School was officially out for the summer and I was gonna have five hyper kids at hand. Specter and I had thought about some day camps maybe but the only one we found that seemed interesting politely told us Vilkas couldn’t join, though Presea was more than welcome. Specter told them, politely, to go to hell. Presea wasn’t really welcome after that but we weren’t planning on having her go anyway.
Some of the days Specter would take a couple of the kids into work, to be in the daycare. Usually the twins, sometimes Glados too though after the first couple times she declared she didn’t want to go anymore because it was super boring. I knew she just would rather stay at home with Villy and Presea. Though that upset the twins. Of course no matter what combination we tried there would be problems.
Zaid loved playing with Villy, but Villy considered him a baby and rarely spent time with him. Zaid disliked playing with the girls, unless it was just him and Lumie. Lumie, on the other hand, preferred playing with her sisters than either of her brothers, except when it was just her and Zaid. Which was why they were often taken to the day care together. Except that left the trio. And when it was them, Villy and Presea would gang up against Glados except the occasional occasion when Presea decided she’d rather play with a sister instead of a brother. But then Villy would be really huffy and upset about being left out.
On the really rare occasion, they all played happily together.
I tried to give them all the same amount of attention but sometimes it seemed hard. It was even harder for Specter since he wasn’t as home as much as I was and the kids were always starved for his attention. I knew it was kinda hard on him. He loved being a parent but he had some… difficulty with understanding the kids. When one of them got really upset or something Specter would get this lost look in his eyes, like he had no dang clue what to do. His response was usually to give them something instead of trying to talk with them about it. He left the talking part to me.
He knew this, saw this, knew it was a problem, but he told me one night he just didn’t know what to do. “I barely know what to do when you’re upset,” he grumbled. “What if I say the wrong thing and make them more upset?”
He did try though, and so I gave him little rewards for trying so hard. We rarely had much time to ourselves but when we did–well, it was nice not worrying about getting pregnant. There had been loads of testing done over that first year (both in labs and out) and all indications indicated that uhh… yeah, wasn’t happening. But even if we wanted another kids, it would have to be another adoption since I had gone back to being unable to have my own kids. The doctor had tested my stuff not long after the thingiemabob had been removed. It had gone back to being completely unviable–if I had a baby again, it would only survive to the second term.
Presea was really excited about it being summer since it meant on the full moons she was allowed to stay up as late as she wanted. She and Villy really had a different bond than Villy and the other kids. She liked to stay up with him on full moons and during the school year she wasn’t allowed to, but we decided it was ok in the summer.
So the first full moon she was up, playing with Villy till pretty late. I curled up on the couch, listening to them and watching. I knew by now, after so many years, he was aware of who he was as a wolf though his canine tenancies were ‘kinda too big’ for him. He said it was easier to just let the wolf mind take over. Just now he was playing tug-of-war. He was growling and yelping happily, trying to get the rope from Presea’s hands.
“Can we have a snack?” Presea asked after Villy got the rope from her. He flopped down and began gnawing on it.
“Sure. I can make some popcorn for us and there’s some leftover chicken for Villy?” I looked down at Villy who stuck his tongue out, panting.
“How come he can’t have popcorn with us?” Presea asked, following me to the kitchen area. I got a bag of popcorn out and slid it into the microwave.
“Dog tummies are different, it might upset him,” I explained, moving to the fridge to get out the chicken. “Villy might be okay later, like regular dogs can’t have chocolate but Villy can even in wolf form but… no weird snacks for him.” I began chopping up the chicken. “Unless you want to clean up dog vomit.”
“EWWWWWW!!! PAPA! Don’t be grody.”
I grinned and put the chicken in a bowl. When the popcorn was done I dumped it in a bigger bowl then went back to the couch. I put the bowl of chicken down for Villy and then Presea sat in my lap to share the popcorn as I turned on the TV on for a movie. Villy ate the chicken quite happily, knocking the bowl over when he was done then whimpering, tail tucking down. Presea reached over and petted him with her salty, greasy fingers. Villy licked her fingers and scooted closer.
Both kids ended up falling asleep and then I did eventually since I didn’t want to wake any of them up. Presea and I got up early in the morning–at dawn, when Villy turned back human. He cried out in pain and I covered Presea’s eyes, not wanting her to see this. It was always an awful sight and awful sounds. He cried and yelped and hissed as his fur disappeared and his bones morphed back to how they were regularly. His body twisted from dog to human and then he collapsed down, breathing heavily.
I let go of Presea and she gently put her arms around his body. “You need anything?” she asked, stroking his hair.
“Hungry,” he mumbled.
I started to get up but Presea shook her head and ran to get some food for Villy. I went over to the basket of clean clothes and got him a shirt and shorts to put on. He was sleepy and unhappy as I got his limbs through the right holes and he slowly ate the sandwich Presea made for him. Then he curled up and fell back asleep.
“Thanks for helping him,” I whispered to Presea.
She just sat down next to me and reached over, resting a hand on Villy’s form. “That’s what sisters are for,” she replied with a smile.
While Presea definitely preferred dogs over cats, Gladdy loved cats more than most dogs–with her brother being the exception. She wanted a cat so bad and pouted whenever I told her no. Out of all the kids, she adored Mr. Fluffy the most so it hit her the hardest when he passed on in early July. She knew he was a really old cat but he never acted old or even looked very old, but he was old. In any case, Gretchen had a small burial for him in her backyard and Gladdy cried a lot and put flowers on the grave.
Then, the next day, she asked me where people go when they die.
I should have expected that to pop up but it came as a real surprise when she said it. I stammered a bit before swallowing, and deciding to be as honest with her as I thought she could understand. Which was a lot. I loved all my kids but Gladdy was without a doubt the brightest. Especially in school. When Villy and Presea had been in her grade, if some homework took half an hour for them to do it only took Gladdy maybe ten minutes at most. She rarely ever needed our help and I had the sneaking suspicion she would soon realize how non-book-smart I was. In fact, she was already correcting a lot of my spelling…
“It’s called the Netherworld,” I said. A shiver went down my spine at that, as if saying that name would cause it to be all pulling to me like it once did. But there was no pully feeling. “No one really knows much about it. The Grim Reaper takes you there. When someone dies, sooner or later the Reaper shows up and shows the way. Now, some people say there is a happy place where all the good people go, and there is a nasty place for all the really bad people to go. But no one knows for sure. All we know is it is called the Nether, and that without the Grim Reaper we wouldn’t be able to… to find it…”
I frowned and began wondering, is that what made ghosts? Did the Grim Reaper just not show the way properly for those who became ghosts? My dad had been a ghost. Did the Grim Reaper not show up for him? But then–I was pretty sure the Reaper showed up for everyone, at least that’s what I heard. Maybe it was something as stupid as the Reaper didn’t give good directions.
“What about cats?” Glados asked, tilting her head and giving me a narrowed-eyed look that just looked so much like Specter. “Do cats go to the Never?”
“Nether,” I said gently. “And yes.”
“Did the Reaper show up for Mr. Fluffy?”
“Yes he did.”
“I bet Gramma was scared,” Glados said, tucking her hands under her chin. “I bet she thought the Reaper showed up for her cause she’s so old.” I was about to tell her she shouldn’t say things like that but then she looked really upset. “I would be scared if the Reaper showed up here.”
“Well, he won’t,” I said, hugging her tightly. “Not for a very, very, very long time. Your daddy and I aren’t old at all.”
“Daddy is, he’s gonna turn forty next year ain’t he? He says that’s old.”
I snorted and shook my head. “Your daddy is weird about his age.” I stroked her hair and then kissed her forehead. “When I turn forty, he’ll tell me ‘no that isn’t old at all’.”
Gladdy giggled at that. “Will he?”
“Probably. So don’t worry, all right?”
“And sweetie, don’t call Gramma old, okay?”
She stuck her lower lip out and sighed. “Oooookay.”
“Hold still… let me see–stop moving, hun, please? Okay… uh-huh… yep. It’s loose.”
I sat back and smiled at Presea who didn’t look too pleased. “It is?” she asked, eyebrows all furrowed together, looking a lot like her dad.
“Yep. Want me to get your dad to remove it?”
“No. No! No.” She shook her head then reached in her mouth to mess with the loose tooth. “Iv it weally? Oo fure? I onn fink i’ iv.”
“It is. Another loose tooth.” She pulled her hand from her mouth and looked down, looking really upset. “Hey, what’s wrong? It means another visit from the tooth fairy!”
“Yeah I guess.” She swung her legs, still looking down. “Papa, do I gots to get braces?”
“Huh? Oh. Well, we don’t know yet. The dentist said it depends on how your adult teeth come in–oh.” I figured out why the loose tooth was upsetting her so much and felt stupid for not realizing sooner. “There’s nothing wrong with braces.”
“Yes there is!” she protested. “Villy and Gladdy and the twins keep teasing me about it, and the kids at school tease Marcus for havin’ braces and they’ll tease me.”
“Hey, you won’t even be getting any for a while even if you do,” I said, taking her hands. “And I won’t let your brothers and sisters tease you. And if kids at school tease you…” I had no idea what sort of advice to give for that. “Well, they’re not worth your time.”
Presea’s lips twitched into a smile, then the smile faded. “What if I have braces and never get asked to a dance cause of the braces? No boy is going to wanna kiss a girl with braces.”
I frowned at that, feeling slightly panicked about all the kissing talk that seemed to be going on lately. It made me feel all unhappy and boil-y inside. “Would you want to kiss a boy with braces?” I asked and it took a lot of effort to say it.
She stared at me as if I had asked the weirdest question ever. “I wouldn’t care ’bout braces!” she snapped.
“Are you a nice person, then?”
“Yes. I–I am.”
“Would you want to kiss a boy who isn’t nice?”
“So if a boy wouldn’t want to kiss you because of braces…?”
Her eyes narrowed as she focused on my face. “Would you kiss daddy if he had braces?” she demanded.
“Uh–what? Yes. I would. But you didn’t answer my question.”
She sighed heavily and shook her head. “I guess you’re right.”
“Just a couple weeks ago you, uh, said kissing boys is gross,” I said, trying not to sound worried or anxious.
She shrugged. “It is gross but that’s all girls can talk about. And maybe kissin’ Tanner Freer wouldn’t be too bad.”
I smiled at that, since he was a famous singer that the young girls were into. If that’s the only guy she was thinking about kissing then that wasn’t so bad. “Why don’t we go outside and play on the swing or something, get your mind off braces because you shouldn’t even be worrying about that.” I rubbed her hair and she whined, but got up, following me a little bit towards the front door.
“Can I watch you play your games instead? Pleeeeasseee?”
“Sure.” I went over to the computer and pulled a chair up for her to join me. I still did the LPs and sometimes the kids would join me. None of my fans seemed to mind the occasional little kid piping up or giggling. Sometimes someone would come along saying something mean about ‘annoying voices’ usually with cuss words but my subscribers would usually take care of ’em for me. I had learned long ago to just ignore people like that even though they made me want to punch my computer, seeing my babies’ voices being insulted like that.
One thing Gladdy loved about the summertime was the swimming. Ever since she first learned, she didn’t wanna get out of the water. Pretty much every day she wanted to go to the pool, frowning when we couldn’t make it, all happy and joyful when we did. So when she found out we were going to the beach for Specter’s birthday, she was so very happy. She ran around screeching with excitement which, unfortunately, caused some problems.
“Papaaa tell her to shut up she’s hurting my ears,” Villy whined, covering them.
“Gladdy we’re inside, use your inside voice please,” I said.
Gladdy glared at Villy then stuck her lower lip out. “Only reason he’s complaining is because he’s got SENSITIVE EARS!” she shouted, right into one of Villy’s ears.
He yelped and then tackled her and soon the two were rolling on the floor. I managed to get Villy off of his sister. “Glados, stop that right now. You know perfectly well Villy has really good hearing and shouting like that is not a nice thing to do. Go to your room.”
She stomped upstairs and I asked Villy if he was okay. He nodded, rubbing his ear. “Yeah, pain’s going away. Well, ear pain. Not THE PAIN OF HAVING A BRATTY SISTER!”
“Okay now if you’re going to shout too, you’ll be going to your room as well,” I said, folding my arms. Villy gave me an apologetic look and I just raised my eyebrows.
“Sorrrrry,” he sighed and went to go watch TV with the others.
After a few minutes I went upstairs. Gladdy was sitting on her bed, sniffling. “Can I come in?” I asked at the door.
“Sweetie, why did you shout in his ear?” I went over and sat down next to her. “You know his conditions.”
“I’m sorry, I was just kinda mad at him.”
“He didn’t do anything wrong.”
She looked up at me. “Yeah. I know. He never does. Presea never does. The twins never do. It’s just me. Lizzie, in school, she says, she says the middle kid is the worst place to be in and she’s right.” Gladdy flung herself onto her bed, hugging her pillow and crying.
Oookay this was not what I was expecting. “Gladdy, sweetie, no–that’s not true.”
“It IS! I’m always getting in trouble for things! Always!”
I reached down and smoothed some of her hair. She wriggled away from me, hopping off the bed, pouting. It was true she was often in trouble but that was because she often did things to get herself in trouble. Like shouting in Villy’s ear, or taking Presea’s shoes, or hiding Zaid’s bandana, or dropping Lumie’s barrettes in the toilet. I wanted to go over and hug her and promise her we loved her as much as any of the others, but thinking on it I realized she did sorta tend to get lost in the shuffle.
So instead of going over and hugging her, I smiled and said, “I know, how about when we go to the beach you and me can take a few hours and do something. Just the two of us.”
Her eyes lit up and it was like a knife in my heart cause of how completely happy she looked at the idea. “Really?” she asked, sounding so excited. “Really, Papa? Really? Just you an’ me?”
“Just you and me.”
She ran over, flinging herself into my arms. “I’d like that! Thank you! What are we going to do? What will we do?”
“What would you want to do?” I asked.
She tapped her finger on her chin, thinking. “Boating! Can we go boating? Not a big or fast one cause I know you get scared easily, but I dunno like–little boat? Like, paddle boat maybe? A swan? Can we go in a swan boat?”
I beamed and hugged her tightly. “Of course we can!”
The trip was great. Three nights at the beach. It meant a long car trip there full of fighting, arguing, singing, complaining, are-we-there-yets and crying… and a long car trip back full of the same… but it was worth it. We rented a little house and had invited Gretchen but she turned us down, stating she had some important stuff to take care of. We invited Uncle Kay but he was too busy at the labs. So it was just the seven of us.
Spending some time alone with Glados was great and I got the idea maybe we should do that more often. Spend some time just us and one kid, it was probably something Specter and I should do more often and when I mentioned it to him on our final night, he agreed.
When we got home (me all sunburned) we found out the reason Gretchen was busy was cause she was getting another cat. This one was called Mr. Fluffy the Second and he looked pretty much identical to Mr. Fluffy the original. The kids were pretty pleased (well except Villy, he didn’t like cats) and Glados was super happy. She wanted to stay the night at Gretchen’s place and since Gretchen said it was okay we let her. She was a bit sad that the second Mr. Fluffy didn’t share her bed like the old Mr. Fluffy used to, but Gladdy said that ‘in time’ the second one would get used to her.
My body was very stiff, my stomach all clenchy, my throat dry, and my spine all shivery. Specter was looking at me with worried eyes… but neither of us said anything because, well, we couldn’t.
“Yes, tell us a ghost story!”
It was a couple nights before school started and we decided it’d be fun to have a camp out in our yard. We set up tents, had a little fire pit thing, roasted hot dogs for dinner and marshmallows for dessert and now the kids wanted a ghost story. I knew what sort they wanted. Creepy, spooky, thrills-n-chills type.
Then a small idea came to me, and I told them a story, a sorta creepy one but the roles were reversed with the ghost being the victim and a ghost hunter being the scary monster. When they realized this, none of them were amused and they wanted a real one.
“But that is a real one!” I protested. “Not all ghosts are bad or mean…”
“Yuh-huh,” Presea said and I felt sicker. “My friend Jodie, she says ghosts will try to possess you!”
“What’s dat mean?” Lumie asked, eyes big behind her glasses.
Presea leaned in, fingers wriggling. “They take over your body! And you die! But the ghost lives in your body and pretends to be you! Sometimes no one can tell the difference either. In fact, some people you might know could be possessed and you don’t know! It could even be… your teacher!”
The twins screamed and Specter got up. “Presea, that’s enough. Stop scaring your siblings. Besides, that isn’t true. Ghosts don’t possess people.”
“Yes they do!” she said, folding her arms. “Jodie told me.”
“Jodie lied,” Specter said, slowly sitting back down. His eyes were on me though and I could tell he was really anxious. I wanted to let him know I was okay even though a little part of me wasn’t. We had never planned on telling the kids about my past.
“I read a book of ghost stories, and all the ghosts were horrible in it,” Gladdy said. “There was one in it ’bout this ghost that when the clock hit midnight it–“
“Stop scaring the twins!” Specter snapped.
“We–we’re n-n-n-not ascared!” Zaid said, clutching Lumie who was clutching right back. “Wh-what happens at midnight?”
“The ghost probably kills you,” Presea said with a grin.
That was it, and I was about to say so but Vilkas spoke up. “Can you stop that?” he demanded, throwing a stick into the fire. “It’s a bunch of bullcrap.”
“Language!” I said, trying to sound like I meant it but feeling relieved he was stepping in. A parent saying stop it would just make the subject more interesting. But the brother they looked up to saying it was something else completely, and sure enough both Presea and Glados frowned.
“How do you know?” Glados asked a bit sullenly. “The book I read–“
“Yeah well tons of books probably say werewolves are bad, huh?” Villy glowered at his sister and she sank meekly back into her chair. “I’m tired of all these stories about how just cause someone is different makes them bad.”
“Your brother is right,” I put in gently. “Werewolves, ghosts, all of them–they’re not bad. They’re just like you and me.”
“But ghosts are dead people. Like zombies. Only not falling apart,” Presea said, swinging her legs, looking between me and Villy.
“No.” Specter’s voice was commanding. He was in major I-am-your-father mode. “Zombies, which do not exist, are the bodies. In most stories there is nothing human about them. They don’t have their spirit. Ghosts are the spirit, without the body. There are ghosts at the labs. They’re nice, they’re regular people only they can’t touch anything and you can see through them.”
“How come they don’t go to the Never?” Glados piped up and we all looked at her. “Papa told me when people die, they go to the Never. If ghosts are the… uh, spirit… how come… they’re not in the Never?”
“Sometimes the Reaper gives really bad directions,” I said without thinking. I saw a glint from where Specter was grinning.
“So the ghosts are just lost?” Glados asked.
I shifted around, trying to figure out the best way to answer this. But before I could, Presea said, “One of the kids in school says that’s not true. None of it. The Nether, dummy.”
“I’m not a dummy, I’m smarter than you!” Glados growled.
Presea stuck her tongue out. “He says when people die they are, ummm, they return. Like in a new body. I forget what it’s called.”
“Reincarnation,” Specter said. “It–“
“He says he has a friend only he can see who says that’s what happens, but he’s crazy, right?”
“Look, this is a bit… this is a bit of a big talk and there are little ones so maybe we should–“
“Not little!” Lumie complained. “I’m a big girl.”
“And Imma big boy,” Zaid added.
“In any case, I think we should change the subject,” Specter said very tensely. And that was that. We talked about other things, mostly school, and then put the fire out. We went into our different tents. Villy and Zaid had a tent, the girls had a tent, and me and Specter had a tent. The two of us curled up close together and I pressed my face into his chest. He stroked my back and asked if I was okay.
“Yeah,” I said softly. “Just worried about what the kids are–are seeing from books and stuff, about–about ghosts… and… others. Villy was really upset.” I snuggled even closer, enjoying his warmth. “Do you think we should tell them? About… me?”
“That is entirely up to you, love.”
I wanted to talk more about it but we were joined by Lumie who said she was scared, and soon after Zaid climbed into the tent. They both flopped between me and Specter and we just each held a kid, smiling at each other until I fell asleep.