Characters/Pairings: Ian, Charlie/Colby, Alan
Word count: 1,969
Warnings: Toddlers on Suger
Summary: It's Esther's third birthday and Ian doesn't have other kids to spoil.
Notes: Part of Vignettes 'Verse. It takes place well after Don's Date and just a bit before Reading. I've been meaning to finish this one for ages. Sorry for the delay.
Cake and Yellow Ruffles
Ian rang the Craftsman’s doorbell with his elbow. Normally he wouldn’t even need to ring but he was trying to juggle the boxes under his arms. He knew he had perhaps gone a little overboard with the gifts but it wasn’t like he had many children he was allowed to spoil. No matter how spoiled they were to begin with.
Alan opened the door. “Ian, come in. You’re a bit early. They boys are out doing some last minute shopping and picking up the second cake.”
“Second cake.” Ian carefully placed the boxes on the dining room table.
Alan gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “One cake for most of the kids and a second cake for the kids whose parents claim they’re intolerant to everything. I mean when Don and Charlie were growing up there were never things like that. Of course we didn’t keep them in hermetically sealed boxes and bathe them in hand sanitizer.”
Before Ian could weigh in on the state of childrearing in America there was the sound of little feet sprinting across wood.
Ian grabbed Esther, spinning her over his head before she had a chance to tackle him in the knees. “Here’s the birthday girl! You just keep getting bigger. And how old are you today?” Esther held up three fingers as Ian tucked her against his hip. “And are you excited?”
She nodded. “Yep!”
Ian looked her over. “Are you wearing that today?” Esther was in coveralls, a t-shirt and bare feet. Her hair was pulled back in an extremely frizzy ponytail and there were grass stains on her knees.
Esther looked at herself and shrugged. Alan sighed. “She was supposed to get a bath this morning but things got delayed. We’ll try to get her into something cleaner before the guest arrive.”
Ian checked his watch. That would be 45 minutes at most. “How about I wash her face and try to get some of the snarls out?”
“Can you manage that?”
“Four sisters, three younger, and two with curls. I’ve seen worse.”
Alan gestured to the stairs.
Ian grabbed one of the gifts he'd brought figuring it could come in handy. "Okay, sweetie, let's see if we can get some of those snarls out." Esther nodded in general approval.
He balanced her on the bathroom counter and looked closely at her hair. It was tied back with a rubber band. A real rubber band. "Who in the world put that in your hair?"
Ian wasn't sure if that was Charlie or Colby. He would have thought that Charlie would know better. "I'm going to have to cut that off." He flicked out his pocket knife, gave the band a quick cut and sighed as it stayed in place. He checked his watch again. He hoped he had enough time.
"What do your daddies wash your hair with?"
Esther pointed to a shampoo/conditioner blend in a pink bottle with some cartoon character on it. He was going to have to give the boys a lecture after the party. "Right."
Ian rummaged around until he found a hard toothed comb, a glass and some proper conditioner. "Now watch how I do this so you can remind your daddies. They really should brush and braid your hair while you're in the bath but we're going to have to make do. One part conditioner, two parts water, and give it a good swish around." He filled the glass and dipped the comb in. "Now, always start from the bottom of your hair and go in bits so it doesn't pull."
Esther nodded as Ian twisted her around so he could get to her hair. He check his watch again. At least the curls weren't matted. For a three year old she held remarkably still as he picked away at the tangles apologizing every time it pulled too much. She babbled happily about her birthday and her friends and things she was learning in preschool. Ian was impressed at her vocabulary level but it wasn't like she was being raised by complete idiots.
Luckily at only three Esther didn't have too much hair and it quickly shifted from frizz to dark ringlets. Ian was tempted to leave them down but with the weather being what it was those ringlets would be snarled frizz again in an hour. He turned her around so she could take a look in the mirror. He eyes went wide and she shook her head back and forth watching her curls bounce around.
"We'll put your hair in braids later so it doesn't get tangled again. Now what were you going to wear?"
Esther just looked down at herself and shrugged.
He lifted her down to the floor. "How about if you open that present and tell me what you think."
They yellow wrapping paper with purple hearts was quickly shredded and the box inside opened. Esther pushed aside the tissue paper and her jaw dropped open. Ian had seen the little dress in the window of a shop that specialized in quinceanera and wedding dresses. It was yellow and frilly and came with white shoes and matching hair bands. He'd made a wild guess on the size and had no idea if Esther was the kind of girl who even liked frilly dresses but it was just too insanely cute.
Esther hugged the dress and jumped up and down.
"So would you like to wear that?"
She made a squealing noise, all that advanced vocabulary going out the window.
"I'll take that as a yes."
That ability to hold still also seemed to go out the window as Ian tried to clean her face and braid her hair once the dress was on. He snapped the last hair band into place at the end of a braid and watched as Esther sprinted from the bathroom, she slightly too large new shoes clicking on the hard wood floors. He followed at a more steady pace.
At the bottom of the steeps Colby was holding Esther in the air at arm's length. "What in the world is that and where did you get it?"
She pointed at Ian.
"It's called a dress, Granger. Mostly worn by girls, which is what your have unless informed differently at a future date."
Colby looked at Ian then back at Esther. "Do you like your dress?" Esther nodded vigorously. "Okay. Why don't you go show your daddy." He put her down and she sprinted off towards the kitchen, then he looked back at Ian.
"What? She's a little girl, there's nothing wrong with a frilly dress on her birthday."
"She's going to get it covered in grass and cake."
Ian shrugged. "That's what three year olds do."
Ian had forgotten the raw chaos any quantity of small children in a group can bring. There were only ten kids but as they sprinted around the back yard it may as well have been fifty. Listening in on various conversations half of them seemed to be from the CalSci on-campus day care and the other half were from Esther's swimming class. Some of Don's team were also hanging around mooching leftover cake (not the soy, dairy, gluten, sugar free one).
"I'm not saying they're not good parents," Ian overheard one of the mothers saying as he went to grab another beer. "but it's about time they found someone to brush that poor child's hair." The other mother nodded in agreement. "I mean really, they must have put in some effort getting a baby to begin with, you'd think she'd be a little less frumpy. And once she starts school, well…"
Ian froze, trying to figure on just how many levels he should be offended by the woman's statements. Yes, rubber bands and curly hair are a bad combo, but considering the greater and obviously not widely known circumstances of Esther coming into Charlie's life she was turning out pretty good. He'd encountered plenty of kids that were already severely and probably permanently fucked up by age three. Frizzy hair and a little spoiled was not even a blip on the radar of parental fuck ups.
Ian was about to explain this, at length and detail, perhaps tossing in some second hand horror stories from a social services worker he dated for a while, when Alan clapped his hands and announced it was time to open presents. It was probably for the best. He was sure it was something of a social faux pas to start a fight at a kids birthday party.
It was pretty easy to guess which little group gave which presents. The CalSci parents had come with junior microscopes and telescopes, science books, and periodic table building blocks. The other gifts were more of a mix; dolls, picture books, and Thomas the Tank Engine. As for Ian's gifts; he'd gotten the invite a month in advance, thanks to Alan, and had gotten perhaps a few too many things just by going from town to town, seeing things in shop windows and deciding Esther might like it. There was a picture book set, a set of hand felted dolls, proper wooden Lincoln logs, a print of two friendly dragons that might look nice on her wall, a wooden sword and shield, plus the dress.
Colby have him a slightly sideways look. Ian shrugged. "I didn't realize how many things I'd gotten until I went to wrap them all."
"She's spoiled enough as is."
Ian just shrugged again.
Esther was about as polite as a three year old gets, mostly remembering to say thank you and prompted by Alan other times. Then she picked up her new sword and began to hit things with it once again setting off the chaos. This time all the Eppeses plus Colby leveled at look at Ian, as if it was somehow his fault that Esther decided a kid from her swim class was actually a dragon that needed to be slayed.
The cake was eaten, the wrapping paper gathered up, the children sent home, and Esther was passed out on one of the living room chairs her new white shoes striped green with grass. There were blue smudges from cake frosting standing out against the yellow of her dress and her sword was still clutched in her hand. Don, Alan, and Charlie flopped down on the couch. Colby took the other living room chair. "Let's not do that again anytime soon, okay?"
"Don't worry, Granger you've got a whole year to recuperate."
The sword slipped from Esther's fingers and clattered to the floor. She stirred for a moment then fell back asleep.
Colby looked at Ian. "A sword?"
"I saw it at a Renaissance Faire. Thought she might like it."
"Why were you.. Never mind. I'm too tired to even think about that."
Ian had actually been between jobs and ended up being dragged to one by a guy he was hoping to sleep with. That guy vanished half way through the day but he did pick up a very hot juggler with a slew of terrible puns.
Esther shifted again almost rolling off her chair. Alan was closest and managed to catch her before she joined her sword on the hardwood floor.
Colby scooped her out of Alan's arms. "I think someone needs to go properly to bed."
Esther mumbled and shook her head still mostly asleep. "Nope, definitely nap time."
Colby was half way up the stairs before she could make another objection.
"Ian, are you staying for dinner?" Alan asked, prying himself properly to his feet.
"If you're offering, I'd love to. As long as there's no sugar involved."