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Dancing (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22.5) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:55:59

“The other boys were teasing him for being in dance instead of T-ball, or martial arts.”

“What’d you tell him?”

“I made sure the little girls heard our discussion. Most of them are in dance and there aren’t enough boys in any dance school, as I’ve learned from Nathaniel and Jason and all the others going to class.”

Nathaniel grinned. “You’ve got the girls wanting to dance with Matthew.”

Micah nodded happily. He turned to Zerbrowski. “Your Kaitlin is how old?”

“She’s quite taken with Matthew, and sad that he’s too short to partner her.”

“When we take Kaitlin to the ballet she always comes out asking, ‘Where are the boys for me to dance with?’”

“They’re playing little league, or taking martial arts,” Micah said.

People were drifting past us with plates loaded with food. “Time to finally eat some of the food you’ve been making,” I said.

“We’ve got boys here,” Nathaniel said.

“They won’t dance with the girls,” Zerbrowski said.

“Bet they will,” Nathaniel said.

“What’s the bet?” Zerbrowski asked.

“If I can get a boy besides Matthew to dance with one of the little girls, you do the rest of the dishes after the party.”

Zerbrowski studied his face. “And if I win?”

“You were going to help do the dishes anyway,” Zerbrowski said.

Nathaniel shrugged. “It’s what I could think of, and dishes are the one chore I don’t like.”

Zerbrowski grinned. “Okay, you’re on.” He held his hand out and they shook on it. It was a bet.

Zerbrowski and Katie had rented tables and awnings for the yard. They were on the opposite side from the area they’d left open for the kids to play, and where the swing set was. The size of the yard had been one of their main deciding factors in buying the house, and today showed why.

There was a kid’s table just like at family reunions when I was little. Matthew was sitting between two little girls, one blonde and curly, the other with brown hair done in braided pigtails. He was chatting happily. The blonde was answering him back; pigtails seemed quieter, just listening. It was weird to have a kid to keep track of at an event like this; hell, it was weird not to be solo. I’d been part of a “couple” for years, but rarely felt welcome to bring my multiple people to ordinary get-togethers like today.

Micah leaned in from his seat beside me, and asked, “What are you thinking about so hard?”

I smiled at him. “It’s just weird to have someone sitting at the kid’s table that’s mine, ours, to keep track of.”

“Weird bad, or weird good?” he asked.

I poked a fork into the food on my plate, trying to think the question through rather than just answering it. “Good, I think.”

Nathaniel leaned in from the other side of me, resting his cheek against my hair for a second, before he said, “I love having Matthew here, and he’s really enjoying the other kids.”

I agreed that was true. I tensed a little, waiting for him to push on the whole baby thing. He’d made no bones about the fact that he wanted us to have kids. He’d volunteered to give up his job and be a full-time stay-at-home dad.

The woman with the brown pigtails who had been part of the group in the kitchen sat down in an empty spot across the table from us. I tried not to tense up. “I’m sorry about earlier, I didn’t realize you had a kid. What’s his name? Our Becky and he are getting along really well.”

“It’s okay,” Nathaniel said.

“His name’s Matthew,” Micah said.

I waited for one of them to explain that he wasn’t “ours,” while I worked through the whole idea of this strange woman having seen my sweetie naked and nearly having sex with another stranger. I was okay with Nathaniel’s job most of the time, but every once in a while it got beyond my comfort zone, and I was left not sure how to feel, or act, or . . . It was just one of those weird moments.

“I’m Jamie, Jamie Appleton, my husband Kevin is around here somewhere.” She looked up as if trying to spot him, and finally found him on the deck with Zerbrowski and a knot of other men talking and laughing. She pointed out a tall man with short, nearly black hair. “That’s Kevin.”

“Where’s he work?” I asked.

“He’s in vice, right now, but he’s looking to move.”

“Where does he want to transfer to?”

“Homicide, or preternatural,” she said.

Ah, I was seeing why she was sitting with us now, and why she’d apologized. She was doing politics for her husband like a good spouse does, and I was in a position to give a good word for Kevin Appleton to the preternatural squad if I wasn’t pissed about the whole lusting-after-my-boyfriend thing earlier. Or maybe Jamie really was sorry, and especially so because our “kids” were playing together. Maybe, and maybe Santa Claus was a friend of mine, or was I being too cynical? Maybe, but I doubted it.

“How long has he been in vice?” I asked.

“Most people need a change after that long,” I said.

“Would you want to transfer?” she asked.

I thought about it, and finally said, “I’m not sure. My skill sets are a little specialized to work anywhere else.”

One of the little girls shrieked. It made us all look up. The little boy across from Matthew was trying to hit him, but the table was too wide, so he’d climbed onto the table and headed for Matthew.

The three of us were up and moving toward the fight, as were a lot of the adults. Matthew got up from the table and tried to avoid the other boy, but he’d waited too long, and the other boy launched himself at Matthew and down they went.

It was Zerbrowski’s son, Greg, who got there first, because he’d been forced to sit at the little kids table; at twelve he had resented it. He grabbed a glass of ice water and dumped it on the fighters. By the time we got there, any adult got there, the little boys were silent, wet, and panting, still entangled, but not really fighting anymore.

I picked up Matthew and a man I didn’t know got the other little boy. They both had dark straight hair, olive complexions, and the same bone structure; other than the man having pale gray eyes and the boy having brown they looked like mirrors of each other.

Matthew was crying, arms locked around my neck. His curls and shirt were damp as he clung to me. “Matthew, are you hurt?” I asked. I wanted to make him let go so I could check him for injuries, but somehow it seemed more important to hold him right at that moment.

Jamie Appleton was holding her little girl, Becky. Her face had blood on it. I was betting the other little boy’s foot had caught her as he went over the table. Kevin Appleton was making his way through the crowd.

Nathaniel was patting Matthew’s hair, trying to get him to look up so we could see him better. Micah hovered around us all, but he kept his attention on the other father. I realized that it hadn’t occurred to me that the fight could spread from the children to the adults. It was stupid of me to let my guard down just because I had a little kid wrapped around me crying, but it was like the feel of him in my arms had hit a switch and all I could think of was, Is Matthew hurt? Is he okay? Other than looking at the boy and man, I hadn’t really seen them as a threat. Stupid, but luckily Micah hadn’t forgotten that everyone can be a potential threat under the right circumstances.

The dark-haired boy was bigger than Matthew, but I wasn’t sure he was older. The man was asking him, “What happened? You know the rules on fighting, Cyrus.”

“He’s gay,” Cyrus said, and his face was hateful as he said it.

The man looked embarrassed. “Cyrus, apologize.”

Matthew raised a tear-stained face from my shoulder. “Gay isn’t bad,” he said, his lower lip still quivering, tears still trailing down his face.

The father asked, “What did you say?”

Micah said, “We’ve taught Matthew that no sexual orientation is bad, it’s just the way that people come into this world.”

The man stared at Micah. “Why would you . . .” Then he looked from Micah to Nathaniel and me. “Oh, yeah, I forgot.”

“Forgot what?” I asked, and my tone was enough to make Micah touch my shoulder.

“That everyone says your boyfriends are . . .” He stopped as if not sure how to finish the sentence.

“My boyfriends are what?” I asked.

“Let’s not do this in front of the kids,” he said.

I said, “We’re teaching Matthew that no sexual orientation is bad, and that love between consenting adults is always precious and should be valued. What are you teaching little Cyrus?”

The man’s face clouded up, the beginnings of anger, or maybe I’d hit a sore spot.

Kevin Appleton was holding a napkin to his little girl’s nose. “Your kid bloodied my little girl. What kind of boy kicks a girl in the face?”

“Cyrus, did you kick her?”

“No, Daddy, I don’t hit girls.”

“He did, too,” Becky said, pushing her father’s hand away, so she could point a dramatic finger. “He kicked me, in the face!”

Zerbrowski and Katie were there now, trying to figure out what to do with their guests, but it was their son, Greg, who said, “Excuse me, excuse me, everybody.”

Zerbrowski had to use his cop voice to say, “Everybody shut up for a minute.”

We all looked at him.

Greg looked a little uncomfortable with everyone staring at him. He had his father’s dark curls, but Katie’s delicate bone structure, so he was a pretty kid, and looked even younger than twelve. “I know what started the fight.”

“Tell us?” Zerbrowski said, his hand on his son’s shoulder.

“Cyrus here told Matthew that only gay boys played with girls. Matthew said that he liked to play with girls and boys. He totally didn’t get that he was being insulted. Cyrus asked, ‘What does that mean?’ The little blonde girl told Cyrus that he was being boring just like at school and kissed Matthew on the cheek, that’s when Cyrus tried to hit him.”