started beeping. Elle immediately began looking around to establish the sound. “Yeah, it’s me,” Fred answered. “What? Mac, c’mon they’re not monsters. No, you can’t put them outside and lock the door. Why? Because that would give the Child Protective Service yet another reason to come visit us. Oh, shut up yourself.”
Jeff watched with moderate interest while Fred tried to lecture Mac. Eventually he had to hang up on him. “Problems at home?”
“As always,” Fred sighed. “Can’t leave the brats alone for a single hour, or they’ll start ripping each other’s throats out. Look, I gotta leave and see so they don’t actually get hurt or anything.”
“Yeah, of course.”
Fred picked up Elle and buttoned her jacket. “It was nice talking to you again. Lex will like that we get along.”
“Yeah, she always wanted us to.”
“Let me know when we can hang out again and talk about next Saturday.”
“Will do. Gimme your phone number. I don’t have it.”
“Sure,” Fred mumbled, going through his pocket to find his cell phone again. “Just call yourself and save the number. I don’t know it by heart.”
Elle squirmed when Fred tried to put on her mittens and hat, as it was rather cold outside after dark. Jeff typed in his number and waited for his own cell phone to start ringing. “Will you bring her along too?” he suddenly asked.
“I thought so. I kinda don’t have anywhere else for her to go.”
“I was just wonderin’… Do you really take care of all your brothers and Elle by yourself, every day?”
“Not Mac, of course. And don’t think about; I’ve taken care of them before, even when Elle wasn’t around.”
“Still… That’s three kids, Fred.”
“They’re not all mine,” he smiled. “That’s what I keep telling myself when it gets bad.”
Jeff nodded. “I’ll keep in touch, tomorrow or on Saturday. Everything will get better once Lex’s back.”
“That’s another thing I keep telling myself,” Fred sighed. Elle waved goodbye when he started walking towards the door. “I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah. Bye, Elle.”
Fred smile as Elle reached out both her hands to Jeff, to wave again.