Dedicated to every Dad, who did their best, tried their hardest, and still got their ass kicked by a toddler.
I’m lying in bed asleep when I feel it. It’s a strange sensation whenever it happens, more so when it awakens you from a deep sleep. The paranormal feeling that you are being watched.
I open my eyes a slit and observe the scene. Calli, Ao, and Adrastos are sitting at the edge of the bed, their eyes right on my face. Taking center stage in my vision is Daisuke. He’s holding himself up with a grip on the sheets, and the moment my eyes flutter, he giggles and swats my face with one hand.
“Daisuke?” I slur. “What? You should be in your crib. How did you get here?” He doesn’t answer, but coos and swats me again. I sit up and shake my head, exciting all observers. The wolves and Adrastos yip and bark while Daisuke does a quick jig and emits a piercing squeal.
“Oh no, no, Little One. You cannot do that again,” I groan as I throw the blanket back and head for the bathroom. The menagerie eagerly follows me, tripping, laughing, and stumbling at my heels.
It’s early morning, and I have an interminable day of work ahead. Nyx left a week ago, daughters in tow, to find her miteras, Chaos. She entrusted me with the care of the child Daisuke. A toddling demon dropped in our laps by another deity, Amaterasu. Nyx assured the Japanese Sun Goddess that she would care for the child, but left on an unexpected errand and pushed the child to me. I don’t blame her. I can’t blame her for needing to follow any lead to find her mother after all this time. I just have a slight problem, slight compared to her.
I know nothing of babies.
Daisuke stands in the doorway, and the canines all hang behind him, waiting. He’s their chieftain, they his clan. I sigh, even my girls have turned and gone over to his side. I watch them warily in the bathroom mirror as I brush my teeth, but they don’t advance. Instead, they are waiting, scouting for any weakness I may exhibit. I remove my pajama bottoms and step into the shower, then peek back quickly to catch them doing something destructive. All four of them hold their positions and gaze about nonchalantly.
“Daisuke, I am right here. Just stay where you are, and we will eat when I’m done,” I admonish him. He giggles and points at me, then turns and pats Adrastos on the head a bit too hard. Quickly I soap, so he is unattended for as little time as possible.
I’m lathered fully, unable to see, puzzling how he got out of his crib, when I hear him.
“Da-guh-guh-guh.” He’s right at my feet, and I try to rinse the soap off my face and out of my eyes, when I hear the clangle of the rings on the shower rod. He’s pulling the curtain.
“No, no, no, Daisuke,” I say as I blindly reach for him. I feel him, but he slips out of my soapy grasp. The combination of his unexpected movement and the slippery shower floor causes me to lurch and lose my balance. In desperation, I grab for anything to catch myself, and my hand closes on a wad of curtain.
“Ping…Ping…ping, ping, ping, ker-ching!” Slow at first, then with increasing velocity, I rip the metal shower rings from the rod, sending them ricocheting off the walls and ceiling as I crash into the vanity then onto the tile floor. Daisuke steps neatly out of the way, so as not to impede my momentum, and I hit the floor soaking wet, slathered in soap, and sheathed in the shower curtain. Unable to get my arms free, I cannot break my fall in any capacity. I lay there, blinking the soap out of my eyes and struggling to free myself. The spray of water is misting me, and when I can finally see, the wolves are still sitting and looking at me, wagging their tails. Adrastos is nowhere around, and Daisuke is standing in his pajamas under the shower, laughing at the spray of water.
“No, no, no, Daisuke,” I say for the second time in less than a minute. I extricate myself from the wreckage, stumble to my feet, then liberate him from the shower. He’s soaked, so I pull his pajamas off and wash him right in the shower with me as I rinse off. Nyx washes him in a little tub that fits in the sink, but honestly, this ended up being easier. His fascination with the showerhead is a minor distraction that keeps him occupied while I wash him. However, once I turn the water off, he is squirming and twisting, immediately trying to get out of my grasp.
“Daisuke, be still. Be still!” I say as I struggle with a towel to dry us both off. His thick shock of hair stands up straight as I dry him, but when I set him down to brush it, he zooms off naked through the bedroom and disappears down the hall. I’m still naked and soaked, but I grab a pair of shorts and one-legged hop-run after him, following the sounds of his squeals and laughter. When I reach the kitchen, I find the source of his entertainment and Nyx’s missing pit bull.
Let me say, I am spoiled by Calli and Ao. I rarely feed them as they hunt on their own. So it was my fault I forgot to feed her massive brute the night before. As I look across the kitchen, I see the garbage can turned on its side and the dog sprawled on the floor, his gargantuan head and shoulders wedged inside it. He has layered garbage everywhere around himself, along with the veneer of something greasy. By the looks of it, he found a treat, and is eating it as quickly as possible. Daisuke is standing on the edge of the chaos, so I scoop him up before he covers himself in trash, right after a shower. The girls look at Adrastos with disdain and settle onto their beds in the adjacent living room.
“Adrastos!” I bellow as Daisuke twists in my arms to see where the blast came from. The dog jumps and begins shaking his body free of the can. He loses his footing once in the slippery mess, but finally extricates himself from the can, flinging it and the last of the contents against the custom cabinets and the oven.
He stands, looking at me defiantly. A wad of wax paper stuck to his head like an impromptu beret.
“Adrastos,” I repeat, this time softer, with a tone of surrender. I plunk Daisuke into his swing, mentally reminding myself I still have to diaper him, then struggle into the kitchen to clean up the trash. Adrastos woofs excitedly. I don’t yell at him again, so he helps by licking my face every time I bend over to pick something up. By the time I finish, I need another shower. Granted, work is right next door, but it’s been an hour, and I only just got the floor mopped. Another shower for me and cleaning the bathroom would have to wait until tonight when here is more time.
Daisuke squeals and immediately garners my attention. He holds both fists in the air and waves them while looking at me seriously and chanting,
“Do- do – gah- gah- da.” It means nothing to me, but by the serious look on his face, he means business.
“I know, I know, you’re hungry.” Thank heavens I blended some vegetables the night before, like Nyx showed me. I feed him quickly, then clean him off, diaper him, clothe both of us, and get his little shoes on. He kicks at me the entire time. Making it even more difficult since my large hands aren’t built to tie baby shoes. Nevertheless, I succeed, pick him up, and get to the door when I notice his very red face.
“Daisuke?” I ask, alarmed. “What’s wrong?” I know he can’t answer, but I’m compelled to ask. His face flushes, and he looks to be in pain. I watch, concerned, as he grunts several times. Something is wrong, and I have no idea what it is. I stick my finger in his mouth and peer in to see if his airway is blocked. When I see nothing, a moment of panic rolls over me as I think about him being injured on my watch. I drop onto the sofa and immediately turn him over on my arm, head down and facing away. His airway must be impaired, and the answer is three sharp blows to the back between the shoulder blades. I tip him, head down, and quickly perform the maneuver to dislodge whatever is choking him.
I know now that toddlers get red-faced and strain for several reasons, most of which have nothing to do with a blocked airway. Daisuke cries out the instant I apply the blows, and seconds later passes noisy gas. The look on his face transforms from anger at the CPR to relief as everything that had been inside came out into the diaper. He looks at me and grins.
Fuck, kid, I think. I have to get to work!
No matter, I set everything down and lay him on his table to change the diaper.
I take off his little shoes.
I take off his little jeans.
I carefully unhook the diaper and throw the offensive object into the trash.
I gag again.
I clean him up, then re-diaper him, and put all his clothes back on him. I put the second shoe on when he pees and soaks the fresh diaper. The kid gives no breaks. Lather, rinse, repeat; I undo him from his entire little outfit, change him again, and then suit him back up as he laughs and kicks.
I flee out the door, trying to arrive at the Two-Nine Security offices before noon. As I hurry down the hall, Daisuke takes it upon himself to flirt with every woman who engages in eye contact, and they eat it up.
“Oh my, he is so cute!”
“Isn’t he just adorable?”
“Dinlas? Is that your baby?”
I arrive at my office, lock the door behind me, and set Daisuke on the floor for a minute. I check my messages and scan through the mail when a clatter and a shatter, punctuate the quiet of the room. When I peer over the desk, Daisuke stands with his hands over his mouth, staring at me wide-eyed.
Laying at his feet is a broken wolf statuette, one of two Nyx gave me several months ago. Daisuke chortles a moment, then clearly says, “Uhhh-oooooh,” as he continues to stare. I sigh, drop the mail on my desk, and remove him from the mess.
“How are you less than a meter tall with a two-meter reach?” I ask as he slips his hand between two buttons of my shirt and, with an exquisite pull, yanks out a baby-fist-sized chunk of chest hair. A knock at the door interrupts what was sure to be a profanity laced statement on my part. Opening it, I find a smiling Antoinette, or Ant as everyone calls her. The moment she sees me, her expression becomes one of concern.
“Mr. Dinlas, are you crying, Sir?”
“No,” I say as I blink away tears. Daisuke giggles at me, still holding the handful of my chest hair he claimed. Ant looks unsure how to proceed, so I continue, “What can I help you with this morning?”
“Well, Sir, your 11:00 AM meeting just checked in downstairs and will be up shortly. Mr. Papadopoulos from the company that wants to sell us security cameras?”
“Right, yes. Thank you, Ant. Take him to the conference room and tell Phobos to meet me there.”
“Phobos, sir? Begging your pardon, but what does he know about cameras?”
“Not a thing,” I reply as I bounce Daisuke several times, “but he is imposing enough to throw a man off his game when it comes to business.”
Antoinette chuckles and leaves to take care of my request. I wait a few minutes to let the salesman sit and become frustrated before I grab several toys, the lad, and head for the conference room. Mr. Papadopoulos is standing behind a chair at the head of the conference table, and when I enter, he looks up and smiles. Off to the side is a scale model of the God Complex, no doubt to show where all the cameras he hopes I buy will be placed. Across from him sits Phobos, chin resting on his hands and muscles rippling underneath his t-shirt.
“Mr. Dinlas,” he says as Phobos yawns. “Thank you so much for meeting with me about the cameras.” I smile and gesture to a seat as I sit myself, then turn Daisuke loose with several toys on the floor. Mr. Papadopoulos doesn’t sit, but looks at the boy with obvious consternation.
“Thank you for coming,” I reply, “this is my associate, Mr. Phobos. And this is Daisuke. I apologize, but I have no one to watch him right now.” Daisuke gurgles with laughter, then falls hard on his backside, only to laugh again after the surprise passes.
Mr. Papadopoulos does his best. He talks about cameras, pixels, and infrared capabilities. He shows us models that could focus from two hundred meters away and models that could fit in my palm yet produce stunning images. He came prepared with a video presentation, glossy marketing pieces, in-depth knowledge, and a smoothly delivered spiel to sell his wares.
He did not come prepared for an active toddler.
Daisuke laughs, he coos, he pulls at the man’s pant leg, then squeals at me to get noticed. I try to quiet the child but am wholly unsuccessful. Soothing children is not in my wheelhouse of mastered skills, and Daisuke refuses to cooperate. If I pick him up, he wiggles down. If I set him down, he fusses to get up. Mr. Papadopoulos struggles to stay on message and deliver his well-rehearsed presentation while watching me chase the boy. His frustration finally reaches a tipping point when Daisuke, enamored with the scale model of the God Complex, bangs into the small table holding it and sends the entire structure toppling over onto the floor in pieces. A deathly silence falls over the room, and Daisuke stares at us for just a second before putting his hand over his mouth.
“Uhhh-oooooh,” crows the toddler.
Mr. Papadopoulos quits at that moment. He throws open his satchel and begins stuffing papers and the glossy handouts, with the pretty pictures, back inside the bag. The entire time he lashes out at me and my impassive brother.
“I cannot believe this. I have never encountered such a level of unprofessionalism. Kept waiting here, despite being on time, and then the indignation of this presentation. I do not care who you people are or where you came from. Nor do I care how much money you have to spend. No account is worth this. Nothing is worth this. I would rather die than come back and deal with you insufferable people and most certainly that ill-kept little brat of yours.”
He barely gets the last words out before I am on him. I grab his shirt and shove him hard backward, only to hear the cracking of drywall where I slammed him, and Phobos’ voice over my shoulder.
“You can’t, Dinlas.”
I pause, though the man’s words still incense me. Daisuke is just a child, now an orphan with no parents. He doesn’t know any better, and me shouting no to him non-stop won’t help at this age. This man can bad-mouth me or the family all he wants, but not an innocent child. I let go of him, my voice trembling as I say, “Get out of here.” He grabs his satchel, stumbles over the shattered model, and flees the room. Only the sound of my breathing breaks the stillness until Daisuke speaks up.
I roll my eyes to Phobos, laughing. Antoinette hurries into the room, looks at the mess, and asks, “What happened?”
I wave my hand and reply. “It’s my fault. Do me a favor, Ant. Call him tomorrow please and tell him he got the deal. I will sign the contract, and you can send it over before the week is over.”
“Really? You will buy the video surveillance equipment from him?”
“Yeah, he earned it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Daisuke and I have done enough for one day. If anyone needs me, I will be in the apartment.” With that, I grab him and stage a tactical retreat to my private residence, where the canines are delighted to see us back so soon.
Daisuke and I play the rest of the day, then eat dinner. Nyx must read to him because he brings me book after book while I sit in my favorite chair. I ignore him. I spent all day thoroughly exasperated; I’m in no mood to read to him. He persists, though, so I finally take one and begin reading as he stands in front of me. The girls flank me on each side, and Adrastos lies at my feet. The big dog huffs, but sits patiently as a delighted Daisuke climbs onto him, then clambers into the chair with me as I read. Periodically the boy makes me turn back and read a page again. At other times he jabs a finger into one picture or another and spews forth jibber-jabber or a loud squeal of excitement. When I finish the first book, I start straight into a second, and he claps excitedly.
He sits crossways in my lap and lays his head against my chest, more subdued. By the end of the second book, he is sound asleep, his tiny face mooshing and scrunching on my shirt. When I close the book, the only sounds are his soft snores. I carry him to his nursery, think twice about how he escaped his crib the night before, then take him to Nyx and my bed and lay him on the thick comforter. I change quickly, brush my teeth, then collapse onto the bed as well. He is lying on his stomach with his head turned to me, and occasionally his face smiles or grimaces in some unknown dream. I cover him with another small blanket but don’t remember falling asleep.
Several hours later, I awake with a start. Curled, with his back to me, and sound asleep, lies Daisuke. My arm covers him, draped over and around, protective and comforting.
I blink, and my eyes focus on just one thing; his tiny fist curled tightly around my index finger.
I drift asleep again, oddly content.