“It’s not? There’s more?”
“Yes!” She clapped her hands. “We’re gonna put on a Valentine’s Day play for the King and Queen! All of us. Even the little kids. Even Gracie. It’s all set up in my bedroom. Everyone is waiting for me to bring the king so the show can start.”
His theatrical daughter loved to put on a show. That meant impromptu costumes and props from the barn and cardboard backdrops done in crayon, and live music—usually kazoos, a xylophone, maracas, drums and a harmonica—basically full out chaos, kids fighting and screaming and crying, popcorn on the carpet and spilled juice. A total mess that’d take three days to clean up.
He couldn’t wait to be a part of it.
Cam adjusted his crown, smiled at his daughter, and bowed formally, while holding onto his crutches. “Well, then, Princess Liesl, lead the way.”
She giggled. “Daddy, You’re silly.”
“That’s your highness to you, young lady. Come on. The King of Hearts can’t keep his subjects waiting, can he?”
Rough Road: Chapter One
“Mama, what’s a faggot?”
Chassie’s entire body seized up and she nearly dropped the bowl she was washing. She turned her head and met the startled eyes of her husband Trevor, who was packaging leftovers on the counter beside her. She managed to ask, “Where’d you hear that word?” in a steady voice.
“At school. A third-grader said my dads were faggots.”
She briefly closed her eyes. Living an unconventional lifestyle in a conservative rural area guaranteed this question would come up at some point—but she hadn’t expected it this soon. Their six-year-old son Westin had just started first grade a month ago.
Chassie rinsed and dried her hands before she turned around. “How about if we wait to talk about it until Papai is done giving Max his bath? You can stay up a little later tonight.”
Westin’s big blue eyes were somber, suspicious of the bribe. But he nodded and returned to his “homework”—an activity book they’d purchased after his disappointment at not having schoolwork every night in first grade.
Trevor came over and set his hands on her shoulders. He kissed her temple and whispered, “Come on, Chass. Baby, take a deep breath. We’ll get through this. That word doesn’t have the power to destroy what we’ve built unless we let it.”
She nuzzled his jaw. “I know that. It’s just...”
“Mama!” A little person slammed into the backs of her legs. She glanced down. A naked little person.
Two-year-old Max grinned at her, his brown eyes triumphant, his dark hair sopping wet.
Edgard sauntered into the kitchen, a bath towel draped over his forearm. “That boy is as slippery as an eel.” He wrapped the towel around Max like a straightjacket and hoisted him up amidst Max’s happy shrieks and giggles. “Kiss Mama and Daddy goodnight, little streaker. Then if we can wrassle your jammies on fast, we’ll have time for one book.”
Chassie smooched both of Max’s chubby cheeks and smoothed her hand over his wet hair. “’Night, Max. Love you.”
Trevor kissed Max’s forehead. “Love you son, ’night.”
Edgard’s gaze winged between Chassie and Trevor. He mouthed, “Problem?”
“I’ll fill you in upstairs. I need to check on Sophia anyway,” Trevor said. He looked at Chassie. “I’ll tuck her in if she hasn’t already crashed.”
Four-year-old Sophia ran at such high speed all day that many nights she conked out while watching TV or playing in her room.
The guys disappeared upstairs.
Chassie finished cleaning the kitchen and headed to the basement to throw a load of clothes in the washer. Her mind had locked on Westin’s question. She knew one thing about her thoughtful son—the taunt hadn’t been tossed at him just today. Westin tried to figure things out on his own, so she worried he’d been dealing with defining the nasty word for longer than a day.
She leaned against the wall, fighting tears, fighting memories of the cruelty directed at her growing up. The jeers—lazy Indian, ugly squaw—still lingered years later. Back then she’d been so shy she hadn’t fought back. Her brother Dag might’ve gone after her tormentors, but he’d been fighting his own demons. No doubt he’d had the word faggot hurled at him.
What really caused that long ago hurt to deepen was the knowledge that if their father had known Dag’s sexual orientation, he would’ve flung that word at his son without hesitation.
When Chassie, Edgard and Trevor decided to add kids to their family, they all three worked every day to make sure their children knew they were loved. To make sure their children knew their parents loved each other. And to show them that love is what built and what sustained their lives. Especially when it was love that a lot of people didn’t understand.
Chassie held on to that thought as she scaled the stairs.
Westin spun around in his chair and looked at her.
She smiled. “How about a cup of hot chocolate while we’re waiting for Daddy and Papai? And I can check over your homework.”
Trevor found a pajama-clad Sophia asleep, stretched out on the floor, coloring books, crayons and chalk scattered around her. The girl burned with jealousy that Westin went to school all day, so she’d started her own school. Since her little brother, Max, was too young to sit still for longer than three minutes, she’d lined up her dolls and stuffed animals as students. She’d crafted individual desks out of boxes and set up her classroom. Such a creative, whimsical girl.
Trevor returned the crayons to the box and set her teaching supplies on her desk next to the pink plastic tea set. Then he scooped her into his arms and stepped around the debris strewn across the floor.
Sophie stirred briefly.
“Hey, sweetheart. It’s bedtime.”
“But, Daddy, I’m not tired.”
Trevor grinned. Much like her mother, the girl fought sleep, regardless if she was already asleep. “In you go.” Trevor laid her on the unmade bed. He pulled off her socks and tucked the purple satin covers around her.
She gave him a sleepy smile and reached her arms up for a hug.
He closed his eyes and just held on to her, this sweet child who filled all their lives with so much joy. He nestled her head in the pillow and kissed her cheek. “That one is from Mama.” He kissed her other cheek. “That one is from Papai.” He kissed her forehead. “And that one is from me.” He brushed her long, dark hair over her shoulder. “Want the night light on?”
“Uh-huh.” Her gaze darted to the floor. “Can you get Mr. Tuttles? He’s scared to sleep on the floor.”
“Of course.” He still thought it a strange name for her favorite bear, but she’d chosen it out of the blue at age two and it’d stuck. He snagged the panda and tucked it next to her. “’Night, darlin’ girl. Love you.”
“Love you too, Daddy.”
Trevor plugged in the nightlight and left the door open a crack before he headed down the hallway to the master bedroom.
He removed his long-sleeved shirt and T-shirt, tossing them in the hamper along with his dirty jeans. After washing his face and arms, he slipped on a pair of black sweatpants and a gray tank top. He’d need to channel his frustration after they talked to Westin, because guaranteed he’d wanna punch the shit out of something.
Faggots. Who taunted a kid—a kind, innocent little boy—with that term?
You would have.
Goddamn. Trevor didn’t want to think along those lines, to remember the judgmental asshole he’d been at one time. He’d been raised that way—as had Chassie and Edgard—which was why they were raising their kids differently.
He perched on the edge of their gigantic custom-made bed, forearms resting on his thighs, his face aimed at the carpet. Westin and Sophia were aware their family was different from the norm. But due to divorces and remarriages, didn’t most kids these days deal with multiple parents? How was it anyone’s business how they lived in their own home? Or how they loved each other? He’d bet the ranch very few traditional family units were as attuned to each other as theirs. They had to work harder at communication because of having a third partner. And he wouldn’t have it any other way—regardless of the societal repercussions.
Footsteps fell across the carpet. A pause. “Did you mean to leave the light on in Sophia’s room?” Edgard asked.
“No. Guess my mind was elsewhere.” Trevor glanced up. “Was she still awake?”
“Nah. She just yanked the covers over her head. I shut the light off.”
“Thanks. And Max?”
“Out. He didn’t last through one book, let alone two.” Edgard gave Trevor a once-over. “We working out tonight?”
“I’ll need to hit the heavy bag after...”
“Trev, what’s goin’ on?”
So Trevor told him.
Edgard didn’t say anything. Then he crouched in front of Trevor to get his attention. “That’s not all of what’s bugging you.”
The man knew him so well. Trevor reached out and ran the back of his knuckles along Edgard’s jaw. He hadn’t shaved for a day and Trevor had the sudden need to feel beard burn on the inside of his thighs. On his chest. Scraping on his cheeks and neck as he kissed Edgard senseless.
“Dangerous to keep lookin’ at me like that, meu amor. Burning me alive with those fiery eyes of yours won’t make me forget the issue at hand, as much as I’d like to.”
“I know.” Trevor dropped his hand. “I fuckin’ hate that I used to be that type of kid Westin is dealin’ with. Anything I didn’t understand, I belittled. I laughed when I made kids cry. Laughed. Jesus. How many people I bullied growing up would say I’m getting what I deserve? Seeing my son cry.” He exhaled. “I’m to the point I can handle what anyone calls us. But it breaks my damn heart that Westin is hearing that shit.”