“Hey old man” Felix said in way of greeting as he and his family entered Britland’s backyard.
“Careful who you’re calling old” Carson cautioned giving the smaller man a glare.
“The big three oh” Felix continued with a devil-may-care grin. “That’s huge. I mean that’s old.”
“Your day is coming little man” Carson glowered turning back to the grill.
“By that time you’ll be what?” Felix paused for effect. Grinning when he had everyone’s attention he continued “halfway to forty?”
“Thirty-three is not half way to forty” Carson grumbled flipping the steaks.
“You’re right it’s not” Felix conceded “but what’s a couple of years?”
“Honey” Crystal warned coming along side her husband “maybe you should cool it with the old man talk.”
Frowning he glanced down at her. “Are trying to tell me I’m going overboard?”
Raising a hand she gauged the distance between her thumb and index finger “just a little dear.”
“Alright I’m sorry” he sighed. He gave her a contrite peck on the cheek. Over the seven years of their marriage Crystal had a way of helping him see when he was becoming obnoxious. Her gentle rebukes kept him from making enemies of their closest friends.
“Don’t tell me” she chided “tell him.” She pointed “apologize to him.”
“Sorry” he mumbled in the direction of Carson’s back.
“What kind of sorry ass apology is that” Carson demanded handing Britland the steaks and putting on some hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids.
“The only kind you’re going to get from me” Felix said with a grin.
“I tell the kids if you’re going to apologize you should at least make it sound like you’re sorry” Carson raised an eyebrow at him. “You sound more like you’re afraid of your wife than sorry for hurting my feelings.”
“Were your feelings hurt” Felix asked. “I had no idea you were so sensitive about your age.”
“I’m not” he objected.
“You are” Felix insisted “otherwise you wouldn’t be so grumpy now.”
“Cool it you two” Britland glared at his best friend “this is supposed to be a party not a pissing match between the two of you.”
“Babe you’re absolutely right” Carson set his grilling tongs down to pull the blonde close.
“I’m sorry” he murmured before kissing Britland in front of everyone in the yard.
“Eew gross” Beckett complained loudly.
“I think its sweet” Adalynn said pretending to swoon.
“Hey dumb dumb you supposed to catch her” Beckett jabbed Rush in the side.
“How was I supposed to know that” Rush demanded glaring at the other boy.
“Girls always swoon over mush like that and expect us to catch them.” Beckett gave his friend a penetrating look “don’t you know anything?”
“More than you” he mumbled shoving his hands inside his pants pockets. Somehow Beckett always found a way of making him feel stupid.
“Prove it” Beckett challenged the older boy.
Rush held his ground staring at the younger boy. Even though Beckett was two years younger he was an inch or two taller. A fact that made Rush feel even smaller for his age. Before things could escalate further Rush looked down when someone took his hand. He met his sister’s eyes. They were round with fear “don’t fight” she pleaded.
His body relaxed as the anger seemed to melt from him. “I’m hungry” he announced “let’s get something to eat.” He smiled down at her. When she returned his smile he knew he had made the right decision.
“Don’t walk away from me” Beckett called after him “this isn’t over.”
“Give it a rest” Adalynn advised “we’re supposed to be friends remember?”
“We are” Beckett said “it’s just a friendly challenge. I know I’m smarter than him.”
“Are not” his twin contradicted.
“I am” he insisted stomping his foot to emphasize his words.
“You’re not even as smart as me” Adalynn giggled “otherwise you wouldn’t need me to do your homework.”
“There’s a difference between not knowing how and not wanting to do something” he pointed out.
Her eyes narrowed “then you won’t mind doing your own homework from now on.”
“Whatever” he mumbled.
“Daddy” Rush began then stopped. Fiddling with his fingers he stared at the floor.
“What is it son” Carson asked turning from the sink, tossing his towel aside to give his son his undivided attention.
“When will I get bigger” he raised his light green eyes from his toes to meet his dad’s gaze.
Carson could see the anguish in the light green eyes. It reminded him of the many times Britland had looked at him in the same way when they first met. “Everyone grows at a different rate. You’ll get bigger when the time is right.”
“But when” his voice rose as his bottom lip quivered and his eyes became moist with tears.
From experience Carson knew a hug wouldn’t fix the problem. No matter how much he wanted to just pull his son close and tell him everything would be ok. “Follow me son” he led the way to the living room where he sat on the couch. “When I was your age I was small for my age too.”
Rush jerked his chin up “you were? But you’re so big now.”
“I grew up.” He smiled gently at his son “you’ll grow up to.”
“I wish I were big now” he mumbled slumping back on the couch.
“I know it sucks that you have to wait but it’ll happen.” He noticed Bristol quietly playing with dolls in the corner of the room where her dollhouse was set up. “Did something happen…”
“No” Rush replied hastily.
Bristol turned from her dolls “that’s not true. Beckett was being mean today.”
“Don’t” Rush warned glaring across the room at her.
“But he was” she insisted determined to tell now that she started. “He was picking on Rush for being littler than him and he’s only six.”
Rush groaned burying his face in the couch cushions.
“Thank you sweetie” Carson smiled at her. The worried frown relaxed as she smiled back obviously relieved she wasn’t in trouble for being a tattle tale. “Why don’t you go help Daddy with the dishes?”
“Ok” she said easily as she carefully put her dolls away.
“Don’t be upset with your sister” Carson admonished the back of his son’s purple head, his face hidden inside the couch. “I need to know these things so I can help you. You don’t have to hurt alone.”
“I wasn’t hurt” he denied his voice muffled “besides they’re just words.”
“Stop right there” Carson ordered. “You and I both know words hurt. Don’t try to pretend otherwise.” He considered his young son a moment. Beckett had the same lack of empathy his father had. They both had the ability to go overboard when they were teasing someone. He’d have to discuss this with Britland later. Right now he was more concerned with how to extract Rush from the seat cushions.
Sitting up Rush wiped at his red rimmed eyes. “I don’t want to be little any more.”
“I know” Carson kept his voice solemn not wanting to give his son the impression he was making fun of him or taking his situation lightly. “I can’t make you grow faster. I wish I could. That part of growing up is out of my control.”
“What can I do” he cried in near panic. “It’s not just Beckett. He’s tame compared to the kids at school. Most of the girls are bigger than me.” His cheeks reddened as his thoughts went to how Missy had thrown him over her shoulder and carried him across the playground like some sort of crazy cave woman. It hadn’t been so bad up until that happened.
“How about taking karate lessons” Carson asked “just don’t go around karate chopping everything and everyone.”
“Not even Missy?”
Carson looked over his shoulder where his husband and daughter were finishing up the dishes. He was inclined to give Rush his approval. The girl was built like a tank and was at least two years older. “You have my permission to protect yourself. If Missy tries to pick you up again you do whatever’s necessary to prevent that from happening again.”
“I don’t want to hurt her” Rush said quietly “she is after all a girl even if she is mean.”
“I’m sure you’ll learn how to defend yourself by other means then hitting in karate” Carson assured him. “Come here and give your old man a hug.”
“You’re not old” Rush protested as he wrapped his arms around him “you’re the best.”
Carson watched him walk away after that towards his room. He smiled thinking that only his son would be concerned about hurting someone who had made his life miserable at school. Missy’s parents had done little if anything to correct their daughter’s behavior. She chased after all the boys. Rush just happened to be the unlucky one she had been able to catch.
“What are you smiling about?” Britland asked as he sat beside Carson on the couch.
“Don’t be shocked when you get calls from the school….” He stopped laughing at the exasperated expression Britland gave him.
“Why would they be calling” he prompted.
“I told Rush he could do whatever was necessary to keep Missy from picking him up.” He could see the instant disapproval in Britland’s gentle green eyes. “Don’t worry. Rush is as tender-hearted as you. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“That’s something at least but I don’t understand.” He shook his head at his husband. “If he doesn’t like the idea of hurting anyone why will the school be calling?”
He gave Carson a dubious look “is that supposed to be a joke?”
Shaking his head Carson pulled the blonde into his lab. “No it’s not. I think it’ll be a good idea for him to feel he can protect himself. It’ll help him build up his confidence. I think once he knows he can defend himself if necessary then he’ll have a lot less problems with the other kids.”
Wrapping his arms around his husband’s neck Britland stared thoughtfully into Carson’s eyes. “Alright we’ll give it a try.” He raised a finger to Carson’s lips before the other man could say anything. “If we get any calls from irate parents you get to talk to them.”
“Deal.” In one swift move Carson rolled Britland onto the couch beneath him. “Now I want to unwrap my birthday present.” He pressed his lips to Britland’s muffling any response he may have wanted to make.
Once his husband released his lips Britland smirked up at him. “This is no place to be unwrapping presents.”
“I think right here is perfect” he reached for Britlands belt buckle as his lips moved down his neck. His fingers from his other hand skimming beneath his shirt.
Moaning with desire Britland ran his hands up Carson’s back releasing his hair from its clip. The click of his buckle releasing jolting him back to reality. “Not here. The kids” he whispered.
“They’re asleep” Carson groaned his hands gliding over Britland’s body.
Squirming beneath the larger the man Britland could feel himself relenting, wanting, needing more of this man’s touch. Only the thought of the kids coming out and seeing them. Plus the knowledge that he’d never be able to see the kids sitting on the couch again without seeing what they did on it kept him from giving in. “The bedroom. Please.” It was a weak request. They both knew a little persuasion and his reserves would break.
Sitting back with effort Carson brushed his hair back. “I know what you’re thinking” he smiled. Standing he held his hand out to Britland.
Taking it Britland asked “what am I thinking?”
“You’re remembering how grossed out you were seeing Felix doing the neighbor on the couch.” He swept Britland into his arms “and you don’t want to traumatize the children the same way.”
“You know me too well” he leaned his head onto Carson’s shoulder. After a moment he stretched to place his lips close to Carson’s ear whispering “bedroom. Now.”
The need and urgency in the low husky whisper was all Carson needed to propel him forward. “Your wish is my command” he said his voice deep with desire.
“Can I go outside” Rush closed his book with a decisive thud. He sighed turning sideways to look out the window where he could see the sun shining brightly, inviting him outside to enjoy its late afternoon glow.
“Is your homework finished” Britland asked trying not to be swayed by the wistful look on his son’s face.
The slight stutter was enough for Britland to frown. “You know the rules. Homework first. Then play.”
“I know it’s just” he sighed. He hated reading. Well that’s not exactly true. It was mostly just this one book. “I have to read” he mumbled looking longingly out the window.
“Is it the same book” Britland asked. He smothered a smile at the woeful face his son was giving him. Knowing he might regret this decision he asked “if I let you go outside to play for an hour will you promise to read your book when it’s time to come back inside?”
“Yes” he smiled jumping from his chair to throw his arms around his dad. “You’re the best.”
“I thought that was your other dad” Britland chuckled as the little arms squeezed tighter.
“Your both the bestest” Rush enthused “just in different ways.”
Ruffling his son’s hair Britland smiled “hurry up and go outside. Enjoy yourself.”
Without further encouragement Rush ran for the door. The first thing he did was look around to find Bristol. Calling her name he walked towards the swing set first. He found her near the gate instead talking to a blonde man in a suit.
Calling her name again she jumped moving a few steps away from the man. “That’s my brother Rush” she said to the man.
Coming to a stop beside his sister Rush eyed the man. “We’re not supposed to talk to strangers” he informed them.
“He’s not a stranger” she protested “he’s our grandpa.”
“Who told you that” he demanded reaching for her hand before she was able to unlatch the gate.
“He did” she pointed at the pleasant seeming older man.
“He’s lying” Rush assured her.
“It could be true” she insisted “we’ve never met this grandpa from the city before.”
The way she said it made it sound like he was from another world. “Go get Daddy” Rush told her “he’ll be able to tell us if he’s really our grandpa.”
“Just do it Bristol” he growled “for all we know he could be some weirdo who takes kids from their homes. He could be lying when he said he was our grandpa.” Pushing the girl towards the house he repeated “go get Daddy.”
Bristol took one last suspicious look at the blonde man before turning and running towards the house. The man smiled down at Rush. “You’re pretty smart. I knew you would be.” He reached over the gate to unlatch it from the outside.
“Stay back” Rush warned taking the one karate stance he had learned so far in his lessons.
“I’m not here to hurt you” the man gave him a friendly smile “I am your grandfather.”
“I don’t care. I don’t know you” Rush kept a wary eye on the man as he came closer “I’ll scream if you come any closer.”
Putting his hands up he chuckled a little. He took a moment to look around the yard. Grunting he muttered “this is what my son wanted to give you. My grandson living in this middle class mediocrity.” Turning his gaze back to the boy “you could have so much more than this. Come with me and I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted.” He held his hand out as if he was sure Rush would accept this offer.
“Anything” Rush asked “including a puppy.” He relaxed just enough for the man to grab him. Panic gripped him as the man started to pull him towards the gate he’d left open. Rush heard the back door of the house open and close. He knew Daddy was coming. A hand went around his mouth as he tried to scream.
“Let him go” Britland yelled running towards them.
Rush’s eyes grew wide at how angry and scared his daddy sounded. He’d never heard him sound like that before.
“He’s my grandson” the man hauled Rush closer to the open gate. A car with dark windows was parked nearby.
Rush could see the fear in his dad’s eyes as one of the car doors opened and someone got out. Desperate now Rush kicked out with his feet smashing into the man’s knee. He could feel the man’s grip relax enough for him to wriggle free but it wasn’t enough. Someone grabbed his ankle dragging him across the ground. “Daddy help. Don’t let him take me.”
After that he wasn’t sure what happened. There were a lot of feet he had to dodge to keep from being trampled. People were shouting and yelling. Over all was the welcome sound of police sirens coming to the rescue.
The silence afterwards was almost worse than the fighting. Daddy had blood running down the side of his face. The strangers had been handcuffed and standing to the side glaring at everyone. “Daddy” he whispered clutching his hand “he’s not really my grandpa is he?” He could see the answer in his dad’s eyes before he even opened his mouth. It made is stomach burn and rumble uneasily that he could be related to someone so awful.
“I wish I could tell you differently” Britland knelt beside him drawing him close. “I want you to remember that being a grandpa is more than just sharing the same blood.”
Sniffing Rush snuggled deeper into his dad’s arms seeking warmth and safety. “He didn’t act like a grandpa should. I don’t like him.”
“Oh my gawd” Carson’s strained voice made them both look up.
Standing Britland hurried over to meet him with Rush in his arms. “We’re ok” he assured him.
Touching Britland’s bruised and bleeding face Carson blinked back tears. “Did did my da…that man do this to you?”
“You should have seen him dad” Rush interrupted “Daddy wouldn’t let that man take me. I even used some karate on them. It slowed him down some.” He leaned over wrapping his arms around Carson’s neck.
Britland let Carson take Rush from his arms sensing they needed each other. “Go inside. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”
Nodding Carson walked inside too stunned to object. He found Bristol standing by a window watching everything..
It was late by the time Britland made it inside for the night. The police had left and Bristol was with her grandparents for the night. He shivered trying not to dwell on how close they had come to losing their son that day. Walking into the bedroom found his husband and son sound asleep each clutching tightly to the other. With a soft smile he realized that was the best ending he could have wished for under the circumstances.