Man, his life was weird.
Dex stood just outside his little brother’s bedroom, hands on his hips as he watched Cael bounce around the room like a pinball machine ball. Shortly after his dad asked him to explain what happened, Cael distracted Tony by climbing up on the kitchen island counter, and proclaiming he was Superman. Knowing what was coming—and possessing the instincts of a fierce THIRDS agent and unflappable parent of two boys—Tony dove toward the counter just as Cael jumped, catching him before he could hit the floor belly first. Tony promptly decided they needed to “secure Cael” before any conversations happened.
Tony watched Cael, keeping him from climbing up on any more furniture while Dex “Cael-proofed” the bedroom. Every couch cushion, pillow, comforter, mattress, and throw pillow was currently in Cael’s room, lining the walls and floor. The furniture had been removed so Cael couldn’t climb anything and jump. Being a felid, Cael’s first instinct was to climb, and as he was not in his Therian form, not to mention still just a kid, there was no landing on his feet.
Until the caffeine wore off, there’d be no playing with anything that wasn’t soft and squishy. Not that Cael cared. He was too busy flinging himself at mattresses.
“Okay, now that we’ve taken care of your brother, explain,” Tony said, arms crossed over his chest.
“I left him alone for like two minutes! I didn’t know he was going to drink all my coffee, and you know what a pain in the ass it is to catch him, and on caffeine it’s even harder.
Tony narrowed his eyes. “What did I say about language and tone?”
“Oh, come on!”
“Dex,” Tony warned.
Dex thrust a finger out in Cael’s direction. “He was in a tree! Naked! Do you know how embarrassing that was?”
“Are you saying you’re embarrassed of your brother?”
Dex’s temper flared. “How can you say that? I was defending him! That asshole called him an animal and I wanted to punch his lights out, but you’re always telling us that you can’t fight stupid with violence. I would never be embarrassed of him. Why would you ask me that?”
“Why are you so angry?” Tony asked, his expression unreadable like always.
“Because I am.” Dex started pacing, his hands balling into fists at his sides. “Why do people have to be such assholes? Why can’t they just leave us alone? So what if we’re different? Who cares?”
Dex was so angry he wanted to punch something. “Fucking assholes.”
The soft-spoken word had Dex stopping in his tracks, and he reluctantly turned to face his dad, his eyes stinging at Tony’s concerned expression.
“What’s this really about, kiddo?”
“I left Cael alone because Tommy was at the diner. He was kissing another boy.”
“Oh.” Tony’s expression softened. “I’m so sorry, son.”
“He said it wasn’t serious.” Dex sniffed, and rubbed his eyes, hating that he couldn’t hold back the tears. “He was never going to be serious about me because… because you work for the THIRDS, and Cael’s a Therian.”
“Come here,” Tony said, pulling him close. Dex stubbornly didn’t move until his quietly dad said his name again then Dex flung himself into his dad’s strong arms. No matter what happened, his dad would always be there for him. “I know you cared about Tommy, but it’s clear he’s not mature enough to really understand you. If he has a problem with who you are, or who your family is, he doesn’t deserve you, kiddo. You’re too good for a guy like that.”
“Why don’t they ever stick around?” Dex asked, crying into his dad’s chest. It sucked. Boyfriends were jerks.
“Because you haven’t found the right guy for you. One day, you’re going to meet him, and he’s going to love you for who you are, because of who you are. He’s going to think he’s the luckiest guy in the world because you love him. It won’t be perfect. No relationship ever is. And I’m sure you’ll fight, and drive each other crazy, but you’ll stick by each other’s side through thick and thin. You’ll see. When you least expect it, you’ll run into him.”
Dex hugged his dad tight. “Thanks, Dad.”
The wobbly, sniffly voice had Dex pulling away from his dad. He turned to find Cael standing on the other side of the mattress blocking the doorway, bottom lip trembling, big gray eyes filled with tears.
Cael lifted his arms, and Dex picked him up, laughing softly when Cael wrapped himself around Dex. Looked like the caffeine was finally wearing off.
“I’m sorry.” Cael sniffed before he started wailing in Dex’s ear. “Don’t be mad.”
“It’s okay, Chirpy,” Dex assured him gently, rubbing a hand soothingly over his back. “I’m not mad.”
“Tommy’s a butthead,” Cael said through his tears.
Dex chuckled. “He is a butthead.”
“You should—” Hiccup. “Put frogs—” Hiccup. “In his locker.”
“I don’t think the frogs would like that.”
Cael nodded his agreement. He pulled away enough to look skeptically at Dex. “You promise you’re not mad at me?”
“I promise,” Dex assured him.
Cael hugged him tight before turning and holding his arms out to their dad. Tony took him from Dex, and Cael snuggled up close.
“How about we order a Therian-sized pizza from our favorite place?” Tony headed toward the stairs, and Dex followed.
“With extra cheese?” Cael asked, perking up.
“With extra cheese,” Tony agreed.
As they headed downstairs to the kitchen, Dex shoved his hands into his jean pockets. Cael rambled on about how yucky coffee tasted and when could he have hot chocolate again, and for a moment Dex thought he was off the hook. They reached the kitchen, and Tony settled Cael at the dinner table with his Gameboy so he could order the pizza. He turned to Dex and arched an eyebrow.
“No phone for a week.”
Dex let his head fall back with an epic sigh. “But, Daaaad. I’ll be socially isolated.”
“You’ll see your friends at school,” Tony replied, heading for the phone.
“Yeah, but what if something happens after school? And what about over the weekend? How am I supposed to stay in the loop? My reputation will suffer.”
“You’re a teenager. You don’t have a reputation.”
“Totally not true.” Dex threw himself dramatically on the couch, face buried against the cushion. Man, he couldn’t wait until he was an adult. Things would be so much easier then.
“You know better than to turn your back on your brother. A few seconds is all it takes. What if he’d gotten hurt?”
The couch cushion dipped, and Dex turned his head, bottom lip jutted out when Tony put a hand to Dex’s hair.
“You’re a good brother, Dex, and I know it’s not easy. I’m at work a lot these days, and sometimes you just want to be out being a teenager, but it’s just the three of us kiddo. We have to look out for each other.”
Dex’s heart squeezed in his chest. “I know.” He hated that his dad had lost almost all his friends and family after adopting him and Cael, though it had been the Therian baby that had been the real issue for them. Screw them. They didn’t deserve his dad. “Can I still have friends over?”
“Yes, you can still have friends over.” Tony stood, and went back to the phone. “I’m sorry we missed the movie tonight. How about we go tomorrow?”
Both Dex and Cael jumped up from their seats.
“Can we get popcorn?” Cael asked excitedly.
“And nachos,” Dex added. “With extra cheese.”
Tony laughed. “Yes, fine.”
“Woot!” Dex turned to Cael, and they high-fived while doing silly victory dances around the kitchen. They had the best dad ever, and he was right. One day Dex would find the perfect guy for him, and their family would be even bigger and more awesome. One day.
Copyright © 2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.