“Yes.”

“I’m Patricia Donkle.” The counselor’s gaze moved between Edgard and Trevor before returning to Chassie. “And they are?”

“Westin’s fathers. Trevor and Edgard Glanzer.”

“Oh. That’s...good you’re all here. We’re in these two rooms.”

Max had started to fuss so Trevor plucked him out of Chassie’s arms and carried him. Sophia remained close to Edgard.

As soon as the door to the conference room opened, Westin ran to Chassie, burying his face against her stomach.

“Hey, sweetie.” She tried to push him back but he wouldn’t budge; he’d curled himself around her completely. “You all right?”

Westin shook his head.

“Why don’t you all have a seat? I’ll bring in the other parents.”

“We’d prefer if you’d fill us in about what’s goin’ on first,” Edgard said.

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Chassie chose a seat at the end of the table and Trevor and Edgard flanked her, keeping the kids on their laps.

“Evidently one of our students has been saying inappropriate things to Westin. A situation none of us were aware of. But I learned today that it’s been going on for a couple of days. Isn’t that right, Westin?”

He nodded.

“The boy is two grades older and Westin had been ignoring him, but things escalated today. Westin, would you please tell your parents what happened?”

Westin kept his gaze focused on the carpet. “Robbie followed me around the playground yelling that my family was all faggots. So I punched him. And I’m not sorry. I’m not! He’s mean.” He dissolved into tears again.

Cassie looked to Edgard and Trevor for support. They were as shocked as she. None of them knew what to say.

“So, you understand why we need to deal with this matter as soon as possible.”

“Of course.” Chassie pulled Westin away from where he was clinging to her neck.

The counselor opened the adjoining door.

A man, woman and young boy entered, taking seats as far from them as possible.

The woman’s lip curled as she looked at the three of them. She turned her head and whispered behind her hand in her husband’s ear.

The pudgy boy knuckled away a tear and glared at Westin.

“Mr. and Mrs. Feckling have demanded Westin apologize to Robbie.”

Chassie’s arms tightened around Westin. “Westin will apologize as long as Robbie also apologizes.”

“For what?” Mrs. Feckling demanded. “That boy hit my son.”

“And your son bullied mine. On more than one occasion.”

“This is outrageous.” Mrs. Feckling addressed the counselor. “An apology is off the table. We want that little freak suspended from school. Who knows what else might set him off and he’ll start swinging again.”

“Your son has been calling Westin’s family horrid names for several days, Mrs. Feckling.”

“That doesn’t give him the right to use his fists.”

“Not even to defend himself against a bigger, meaner boy?” Chassie snapped.

“Maybe he should grow thicker skin,” the woman sneered. “Robbie didn’t say anything that isn’t true.” Her piggy-eyed gaze moved between Chassie, Edgard and Trevor and she shuddered. “You live a perverted lifestyle.”

“Our lifestyle isn’t the issue here,” Edgard said. “The fact of the matter is your son is a bully. And I’ll bet this is not the first time you’ve been called into the school to deal with his behavior.” He looked at the counselor and she nodded.

Mr. Feckling said nothing as Mrs. Feckling kept yapping. “What gives you the right to question our—”

“I’ve heard enough out of you. Cut to the chase,” Trevor said to the school counselor, cutting off Mrs. Feckling’s diatribe. “What happens now?”

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for violence, so Westin is looking at a two-day suspension from school.”

“Praise the Lord something makes sense around here.” Mrs. Feckling patted Robbie’s shoulder. “See? I told you we’d handle it.”

Robbie smirked.

Chassie wasn’t mad at the kid; he couldn’t help being a bully, a bigot and a homophobe since he was being raised by one.

The counselor faced Robbie’s parents. “Since the start of the school year we’ve also enacted a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, so your son will also be suspended for two days.”

“What? My son is punished for stating a truth? Look at them! That’s unnatural. It’s obvious they’re f—”

“I will caution you, Mrs. Feckling, to refrain from repeating the offensive language that your son used,” the counselor warned. “I will also remind you that just because previous complaints about your son bullying other children have been officially withdrawn, the unofficial incidents are on your son’s permanent record. If he keeps it up he might end up suspended for the entire year.”

“So that little”—she pointed at Westin—“freak gets preferential treatment?”

“Call my son a name again and I’ll show you exactly where he learned to punch,” Chassie said flatly.

Edgard and Trevor each put a hand on her thigh under the table. Thoughtful and supportive, but it wouldn’t hold her back from kicking ass if need be.

“Mrs. Glanzer, I know emotions are high right now, but threatening violence isn’t acceptable.” She gave Mrs. Feckling a stern look. “If I hear you refer to Westin by anything besides his given name, I will recommend a social services agency visit your home to ascertain whether your son is being verbally abused at home and lashing out with the same type of behavior at school.”

“How dare you! Our lawyer—”

“Sharon,” Mr. Feckling snapped. “Shut your mouth.”

She sent him a dirty look.

“As it sits, both Westin and Robbie will receive a two-day suspension starting tomorrow. They can return to school on Monday, but they must meet with me and the principal before attending class. Any questions?”

Silence.

“Then we’re finished.” The counselor stood.

So did the Feckling family. “Since we’re officially done, just let me say that no one wants this kid or any of your other kids at this school. We’re a Christian community and your amoral behavior disgusts us. You think my son speaking his mind is bad? You should hear what some of the other parents are saying about you three. I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”

“Not with attitudes like yours. What about your Christian tenets of judge not lest ye be judged?” Chassie asked.

“We have a right to judge because it protects our children from people like you who fly in the face of traditional family values.” She offered a smug smile. “And there’s only so much the school district can do to protect your child from this type of thing becoming a daily occurrence.”

“Is that a threat?” Trevor asked.

“It’s a promise.” The Fecklings swept out of the room.

Westin turned his head and looked at her. “Mama? Why does she hate us so much?”

“Because she’s so full of hate that she doesn’t understand love.” She kissed his forehead. “Let’s go home.”

The counselor looked frustrated. “I don’t understand people like her, but there are a dozen exactly like her that have kids at this school.”

“So you’re telling us that Westin might always have a rough go of it here?”

She nodded. “I’m sorry. I hate it. I’m trying to change things, but change is slow. And I feel it’s better to be upfront with you.”

“Thanks,” Trevor said. “We appreciate it.”

But Chassie was thinking, don’t be surprised if we aren’t here for school come Monday morning.

After they returned home, Chassie and Sophia went to deal with the goats. Edgard took Westin along to check cattle. Max had thrown a screaming fit in the car until he’d crashed from exhaustion. So Trevor was in the house while Max napped, working on BLM land lease renewals.

He’d gone to the kitchen for a cup of coffee when he saw Ramona West pull up.

She immediately bounded up the steps. She smiled at him through the glass door, but her smile dried seeing the tight set to Trevor’s face. He let her in. “This is a surprise.”

“What’s going on?”

“Did Chassie call you?

“No. I’m leaving tomorrow and I came to say goodbye. Has something happened?”

Trevor was the type who wanted to keep family business in the family.

Ramona has been your family since you married Chassie.

“Yeah. Have a seat. Want coffee?”

“Nah. I’m good. What’s going on?”

Trevor sat across from her. “When you watched the kids last weekend did Westin mention anything that’d been happening at school?”

Ramona nodded. “Nothing specific. Just that some kid was talking smack about his family.”

“Did he ask for your advice?”

“No, but I think he wanted to. He’s a deliberate thinker, isn’t he?”

“Very. But today, he took action and punched the kid who’s been bullying him. He got suspended from school. The other kid’s mother said a whole bunch of nasty shit to us about our perverted lifestyle. Not only was Westin in the room, so were Sophia and Max.”

She reached for his arm and squeezed. “Oh Trevor. I’m sorry. That’s horrible.”

“So now Chass has it in her head to pull Westin out and homeschool him. Part of me doesn’t disagree with that. But there’s a part of me thinks it’ll be worse for him—for all the kids in the long run if we do that.”

“And you’re beating yourself up because Westin didn’t choose the unconventional lifestyle you live—and he’s getting the backlash for it?”