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 Post subject: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (July 3rd 2020)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 12, 2020 6:00 am 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 1:22 pm
Posts: 4374
Topics: 38
TITLE: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum

WRITER: Laragh

STORY RATING: PG-13 throughout

DISCLAIMER: Willow, Tara and any other characters from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise belong to Joss Whedon, FOX, ME and a whole host of other entities, none of which are me.

SUMMARY: What do you do when you think your family is complete but the universe tells you otherwise? (sequel to Family Confidential Episode II)

FEEDBACK: Absolutely!



Family Confidential 3:
The Boy Ultimatum




So much meat.


Tara stared down at her pot of chili and marveled at how much meat swam about it and how her family would just devour it in seconds.


She took a break from stirring, a sport at which she could become an Olympian at by now when she felt arms envelop her from behind.


The arms were big enough to fold over themselves at Tara’s middle and the chin that rested above her head spoke of a large presence towering behind her.


Tara leaned back into it for the briefest of moments, then began rotating her wooden spoon through the contents of her pot once again.


“I gave you 20 dollars yesterday.”


JJ tightened his hold around Tara’s waist.


“Can’t a boy just hug his mom on a rainy Friday afternoon for no reason?”


“He can,” Tara replied in a reasoned tone, “But it usually means he wants money.”


JJ ducked out of the embrace and leaned back against the kitchen counter.


“I’m out of gas.”


“You have a bike,” Tara countered.


JJ pouted.


“It’s raining,” he said in a soft, pleading voice, “Plllleeeeaaaasssseeee, Mom?!”


Tara made a show of sighing and pushed away from the burner so she could take her wallet out from her purse. JJ looked at it distastefully.


“Can’t you Venmo it?”


Tara held up a $20 bill and waved it about.


“Do you want the money or not?”


JJ took the money quickly and Tara patted her finger against her cheek, where JJ dutifully pressed a kiss.


“Thanks, Mom.”


“Be home for dinner!” Tara called as he strode out of the kitchen in three steps on his long legs.


In the doorway on the way out, JJ skid past Willow and straight over to his pride and joy – his white VW Golf.


“Hi, Momma! Bye, Momma!”


Willow saw the money flapping in his pocket and frowned. She walked into the quiet house, left her bag at the coat rack, and approached the kitchen.


“I told him this morning I wouldn’t give him any more money.”


“Hello to you too, dear wife,” Tara replied and smiled over her shoulder, “He’s out of gas.”


“He has a bike,” Willow said pointedly.


Tara smirked.


“It’s raining,” she countered.


Willow ducked her head to hide an answering smile and came up to Tara; embracing her like JJ had moments before, though the only place Willow’s chin could rest was Tara’s shoulder.


“I’m glad you’re such a soft touch. It makes it easier for me to pretend to be a hard ass.”


“‘Pretend’,” Tara scoffed.


Willow scoffed back.


“Because I don’t hand them cash like I’m a walking ATM.”


“Because you’ve internalized the idea that giving your children money is inherently an act of neglect because that’s what your parents did,” Tara replied dryly.


“Ooh, we’re getting personal,” Willow said, pretending to be wounded.


Tara chuckled, low.


“Nothing we haven’t discussed in therapy.”


Willow smiled and ever-so-gently nuzzled her nose below Tara’s ear.


“May I amend?”


“You may,” Tara offered graciously.


Willow kissed Tara’s neck.


“I’m glad you’re such a soft touch because you are everything I want in a mother to my children.”


Tara ran her fingers over Willow’s hands sitting over her bellybutton. After a moment, Tara felt another kiss on her neck, then Willow’s arms dropped and she went over to the refrigerator.


“How was work?” Tara asked as she lifted some sauce out on the spoon, which she offered Willow.


“Yum,” Willow replied as she licked it off, “I tracked a suspect so hard that my fingers have blisters.”


She wiggled her fingertips sadly.


“I’ll kiss them better,” Tara offered sweetly and gave ten quick kisses to each wiggling finger pad, “Did you catch him?”


“And all of his insider trading shenanigans,” Willow replied with a tired smile, “Where are the girls?”


Tara pointed one finger toward the living room.


“Robyn says she’s doing her homework but is really doodling in her math book and the twins are at gymnastics…speaking of, I should leave to collect them. They won’t be impressed if they get wet while waiting around for me.”


She washed her hands quickly at the kitchen sink and dried them.


“I’ll go see if some actual long division can be achieved,” Willow replied and squeezed Tara’s hand as she passed, “Anything you need me to do for dinner?”


Tara shook her head.


“No, there are plates on the table already. Just need to serve it up when we’re ready.”


“I love you,” Willow replied and kissed Tara’s cheek.


Tara headed out to brave the weather while Willow opened the door to the living room, where Robyn scrambled to turn off the screen she wasn’t supposed to be playing on.


“You better have been using the calculator,” Willow advised as she walked in.


She sat down on the couch behind where Robyn was sitting on the floor. Robyn looked up and smiled crookedly.


“Hi, Momma.”


“Hi, bean,” Willow returned affectionately, “How about we actually try to get some numbers on the page?”


Robyn reluctantly pulled her math book toward her.


Across town, JJ dunked a ball into the basket and landed back on his feet with a screech from his sneakers.


“Wooo-eee I owned your ass!” he grinned as sweat descended down his brow and out from under his arms, “Return of The King.”


“Alright, alright,” Thomas brushed him off, hunched over to catch his breath with his dreads tied up and swinging behind him, “That was a solid dunk, I’ll give you that.”


As JJ beamed cockily, Thomas tapped the ball out of JJ’s grip and swung around him to launch the ball through the air and into the basket perfectly.


“But it ain’t worth shit if you can’t catch a three-point play!”


JJ heard the ball reverberate against the floor of the school gymnasium and held up his hands.


“Alright, man. You got me. Gotta work on it. I want that jacket bad.”


Thomas caught the ball on the first bounce and held it under his arm.


“You wanna do some lay-ups?”


JJ went over to the bench and downed water from his bottle. He quickly checked his phone and slid it back into the pocket of his sports bag.


“I gotta go, dude. If I’m late for dinner my moms will kill me! See you in Bio on Monday?”


He threw the bag over his shoulder and reached out to clasp Thomas’s hand, pulling him into a brief hug.


Thomas nodded.


“See you, man!”


Thomas went back to the basket to continue practicing lay-ups and JJ moved toward the locker room so he could get his hoodie from his locker.


He stuffed it into his bag and stayed in his shorts and jersey despite knowing Tara would give him a withering look and make him get changed before dinner.


His locker banged closed and he stood in front of it for a moment to drain his water bottle.


After a few moments, he spotted something, or rather someone, out of the corner of his eye. He turned toward the back row of lockers, where a young man had appeared from. That was odd because JJ knew there was nothing but a wall behind them.


“Oh, hey man,” he called out easily.


He took a closer look but couldn’t place the boy despite being a frequenter of this locker room at all hours. The other kid looked younger than him and was dressed in old jeans and a faded sweater.


The kind of clothes Tara would love for him to come home in, JJ thought.


The boy seemed startled to see him and took a step back.


“Oh. Hey.”


JJ looked at him curiously.


“Don’t think I’ve seen you in here before. You play baseball or something?”


For the first time, JJ noticed the other boy was holding a guitar case, not the usual piece of kit to accompany the guys who came through here.


“Uh…I…I p-play…” the boy stuttered and held up his case indicatively.


JJ nodded easily.


“Hey, we take Algebra together or something? Feel like I’ve seen you around before.”


The boy ducked his head of dark brown hair, making it fall into his eyes even more so than when it flopped there at full height.


“I-I don’t think so.”


JJ grabbed his own back and scratched behind his shoulder.


“You a freshman?”


“Yeah,” the boy breathed quietly.


JJ nodded again.


“Makes sense. I’m a junior. Well, see ya!”


He started to walk away but frowned as he neared the door.


Something felt really funky.


He glanced over his shoulder and caught the boy just sitting on one of the benches, looking down at the floor. He turned back around into sight and found himself blurting out words à la his redheaded mother.


“Hey, you hungry?”


The boy looked up, startled again to see him still there.


JJ gestured behind himself awkwardly.


“I just gotta get home for dinner and my mom cooked chili. There’s always way too much and then I gotta eat these leftovers…” he trailed off sheepishly, “Just be cool to have someone to help.”


The boy opened his mouth to protest but his stomach rumbling thwarted him. He blushed and looked down.


“Hey, it’s whatever man,” JJ continued, trying to seem casual, “There’s just always so much food, y’know?”


The boy slowly looked up and met JJ’s eyes with his own guarded ones.


“Your mom won’t mind?”


JJ waved a hand dismissively.


“My mom is a feeder. If I didn’t play basketball I’d have a lot more chub,” he chuckled, “Nothing wrong with that but I like getting to eat as much of her food as I want. Seriously, bro, you’d be missing out.”


The boy’s arm clutched his stomach and pressed against it to stop any more noisy interruptions.


“…if you really think it’s okay…”


“No doubt,” JJ replied easily and nodded to the boy as he crept up beside him, “Hey, what’s your name, man?”


The boy seemed unsure of whether to look scared or relieved.


“Kayden.”


“JJ,” JJ introduced himself with a quick handshake, then threw his arm around Kayden’s shoulders, “Come on, my car is right outside. Wait ‘til you see it, she is a beauty. Put the rims on her myself.”


Most of the ride home consisted of JJ bragging about his car. While he could always be trusted to wax lyrical about his baby at will, he wasn’t a total self-absorbed douche and had just continued to talk because Kayden didn’t seem to want to say much of anything. He just clutched his guitar case between his legs while looking out the window.


Kayden seemed surprised when they stopped outside the house and craned his neck around to take in the house and neighborhood.


JJ led them up the path and opened the door. Immediately inside, Robyn skidded past them while being chased by Lily flailing a marker about. Emily followed behind them with a worried look on her face.


“L-Lily, be careful! That’s a per-mem-ent marker!”


Kayden seemed startled by the sudden gaggle and JJ looked back with a knowing nod.


“Yeah, sorry, there’s a lot of girls here.”


From the top of the stairs, a gangling beagle-cross shot down upon hearing JJ’s voice and JJ bent down to allow him to jump into his arms.


“But Woofs here is my main man, right Woofs? High five!”


Woofy barked and lifted a paw to tap against JJ’s hand. He did a spin when JJ indicated, then settled when his ears were scratched for a full three seconds.


“Lily put the marker down!” Willow’s voice rang out firmly from the living room, “All of you, quit it!”


“Dinner is ready!” Tara called from the kitchen, “That son of mine better be home.”


“With an empty stomach,” JJ called back and gestured Kayden forward as he tried to take everything in.


His arms were around his stomach again.


Tara brought the pot of chili through to the dining room, smiling politely at Kayden as she passed.


“Hello. Who’s this?”


JJ pointed a finger in the opposite direction.


“Uh, this is Kayden.”


“Hello Kayden,” Tara said kindly.


“H-Hi,” Kayden raised his hand, then let it fall limply down by his side.


“I said he could stay for dinner,” JJ interjected with a gentle nod of his head.


“Of course he can,” Tara replied easily, shooting JJ an arched eyebrow, “He even dressed appropriately.”


JJ pinched the front of his jersey and looked affronted.


“Am I really defined by the clothes that I wear?”


“You are when you stink like that,” Robyn said as she skidded in behind them.


JJ grabbed her and attempted to rub his underarm all over her.


“How about I get it all over you! Huh, how’d you like that?!”


Robyn squirmed desperately.


“Stop! Stop it! You’re getting boy-smell all over me!”


“JJ,” Willow warned as she walked in, “Go put some pants on please.”


JJ threw his hands up and turned on his heels to march back out again. Tara took the lid from the chili, releasing the steam that flew immediately to Kayden’s nostrils. He stared at the open pot until he realized Tara was talking to him and pointing behind him.


“You can leave that in the corner.”


It took a second for Kayden to realize she meant his guitar case.


“Oh,” he replied, clearing his throat to free some guff, “Uh, thanks.”


He put the case in the corner then just hung back as the girls all took their seats. Tara was the last to, not before pulling out a seat for Kayden to sit on.


“Let me get you an extra plate.”


“T-thank you,” Kayden replied, a little self-consciously, “Um, ma’am.”


“Tara, please,” Tara smiled softly in a way that put Kayden at ease, “And this is Robyn, Lily, and Emily. And Willow, of course.”


Willow lifted her hand in a wave.


“Willow, girls, this is Kayden. He’s friends with JJ.”


Kayden’s face showed some uncertainty as he looked between Willow and Tara, but he politely waved back as there was a chorus of greetings.


Tara got a plate and silverware for Kayden, then sat down beside Willow and shared a smile with her. While waiting for JJ to return to serve up, she gently caught Robyn’s ear.


“Robyn, why is there a green dot on your ear?”


“I gave her earrings!” Lily jumped up in her seat proudly, and twisted around for a moment before sliding back into it, “See how I did a perfect circle? I used green like The Grinch but not the exact one because I didn’t have it but it’s still my favorite color, isn’t it pretty?!”


Tara licked her thumb and started to try and wipe the dot off, making Robyn protest with a squirm.


“Quit it!”


“Don’t be rude,” Tara said firmly.


“Momma said it,” Robyn grumbled and Willow smiled awkwardly as Tara gave her a look.


JJ’s feet pounded on the stairs and moments later his body swung through the door, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He did a fake curtsy.


“Do I please the court?”


“Yes,” Tara replied cordially with the hint of a crooked smile, “Now we can eat.”


Kayden’s eyes grew wide as big dollops of rice and chili were dropped onto his plate with some hard-shell tacos on the side. His hand shook as he closed it around his fork and his eyes darted around the table but no one was looking at him oddly.


“Hey girls, I got a delivery from the bookstore today,” Willow said as she smiled at Tara again for plating her up, “They sent me early copies of—”


Before Willow could even utter the name of the latest literary craze taking the adolescent market by storm, the girls all preempted it and started hollering and cheering. A piece of cheese hit Tara in the head and she just sighed and smiled.


“My parents own a bookstore in California,” JJ explained quietly to Kayden as his fork shoveled food into his mouth.


“Parents,” Kayden whispered, his eyes widening slightly.


“Uh-huh, that’s my Momma,” JJ replied casually as he nodded toward Willow, “You met my Mom.”


“Are you in class with JJ, Kayden?” Tara called across the table.


“Um,” Kayden replied cagily, eyes twitching as he tried to discreetly look between Willow and Tara, “I’m a freshman.”


“Basketball?” Willow guessed.


“Mom, can you pass the cornbread?” JJ cut in and the questioning was stopped.


Kayden kept his head down as he ate and did his best to manage his pace, though with JJ vacuuming up his plate, it allowed some room to tip in the opposite direction of completely dignified.


When Tara finished, she settled her arms atop the table and smiled.


“Everyone ready to do their rose and thorn?”


“Mom,” JJ whined, looking pointedly at Kayden.


“Maybe your friend would like to play?” Tara offered and ignored JJ’s groan as she explained to Kayden, “Every dinner, we play a game where we acknowledge something bad that happened in our day and then say something that went well or made us happy.”


Kayden wiped his mouth on his napkin self-consciously.


“Oh,” he replied, swallowing deeply, “Well uh…something bad that happened to me today…”


His eyes flashed with something and twitched for a moment. Finally, he spoke again.


“I had to wake up early.”


“Any tips to get that boy beside you to do the same?” Willow grinned and JJ rolled his eyes.


Kayden’s gaze moved between them all and their rapport.


“And something good…” he continued, feeling beads of sweat form on his brow before turning to Tara earnestly, “Your chili is really good, Mrs. Ummm…”


“Tara,” Tara said again, softly.


Kayden’s ears turned red.


“Yeah, um, this dinner is definitely the best thing.”


Tara offered a sincere smile.


“That’s very sweet of you to say, Kayden.”


Kayden just nodded and ducked his head again.


The rest of the table went through their roses and thorns and when they were done, JJ flicked his hand against Kayden’s arm.


“Hey Kayden, you wanna come play video games in my room?”


Kayden blinked several times.


“O-okay,” he said eventually and stood with JJ to bring their dishes into the kitchen. He looked at Tara again, “Thanks.”


“No problem, sweetie,” Tara replied easily and turned back to the table, “Okay, Lil, Em, I want you to have showers before bed tonight.”


“I’ll take care of ole Grinch-ears here,” Willow said, eyeing Robyn, “I scrubbed off many a permanent marker mustache in middle school.”


Tara rubbed Willow’s arm sympathetically, who smiled over gratefully.


Upstairs, Kayden’s eyes moved all around the second floor of the pristine, warm house as JJ brought him up to the attic where his bedroom was. Kayden kept his guitar case tight on his back and looked down at Woofy skipping up the steps with them.


“Your dog is cool.”


“Woofs is the best. He’s a Jack-A-Bee, that’s a Jack Russell-Beagle cross. He’s been my best friend since I was eight,” JJ answered and Woofy answered accordingly with a bark, “Don’t blame me for the name, my baby sister named him when she was like 2.”


Woofy whined indignantly.


“You have a lot of sisters,” Kayden replied with a deep swallow.


“I do,” JJ agreed as he pushed his retracting wall along enough to let them into his room, “Grab the couch or a beanbag, whatever you want.”


Kayden carefully left his case down on the floor and sat into the nearest beanbag.


He looked around JJ’s room and noticed a general basketball motif, but that wasn’t surprising. It was like a mini-loft with the aforementioned couch, a television on the wall opposite, and a mini-fridge where JJ was pulling out two cans of root beer.


“I like your walls,” Kayden said as he spotted the different colored splats on the wall, “Like a twister board.”


JJ chuckled.


“Oh, I did it when I was a kid. I’ve kinda wanted to repaint it recently but it’s been like this for a long time…”


“I like it,” Kayden replied with some reticent encouragement before he dropped his gaze, “I draw sometimes.”


“Oh yeah?” JJ asked as he passed a root beer to Kayden and dropped onto the couch to pop the tab on his, “What do you like to draw?”


Kayden shrugged one shoulder while holding his soda in both hands.


“People, mostly. Surroundings.”


JJ nodded and picked up his controller from the arm of the couch.


“You like Super Mario Bros.?”


Kayden shrugged again and nodded, so JJ proceeded to set them up to play two-player.


“It’s cool your parents let you hang out like this,” JJ said, eyes flickering toward Kayden for a furtive moment.


“I don’t have parents,” Kayden replied automatically.


“Oh,” JJ replied, caught off guard.


Kayden adjusted his back awkwardly.


“I mean uh, I did, but now I got an aunt and an uncle.”


“Right, right,” JJ nodded quickly, “I got two moms so that’s not that weird to me.”


“They don’t care where I am anyway,” Kayden replied quietly, then turned his head sharply toward JJ, “Does it bother you?”


“What?” JJ asked, confused.


Kayden paused, his jaw clenching for a moment.


“Hav…having two moms?”


“Nah,” JJ waved a hand, “It’s pretty cool actually. Hey, you wanna be Mario or Luigi?”


They raced against each other for a while as Kayden slowly relaxed to the point of jumping up and cheering when he defeated JJ yet again.


JJ laughed and slapped Kayden’s back.


“You’re riding my ass hard dude!”


Kayden stiffened and dropped his controller. He tripped backward trying to take a step away.


“I’m not a faggot!”


JJ’s eyes widened and he slowly held his hands up.


“Whoa man,” he said, watching Kayden’s cheeks and then his whole face turn bright red, “Hey I wasn’t…”


Kayden’s eyes blinked twice and his head shook before he slowly deflated with downcast eyes.


“I’m sorry,” he said so quietly it almost couldn’t be heard.


JJ waited for a beat until his own breath calmed back down too.


“Real talk bro, that ain’t cool. I got two moms. And little sisters. That kinda language, it ain’t cool.”


“I know, I’m sorry,” Kayden shook his head violently to himself, “Your moms are cool. I’m sorry.”


JJ nodded slowly.


“We all mess up sometimes,” he said, frowning at Kayden’s whole demeanor, “Hey, you know, it’s late.”


Kayden’s jaw clenched again.


“Yeah,” he said, looking around the room and closing his eyes as if he was hiding tears, “Yeah, I should go.”


“Or you can stay, man, if you want,” JJ offered gently, “My couch here pulls out. Still raining pretty hard out there.”


He stood up and stayed a few feet away to give Kayden space.


“Just crash, dude. If you want.”


Kayden opened his eyes and though they were glassy, no tears spilled. He looked at the couch like it was a four-poster bed and crossed his arms over his chest.


Maybe this was a gift. A small break from…everything.


He hadn’t really gotten a gift in a while.


Maybe the universe thought he was due.


He needed a second.


“Can I use your bathroom?” he asked meekly.


JJ nodded and pointed behind them.


“Yeah, sure. It’s right there.”


He watched Kayden go and stood a bit dumbfounded on the spot.


He looked around as if looking for an answer to this extremely weird situation he’d gotten himself into. His eyes landed on the guitar case and before he could think better of it he was leaning it on his knee and snapping it open.


There was no guitar inside.


There were just some old clothes, a toothbrush, and a sketchbook but no guitar.


JJ picked up the sketchbook but realized the moment he opened it and saw a sketch of two boys holding hands that he shouldn’t be looking at it.


He heard the key turn in the bathroom and quickly closed the case again and jumped back to the other side of the room.


“Hey, um, I’ll get you a blanket…and I’ll go ask my moms for some extra pillows!”


He disappeared down the stairs leaving a frowning, confused Kayden in his wake.


In the living room, Willow was cuddled into Tara’s side while they shared a footstool and some peaceful time after wrangling the brood into bed. She turned her head to Tara and kissed the spot where her neck met her shoulder.


“Hey, I told Buffy we’d babysit Liam sometime soon so she and Angel could…do whatever it is they do on dates,” she shrugged.


“Willow, they’re in our forties like us, with a toddler,” Tara replied wryly, “They’ll probably just sleep.”


Willow smiled and glanced back at Tara,


“Is that okay?”


Tara smiled and nodded.


“It will be nice to have a toddler running around these floors again. I hope my knees hold up.”


“Your knees held up fine last night,” Willow murmured then giggled as she kissed Tara’s neck again.


Tara’s smile broke out across her face and she tilted her neck but quickly patted Willow’s thigh when she spotted JJ’s looming shadow enter the room moments before he did.


JJ didn’t look like he was sticking around long enough to see anything anyway as he started to step out almost as soon as he stepped in.


“Uh, Kayden is staying the night, okay?”


“Hold on,” Tara called him back, leaning forward on the couch to crane her neck around to see him, “Are his parents okay with that?”


JJ’s brow furrowed.


“Uh, yes?”


“Was that a question or an answer?” Willow asked with an arched eyebrow.


“Sweetheart, we’ve never seen or heard of this boy before tonight. We don’t know his parents and it’s late,” Tara explained softly, “Can you give us their number so we can check with them?”


JJ stalled, avoiding either of their gazes. Willow frowned.


“Jake, what’s going on?”


JJ slowly walked across and sat on the coffee table in front of them.


“Um, can I talk to you guys?”


Both Willow and Tara swung their legs from the footstool and gave him their full attention.


“About anything,” Tara replied gently, then after a brief glance at Willow, slipped her hand into JJ’s hand, “Sweetie, you know that anyone who is…special to you…is welcome here, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl.”


Willow’s brow furrowed but she stayed quiet.


“Oh, yeah, no, I know that,” JJ shook his head with a grimace, “This isn’t that.”


“What is ‘this’?” Willow pressed with that eyebrow still angled.


JJ reached back behind himself and scratched between his shoulder blades.


“Well, the thing is I, uh…well, I don’t know. See, I never even met the kid before today. But something is weird. I think he could, uh…maybe be homeless?”


Both Willow and Tara’s eyebrows rose high on their foreheads.


“Why do you think that?” Tara asked, still soft but firm now too.


JJ gnawed on the corner of his lip.


“Well, I caught him sneaking around the locker room way after anyone left and he doesn’t even play sports. All he had was his guitar case but I looked inside and it just had some clothes and a toothbrush and old candy wrappers. Plus he said he doesn’t have any parents, just an aunt, and uncle but that they don’t care where he is.”


He paused and looked up vulnerably.


“He looked hungry, Mom. That’s why I brought him home.”


Tara shared his pained look.


“You’re a good boy,” she said, reaching out to cup his cheek, “I’m going to take care of this, okay? Don’t worry about it. Kayden can stay here tonight. You’ll need extra pillows and some blankets. Check the closet upstairs.”


JJ stood and even at his full height, Tara was able to wrap him in a hug. JJ melted into it, relieved.


“Thanks, Mom.”


Tara kissed his cheek and patted his back.


“We love you, Jakey.”


“Love you,” Willow called softly as he left, then turned to Tara with wide eyes, “Whoa.”


“Yes,” Tara agreed with creased eyes.


“How do we handle this?” Willow asked a bit helplessly.


“Professionally,” Tara answered surely, “I have to report it.”


Willow nodded in agreement but her eyes were troubled.


“He’s younger than JJ. What kind of people don’t care where a 14-year-old in their care is?”


Tara held her hands up.


“We don’t know the circumstances, they might be worried about him. I need to try and find some information and I don’t want to bombard him tonight in case he runs. I’m sorry honey, watching the rest of this movie doesn’t look like it’s on the cards.”


Willow nodded again.


“Of course. Can I help in any way?”


Tara’s lips sloped up on one side.


“Keep the bed warm for me?”


Willow smiled and leaned over to kiss Tara softly.


“I love you,” Tara whispered.


“I love you,” Willow whispered back, then furrowed her brow again, “For the future, are we really okay with boy-slash-girl friends of the smoochie and snuggle variety staying over?”


“I am,” Tara replied definitively as she looked around for the remote to turn off the television, “I’d rather that than in the back of a car somewhere or in the bushes.”


“TV off,” Willow called into the ether and the television dutifully turned itself off, “It wouldn’t kill them to wait. We did.”


Tara’s eyebrow arched.


“What if we’d met our sophomore year of high school instead of our sophomore year of college?”


It took less than a second for Willow to look sheepish.


“Point taken.”


Tara looked off to the side.


“I wonder if it’s time to put condoms in the medicine cabinet…”


Willow looked pained and nauseous all at once.


“Can we go back to me keeping the bed warm?”


Tara smiled back at her wife.


“I know it will take a while with those icicle tootsies.”


Willow pecked Tara’s lips again and retreated with a grin.


“They’ll be waiting…”


Tara smiled softly, then frowned toward the ceiling.


She fetched her laptop from under the coffee table and got to work.



When Willow woke the next morning she had no memory of Tara coming to bed.


And when she looked over to the other side of the empty bed, she wasn’t sure Tara had come to bed at all.


She swung her legs out of bed and had to spend a few seconds rolling the base of her spine so her back wouldn’t protest the mere act of standing.


Her 40s liked to remind her of their existence every morning with this little routine. If she didn’t comply, Willow could expect retribution in the form of a hitch and a kink, with a side of a twinge that would last all day.


She would demonstrably object to all of this aging malarkey if it weren’t for Tara’s cute crow’s feet greeting her every morning. A compliment she had voiced just the once. The look Tara had given her afterward had made her back pop into place in fear.


She stretched her arms upward for good measure and smiled when she stood up without issue.


Tara, of course, didn’t have these issues because she took weekly yoga classes but Willow wasn’t about to grumble about her wife’s flexibility.


She took her robe from the back of the door and closed it over her body before leaving the room to head downstairs.


The house was quiet, which was unusual for a lot of the time, but not so much early on a Saturday morning.


She could hear the faint sound of a metal spoon knocking around a cup of tea and so went to the kitchen where Tara was standing at the island, her laptop open. She was stirring a cup of coffee, not tea.


“There you are,” Willow said and Tara looked up with weary eyes grateful to see her, “Did you come to bed at all?”


“For a bit,” Tara answered, standing up straight and holding her cup between both hands, “You were drooling.”


“Was not,” Willow replied indignantly.


She pecked Tara’s cheek but when she went to move off, Tara caught her by the wrist. Tara put her cup down and swung her arms around Willow’s neck, then leaned in and pressed her lips to Willow properly.


Willow’s hands settled on Tara’s waist and she returned the kiss for several long seconds until they parted.


“Oh, honey,” Willow said sympathetically. She knew what kind of kiss that was, “That bad?”


Tara’s hands slowly fell away from Willow’s shoulders and she heaved a soft, extended sigh.


“Well, without telling you anything identifying…”


Willow nodded quickly.


“Of course.”


Tara picked up her cup of coffee again and cracked her neck from side to side.


“He’s known in the system. His parents died when he was young and he’s been living with relatives. There’s been numerous reports about violence in the home that neighbors have overheard. There’s also corroborating ER visit reports.”


Willow’s eyes closed painfully and she leaned gently against the fridge for support.


“Oh no.”


Tara nodded solemnly.


“Three weeks ago there was a scheduled visit and Kayden wasn’t there, nor were there any signs of him. The relatives said he was just out with friends but he hasn’t been there for repeated calls,” she said and sighed, “I think JJ was right and he’s been living at the school. I’ve requested security footage to be sure.”


“Oh my god,” Willow breathed.


Tara’s knuckles turned white around the cup.


“I’m furious that he’s fallen through the cracks like this.”


Willow pushed off the fridge and came over to rub Tara’s arm.


“Well I know he wasn’t a case under you. Because your kids don’t fall through the cracks.”


Tara slowly relaxed under Willow’s touch.


“Different office. The relatives that he’s living with live in a different part of town. But his school is under my jurisdiction so I’ve requested a transfer.”


“Are you stepping on any professional toes?” Willow asked with an anticipatory pained smile, but Tara just shook her head.


“Unfortunately a lot of social workers are just grateful to have one less case on the pile. Not their fault, it’s the system. There just aren’t enough resources.”


Tara’s head ducked and Willow pulled her into a fresh hug.


“Oh, baby.”


Tara inhaled softly from Willow’s neck and found her strength. As she pulled back to straighten her back, she spotted old sneakers quietly rushing down the stairs through the open door. She rushed out of the kitchen and caught Kayden about seven inches from bolting out the front door.


“Whoa there,” she said with a cheery, disarming smile, “Where are you off to so quick?”


Kayden shrugged his guitar case over his shoulder as his unkempt hair fell into his eyes when he looked downward.


“I-I made the bed.”


“Oh, that was good of you,” Tara replied easily, “Normally when I go up there it’s just a mess of sheets and pillows.”


Kayden remained silent with his eyes on the floor and the small space between them felt like it was being pushed further and further by some invisible force field.


Tara made herself seem as nonthreatening as possible; it wasn’t difficult.


“Kayden, I’d like to speak to you for a few minutes. Would that be okay?”


“Um, I guess,” Kayden replied cagily and shrugged his case on his shoulder again.


Tara guided him without touch into the living room and let him sit on the sofa while she sat on the footstool in front of him. She held her legs together and clasped her hands in front of her with a smile.


“You play guitar?” she asked easily, smiling toward the case leaning against the arm of the chair, “Lily just started piano. Maybe you could play together sometime.”


Kayden looked up, surprised at that suggestion.


“I…used to,” he replied cagily again, “It got…broken.”


Tara nodded but her brow creased just a tad; a little furrow between her eyes.


“How did it get broken, sweetie?”


Kayden clammed up and his eyes returned to the floor. Tara nodded again and sat a bit straighter.


“Did JJ tell you what I do?”


Kayden looked up quizzically and Tara got her answer.


“Well, I’m a social worker.”


Kayden’s demeanor immediately changed. He seemed stuck between falling over himself to get out of there and sinking back enough that the couch could have swallowed him whole.


Tara felt the waves of fear pouring out of him. These conversations never got easier.


“I know you’ve met people like me before,” she continued softly, “And that they’ve let you down.”


Kayden’s skittish eyes met Tara’s for a single second, but a whole single second. Tara’s empathy poured out enough to keep his gaze.


“Where were you going to sleep last night Kayden? Before you came here?”


Kayden swayed his head from side to side.


“I can’t tell you.”


“Why can’t you tell me?” Tara prompted gently.


Kayden’s eyes shut and Tara knew without seeing that they were hiding tears.


“I know your aunt and your uncle are your legal guardians. Were you going to go to their house?”


Kayden’s face crumpled but his eyes remained shut tight. He hesitated, then shook his head.


“How come?” Tara asked softly.


Kayden looked to the side and swiped his sleeve over his eyes.


“JJ invited me here.”


“And we loved having you,” Tara replied quickly, kindly, honestly, “You’re the politest friend JJ has ever brought home. Maybe you could teach my lot some manners.”


Kayden’s knee was shaking nervously and Tara put a gentle hand on it.


“Do you want some hot cocoa, sweetie? It’s cold this morning.”


Kayden held himself closed off with his arms around himself, but some youthful vulnerability shone in his eyes at the prospect of some hot chocolate.


“I don’t like being a pain.”


Tara laughed softly.


“Oh, you’re nothing like it. I gave birth to twins, trust me I know pain,” she joked with a smile, “Willow?”


Willow’s head popped around the door moments later.


“Could you get the cocoa out for us?” Tara requested with a pointed look.


“It’s the morning for it,” Willow smiled easily, “Coming right up.”


Kayden’s arms slowly released by his sides. Tara looked at him kindly.


“I know these questions that I’m asking are hard,” she said with a steady nod of her head, “And I think you know why I’m asking them.”


Kayden got tense again and Tara quickly adjusted her tone.


“Kayden, this is a safe space. You can talk to me.”


Kayden’s head jerked from side to side. He looked down.


“When I talk I just get hurt.”


“Who hurts you?” Tara asked quickly, but was met with shaking silence, “Is it your aunt? Or your…”


Kayden flinched. Tara exhaled.


“Your uncle.”


Kayden had quickly been brought to the point of tears again.


“How does he hurt you?” Tara forced herself to ask, because she had to, “Kayden, how did your guitar break?”


Kayden knees rattled. He shook his head several times and clasped his hands together tightly. He glanced at Tara and then away again quickly before running his hand through his hair. He sat back against the couch and winced in pain.


Tara waited and said nothing. Kayden cast longer and longer looks in Tara’s direction and she would look back and offer eyes full of compassion. Eventually, he sat forward and pulled his dirty, old t-shirt up his back.


It was crisscrossed with various cuts and bruises and Tara spotted some splinters. She fought to keep the shake out of her voice.


“Kayden, he had no right to do that to you.”


The totality of what he had revealed seemed to hit Kayden and he grabbed his case, making an uncomfortable face as it hit his back again which could now be recognized as a wince.


“I gotta go.”


Tara jumped up quickly and caught Kayden’s wrist.


“Kayden.”


“Get off me!” Kayden pushed her hand away and looked immediately regretful but no less skittish, “I can’t go back there!”


“You won’t,” Tara said resolutely and gently took his shoulders, “Kayden, listen to me.”


Kayden looked everywhere but Tara’s face for several seconds, then couldn’t help it. He immediately burst into tears and didn’t know what to do when Tara tried to hug him, so unused to the offer of a comforting embrace.


“Please don’t send me back there,” he whimpered as Tara’s warmth let him lower his guard long enough to allow it.


Tara rubbed his back like she had so many children before him, but was extra gentle with him.


“You’re staying right here with us until we can get this figured out. You won’t go back to your aunt and uncle, I promise.”


She spotted Willow in the doorway holding two mugs and gestured her in. She saw Kayden try to cover up his little moment of vulnerability and gently pushed his shoulder.


“Go get some breakfast, okay?”


“There’s cereal and raisin bread on the island,” Willow added kindly and shoved one mug at him, “And here, take your hot chocolate.”


Kayden took the mug and stared into it. He took a little, cautious sip, then looked between Willow and Tara and finally retreated off to get some food.


Willow slowly turned to Tara with wide eyes.


“Can you make that kind of promise?”


Tara’s eyes looked troubled yet determined.


“I just did.”

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 12th 2020)
PostPosted: Sun Jun 14, 2020 5:12 am 
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5. Willowhand

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Dibs! :whip
I'm so thrilled that you started the next part of FC! :applause :bounce :banana

As to the timeline, I guess that it's 2 or 3 years after the epilogue of the last part and that JJ is 16 or 17 years old, am I correct?
Quote:
He started to walk away but frowned as he neared the door.


Something felt really funky.


He glanced over his shoulder and caught the boy just sitting on one of the benches, looking down at the floor. He turned back around into sight and found himself blurting out words à la his redheaded mother.


“Hey, you hungry?”


The boy looked up, startled again to see him still there.


JJ gestured behind himself awkwardly.


“I just gotta get home for dinner and my mom cooked chili. There’s always way too much and then I gotta eat these leftovers…” he trailed off sheepishly, “Just be cool to have someone to help.”


The boy opened his mouth to protest but his stomach rumbling thwarted him. He blushed and looked down.


“Hey, it’s whatever man,” JJ continued, trying to seem casual, “There’s just always so much food, y’know?”

Quote:
“Hey, you know, it’s late.”


Kayden’s jaw clenched again.


“Yeah,” he said, looking around the room and closing his eyes as if he was hiding tears, “Yeah, I should go.”


“Or you can stay, man, if you want,” JJ offered gently, “My couch here pulls out. Still raining pretty hard out there.”


He stood up and stayed a few feet away to give Kayden space.


“Just crash, dude. If you want.”


Quote:
“Um, can I talk to you guys?”


Both Willow and Tara swung their legs from the footstool and gave him their full attention.


“About anything,” Tara replied gently, then after a brief glance at Willow, slipped her hand into JJ’s hand, “Sweetie, you know that anyone who is…special to you…is welcome here, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl.”


Willow’s brow furrowed but she stayed quiet.


“Oh, yeah, no, I know that,” JJ shook his head with a grimace, “This isn’t that.”


“What is ‘this’?” Willow pressed with that eyebrow still angled.


JJ reached back behind himself and scratched between his shoulder blades.


“Well, the thing is I, uh…well, I don’t know. See, I never even met the kid before today. But something is weird. I think he could, uh…maybe be homeless?”


Both Willow and Tara’s eyebrows rose high on their foreheads.


“Why do you think that?” Tara asked, still soft but firm now too.


JJ gnawed on the corner of his lip.


“Well, I caught him sneaking around the locker room way after anyone left and he doesn’t even play sports. All he had was his guitar case but I looked inside and it just had some clothes and a toothbrush and old candy wrappers. Plus he said he doesn’t have any parents, just an aunt, and uncle but that they don’t care where he is.”


He paused and looked up vulnerably.


“He looked hungry, Mom. That’s why I brought him home.”


Tara shared his pained look.


“You’re a good boy,” she said, reaching out to cup his cheek, “I’m going to take care of this, okay? Don’t worry about it.

I love that JJ not only recognised at all that something is wrong (most other teenagers probably wouldn't have) but that he acted on his instincts, offering Kayden a meal and a place to sleep without "making a big deal out of it" (which would have embarrassed Kayden and probably driven him away). JJ obviously has "inherited" the good heart of both of his mothers, Tara's empathy and enough wisdom to realize that he needs his mothers' help when he wants to help Kayden in the long term. The great little boy has grown into a great adolscent, Tara and Willow can be proud of him!

Quote:
“You’re riding my ass hard dude!”


Kayden stiffened and dropped his controller. He tripped backward trying to take a step away.


“I’m not a faggot!”


JJ’s eyes widened and he slowly held his hands up.


“Whoa man,” he said, watching Kayden’s cheeks and then his whole face turn bright red, “Hey I wasn’t…”


Kayden’s eyes blinked twice and his head shook before he slowly deflated with downcast eyes.


“I’m sorry,” he said so quietly it almost couldn’t be heard.


JJ waited for a beat until his own breath calmed back down too.


“Real talk bro, that ain’t cool. I got two moms. And little sisters. That kinda language, it ain’t cool.”


“I know, I’m sorry,” Kayden shook his head violently to himself, “Your moms are cool. I’m sorry.”



Quote:
JJ picked up the sketchbook but realized the moment he opened it and saw a sketch of two boys holding hands that he shouldn’t be looking at it.

So obviously poor abused Kayden is a heavily closeted gay boy who is scared / ashamed of his own feelings - and probably would have been or was already beaten even worse by his uncle if he found out that Kayden is gay.

Quote:
“Kayden, this is a safe space. You can talk to me.”


Kayden’s head jerked from side to side. He looked down.


“When I talk I just get hurt.”


“Who hurts you?” Tara asked quickly, but was met with shaking silence, “Is it your aunt? Or your…”


Kayden flinched. Tara exhaled.


“Your uncle.”


Kayden had quickly been brought to the point of tears again.


“How does he hurt you?” Tara forced herself to ask, because she had to, “Kayden, how did your guitar break?”


Kayden knees rattled. He shook his head several times and clasped his hands together tightly. He glanced at Tara and then away again quickly before running his hand through his hair. He sat back against the couch and winced in pain.


Tara waited and said nothing. Kayden cast longer and longer looks in Tara’s direction and she would look back and offer eyes full of compassion. Eventually, he sat forward and pulled his dirty, old t-shirt up his back.


It was crisscrossed with various cuts and bruises and Tara spotted some splinters. She fought to keep the shake out of her voice.


“Kayden, he had no right to do that to you.”

:cry Splinters?! So his uncle broke his guitar by beating Kayden up with it?! :fit I really hope this arsehole will go to jail for abusing Kayden (not like Tara's father who was never punished for abusing Tara all these years).

Quote:
Kayden looked everywhere but Tara’s face for several seconds, then couldn’t help it. He immediately burst into tears and didn’t know what to do when Tara tried to hug him, so unused to the offer of a comforting embrace.


“Please don’t send me back there,” he whimpered as Tara’s warmth let him lower his guard long enough to allow it.


Tara rubbed his back like she had so many children before him, but was extra gentle with him.


“You’re staying right here with us until we can get this figured out. You won’t go back to your aunt and uncle, I promise.”

Quote:
Willow slowly turned to Tara with wide eyes.


“Can you make that kind of promise?”


Tara’s eyes looked troubled yet determined.


“I just did.”

I really hope Tara can fulfil this promise! So I guess Kayden will be the new addition to the family and that Tara and Willow will become his foster parents and adopt him later? I didn't expect something like that but I love it, Laragh! I'm still looking forward to some toddler cuteness when Liam visits them.

I can hardly wait for the next chapter - will you post every tuesday and friday like you did with the last story (until I pestered you to post daily updates)?


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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 12th 2020)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 5:00 am 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 1:22 pm
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Will's redemption

Quote:
Dibs! :whip


I would expect nothing less!

Quote:
I'm so thrilled that you started the next part of FC! :applause :bounce :banana


Thank you! So glad to have you on board!

Quote:
As to the timeline, I guess that it's 2 or 3 years after the epilogue of the last part and that JJ is 16 or 17 years old, am I correct?


Yup right around 2 years (a little less but right around there)

Quote:
I love that JJ not only recognised at all that something is wrong (most other teenagers probably wouldn't have) but that he acted on his instincts, offering Kayden a meal and a place to sleep without "making a big deal out of it" (which would have embarrassed Kayden and probably driven him away). JJ obviously has "inherited" the good heart of both of his mothers, Tara's empathy and enough wisdom to realize that he needs his mothers' help when he wants to help Kayden in the long term. The great little boy has grown into a great adolscent, Tara and Willow can be proud of him!


JJ was always quite sensitive and perceptive with his moms and his sisters so it was natural to me that that would extend to the world at large!

Quote:
So obviously poor abused Kayden is a heavily closeted gay boy who is scared / ashamed of his own feelings - and probably would have been or was already beaten even worse by his uncle if he found out that Kayden is gay.


You may just be right...

Quote:
:cry Splinters?! So his uncle broke his guitar by beating Kayden up with it?! :fit I really hope this arsehole will go to jail for abusing Kayden (not like Tara's father who was never punished for abusing Tara all these years).


Something will happen to him, but no punishment is enough for what he's done IMO. Like all bullies, he will be a coward to the bitter end.

Quote:
I really hope Tara can fulfil this promise! So I guess Kayden will be the new addition to the family and that Tara and Willow will become his foster parents and adopt him later? I didn't expect something like that but I love it, Laragh! I'm still looking forward to some toddler cuteness when Liam visits them.


Yes I apologize for the lack of them-having-a-new-baby cuteness but family finds each other in mysterious ways! And of course, Liam will feature.

Quote:
I can hardly wait for the next chapter - will you post every tuesday and friday like you did with the last story (until I pestered you to post daily updates)?


Tuesdays and Fridays seem to work! This fic is shorter again than FC2, it'll be about 21 chapters so right in around 10 weeks of posting.




Update Directly Below

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 12th 2020)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 5:00 am 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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Chapter Two




“Okay, whose turn is it to stir first?”


Three hands went up as Robyn and Lily fought each other to reach up while Emily hung back, waving gently. Tara knew it was really Emily’s turn because Emily was the only one who wouldn’t lie about it.


“Come here koala bear,” she said and brought the bowl of pancake batter down for Emily to wield her little arm around.


“I’m next!” Lily shoved herself forward and Tara let her and Robyn duke it out as she had learned to come between their conflicts only made things worse.


It had taken a bonk on the head to figure that one out, a literal one.


Once each girl had had the opportunity to stir the batter, Tara lifted it toward Kayden, who was sitting at the island trying his best to look invisible.


“Would you like to stir, Kayden?”


Kayden looked almost startled to be addressed and quickly shook his head. Tara just smiled easily.


“Okay, then you get to decide if we cook funny shapes or round.”


With three sets of young, eager eyes staring up at him, Kayden’s brow furrowed with concentration.


“…funny shapes?”


“Yeah, yeah, yeah!!” came the cheers from the girls and Kayden looked relieved and even slightly pleased that he’d made the right choice.


Tara turned to the burner and ladled the first scoop of batter into the skillet.


“Okay girls, get your plates!”


They lined up in the same order they’d stirred in and Tara quickly got a steady stream of pancakes coming out. Once the girls had taken theirs, she brought the next one over to Kayden on a plate.


“I tried to do a guitar but I didn’t quite succeed,” she replied bashfully and smiled, “Still tastes as good.”


Kayden looked down at the plate and back up at Tara.


“T-thank you.”


Tara leaned over the island on her elbows to be more at his level.


“Sorry for the running commentary on whether their pancake is a rhombus or a parallelogram. Willow says it’s a good way to prepare them for geometry,” she said affectionately as the girls argued among themselves beside him, “Do you do geometry classes?”


“Yeah,” Kayden replied and swallowed deeply, “Tomorrow morning.”


He used the fork to nibble on his pancake then looked at Tara again the way he had when she first gave it to him; disconcerted.


“What’s going to happen? Tomorrow?”


“You’re going to go to school,” Tara replied easily, covering Kayden’s hand with hers, “And you’re going to listen to everything your teacher has to say so that you can help me make some new shapes. Okay?”


Kayden gulped again and Tara patted his hand.


“If you need to talk you can pull me aside any time, okay?” she promised in a gentle tone and didn’t dwell, “Another pancake?”


“Did I hear pancakes?” JJ’s voice came from the hall and he appeared moments later shirtless and wearing just his pajama bottoms.


“How nice of you to join us,” Tara said with a wry smile over her shoulder.


There was a chorus of good mornings from the girls and Kayden nodded at him.


“Alright man,” JJ said as he ran his hand back through his sandy hair with one hand and patted Kayden on the back with the other, missing his wince.


“Finished!” Lily announced first and all but dove off of her stool.


“Bring your plate to the sink please,” Tara advised, then reached into a nearby cabinet and took down two little bottles.


She poured a cup of water and bent down to Lily’s level.


“Mommy’s going to take her pill and you’ll take yours, okay?”


She swallowed her anti-depressant and watched Lily take her Ritalin. She kissed Lily's head.


“Good girl. Go play with your sisters.”


Lily skidded back over in that direction, but just like the rest of the weekend, she was far more interested in their house guest. She pulled out of his sleeve.


“Kayden, come see my costumes! I have Elsa and Hermione and Wonder Woman and a pirate and a minion and…”


“No Kayden, come show me your guitar!” Robyn insisted, tugging him from the side.


“We can draw i-if you wanna,” Emily suggested shyly, adjusting her glasses so her face would be hidden.


“Girls, leave Kayden alone,” Tara warned.


“I-it’s okay,” Kayden replied agreeably, “I can play with you guys.”


He was promptly dragged off and JJ thrust his chest out.


“I’ve been replaced.”


“Never,” Tara shook her head and squeezed JJ’s defined bicep, “Just the excitement of someone new to hang out of.”


JJ just smiled; he was easy going like that, though there was a troubled twitch on his lips.


“Mom, what’s happening?”


Tara met his gaze assuredly.


“You let me take care of it, okay?”


JJ smiled again and glanced down at himself.


“Am I dressed for pancakes?”


“You’re barely dressed at all,” Tara replied wryly with her lips quirking up on one side, “But I think that’s fine for pancakes.”


JJ went over to the fridge and opened it.


“Can I have a funny shape?” he asked as he unscrewed the cap on the orange juice and started to chug it.


Tara nodded.


“Yes, you — use a glass, please — yes, you can.”


When he didn’t, Tara flicked his abs with the spatula.


“Jacob James. Glass.”


JJ just put the orange juice carton back in the door of the fridge instead.


“Did you know the name James comes from the name Jacob?” he asked, kicking his leg back up behind him as he crossed his arms across his chest, “Why’d you name me two of the same name?”


“We kinda had to name you in a hurry, bud,” Willow’s sleepy voice came from the doorway as she walked in wrapped in her robe, “Didn’t have time to look up the etymological origins of every name that popped into our heads. You were JJ before you were Jacob or James.”


“You’re lucky you’re not John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt considering that’s was what inspired your name,” Tara added as she slid a pancake onto a plate and handed it over to him, “Funny shape.”


JJ kissed Tara’s cheek.


“Thanks, Mom,” he said as he walked past to join the other kids in the living room, “Ooh, a polygon.”


Willow walked up and embraced Tara from behind.


“One of those available for me?”


“If you give me a couple of minutes,” Tara answered as she gave the last of the batter a fresh stir.


“Guess I’ll just have to hang on,” Willow joked with a chuckled on Tara’s neck.


Tara smiled.


“Good morning love,” she greeted softly.


“Good morning,” Willow replied with a kiss to the side of Willow’s neck, “Thanks for holding down the fort this morning.”


“I was up early anyway to tend to my roses,” Tara said then let out a soft exhale, “Kayden was already awake when I got up.”


“Yeah?” Willow asked with an unseen eyebrow raise.


“He was cleaning,” Tara nodded in a slightly tense tone, “Emptied the dishwasher and took out the trash.”


Willow frowned.


“Oh?”


Tara nodded again.


“I think he thinks we need to think he’s useful or we’ll kick him out onto the streets again…or worse, where he was before.”


“Oh,” Willow replied through a long breath, “I hope he doesn’t think we’d kick him out. He’s a really sweet boy, so polite. You’d never know he’s going through so much.”


“Mmm…” Tara said uncomfortably, “At least he isn’t running. That says something. That he’s stayed when he’s had the opportunity to go.”


Willow nodded on Tara’s shoulder.


“It does. Says something about you. And now I get to say something about you. I love you.”


Tara leaned back to press a kiss to Willow’s lips.


“I love you too.”


In the hallway, Kayden spied on the silent embrace and crossed his own arms across his body to hug himself.



Tara weaved through the cubicles at work at a fast pace to get to the meeting room in the back.


The three other team leaders were already in there, so Tara closed the door behind her when she got in.


“Hi Steph, hi Arnold, hi, Ross,” she greeted as she took a seat around the table and opened her binder, “I’m so sorry that I’m late. I dropped the kids right to school this morning and traffic was hell.”


“It’s not a problem, we hadn’t even started yet,” Steph replied in a friendly tone, “But if everyone is ready…”


Everyone else’s binders were opened and they began the discussion of their cases for the week ahead.


“Tara, I can see you initiated a transfer from the Emerson office…” Steph said as she pulled one of the last files in the middle of the table toward her.


“I presented the home with formal papers of child acquisition this morning,” Tara replied as she clicked her pen back into use.


Steph looked up from the page in surprise.


“You only requested the transfer this morning.”


“I requested the transfer on Saturday,” Tara clarified, “The system only put it through this morning. There was no contest from Emerson. I’d given them a heads up already.”


Steph exchanged a confused look with the two men, who seemed to be as befuddled as she was by the turn of events.


“You weren’t on call this weekend, were you?” Steph asked as her eyes scanned the small amount of documents in her possession to put the pieces together, “I think you’re going to have to walk us through this one, Tara.”


Tara sat up straighter in her chair and held a page scribbled with her notes in front of it.


“I was made aware of a 14-year-old boy, Kayden West, possibly presenting himself as homeless on Friday night and upon looking into his case found a troubling history that wasn’t getting the attention it required. I later received a verbal admission of physical abuse in the home from the young person. I initiated proceedings to formally remove him from the custody of his maternal aunt Roxy Mackenzie-Miller and her husband Antony Miller. Parents are deceased, no other living relatives are known.”


Steph wrote her own notes as Tara spoke.


“How were you made aware of these circumstances?”


Tara set her pen down.


“My son him brought him home. Found him in the school after hours and was suspicious.”


“Wise boy,” Steph replied, tucking some hair behind her ear as it fell into her face from looking down at her notepad, “This certainly warrants an investigation that should have taken place before now. Has Kayden been taken into our custody? Was an emergency foster home found for the weekend or has he been placed in a group home?”


“He’s in school,” Tara replied evenly, “I’ll collect him at the end of the day.”


Steph looked up with an arched eyebrow.


“Why? That’s not in your job description. Put a caseworker on it.”


“He came to my house as a friend of my son’s and has been staying with us while I got everything figured out,” Tara explained, “It was the weekend and he is very fragile. I filed my first report on Friday night remotely from home detailing this.”


Steph nodded quickly.


“Okay then. You should assign him a caseworker who can find a suitable home to place him in.”


Steph started to pull the next file from the pile and turned to address Ross but Tara held a hand up.


“Actually, I already found him a placement,” she said, breath exhaling softly, “He can stay in my home.”


Ross and Arnold both looked bewildered and Steph’s mouth stayed parted in surprise.


“Tara…”


“I’m concerned he’s a flight risk and that any more destabilization could cause us to lose sight of him,” Tara responded to the question that hadn’t been asked, “He’s already proven he’s willing to make himself homeless. He’s settled with my family and I believe it is in his best interests to stay at least until we know what the next steps are.”


Steph held her head in her hand, massaging her temple.


“Tara, you can’t just shelter clients. You of all people know that.”


“There are exceptions,” Tara replied resolutely.


The men both sat back silently. Steph was the boss and they weren’t about to get in the middle of whatever this turned out to be.


“Tara, this is beyond the remit of our reach as professionals,” Steph continued in a strong tone, “Your professional ability is what’s gotten you promoted against people with seniority. You can’t make this personal.”


“My son brought this boy home. This is the definition of personal,” Tara replied and found her heart pounding a bit, “My accreditations are up to date. There’s no legal reason he can’t stay with me.”


Steph looked over at Tara seriously.


“If you take him in, you cannot be the lead on his case. It’s a complete conflict of interest.”


Tara closed Kayden’s file and pushed it across the table to her.


“You’ll find everything is in order and up-to-date.”


Steph snatched it but made herself take a breath.


“Tara, what’s your end game here?”


Tara breathed once before answering.


“To be a stable home for him.”


Steph laughed, a bit at a loss.


“If you’re actually proposing fostering this boy, you’ll still have to take the classes, just like any other foster parent would.”


Tara nodded.


“I’m aware.”


“So will your wife,” Steph challenged.


Tara nodded again, with a small twitch.


“Yes.”


“You’ll have to have a home visit,” Steph added with an arched eyebrow, “Have the appropriate reports written up. Go through every other step that every other prospective family has to go through.”


Tara closed her eyes for a moment. She wasn’t even sure she’d meant to say everything she was saying. All she could see were Kayden’s troubled, brown eyes.


“I understand the procedures. I am not letting that boy be let down again.”


Steph saw the compassion so clear in Tara’s eyes and nodded once, trusting.


“Okay. You’ll need a signature from a judge and you’ll be excluded from all internal communication regarding his case going forward.”


Tara nodded and pushed back her chair.


“Understood.”


She took her binder and new files and quietly left the room, with two gaping men and a sighing woman left behind.


“There’s only one way this ends,” Steph shook her head.


Arnold looked over to her, a v in his brow.


“How’s that?”


Steph had a hint of a smile on her face as she crossed Tara’s name off the lead caseworker on Kayden’s file.


“The exact same way it did last time.”



Willow walked into the little café situated between hers and Tara’s offices where they liked to meet for lunch occasionally when schedules allowed. Usually, it was something they planned in advance, unlike this meeting which Willow had hurried from work for when Tara called and asked to meet urgently.


Willow looked around and spotted Tara in the corner, holding her face in both hands. She quickly went over and swung herself into the chair opposite her wife.


“Hey,” she said softly, placing her hand on Tara’s arm and caressing her gently, “What’s with the stress face?”


Tara gratefully let Willow hold her arms across the table.


“Everything has tumbled somewhere I didn’t intend it to go. I-I wasn’t thinking, or else I was thinking really clearly. But now I don’t know what to do.”


Willow drew her hands back to link both sets of fingers.


“You want us to take Kayden in, don’t you?” she asked softly.


Tara looked up with surprised, vulnerable eyes.


“I kind of already said we would,” she said, tears filling them, “I should not have done that, no way. Not without talking to you.”


“Tara,” Willow replied gently, “If you hadn’t offered to take him, you wouldn’t be the woman I married.”


Tara felt her soul soothed for a moment and was able to take a calming breath. When she opened her eyes again they were unclouded.


“Willow, I have to tell you. This isn’t a situation where we try to promote reunification.”


A small line appeared in Willow’s brow.


“Dumb it down for me please.”


Tara stroked her fingers against Willow’s.


“His placement would not be for just a couple of weeks.”


Willow nodded slowly.


“You’re saying if we agree to this, we’re agreeing to a long-term foster situation.”


Tara nodded back.


“With all of the complications that come with it.”


“Tara,” Willow breathed easily, “Our son brought this boy home because he saw the need in him. We’re involved whether we like it or not. And I know that you would never forgive yourself if you didn’t do everything in your power to help. I wouldn’t either.”


Tara closed her eyes and nodded with something akin to relief.


“Are our children safe?” Willow asked with some concern.


Tara looked back at Willow and cleared her throat.


“He would have mandatory counseling but I would be lying if I said that there won’t be issues. Abuse cases always present issues, ranging from emotional to behavioral.”


“Well our kids haven’t been abused a day in their lives and even they have some emotional and behavioral issues,” Willow replied with a one-shoulder shrug, “I know it won’t be easy but we’ve dealt with a lot of not-easy stuff before. If you trust that he’s safe in our care and our family are safe with him, I trust you.”


“Nothing in his history speaks to violence,” Tara said, rolling her bottom lip against her top to get some moisture, “His school reports all list a quiet, sometimes withdrawn boy but friendly and kind.”


Willow started to draw circles in Tara’s palm, a movement that calmed them both.


“Can you tell me more about his background?”


“Yes,” Tara replied and cleared her throat as she reached into her purse to take out a small notepad, “Yes. He was born to Veronica aka Ronnie Mackensie and Austin West. Austin was incarcerated when Kayden was age six for carjacking and motor vehicle theft and subsequently died in a prison riot the following year. Family services were not engaged at this point.”


She stopped and shook her head, angry.


“An immediate failure when a parent has been incarcerated, but that’s a past issue,” she sniped and swallowed, “Ronnie died as a result of a heroin overdose when Kayden was 10. It is unknown for how long she was a user but maintained an employment history, albeit erratic, right up until her death. Ruled as an accidental overdose. History of bipolar disorder and intermittent compliance with medication.”


Tara looked up and saw Willow reeling a bit.


“Need a minute?”


“It’s okay,” Willow replied unconvincingly.


Tara just nodded but softened her tone.


“His only living relatives were his mother’s sister with whom he was placed after her death. She subsequently married her partner, Antony Miller whom Kayden has identified as having perpetrated physical abuse against him. Inquiries into any other abuse in the home are currently ongoing.”


Willow paled.


“They hit him?”


Tara looked up and her eyes drooped.


“The uncle broke his guitar over his back,” she said without a quiver but plenty of pain in her tone, “There’s lots of littered ER reports to suggest it wasn’t a once-off.”


Willow closed her eyes and shuddered.


“They have any other kids?”


Tara shook her head.


“No other children present in the home.”


Willow took a whole minute to process everything.


“Do you really listen to cases like this every day?”


Tara pursed her lips.


“And worse,” she replied and waited for Willow to seem less tense, but she didn’t, “You need time.”


“No. I don’t,” Willow replied quickly, “Well, maybe I do, but we don’t have it. I never expected us to take on another kid but I never expected us to take on our first kid either.”


She pressed their palms together tightly.


“It’s only because your heart is so big that we have our son. So how can I say no now?”


“You can say no,” Tara replied with an assured nod, “I need you to know that you can say no and that it won’t come between us.”


“It would,” Willow replied softly, “Because if I said no I wouldn’t be the woman than a woman like you chose to marry in the first place. A woman that trusts you implicitly and knows your heart is the heart of our whole family.”


Tara’s eyes filled and Willow brought her chair around so she could put her arm over Tara’s shoulders.


“I know he’s only been here for the weekend but I haven’t seen anything that gives me concern. Except that he’s clearly in need of a lot of love,” she said with a soft smile, “Something we happen to have in abundance.”


She pecked Tara’s cheek and looked at her with utter trust. Tara took in a long breath and smiled confidently.


“Then we better go. We’ve got an appointment at the courthouse.”

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 16th 2020)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2020 12:19 am 
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5. Willowhand

Joined: Sun Jan 19, 2014 6:01 am
Posts: 345
Dibs! :whip
I have to admit I feel a bit torn about this chapter. I'm thrilled that poor Kayden will have a stable home and love in spades from now on. But I'm bothered by the "knee jerk" like, unprofessional way Tara volunteered herself and Willow as foster parents for the next 4 years without talking it through with Willow first.
Quote:
Tara closed her eyes for a moment. She wasn’t even sure she’d meant to say everything she was saying. All she could see were Kayden’s troubled, brown eyes.

You see troubled children eyes almost on a daily basis Tara and you can't take every suffering and abused child home. If their very caring and empathic children should notice other kids who aren't well cared for at home in the future and ask their parents for help, Tara should think more clearly, discuss everything with Willow (and probably not volunteer to foster another child unless at least JJ and Robyn have "left the nest" already and are financially independent).

Quote:
“You want us to take Kayden in, don’t you?” she asked softly.


Tara looked up with surprised, vulnerable eyes.


“I kind of already said we would,” she said, tears filling them, “I should not have done that, no way. Not without talking to you.”


“Tara,” Willow replied gently, “If you hadn’t offered to take him, you wouldn’t be the woman I married.”

Quote:
“You need time.”


“No. I don’t,” Willow replied quickly, “Well, maybe I do, but we don’t have it. I never expected us to take on another kid but I never expected us to take on our first kid either.”


She pressed their palms together tightly.


“It’s only because your heart is so big that we have our son. So how can I say no now?”

I guess Willow already had the idea that they could offer to take Kayden into their home permanently and therefore wasn't shocked by what Tara did, but I still think she took it a little too much "in stride" that Tara alone made the decision for them both to volunteer as permanent foster parents. That is completely different from the case of JJ were Tara "just" volunteered them to care for a newborn baby for a weekend without asking Willow if she was okay with that first. When Tara practically "predecided" for them to keep Woofy Willow at least "struggled" with that a few minutes, pointing out that it meant a "10+ year commitment", but when Tara makes this decision which impacts the life of their whole family forever she's just "Yeah, okay, I expected nothing else from you."? That surprises me a little.

Quote:
“You can say no,” Tara replied with an assured nod, “I need you to know that you can say no and that it won’t come between us.”

Quote:
“Then we better go. We’ve got an appointment at the courthouse.”

And if Willow had said no, what would you have done with the court appointment Tara? Even if she felt pretty sure that Willow would agree with her decision, making that appointment without even knowing if her wife actually had time and could stay that long away from work feels a bit presumptuous to me...

Please don't take my comments the wrong way, I'm still glad that Kayden will become part of their family, but I would have preferred if Tara had this talk with Willow on Sunday and they had made the decision together before Tara talked to her "boss" and offered to foster Kayden.


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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 16th 2020)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2020 12:54 pm 
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10. Troll Hammer

Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2005 1:08 pm
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Location: Easton PA
"my lot" I always get a kick out of UK writers setting a story in America and having the characters use a British expression. And ivce versa (I admit picking up "Bloody hell" from watching Doctor in the House.)

Quite a challenging situation, but that's exactly the hallmark of your stories in this series. I was in my favorites when it happened but I recall my time living rough back in '02 and I'm glad Kayden is out of it. (Does his name have any deeper significance, a literary or mythological allusion?)

As for the language that JJ cautioned him on, eventually I plan to revise my fic Remembrance of Game Past, and in it the high school first quarterback, a complete jerk, uses "the d-word" to make a comment about W&T's middle daughter Autumn (also calling her date's mother a "gimp".) When I wrote that around 15 years ago, I was worried about an anachronism, thinking that maybe by 2026 nobody would dare use that kind of ;language at a school dance where anybody could hear him. The way some things are going, I hate to think my word choice was a bit too accurate. (Lol, he's older but my Buffy and Angel name their son Liam , too.)

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 16th 2020)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2020 2:00 am 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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Will's redemption — I've had a bad week and so don't really have the energy to break down my justification. The long and short of it is, Tara handled this case differently because it is different. A lot of this story plays on ideas of fate and destiny and Kayden is meant to be with them and they know it on a soul level even if the only way they can articulate this right now is acceptance of the situation. Thanks for your feedback.

DaddyCatALSO — I'm not from the UK :wink I'm sorry to hear about your troubles but glad you got out of it! I think unfortunately there'll always be people who use inappropriate language out of ignorance, malice etc. Thanks for your feedback.



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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 16th 2020)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 19, 2020 2:00 am 
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Chapter Three




On the steps of the courthouse, Willow took Tara’s hand as they descended back down to the street.


“So he can just come home with us now, right? He gets to stay with us while they do all the official stuff?”


“Yes,” Tara answered with a resolute smile, “It didn’t hurt that Hallie was the judge.”


“Nice to see her move up in the world when she helped us keep JJ,” Willow smiled back, “Okay, so…what do we do now?”


Tara blinked as she tried to take in the enormity of what they had just done.


“Guess we’ll have to fix up the other attic bedroom.”


Willow’s eyes lit up.


“Yes!” she said with a quick bob of her head, “I’ll call in the cavalry and get all of our junk moved to the basement. And I’ll get right onto the IKEA website.”


“Actually, I think I’d like to take him there myself,” Tara replied with a soft smile, “I feel like he hasn’t had much that’s his own in a while.”


“Right,” Willow said, clicking her fingers, “Yes, of course.”


She looked back at Tara.


“What’s next?”


“We’ll have to undergo an official assessment,” Tara answered slowly, “Take parenting classes and have a home study. Medical checks, background checks.”


“Which we both need for our jobs anyway, so no big deal,” Willow nodded, “How long is the parenting class?”


Tara grimaced.


“30 hours.”


Willow’s eyes popped out of her head.


“It’s specifically catered to the unique circumstances around fostering,” Tara explained, “It’s done over 10 weeks. One day or night a week for three hours. I’ve actually taught some.”


“They’re making you take the class when you’ve already taught it?!” Willow asked incredulously.


“We’re being assessed as any other foster parent would,” Tara replied calmly, “We’re lucky that we’ve gotten temporary custody until we’re certified and we really only got that because of my position. So we have to consider ourselves ahead of the game.”


“Right,” Willow breathed, “So what do we tell the kids? All of them, Kayden too?”


Tara thought for a moment.


“We tell Kayden he has a home,” she answered through a soft breath, “And we tell the others that Kayden is coming to live with us.”


Willow smiled.


“Incredibly simple, actually.”


They walked to the point of the street where they would have to physically part to return in their respective directions. Tara took both of Willow’s hands.


“Willow, there’s one thing that came up that I didn’t’ mention yet,” she said and visibly took in a long breath, “By all accounts, there have been reports of the neighbors overhearing Anthony repeatedly and angrily calling Kayden—”


She had to stop as her jaw set in anger. Her eyes blinked rapidly as she struggled to push the words out of her mouth.


“Calling him a faggot.”


Willow’s body slowly deflated.


“He’s gay.”


“That’s for him to say,” Tara replied quickly.


“Of course,” Willow nodded, swallowing, “Well, if he is…hopefully he’ll feel safe enough to tell us.”


Tara just hung her head and sighed.


“I want to collect the boys from school, just in case. I don’t want Kayden to get spooked.”


Willow nodded again.


“Well, I feigned intestinal distress to get out of work so I can’t really head back. Why don’t I go home and wait for the girls?”


“That would be great,” Tara answered, squeezing Willow’s hands.


“And we can order in tonight,” Willow suggested.


“No, no,” Tara shook her head, “No, I want Kayden to have a home-cooked meal.”


“Yes,” Willow replied resolutely, “You’re totally right. What should we cook?”


Tara thought about it for a moment.


“I’ll make spaghetti and meatballs.”


“…and I’ll buy extra napkins,” Willow said with a smile, “Okay. See you at home?”


Tara pecked Willow’s lips discreetly.


“See you at home.”


Willow nodded and started to move off in the opposite direction.


“Willow?” Tara called when she was a few feet away and waited for her to turn back, “Thank you.”


Willow just smiled.


“I don’t need thanks for doing the right thing.”


She blew a kiss and turned the corner back toward her office.


Tara took a moment to gather herself until a distracted lawyer bumped into her and she had to help him pick up all of his papers. She then checked her watch and quickly sped away to get back to the office building so she could hop in her car and get to the high school before the last class let out.


At the high school, JJ smiled and nodded at several girls as he passed through the hallways. He wasn’t as popular as the football players, but a few gazes lingered back.


Finally, he spotted who he was waiting for at the freshman lockers.


“Yo Kayden,” he called and Kayden looked startled to be addressed.


“JJ?” Kayden asked and looked over his shoulder as if another person with his name was standing behind them.


“My mom messaged me,” JJ replied as he leaned against the lockers, “Told me to bring you home with me.”


Kayden frowned.


“Why?”


JJ shrugged.


“I dunno dude but I am very in need of some snackage, so come with?”


Kayden hesitated for a moment, then put his guitar case on his back and silently agreed with a nod. He followed JJ out of the school as JJ waxed lyrical about the techniques he was using to improve his jump shot.


Tara was waiting outside and JJ grumbled as he slid open the door to sit in.


“Can I drive myself to school again tomorrow? Being picked up by your mom in a minivan is so uncool.”


“I can get you a bus pass if you’d like,” Tara replied pointedly and smiled over her shoulder, “Hi Kayden.”


Kayden looked uncomfortable as he sat small in the seat.


“H-Hi.”


Tara glanced at JJ, who was pulling his chunky headphones on and playing music loudly into his ears. Tara looked back to Kayden and lowered her voice.


“I know you need to know what’s going on. I’ll explain once we’re home. Everything is okay.”


Kayden just looked down at his knees. Tara looked at him sadly, then swatted her hand as best she could against JJ’s leg.


“Turn that down if you still want to be able to hear when you’re my age.”


“WHAT?!” JJ yelled over the music and Tara wished Willow was in the car to work with the greentooth or whatever it was called and shut those wireless headphones right off.


“Turn. It. Down,” she repeated and JJ seemed to get the message because the thrum of music around the car dropped to a dim hum.


She pulled away from the curb and smiled at Kayden through the rearview mirror.


“You can listen to your own music too if you’d like, Kayden. At an appropriate volume.”


Kayden frowned a little and shook his head.


“I like this.”


Tara realized that she hadn’t seen a phone in Kayden’s hand all weekend and deduced pretty quickly he didn’t have one. She glanced at the radio and turned it up some more on an oldies channel.


“You and Willow will get along. She loves Elvis too.”


Kayden just looked out the window contemplatively or perhaps forlornly.


As Tara turned onto their street she spotted the school bus cruise alongside her and three heads of red or reddish hair running up their driveway. Willow’s car was already there so Tara didn’t hurry in parking them up.


“Okay, come on boys,” she said as she stepped out and locked up the minivan.


She unlocked and held the front door open for them both. JJ dropped his book bag and headed for the kitchen. Tara smiled at Kayden and nodded for him to do the same.


“Hey pipsqueaks!” JJ’s voice carried through the hallway.


There was some little girl giggling and Lily pounced on Tara as soon as she saw her through the doorway.


“Mom-mom-mom-mom-mom-mom-mom!”


“Hi sweeties,” Tara greeted her and Emily as they ran out to say hello, “Did you all have a good day at school?”


“Mom!” Lily waved her hand Tara’s face.


“I hear you, I see you, sweetheart,” Tara comforted gently.


“I came first in the class spelling bee!” Lilly blurted excitedly.


“That’s fantastic,” Tara complimented, cupping Lily’s cheeks and kissing her head, “How did you do, Emily?”


Lily sighed heavily.


“She wouldn’t stand up in front of the class.”


“That’s okay,” Tara replied heartily, “I bet you knew all the words.”


Emily smiled shyly and nodded quickly. Tara winked at her and Emily stepped up on her toes proudly.


Robyn appeared then with a skateboard under one hand and a soccer ball under the other.


“I’m out,” she said casually as she walked toward the front door, “Heading parkside.”


Tara tapped Robyn’s shoulder pointedly.


“Excuse me young lady, that didn’t sound like asking for permission.”


Robyn turned back and rolled her eyes.


“Mom, I’m ten, jeez.”


Tara pursed her lips silently.


“You can go to the park when your homework is finished.”


Robyn’s face set angrily.


“Homework is a tool of societal oppression that tries to turn children into parrots instead of human beings with independent thought.”


Tara held Robyn’s face in her hands and kissed the top of her head as she had Lily.


“I don’t disagree with you but there’s nothing I can do about it until you convince the American education system of that argument.”


“Do I hear someone speaking out against homework?” Willow asked as she stepped out of the kitchen, “No child of mine would do such a thing.”


Robyn just scowled some more.


“Why are you home early?”


“For the warm welcome I’m getting,” Willow replied to her and stuck out her tongue before looking over to her wife, “Tara?”


“Yes,” Tara nodded to the question not asked, “Kayden?”


Kayden slowly appeared; head poking through first like a giraffe but much more timid.


“Did you get a snack?” Tara asked gently.


“Oh, um, no,” Kayden shook his head, reaching his hand over his shoulder to hold it awkwardly.


“I’ll get you one,” Willow offered and made a step toward the kitchen as the girls all ran back inside at the promise of snacks.


Tara guided Kayden into the living room and closed the door. Kayden sat on the couch and nervously starting pulling at the skin around his fingernails.


“Is someone coming from the group home to collect me?”


Tara’s brow creased in a small v as she sat to the side of Kayden in an armchair. She sat forward with her elbows in her lap.


“What do you mean?”


Kayden’s eyes stayed downcast.


“Last time I ran away…they put me in a group home before they put me back with…” he looked up again sharply, “I-I’m not going back to them, am I? A-already?”


Tara reached out and put her hand on Kayden’s knee.


“Sweetheart, you’re not going anywhere.”


Willow came in with a plate and kicked the door closed again behind her. She handed the plate with a sandwich on it to Kayden and slipped him a candy bar from her sleeve.


“I had intended to bring you cookies but my daughters savaged them,” she said with an exaggerated sigh, “Here’s a Snickers from my private stash. Tell the others nothing.”


She sat on the arm of the chair next to Tara.


“Thank you?” Kayden said, his brow furrowing as he tried to gauge what was happening.


Tara noticed.


“Kayden, we asked to speak to you in private because we want to discuss your situation. Your living situation.”


Kayden looked toward Willow.


“Are you a social worker too?”


Willow shook her head.


“No, I work with the FBI as an analyst.”


This did nothing to aid Kayden’s confusion. Tara took lead.


“First Kayden, I have to tell you, an official investigation has been launched into your uncle’s behavior and conduct toward you. It should have been done long ago,” she said apologetically, “You’ve been removed from their custody and placed with a family.”


Both of Kayden’s eyebrows rose in surprise.


“A family? Not a group home?”


Tara smiled and nodded.


“That’s right.”


“We hope you’ll like them,” Willow added in eagerly, “The other kids are a bit nuts but the moms are great!”


Kayden blinked heavily.


“I’m confused.”


“Do you want to come live with us?” Tara cut to the chase.


“I sure hope so, we just spent the whole morning convincing a judge to let us have you,” Willow replied with a chuckle.


“Willow,” Tara chastised softly, “Kayden, we have been given custody while we proceed with an official foster application, but if our house isn’t where you want to be—”


“Here?” Kayden interrupted, his cheeks flushing with the new rush of blood from his thumping heart, “I-I get to stay here?”


“If you want to,” Tara smiled.


Kayden’s hand trembled around the plate.


“Why?”


“We think you’re a great kid,” Willow said, helpfully this time.


“And you found your way to us,” Tara added, holding her hand out for Willow to take, “In this house, we trust anyone that finds their way here.”


They shared a smile and looked back at Kayden together.


“Do you want to stay?”


Kayden could only nod quickly and wiped his sleeve over his eyes.


“Can we give you a hug?” Willow asked and got the same response.


They sat either side of him and embraced from each side. Tara stopped Willow from putting an arm on the back at the last minute. Willow looked at her confused for a moment, then remembered. She gulped, realizing the solemnity of the situation and hugged a bit tighter, though only in non-injured areas.


“You’ll meet your new social worker tomorrow,” Tara said when they pulled back.


“You aren’t my social worker?” Kayden asked with a worried eyebrow raise.


Tara shook her head.


“I can’t be your social worker and foster parent.”


“Oh,” Kayden replied sadly.


“But I know the guy you’ll be working with. He’s young and he’s good. He’ll help you settle here alongside us,” she promised softly, “He’ll have to bring you for a medical tomorrow and have quite a long chat.”


Kayden nodded.


“Yeah…I’ve done this before.”


“But tonight, you don’t have to do anything,” Tara reassured, then threw him a sly wink, “Except your homework.”


Willow nodded quickly.


“And our guest room is less guest-friendly and more dust-friendly so you’ll have to sleep on JJ’s couch until the weekend and we can get some new furniture for it.”


“I-I don’t mind sleeping on the couch,” Kayden offered somewhat desperately, “I can sleep on the floor if I’m in the way.”


“You’re not sleeping on the floor, Kayden,” Tara said, looking him straight in the eye, “It’s about time we made that room habitable.”


Kayden’s whole face grew surprised.


“A whole room?”


“A whole room, sweetie,” Tara nodded with a sad glint in her eye.


Kayden took a moment to take it all in. He looked between them unsurely.


“Can I ask something?”


“Of course,” Tara nodded.


Kayden slowly frowned.


“Are you guys, like, married?”


Willow’s eyebrows shot up.


“Uhhh…”


She looked over the fireplace where their wedding portrait hung and Kayden followed her eyes to it. He blinked rapidly.


“But you’re so normal.”


“I’m insulted you would even suggest it,” Willow replied with mock-haughtiness.


Tara gave her a look but was smiling too.


“Have you ever known a family with two moms or two dads before?” she asked Kayden carefully and got a shake of her head back, “That’s okay. It’s a new thing for a lot of people.”


“But like you said, we really are pretty normal,” Willow added easily, “We just have a Mom and a Momma instead of a Mom and a Dad.”


“You can ask us any questions you have about it,” Tara continued quickly, “It’s very okay to ask questions.”


Kayden thought about it for a moment.


“I don’t have any questions,” he said evenly, “Except…am I just here now? I just get to stay?”


Tara nodded.


“Someone will be sent to collect anything from the other house.”


Kayden shook his head.


“Everything is in my case. There’s nothing left there that’s mine.”


Tara’s eyes creased sadly but she used all of her professional training not to let it show.


“Well then, we’re due a little trip to the mall,” she said easily, “If you’re not too embarrassed to be seen with me, unlike my other son.”


Kayden pulled at the end of his sleeve.


“I’m not embarrassed.”


Willow rubbed Tara’s back; a comfort for them both.


“In that case, I’ll go get the other kids and we’ll tell them.”


“Let him eat his sandwich,” Tara advised softly.


“Of course,” Willow agreed, “I’ll go make sure the girls haven’t choked on the cookie wrappers trying to find a crumb.”


She squeezed Tara’s thigh as she stood and left them alone.


“I know it’s a lot,” Tara said as Kayden slowly ate.


“No, it’s really good,” Kayden replied before he took another big bite.


Tara’s lips sloped up on one side.


“I didn’t mean the sandwich.”


Kayden’s eyes flickered toward Tara.


“I know.”


Tara’s smile spread out across her face.


When Kayden was finished, Tara gathered everyone back in the living room and noted they were going to need a few more bean bags to strew about.


“Can we make this quick?” Robyn asked, flicking some of her strawberry-blonde hair over her shoulder, “I wanna play ball.”


JJ perched on the arm of the sofa and tapped his hands against it.


“Actually, I kinda want to go shoot some hoops too.”


“Stop being so rude, both of you,” Willow scolded with a frown, “We need to talk to you.”


“I didn’t do it!” both Robyn and Lily shouted at the same time.


Tara noticed Emily’s eyes start to flit around nervously and reached over to rub her arm.


“Everything’s okay, Emmy.”


“Everything is fine,” Willow added, sitting right by Tara again, “We just have something to tell you.”


Kayden’s palms started to rub together nervously.


“Well, you see,” Willow continued, smiling at him reassuringly, “You all seemed to enjoy having Kayden stay with us so much this weekend that we’ve asked if he’d like to live with us permanently. And he said he would. So…here he is.”


She finished off a bite lamely but everyone else was too busy in their own reaction to notice.


JJ’s eyebrows rose on his face while Robyn’s eyes shot toward Kayden quizzically.


“Don’t your parents want you?”


“Robyn Ruth,” Tara chided and looked at Kayden apologetically.


“I don’t have a mom and dad,” Kayden interjected with a soft shoulder shrug.


“Sorry,” Robyn said, holding her hands up defensively, “I didn’t know. Hey, will you teach me guitar for real?”


“Uh…” Kayden started to reply but couldn’t before Lily started pulling at his shirt.


“Will you be the candle from Beauty and the Beast?!”


Emily shyly poked his shoulder.


“Can I see your sketchpad again?”


Above them all, JJ slowly nodded with a sly smile to himself.


“Cool,” he said evenly, nudging Kayden’s shoulder affectionately, “Never thought I’d have to share my bedroom having all sisters but hey…”


“Just for a few more nights until we can fix up the other bedroom,” Tara promised.


JJ’s eyes suddenly lit up. That was the best possible scenario.


“We got the best rooms in the house, man.”


The door creaked open from its position ajar and Woofy came in with his tail wagging. He put his paws in Kayden’s lap, then appeared to smile and leaped up to lick his face.


Kayden started laughing, the first any of them had heard him do.


“Good boy,” he said, patting Woofy’s head and scratching his ears, “Never had a dog before.”


“You won the dog lottery,” JJ replied, also scratching Woofy between the ears, “Woofs is the best.”


Woofy barked and everyone laughed this time; a small relief from the emotion.


“Kayden, we only have three rules here,” Tara explained while keeping his gaze, “1) You respect everyone else’s space and we’ll respect yours. 2) If there’s a problem, you come to us and 3) We eat together every night. Is all that okay with you?”


Kayden nodded silently and a brief glimpse of tears in his eyes showed why.


“Okay, everyone,” Willow said quickly, “You’re free to bounce your respective balls.”


She winced at her wording and Tara winced along with her, throwing her a sidelong glance.


“Dinner is at 6.”


Everyone disbanded and Kayden was pulled in all directions.


“Kayden is not a doll!” Willow called after them, “Let him do what he wants.”


She closed the door over again, albeit not fully, and breathed a long breath as she looked at Tara.


“How stable is all of this? I’m worried he’ll settle in and then yoink.”


“He was never adopted, so it’s much easier legal situation,” Tara replied easily.


Willow frowned.


“Why didn’t they adopt him if he’s been with them for years?”


“They’d stop getting paid,” Tara replied sadly.


Willow jaw tensed.


“Will the state press charges?”


“Probably not,” Tara shook her head.


Willow’s eyebrows shot up.


“For real?”


Tara looked dejected.


“It would expose the department’s failures. They’ll put a black mark against his name but he’ll be free to parent any natal children he has in the future.”


Willow slowly shook her head and approached Tara, putting her arms around her wife’s shoulders.


“You are a true superhero.”


“No, I’m not,” Tara shook her head, “I just wish I could do more.”


Willow pecked Tara’s lips.


“It’s not physically possible for you to do more.”


Tara nuzzled Willow’s nose.


“Nothing without my sidekick.”


Willow grinned.


“Long as I’m not your side chick.”


She pressed her lips against Tara’s and lingered.


Then did it again and again and again.


In the brief slit of the open door, Kayden looked in at them doing it.


JJ passed by with his water bottle refreshed and rolled his eyes as he glanced in the same direction.


“Ugh. Yeah. They do that a lot,” he scoffed and pulled at Kayden’s t-shirt, “You’ll learn to ignore it. Hey, let’s go upstairs before we get pulled into helping with long division or something.”


Kayden followed and passed by Lily and Emily in their bedroom on the way, scribbling in their respective workbooks.


“Emily you’re doing it wrong!”


“I-I don’t think I am, Lily,” Emily’s confused voice floated out.


Lily sighed dramatically.


“Just let me do it!”


“I-It’s my homework,” Emily protested, and then their voices faded to a muffle.


Up in JJ’s room, he watched Robyn skate by while trying to head the soccer ball outside the window.


“Sorry about all of the rules stuff,” JJ said as he sat on his bed and changed his sneakers.


Kayden pulled his attention away and looked at JJ with his brow furrowed.


“Are you kidding?” he asked, sitting on the couch that was his current bed and holding one of its cushions against his body, “I would have killed for those rules in my old place.”


JJ tried to seem casual as he tied his laces.


“Where’d you come from, man?”


Kayden looked away.


“A bad place.”


JJ noted the tone and jumped up.


“Well, I’m glad you’re here. Need some more testosterone around here. Me and Woofs can only carry so much.”


Woofy, who had promptly followed them up when the girls disbanded, came up to sit diligently at JJ’s feet.


“Hey, you want to see his tricks?”


“Sure,” Kayden replied, smiling again.


JJ grinned.


“I can make him jump on my shoulders.”


Kayden’s eyes widened.


“No way.”


“Hey, Woofy!” JJ called down to him and jumped with his back arched and knees bent, “Piggyback!”


Woofy promptly leaped onto JJ’s back with his paws over JJ’s shoulders.


Kayden beamed at the sight.


“Cool!”


“You can teach him one if you want,” JJ offered and had Woofy jump down again.


Kayden shrugged one shoulder.


“I don’t know any.”


“I’ll show you!” JJ offered eagerly.


Kayden smiled.


“Cool. Thanks.”


“No problem,” JJ shrugged one shoulder, “It can be our boys' club. I already have one with my cousin Alex and best friend Thomas. They won’t mind you joining.”


“You have cousins?” Kayden asked, reaching across to hold his own arm.


“Alex is the only other guy, apart from Liam but he’s just little still,” JJ explained, “You’ll meet them all soon, probably.”


Kayden bit his lip contemplatively.


“Do your parents, your…your moms do this a lot?”


“Do what?” JJ asked in confusion.


“Foster kids?” Kayden clarified.


“Uh, no,” JJ chuckled, “You’re the first.”


Kayden’s face slowly spread in surprise.


“I am?”


“I mean they adopted me as a baby, but yeah,” JJ nodded easily, “I’m gonna go shoot some hoops. You wanna come?”


Kayden scratched his own neck.


“I don’t really play…sports.”


JJ looked out the window to the driveway that housed his hoop and back to Kayden.


“Wanna see Woofy spin the basketball on his nose?”


Kayden nodded slowly.


“Sure.”


JJ grabbed his basketball and gestured for Kayden to follow.


“C’mon bro.”


Kayden smiled.

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 19th 2020)
PostPosted: Sun Jun 21, 2020 11:59 pm 
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5. Willowhand

Joined: Sun Jan 19, 2014 6:01 am
Posts: 345
Dibs! :whip

Quote:
“So he can just come home with us now, right? He gets to stay with us while they do all the official stuff?”


“Yes,” Tara answered with a resolute smile, “It didn’t hurt that Hallie was the judge.”


“Nice to see her move up in the world when she helped us keep JJ,” Willow smiled back

Yay! :applause Another sign that fate wants Kayden to become a part of their family.

Quote:
“Turn that down if you still want to be able to hear when you’re my age.”


“WHAT?!” JJ yelled over the music and Tara wished Willow was in the car to work with the greentooth or whatever it was called and shut those wireless headphones right off.

:laugh How cute that even in the year 2027 or so Tara is still pretty clueless when it comes to computers, mobile phones etc.

Quote:
“Homework is a tool of societal oppression that tries to turn children into parrots instead of human beings with independent thought.”


Tara held Robyn’s face in her hands and kissed the top of her head as she had Lily.


“I don’t disagree with you but there’s nothing I can do about it until you convince the American education system of that argument.”


“Do I hear someone speaking out against homework?” Willow asked as she stepped out of the kitchen, “No child of mine would do such a thing.”

:lol Yeah Robyn, watch out, don't give Willow a reason for trying to disinherit you! :wink And good thing that Willow apparently missed that Tara practically agreed with Robyn...

Quote:
“Here?” Kayden interrupted, his cheeks flushing with the new rush of blood from his thumping heart, “I-I get to stay here?”


“If you want to,” Tara smiled.


Kayden’s hand trembled around the plate.


“Why?”


“We think you’re a great kid,” Willow said, helpfully this time.


“And you found your way to us,” Tara added, holding her hand out for Willow to take, “In this house, we trust anyone that finds their way here.”


They shared a smile and looked back at Kayden together.


“Do you want to stay?”


Kayden could only nod quickly and wiped his sleeve over his eyes.


“Can we give you a hug?” Willow asked and got the same response.


They sat either side of him and embraced from each side. Tara stopped Willow from putting an arm on the back at the last minute. Willow looked at her confused for a moment, then remembered. She gulped, realizing the solemnity of the situation and hugged a bit tighter, though only in non-injured areas.

Sniff, very touching interaction! :flower

Quote:
“But I know the guy you’ll be working with. He’s young and he’s good.

One of the twins you introduced in the epilogue of the last FC-story, I presume? I'm glad about that. I was a bit worried Alice might become his social worker and that it would cause problems if their friendship should be still (or even more) strained.

Quote:
“I-I don’t mind sleeping on the couch,” Kayden offered somewhat desperately, “I can sleep on the floor if I’m in the way.”


“You’re not sleeping on the floor, Kayden,” Tara said, looking him straight in the eye, “It’s about time we made that room habitable.”


Kayden’s whole face grew surprised.


“A whole room?”


“A whole room, sweetie,” Tara nodded with a sad glint in her eye.

So sad that Kayden apparently never had a room for himself before.

Quote:
“Are you guys, like, married?”


Willow’s eyebrows shot up.


“Uhhh…”


She looked over the fireplace where their wedding portrait hung and Kayden followed her eyes to it. He blinked rapidly.


“But you’re so normal.”


“I’m insulted you would even suggest it,” Willow replied with mock-haughtiness.


Tara gave her a look but was smiling too.


“Have you ever known a family with two moms or two dads before?” she asked Kayden carefully and got a shake of her head back, “That’s okay. It’s a new thing for a lot of people.”

It will do the scared gay boy a lot of good to have such positive role models as Willow and Tara (and the male gay couple from the neighborhood he'll probably get to know soon, too).

Quote:
“We need to talk to you.”


“I didn’t do it!” both Robyn and Lily shouted at the same time.

:laugh Willow and Tara should probably check what those two did, just to be on the safe side...

Quote:
Hey, will you teach me guitar for real?”

He'll need a guitar for that - maybe Angel has a spare one he can give him?

Quote:
The door creaked open from its position ajar and Woofy came in with his tail wagging. He put his paws in Kayden’s lap, then appeared to smile and leaped up to lick his face.


Kayden started laughing, the first any of them had heard him do.


“Good boy,” he said, patting Woofy’s head and scratching his ears, “Never had a dog before.”


“You won the dog lottery,” JJ replied, also scratching Woofy between the ears, “Woofs is the best.”

Awww! So great that Woofy welcomes him into the family, too - that dog is so clever!

Quote:
“Okay, everyone,” Willow said quickly, “You’re free to bounce your respective balls.”


She winced at her wording and Tara winced along with her, throwing her a sidelong glance.

:rofl I'm sure none of the kids (not even JJ and Kayden as teenagers) had the same mental association as their mothers by that wording.

Quote:
“Will the state press charges?”


“Probably not,” Tara shook her head.


Willow’s eyebrows shot up.


“For real?”


Tara looked dejected.


“It would expose the department’s failures. They’ll put a black mark against his name but he’ll be free to parent any natal children he has in the future.”

:fit What the hell?! That's like letting a murderer go so nobody finds out that the police received warnings before the crime and ignored them! In my opinion Tara and Willow themselves should press charges against this arsehole once they've become Kayden's permanent foster parents (but I guess they won't do that, considering that Tara didn't press charges against her own father for all the abuse she suffered).

Quote:
“It can be our boys' club. I already have one with my cousin Alex and best friend Thomas. They won’t mind you joining.”


“You have cousins?” Kayden asked, reaching across to hold his own arm.


“Alex is the only other guy, apart from Liam but he’s just little still,” JJ explained, “You’ll meet them all soon, probably.”

I'm looking forward to Kayden meeting his new grandparents and the rest of the extended family!


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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 19th 2020)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2020 6:00 am 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 1:22 pm
Posts: 4374
Topics: 38
Will's redemption

Well done on dibs!

Quote:
Yay! :applause Another sign that fate wants Kayden to become a part of their family.


It won't be all easy with Kayden but there's way, way less angst than the last one.

Quote:
:laugh How cute that even in the year 2027 or so Tara is still pretty clueless when it comes to computers, mobile phones etc.


I love Tara's Luddite tendencies.

Quote:
:lol Yeah Robyn, watch out, don't give Willow a reason for trying to disinherit you! :wink And good thing that Willow apparently missed that Tara practically agreed with Robyn...


I think debate can be healthy for any marriage :wink

Quote:
Sniff, very touching interaction! :flower


Kayden needs a lot of that!

Quote:
One of the twins you introduced in the epilogue of the last FC-story, I presume? I'm glad about that. I was a bit worried Alice might become his social worker and that it would cause problems if their friendship should be still (or even more) strained.


Things with Alice will be revealed (and soon!)

Quote:
So sad that Kayden apparently never had a room for himself before.


He didn't have much of anything.

Quote:
It will do the scared gay boy a lot of good to have such positive role models as Willow and Tara (and the male gay couple from the neighborhood he'll probably get to know soon, too).


He will, in time. Little by little.

Quote:
:laugh Willow and Tara should probably check what those two did, just to be on the safe side...


I think Willow and Tara have a bit of a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy with Robyn and Lily...:laugh

Quote:
He'll need a guitar for that - maybe Angel has a spare one he can give him?


And Kayden will need a guitar...not a million miles away from what you suggest!

Quote:
Awww! So great that Woofy welcomes him into the family, too - that dog is so clever!


He is!

Quote:
:rofl I'm sure none of the kids (not even JJ and Kayden as teenagers) had the same mental association as their mothers by that wording.


I'm not sure about the teenagers or Robyn...she's quite precocious :P

Quote:
:fit What the hell?! That's like letting a murderer go so nobody finds out that the police received warnings before the crime and ignored them! In my opinion Tara and Willow themselves should press charges against this arsehole once they've become Kayden's permanent foster parents (but I guess they won't do that, considering that Tara didn't press charges against her own father for all the abuse she suffered).


He'll get some form of comeuppance, but not what he deserves, sadly.

Quote:
I'm looking forward to Kayden meeting his new grandparents and the rest of the extended family!


All in time!

Thanks for your feedback!



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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 19th 2020)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2020 6:00 am 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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Chapter Four




Tara pressed print on the reports she needed to sign and swung her chair around to head toward the printing room.


She swiped her ID to release the pages and as she waited for them to spit out, another woman walked into the room, looking through her own report.


Tara crossed her arms lightly at her chest.


“Alice.”


Alice looked up in surprise.


“Tara. Just came to grab new staples.”


She blinked several times and put her folder by her side. There was a bit of an awkward lull.


“Ella said she saw you all at park…with Jesse.”


Tara nodded cordially.


“Yes. She and Robyn ran off to the skate park so I only saw her for a second. Getting so tall. She’ll be at the twins' birthday, I hope.”


Alice nodded quickly.


“Yes, yes of course. Jesse will drop her off,” she replied and there was another one of those lulls, “So…how are you?”


“I’m pretty good, actually,” Tara answered easily, “How are you doing? How’s…Dennis?”


Alice reached across and rubbed her opposite arm awkwardly.


“Not on the scene anymore.”


Tara shuffled from one foot to the other.


“Oh. I’m very sorry.”


“I’m not. He was a snob,” Alice replied with a candid sneer, “Finally realizing I’ve been a bit of a snob. And lost a great man for it.”


Tara frowned as Alice’s sorrowful gaze met Tara’s.


“And some friends.”


Tara opened her mouth to speak but closed it again unsurely. Alice looked down bashfully.


“Not the time for my personal woes,” she said self-deprecatingly then glanced at Tara with an arched eyebrow, “…but there’s some rumors going around the office.”


Tara nodded evenly.


“I’d guessed that would happen.”


“Is it true?” Alice asked, though not scandalously, “You’re adopting another charge?”


“We’re fostering him,” Tara corrected, “But that could be an option down the line. At his age, it will be his choice if he’d like that or not. We’re just focusing on the immediate future right now.”


“Of course,” Alice replied quickly and looked at Tara as genuinely as she ever had since the day she found out Tara was to become her boss and those bitter lines had appeared on her face, “I’ve got your back.”


“Thank you, Alice,” Tara replied sincerely and watched as she grabbed the staples she needed and turned to leave, “Alice?”


Alice turned back and Tara extended some sincerity.


“Would you like to grab a glass of wine this weekend?”


Alice stalled for a moment.


“I’ve been laying off the wine lately,” she admitted.


Tara nodded quickly.


“Cup of coffee?”


Alice smile brightened up her face and was clear of any lines of bitter concern that had resided there before.


“I would love to get some coffee.”


Tara smiled softly.


“Liam is coming to us for the day on Saturday and I have to bring Kayden to pick out his bedroom furniture on Sunday. But I’m around Friday.”


“Jesse picks Ella up from school on a Friday,” Alice replied in a soft tone, “So that works great.”


“See you then,” Tara smiled and Alice left with a similar one on her face.


As Tara stopped to finally sort her paperwork, another person entered the room.


“Hey Brandon,” Tara greeted warmly.


Brandon stepped back like Tara was contagious or something.


“Uh…I don’t think we’re supposed to be speaking.”


Tara looked up and grinned wryly.


“Only about Kayden’s case. We’re allowed to say hello.”


Brandon let his arms fall by his side.


“Right.”


Tara sensed his nervousness and offered him an arm squeeze of encouragement.


“You’ve got this.”


Brandon felt comforted by Tara’s presence.


“It’s hard since Josh and I got put on separate teams,” he said, then rolled his eyes, “Which I realize sounds pathetic.”


“You are more than capable of taking on any case you’re given,” Tara reassured, “I’ve watched you grow from a college student who didn’t know a thing into a caseworker with multiple charges under his belt. You do a great job, even if you’re not on my team anymore.”


Brandon chuckled.


“Miss you, boss,” he said affectionately, “What can I say, Ross just doesn’t smell as good during team meetings.”


Tara threw him a sly wink.


“But he’s well-seasoned and wise so listen to him.”


Brandon nodded and rolled up on his toes.


“Not to be insubordinate…”


“Oh, now you decide not to be insubordinate?” Tara joked with him, “Not like the time you put a whoopee cushion under my chair.”


Brandon blushed.


“Adolescent prank?”


“You were in graduate school,” Tara shot back, shaking her head, “Even my seven-year-old at the time said it was ‘kiddie stuff’.”


“It was so dumb,” Brandon admitted, laughing, “Thank you for giving me a chance.”


His nose scrunched.


“A lot of chances.”


“I would hope someone would do the same for my son if they saw the potential in him that I saw in you,” Tara replied sincerely and chuckled, “Now I better get out of here before I’m accused of collusion.”


Brandon lifted his hand in a wave and Tara returned to her desk to file what needed to be filed.


She stopped for a moment to take a breath and smiled.



“Alice McNally?”


Willow paused from buttoning up her pajama top and frowned at her own words.


“Kenter. Whatever she’s going by these days.”


“Uh-huh,” Tara nodded as she ran a brush through her hair, “Is that an issue?”


“No, no,” Willow shook her head, “She just hasn’t been around in a while.”


“Her choice, really,” Tara answered non-committal.


“I know that. And I know you tried,” Willow answered, coming up behind Tara to embrace her, “So I’m just wondering what’s changed? Last I knew she was parading around with Mr. Pinkie Pretentious and turning green with envy that you dared be offered a job above her.”


“And I think she’s realized she’s lost everyone in her life because of it,” Tara replied, settling her hands where Willow’s were crossed at her stomach.


Willow dropped a kiss on Tara’s neck and held her hands up as she walked away.


“All I’m saying is I’m still team Jesse.”


“We’re all team Jesse,” Tara answered clearly, “But we can be team Alice too. They’ve worked it out for Ella’s sake. She was a huge help to me starting my career, don’t forget.”


“You don’t owe her,” Willow countered.


“No, but I like her,” Tara replied as she pulled up the sheet and slipped under it, “At least, who she was before she…”


“Went all mid-life-crisis-narcissistic-Barbie on everyone?” Willow asked, getting in bed at the other side.


Tara arched an eyebrow and Willow held her hands up again.


“If she’s really changed…or changed back…then that’s great. But she can’t just drop us all and think she’ll be welcomed back like nothing happened.”


Tara found Willow’s hand in the sheets.


“No one is asking you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”


Willow rolled herself onto her side.


“What about asking me to do things I am comfortable?” she asked, letting her finger follow the curve of Tara’s neckline, “Because I find this…pretty comfortable.”


She kissed Tara’s collarbone.


“And this…”


She kissed lower.


“And this…”


And lower.


“And this…”



Tara approached the exit of her work building where Alice was standing in her scarf and jacket with her hands in her pockets.


“You ready?”


Alice smiled softly.


“Yes. Do you have anywhere in mind?”


Tara nodded.


“Willow and I meet up for lunch sometimes in a place just a couple of blocks away. Great coffee. Even better cannoli.”


“That sounds like heaven,” Alice smiled, somewhat nervously.


Tara brought her to the spot she’d met Willow right at the beginning of that week to discuss taking in Kayden. It felt like months ago. Kayden had slotted in so easily it was like he had always been there, though Tara did have to make sure the girls left him alone when he’d come back from his time with Brandon.


They didn’t understand the intricacies of why he came to stay with him nor how trying a meeting with your social worker can be. To his credit, he was never short with them, just a bit quiet and withdrawn. Tara was glad they would finally be giving him his own space tomorrow.


They ordered coffees and a cannoli to share and picked out the only seat left in the place, right in the corner.


Tara lifted her circular mug and took a long sip of mostly foam from her latte until she hit the caffeine she craved.


Alice did much the same and was even slower to return her cup to its saucer. She nervously sloshed it from side to side.


“It’s been a while since I did something like this with anyone but Dennis,” she admitted, swallowing softly, “Or Ella of course. But she says I’m not as fun as Daddy.”


Tara watched lines of insecurity pepper Alice’s face. It was never a trait she had associated with her before.


“What happened?” she asked softly, “Suddenly you and Jesse were getting divorced and we barely heard from you anymore. Then you stopped showing up at all.”


Alice’s hands joined together and her arms bent out in front of her; the cushion to which she promptly dropped her head. She slowly sat back up and sighed.


“Jesse and I were fighting. It wasn’t even that bad but I got it in my head that everything that was wrong in my life was because Jesse likes sports and beer instead of art and wine and culture. I thought I deserved better. And then you got promoted and I thought I deserved your job. I thought I deserved more. I couldn’t even see everything that I had.”


Her lips pursed together so much they turned white.


“I thought I was better than all of you and so I pushed you all away. Told myself I was living my perfect life. Then Denis cheated on me and I woke up one morning alone in bed with my daughter across town with her father having a better time than she has with me and I realized I’d thrown everything away for nothing.”


Tara’s hand gently covered Alice’s.


“I’m so sorry, Al. That must have been really tough.”


Alice’s eyes filled with tears.


“I don’t deserve your sympathy.”


Tara squeezed.


“Sure you do.”


Alice laughed; a little bitter but mostly just sad.


“I’ve missed you, Tara,” she admitted, catching the corner of her eye with her sleeve, “I know I never gelled with the group as well as the rest of you…but you were still my group.”


“I can’t speak for the group,” Tara nodded evenly, “But you’re still my friend.”


Alice looked away and sniffled. As she did so, she spotted a few sets of eyes quickly look away. She looked up to Tara quizzically.


“Do the wait staff keep staring at us?”


Tara glanced around and spotted the same thing Alice had. Her lips smirked on one side and she spooned a piece of cannoli off to present to Alice provocatively.


“I think they think that I’m cheating on Willow.”


Alice laughed again but it was much more boisterous albeit letting out a few tears. She accepted the offering on the spoon and looked as two wait staff whispered scandalously.


She looked back to her friend with the gratitude and sincerity she’d owed her for a long time now.


“Tara thank you…for making some time for me.”


“I was always here, Al,” Tara replied softly.


Alice nodded.


“I know,” she said sadly, “I wish I’d realized that sooner.”


Tara raised her mug and smiled.


“To second chances.”


Alice matched her in action and expression.


“To second chances.”



“I’m gonna catch you…I’m gonna catch you!”


Liam giggled ferociously behind his pacifier as he toddle-ran around the coffee table in his not-even-three-foot frame.


He was so busy looking behind to see if Willow was close to catching him that he didn’t spot Tara coming into the room and plucking him up with kicking legs below him.


“I got you!”


Liam threw his head back and laughed heartily, his pacifier dropping out and to the floor, but he just kept laughing.


“Oops, binky bugs!” Willow said, picking it up from the floor, “I got it.”


She kissed Tara’s cheek as she passed, who threw Liam up in the air and caught him to nuzzle their noses together.


“I love you, Liam. Aunty Tara loves you.”


In the hallway, Willow accidentally crashed into Robyn as she came sliding down the handrail and jumped off without care for her surroundings.


“Bean, what have we taught you about looking before you leap?” Willow said in exasperation.


“You didn’t, Tigger did,” Robyn replied and stuck out her tongue as she picked up the pacifier Willow had dropped again, “These things are stupid and full of plastic.”


Willow cackled, loudly.


“If you only knew the terror we went through trying to get you off one of those things.”


“As if,” Robyn scoffed, pushing the pacifier back into Willow’s palm.


“Entirely,” Willow replied with a sure nod of her head.


“You’re probably thinking of Emily,” Robyn brushed off, turning her face away haughtily.


Willow put her hands on Robyn’s head and kissed her zigzag parting.


“I’m most certainly thinking of you, precious daughter.”


“Gross,” Robyn pushed Willow off and grabbed her skateboard, “I’m gonna go give the street some character.”


She left and Willow smiled after her.


“Tiny Tara,” she said and chuckled to herself, “Angry Tiny Tara.”


She washed the pacifier and brought it back but Liam didn’t seem to miss it. He laughed and laughed with Tara as she sat with him on the sofa and dropped him between her knees.


“Takes after his Daddy,” Willow commented sarcastically with a wry smile for Tara as she sat between them.


“Dah-dee,” Liam said brightly, “Dah-dee bite!”


Willow shook her head in Tara’s direction.


“I told Buffy to move his crib out of their bedroom…”


She reached out to tickle Liam’s belly.


“Hey, Liamy…who wants to get into our jammies?!”


Liam started to pout, making his green eyes wide and brown hair flop into them.


Willow found herself mirroring his sad look but tried to perk herself up again. She lifted him up into the air.


“Who…wants to fly to get into our jammies?!”


She jumped up and began to fly him out of the room and up the stairs, to much renewed giggling.


They passed by Kayden coming down the stairs, whom Liam flew right over and elicited smiles from them both.


Tara spotted him loitering in the doorway as she walked around the coffee table to straighten everything up after Liam’s clumsy, wayward hands had gone wild.


“Hey Kayden,” she greeted easily, “Been looking through that catalog I gave you?”


Kayden shrugged his shoulder and looked down so his messy hair all fell into his eyes, not unlike Liam.


“Kinda.”


Tara smiled and faced her attention toward him.


“What did you see?”


Kayden shrugged again. He did that a lot.


“You should just get whatever’s cheapest.”


Tara nodded slowly.


“Well, something doesn’t have to be expensive to be nice. But you’ll have to live in it, so you should like it too.”


Kayden just looked down again.


Tara paused. She looked at Kayden contemplatively, then sat back on the couch and patted the spot beside her.


“I think we should have a chat.”


Kayden obliged, swinging his body rhythmically off the door and over to sit.


Tara sat back casually but made sure her gaze was received.


“I think you feel like we shouldn’t spend money on your room because you don’t want to be a bother. And you probably think that you think that because you’re scared we’ll put you back in the system.”


Kayden’s eyes widened and his hands started to rub together nervously. Tara put her hand over his shoulder and pat-pat-pat it as she had on her babies’ butts when they were fussy.


“But I think really you think that because you don’t think you’re worth it.”


Kayden froze. Tara smiled sadly.


“And that’s because people have made you believe that,” she said, swallowing deeply at the injustice, “Just like someone did that to me.”


Kayden’s head flew sharply toward Tara. His eyes took a bit longer to catch up, but they did.


“Wait…oh. Was it…?”


“My father,” Tara nodded, having to take a deep breath to not let some of those overwhelming feelings of her youth coming back up.


Kayden immediately bristled.


“Was it ‘cause,” he asked, his gaze moving away skittishly, “You know, you…”


Both knees bounced uncomfortably.


“With Willow and stuff?”


“Oh,” Tara replied, shaking her head softly, “No. He didn’t know that. At least not when I was growing up.”


Kayden’s eyes flit toward Tara.


“Why?”


“I spent a long time asking myself the same question,” Tara smiled sadly, “Until I finally realized that it was nothing to do with me. They were his reasons. And his demons. And I wasn’t responsible for them.”


“Where is he now?”


Tara pursed her lips cautiously. She wanted to be honest but their children didn’t know of that ‘grandfather’; he didn’t even deserve the title in her mind.


“Left,” Tara answered eventually, “A while back.”


Kayden’s head fell down between his shoulders.


“Tony’s not going anywhere.”


“He’s stuck,” Tara replied with a convincing nod of her head, “You’re the one who’s moving forward.”


Kayden took a minute, then slapped one hand against the other.


“Do I have to go to Dr. Carter next week?”


“Do you not like him?” Tara asked gently.


Kayden did that shoulder shrug again.


“He’s alright,” he said, scratching under his ear, “I just feel dumb going there.”


“I go to therapy, you know,” Tara volunteered easily, “And Willow and I go together sometimes. It helps us. And we don’t have to be fighting or anything to find it helpful, it’s just good to make sure we’re dealing with all of our emotions healthily.”


She finished with such pep that Kayden couldn’t help but smile.


“I guess I could see him again.”


Tara leaned in and pressed a kiss on the side of Kayden’s forehead.


“Come to me if you ever need to talk,” she requested softly, “Willow too. She studied psychology, you know. She doesn’t practice but she’s good at burrowing out those brain worms, as she calls them. Those little thoughts that wiggle in there and won’t let go.”


She smiled thinking of Willow and Kayden watched the joy brighten on her face quizzically. He looked away again and reached behind to scratch an itchy spot on one of the healing cuts on his back.


Tara watched the way his face rippled with discomfort as he moved.


“Kayden, do you need me to put some salve on your back?”


Kayden’s brow furrowed in Tara’s direction.


“What’s that?”


Tara’s heart broke but she didn’t let it show.


“Just some ointment. It helps everything heal and feel a little better.”


Kayden offered a fleeting glance, which Tara took as acceptance. She stood up and went into the laundry room where there was a shelf with a first aid kit. She took out the salve and brought it back to the living room, where she closed and locked the door.


“No one will walk in, don’t worry.”


She sat back where she had been and showed Kayden what the salve looked like. He slowly pulled his t-shirt up from so his back was exposed and Tara gently rubbed the ointment in as she had at various times in various places for all of her children.


Kayden was tense for a few moments, but he slowly relaxed under the loving touch.


“That feels nice,” he admitted, then after another beat continued quietly, “They had a rug with a guitar on it.”


He paused.


“In the catalog.”


“Yeah?” Tara smiled easily, “You liked it?”


“Yeah, it was cool,” Kayden admitted on an exhale.


“We’ll put it on the list,” Tara replied brightly, “See anything else?”


Kayden slowly smiled.



Willow pushed her head into the living room where Tara was holding a sleeping Liam sprawled across her lap, sucking on his pacifier.


“Hey, I need to pop out,” she whispered.


“Convenient when they’re just starting to put the furniture together,” Tara replied quietly as she looked over with a wry smile.


“Oh, and what are you, the human blankie, doing to help?” Willow replied, raising her chin with faux-haughtiness.


Tara rolled her eyes playfully and held her hand above Liam’s pudgy red cheek.


“Sometimes I wished we’d had another.”


Willow moved over and sat on the arm of the seat beside Tara. She gently rubbed Tara’s upper arm, far enough away from Liam so as not to wake him.


“I know it was hard for you. Having the hysterectomy so young. But we really couldn’t have handled another little one.”


Tara just nodded. It wasn’t like she’d ever even asked Willow to carry again for them, either.


“You’re right. We couldn’t have handled another baby.”


Willow squeezed Tara’s arm.


“I’m sorry you feel that way though.”


Tara smiled softly.


“It’s funny,” she said, her brow creasing as if she was confused by her own words, “I was sitting here looking at Liam sleeping…and I don’t feel the same sense of missing out as I have before. I don’t know why that peace has come over me all of a sudden.”


“I’m glad it has,” Willow replied and watched Tara watch Liam with a serene smile on her face, “I really do have to go out for 30 minutes though.”


Tara looked up and quickly nodded.


“Yes, of course. Will you pick up some napkins for dinner? I’m just going to put the food on the table and let everyone help themselves.”


“Have you made enough for a Buffy-sized appetite?” Willow asked with an arched eyebrow, “Keeping in mind that her not-even-two-year-old son ate as much as JJ did last night.”


Tara smiled softly.


“You can call my crockpot the never-ending bowl of deliciousness.”


“Oh, I do,” Willow grinned, “Nightly.”


Tara pushed Willow’s shoulder.


“Go. Gimme a kiss.”


Tara turned her head so Willow could peck her lips.


“Love you,” Willow said as she pulled back.


“Love you,” Tara answered, “Check on the girls on the way out?”


“Sure,” Willow smiled and slid off the couch to grab her purse and head outside.


On the front lawn, Emily was lying on a blanket Tara had put out there earlier to have a picnic with them all and Liam. She was doodling in a sketchbook that she’d asked for after Kayden showed her his. She was happy and quiet, in stark contrast to her two sisters who were tussling right there in the grass.


“Hey, HEY!” Willow called as she came over to pull them apart, “Do NOT kick your sister!”


Robyn fell off to the side in a huff.


“I wasn’t kicking her,” she protested, sticking her tongue out at Lily when Willow’s back was turned, “I was loving her with my foot.”


Willow sighed and held her arms a foot apart between them.


“Just break it up, okay?” she said with a sternly arched eyebrow, then looked across the lawn, “Emmy, you good?”


Emily looked up, readjusted her glasses, and nodded before burying her head with her pencils again.


Willow gave Robyn and Lily a futile disciplinary look; she knew they’d be back at it as soon as she was gone again.


Inside, Tara heard the car pull out of the driveway then just minutes later she heard footsteps on the stairs. Buffy walked into the living room and kneeled down to brush her hand against Liam’s soft hair.


“I do make good baby,” she said with a satisfied sigh and smiled up at Tara, “Just checking in.”


“He’s been an Angel. Pardon the pun,” Tara replied with a kind smile, “Thank you so much for helping out.”


Buffy shook her head with a grin.


“I lug things, you change diapers. I know which end of the deal I’m on,” she quipped as she stood and put her hands on her hips, “So, I have to ask.”


She quirked an eyebrow.


“Do you use your job as a front to find new sons?”


“Because I’ve done it twice in sixteen years,” Tara laughed with a self-deprecating roll of her eyes.


“Twice more than most people,” Buffy returned with a chuckle.


Tara shrugged one shoulder easily.


“What can I say, Buffy? Everything aligned to make this happen right when it needed to most. It feels like he’s always been here.”


Buffy nodded understandingly.


“He’s a nice kid. Quiet. Insisted on helping.”


“He’s been through a lot,” Tara said quietly, “But he’s retained his sweetness.”


“Sounds like someone else I know,” Buffy replied with affection and threw a sly wink Tara’s way, “I’m going to go make sure Angel isn’t trying to read the instructions upside down again.”


She bent down to press a gentle kiss on Liam’s forehead.


“You good with my boy?”


“I adore your boy,” Tara returned, holding him a little tighter.


“Likewise,” Buffy smiled as she stood, “Plural.”


Tara felt her mouth go a little dry as Buffy said that and just nodded in return. Buffy left them alone again and Tara found herself fighting off a lump of emotion in her throat.


It didn’t take long for Liam to wake from his nap and not much longer than that for Kayden to appear, looking a little lost.


“Hi honey,” Tara greeted and Kayden held his opposite arm and looked down at the floor in response, “Everything okay?”


“Uh-huh,” Kayden nodded, “They, um…your, um, friends said I should come downstairs so they could finish it off.”


“Oh, they want it to be a surprise,” Tara smiled, “That’s very sweet of them. Do you want to play with me and Liam?”


Kayden nodded and sat on the floor with them to help Liam get his little colorful pegs into the open slots of a toy hedgehog.


“Yeah, that’s green,” Kayden smiled when Liam coordinated right, “Good job.”


Tara smiled with slightly raised eyebrows.


“You’re good with him.”


Kayden blushed and didn’t say anything, but did continue to play.


A little while later there were heavier steps rocketing down the stairs and Buffy, Angel, Jesse, and Xander appeared with a light sheen on their faces and pleased smiles they kept sending to each other. Even Angel looked keen to be involved.


“Dah-dee!” Liam called out excitedly, reaching out for his parents, “Mah-mah!”


“Hey slayer,” Buffy cooed as she took him in her arms, “Were you good for Aunty Tara?”


Liam bobbed his head.


“An’ Kay-Kay!”


Kayden blushed all over again but all of the adults pretended not to notice.


“We’re all done up there if you want to take a look,” Xander supplied helpfully.


“I’ll take you up,” Tara offered and put her hand between Kayden’s shoulder blades, “There’s beers in the fridge for you non-designated drivers and snacks left out while we wait for dinner.”


They all clambered into the kitchen while Tara walked up both sets of stairs to the attic with Kayden. He seemed nervous, so Tara didn’t rush it and just took it step by step. Once they were up there, Tara pulled back the sliding door and stood back to let him take it in.


She had to take it in herself.


It was all black and white, centered around the black and white guitar rug on the floor that Kayden had first picked out. Two walls were white and one feature wall was black and had the bed and nightstands backed up against it. He’d chosen simple but functional furniture; a dresser, a wooden bed frame, a bookshelf.


A hand-built desk had come courtesy of Xander with a sturdy chair, well-cushioned and designed to be sat in for however long homework took.


Tara had offered (well, she’d offered Willow) to get him a TV out of fairness because JJ had one but he’d politely and shyly refused — Tara thought it was because he was embarrassed about the money but really he just wanted an excuse to still be able to hang out with JJ.


He hadn’t realized yet that he didn’t need an excuse.


Kayden sat on the end of his bed and looked around in wonder.


“You like it, honey?” Tara asked gently.


Kayden could only smile and nod. Tara came to sit by him.


“I have something for you,” she said and reached into her pocket to pull out a phone.


Kayden looked at it, confused.


“We need to be able to keep in touch with you,” Tara said with a smile, “Willow has…loaded it, or set it up or whatever it’s called when you make it work. Our numbers are programmed in and you’re on our family plan. But if you go over, it’s coming out of your allowance.”


Kayden took a moment to follow as he turned the phone around in his hands.


“Allowance?” he asked absentmindedly as his thumb roamed the screen.


Tara nodded.


“We’ll give you 30 dollars a week and whatever amount you save of it, we’ll match. If you want to take from those savings, you come and talk to us. Is that okay?”


Kayden’s eyes widened as his brain played catch-up.


“Yeah, of course.”


Tara smiled softly.


“Your allowance isn’t tied to any chores. We expect you to help out because you’re part of the family. But if you need a little extra, we might be able to find something to help you earn it.”


Tara knew Willow would be rolling her eyes so hard if she were in the room right now because Tara tended to accept pleading eyes and a sweet smile as work enough for some extra cash.


Tara reached into her other pocket and took out three $10 bills which she pressed into Kayden’s spare hand.


He looked down at it and began to feel overwhelmed. He pushed it back at Tara.


“Can I save all of it? You don’t have to match it.”


Tara smiled, slow and easy.


“It can be scary when your own money for the first time,” she said gently, “You feel like you have to keep it in case it goes again. Or you spend it all quickly in case it gets taken back.”


She pushed it back into his hand.


“But you can relax, sweetheart, okay?” she said gently, “You’re not going anywhere.”


Kayden slowly smiled too, then handed a ten back to Tara.


“What are you saving for?” Tara asked with a conspiring wink.


“Oh. Um…” Kayden started, frowning in thought.


“JJ started saving for a car around your age,” Tara advised but thought quickly that that might be overwhelming, “But you can start off small.”


Kayden smiled, embarrassed.


“I have to think about it.”


There was the sound of the metal doors shaking as someone in heavy boots pounded up the stairs and JJ appeared in the hallway that separated the two rooms.


“Mom,” he said as his eyes landed on her, “Is dinner ready?”


“Hello to you, dear son,” Tara replied and walked over to give him a hug, “Twenty minutes.”


JJ smiled and took a moment to look around the new room.


“Bro, your room is dope!” he complimented and grinned, “When do I get a remodel?”


“I’m sure if you helped your uncle out at his store, he’d help you build some new furniture,” Tara smiled, patting his back.


JJ’s nose scrunched.


“You know, my room is pretty cool as it is.”


“Thought so,” Tara replied knowingly and pulled at his arm, “I need you to help me carry the heavy dishes.”


JJ faked a heavy sigh.


“Sometimes I think I’m nothing but muscle in this house.”


“Heart muscle,” Tara smiled at him and pressed a kiss to his cheek.


JJ waved her off, embarrassed but hugged her sidelong as they went back downstairs.


“I love you, Mom.”


Downstairs, Willow closed the door of the hall closet right as JJ and Tara were coming down.


“I hear beer-guzzling and chatter. Is the room done?”


“Go have a look,” Tara smiled.


“Will do!” Willow smiled, hugging Tara sidelong as she passed, “Dinner soon?”


“Like mother, like son,” Tara chuckled, “Yes. Twenty minutes, but can you tell the kids ten?”


“On it,” Willow replied and went back to the front door.


Only Emily was in view, like she knew she was supposed to be.


“Emmy, sweetheart, dinner soon,” she said and Emily looked up and nodded diligently, “Where are your sisters?”


Emily pointed down the street and Willow sighed.


“Good girl. Thank you.”


Emily started packing up her crayons — careful to put the right color in the right slot, much to Willow’s relief and delight.


She heard her other two daughters before she saw them; yelling as they scuffled and rolled around on the sidewalk. There was a bunch of young boys on bikes or scooters around them, but they all began to skid out of there when they saw Willow approaching.


“Hey!” Willow called, quickening her step to pull Robyn off of Lily, “What have I told you about fighting with your sister?!”


“I’m not fighting with her!” Robyn protested, fighting out of Willow’s grip, “Not for real!”


“Oh yeah, I’ve heard that one before,” Willow scoffed as she eyeballed Lily to make sure there were no injuries she had to deal with.


“I wasn’t!” Robyn defended and shot Lily a wide-eyed look.


“She wasn’t!” Lily quickly shook her head.


Willow let go of them both and looked between them.


“She was getting all worked up. She needed to get her energy out,” Robyn explained, holding her chin up.


Willow looked at Lily, concerned.


“You know you should come to me or Mommy when you start to feel like that.”


Lily looked down and scuffed her shoe.


“The other kids call me names when I have to go inside to do dumb stuff like breath. I just wanted to keep playing, Momma.”


Willow rubbed Lily’s arm gently.


“How do you feel now?”


Lily thought about it.


“Hungry,” she settled on eventually and there was a little rumbling sound to confirm.


Willow smiled affectionately.


“When you were little and your stomach rumbled, you’d tell us your belly was telling you a story,” she recalled fondly and stood up, putting a hand on each girls’ back, “Come on. Dinner is almost ready.”


Behind her back, Lily and Robyn exchanged a glance. Robyn crushed something in her fist and discreetly handed Lily two of the six dollars they’d collected from the other boys to watch them fight.


Once home again, Willow sent all of the girls off to clean up and went to the hall closet again. She picked out what she’d put there and making sure to handle it correctly, she quickly went up the attic. She let the item rest against the door and poked her head around with a gentle tap against the wood.


“Wow,” she said brightly with a smile, “Looks great in here! You happy with it?”


Kayden was still sitting on the end of his bed, looking all around.


“It’s amazing,” he replied softly, “I still can’t believe it’s mine.”


He blushed and looked down.


“Um, well, I mean…”


“Of course it is, it’s your room,” Willow replied and cautiously came to sit with him, “Kayden, I just wanted to say I know it must have been so difficult to just come into our home like this, especially with everything that came before.”


Kayden looked up shyly while Willow offered a little sidelong hug.


“You’ve been a joy to have. I didn’t even have to think about it when Tara suggested you live with us. You’re an amazing, talented kid,” she grinned to herself, “And I thought it wasn’t fair that you weren’t sharing your talents with the world. Us especially. So I got you something.”


Kayden frowned as Willow skipped back over to the door and reached behind it. She brought back a guitar and held it out for him.


“The guy said you could swap it if it doesn’t work for you but that this is the one a lot of kids your age have. Angel helped me pick the right one out so I hope you like it.”


Kayden’s mouth dropped.


“Oh my god.”


Now he really was going to have to think about what to save for since his first wish had already been fulfilled.


Willow continued to hold it out.


“You gonna try it out?”


Kayden snapped to attention and took the guitar from Willow. He rested it in his lap and smiled. It was perfect. His old one was one that belonged to his father and needed to be restrung and had questionable gang affiliation marks on it but this one — it was new and varnished and shiny and felt like it was molded just for him.


He shook his head to focus and let his fingers find the cord he wanted. After a moment of settling, he started to play the opening bars of Can’t Help Falling In Love.


“You know that song?” Willow smiled warmly, “That’s an oldie. It came out before I was even born. It’s one of my favorites.”


Kayden continued to strum shyly.


“Oh, um…” he shrugged his guitar on his knee, “Tara. She said you liked Elvis.”


“I do,” Willow nodded, smiling even wider, “That’s really sweet of you to remember.”


Kayden ducked his head but was smiling too.


“Who does she like?”


“Tara? The Beatles,” Willow answered easily, “Tara loves The Beatles.


Kayden looked up and swallowed.


“Thank you, Willow. I-I don’t know what to say.”


Willow came over and kissed the top of Kayden’s head.


“You don’t have to say anything. But you have to be on my side when I drag you all out to the fire pit to toast marshmallows and sing songs. Deal?”


Kayden just nodded quickly, silently, fighting the glassiness in his eyes.


Willow stepped away to allow him to have a moment.


“Dinner in ten, okay?”


“Yeah,” Kayden replied gruffly, “Sure.”


Willow smiled and left. Kayden swiped his sleeve over his eyes, then quickly picked up his new phone and looked up a tutorial for some Beatles songs.


He murmur-sang the lyrics as he followed along on his guitar.


“Blackbird singing in the dead of night…
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

_________________
Amber Benson killed me once.

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 23rd 2020)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2020 11:14 pm 
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5. Willowhand

Joined: Sun Jan 19, 2014 6:01 am
Posts: 345
Dibs! :whip
I don't have time for a detailed feedback today, still much to do at work before I leave on vacation this afternoon. I'll be gone until July the 4th and I don't know if I'll have the opportunity to comment on the next updates until then.

I'm happy that Alice has "come to her senses" and had enough courage to reach out towards Tara and to tell her her bitter and sad truth.

Quote:
“I’ve missed you, Tara,” she admitted, catching the corner of her eye with her sleeve, “I know I never gelled with the group as well as the rest of you…but you were still my group.”


“I can’t speak for the group,” Tara nodded evenly, “But you’re still my friend.”

Aw! Rewinning Tara's friendship is such a great first step for Alice. The others probably won't receive her with as open arms at first, but I trust she'll find her way back into the extended family. Maybe there can even be a Jesse - Alice - reunion?

Good call of Tara to tell Kayden about her own abuse as a child, showing him that she really understands what he's going through.

Liam is super cute! I'm curious for an explanation for his pet name "slayer"...


Quote:
“You good with my boy?”


“I adore your boy,” Tara returned, holding him a little tighter.


“Likewise,” Buffy smiled as she stood, “Plural.”


Tara felt her mouth go a little dry as Buffy said that and just nodded in return. Buffy left them alone again and Tara found herself fighting off a lump of emotion in her throat.

:flower

Yay that Willow bought Kayden a shiny new guitar, that's of course better than getting a used one from Angel.

Quote:
He murmur-sang the lyrics as he followed along on his guitar.


“Blackbird singing in the dead of night…
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”


Wow, these lyrics fit to Kayden's current situation perfectly! Which Beatles' song is that?


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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 23rd 2020)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 26, 2020 7:00 am 
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Will's redemption

Quote:
Dibs! :whip


:D

Quote:
I don't have time for a detailed feedback today, still much to do at work before I leave on vacation this afternoon. I'll be gone until July the 4th and I don't know if I'll have the opportunity to comment on the next updates until then.


I hope you have a fabulous time! Stay safe!

Quote:
I'm happy that Alice has "come to her senses" and had enough courage to reach out towards Tara and to tell her her bitter and sad truth.


It sometimes takes losing everything to realize how good you have it

Quote:
Aw! Rewinning Tara's friendship is such a great first step for Alice. The others probably won't receive her with as open arms at first, but I trust she'll find her way back into the extended family. Maybe there can even be a Jesse - Alice - reunion?


Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps... :devil

Quote:
Good call of Tara to tell Kayden about her own abuse as a child, showing him that she really understands what he's going through.


Important, I think.

Quote:
Liam is super cute! I'm curious for an explanation for his pet name "slayer"...


No huge rationale, just a little reference.

Quote:
Yay that Willow bought Kayden a shiny new guitar, that's of course better than getting a used one from Angel.


I wanted him to have a bonding moment with both of them, y'know?

Quote:
Wow, these lyrics fit to Kayden's current situation perfectly! Which Beatles' song is that?


Blackbird

Thanks for your feedback!



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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 23rd 2020)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 26, 2020 7:00 am 
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Chapter Five




“Willow, are you listening?”


Willow’s bored eyes rolled in Tara’s direction.


“Can’t I just copy off you?” she whispered in annoyance.


Tara arched an eyebrow sharply.


“When have you ever copied schoolwork a day in your life?”


Willow seemed put-out by the accusation and sat up straighter in the circle of people they were sitting in.


“It’s not schoolwork. It’s…class…work…” she trailed off lamely and pouted, “And they’re talking about working with birth parents. Not the situation we’re in.”


“Ours is unique,” Tara pressed softly, “Most people here haven’t even met the child or children they’re going to foster. They’re signing up to bring children into their homes who need them, to care for them just so they can go back to their birth parents. It’s a very difficult emotional road to journey through and they need the right tools.”


“Is there a question over there?” the leader of the session, Mark: a man in his mid-thirties with rolled-up sleeves and hair he was just beginning to let gray, called over to them pointedly.


Willow quickly opened her ring binder.


“No,” she said sharply, cheeks flushing at being reprimanded by any kind of teacher, “Sorry…sir.”


She quickly clicked her pen and hit it against the page, ready to write.


Mark pushed his chair back.


“Let’s try out some role-play situations. What do we do if a birth parent comes to the door looking to see their child outside of their sanctioned visitation time?”


Willow hung back so she wouldn’t be chosen. She’d had enough of Drama in college. Tara, instead, volunteered and paired up with a man in his 50s who was taking the class with his wife.


“Great work,” Mark called out, looking at Tara curiously when the session was finishing up, “See you all next week. Review your materials when you get a chance.”


Tara came back to Willow, who raised an eyebrow.


“That was tough just to watch in a fake environment. What’s next week?”


Tara gave a pained smile.


“Learning how to foster a child who’s been sexually abused.”


Willow’s eyes closed heavily.


“I know. It's a lot when it's not even our situation. But we have to,” Tara replied softly, “For Kayden.”


Willow nodded solemnly.


“For Kayden.”



“Dad!”


Willow stood up on her toes to reach up and hug her father in her doorway.


“Welcome home. How was Montreal?”


“Très manifique,” Ira replied with a glimmering smile, “I do like this retirement business. I actually get to see the cities I visit!”


Willow smiled.


“Where’s Michelle?”


“I’m right here,” Michelle replied, following Ira into the house and hugging Willow, “How are you doing Willow?”


“I’m excellent,” Willow smiled, “Busy, busy, but good.”


Ira clasped his hands together and hung them in front of himself.


“We go away for a few weeks and we come home to a new child.”


“Bet you weren’t expecting that at our age,” Willow grinned, then made a calming gesture with her hands, “This meeting is casual, okay? We’ve been introducing him to everyone in dribs and drabs so it’s not too overwhelming.”


Ira’s brow started to furrow.


“Willow, without sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, what exactly are your intentions with this boy?”


Willow gave a gentle shrug.


“He needed a home. We have a home. We haven’t really gone beyond that for the moment.”


“Is he troubled?” Ira asked with concern.


“Aren’t we all?” Willow quipped.


Ira opened his mouth.


“I mean—”


“I know what you mean,” Willow cut him off quietly, “He has a troubled background but he’s not a troubled boy. Please be gentle with him.”


Ira glanced at Michelle, then back at Willow, and nodded once.


“Understood.”


Willow smiled and made a motion to follow her and brought them into the living room where the kids were all already sitting around, throwing cushions at each other and whatnot. Their attention was pulled away as the adults entered.


“Gramps!” JJ grinned.


“Ganpy!” Robyn beamed.


“Zayde!” Lily and Emily said in perfect unison.


All four faced pivoted to Michelle at the same moment.


“Grandma!!”


There was a bombardment of hugs and Ira handed out mittens with maple leaves on them and little moose soft toys to the younger kids.


“And I brought you all some maple syrup for your pancakes,” Michelle smiled and produced a bottle, which she handed to Willow, “Don’t drop that, it’s worth more than gold.”


Willow smiled nervously.


Ira approached Kayden, sitting on the opposite end of the couch and handed him a pair of the mittens.


“Hello, Kayden. I’m Ira, I’m Willow’s father. We just returned from Canada.”


“H-Hello,” Kayden greeted nervously, standing up respectfully and looking down at the mittens like he was handed the holy grail, “Thank you, sir.”


“Oh please, I was called ‘sir’ enough in my career,” Ira smiled warmly.


He shook Kayden’s hand firmly. Michelle approached and opened her arms.


“I’m a hugger. Can I hug you?”


Kayden nodded silently but fell into her arms and closed his eyes as they embraced.


“I’m Michelle. I’m Tara’s aunt but I’m married to Ira.”


“I-It’s nice to meet you,” Kayden looked between them both.


“It’s lovely to meet you,” Michelle returned kindly.


Tara walked in then carrying a platter.


“I have bean dip and crudités.”


“More like crudilames,” Robyn mumbled and Willow shot her a look.


Ira made a show of picking up some dip onto a baby carrot.


“Tara, I must say, the Montréalais have nothing on your cooking.”


Tara smiled at him gratefully and noticed Kayden’s shoulders were a little tense as he took in all of the family dynamics. She nodded across the room to him.


“Kayden, help me with some drinks?”


Kayden agreed quickly and followed Tara out and into the kitchen.


“You doing okay, honey?” Tara asked casually as she had him fill an ice bucket.


“Yeah,” Kayden bobbed his head.


Tara placed a hand on Kayden’s back.


“Ira has a big presence but his heart is just as big too.”


“I like the mittens,” Kayden replied genuinely, “I don’t think I’ve had mittens before.”


Tara smiled sadly.


Kayden finished filling the bucket and put it in the sink. He glanced over to Tara.


“How come your aunt is married to your father-in-law?”


“Fate, I like to think,” Tara smiled at him, “In this family, we always find each other right when we need to.”


Kayden’s brow dropped contemplatively while Tara fetched a big bowl from the cabinet and had him hold it. She got a bag of chips from the cabinet and emptied it into the bowl.


“You get to be the hero who brings the chips.”


Kayden smiled and flicked his hair out of his eyes.


Tara grabbed the pitcher of sweet tea and together they returned to the rambunctiousness.



Willow and Tara were sharing a rare moment of quiet togetherness on the couch.


The girls were asleep and the boys were quiet upstairs and they just got to sit together cuddled up to watch some mindless television. Sharing a footstool, as was their custom, Tara rested her head on Willow’s shoulder and their touching arms joining at the wrist as they watched a nature show.


“Chlamydia is rampant in the koala population, you know,” Willow commented.


“Ssh, honey, don’t ruin it,” Tara replied quietly.


As they were watching, Woofy ran in and sat by their feet. He barked.


“What’s up boy?” Willow asked absently, “Did JJ feed you?”


He barked again and both Tara and Willow turned her attention to them.


The squeak of JJ’s rubber soles screeched loudly as he hurried down the stairs. He ran in just moments behind Woofy.


“Uh Mom, Momma?” he said nervously, his fingers fidgeting, “Kayden is kinda…freaking out.”


Both Tara and Willow sat up fully.


“What do you mean freaking out?” Tara asked.


JJ held up a hand helplessly.


“I…”


Willow and Tara shared a look and promptly jumped up and ran upstairs together.


In his room, Kayden was sitting on the floor hunched over with his legs out. His upper half was rocking back and forth and he was sobbing. His bedclothes were strewn around everywhere and though it could barely be seen, about a foot above the bed some paint had chipped.


“Kayden,” Tara said in an indrawn breath of alarm.


They both rushed either side of him and hugged him from all angles.


“It’s okay, sweetheart,” Tara comforted.


“We’re here,” Willow echoed in the same tone, “We’ve got you.”


They kept the pressure either side of him, encasing him in their embrace. His sobbing began to slow.


“Can you tell us what’s happening?” Willow asked gently.


“Whenever you feel ready,” Tara added softly.


Kayden swallowed a few shaky breaths.


“I just…I just found out… that…that…that Tony died. And, I…I don’t know, I just feel so weird. I-I hate him but…”


Willow’s eyes widened at Tara. Had she known that? Tara looked just as shocked so she guessed not.


“That’s big news,” Tara guided slowly, carefully, “He was in your life for a long time.”


“And involved with a lot of…complicated feelings,” Willow tried to supply helpfully. They hadn't covered this in class.


Kayden was silent but his back still hunched with sobs. Tara began to rub it softly.


“Do you remember I told you about my father and what he did to me?” she broached cautiously, “If I heard he died tomorrow, I’m sure I would feel a lot of different emotions too. I would remember how scared I used to feel around him. And I would remember my anger for everything he did.”


She sighed softly.


“And I would feel sad for the man he could have been and the relationship we could have had.”


She got a lump in her throat.


“And probably a million other things as well,” she finished, clearing her throat, “So whatever you’re feeling right now, that’s okay. You’re allowed to feel them.”


Willow was busy comforting Kayden with her hands, so she shot Tara a comforting look instead. Tara smiled back sadly but gratefully.


They stayed huddled like that until Kayden was just sitting quietly with his head hung over his body.


“You know what we call this?” Willow asked when she sensed the biggest emotion had passed, “A mom sandwich.”


Kayden’s head lifted a tad and Tara grinned.


“I saw a smile, Willow,” she teased.


“Let me see,” Willow ducked her head, “I definitely detect a hint of a smirk. By god, it’s growing!”


She gasped as Kayden’s lips twitched a bit more.


“It won’t stop! It’s going to consume us all!”


She shook them all dramatically before settling back with a smile. Kayden sniffled and looked between them with glassy eyes.


“I’m sorry.”


“You don’t have to say sorry for letting out your feelings,” Tara reassured softly, “That’s why we’re here.”


Kayden’s eyes grew downcast.


“Lily has ADHD, did you know that?” Willow cut in and Kayden shook his head, “She controls it really well. But that’s because we spent a lot of years working to get her there.”


“And I had post-natal depression after giving birth to the twins,” Tara said with a different kind of sad smile, “I still take medication to help with it and do therapy like I told you.”


Willow nodded.


“So big emotions? They don’t scare us. Especially from any of you kids. Those are our job.”


Kayden glanced off to the side where Willow and Tara first noticed the chipped paint. Tara took Kayden’s right hand and laid it out flat, spotting tiny little nicks where he must have punched the wall, though probably not very hard.


“Nothing that can’t be painted over,” she said and held his hand in hers, “Does it hurt?”


Kayden just shook his head.


“Let’s make sure we figure out ways to let your feelings out without you getting hurt.”


“You’re our number one priority,” Willow added quickly, “When I feel upset, I like to do things that make me feel good to distract me.”


Tara nodded.


“Yes, like I like to do my gardening.”


“And I like to read or play occasional havoc with the electrical circuitry of government buildings,” Willow said in a chirpy tone, then dropped it when Tara gave her a look, “But not in a long time.”


Tara looked back down at Kayden.


“What makes you feel good?”


Kayden gulped.


“Listening to music.”


“Why don’t you go do that?” Willow encouraged gently.


“I’ll bring you up some cookies and warm milk to help you sleep,” Tara promised and kissed his forehead, then stood up to remake his bed for him.


Kayden stood awkwardly to the side but gave them both a hug when offered.


He found the little pair of earbuds that had come with his new phone and unspooled them so he could listen to some music. His hands were still shaking and his cheeks were still red but he was focusing on his task.


Willow and Tara walked back down to the second level where JJ was leaning against the wall at the base of the stairwell trying to look casual while failing to hide a look of concern.


“It’s okay, honey,” Tara reassured while rubbing his arm, “Just needed a hug,”


“Thanks for telling us,” Willow added gently, “You can go to bed now.”


“Should I say something?” JJ asked, nervously biting the corner of his lip.


Tara shook her head.


“No, sweetheart. You should just go to bed.”


She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.


“Goodnight. We love you.”


JJ’s shoulders eased.


“Love you,” Willow echoed as she rubbed his arm, “Sweet dreams.”


“Night, Mom. Night Momma,” JJ replied with a squeeze for both of them.


Willow and Tara stayed to make sure he made the precarious dozen steps or so upstairs safely before making their way to their room.


Willow sank down on the end of the bed.


“Tony is his uncle, right? The one who…” she paused, jaw setting angrily, “Why the heck weren’t we told he died?”


“We should have been,” Tara replied from across the room with her arms crossed over her chest, “That communication moratorium between me and his team is forgetting that I’m — we’re — still the parents.”


“Guess you don’t know how he died, then?” Willow asked with a raised eyebrow.


Tara shook her head.


“No. There were no significant medical conditions in his history.”


Willow’s eyes flashed black.


“I hope it was painful.”


Tara pushed herself off of the dresser.


“That’s not helpful.”


She came over and sat beside Willow, taking her hand.


They just sat and held each other for a moment before Tara pulled away.


“I’m going to go get him his snack and see if he wants to chat now he’s calmed down a bit.”


“Good idea,” Willow nodded, “Poor kid. But I’ve never found a problem an Oreo couldn’t solve.”


Tara smiled softly and left for the kitchen.


Willow closed her eyes and wished she could do more.



Tara found out the reason why she had been kept in the dark about the death of Antony Miller about seven seconds after angrily bursting into the team meeting demanding to know what was going on.


They had a pretty good excuse.


They didn’t know.


Tara had had to sit down sheepishly while some information was gathered and they learned Antony had only been pronounced dead about an hour before JJ had come downstairs to get help.


It became pretty obvious, pretty quickly that the only way Kayden could have known that fast was if someone told him. And the only person who could have known was Roxy, Kayden’s aunt. Whom he most certainly shouldn’t be having contact with right now.


“Tara, have you told him not to be in contact while there’s an investigation going on?” Stephanie asked with slight exasperation.


Tara felt like a schoolchild being scolded.


“I had no reason to believe he wanted any.”


Stephanie raised an eyebrow.


“Are you monitoring his contact, at least?”


Tara straightened her back in the chair.


“He’s never had a phone before. Something that was his. I wasn’t going to make it seem like I didn’t trust him. Obviously, we have parental controls in place to stop anything untoward. I can’t control if an incoming call or message comes into him, except to block the number which we obviously will be doing now.”


“Tara…” Stephanie sighed heavily, “Obviously this isn’t an appropriate discussion for a team lead meeting. Kayden’s caseworker will be in touch to schedule a meeting with you. Moving on.”


Tara felt slapped in the face and hoped her red cheeks didn’t give her away. She got through the meeting and indeed the whole day by doing her version of what she’d encouraged Kayden to do the night before and kept herself busy with work. It wasn’t like there wasn’t always plenty of it.


She was at home when the girls arrived off the school bus and was happier to busy herself with motherhood. That was the kind of endless work she was happier to embrace.


Not much later, JJ announced himself loudly as being home and came into the kitchen to throw open the fridge. Kayden came in more quietly behind him but made sure to say hello to everyone. Tara smiled at him, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. After she made sure she scavenged enough food to make Kayden a snack, she asked to talk to him alone in the dining room for a few minutes.


“I wanted to check in with how you were feeling today?” she asked gently.


“Kind of…” Kayden’s eyes turned down but sought Tara’s gaze after a moment, “Relieved? I-is that bad? Does that make me a monster?”


“No, sweetheart,” Tara reassured firmly, “Absolutely not. Whatever your feelings are, you’re entitled to them and they make you human.”


Tara rubbed his knee gently.


“Sweetie, I have to ask how you found out that your—that Tony had passed away.”


Kayden looked up and went pale.


“Roxy…Roxy messaged me.”


Tara nodded evenly.


“I didn’t know you were texting with her. How did she get your number?”


“She didn’t,” Kayden shook his head, “She messaged me on Facebook.”


“Kayden, this is my fault,” Tara replied quickly, “I should have been keeping a closer eye on your social media use like I do with all of the kids. And I know this is an extremely difficult time, but you can’t be in contact with Roxy while there’s still an active investigation going on. I should have made sure you understood that and I’m sorry.”


Kayden’s lips suddenly turned as white as his face.


“I-I’m sorry, Tara, I, I…”


“Ssh, darling,” Tara comforted gently, “You didn’t do anything wrong, not on purpose. But you can’t message with her again, okay? We have to block her.”


“I g-get it,” Kayden nodded, “I’m sorry.”


Tara just pulled him into a hug.


After a minute or so, she pulled back.


“Kayden, I have to ask you. Do you want to go to the funeral?”


Kayden reached up and held his opposite shoulder uncomfortably.


“Should I?”


Tara pursed her lips.


This was too much. He shouldn’t have to confront this situation now when everything was still so raw. He should have time, years in fact before he was faced with his abuser's mortality and the flurry of emotion that would accompany it.


Tara wasn’t sure she was fully ready to deal with the inevitable day she would be placed in this situation and it had been decades for her.


“I’m afraid only you can make that decision, sweetheart. But we’ll all support you either way.”


Kayden’s eyes looked troubled but he looked over gratefully.


“Thanks, Tara.”


Tara just pulled him into another hug.



“Can you hang back, please?”


Willow and Tara hung back, as requested, while the rest of their fostering class comrades spilled out into the night having finished their latest lesson. This one dealt with moving from foster parent to adoptive parent and Willow really enjoyed it because it was an area she at least knew something about, even if it had been sixteen years ago.


“Do you think we’re going to get a commendation?” she asked excitedly, holding her white three-ring binder to her chest.


“I don’t think so, sweetie,” Tara let her down easy.


Willow pouted but seemed to accept it. When the class had filed out and Mark had gathered everything he needed to gather, he looked over to them and sat on the edge of his desk.


“I have to say, I’ve been amazed at how well you’ve been doing in these classes. Always know exactly what to say, where to pivot.”


Willow started to smile a bit smugly.


“Oh, well—”


“Not you,” Mark cut her off, holding up a hand, which Willow scowled at, “You.”


He pointed to Tara.


“I was amazed at how well you handled the workshops and role-play. You’re word perfect,” he picked up a manual sitting on the desk beside him and ruffled it through his fingers, “And you know, I kept thinking I recognized your name…”


He flipped to the back of the manual and pointed to a name in the footnotes.


“You’re word perfect because you wrote the book.”


Tara quickly shook her head.


“I didn’t, I just made a very minor contribution.”


Mark arched an annoyed eyebrow.


“Are they doing mystery shoppers for MAPP classes now? Because you really should have tried to blend in more.”


Willow scowled some more and hoped it imparted some bad juju his way for insulting Tara’s imaginary role as a mystery inspector. Tara would be perfect at any job she chose to do and frankly Willow was downright offended at any suggestion otherwise.


“No, I’m genuine,” Tara replied to Mark with a bit of a tired but hopefully genuine smile, “I have temporary custody of one of my children right now and we have to be certified to officially foster him long-term.”


Mark gave one long, slow nod.


“Well, good luck, then. You’ll get fully signed off from me.”


“Thank you,” Tara smiled again and tugged Willow along.


“Can you believe the nerve of that guy?” Willow grunted, “Oh I figured you out, oh I found your name in my book.”


“Everyone is trying their best,” Tara sighed and Willow gave her a little back rub as they walked to the car.


Once inside, Willow turned the heat on and waited for everything to warm up.


She rubbed her palms together and took Tara’s hands across the console.


“I didn’t even get a chance to ask you about all the Kayden stuff after dinner before we were running off to class. You mentioned the funeral and the social media stuff. How did the guy die?”


“He overdosed,” Tara replied with a solemn nod.


“Jeez,” Willow replied, feeling her heart constrict for the young boy in bed in their home right now, “That’s a lot for a kid to feel on their shoulders. Especially with his mom.”


Tara exhaled softly.


“This is what we signed up for.”


She paused and looked Willow in the eye.


“Are you still glad that we did?”


“Of course,” Willow answered without hesitation.


“You can be honest,” Tara offered and quickly realized she was the one who needed to be honest, “I had a moment today, I…”


She stopped and swallowed.


Willow moved one hand to Tara’s cheek and brushed her thumb over the skin there.


“Tara, I have those ‘moments’ once a week about all of our kids,” she said with some mirth but not without truth, “Remember that time before Lily was diagnosed and she cracked you in the back of the head with her little wooden train? She drew blood! I almost drew blood, I swear…”


She felt her hackles rising even years later and had to take a breath.


“My point is, having a ‘moment’ is okay. It’s normal. They’re our kids. We love them even when it isn’t easy. And I bet when you were having your ‘moment’ you didn’t think for a second that you wanted him to actually leave.”


Tara nodded quickly; that was true. Willow smiled.


“Let’s get home to ‘em.”


“To have another 'moment'?” Tara asked with a slowly sloping crooked smile.


Willow winked once as she grabbed the wheel.


“To have every moment.”

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 26th 2020)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2020 6:00 am 
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Chapter Six




“Who wants…pizza?!”


Willow flipped the lid on the box as she brought it into the dining room.


“The birthday girls, maybe?”


“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Lily cheered, pumping both fists in the air from her seat at the table, “Pizza is our favorite food.”


Tara came in with a bowl in her hands and bent down by Emily while the others were distracted by the pizza.


“Hey, do you think you could do me a favor?” she asked gently, “I had all this cheese I had to use up so I made some mac’n’cheese. Think you could eat some up for me?”


Emily’s eyes lit up. She didn’t like to verbally differ from Lily but pizza wasn’t her number one favorite.


“Yes, Mommy,” she whispered and nodded eagerly as she pushed her glasses back up her face.


Tara set the bowl in front of her and kissed her head.


“Who wants lemonade?”


There was a chorus of ‘me, me, me’s' and more hands reaching toward the ceiling.


“Bring the jug!” Willow encouraged with a grin.


JJ pulled a slice a pizza up so the cheese stretched.


“Hey, you guys are the age that I was when you two brats were born!”


“Don’t call your sisters brats,” Willow chided.


“Well I’m not calling Emmy a brat,” JJ smirked at Lily, “Your faces were so squishy.”


“Nuh-uh!” Lily protested, her forehead scrunching in a not un-squishy-like way.


“Uh-huh!” JJ returned with a booming laugh.


“Your faces were kinda squishy,” Willow admitted and received a look of utter betrayal, “You were born early, you weren’t fully cooked yet.”


Emily looked up, troubled.


“W-We were cooked?”


“No, sweetie, it’s a turn of phrase,” Tara said as she came back in with the jug of lemonade and sat next to Willow, giving her a look, “Stop telling the children they were cooked.”


“I was trying to explain their adorable squishy faces,” Willow protested, waving her hands indicatively.


“My face wasn’t squishy!” Lily screamed as her face grew the color of her hair.


Everyone else shut up and Tara met her daughter’s eye.


“Lil, it’s okay,” she said calmly, “Do a breath with me.”


Tara inhaled audibly and when Lily unclenched, she did the same.


The whole table joined in and after three slow breaths, everyone silently went back to eating. JJ scooted his chair closer to Lily and wrapped an arm around her.


“What are you doing?” Lily asked suspiciously.


“I’m giving you a hug, dingus,” JJ returned with a grin.


Lily scooted her chair the other way, toward Kayden.


“Kayden doesn’t call me a dingus.”


“O-or squishy faced,” Emily added quietly.


“I didn’t know you were squishy faced,” Kayden replied with a one-shoulder shrug but his mouth was tugging into a smile.


“Oh I’ll show you pictures,” Willow replied eagerly.


“If you all don’t finish your dinner, there’ll be no cake…” Tara warned playfully.


“Who cares?” Robyn picked off some bell pepper from her slice of pizza, “We’re getting all the candy we want tonight.”


“I care,” JJ pouted and pretty much mirrored Willow, “Mom made funfetti.”


Tara grinned crookedly.


“With extra sprinkles, as requested.”


“I want cake!” Lily insisted, “AND candy! You can have both you know, Robbie.”


“Oh thanks, little sister, I would never have known that without you,” Robyn replied, rolling her eyes.


“Can you take a day off from the pre-teen angst and sarcasm for your sisters’ birthday?” Willow requested through gritted teeth, “You know after they were born you went around for months saying how great a big sister you were.”


“You did do that,” JJ chuckled, “You introduced yourself as ‘Wobbie, the GWEAT BIG SISTAH’.”


Everyone laughed and Robyn rolled her eyes but took it.


“Yeah, yeah. I am a great big sister. I just provide much-needed sarcasm.”


“Oh, you sounded WAY too much like Anya there,” Willow shuddered, “Hey, what time are Pixie and Alex coming over?”


The doorbell rang and Tara smiled.


“In time for cake.”


“I’ll get it,” Kayden offered, wiping his mouth on his napkin. It felt natural that he would answer the door here. He didn’t even think twice. And he’d spent most of his life thinking twice.


He opened the door and heard the last few words of Anya shouting out the car window to ‘take as much as possible’ for packed lunches.


“Hi, Kayden!” Pixie greeted as she rushed past in a blur of pastel pink.


“Hey Kayden,” Alex greeted, holding out his fist to be bumped before bringing his hand back to slick over his fauxhawk, “I was told there’d be cake.”


Even only having been around for the past few weeks, Kayden already knew Alex sounded like his father.


“In the dining room,” he answered as he closed the door behind them.


Just before it clicked, there was a light pressure and he stepped back to allow it to open.


A young girl walked in, a bit older than Robyn with long brown hair and timid steps. She looked at him with a furrowed brow.


“Um, are you Kayden?”


“Yeah,” Kayden answered a bit dumbly.


“I’m Ella. I’m Jesse’s daughter,” Ella explained, the age she had on Robyn apparent in her mature tone and stature, “And Alice? My mom works with your…”


“Tara,” Kayden supplied helpfully.


“Yeah,” Ella nodded.


Kayden smiled bashfully. While he’d been over to the Harris’s a couple of times and hung out with Alex while he hung out with JJ a handful more, he had yet to meet Ella.


He’d met Jesse’s dog while they were all out for a walk with Woofy but not his daughter. Still, he’d learned through listening on all the family banter and stories who each branch of this familial tree was.


“I know who you are,” he said and stood aside, “I think they’re serving cake. I, uh, like your costume. 13th Doctor?”


Ella’s eyes lit up.


“Yeah! How’d you know?”


Kayden nodded toward her hand.


“Sonic screwdriver.”


Ella looked down at her prop and smiled back up at Kayden.


“Are you coming?”


Kayden nodded and they walked back into the dining room.


“What are you, Pixie?” Tara asked with a smile across the table as they waited for Willow to bring in the cake.


Pixie held the handles on the pair of wings over her shoulders and stood proudly in her pair of pink scrubs.


“I’m a fairy-princess-doctor.”


“She’s a mutant,” Alex added in a bored tone as his chin rested on his upturned palm, “She just hasn’t accepted it.”


Pixie flashed her teeth in a smile.


“My mom says I can be anything I want to be as long as it makes—”


“You happy,” Tara tried to preempt the inevitable answer but Pixie just shook her head.


“No, a lot of money.”


Suddenly the lights went out as Willow reached in to flick the switch. Lily jumped up on her knees on her chair and Emily’s eyes flew brightly toward the door.


The flicker of the candlelight cast shadows on the walls as Willow carried the cake in and everyone started to sing Happy Birthday. They sang it once for each of them and each time had a mix of their names as no one had coordinated ahead of time.


Secretly, Tara hadn’t coordinated on purpose so that neither twin felt slighted.


Both Willow and Tara cut the cake together for the same purpose — to serve each girl the first slice together. Slices were quickly doled out to the rest of the kids, albeit with one obviously missing.


“No go on Liam,” Willow told Tara as she sat back down beside her, “Buffy texted. All of the costumes around their neighborhood are scaring him. They’re going to keep him inside and put a bowl of candy outside the door. Maybe next year.”


“Oh, that’s a shame,” Tara said sadly, “But they’re doing the right thing.”


Willow held up her plate jovially.


“More cake for me!”


She took a forkful and licked her lips at its delectable moistness and flavor.


“Marry me!”


Tara chuckled and took a modest piece herself. She had to admit, it was a good cake. She’d really perfected her cream cheese frosting. She’d even made extra to sneak up to the bedroom later…


As everyone finished up, Kayden and Alex sneaked after JJ as he headed out to go upstairs.


“Are you boys finally going to tell us what you’re dressing up as?” Willow asked with a smirk.


“You’ll see, Momma,” JJ answered with the exact same smirk.


When all of the kids had gone to get changed or help others get changed, Willow threw her eyes toward Tara and winked.


“Ready to get into our costumes?”


“I can’t believe you still won’t tell me,” Tara shook her head, “Every year I have no idea what monstrosity I’m getting into it.”


Willow just slid her hand into Tara’s and gave it a tug.


“I left your costume in the bathroom,” she said and tapped Tara’s butt once they were in the bedroom.


Tara, ever obliging, went into the bathroom to change. Willow, meanwhile donned her very simple attire: a round brown piece of cardboard with green etchings around her middle and a little hat with a large fixture looking like a green straw sticking out of it.


Minutes later, Tara came out, frowning.


“I feel very rotund.”


Willow grinned at Tara’s very cartoonish pink donut costume.


“And I suddenly feel a Homer Simpson-level urge for donuts.”


She mocked drooling and Tara laughed a bit helplessly.


“What even are we?”


“We’re the perfect couple!” Willow grinned spritely, “Coffee and a donut!”


One of Tara’s eyebrows arched softly.


“Starting to run out of ideas, hun?”


Willow smiled sheepishly.


“Been distracted with Kayden and classes and whatnot,” she admitted, striding over to Tara, “All the good costumes were sold out everywhere. That’s why I had to ask you to make the kids ones.”


“Well, I love you dough much,” Tara replied, leaning over to peck Willow’s lips.


Willow held her hands over her heart.


“You punned for me.”


“I’d pun for you any day,” Tara replied with a glint in her eye, “Even when you drive me glazy.”


Willow’s tongue stuck out between her teeth.


“I love you a hole lot.”


She rubbed their noses together and took Tara’s hand. They started to walk downstairs and in the hall, they came across Robyn leaving her room wearing her costume, with Ella and Pixie behind her.


Robyn physically stumbled back when she saw them.


“Oh jeez,” she said, looking away and waving her hands, “Stay at least ten steps behind me at all times tonight.”


She ran down the stairs with the other two at her heels. Willow looked at Tara dubiously.


“Does she really want to go as that?”


Tara shrugged one shoulder amiably.


“That’s what she asked for. That’s what I made her.”


Willow just sighed and they went downstairs to gather candy buckets and whatnot.


Finally, there was movement on the stairs and the boys made their way down. They were all in black turtlenecks and gray slacks with white gloves. On top of their heads were mouse ears and they were wearing sunglasses. Finally, each had a plastic cane they were pretending to use.


“You better tell us if the farmer’s wife is nearby because we all want to keep our tails!” JJ announced and they all turned to wiggle their butts where they’d stuck tails on.


The girls — and the women — all fell about laughing and Tara noted that she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a bigger smile on Kayden’s face.


Woofy came up and looked at them all for a moment, then let out a low growl.


JJ laughed and raised his sunglasses to look down at him.


“We’re not real mice, Woofs!”


Woofy looked up and barked, then sat at JJ’s feet.


“Get his leash,” Tara said but almost immediately went off to do it herself.


Willow bent down to the twins to fix their little costumes and make sure they were all buttoned up everywhere. She looked at Emily a bit unsurely.


“Are you sure this is what you want to go as, koala bear?”


Emily’s head bobbed evenly.


“I-I haveta be the catta-pillah so Lily can be the buttah-fly.”


Willow took Emily’s head in her hands and kissed her hairline.


“You are a butterfly. A beautiful, majestic butterfly,” she enunciated clearly and rubbed Emily’s shoulders, “Next year I think it’s your turn to pick the costumes, yeah?”


Emily just shrugged one shoulder and Willow smiled at her. She fixed Lily up where she was needed and stood ready to take their brood out to the neighborhood for trick-or-treating.


At their first house, a doting and newly-empty-nester neighbor made a big show of looking at everyone’s outfit individually. She didn’t even balk at the three boys, which some houses did as they deemed them too old to trick-or-treat.


She finally landed on Robyn and tried her best to maintain her smile.


“And what are you?”


“A broad representation of the American electorate,” Robyn replied, deadpan.


“She’s a flip-flop,” Willow said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster as her shoe-shaped daughter accepted the candy and snatched her sack closed so no one could take any, before muttering, “Still better than the year you were a frog.”


They all said ‘thank you’ and passed by the next family coming in on their way out, as they did in reverse as they went to the next house. And so they went on, as they did every year until every house had been visited and not ‘hit up’ as Tara had to repeatedly correct Robyn.


Once they were back home with their buckets and bags full, Robyn burst into the living room and pushed the coffee table out—


“Watch my floor!” Willow hollered in.


—so there was room for the three girls to sit on the rug.


She upturned her own bag of candy.


“Now to maximize enjoyment. First, we separate by category. Chocolate, caramels, gummies, lollipops. Then by absorbancy to see what needs to be eaten first—”


“We all know the method, Robyn,” Ella rolled her eyes as she sat cross-legged opposite Robyn, “It’s the same every year.”


Robyn jumped up and wagged her finger.


“And we haven’t lost a single candy yet so maybe you show the method a little respect, soldier!”


The boys all crowded in the dining room to eat what was left of the pizza and scarf the little candy they did get. JJ still went out with just because he loved his little sisters and dressing up with them, though he probably wouldn’t admit it. It was just a bonus when the not anally-retentive households threw him a piece of candy too.


He swapped some M&Ms for some Skittles with Kayden while Alex played on his phone until he announced there was a party they could crash.


“You guys in?” he asked with his fingers posed to reply.


Kayden seemed surprised by the plural.


“Y-You want me to come?”


While they had both been more than inclusive with him when they hung out at home, they were two grades ahead of him.


“Sure, dude,” Alex replied with a smile, “It’s not like I have to fight you off for girls.”


Kayden’s mouth opened in surprise and JJ rolled his eyes.


“I’m surprised we got this far without him talking about his girlfriend,” he said the word in a teasing tone, “All we hear about is Fiona.”


He chuckled as Alex rolled his eyes.


“Together they are,” JJ announced, showing off his bicep, “Flex.”


“You’re just jealous,” Alex returned with a scoff, “I have a girlfriend and my letterman jacket.”


JJ motioned being shot in the heart.


“Oh, low blow dude. Low blow,” he said and pretended to die before popping back up with a grin, “We’ll pick Thomas up on the way. Let’s go, boys.”


Kayden frowned unsurely.


“Are we allowed to go out?”


JJ winked.


“You leave the moms to me.”


In the kitchen, Willow had rid herself of her half-assed costume and replaced it with a real cup of coffee. The aroma was rich and indulgent after being out in the cold for a few hours and she was enjoying just holding the warm mug in her hands and letting the steam waft under her nose.


JJ approached and held onto the top of the door frame.


“Momma, can I go out with the guys?”


“Ask your mother,” Willow answered without looking up.


“I just did,” JJ returned in a charming smile that was lost to Willow’s back.


“Haha,” Willow replied sarcastically, looking over her shoulder, “You know what I meant.”


JJ heaved a sigh and pushed away. He found Tara upstairs, folding laundry into the dresser in hers and Willow’s room. He held onto the frame in the same way.


“Moommmm?”


Tara looked up and over at him and paused. She went to her nightstand and took her wallet up. She took out a $20 bill and brought it over to him.


“I’m not saying not to tell your Momma, I’m just saying don’t flaunt it.”


JJ clasped the bill.


“Thanks,” he said, stuffing it into his back pocket before continuing casually, “Is it cool if we go out with the guys?”


“Where?” Tara asked as she returned to her basket of laundry.


“Get together for Halloween,” JJ replied with a soft shrug.


“At school?” Tara questioned with a raised eyebrow.


JJ shook his head slowly.


“No…at someone’s house.”


Tara stopped and put her hands on her hips.


“Do I know this someone?”


“I don’t know who you know, Mom, you know a lot of people,” JJ returned, then cowered under the look that was returned, “They’re friends of Alex.”


“Will there be parents there?” Tara asked pointedly.


“Yeah, probably,” JJ replied noncommittally


“Probably?” Tara folded her arms.


“Mom,” JJ pleaded.


Tara pursed her lips, then let her face settle.


“No drinking.”


“Of course,” JJ promised easily. That wasn’t his bag; he loved basketball too much to risk getting kicked off the team.


Tara looked him up and down.


“And if you’re having sex, you need to be safe.”


JJ looked like he might hurl.


“Mom! Jesus! That’s…” his hands waved in front of him wildly, “We’re just gonna hang out and listen to some music and talk and stuff.”


Tara threw her hands up.


“Home by 10 pm.”


“Aw, maw,” JJ pouted.


Tara sighed.


“11 and don’t push it.”


JJ walked over and embraced Tara, tucking her head underneath his chin.


“Love you, Mom.”


Tara patted his back as they hugged.


“Take care of Kayden,” she said, pulling back to look JJ in the eye, “If he wants to come home, you come home.”


“He’s not a fragile little doll,” JJ replied dismissively.


“Jacob,” Tara warned.


“Okay, I get it,” JJ held his hands up.


Tara stood on her tiptoes and kissed JJ’s nose like when he was little and would fall over and scrape his knee.


“Thank you for including him,” she said, squeezing his upper arms, “I know he’s younger than you.”


JJ looked sad for a moment.


“He doesn’t have any friends, mom,” he said, shaking his head, “And he’s cool. Quiet, but cool. He should have friends.”


Tara embraced JJ again.


“You’re a good boy,” she said softly and pulled back to look back at him, “11. And text me the address.”


That last instruction was a bit of a moot point because she knew Willow could track any of their children at any time (or their phones, at least) but she never approved of it unless it was absolutely necessary.


“Will do,” JJ promised when he was almost already halfway down the stairs.


He swung into the dining room with a grin.


“Ready, hombres?”


They all piled into JJ’s car and Kayden didn’t even care about being lumped in the back seat. He thought this might be the most exciting experience of his life. Riding around; parties; even just hanging out with ‘the boys’ had never been part of his routine. He never had a safe home to bring friends home to, so any relationships he formed were purely superficial.


On the way to the house party, they picked up JJ’s friend Thomas. Kayden had met him before so they just exchanged a nod of hello and Kayden even found that small act of recognition thrilling.


He hoped he wasn’t giving himself away and was playing it cool.


The party was in a house in a more affluent neighborhood and while the music wasn’t too noisy outside, as soon as they went in it looked like the quintessential scene from a house party in a teen movie. Music, alcohol, even red solo cups.


Kayden wasn’t sure he’d even been around so many people all at once before. At some point in those first few minutes, he got separated from the others, probably because he was too busy looking around to pay attention.


For once in his life, he didn’t feel like he had to skulk off into the shadows not to be seen and while he didn’t announce himself to the whole party, he walked around and saw what was what.


He didn’t speak to anyone but at some point, he was crowded enough with other people that a cup of beer was shoved into his hand.


He looked down at it for a long time.


Tony had not needed alcohol to get aggressive with him, but it didn’t hurt. The swings were less coordination but what they lacked in direction they made up for with vigor.


He watched the beer slosh from side to side and remembered the rattle in his brain with Tony would shake him.


He felt very little as he thought back on this.


His therapist called it disconnection but he just thought of it as feeling numb.


He stared down at the brown liquid for so long he thought he could pick up shapes and so was startled when JJ dropped down into the beanbag beside him and slapped his back.


“You do not want the wrath of my mother if she smells beer on your breath,” he said, his long legs bent so his knees were almost level with his face, “I’ve heard her yell, really yell, one time, ever. It was not at me and it still terrified the crap out of me.”


Kayden’s heart started to race.


“I-I wasn’t…” his mouth went dry and he looked around desperately for somewhere to put the cup, “Please don’t…I don’t want…I…”


JJ took the red solo cup and kept a calm voice and demeanor.


“Hey man, it’s cool.”


He put the cup on a nearby table where it was quickly swooped up by someone JJ recognized as the power forward on the varsity basketball team in his school. Ignoring him, he focused back on Kayden who looked like he might be shaking.


“It’s cool. Between bros. You barely even drank any.”


He hadn’t drunk any at all, in fact.


“I-I don’t want your Momma to yell at me.”


JJ chuckled.


“Oh-ho, not Momma. Mom.”


Now that Kayden found hard to believe.


“Who was she yelling at?”


“Momma,” JJ answered, folding his arms over his knees, “It was a few years back. When Lily was little she was out of control. She knocked Mom clean out one time for a few seconds. Momma was furious, she grabbed Lily by the arm and pulled her upstairs. Mom followed telling her to let Lily go until she just lost it and screamed at her to do it. Mom is real sensitive to any of us being hurt.”


“Because of her Dad,” Kayden nodded.


JJ did a double-take.


“Huh?”


“Oh, you know,” Kayden continued and suddenly felt like he revealed something he shouldn’t, “B-Because of her Dad?”


“Mom doesn’t…” JJ stopped, frowning deeply, “Mom has a Dad?”


He blinked several times.


“I mean, duh, she has a Dad, but…Grandma Lisa is dead and Nana Rose only lives like 40 minutes away…”


“Right,” Kayden replied quickly, “I got confused.”


“Right,” JJ nodded but didn’t seem convinced.


Thankfully at that moment, Alex caught his eye from across the room where he was talking — or floundering depending on who you asked — to some girls from a catholic school across town. This was more than enough of a distraction for JJ.


“You wanna go talk to those girls? Alex is about three seconds away from screaming 'Fiona' and running away from them.”


“I guess,” Kayden replied, slightly bored then caught himself and added more gruffly, “I mean, yeah, of course.”


They stood up together and made their way across the party.


Kayden didn’t have the same interest as the other two in discussion with the fairer sex, but he welcomed the distraction of what the morning would bring.



Tara took her gardening gloves off as she walked into the kitchen through the sliding doors that led to the back yard.


Her chrysanthemums were coming along nicely and she was looking forward to having some to give to the girls to make a centerpiece for Thanksgiving.


As she set the coffee to reheat, she spotted Kayden walking into the kitchen with his hands in the pockets of his black jeans.


Tara smiled at him.


“We’re becoming early morning buddies. You’re allowed to sleep in, you know. You keep up your grades and do your chores and we don’t mind how late you sleep at the weekend.”


Kayden shrugged.


“I was awake.”


Tara continued to offer him a smile and poured him a glass of juice.


“Did you have a nice night last night?”


She knew they came in at exactly 10:59:58 because she was watching the clock and had woken up a snoring Willow to tell her they were back. Willow had just snorted and rolled over, where her glasses had fallen off her face and Tara had to get up and leave them on the nightstand to stop them being crushed.


That was a pretty regular occurrence since Willow had taken to wearing her glasses more often as a comfort to Emily when she had to get hers and was worried about looking different.


Kayden just nodded.


Tara didn’t push.


The whole ‘trusting’ aspect of their parenting approach had become so much more difficult since they’d been dealing with teenagers.


“Would you like some breakfast? It’s Willow’s turn to do French toast when she wakes up but I can make you some scrambled eggs or a smoothie.”


When she saw Kayden about to give his requisite refusal, she walked to the fridge and took out some eggs.


“I’m starving after all of my gardening. Would you mind whisking some eggs for me?”


Kayden shook his head and Tara handed him a bowl and fork along with the eggs while she got the skillet ready.


Tara scrambled some eggs while humming and toasted some bread, serving them both up a plate in just a few minutes.


“Thanks,” Kayden said as he used the edge of his fork as a knife to eat neatly.


Tara ate while stealing glances at him.


“How are you feeling about today?”


Kayden shrugged one shoulder. Tara nodded.


“We’ll need to leave at about 10.”


Kayden reached up and scratched behind his ear, then glanced up at Tara.


“Do I look okay?”


Tara smiled easily.


“Yes, sweetie.”


She cupped his cheek and leaned across the island to kiss the top of his head. Kayden seemed to relax and finished up his eggs quickly.


The house slowly began to fill with noise as the rest of the inhabitants woke up and fought over cartoons.


When Willow lost the Spongebob argument, she came in to give Tara a kiss.


“Good morning, baby,” she smiled, leaning her head on Tara’s shoulder, “Good morning Kayden.”


“Morning,” Kayden said quietly.


“Good morning,” Tara whispered, kissing Willow’s forehead, “You’re on French Toast duty.”


“Yes,” Willow agreed with a bob of her head, “Just as soon as some sweet, sweet mocha is running through my veins.”


“I put some ginger in it, the way you like,” Tara replied, her hand gently falling away from Willow’s waist.


“You’re the best,” Willow smiled as the mug warmed her hands.


JJ walked in with mussed hair and no shirt and went to drink juice from the bottle.


“Good morning, son,” Tara smiled despite it.


“Morning ma—” JJ stopped and promptly burped, “Morning Mom.”


“Cover your mouth,” Willow slapped the back of her fingers against JJ’s torso, then reached up to kiss his cheek.


“Maw,” he intoned and shook his head, “I’m hungry.”


“You can cook us all breakfast,” Willow suggested perkily.


“Who wants cereal?” JJ asked with a messy arched eyebrow.


Willow rolled her eyes.


“I’m making French Toast in a minute.”


JJ hugged Willow from behind.


“Thanks, Momma.”


He squeezed Willow and released her to swing himself onto a stool to chat with Kayden.


A few minutes later, as Willow was happily flipping breakfast, Robyn came in with an unamused look on her face.


“Mom, will you tell Lily to stop pretending to poke me!?”


Tara checked her watch and pushed away from the island.


“You need to work it out yourselves, I’m taking Kayden out.”


“Where?” Robyn’s interest was immediately piqued, “I wanna come.”


“How about I take you to the movies instead, bean,” Willow suggested with a sly wink toward Tara, “And it’s Emily’s turn to pick so tell her to start thinking.”


Robyn grumbled but went off to tell her. She may as well just tell Lily because Emily would choose whatever Lily wanted.


…but Robyn was bigger and smarter than Lily.


She grinned as she realized she could totally swing this her way with a little effort.


“Do you want to come to the movies, Jake?” Willow asked.


“Uh, no,” JJ averted his eyes, “I have some research to do.”


Willow smiled proudly.


“You’re like me when I was your age.”


JJ looked skeptical.


“Gramps said you were a nerd.”


“He did not!” Willow protested indignantly.


JJ rolled his eyes.


“Okay, he said you were ‘bookish’.”


“Bet he said it proudly,” Willow countered, raising her chin.


Tara put her hand on the small of Willow’s back.


“Hun?”


“Yes!” Willow replied promptly and spun back around to the burner.


“Kayden, get your jacket sweetie,” Tara said and followed him out to find her shoes.


“Where are they going?” JJ asked Willow.


“Just to something they need to do,” Willow answered as she took out a clean Tupperware.


JJ frowned.


At the front door, Kayden pulled his arms into the new rain jacket they’d bought when they discovered he had none. It was the warmest piece of clothing Kayden had ever owned.


Willow popped out from the kitchen and brought him over the Tupperware.


“We even provide a take-out service,” she grinned, “I know you like strawberries so I put some extra in there.”


That was almost too much for Kayden, almost. But he was able to remain stoic and just smiled gratefully. Tara came down the stairs and kissed Willow goodbye and then she and Kayden set off in the second car so that Willow would have the minivan to bring the girls out in.


Kayden ate quietly as they drove to the graveyard so Tara didn’t disturb him with chat or radio.


She did glance at him though, often, and tried to gauge where he was at.


Once they were there, they could see the gathering around the graveside.


“I don’t want to get up close,” Kayden whispered as they crossed the street over to the graveyard from the parking lot.


“That’s fine,” Tara whispered, “We can hang back.”


They stood by a tree at the perimeter and watched as the casket was lowered. Tara kept her hands on Kayden’s shoulders, just holding him. He was characteristically quiet the whole time.


When people began to dissipate, Tara gently squeezed Kayden’s shoulders. She was about to tell him that maybe that should be their cue to leave when she spotted a woman barreling toward them.


With her dark hair, dark eyes, and symmetrical jawline, there was no denying the family resemblance.


She knew it was Kayden’s aunt.


“This is all your fault you pussy piece of shit—” she started to splutter at Kayden, only to direct her tirade at Tara when she put her arm in front of him, “Don’t act like you’re better than me. You just keep him for the cash too.”


“That is not true,” she said emphatically, though to Kayden’s face, not Roxy’s, “We should go.”


Roxy was seething and tried to reach past Tara to grab Kayden’s shirt. Tara had to step right in between them.


“I have a direct line to the FBI, I can have them here in minutes.”


“Real classy, calling the cops on a funeral,” Roxy sneered.


Tara took Kayden’s arm, not a grab but insistent enough to make sure he followed.


“Kayden, we’re leaving.”


Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Roxy roll back on her heels like she was deciding whether to follow or not but eventually just slapped her hand against the tree in anger.


“My sister would hate me for raising a faggot snitch like you!”


Tara bundled Kayden into the car as quickly as she could and drove two blocks around the corner before parking up on the curb again.


She was always careful with Kayden not to touch him unless he seemed receptive and could see it coming, but this time she reached across the center console and hugged him as tight as she could.


“Honey, the language she used was not okay. You’re not deserving of it. It is all a reflection of her, not you. You were a brave boy today. She’s the one who showed complete cowardice.”


Kayden’s eyes were down but he slowly looked up. When he did, his eyes were filled with tears.


Suddenly he didn’t feel so numb anymore.


He felt scared and hurt and angry.


But not at himself.


He burst into tears and sought out Tara’s embrace again, which was readily given.


“Darling,” she comforted softly, holding his head.


He cried and cried and cried, so much so that Tara’s shirt was more wet than dry. Tara just let him, occasionally pressing a small kiss on top of his ear.


Finally, it came to a pause and he pulled away with a quiet sniffle and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.


Tara let him gather himself before speaking to him.


“What do you want to do honey? We can do whatever you want.”


Kayden pulled at the end of his sleeve, eyes downcast.


“Do you think they all went to the movies yet?”


Tara shook her head.


“I doubt it. Probably still in their jammies.”


Kayden paused and his eyes slowly made their way toward Tara’s.


“Can we go home?”


Tara smiled, despite everything.


He’d said ‘home’.


She nodded.


“Let’s go home.”

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (Jun 30th 2020)
PostPosted: Fri Jul 03, 2020 6:00 am 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2009 1:22 pm
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Chapter Seven




“Wow, girls.”


Tara bent down to appropriately admire the centerpiece that Robyn, Lily, and Emily were assembling for the dinner table.


“This looks great.”


They’d made a felt turkey with multiple paper fans to depict its tail. Each fan was in a different color, making a rainbow.


“Because we’re an ell-emm-enn-pee family!” Lily explained brightly.


“It’s LGBT dumba—” Robyn started to retort, but backpedaled quickly when she saw Tara’s face, “Doof…”


She pursed her lips and wracked her brain.


“Silly billy?”


Tara’s eyes glanced away for a moment.


“When Lily was little she called herself a Lily Billy when she was playing up,” she recalled fondly and Robyn knew by the power of nostalgia that she was forgiven, or at least forgotten.


“I’m glad I’m not Lily Billy, I like Lily Lisa,” Lily said, bouncing on her knees as they all sat around the coffee table surrounding their turkey with flowers and other decorations, “Is Nana Rose coming for Thanksgiving?”


Tara straightened up gracefully.


“We’re having dinner alone but all of your grandparents are coming over later on in the day.”


“M-Mommy, can I have a snack?” Emily looked up through her thick, square glasses.


“Of course you can,” Tara answered with a smile, “I’ll bring you girls in something to eat while you work.”


“We’re working girls!” Lily beamed proudly.


Robyn snickered.


Tara frowned disapprovingly and went through to the kitchen so she could make them a snack. The first thing she did was turn on the oven to bake some apple chips in the background so there would be a quick snack on hand if needed later. She used her trusty mandoline to get thin slices quickly and spread them out on the baking tray which she put back into the oven to cook.


She then took out ingredients to make various animal faces from bread or crackers. On the plate she had a school of goldfish crackers swim toward a collection of blueberries.


“Whose coming to visit?” Willow asked as she walked in and went to the cabinet to get a glass so she could pour water from the fridge.


“Nobody,” Tara answered as she cut a grape in half to make owl eyes.


Willow’s glass made a clunking sound as the ice bashed off each other.


“What’s with the spread?”


“The girls are hungry,” Tara replied with a smile down at her creations.


Willow’s eyes cast back and forth.


“So throw a Lunchable out on a fancy plate if you want it to look pretty. They won’t know any different.”


“Funnily enough I’m actually happy to make our children healthy snacks,” Tara replied wryly, “And you know I don’t buy those things.”


Willow’s eyes fell to Tara’s hands, which were chopping cucumber into thin slices. Tara’s fingers curled beneath the top of the blade and her wrist rhythmically rose and fell without ever releasing the handle.


“This may be a little out of left field but your knife work is really turning me on.”


Tara arched one eyebrow and smiled crookedly in Willow’s direction. Willow’s head bobbed in slow, equal time to Tara’s wrist.


“I think it’s the gentle bounce against the board,” she said in a hypnotized tone, “Up and down and up and down and up and down and—”


Tara suddenly dropped the knife and Willow didn’t know why until her hand was tugged and they ran into the laundry room and locked the door behind them.


The door didn’t open again, though it did rattle a little, until suddenly the smoke alarm started blaring loudly.


Willow and Tara ran back out of the laundry room with red faces, tucking their skewed clothing back in. Smoke was coming from the oven and when Tar opened the door it billowed out with her apple chips burnt to a crisp inside. She swore under her breath and grabbed a dishcloth to take the baking tray out to toss in the sink, then began waving the cloth at the smoke alarm.


Robyn walked in and sighed like the weight of the world was on her shoulders.


“Did you burn our snack?”


“It wasn’t even m—” Willow started to defend, then decided to take the fall for her wife’s sake and did a speedy run to the back of the fridge where she grabbed a Lunchable and shoved it at Robyn, “My secret stash. Hide the evidence!”


Robyn just shrugged and walked back out as Tara finally got the alarm silenced.


As she was puffing out a breath of relief, Kayden appeared in the doorway, concerned.


“Is everything okay?”


“It’s fine, Kayden,” Tara reassured softly.


“Feel like some burnt apple?” Willow grinned, “It’s the latest craze. You’ll see in your lattes and your cupcakes before winter is out!”


Kayden awkwardly shuffled from one foot to the next.


“Um…”


“She’s joking sweetheart,” Tara relieved him and pushed the plate she’d been making across the island, “You can have an owl cracker if you’d like.”


Kayden took one and smiled.


“It’s cute. Thanks.”


Tara patted his hand and Willow took a look around.


“Where’s JJ?”


“Upstairs,” Kayden replied as he nibbled on his cracker.


Willow nodded.


“I’ve never heard him be this quiet in his life.”


“He was on his computer with his earbuds in,” Kayden replied with a shrug.


“Ah,” Tara shared a knowing look with Willow.


“Oh,” she added, looking down.


Tara pushed the plate at Willow.


“Will you take the rest of these into the girls?”


“They already—” Willow started but promptly shut herself up, “Yep. Yes, I will.”


Willow left with the various animal treats that made her crave real animal crackers while Tara started to properly dispose of the mess she’d made of the apples.


“Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving, Kayden?”


When there was no response, Tara glanced over her shoulder and saw Kayden was figuring out how to answer the question. She could guess why.


“Have you ever celebrated it before?”


Kayden slowly shook his head and Tara just smiled back easily.


“Well, we usually watch the parade on TV and then we meet up with our friends in the park. The kids and some of the adults play football, but it’s not very serious. Then we come home to eat and later all of the grandparents come over for pie,” she explained in a simple tone, “Nothing for you to worry about. I’ll be the only one stressed out, trying to pull the meal together.”


“I’ll help,” Kayden offered immediately.


Tara smiled at him again.


“Oh, you’re so sweet.”


A minute or so of silence passed, then Kayden popped up curiously.


“Are you making that thing where you put marshmallows on the sweet potatoes?”


“Oh yes,” Tara nodded back, “It’s one of our favorites.”


Kayden gave a little smile.


“I’ve seen it on TV.”


“Anything else you’ve seen that you’d like to try?” Tara asked as nonchalantly as she could.


Kayden thought for another minute.


“Do you really stuff things up the bird’s butt and then eat it?”


“We do,” Tara laughed, then winked, “And it’s delicious. Just wait and see.”


Kayden blushed lightly.


“I trust you.”


Tara went over and kissed Kayden on the forehead.


He felt no hesitation in leaning in.



“There’s Snoopy!”


Woofy barked at the television screen.


“W-Woofy loves Snoopy,” Emily said cheerily as she petted Woofy from where she was sitting on the floor.


“That’s ‘cause Woofs is part beagle,” JJ said from the beanbag behind her.


“He’s been in the parade since before I was even born!” Willow said knowledgeably, sitting on the couch with her arm around Tara’s shoulders.


“We know Momma,” Robyn intoned from where she was sitting in an armchair with her legs hanging over the arm.


“You tell us every year,” Lily sighed deeply, sitting at an almost perfectly parallel angle to Emily.


Willow pouted in her seat.


“You were almost called Linus, you know,” she said in a tone that was both petulant and informational, “If you were a boy.”


“You would not have been called Linus,” Tara added in assuredly.


Lily swung her head around, concerned at this development.


“What would I have been called if I was a boy?”


Willow and Tara looked at each other.


“Well…” Tara started, “We liked that your names end in ‘ILY’ because it means—”


“I love you,” Lily, Emily, Robyn, and JJ all said together in a slightly bored tone.


“Yes,” Tara replied, keeping her chin high, “So perhaps we would have named you two…Bailey and Riley…with a little variation on the spelling.”


Lily’s nose scrunched distastefully and Emily didn’t exactly look impressed either, though she hid it better.


“Then again, we named Lily after a particular flower, so maybe we would have gone with Oakley or Hawthorne,” Willow smiled at Tara.


“And Emily came from my mother reading me Emily Dickinson as a child,” Tara smiled back, “So maybe Richard. And Emmet was thrown around with Linus…”


“Do me!” Robyn remarked, suddenly very interested in the conversation, “Did you have boy names for me?”


“We didn’t start talking about it until we knew you were a girl,” Willow replied, thinking back, “It took a while for us to find a name for you. It wasn’t until that little robin landed on my belly that we knew. So honestly, you’d probably be Robin.”


Robyn considered that then shrugged, satisfied.


“My name is cool anyway.”


“Well we already know you half-assed my name,” JJ scoffed teasingly.


“Jacob,” Tara quietly chided his swearing in front of the girls.


“We did not half-ass it,” Willow returned indignantly and Tara rolled her eyes, “We had to think of it quickly but we chose names that we thought suited you.”


JJ arched an eyebrow.


“Technically just the same name twice.”


“Oh no, we gave you a talking point for a name, we’re the worst parents in the world,” Willow said in a mocking tone, “You were JJ first so maybe you would have been…Josie Joy!”


JJ grimaced.


“A direct road to stripper-dom.”


“Jacob!” Tara chastised louder.


“We all know what strippers are, Mom,” Robyn replied, deadpan and looked over to Tara with one of her piercingly bright-blue stares, “And sex workers do not deserve your derision.”


Tara found herself blushing and held a hand up.


“I wasn’t…”


Willow grabbed Tara’s hand and held it tight.


“And if Kayden had been a girl…” she quickly moved them on, “Hmm…I’m going to go with…Brina!”


Kayden seemed surprised to be addressed, as he had just been sitting in a beanbag in the opposite corner, quietly.


“It’s a Yiddish word for ‘brown’,” Willow explained when she misinterpreted the look on his face, “I think that’s all we’d be able to think about when we saw those big brown eyes of yours.”


Tara looked over to him and smiled too.


“I was on the same page as you, I was thinking Hazel.”


“Yours is better,” Willow agreed with a quick nod, “I definitely would have deferred to you on that one.”


Kayden reached across and held his opposite shoulder; a tactic he often did just to seem smaller.


“W-What if you had me just as…me?”


Both Willow and Tara caught the longing in his tone and it both broke their hearts and put it back together.


Willow looked over to Tara to take the question seriously.


“We would have had to go Hebrew, for my dad,” she said and stared at Tara for a long moment before it came to her. She smiled back at Kayden, “Caleb. It means ‘wholehearted’.”


“But keep the K,” Tara added with a cheerful smile, “I think it’s funky.”


All of the kids except Kayden groaned.


“Don’t say funky, Mom,” JJ shook his head with a grimace.


“I like Kaleb with a K,” Willow said to Tara with a haughty smile and they came together for a kiss.


There were more groans and JJ turned the television up so they could all just watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and not have to acknowledge the fact that their parents were making out.


In the corner, Kayden hugged his knees and smiled.


“I like it too,” he whispered, not loud enough to be heard by anyone or anything but his own heart.


“I need to check on the turkey,” Tara said and quietly got up to go into the kitchen. On the way she put her hand on Kayden’s shoulder and bent down to whisper to him “Stay and watch the parade. You can help me later when we’re ready to serve. That’s when it gets really busy.”


Kayden smiled gratefully.


He actually had seen some of the parades in previous years, while his uncle was waiting for the football to start, but it wasn’t like this. And he was lucky to get a turkey TV dinner shoved in his lap while obscenities were yelled at the television. It was also a prime example of when Kayden was overtly reminded that it was only okay to get that close to another man when there was an oblong-shaped ball involved.


Being in a two-mom family was starting to dispel some of those notions but he still had a ‘block’ in his head that it was the same for two men. He also still felt slightly uncomfortable when he saw Willow and Tara kiss, but judging from all of the other kids’ reactions, this was entirely normal.


When the parade ended, everyone naturally got up to don their shoes and coats and so Kayden did the same. He remembered what Tara had told him about how their holiday usually went, so he gathered they were off to the park.


Tara finished up in the kitchen a short while later and got her own coat on while JJ got Woofy’s leash on his harness.


They all walked to the park together, passing lots of other walking families on the way. Tara loved this annual walk; she looked forward to it all year as both the familial and autumnal vibes were still strong and promised a wind-swept outing with happiness in the air. She loved to see her family’s love-swept cheeks as they met with all of their friends.


“Hey, Wills!” Xander called out, the first to see them approach, “Did you see Snoopy?”


Willow smiled smugly at her children.


“I sure did, Xan!”


The girls, including Pixie, all ran off to chase each other around the trees, and JJ, Alex, and Kayden were about to break off to go into the basketball court when they spotted Jesse and Ella approaching, curiously with Alice right beside them.


Of course, barreling out in front of them was Aurelius.


Jesse’s black and tan German Shepherd Aurelius — or Aurey most of the time unless she was getting into the kitchen cabinets — was just over a year old and though she had at least 60 pounds on Woofy, they were the best of pals. Woofy had the advantage of being able to weave in and out of Aurey’s legs and was much lower to the ground when it came to catching a ball, which produced a reaction in Aurey something between amusement and frustration. When Aurey saw Woofy, she pulled so hard on her leash that she broke it clear out of Jesse’s hand, who wasn’t exactly a weakling.


“Aurey, heel!” Jesse called, to know use, though Aurey did stop once she was able to come and sniff hello to Woofy.


Xander picked up the leash helpfully until Jesse could jog over.


“Thanks, man,” he said, shaking his head, “She’ll get it one of these days. Ella keeps giving her treats!”


“I do not,” Ella came up behind her father indignantly, “You do!”


“He did used to give Ella five Flintstones gummies a day when she was little,” Alice added in wryly from Jesse’s side.


“Yeah, well, big eyes break my heart,” Jesse joked, though his eyes cast a momentary glance at Alice, who’s big eyes looked down.


“Uncle Jesse, you wanna play pick-up?” JJ asked, nodding in Jesse’s direction.


“I note they never asked me,” Xander said good-naturedly as he smiled boyishly.


“You need to be able to bounce the ball more than six inches off the ground,” Jesse teased as he patted his friend's back while following the boys to the court.


“He has a misunderstanding of what constitutes six inches,” Anya piped up and Xander’s cheeks flushed.


She looked at Alice and nodded once.


“Haven’t seen you in a while. Where’s your boyfriend? He was boring but had lots of money, so I understand why you’re banging him even though Xander says he doesn’t get it.”


“Ahn,” Xander cursed under his breath, “That’s not…”


“We’re not together anymore,” Alice supplied while clearing her throat.


“Are you back with Jesse?” Anya asked and didn’t give Alice a chance to answer, “That’s surprising. I was always impressed with how much you were able to emasculate him.”


“Al, you want to set up the hot chocolate?” Tara interjected quickly.


“Please,” Alice nodded and was quick on Tara’s heels to follow her.


Tara retrieved the backpack that JJ had carried from the house and brought it over to a nearby bench. She unzipped the bag and took out the gallon-sized insulated flask and the stack of reusable party cups inside.


Are you back with Jesse?” Tara asked with an arched eyebrow as she handed Alice the cups.


“We just arrived together. Coincidence,” Alice held up her hands, then added on with a small smile, “We are having Thanksgiving dinner together though. For Ella.”


“For Ella,” Tara repeated knowingly.


Slowly the other adults made their way over to the bench and everyone started to congregate there. Becky and Brian arrived first with pumpkin Pez’s for the kids and a few minutes later Buffy arrived with Liam dressed up in a turkey jumpsuit.


“Sorry I’m late, guys,” Buffy said as she set Liam down to toddle over to everyone, “Wrangling the kiddo on my own.”


“No Angel?” Willow asked.


Buffy shook her head.


“He’s waiting on an old friend of his he invited for dinner. The friend got tied up.”


Liam got to them all and launched himself at Tara’s leg.


“Aunty Ta-Ta!”


“Hello cutie,” Tara picked him up and tickled his chin; his face being the only exposed part of him.


Willow threw her thumb in Tara’s direction.


“He calls her that and he’s a cutie, I call her that and I have to sleep on the couch.”


Everyone laughed and Liam basked in it.


He was quite happy to stay with Tara as everyone broke off to play their annual football game, which was less of a structured game and more of a free-for-all for whatever sport or whimsy anyone had the inclination to do with a broad focus on getting the ball to one end or another.


Tara sat on the bench and clapped Liam’s hands any time Willow or Buffy scored.


“Yay Mommy,” Tara clapped his little hands together, “Yay Aunty Willow.”


“Ay, ay!” Liam agreed, bouncing on Tara’s knee, “Mah-mee! Wih-whoa!”


“Weren’t you a cheerleader in high school?” Willow grinned at Buffy, “Your son is taking after you.”


“There’s worse traits he could pick up,” Buffy returned with a grin as she caught the ball and almost crushed it with her grip.


The game didn’t really have an ending, more of a mutual agreement of calling a truce fueled by a desire for hot chocolate. Tara handed out the cups and people served themselves so she could go off and collect leaves with Liam. When they returned, Liam dutifully gave everyone their own leaf while saying ‘luf, Leem’ each and every time.


Buffy gave Tara a long, grateful hug as she took him back and had Liam give her a big kiss.


Everyone naturally dissipated with the need to go back to their own homes to organize dinner.


Willow and Tara brought their brood home but Tara hung back to walk with Kayden.


“You were good at the game. I was watching.”


Kayden blushed.


“I don’t play sports.”


“I don’t think it counts as ‘sport’ the way our family does it,” Tara grinned.


Kayden grinned back.


In fact, that game of football-whatever was the most confident he’d ever felt with a ball in his hand.


“I had fun.”


“Glad to hear it,” Tara returned, bumping Kayden’s shoulder, “Now comes the real event. Please do not judge my other children or my wife on the amount of food you’re going to see them eat. Better yet – join in. But remember, there’s always dessert.”


Kayden smiled softly.


“I’ll remember.”


Tara liked how much she’d been seeing that smile lately.


When they got home it was time to pull the meal together. Willow and Tara had it down to a fine art in how to coordinate the last difficult few minutes but Tara sensed Kayden really wanted to help, so she got him to wash some pots so the sauces didn’t set on them. It wasn’t an inconvenience; she knew how important it was to feel useful.


Once everyone was around the table and hungry eyes were flitting from golden turkey to buttery potatoes to the bronzed marshmallows atop the sweet potato casserole, Tara held her hands out either side and everyone naturally joined hands until they were in a loop.


Tara smiled around at everyone.


“I would like to announce that as of yesterday, we have officially been approved as Kayden’s foster parents,” she leaned in conspiringly toward Kayden, “Brandon was going to tell you yesterday but I asked if I could have the honor.”


Kayden’s eyes shone with something that hadn’t often been present there; hope.


“W-What does that mean?” Emily asked from the other side of the table.


“Well, it means Kayden officially lives with us,” Tara explained a soft smile and a wink for Willow, who smiled back the same way.


“Kayden’s lived with us for months,” Lily replied in confusion.


“Yeah, what’s the diff?” Robyn shrugged.


“Well…nothing really,” Willow answered, but still smiled, “But it’s official.”


“Sounds like boring adult paperwork BS,” Robyn dismissed.


“Robyn,” Tara warned gently.


“What? Some piece of paper doesn’t make him any more part of the family,” Robyn retorted and Kayden’s gaze dropped.


“Robyn!” Willow scolded loudly.


“WHAT!?” Robyn replied in the same tone, “I’m just saying we don’t need some signature on a piece of paper to know he belongs here!”


Kayden inhaled audibly and looked back up with that little bit of hope creeping in.


“It gives us more security,” Tara answered in a firm tone.


“Oh,” Robyn replied quietly.


“You don’t know everything just because you think you do,” Willow said tersely, then looked pained in Tara’s direction as she lowered her voice, “God help me, I just sounded like my mother.”


“Let’s eat everyone,” Tara cut in before they had a typical holiday family fight before even carving the turkey, “First, Emily, would you like to start our thanks?”


Emily nudged her glasses up on her nose but when they started to fall again, Kayden reached over from his spot beside her and helped her get them secure behind her ear. Emily beamed up at him as she retook his hand.


“I’m thankful for, um…for Kayden,” she admitted bashfully, “B-Because he helps me fix my glasses and he draws with me and always says my drawings are really good. And that he’s fosters with us now, ‘ficially.”


Kayden looked like he might cry.


“I’m thankful for Kayden too,” Willow chimed in, “Because he shows me how to be strong every day.”


“I’m thankful for Kayden!” Lily added, never one to be left out, “Because, because! Because he listens all the time even when I talk for a long, long time when I forget to push my stop button!”


“I’m thankful for Kayden,” Robyn looked up in a rare show of humbleness, “Because he’s teaching me how to shred on guitar.”


“I’m thankful for Kayden,” JJ smiled easily across the table, “For giving me some company up in that big old attic.”


“I’m thankful for Kayden,” Tara finished softly, “Because he’s brought more love into our home.”


She smiled at each and every person around the table again.


“Just like I love and am thankful for every single one of you around the table. We wouldn’t be a family without each other.”


Just before she was going to announce they eat, Kayden piped up quietly.


“I’m thankful that you all found me.”


Because they all had, in different ways.


JJ had found him physically and brought him here.


Tara had found him emotionally, tapping into something in him straight away that allowed him to open up in a way he never had been able to before.


Willow didn’t know it, but when she’d given Kayden a new guitar after just knowing him a couple of days, she’d found his trust in humanity again.


Robyn had helped him find his belief in himself again by teaching her guitar and Lily had helped him find joy for life that he hadn’t known existed. Emily had helped him find his love of art again and to tap into his eye for architecture, for the first time giving him an idea of a future.


Even Woofy had helped him find a capacity for unconditional love.


Willow smiled and glanced at Tara on her way to looking at Kayden.


“We always find each other,” she said resolutely, “Now pass the mashed potatoes before you savages take it all.”


JJ suddenly jumped up from his seat.


“WAIT!” he said, loud enough to startle, “Can I be thankful for one more thing?”


“You can be thankful for as many things as you like,” Tara offered sincerely.


“Unless it’s going to take so long that everything goes cold,” Willow added.


Tara nudged Willow, who just smiled back.


“Kidding…kinda. Potatoes cool quick.”


“I’ll just be a minute!” JJ proclaimed as he ran out the door.


He was so giddy and excited and had been for a couple of days now. Willow had thought it was excitement about Thanksgiving. That boy loved to eat and Tara made the best eats going.


Kayden was smiling now too, as wide as Willow had ever seen it. Something was definitely going on.


When JJ came back in, everyone screamed.


Willow was lost.


He didn’t look any different except that he was wearing a sports jacket.


“You’re thankful for… Dick’s Sporting Goods?”


“Willow,” Tara clicked her tongue and jumped up to hug JJ.


“What?” Willow asked, frowning that she seemed to be the only one out of the loop.


“He got his letter jacket, Momma!” Robyn exclaimed and only withheld the ‘duh’ because she knew she was still on thin ice.


“Oh!” Willow replied with a keen surprise.


Tara took JJ’s face in her hands and kissed both cheeks.


“I’m so proud of you.”


“Thanks, Mom,” JJ said with uncharacteristic bashfulness.


Tara pulled on each side of the jacket and patted the letters sitting on the pocket.


“When’s your first game with your jacket?”


“We don’t actually wear them on the court, Mom,” JJ replied with a modest shrug, “Next Friday.”


“We’ll be there,” Tara promised, pulling the lapels on his jacket gently, “We’ll all be there.”


“Of course we will,” Willow added and stood up to walk over to him, “I’m sorry I find it so hard to keep up with all of your sports stuff. The day you were born you made me a Momma and every day since you’ve made me a proud one.”


“Momma…” JJ intoned, embarrassed but was smiling, pleased all the same.


“Son,” Willow replied as she reached onto the table to get the electric carving knife, “You’ve earned this.”


JJ’s eyes lit up. He flicked the switch and started to wave the thing about like a chainsaw.


Willow awkwardly waved her hands about until he stopped it and she took it back.


“Okay,” she said, handing him the nearest gravy instead, “You’ve earned refilling the gravy boat.”


JJ looked down at it sadly.


“It’s not even empty.”


“What can I tell you, it’s an evolving role,” Willow replied with a shrug, then pressed a kiss onto JJ’s cheek, “But you are the apple of our eyes. Well done. You deserve it.”


JJ smiled softly and it turned sheepish.


“I still can’t cut the turkey, can I?”


“Wait until you have seven mouths to feed and see how eager you are for the turkey to be wasted,” Willow retorted playfully.


“I’ll eat wonky turkey!” Lily offered, jumping on her seat with her hand held high.


“Me too!” Robyn nodded eagerly.


“M-me three!” Emily said with a gentle, adoring smile for her big brother.


Kayden just smiled; any turkey was an improvement on previous Thanksgivings.


Willow threw her hands up.


“Wonky turkey for everybody!” she announced as she sat back in beside Tara and leaned in to whisper in her ear, “At least they didn’t call it cock-eyed. That would put me right off my food.”


Tara pressed her nose into Willow and grinned.


“This will sweeten you up.”


She pressed her lips to Willow’s softly and lingered.


“It’s not fair that you guys are grossing us out when we’re gonna eat,” Lily piped up with a disgusted look on her face and Robyn mouthed ‘thank you’.


Tara waved a hand in front of her flushing cheeks.


“We’ll stop.”


JJ fired up the carving knife again but a quick glance from Tara put heed to his acting out any Leatherface fantasies.


His carving was a bit wonky, but truly, weren’t most things in life?


“I for one think the sound of metal on bones is a delightful soundtrack for Thanksgiving,” Robyn said with a definitive nod of her head, “It reminds me of the screams of the indigenous people when—”


“Now who sounds like my mother?” Willow muttered.


Tara took Willow’s hand under the table and looked at Robyn.


“Sweetheart, you know we all agree with you and that’s why we don’t thank the pilgrims, the founding fathers, or any other colonizers. Why we donate to the American Indian College Fund and buy as many ingredients for dinner as possible from native-owned businesses. Would you like to read to us from one of your books by indigenous persons?”


Robyn looked a bit stricken.


“I kinda want to eat my mac’n’cheese.”


“You’re allowed to enjoy it, kiddo,” Willow said gently, “Everyone is allowed to enjoy it. Mom worked her as—butt off, so maybe we have some thanks for Mom?”


There was a chorus of ‘thanks you’s and ‘thanks, mom’ and Tara smiled.


“Everyone is very welcome. Eat up.”


Willow popped a kiss under Tara’s ear.


“Don’t worry, your butt just looks even better after all that working out.”


“We can hear you,” JJ said loudly.


“Let the children enjoy the meal without violating their minds,” Tara said quietly and shot Willow a crooked grin, “There’ll be enough violating later.”


JJ’s fork hit his plate and he groaned.


“I don’t even know what you’re saying,” Lily supplied helpfully as she took a big spoonful of creamed corn.


“I do,” Robyn replied glumly.


“I forgot the cornbread,” Tara announced and suddenly everyone was perky again at the thoughts of it coming fresh from the oven.


After a thoroughly enjoyed dinner, where the moms just about managed to not completely embarrass their children, Tara almost had to physically pull Kayden into the living room to relax; telling him the dishes could wait.


JJ had the football on but the girls were jumping about playing in front of the TV so he was only casting furtive glances at it. His belly was too full to even think about sports, honestly.


Rose was the first of the grandparents to arrive and after giving her a big hug and wishing her a happy Thanksgiving, Tara made sure to make the introduction to Kayden before the rest of the kids, the girls especially, jumped on her.


“Kayden, this is Rose. She was my mother’s wife.”


She saw Kayden’s eyes widened but he recovered quickly.


She was going to make a joke about all of the gayness in the family but she wasn’t sure if Kayden was up for that kind of thing yet.


“It’s nice to meet you,” Kayden shook Rose’s hand a bit nervously but warmly.


“It’s lovely to meet you, Kayden,” Rose returned, closing her other hand around Kayden’s too, “Tara’s grandmother’s name was Kaydence. I’m sure she’s told you that.”


Tara shook her head.


“I hadn’t, actually. I’d forgotten.”


“You never did get to meet them,” Rose said sadly.


Before anybody could say anything else, Tara’s prediction came through and Lily and Emily came swinging out of Rose from either side.


“Nana Rose, come look at our centerpiece!” Lily started to pull her away,


“We used crys-amma-mums!” Emily said as she swung Rose’s hand and skipped along to follow.


“I put in echinacea,” Robyn added as she hurried up to show off her portion, “It’s a traditional healing herb by many Indigenous tribes.”


About twenty minutes later, Ira and Michelle arrived and Willow welcomed them with a hug and a kiss.


“Everyone is in the living room. Pie is a-comin’!”


The girls swarmed Ira and Michelle as they came in and JJ was able to sneak over to Rose. She put her arm around him and gave him a squeeze.


“How’s my boy?”


JJ happily rested his head on Rose’s shoulder. He had no memory of a time when she wasn’t in their life. He turned to look toward her.


“When did you meet Grandma Lisa?”


Rose smiled fondly.


“We were young, like your parents.”


JJ’s brow furrowed.


“Wasn’t it hard, like, being together and having a baby in those days?” he asked with a concerned look in his eyes, “And how come Mom doesn’t call you Mom?”


“Oh,” Rose replied, completely taken by surprise, “Um, have you spoken to your mother about this honey?”


On the other couch, the twins were fighting to be the one to sit on Ira’s lap while Robyn had her legs swung over Michelle and was cuddled into her side so Michelle could play with Robyn’s hair.


“You three are coming to us tomorrow so your parents can go out for their wedding anniversary, are you excited?”


Kayden turned to Tara shyly.


“H-How long have you been married?”


“Seventeen years,” Tara replied with a wink in Willow’s direction, “We got married about six months before we had JJ.”


“Is ‘had’ the right term?” Robyn called out, narrowing her eyes, “Isn’t it more like…‘got’? You had me, or Momma did. But you got him.”


“Clearly pedantry is passed on in the womb,” Tara said under her breath.


“I heard that,” Willow and Robyn said at the same time.


“Where would you girls like to go?” Ira interjected quickly, “What about the zoo?”


Robyn frowned deeply.


“Ganpy it’s unethical to keep wild animals locked up away from their natural habitats for people to stare at for their own amusement.”


Ira seemed a bit shocked.


“You loved the zoo when you were little.”


Robyn sighed like the weight of her world was on her shoulders.


“I hadn’t developed a social conscience then.”


“Oh, I see,” Ira said, floundering a bit, “Well. What do you suggest we do?”


Robyn’s eyes lit up.


“We could write to our local representatives to encourage them to help end period poverty.”


“Oh. Well,” Ira was well and truly flapping now, “What about mini golf?”


“Can we go to the museum of science, Zayde?” Lily interjected and never had Willow seen color fill her father’s face faster.


“Excellent,” he declared with a righteous nod.


“Can Kayden come?” Emily piped up, eyes smiling behind her glasses which made Kayden smile too.


“If he’d like to,” Ira smiled easily at the boy, “Jacob can come too.”


JJ shook his head.


“Can’t. Basketball.”


“Kayden?” Ira asked encouragingly.


Kayden blushed with all eyes on him.


“It sounds cool.”


“Fantastic,” Ira grinned, on the right foot again.


Tara caught Willow’s eye for them to go organize pie.


“JJ?” she called in a suggesting tone, “Do you have something to show your grandparents?”


JJ’s eyes lit up and he ran back out to the coat hook where he’d left his letterman jacket.


Willow and Tara heard all of the grandparents cooing and congratulating JJ as they headed off to the kitchen to cut the pie into pieces.


As they stood beside each other, Willow bumped Tara’s hip.


“Looking forward to tomorrow?”


Tara bumped it right back.


“Always when it starts waking up with you.”



Tara rolled off of Willow and let her head sink back into the pillows.


She panted and threw her hand over her forehead.


“I need a break. I’m an old lady now.”


Willow turned herself on her side and ran a hand down Tara’s body; reveling in every bump and lump and nook and cranny that she could feel beneath her fingertips.


“You don’t look like an old lady.”


Tara watched Willow’s gaze fall downward and felt herself shiver under the ardent glint in her wife’s eye.


“I love that you love my body.”


Willow dragged her gaze back to Tara.


“It’s very easy to love.”


They shared an affectionate look, then Willow leaned down to peck Tara’s lips.


“I was disappointed when the restaurant canceled our reservation but I have to say, I’m a much bigger fan of this kind of eating out.”


Tara smirked crookedly.


“I’ve known that for more than twenty years.”


Willow chuckled and threw her arm around Tara’s waist.


“Our marriage will be old enough to vote next year,” she said, then her eyes widened, “That means our son is almost old enough to vote. No. Make it stop. This is it; this is perfection. Let’s stay in this time forever.”


Tara cupped Willow’s cheek.


“We can’t stay still. But we know wherever we move forward it will be together.”


Willow nuzzled Tara’s hand.


“Happy seventeen years since I did the smartest thing I’ve ever done and married you.”


They kissed softly again but after a minute, Willow started to move over Tara again.


“Willow…” Tara playfully warned.


“Oh come on,” Willow grinned, wiggling downward, “You wouldn’t even have to do anything…”


She smirked as she disappeared.


“I only had an appetizer and an entrée in the Restaurant of Tara…now it’s time for dessert.”

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 Post subject: Re: Family Confidential 3: The Boy Ultimatum (July 3rd 2020)
PostPosted: Sun Jul 05, 2020 5:09 am 
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5. Willowhand

Joined: Sun Jan 19, 2014 6:01 am
Posts: 345
Dibs to the last 3 chapters! :whip (Honestly it's pretty sad that I can do that because none of the other readers takes the little time needed to comment on your great story, Laragh!)

Quote:
“I just…I just found out… that…that…that Tony died. And, I…I don’t know, I just feel so weird. I-I hate him but…”


Willow’s eyes widened at Tara. Had she known that? Tara looked just as shocked so she guessed not.

Like Willow expressed later in the chapter I'm nod sad that Kayden's uncle died. It's kind of a relief to be sure that he will never show up in an aggressive mood at their home or the school or anywhere else.
Since Kayden's aunt turned out to be a total "bitca" at the funeral (not an abused wife who just didn't have the strength to leave her husband and protect herself and the equally abused kid) we can probably be sure that there will be no meetings between her, Kayden and his "new" family either.

I was surprised that neither Tara nor Willow asked the obvious question how Kayden found out that his uncle died once he had calmed down. I couldn't imagine that a social worker would give that kind of news over the phone and was puzzled that Tara obviously assumed Brandon did. If they had asked Kayden Tara could have acted appropiately in the team meeting instead of making a fool out of herself by blasting in there with "righteous" anger.

Quote:
Mom is real sensitive to any of us being hurt.”


“Because of her Dad,” Kayden nodded.


JJ did a double-take.


“Huh?”


“Oh, you know,” Kayden continued and suddenly felt like he revealed something he shouldn’t, “B-Because of her Dad?”


“Mom doesn’t…” JJ stopped, frowning deeply, “Mom has a Dad?”


He blinked several times.


“I mean, duh, she has a Dad, but…Grandma Lisa is dead and Nana Rose only lives like 40 minutes away…”


“Right,” Kayden replied quickly, “I got confused.”


“Right,” JJ nodded but didn’t seem convinced.

I sense some trouble in the near future if Tara and Willow continue to keep JJ and the other children in the dark about Tara's abusive childhood after they told Kayden about it, especially if JJ finds out about the truth in some other way. I suspect that's the subject of his "research" in the last two chapters (although he obviously hasn't found any newspaper articles about Tara's father shooting his daughter in law yet).

Quote:
JJ’s brow furrowed.


“Wasn’t it hard, like, being together and having a baby in those days?” he asked with a concerned look in his eyes, “And how come Mom doesn’t call you Mom?”


“Oh,” Rose replied, completely taken by surprise, “Um, have you spoken to your mother about this honey?”

I hope that Rose tells Tara about JJ's line of questioning and that she and Willow will take that as the impetus for telling JJ and the other kids (age appropriately) about the abuse Tara suffered by her father after her mother's death (and about Willow's mother cutting all ties with her because she doesn't accept that she's gay). The kids shouldn't live under the illusion that their mothers grew up in the same almost ideal family life they have now.

I loved that they all gave thanks for Kayden, and the following part especially:
Quote:
“I’m thankful that you all found me.”


Because they all had, in different ways.


JJ had found him physically and brought him here.


Tara had found him emotionally, tapping into something in him straight away that allowed him to open up in a way he never had been able to before.


Willow didn’t know it, but when she’d given Kayden a new guitar after just knowing him a couple of days, she’d found his trust in humanity again.


Robyn had helped him find his belief in himself again by teaching her guitar and Lily had helped him find joy for life that he hadn’t known existed. Emily had helped him find his love of art again and to tap into his eye for architecture, for the first time giving him an idea of a future.


Even Woofy had helped him find a capacity for unconditional love.


Willow smiled and glanced at Tara on her way to looking at Kayden.


“We always find each other,” she said resolutely

:flower

I don't get the letterman jacket reference and my quick google research wasn't conclusive either, just informing me it's a jacket of a college sportsteam. In the context of your story it's obviously a great achievement, does it mean he has been already accepted to the basketball team of the college he will attend after graduating high school?

Quote:
“Is ‘had’ the right term?” Robyn called out, narrowing her eyes, “Isn’t it more like…‘got’? You had me, or Momma did. But you got him.”


“Clearly pedantry is passed on in the womb,” Tara said under her breath.


“I heard that,” Willow and Robyn said at the same time.

:laugh I have to admit Robyn is grating on my nerves quite often in this new story, but I trust that's your intention, Laragh.

Quote:
Tara rolled off of Willow and let her head sink back into the pillows.


She panted and threw her hand over her forehead.


“I need a break. I’m an old lady now.”


Willow turned herself on her side and ran a hand down Tara’s body; reveling in every bump and lump and nook and cranny that she could feel beneath her fingertips.


“You don’t look like an old lady.”


Tara watched Willow’s gaze fall downward and felt herself shiver under the ardent glint in her wife’s eye.


“I love that you love my body.”


Willow dragged her gaze back to Tara.


“It’s very easy to love.”

Quote:
They kissed softly again but after a minute, Willow started to move over Tara again.


“Willow…” Tara playfully warned.


“Oh come on,” Willow grinned, wiggling downward, “You wouldn’t even have to do anything…”


She smirked as she disappeared.


“I only had an appetizer and an entrée in the Restaurant of Tara…now it’s time for dessert.”

Nice to know that they still have a very active and happy love life - even if it's kept PG-13ish "off screen"... :wink


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