Pairing: Phil/Claire; Mitchell/Cameron; Jay/Gloria
Spoilers: set pre-series; general backstory references from season one
Word Count: ~3,000
Summary: Three big moments.
“I don’t mind saying, I was making quite a splash.”
“Well then, why’d you quit?”
“Well, Haley, call me old-fashioned, but I wanted to focus on raising a family, so I married your dad.”
“And five months later we were ...four months … away from having this little bundle of joy.”
Claire doesn’t want to do it at home, so she takes the test on her lunch break with Valerie standing outside the stall making sympathetic clucking noises.
There are two pink lines where she had really, really needed there to be one pink line.
“Shit,” she says numbly. “Shit, shit, shit.”
When she comes out, Valerie gives her a big hug and she smells really good, that special expensive kind of good. Her perfume probably costs as much as Claire’s rent. That’s what happens when your parents don’t have a problem paying your rent after you move out, when you get a job because you need something to do, when you’re not pushed out on your own to learn independence and responsibility even though, hi, your parents have tons of money and it’s not like they would miss some of it, augh, parents, parents, her parents are going to kill her. And Phil. Oh, God. Her dad’s going to murder Phil.
It’s not an idea she totally hates right now.
She ditches work, tells her boss she thinks she’s coming down with something. Not really a lie. Parasite of the uterus. God, she wishes it could just be a tapeworm. She can’t stop thinking about parents. Being parents. Her parents. Her parents, who were finally starting to look at her like she’s not too shabby, even if she’s not Mitchell Super Overachiever Pritchett. She was finally doing things right, with the great grades in college, and the (oh God) steady boyfriend, and the job, and the shiny new hint of a future, and now she’s exactly where her mom expected her to wind up every time she went out on the weekend in high school. On the plus side, she’s not sixteen. On the minus side, she feels about ten.
She sits in her car in the parking lot and cries and feels unnaturally aware of her clothes: the nondescript blue blouse, the navy pencil skirt, the sensible pumps. She’s just starting to feel like a grownup. She’s not ready for this.
Phil is over at her place when she comes home. He’s sitting on her couch, watching her TV, eating her Doritos, and something about the sight of him and his stupid hair (why won’t he stop perming it? Why? Why had she ever thought it was a good idea to sleep with this person, like, regularly?) makes her hate him more than she has ever hated anyone. Except maybe her mother.
So she decides not to do this delicately. “I’m pregnant.”
Phil spews globs of masticated Dorito all over her couch.
“Claire?” He stands up, then sits back down again, then stands up again. Of course he does. “Are you serious?”
“No, Phil, I’m joking. This is all just a joke. Hilarious, right? I am just being hilarious right now. April Fool’s.”
“But it’s not—April—”
“I know it’s not April!!! This is real, Phil. This is real, and it’s happening, it’s a real thing that’s going to happen, and—are you crying?”
“No,” Phil pretty much sobs.
“You are! Oh, grow up, Phil.”
“We’re gonna have a baby?” His voice does something to that last word. Goes up higher and wavers. She looks at him. He’s got the same look on his face that he did when he unwrapped the Super Nintendo she got him for Christmas. It’s like she’s a Mario brother.
“Yeah,” she says. Her anger is fading fast. Who has time for anger when they’re witnessing what is clearly some kind of miracle?
He leaps over the couch and stumbles. She pulls him upright, and he retaliates by pulling her into the tightest hug in the history of man.
“Phil. Phil! Sweetie! Can’t breathe!”
“Oof! Jeez. I didn’t hurt the baby, did I?”
“Honey, the baby’s like the size of a fingernail.” She thinks. She’s realizing she doesn’t really know much about babies.
Phil stares at her stomach like he can see through it. “God, that’s amazing! Isn’t that amazing?”
“Am so not,” he mumbles into her hair, dropping a kiss there.
“You are,” Claire marvels, resting her hands on his face.
“Baby,” he repeats, like it’s the best thing he’s ever heard.
For just a second, her thoughts aren’t barf-ridden mornings and dirty diapers and fat ankles and stretch marks and bagged lunches and never looking good in a bikini again and being so tired all the time. She thinks of happy green lawns with sprinklers, and mobiles of stars, and the smell of baby powder and books of baby names and first steps and tiny perfect fingers and toes, and Phil smiling just like he is right now.
“Now you’re crying,” he says, and she laughs this stupid watery laugh and pulls him closer to her.
Later, when the panic sets in (“Oh my God, Claire, we need a house! A house! With furniture! A baby can’t sit on this couch!” “Babies can’t sit, Phil, you have to hold them. Or teach them. Or – or something.” “We have to teach someone how to sit? I don’t even know if I know how to sit! Here, watch me, is – is my technique good, do you think?” “Phil, this is so not our number one conce– a little slouchy, actually.” “AUGHHHHH, WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A HUNCHBACK BABY. NOW DUNPHYS ARE HUNCHBACKS.”), she is profoundly grateful for that second.
“Now you know why I left early that morning.”
“Ha! I knew you didn’t have a meeting, Cam! I knew it!”
Mitchell is drrrrrrunk, which, fyi, doesn’t happen all that often. He’s a lawyer so, you know. Pretty responsible. Not a lot of letting loose. But this is like the saddest happy hour with Pepper & Co. in the history of earth, so, time to make an exception.
“Four days and he hasn’t even called?” asks the blonde sitting next to him at the bar. Mitchell’s still not really clear on who she is or where she came from, but she is really, really good at righteous indignation. She can stay. “What a douchebag!”
“Right??” Mitchell says, although he’s never really been on board with that becoming a mainstream expression. “I don’t know, I just – I got the sense that we had something, and – and there was charades, meaningful charades, Casablanca – and coffee, lots of coffee dates, three coffee dates, and then at the first sign of commitment, bam! Cam … scram … s.”
Call him crazy, but he expects a little sympathy. And some appreciation for his ability to rhyme while intoxicated. Instead, what he gets is her shouting across the bar.
“Cameron Tucker, you douchebag, you made Raggedy Andy cry! Look at his little face! Oh my God, you’re adorable.” She pinches Mitchell’s cheek. Ow. Ow. Ow.
“Who is this person?” Mitchell wants to know. Someone, anyone. An answer.
“Sal,” says Cameron. Oh, look. Cameron’s here. Mitchell hadn’t noticed. At all. “Pepper wants you.”
“Oh yeah? How much will you pay me to make out with him?”
“Honey, if you manage to make out with Pepper, my next six paychecks are yours.”
“Bitch, it is so on!” she yells. She tumbles off the bar stool, rights herself, and struts across the room.
Mitchell stares after her, feeling disturbed. “What was that?”
“That was Sal,” Cameron says, taking her seat. “Once you get used to her, she’s kind of a blast.”
“I don’t want to get used to her,” Mitchell declares, wrinkling his nose. “Raggedy Andy.”
Cameron chuckles. “Now that she mentions it, I can totally see—”
Mitchell glares at him.
“—Soooo. How are you?”
“Oh, just swell. Really good. How are you?”
“Ooh! Funny you should ask. I’m actually recovering from a life-threatening work incident – we are talking untrained kids wielding violin bows, and believe me, there aren’t enough margaritas on earth to—”
“Seriously? You’re going to tell me how your day was?”
“It’s a very titillating story.”
“I know,” Mitchell says, because he is so over this, thank you, “that I’m not a lot of fun, okay? And maybe – all right, yes, maybe I shouldn’t have pointed out that you put that drink down onto my coffee table without a coaster.”
“It was a lecture.”
“I was pointing it out.”
“—but I still don’t really appreciate that you just took off before I even woke up the next morning.”
Bam. Deal with that.
Cameron goes totally poker-faced. “I had a meeting.”
“A music teacher meeting,” Mitchell says, skeptical. “At eight AM. On a Sunday.”
“Yes,” Cameron says loftily. Wow, he is just not backing down. “A highly important one.”
Mitchell stares at him. A stare of lawyerish derision.
“And even if I hadn’t had a meeting, which, for your information, I did…” (Pfft. Yeah right.) “…I got the impression that you weren’t particularly interested. I thought I would bow out gracefully.”
Aw. Well, that’s kinda sweet. That changes things.
“I was interested!” Mitchell protests. “I’m interested. I just – it’s been awhile. Since I was interested. In anybody. Maybe I’m a little out of practice at the whole charm thing.”
This is the part where Cameron is supposed to hurry to assure him that that’s not the case. He doesn’t. Instead, he starts humming and fiddling with a cocktail napkin.
Right then. If that’s how this is gonna get played—
“Besides, you telling me about your adolescent adventures as Fizbo the clown, not exactly the best way to break the ice.”
“Fizbo the clown happens to be a figure of merriment and delight—”
“Please don’t talk about Fizbo.”
“Fizbo is an essential part of my history, Mitchell Pritchett (whoo, try saying that one five times fast), and you’re going to have to accept it, because Fizbo isn’t going anywhere.”
“Um, yeah, I am – not doing that. The Fizbo thing, or the five times fast thing.”
“I was nervous,” Cameron tells the cocktail napkin. “It’s possible I babbled.”
“Your go-to babble is I Used To Be A Clown?”
“At least it’s not My Sister Thwarted My Ice Capade Dreams.”
“Well, she did, damn it!”
“I know, Mitchell. I know.”
Cameron reaches over to give him a pat on the hand, which is annoying because whatever, he’s not that traumatized, even if it was clearly the sole most lamentable wasted opportunity of his whole life thus far. He’s a grown up. He can deal.
Except then Cameron’s hand doesn’t move, and Mitchell realizes exactly how much he does not hate that. And what a relief it is, because he’d reached the conclusion that it was time to call it quits on this one, and honestly, yeah, okay, fine, he’d been pretty disappointed.
“Do you have any meetings tomorrow?” he asks. You know. Nonchalantly.
Cameron smiles. “My schedule is free for the foreseeable future.”
“That,” Mitchell says, starting to smile for the first time in what feels like forever, “is extremely cool.”
“OH MY GOD JUST KISS ALREADY,” Sal shouts from her new position in Pepper’s lap. “KISS KISS KISS KISS KISS ALREADY!”
“Does she mean us or Pepper?”
“I can’t tell.” Cameron stares at them in dismay. “He’s not going to let her do it, is he?”
“I don’t know if he has a choice,” Mitchell says, mesmerized.
“She will have to pry my paychecks from my cold dead hands.”
“It could happen. What with the prevalence of violin bow incidents, and all.”
Cameron laughs. Mitchell likes that. He’s not usually a make-people-laugh type of guy. “You’re funny when you’re not lecturing.”
“Okay, I don’t know where you grew up, wait, yes I do, on a farm, but here in civilization it’s not this outlandish idea to take off your shoes before you go into somebody’s hou—Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Cameron says, with remarkable patience (but in that way where it’s obvious he knows just how patient he’s being, and he maybe wants a medal for it).
And even though this person thinks it’s an acceptable life choice to sing Donna Summer in public in a non-karaoke capacity and has a sordid clown history and honestly kind of looks like the sun in that yellow shirt, Mitchell can’t shake the feeling that maybe he’s lucked out here.
“You didn’t want to go to a wedding with him because you didn’t want to make small talk? That’s how I met Gloria. Do you remember the first thing I said to you?”
“Yes! ‘I like chocolate, I like fruit, but not together.’”
“You couldn’t come up with that, Ivy League?”
It’s a nice night, the first night Jay takes Gloria out. He parks on her street fifteen minutes early, because he’s a little rusty at this and he guesses he doesn’t want to screw up. He’s halfway convinced that she’ll open the front door, take one look at him, and wonder what the hell she was thinking in the first place. It’s one thing when you’re two people who meet at a wedding, with the drinking and dancing and faith in true love and fruit stupidly covered in chocolate. All that stuff. But here he is, over sixty and dressed up like a damn kid going out on his first date. He combed his hair four times before he left the house. Pathetic.
He sits in the car for six minutes, ‘til he can’t take it anymore. Needs to get out and stretch his legs. He walks back and forth along the block. Like six guys pass him while he’s doing it, and he’s pretty sure all of them are trying to figure out how to steal his wallet. Well, let ‘em try. Unless they have knives. Jeez. They don’t have knives, do they?
He heads up a few minutes early. Just to be safe.
When she opens the front door, he’s a little gobsmacked. It’s not like he’s ever felt like an unimpressive guy, but she is just – a holy array of good shapes. In no way is any man worthy of that. Not even Jesus. (Not that he’d be interested. Or, well, hey, who knows.) She looks happy to see him, too. Go figure.
“Jay, so handsome!” She beams big at him, kisses him on the cheek and loops her fingers through his to drag him inside. “This is mi hijo, Manny.”
She waves a graceful arm in the direction of a round, earnest-eyed kid who’s maybe ten. He holds out his hand, all somber, like this is some kind of ceremony. He’s wearing a white ruffly shirt. He looks like a pirate. A pirate who raided Mitchell and Cam’s closet.
“Hello, Mr. Pritchett,” the kid says formally. He’s got a strong handshake on him. It’s weird, coming from hands so small.
“Did he dress up?” Jay says blankly to Gloria. “He’s not coming with us, is he?”
“Ay, no, no, the babysitter is coming, that’s just his new shirt. It makes him look dashing, no?”
“Sure,” Jay says, and thinks, God, it’s like Mitchell’s leg warmers all over again. “Dashing. Hey, kid, you can call me Jay.”
“All right, Jay,” the kid agrees calmly.
“What do you think?” Gloria inquires slyly, striking a pose. Her red dress definitely trumps the kid’s gay pirate shirt, that’s for sure.
“Amazing,” Jay says truthfully.
“Earrings,” Manny says.
“Earrings!” Gloria exclaims. “I will be just one minute, Jay, promise.”
She disappears into her bedroom, leaving Jay alone with the kid.
“So, Jay,” the little guy says, and clasps his hands like this is some sort of business discussion. “What are your intentions?”
Jay stares at him. The kid stares earnestly back.
Like ten seconds go by.
“Really?” he finally asks.
The kid – Manny – opens his mouth to answer, but Gloria breezes back in. Thank God. She says some stuff about money for pizza on the counter, and stop watching Dead Poet’s Society twenty minutes before the end so it doesn’t upset you again (seriously?), and the babysitter knocks on the door and Gloria showers Manny in goodbye hugs and kisses, like she’s going away for a week instead of a couple hours. Jay thinks it’s kind of nice. He’s never been so good at that kind of thing with Claire and Mitch.
Then suddenly it’s the two of them in the dingy hallway. He wouldn’t be surprised if some rats or drug dealers showed up to keep them company, but nope.
“Hello again,” Gloria says, her eyes bright. He can’t remember the last time he met someone who seemed to get such a kick out of just existing.
“Hi there,” he says, and he can’t help but smile. She loops her arm through his like it’s the easiest thing in the world and cheerfully pulls him along, into the rattling elevator and through the foyer and past a shifty-eyed guy that, yep, definitely would have gone for the wallet if he’d had the chance.
Then they’re outside. The air feels good. He likes the sound of her heels against the sidewalk, and that she hasn’t stopped talking since they stepped out of the apartment. Not in a Phil way. In a way that’s welcome, and comfortable already. He likes listening to her. He's got a good feeling.