Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod! Don’t freak out. It’s cool. Everything’s cool. So his hyperactive, cheetah Therian little brother ate a bunch of sugar and drank an entire cappuccino. It was fine. They were fine.
“Dex,” Cael whispered loudly.
“Yeah?” Maybe Dex had gotten lucky and the caffeine wasn’t affecting Cael. Other than the blown pupils, he was just sitting there. Shit. He was just sitting there.
“Everything is so sparkly.” Cael gasped. “It’s like magic! Let’s go the enchanted woods!”
“The what now?”
Cael jumped up in his seat, and Dex made a dive for him, but he wasn’t fast enough. His brother scrambled onto the table then jumped off before running out the door.
“Oh crap!” Dex grabbed Cael’s backpack, and hauled ass out of the diner after Cael, shouting out apologies as he pushed people out of his way. Cael was heading straight for West 22nd St. “Cael, stop!” Dex ran as fast as he could, snatching Cael by the back of his T-shirt just as a car came careening around the corner. He jerked Cael back against him as the car skidded to a halt, horn blaring, the guy behind the wheel cursing him out, and flipping him off.
“Butthead!” Cael shouted at the guy before dropping to his knees, leaving Dex with an empty shirt in his hand. What the heck was happening right now?
“Cael!” Dex chased his brother into the park, and then his annoying little brother disappeared into the bushes. “Damn it, Cael! Get your little butt out here! I swear, if I get grounded because of you, I’ll—”
“Hi, Dex! Dexter! Look at me! Dex!”
Dex stomped through the bushes, parting shrubbery, and checking behind trees. Little, snot-nosed—
“Look how high I am, Dex!”
Dex’s eyes widened. No way. No, no, no. He looked up, and gasped. Cael sat on a tree branch, in his underwear, swinging his legs.
“Where the hell are your pants?” Just as he said the words, they fell onto his head. He snatched them off then glared at his brother. Of course he’d gone up a tree. Why wouldn’t he? He was a felid. A felid hopped up on caffeine. Scaling a tree in a public park, half naked made perfect sense. Their dad was going to kill Dex. No, first he was going to ground Dex for life, then he’d kill him.
“How did you get up there?” Dex walked around the tree trying to find something he could use to boost him up. How the hell had Cael done it? He was nine, and tiny.
“If I go higher maybe I can touch the clouds!”
“No,” Dex scolded. “No touching the clouds. No touching anything. Just sit there and don’t move until I figure out how to get you down.” He looked frantically around, ignoring Cael’s whine.
“But I want to. Deeeex, they’re so fluffy!”
“They are not fluffy. They’re just water drops floating in the sky.” There had to be something.
“That sounds like science! You’re a science nerd!” Cael cackled his little face off.
“You take that back!” Dex dropped Cael’s stuff at the trunk of the tree before finding a bump sticking out from the tree on one side. It must be what Cael had used. He put his sneaker to it and pushed off in the hopes of reaching one of the heavy branches. Damn felids. And Cael wasn’t even full grown. Why couldn’t his brother have done what any other kid would have done and run for the Jungle Gym? Nope. His brother had to involve nature.
“Are you okay? Do you need me to call the police?” A bystander asked. He looked up and squinted. “Or the THIRDS.”
“Nope. I’m good,” Dex said, making another jump, his fingers grazing the branch.
“Are you sure? The kid’s one of them. We should call the THIRDS. What if he’s dangerous?”
Dex stopped jumping and narrowed his eyes. “He’s nine years old and sitting in a tree in his underwear. He’s not dangerous.”
“He’s a felid,” the guy replied, frowning deeply.
“He’s just a kid, and he’s a cheetah Therian. He gets distracted by yarn balls. Thanks for your concern, but it’s fine.”
The guy folded his arms over his chest. “He’s an animal.”
Dex stilled. He moved away from the tree. “What did you call my brother?”
The guy’s eyes widened, his hands dropping to his side. “But… you’re Human.”
“And you’re an asshole,” Dex snapped.
“That’s it, I’m calling the THIRDS,” the guy snarled.
They all turned at the gravelly voice, Cael’s happy shout the only sound in the otherwise quiet park that was no crowded with bystanders.
Tony was in full uniform, his black windbreaker displaying THIRDS in large white letters on his back. He looked huge, and scary like he always did in his uniform. Everyone took as step back as Tony approached the tree. He arched an eyebrow at Cael.
Cael’s bottom lip wobbled, and he sat at the end of the branch. Tony held his arms out, and Cael dropped down into them. Tony caught him like it was nothing, and Cael wrapped himself around their dad.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Cael said with a sniff. “I drank all of Dex’s coffee, and now I need to wee, and everything’s really loud and bright, and I can hear colors!”
“It’s okay, kiddo.” Tony patted Cael’s back, and turned to Dex. “Grab your brother’s things.”
Dex hopped to it, stopping beside his dad who paused to narrow his eyes at the man who’d been a jerk earlier.
“Was there something you wanted to say to me about my son?”
The guy looked like he was about to pass out. He was sweating. A lot. “Uh, no. Nope. I mean, no, Sir.”
Tony grunted. “Good.” He turned to Dex. “Help me take off my jacket.”
Dex quickly helped Tony take off his windbreaker, first one arm then the other before Tony wrapped Cael up in it, and held him close.
“Let’s go. Your brother needs to burn through the caffeine in his system.”
Parked on the curb was one of the THIRDS huge black SUVs. Tony opened the back door then climbed in with Cael. Dex climbed in after him, and shut the door. Behind the wheel was a huge guy in uniform with fair hair.
“Dex, this is our newest recruit to Unit Alpha, Rafe. Rafe, this is my son Dex, and my youngest, Cael.”
Dex tried not to stare at the guy who turned briefly to nod a greeting at Dex. He had hazel-green eyes, and a very stern expression. Yep, kinda terrifying.
“What kind of Therian are you?” Dex asked.
“Dex,” Tony scolded. “Manners.”
“Sorry,” Dex muttered. He wasn’t trying to be rude, he’d just never seen a Therian that big before. Not up close. There weren’t a lot of Therians at his high school, and most of them were way smaller than this guy.
“Tiger,” Rafe replied gruffly as the car started moving.
“Cool.” Dex had been doing all kinds of research on Therians. Even though he planned on joining the HPF instead of the THIRDS, Tony said it was important for him to know as much as he could about Therians if he wanted to make a difference. Tony had told Dex all about how his mon, and his dad, John, had believed in Therian equality. They’d wanted to make a difference, and so did Dex. The HPF was filled with anti-Therians. Dex was going to change that.
“Get dressed, kiddo.” Tony said, handing Cael his clothes. “I’m sorry I’m late. The THIRDS is making some structural changes,” Tony explained. “We’ve got new recruits coming in daily, along with some new Team Leaders. I’ve been assigned my own team.”
“That’s awesome! What’s it called?”
“Destructive Delta. The Team Leader I have in mind is a little young, but I think he’s going to do great.”
“What’s his name?”
Tony opened his mouth to reply when the SUV stopped.
“Here you go, Sarge.”
“Thanks for the ride, Rafe.” Tony patted Rafe’s shoulder. “See you Monday.”
“You’ve got the weekend off?” Dex hopped out of the car, and grabbed Cael who was singing quietly to himself, making Dex smile. Little dork.
“Yep.” Tony closed the SUV door, and ushered them toward the house. “Things are going to get a little crazy—crazier—at work, so I was given the weekend off.”
Both Dex and Cael jumped and cheered as they ran into the house. A whole weekend with their dad! Ever since Tony joined the THIRDS he’d been working way more hours than he’d been at the HPF. A whole weekend was going to be totally awesome.
“So,” Tony said, arms crossed over his chest, and a deep frown as he faced Dex. “Explain the coffee?”
“Coffee!” Cael whooped and started running around the living room screaming, arms flailing, and somehow he was in his underwear again.
Dex was so going to be grounded.
Part Three next week. Copyright © 2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.