Standing just outside of his father’s office, nine year old Logan took a deep breath, looked left and right, then nodded, assured that the coast was clear (in other words – Mom wasn’t around because she turned into a Momma Bear whenever she thought they were doing something dangerous, even though they weren’t and just because Teague broke his arm the last time that didn’t mean she needed to worry now). Then he slipped inside the office.
“What’s up, son?” Bryce asked as he looked down at Logan. Immediately, he was concerned. The look on Logan’s features told him that his son had a problem.
“I have a hypothetical question for you,” Logan started off.
Bryce turned in his office chair and nodded his head, trying to mimic his son’s serious attitude. All the while, he had to suppress his amusement. His twins might look exactly alike, but Logan was definitely the more serious half of the duo. How many other nine year olds knew the word “hypothetical”? Not to mention, whatever was going through his son’s mind was definitely based in reality.
“Okay. Shoot,” he said, waving his son closer.
Logan moved so that he was leaning against his father’s desk, his green eyes staring up into identical ones. “If I were to build something that sticks out, how would that work?” he asked.
Bryce rubbed a hand over his jaw, looking as if he were contemplating the issue. “Well, that depends. What are you trying to build?” he asked.
Logan considered his options carefully, but in the end, he knew that he’d have to enlist his father’s help because…well, what he wanted to build was…hard!
So he stepped closer and pulled the paper out of his back pocket. Unfolding it and smoothing the picture out over his father’s desk, he leaned into his father’s shoulder as soon as he felt the strong hand on his back. “This is what I want to build.”
Bryce looked at the picture, his mind instantly working through the details. “And this,” he said, pointing to a part of the treehouse that was jutting out from the rest, “is what you’re struggling to build?” He looked down at his son and added, “Hypothetically?”
Instantly, the tension in Logan’s features cleared away. “Exactly.”
Bryce nodded carefully. “Well, you’re going to need to cantilever the weight over here,” he said and pointed to the opposite side of the structure. Over the next thirty minutes, he helped his son design the structure that he now knew his sons were busy building in the backyard. He’d known something was up from the moment Zeke had approached him weeks ago about receiving cash for his boy’s efforts at the construction site. But after Teague’s fall last month, he’d been hoping….
Obviously, that hope was gone.
He should have known better. His sons never gave up. When they wanted something, they figured out how to make it work. A more dangerous crew, he couldn’t imagine.
When Logan jumped down off of his knee, racing out of his office with an intent expression in his eyes, Bryce knew what he had to do.
Walking into his wife’s office, he took a moment to contemplate the woman. Even after fifteen years of marriage, she still had the ability to take his breath away. Just like the first moment he’d looked at her across that office area, she was stunning.
Unfortunately, he was going to have to break the news to her.
Obviously, she sensed his presence and looked up from the legal briefing she was working on.
The smile of greeting quickly evaporated when she saw the look in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” She stood up from her desk. “Where are the boys?”
Bryce chuckled even as he reached out and pulled her close, his arms wrapping around her slender waist. “Relax,” he soothed. “The boys are fine.” He looked over her shoulder. “I think.”
When she stared to pull out of his arms, he laughed but held her still. “I’m kidding.” Sort of, he added silently. “But I do have to tell you something.”
Claire looked up into his eyes and the trembling fear began. “What’s going on?”
He held her firmly before he said, “They are building another treehouse.”
Claire stood there for perhaps three seconds, absorbing that news in her mind. When it finally filtered through – and she pictured her little boy’s broken arm and the pain in his eyes, she went into active mode. “No!”
She tried stepping out of his arms but he was too strong and Bryce wouldn’t release her. “Honey, hold on. Just…” he had to lift her up because she was struggling too hard. When she was in “Momma Bear Mode”, she was a force! “Claire, listen to me.”
Claire glared up at her husband, fully prepared to round up all of her boys and tether them inside the house somewhere. Yes, they would be miserable, but they would be safe, all bones intact.
When she stopped struggling, Bryce knew that she was just biding her time. “Claire, trust me. I’ll find out where this structure is being built and I’ll examine it every night. I promise, I’ll fix anything that looks incorrect or weak. I’ll add extra supports and stronger bolts than what they are probably using.” He waited until he knew she was listening. “Have I ever allowed any building to fall?” he offered out as proof that he could protect their children.
Claire hesitated because…well, darn it, he had a point. “No. You’re buildings are superior.”
He squeezed her for that compliment. “So you know that I can make sure that, whatever they are building, is safe enough for them, right?”
Claire considered that statement. She had to wrestle with her need to race out and hug her children close, closely followed by the knowledge that her boys were going to do what they wanted. Her strictures after Teague’s fall had forced them into secrecy.
Laying her head against his broad shoulder, she accepted that she’d have to trust him on this one. “Fine. But…,” she ignored his warning squeeze and continued on, “I don’t want them to even get a splinter.” Her blue eyes looked up at his, giving him that warning look that he’d learned almost right from the start. “No splinters, no hang nails, no smashing of fingers with hammers!”
Bryce laughed because he knew that she knew that her commands were completely unrealistic. The boys were going to hurt themselves working on this project. Hell, his boys hurt themselves going up the stairs because they couldn’t simply walk up the stairs. They had to race, knocking each other out of the way, tripping the one ahead and leapfrogging over downed bodies. “I’ll make sure that what they are building is safe enough.”
Claire put her arms around this big, gruff man who had made her life so much happier than she’d ever thought possible. And scarier than she’d ever wanted! “Bryce, I’m warning you,” she started out, but he didn’t let her finish that statement. Kissing her seemed like a much better use of those amazing lips than letting her offer threats she wouldn’t follow through on anyway.
“I got it!” Logan said, spreading the now-mangled sheet out on the ground. His brothers immediately gathered round, peering at the information he’d obtained. They were exhausted, all four of them having worked at one of the construction sites hauling materials from one place to another, making coffee, snacks, doing errands. Their father was generous, but he was a hard taskmaster. They were really earning their salaries lately.
“What’s this?” Luke asked, pointing towards several new lines in their plan.
Logan pushed his black glasses higher up on his nose as he relayed the information his father had given to him. When he looked up at the trees, he thought of something else they could do and pulled a pencil out of his back pocket. The four boys smiled, excitement surging through them as they nodded their heads in agreement.
“But Dad doesn’t know what we’re doing?” Teague asked.
Logan chuckled and shook his head. “No way. I asked him how to build this but said it was only a hypothetical project.”
“Freddy!” Gaia called out, grabbing her big brother by the neck. She’d attacked from behind, knowing that he hated it when she hugged him. That only made hugging him like this in the school cafeteria even better!
“Gaia!” her brother grumbled, pushing her away. His friends laughed but Gaia only sauntered towards the lunch line, not bothered by his rejection at all.
“Your brother is cute,” her friend Darlene commented as they both stopped at the end of the milk line.
Gaia looked over at Freddy, who was already once more involved in some video game that was being passed around the lunch table. “I guess,” she said. “I wish he would let me dress him. He’s so scruffy all the time!”
Darlene looked at Gaia’s jeans and top, smothering the jealousy. “Yeah, but I think that adds to his charm, in a way.” Darlene didn’t understand how her friend could wear the cheapest, most inexpensive clothes and still look like a runway model. Shorter, of course, Darlene thought as she stood up a bit straighter.
Gaia was unaware of her friend’s jealousy, too busy counting out the nickels in her pocket. Four..Five..yes! She had enough for a carton of milk! Excellent!
The line moved forward and Gaia grabbed the milk, ignoring Darlene’s tray that was filling up with pizza, fries and milk. Her stomach growled, but it would be fine as soon as she had the milk.
“Is that all you’re having for lunch?” Darlene asked, nibbling on a fry as they handed their money to the lunch room cashier.
“Yeah, I’m not very hungry,” she lied, following Darlene over to their usual table.
Darlene sat down, shaking her head. “That’s why you’re so much skinner than I am,” she said and took a bite out of her pizza. Her father hadn’t gotten paid for this week’s crop yet. It would be a while before she could have a full lunch.
Gaia smiled but the boy at the other table winked at her. She turned away, not wanting to encourage him in any way. Her father wouldn’t allow her to date anyway, so what was the point?
“You have art class next?” Darlene asked, opening her algebra book.
“Yeah. We’re drawing faces today.”
“Ugh! Easy A class for you, right?”
Gaia didn’t respond, not liking the disdain most people had for art. No, it wasn’t an easy A class. It was fascinating and challenging and she couldn’t wait to go to college so she could study with others that understood that.
Jessy, the class president swooped into the chair next to Darlene. “Ladies!” was her only exuberant greeting before she focused on Gaia. “This year’s homecoming decorations were fabulous and a little birdie told me that you were the inspiration for that.”
Darlene laughed when Gaia laughed. “The theme was inspired!” she gushed.
Jessy nodded. “I agree. We want you to be part of the Spring Fling decorating committee. Are you in?”
Gaia sat there, stunned for a long moment before Darlene answered for her. “Yes. You know she’s in. If there’s something artsy going on, Gaia is your woman. She can make anything look fabulous.”
Jessy laughed, grabbed her books then stood up. “Great! You’re in. I’ll text you the details on the next meeting.”
And then she was gone. Gaia stared at her friend who was smiling smugly. “Darlene, you know I can’t…”
Darlene wasn’t having any of it. “Gaia, you know darn well that you have better ideas for these themes than anyone else. I’m jealous of your clothes and your brother, but not of your decorating capabilities. So yes, you are going to do this even if I have to drag you kicking and screaming to the meetings. Without you, we’ll have those same, lame themes.” She leaned forward. “Remember last year?”
Gaia shuddered visibly. “I thought ‘Summer Nights’ was going to be a play on the movie and the song.”
Darlene cringed as well. “We all did. You’re in. No getting out of it.”
Gaia smiled and sipped more of her milk. She wouldn’t argue since being on the decorating committee would keep her from having to go home a few nights a week. Good enough excuse for her! She hated seeing her father when he was drunk. It would be nice to stay away for a few more hours each week.