A Life Lived

Chapter 5

By Dabeagle

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There are a lot of ways to make a steak. I no longer grill, because they make the parts out of cheap crap and charge a fortune, and then the interior parts go bad and cost an arm and a leg to replace, so you just go buy a new one. Fucking racket. I could stove-top cook them, but I'm lazy – so I showed the kid how to tenderize them, then put them in the marinade and let them sit while we worked on the rice. Spanish rice, as I call it, starts off with any rice you like, I suppose. You get some oil going in a pan and dump the rice in, then add saffron and diced tomatoes and cover and simmer for a while. Later you add in a half bag of frozen mixed veggies and some green olives with the juice, then get that mixed and cooked off before leaving it on the warmer.

I put the steaks in the oven, still in the marinade – I find it soaks in better if I do that. Then we boiled up the cauliflower, and I showed him how to make an easy cheese sauce. All told a pretty nice meal; some in Daisy's dish got her agreement as well.

“So. Your first sale today. I thought a nice meal would be a good way to celebrate,” I told him.

“I like it. Can I come with you tomorrow?”

“Probably. County called today while you were out with Annabelle. I guess we're going to have to get you to school for testing and to talk to a therapist.”

“About what?”

“Stuff at home. With your mom and dad.”

“Oh,” he said quietly.

I handed him a plate. “Remember what I said about taking responsibility earlier today?” He nodded. “Now, you're a smart kid. I want you to think about what I said and how that relates to this situation with your parents.”

I turned back and fixed my plate then turned to go to the table, but the kid hadn't moved and I nearly ran into him. I motioned him toward the table, and he joined me. We didn't say much to start with, but about five minutes in he set his fork down and looked at me. I raised an eyebrow at him and waited.

“So if I'd taken responsibility for the things I was doing to make my parents angry, then this wouldn't be happening right now.”

What a heartbreaking failure in logic.

“Hm. Well, no. I think I see why you thought that, but let's break that down and look for where we have room to think a different way.” I set my fork down. “Let's start with your first idea – you did something and it made your parents angry.”

“Yeah,” he said quietly.

“Now, people do things every day that make me angry, but I can't do to them what your parents did to you. There are limits to our responses. When parents discipline kids, the goal is to teach them, so they don't repeat whatever the behavior was.” I paused to let him consider that for a second. “So. Let's take one thing you did that upset your parents.”

He picked up his fork and pushed his food around for a moment. “I had milk.”

“Had milk?”

He nodded slowly. “Momma uses it for cooking. She told me to get water, but I got a glass of milk.”

“Okay. What happened then?”

He pressed his lips together and said, “She taped my hands together so I couldn't steal anything else.”

“Okay. So let's break that little bit of lunacy down,” I said with a sigh. “Let's say I told you to get water. But you wanted milk. Do you think you'd be able to ask me if you could have milk instead? Or would you feel like you had to sneak it?”

He frowned and looked up at me, as if he didn't understand.

“See. If you say to me that you're thirsty and I tell you there's plenty of water, you could ask if it's okay to have some milk. Now I might say I there's only a little left and I need it for cooking, and then you'd understand and get water or ask if there were any other options.”

He looked down, pushing his fork along his plate and making an annoying sound. “Momma says I have to take the options she gives me.”

“Well, yeah. Lots of times we do. Like I might tell you if you're thirsty, the water will satisfy you. But see, you had a choice to make, but so did your parents. There's an old saying – 'Make the punishment fit the crime'. So if you took something I told you not to, I'd have to ground you or something – give you a consequence, so you think next time that maybe you ought not to do that.”

He looked back up and squinted one eye. “So...Momma's wrong?”

“Well, not about you taking something you're not supposed to have, no. But she had choices in how to discipline you, too. Duct taping your hands together so you can't use them isn't exactly standard, I don't think.” I paused. “How long did she tape your hands for?”

“It was after dinner, so she said I had to keep it until after dinner the next day.”

I sighed and ran a hand through my thinning hair. “Well. That's just a little fucked up.”

“What's fucked up?”

I frowned. “Your mother's idea of consequences.”

“I mean...what fucked up means?”

“Oh. Uh. It means really, really messed up. But. It's one of those things like we talked about before that you shouldn't really say.”

“Oh. So...how is it, uh...messed up?”

I glanced at him and sighed. “Okay, so sure. You take something you're not supposed to. Maybe – maybe! - she tapes your hands for an hour or something. Something that you can't avoid thinking about, not like sending you to your room. But then she says okay, you did something wrong and let's make sure you understand why it was wrong and then she takes the tape off after a little while. It's not kosher, but it's not that extreme either. But 24 hours? How do you eat? How do you use the bathroom or wipe yourself?”

“Oh,” he said brightly. “You can't. No eating or using the bathroom either.”

I stared at him. “For taking a glass of milk?”

He nodded.

“Jesus H Christ,” I muttered. “That's just wrong.”

He looked at me steadily and then asked, “I'm wrong, or my momma's wrong?”

I lifted my chin up. “I don't like to speak poorly of kids’ parents right in front of them, but your momma sounds Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”

He smiled a little. “I like Coca Puffs. I had some for my birthday.”

I just didn't know how to respond to that, but I dimly realized I had to.

“Look. My point is that a parent has limits, too. They aren't allowed to do some things, and it seems like your parents probably broke some rules. So some people will want to talk to you about things that happened. You should just tell the truth when they talk to you. Be brave, because these people aren't there to hurt you.”

He scooped up some rice on his fork and paused. “What about school? You said school?”

“Oh. Right. I guess they need to test you. Where did you go to school before?”

He chewed his rice and swallowed. “I had school at home. Will I go to an actual school? I heard they have guns and stuff there.”

I shook my head. “That's happened, but it's not something for you to worry about right now. I think the idea is that they need to see what you've learned so far, so they can get you into classes and make sure you don't fall behind. So school work first, selling cars later.”

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

We were in the truck the next morning, just at the end of the drive, and I saw three kids, a boy and two girls, walking along the edge of the road. There were no sidewalks out here, but the plows had come by and there was no real shoulder to speak of, either.

“What in the Kentucky Fried chicken shit are they doing? They'll get run over.” I pulled out of the driveway and pulled up next to them. “Hey. Get off the road. You're going to get hit.” Daisy walked across the kid's lap to get a whiff of the kids up close.

The boy, maybe around the kid's age squared up and said, “We missed the bus, so we're walking to school.”

“Are we going to miss breakfast?” one of the girls asked.

“Didn't you have breakfast at home?” I asked.

“I thought breakfast was at Lulu's?” the kid said.

I eyed him. “That's because you're spoiled.” I looked back at the kids on the road. “Well?”

The boy looked like he was hiding something. “We eat at school.”

I grunted. That must mean they get free meals, so they likely didn't have food at home. What sort of a fucking world....

“Okay. Get in the back seat.”

The boy's eyes widened, but maybe he figured he wasn't getting kidnapped, since there was a kid in the truck already. He opened the back door and helped the girls, who looked a little younger than he did, get in. Once they were belted, I started up the road. I asked for them to tell me where to go, since I wasn't familiar with the schools. They weren't what you'd call chatty, but it only took about ten minutes to get there. They said thank you and got out, headed inside – the girls running, the younger screeching the way small kids do at random.

We headed over to Lulu's, and just after Jeannie had brought my coffee, the kid asked, “What's my advice for today?”

“Huh?”

“My advice. You give me a piece of advice every day.”

“Oh. Don't get run over?”

He tilted his head and dipped his chin. Bugger.

“Don't hang anything in the bathroom that has eyes. People will think it's looking at them while they crap.”

He blinked a few times and smiled a little. “Is all of your advice related to the bathroom?”

“It's a very important room,” I replied, sipping my coffee.

He got quiet for a minute and then asked, “Do I have to go back to school? I don't know anyone. Can't I just sell cars with you?”

“Well,” I said and sipped again, “thing is you never know what you might be good at. You need school to help you figure that out. You could get into things that are more fun than selling cars.”

He gave me a pinched expression. “Momma says they don't teach you anything useful at school.”

I sighed. “Look. Your mother-”

“McKenzie?” Jeannie interrupted.

“Yeah?”

“Would you come over here for a hot minute? Be right back, sweetie,” she said to the kid.

I got up and followed her. “You never call me sweetie,” I grumbled at her.

“That's because you're the Grinch.”

“To be fair, he just didn't like people.”

“True enough,” she said. Once we were out of sight of the table, she showed me the screen on her phone. “I'd never seen your kid there before, and I don't know if you've seen this yet, but...that poor fucking kid.”

“What are you going on about?”

She started a video. It was a news report about some allegedly abused kids, but as the reporter added details they went to a mug shot. It was some lady named Nola and the deputy that had come to my shop.

“This lady was making videos and posting them all about how she 'disciplines' her kids! She has thousands of followers who think she's the next big thing in raising children!”

“Motherfucker,” I said in a low tone.

“Once people figure out who he is, they will be all over him, McKenzie. You need to be ready for how stupid people will be, coming at a kid to try and get a picture or a story. It's disgusting enough what this person was doing to him and his siblings, but the influencer morons and so-called journalists who are going to want to spin this for politics of some kind? Pure trash.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. Big shit.”

“Okay. Have to figure something. Thanks, Jeannie.”

“How did you end up with this kid, McKenzie? You don't even like kids.”

“I like them.” I paused. “In theory.”

“I thought the only thing you liked was Daisy.”

“Well. She's better than most people,” I replied, still thinking. “So they arrested his folks? I'm supposed to take him to the school for evaluation one of these days. Shit. What a mess.”

“Yeah, you're not kidding.”

I wandered back to the table, where the kid was feeding small bits of a bacon slice to Daisy, making him her hero for life. I took a second to just look at him. He looked nice with his clothes, and he seemed content enough for the moment with Daisy. But short term, honeymoon behavior is common enough. What about when I tell the kid no? What about when he has to do something he doesn't want to? I'm not equipped for a kid, and I know he'd be better off with someone who has some idea of how to parent a kid.

But.

Was there any real road map for a kid who'd been through what he had? Still. There had to be others who were better prepared.

Right?

I felt unsure of myself for the first time in a long damn time.

“Is Jeannie okay?”

“Okay as she gets,” I replied, sitting back down. “Eat your breakfast. We have stuff to do.”

“Okay,” he said, looking down at what was left. “So school. Big waste, right? I can just sell cars?”

I set my cup down. “First of all, that was beginner's luck. Second...yeah, you'll have to go to school. Now look,” I said with a sigh. “Your mom wasn't wrong in a sense, but really – she's wrong. I know; let me explain,” I said in response to his look of confusion. “See, every part of you needs exercise. Your muscles and your brain, too. So yeah, maybe some of the things you learn in school you won't use again, but it's all training your mind to think. To know how humanity got to where we are now, how to order things in your head – school teaches you to think, ideally. You're too smart not to get as much of that as you can.”

He scooped up a bite of eggs and chewed quietly. Then he asked, “Can't you teach me?”

I leaned back in my chair. “Not everything. I'm just a used car salesman, kid. You're going to be so much more.”

His expression didn't look like he believed me, but then what did I know?

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

The next few days were like Groundhog's Day. The movie. We got up, those kids were on the side of the road. We'd drop them at school and then go to Lulu's. After a day at the lot we'd make dinner; rinse and repeat.

Friday night I was showing the kid how to make an easy chicken dish when my phone rang. I picked up and was kind of surprised that a government employee was calling me after hours.

“Hello Mr. McKenzie, it's Elizabeth Rodney with county social services. How are you?”

“Well, I thought I knew. I guess I'll reserve judgment until I know what you have to say,” I replied, heading into the living room and lowering my voice. “I heard some disturbing crap about the kid's parents.”

“Yes, there have been some disturbing things coming out rather quickly. The county district attorney and I just had a meeting, and I wanted to reach out to you. How's Bailey?”

“He's fine. Asking lots of questions that let me know he's not been exposed to the world much. He thinks his future lies in used auto sales.”

“Oh, that's cute!” She laughed. “Well, I don't want to keep you too long. His parents should be making bail by morning. Apparently there were some financial questions and other matters that have delayed things. There is an order of protection, so they shouldn't contact you, but if they do, make sure to reach out to Trooper Cooper – you have his card, I believe?”

“Yeah. Better put him on speed dial.”

“Probably not a bad idea,” she agreed. “The next thing is we need to get him to the school for testing. I have a contact for you there, and they can arrange a time with you. I also have some information I'm including with your paperwork – I'll send that Monday when I'm back in the office – and it has some information so you can get his eyes and teeth checked out, as well as get him into a doctor for a physical. How is he eating?”

“Like a horse,” I replied. “Just grabs things and throws his head back and forth until-”

“Right, then,” she said. “Sit tight and – oh, you know what? How about I just meet with you Monday and give you all this paperwork? I need to see his living environment anyway.”

“Uh. Well, is that really...yeah. Okay.”

“See you then. Have a nice weekend,” she said and hung up. That almost sounded ominous. If she came here to inspect, what was she looking for? I frowned and then noticed a smell hitting my nose, one that told me dinner had just changed to take out. I went back into the kitchen, and the kid was watching the chicken burn in the pan.

“Dang it! Why are you just watching it burn? The bird was already dead, why did you do...that to it?”

He looked at me with such fear in his expression, and then his face just went blank. I'd never seen anyone just check out before, but I was sure wherever he was right now, it wasn't in my kitchen. I moved the chicken off the burner and shut the stove off before turning to him.

“Bailey? Are you in there?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly, his tone distracted and his gaze anywhere but on me.

“Hey, Bailey. It's all good. You're not in trouble. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and just listen to your heartbeat, okay? Can you try that for me?”

He nodded, but didn't close his eyes or change his breathing.

“Breathe deep with me, okay?” I took dramatically deep breaths and let them out loudly, and he slowly started to fall into a rhythm with me. “Okay, now close your eyes and keep up the breathing.” His eyelids fluttered, opened wide and stayed for a few breaths, but then slowly closed. We kept up the deep breaths, nice and steady for a full five minutes.

“Okay, Bailey, what do you say we sit down at the table for a minute? Feel okay to do that?”

He glanced at the table then started to walk without looking at me. Slowly he sat down. I sat next to him and started trying to talk, but he didn't say anything for about ten minutes. I've been in situations where you suddenly took a left turn and there's just no control. All you can do is watch and hold on, even though your rational mind screams at you to do something to fix the situation. The hardest thing to do sometimes is accept you have no control and go from there. So I waited. I looked at this kid who'd wandered into my life, running like a scared deer from a hunter.

I avoid children. They're so complex and yet simple. Paradoxical. They can be so cute, but that's not their purpose. They look like that probably because evolution realized we'd be less likely to kill them off. When Daisy was a puppy she had golden eyes, but after a few years they'd settled into a glossy brown. Now she had gray in her eyes, so her sight was about the same level as her hearing. Kids were no different.

When I was a boy, Brian Repecki was...all things. I was blinded by him. Of course now that we're both old and gray, both have pounds in unpleasant to look at places, both have wrinkles – we don't look like those youthful creatures that are full of endless...possibilities. When I see him in the bank I most often see a tired man closer to retirement than youth, but sometimes...sometimes I can still see that beauty he used to be.

Bailey had that. He was too thin now, but he'd fill in with some regular feeding. Then people could see that fleeting beauty in him. It's a beauty easily confused for other things, and misrepresented by the cruel and misunderstood by most.

I remember the first time I saw a 280Z in person. You can look at pictures and enjoy them, and if you have a talented photographer you might even get a sense of what I'm about to describe. The first time I saw that car, the lines...I couldn't tear my eyes away. They were crafted in a different scale than American muscle. The lines were finer, the curves softer yet also sharper. The curved cutaways for the headlamps were unusual in the best way. I stared, amazed at the beauty of the design. Sure they had problems, maybe best described as temperamental.

That was Brian. I'd been amazed at the beauty of the design, not really any deeper than that. I’d sensed there was a lot encompassed in my idea, but it didn't take long for others to twist and sully my view.

Fag. You just want his dick. You going to drop to your knees for him? Hey, Colin, bend over for Brian! Queer. Even now I felt my skin temperature rise.

I won't say the way I looked at Brian then didn't have some element of desire, but it wasn't even in the top three. He was just...well, to compare him to the Z, the aesthetics of his lines were beautiful. The flow from neck to shoulder. The symmetry of his face. The balance of his arms and legs. The slender shape of his fingers, just the tiniest bit larger when meeting at the junction of each joint.

Those lines are gone now. Any I had are bowed and bloated. But for a short time there was such powerful beauty in him. You can't express that anymore, if it was ever okay. Now you're a pedo, because beauty has to be sexual in some minds. As in the past, any deviation from strict hetero-normativity is automatically connected to any other deviancy, real or imagined.

And maybe that was why. Maybe keeping him in a box as 'the kid' was protecting me from all that. I had no doubt Delia would scream to the rafters about an old, single gay man having her grandson under his roof – and she'd make everyone think I was 'having' him. She'd insinuate, and she'd spread rumors. It wouldn't just hurt me – it’d hurt the kid...Bailey. It would hurt him too.

But was it already too late? There was no denying there had been a bond developing between us, but could it withstand such things as Delia and other people? Setting aside that he shouldn't have to, was it already too late to turn back? Because as his eyes slowly returned to their normal attentiveness and his face went from blank to Bailey, I could see it. The beauty of the design. The curve of the jaw and the tender pulse in his neck.

Fuck.

He shifted on his seat. “I'm...I'm sorry about the chicken,” he said, his voice really small.

I tried a smile. “It was dead already anyway. Why don't we go get some Chinese, and next time we'll cook it right. Okay?”

He looked at me, but I have no idea what his expression meant. Maybe he wasn't back to himself a hundred percent, but...I don't know. Maybe he was waiting for a 'but'. He was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I put a hand on his shoulder and looked at his face.

“Little better now?”

He drew in a deeper breath, almost as if his body was returning to a more normal level. “Yeah. Sorry. I...sometimes I...didn't mean to.”

“It's okay, Bailey. It's okay.”

^*^*^**^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^^*^^*^*^

I woke more tired than normal on Saturday. My mind had been churning the night before, and I was filled with uncertainty. I wanted to do the best I could by Bailey, but that's where the problems started. What was the best I could do? Was it trying to keep him here, or was it letting him move on? After all, what did I know about being a parent? On the other hand, I could hardly do worse than the low bar set by his parents. But was it fair to condemn him to being raised by me?

In the end I knew some of those things were out of my control. It wasn't really up to me how long he'd be in my home. It wasn't my choice if he'd be sent back to his parents or another foster home – and I wasn't even a foster parent. There were only certain things I could control, so those were the things I needed to grab and do while I could.

After feeding Daisy, I got a shower and dressed. Coming back to the kitchen, I found Bailey sitting with a glass of milk while in his preferred pajamas – those jogger type sweatpants and a tee shirt.

“How we feeling today?” I asked, walking past him and messing his hair a little bit.

“Good. I like that bed. Daisy wakes me up sometimes when she gets in or out of bed, but she's warm when she snuggles in.”

“Yeah, she plays hot water bottle pretty well,” I agreed. “Why don't you get a quick shower, and we can head over to Lulu's.”

“I'm so hungry, it's going to be a really fast shower,” he said, gaining his feet.

“I'll check behind your ears and such, so make sure you do a good job,” I warned him. He made some noise of agreement or maybe just that he'd heard me and went upstairs. I heard the water start running, and I sat down with a pencil and a little notebook and started making a couple of lists. The first was the appointments I was going to need to make for Bailey. I wanted to make sure I didn't forget anything – doctor for a physical, dentist for a checkup and same thing with the eye doctor. He had to go to the school for testing, and he was going to be scheduled for a therapy session or eight. He also had some stuff he needed. His hair was kind of short, so no worries on a haircut yet, but he needed his own toiletries and a bag to keep them in. My dentist had harassed me into an electric toothbrush, because they were so much better than normal ones; Bailey would need one of those.

Kids should have things. Books. Computers. Phones. Games. I wrote down all the things I thought a boy should have.

He came thundering down the stairs. “I'm ready!”

“Okay. Let me get my coat,” I said, tucking the little notebook into my pocket. As I stood up there was a knocking at the door. Daisy, wonder of wonders, heard that and went howling to the door. I trailed behind her, confused about who could be at my home – and worried it was Deputy Moron. I peeked past the blind and saw a small child. What the hell? I opened the door and recognized one of the little girls who we'd given a ride to school that week. She had on her coat and pink boots with...some faded design on them.

“Hi,” she said directly. “Um. We missed breakfast.”

I blinked. “How did you miss it? Was it running?”

“Noooo!” she said, smiling and twisting a bit side to side. “There's no food, and Mommie's asleep.”

I had a sinking feeling. “Well. We were just going out. How about we go to your house, and we'll see, shall we?”

She nodded emphatically, the way little kids do sometimes. Exaggerated movements just seem to be a thing with little kids. I grabbed my coat, and Bailey and I accompanied her to the truck.

I'd never really looked at the tiny apartment complex across the street from me. Well, complex is kind of generous. It was one long, L-shaped building that used to be a motel. It was kind of on the edge of town and not near a highway, so who'd ever find it? I'd thought it odd to build where they had, and it hadn’t lasted long as a motel. Now it was apartments, and they had tenants, apparently. I had the girl point out where her apartment was, and I pulled up in front of it. We approached the door, and I noted the lack of upkeep to the building, the sidewalks still covered in snow, and the lack of a vehicle.

She pushed the front door open, and the boy, her older brother, asked her where she'd been with an annoyed tone.

“She said she was missing breakfast,” I said, stepping into the apartment behind her.

The boy looked a bit confused to see me. “We haven't had breakfast,” was all he could say.

I nodded and told Bailey to stand to one side so I could close the door. I turned back to the boy, and guessed he'd been parentified. If the mother was asleep as the girl had said, then this boy was likely always left in charge and given a raft of shit if anything went wrong or vaguely disturbed the parent.

“You can call me McKenzie. You are?”

“Dan,” he replied, perching on the arm of the old couch. The little girl had dropped her coat and was walking around with a single snow boot on.

“Dan,” I said with a nod. “I understand your mom is sleeping and you have no food?”

He shrugged. “We're out of milk. I have to walk to the store.”

I nodded slowly. “Right. And your mom?”

He shifted a little. “She worked all night. When she gets up I'll get money from her and go to the store. She can wait, just like we are.”

We. Oh, right, there is another girl – just not in the room. “Where's your other sister, if you don't mind me asking?”

His face shifted into a neutral expression, only notable for the blandness. “Her dad picked her up for the weekend. She's his favorite.”

I nodded and sucked my teeth. “Well. Bailey and I were headed to Lulu's for breakfast. You're welcome to join us.”

Dan put a foot on the floor, his expression of surprise. “For real?”

I nodded. “For real.”

“Hell, yeah.” He grabbed his coat and pushed on some sneakers while I helped his sister put her snow boot back on and got her coat onto her.

“Why don't you leave your mom a note? Just in case she wakes up and gets worried. You can put my number on it.”

He didn't seem to think this was worth doing and tried to wave me off, but I was thinking about being accused of kidnapping or worse. He left the note with all the impatience a boy his age can muster, and then we went to breakfast.

Bailey seemed a bit unsure in this new dynamic, but Dan spoke to him a lot about whatever boys talk about. I helped the little girl, Olivia, get some food while enduring the odd looks from Jeannie. I certainly didn't want to explain anything. It was probably the messiest meal, and I tried to keep things under some sort of control. After we got done I stopped at the convenience store and got some milk, butter and cereal, then dropped the two kids off with the bag.

Dan accepted the bag and headed into the apartment with his sister.

“He didn't say thank you.” Bailey looked at me. “You're supposed to.”

“Yeah,” I said absently. “Well, manners have to be taught. Did you like him?”

“Yeah, I guess. He talks a lot. He's interesting, I guess.”

I grunted. We headed to the mall, and after I parked the truck I pulled out my list. “Okay. Do you like to read?”

He shrugged.

I looked at him. “Can you read?”

He gave me an annoyed look. “Yeah.”

“Okay then.” I looked back at my list. “Video games?”

“My dad plays them. I'm not allowed.”

I circled about three things on my list that I figured people played games on. We finally climbed out of the truck. As we crossed the parking lot ,Bailey piped up.

“What's my advice for today?”

“Always have a roll of toilet paper in reserve.”

“Again with the bathroom?”

“Taking a good dump can be the best part of your day,” I told him, patting his back as I steered him into the mall.

“You're obsessed with bathrooms,” he teased. It was good to hear him try humor out for size.

We went from store to store and compared prices. He tried out game consoles that were on display before picking out a console and a few games. We hit the bookstore and got a mix of young adult novels and graphic novels – I didn't really care what he read as long as he did. I did like that he asked if we could get a second controller to play at the same time. He wasn't quite as excited about the toothbrush, but then he's probably not into vibrating things yet.

On the way home he asked if we could try making the chicken thing that got burned the night before, so we made a pit stop at the store. As we walked in I felt eyes on me, even though Delia wasn't there. As we got into line – the bagger who looked like Brian waiting to pack things – the cashier was unfortunately Fiona. She gave me the stink eye as she started scanning our items.

“That was a terrible thing you said to Delia,” she said quietly.

“She allowed terrible things,” I replied in the same tone.

Her gaze shifted briefly to Bailey and then back to me. “I saw a video. Her daughter is something else, but that wasn't Delia's fault.”

“She supported her and didn't report her. It's the same thing.”

“Still. That word.”

The Brian clone bagged our stuff, and I thanked him before heading back to the truck.

“What did that lady mean? Like what word was she mad about?”

Jesus. I had to try and explain why some women don't like the word cunt?

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

Bailey beat me at about any game he plugged in, so on Sunday he asked if he could see if Dan could play. It was fine, so while the two boys were loud in the living room with the game, I sat in the kitchen with my phone, looking at cars for sale. When I'd had enough of that, I picked up a book I'd bought for myself. Daisy had been initially interested in Dan, but she'd settled on the couch and managed to sleep, despite their caterwauling.




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