“No,” Blane said. He blushed. “That’s not what I mean.”
Heather grinned at his modesty. He was smart, kind, and very handsome. He was hit on by a lot of men and women everywhere he went.
“My point is this — they’d both been married to women,” Blane said. “They’d gone to Vietnam and returned to their high school girlfriends. Like good little boys, they married these girlfriends and had kids. One had four kids and the other three. These men hated their wives. Just despised them. They felt like these women forced them to be something they weren’t. The men met when their children were small and carried on together …”
“Cheating,” Heather said. “Let’s agree not to go behind each other’s back. That’s cheating.”
Blane acknowledged her reframe with a nod.
“Their wives didn’t know. They stayed in their marriages until the children graduated high school,” Blane said. “One day, they just left — walked out. They bragged about how shocked and devastated these ‘bitches’ were, as if these poor women got what they deserved. They felt like they had slaved away at jobs to support their wives’ ‘brats.’ Of course, the ‘brats’ didn’t want anything to do with their fathers.”
“Sounds like they have smart kids,” Heather said.
“No doubt,” Blane said. “Of course, that was their ex-wives fault that the kids hate their fathers.”
“Why is that not a surprise?” Heather asked.
Blane’s eyes shifted to Heather for a moment, as if he was assessing her words. After a moment, he nodded and continued.
“Their vitriol was at their wives, their old life, even their kids — it was… shocking. You’d have to be insane to not think your kids would hate you after how you treated their mother. But the fathers felt abandoned by their kids, who they suffered so much for…”
“Like their kids asked them to suffer,” Heather said.
“ … which they blamed on their now ex-wives,” Blane said.
“Of course,” Heather said.
“The Queers both quit their jobs leaving their wives penniless,” Blane said.
“After all, the children were already gone,” Heather said. “They didn’t have to pay these women to raise children anymore.”
Blane gave her a sad nod.
“One of the mothers lost everything,” Blane said. “They used to laugh about how she had to move back to her parents’ home or be homeless. The other woman caught Hep C from them. So funny, ha-ha — marry a woman, impregnate her, get her sick, and leave her penniless. Ha-ha. So funny. Let’s tell the story and laugh again. After all, these women deserved it because they had the gall to marry the Queers in the first place.”
“Doesn’t sound really brave,” Heather said.
“No, it’s not brave,” Blane said.
“Doesn’t sound like you or me then,” Heather said.
Blane shrugged. Blane and Heather sat with their own thoughts for a moment.
“I was driving home and had this panic that Enrique would return to our lives,” Blane said. “Take over my life. Our life. Our boys lives! I think I had a full blown panic attack. My heart was pounding and my ears ringing. I could see you and Tres getting together and Enrique running my life. You’d push me aside, and I’d … have to fight for custody for the boys and … I’d lose because Mack’s not my biological son … Oh, God, losing Mack would kill me … and no one would let me have Wyn without Mack and … I mean how can a disgusting faggot be trusted with a child? The whole world would look into our life and judge us: ‘How could she believe that the creature loved her?’ ‘How do they have sex?’ ‘What about sex!? They must have sex all the time! They never have sex! How can they survive?’ ‘She’s such a fool! He’s such a louse!’”
“A louse?” Heather asked with a smile.
She took his shaking hands into hers. He blew out a breath.
“I’d really hate that,” Blane said.
“I’d really hate that, too,” Heather said with a smile. “What if we just don’t …”
“Do that?” They finished the question in unison. Heather’s head went up and down in a slow nod. His head mimicked hers in a nod. He smiled causing her to grin at him.
“No jealousy,” Heather said.
“We can try,” Blane said. “I don’t want to let you go.”
“Then don’t,” Heather said, with a shrug. “I don’t want to let you go, either.”
“It will take lots of conversation,” Blane said.
“Honesty,” Heather said.
“Always honest,” Blane said. “Yes.”
“What is it?” Heather asked.
“There were these men …” He looked up to see if she was listening. She nodded. “When I was a chef, before Enrique, I think or … anyway … There were these two old guys; they called themselves ‘Queers’. They came in every Thursday night and always asked to have me visit their table. They wanted me to come home with them. It had to be before Enrique because Enrique was so possessive that they would never want to risk his wrath. Of course, that didn’t stop Enrique from spending a few nights with them.”
“I’m not very possessive,” Heather said. “Or violent.”
“But you are a Goddess,” Blane said. “You could really fuck my shit. For the rest of this life and any other.”
“Why would I do that?” Heather asked.
Rather than answer, Blane continued his story.
“So, these two old queers would come in on Thursday nights and ask to see the chef,” Blane said. “They’d proposition me. I didn’t think much about it because …”
“Lots of men propositioned you,” Heather said.
“No,” Blane said. He blushed. “That’s not what I mean.”
After a day of watching toddlers, Heather and Blane were sitting in the kitchen of the Yellow House enjoying a rare quiet moment alone. Tink and Chet had gone to City Park to watch Sissy and Ivan dance. Mack and Jabari had fallen asleep where they stood when the other children left with Honey. The toddlers were asleep in Mack’s bed upstairs. Wyn was sleeping in his car seat on the counter. Tanesha had already left for her work on the mobile medical unit.
“Are you thinking …?” Heather asked.
“I never thought I’d live this long,” Blane said, cutting her off. “Every day is a gift. Every single day. That’s what I’m thinking. I know we talked a lot about it when we got married, when we had Mack, and then again when we had Wyn. I just never thought …”
He shook his head.
“I’d survive,” Blane said. “It never occurred to me that I would still be here.”
Heather covered his hand with hers.
“All of it, all of this,” Blane gestured around him, “all of it is because of you. So no, I’m not thinking about running off with some guy or dating or … I don’t want to change anything. Not one thing.”
Heather’s eyes pinched a bit and she looked away from him.
“I was just telling you that I ran into Nelson,” Blane said.
Nelson Weeks was a bodybuilder that Blane had met when Blane served bar at the Church Nightclub to catch the drug dealers that were pushing drugs on Jeraine. Nelson was there to help out, as well. Nelson worked with Ava O’Malley in the Best Backup Lab at the Denver Crime Lab. He was smart, funny, and friendly. He’d spent time with Heather and the kids while Blane was in the hospital.
“When you went out to get more snacks for the kids,” Heather said.
“He seemed surprised to see me,” Blane said. “Surprised to see how well I was. He mentioned it a couple of times. We shopped together and checked out. It wasn’t romantic.”
“How did you feel?” Heather asked.
Blane sighed and looked away from her.
“It felt like … I had a friend, I guess,” Blane said. “Like someone other than you or Jake or Aden was happy to see me, just me. Not me as a dad or an acupuncturist or really any of the other roles in my life.”
“Were you glad to see him?” Heather asked.
“I was,” Blane said. “Now, I feel guilty and stupid, like I’ve risked losing my entire life by running into some guy at the store. And …”
Blane stopped talking. His hand went to his stomach as if he was ill.
“Enrique,” Heather said.
“I …” Blane said.
Heather fell silent to give him space to talk. After a moment, she got up to turn on the electric pot for tea on the other side of the kitchen. Both lost in thought, neither said anything. He was still rubbing his belly when she returned with two cups of mint tea. He nodded and took a mug from her.
Almost everyone had left to watch Ivan and Sissy dance in City Park at the Thatcher Fountain. Mike and Jacob were setting up a computer so that Valerie could watch. She knew that across town, Wanda was watching on her telephone. Valerie hated those phones, so the computer was better.
Jackie’s head was on Valerie’s belly and her new child was in her arms. They’d finally decided to call him, Edward Perses Lipson-Roper, after Edward Teach, the notorious Blackbeard. Since Jackie was named after a famous pirate, it was only fitting that their son held his own with a pirate name as well. Valerie liked that Blackbeard avoided violence by creating a terrifying image.
“Eddie,” Valerie said.
She touched his tiny chin. He opened and closed his eyes. Valerie had been really lucky. Like Jackie, he seemed to be a mellow baby. She smiled. It had only been a few hours.
“Mommy?” Jackie’s sleep voice came from her mid-section.
Valerie touched her daughter’s head.
“Are you going to love Eddie more?” Jackie asked.
“No,” Valerie said. “Differently. Like I love Daddy and Uncle Jake with all my heart, but differently.”
She felt Jackie’s head nod against her. They fell into a light doze. Mike crept into the room with a wireless computer monitor. Jacob had set it up so that Valerie could watch the dancing.
“I’m awake,” Valerie said as the men were leaving.
Mike turned around and went to the bed. The screen was dark for a moment before Teddy’s feed of the dancers at the park came up. Valerie watched in relaxed silence.
“Any news about the kids?” Valerie asked.
Mike shook his head. He looked at her for a long moment.
“What?” Valerie asked.
“My Dad says that none of those children are related to me in anyway,” Mike said. “He says he just ‘knows.’”
“They took the kids to get some food and clothing,” Mike said. “They just called. They’re on their way over to meet Eddie. Jill and Abi are getting the extra room in the loft ready for them, so there’s nothing for anyone to do. They can stay tonight there if they’d like to.”
“It’s so late,” Valerie said.
“I guess the whole thing is a mess,” Mike said. “They were able to get the kids settled, but the kids have been in chaos for a long time.”
“Like Teddy and his brother and sister,” Valerie said.
“They have a place they can stay for a month or so,” Mike said. “Their caseworker is looking for any extended family. But no one seems to know much about Jazmyne’s side of the family and her partner is dead. The partner’s parents had cut her off when they found out that she was gay.”
Valerie clucked in empathy.
“Now that she’s dead, they’re coming around wanting to know what money they get from her estate,” Mike said. “They don’t seem to care about the kids, at least that’s what the caseworker said.”
“That doesn’t sound nice,” Jackie said.
Mike pulled the little girl onto his lap and kissed the top of her head. Valerie scowled over the entire mess.
“It’s other people’s problems,” Mike said. “We can help but we can’t …”
“Fix it,” Valerie said.
“Mostly, I wanted you to know that my mom was on her way,” Mike said.
“Thanks,” Valerie said.
“She wants to see Sissy and Ivan,” Mike said. “She feels close to Sissy because she helped Sissy get back on her feet.”
“She was very kind,” Valerie said, “to Sissy, I mean.”
Mike grinned at her clarification, and Valerie smiled.
“Are you okay if they just drop in, see the baby …” Mike said. “You know, like our son was a creature in the zoo?”
Valerie laughed at Jill’s description of them checking in on her twins.
“I’m okay,” Valerie said. “Happy. Eddie is …”
“He’s very beautiful, Mommy,” Jackie said.
“He is,” Mike said.
Valerie smiled. They heard Anjelika’s voice in their apartment living room.
“That was fast,” Valerie said.
She looked at Mike. He mouthed, “Zoo.” Carrying Jackie, Mike went to the door to welcome Anjelika and Perses into their bedroom.
“Remember that week long argument Nash and I had?” Aden asked.
“I’m not likely to forget it,” Sandy said.
“Life simply went on,” Aden said. “I was allowed to be mad. Nash was allowed to be mad. We had a few blow ups, but …”
“No one took sides or judged,” Sandy said.
“They seemed to trust that we’d work it out,” Aden said.
“You did,” Sandy said.
“I mean, it’s a weird mix of everyone being in your business and everyone minding their own business,” Aden said.
“I just keep thinking that it’s going to end,” Sandy said.
Aden looked at her for a long moment before putting his arm around her shoulders.
“Because that’s what you want?” Aden asked.
“Because it’s good, I think,” Sandy said.
“At some point, all of our kids will be gone,” Aden said with a nod.
Rachel ran across the grass toward them. Thinking Rachel was running to her, Sandy cleared her lap. Rachel dove at Charlie. He deftly caught her. He situated the little girl in front of him and put his arms around her. Sandy smiled at them.
“Things will change,” Sandy said. “But you’re saying that you’re still happy there.”
“Me, too,” Sandy said.
Aden and Sandy watched the dancers for a few minutes.
“What’s happening with Nuala?” Sandy asked about Nash and Noelle’s biological mother. She’s recently resurfaced and wanted money from Aden. “You had a conference with her attorney today.”
Aden shrugged. He looked at her.
“Nothing’s happening,” Aden said.
“Nothing?” Sandy asked.
“She’s making her demands,” Aden said. “We’re refusing them. She’s still in New York.”
“No movement at all?” Sandy asked.
“I don’t think she wants movement,” Aden said. “As long as I’m responsible for all of her problems, and responsible for fixing all of her problems, she doesn’t have to get well or change her own life.”
“It’s just sad,” Sandy said after a while.
“Why?” Aden asked.
“She has really great kids,” Sandy gestured to where Noelle and Nash were helping Teddy with the cameras. “She doesn’t get to be a part of their lives.”
“I don’t think she wants to be a part of their lives,” Aden said.
“Why would you say that?” Sandy asked.
“Because if she was, she’d have to give up being the child herself,” Aden shook his head. “That’s simply not going to happen.”
“You sound heartbroken,” Sandy said.
“Frustrated,” Aden said. “Angry. Sick of having to deal with it.”
He looked at Sandy.
“Delphie told me that there will be an end to it in the next couple of weeks,” Aden said.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Sandy said.
Aden nodded. He pointed to where Tink and her brother, Chet, were talking.
“Chet seems like he’s doing well,” Aden said.
“I think it’s like Nuala,” Sandy said.
“The next few weeks will tell?” Aden asked.
Sandy nodded. Aden shrugged with his eyes. They fell silent as they enjoyed the cool night and the dance.