Family Goes, Trouble Stays: Part 3

There’s one good thing about losing your shit in a hospital over being separated from your love one:

The next time you have to go to that hospital, they are far less likely to stand in your way the next time you have to come in with a half-frozen loved one.

I ran in with the EMTs who had Ben, frantic that he was too cold. The nurses and doctors all gave me a very wide berth. The only time I was asked to step back was when they were working on him. I stood outside the room, backed up against the nurse’s station, watching Ben.

“Marlowe, he’s going to be okay.” One of the doctors said.

“I know, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying.”

“Worry all you want, just don’t get in the way.”

“Fix him. I need him back, safe and whole.” I said as I looked up in to the face of a doctor who couldn’t have been more than twenty-five.

He nodded and went in to the room with Ben. I knew somewhere in the back of my head I was worrying over nothing, that he was going to be fine, but with whomever was doing this to us still out there; I needed to see him open his eyes again.

When they finally let me go in to see him he was breathing normally and his color was back in his face. I leaned down and kissed his forehead, then waited. I don’t know how long I sat there, watching him until he coughed and started coming around.

“You’re not allowed to go where I can’t follow.” I whispered in to his ear.

“I have no plan on leaving you behind.” Ben replied. His voice was hoarse.

“That’s good because I have no intention of letting you.” I said. I gave in and kissed him.

“What happened?”

“The jerk who’s doing all of this forced your change again.” I replied.

Ben groaned and tried to sit up. I pushed him back down.

“No. You’re staying until they say you can go. No sitting up. You spent the entire night as your other self chained to a cliff.”

“The whole night? How did I survive?”

“Blankets, a couple of bonfires and a lot of praying on my part.” I replied.

“You never pray.” Ben said looking up at me.

“I did for you.” I replied. “This was the closest I’ve gotten to losing you. I don’t care for it.”

“I don’t care for being a guinea pig either.” Ben sighed. “I think whatever she’s doing, she’s building up to something.”

I saw Ben rub his eyes. “Go back to sleep. They’re going to keep you here for the day and possibly over night.”

“You’ll be here?”

“Yeah. I’m not going anywhere.”

Ben nodded and closed his eyes. He was asleep before I could look up at the clock.

“Asleep then?” The doctor asked as he walked in to the room.

“Yes. He woke up though.”

“That’s good.” He said as he checked Ben over. “I’m going to assume you’re staying with him?”

“Yes.” I said as I gripped Ben’s hand tightly.

“Okay then. We’re going to move him upstairs in a little while. Keep him over night for observation.”

“I figured. When will he get to come home?”

“Possibly tomorrow. I want to check and make sure there’s no damage from being out there all night.”

I nodded and looked down at Ben. “I’m going to assume you’ll want me to go home and get some sleep at some point?”

“You’re smart. I’m sure they Sheriff will send someone to watch over him, but you’ll do yourself harm if you stay here all night with no sleep.” The Doctor said as he checked me over after checking Ben. “It’s almost five now. You’ve been here all day. Visitor’s hours are over at nine tonight. You will go home and sleep.”

I looked from Ben to the Doctor. “Provided he has protection, I will go home and sleep. I do not like the fact that I’m leaving him here.”

“I know you don’t, but you have to do what’s best for you.” The doctor said with a smile. “You being here and pacing half the night, worrying yourself sick is not going to help either one of you right now.”

I looked up at him and nodded. “Just this once, I’ll go home. If anything happens while I’m gone, you’ll never get me out of this hospital again while he’s here.”

“Fair enough. I’ll take it.” He  said as he stepped out of the door. “Go home. Sleep. Those are doctor’s orders.”

“At closing time.” I said and turned back to watching over Ben.

The Doctor came back in at nine, after they’d moved him upstairs and gave me a pointed look. “Go. Home.”

“Is the detail here yet?” I asked.

“I am here.” The Sheriff said as he came in to Ben’s room.

“You’re going to watch over him?” I asked. I was a little startled to see Eric there.

“You wouldn’t trust anyone else enough to go home and get any kind of sleep.” The Sheriff replied. “I’ll stay and watch over Ben.”

I slid out of my chair, walked over and gave Eric a huge hug. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now go home. Get some sleep. I’ll go over everything with you in the morning.”

I nodded and pulled my coat on. The Doctor walked me out and to Duke, who was waiting with a car to take me home. I don’t really remember the ride, getting home or going upstairs. I do remember showering, crawling in to pajamas and then in to bed with the dogs and Logan, who chittered at me until midnight. We all finally fell asleep at about one am.



The Second Week Begins

So Friday night was great. Everyone went to bed happy. The weekend was even better. There was laughter and happiness all around.

It wouldn’t last. Ben’s father showed up on Monday. I guess we were all expecting it because no one was really surprised when he showed up at dawn. The castle wasn’t too happy about the interloper though, so Ben’s father had his first experience with being hated by what he thought was an inanimate object.

The castle caged him, quite literally, in the front hall. We got up to the shouting of Miles telling us to get our butts downstairs that we had company. Ben and I dragged ourselves out of bed and didn’t bother getting dressed, just tossed on robes and slippers. Bleary-eyed, we stumbled in to the front hall only to be greeted by a rush of expletives in Arabic. I flinched and made the bars rattle. He went silent.

“Dad, what are you doing here?” Ben asked softly.

“What do you mean? I’m here because my ex-wife invited me for Thanksgiving.” He said as he pointed at Jude.

I sighed. Here we go. I turned on my heel and went to make coffee and find the aspirin. I wasn’t facing that mess until I’d had both. It was a little selfish to bail on Ben and Jude, but the longer I was around that man, the stronger the urge to slap him. I came back in to the hallway with mugs of coffee in both hands and the aspirin bottle in my pocket. I passed out the coffee as they were arguing in Arabic and leaned against the wall.

I waited for the right time. Just as Ben’s father was getting puffed up to continue yelling at his son, I put my coffee down on the side table and allowed my eyes to turn silver. I stepped up to the bars and placed my hand on them. They vibrated under my control and the shouting stopped.

“You are a guest in our home. Ben and I will not tolerate your disrespectful behavior. He was a good man and beside him, you’re very small.” I said, lowering my voice and staring directly in to his eyes. He backed away from the bars.

“You’re another freak like my son.”

“And happy to be one. I’ve made my peace with who I am. I’m sorry that you haven’t.” I replied. “You’re welcome to stay, but you will be respectful in this house or you can leave.”

I turned my eyes back to their natural shade as Ben’s father stared in to them. I smiled up at him, slowly and with all the coldness I could muster. Ben placed his hand on my shoulder and I stepped back from the bars. Wrapping his arm around my waist, Ben stood next to me.

“You’ll do as she says. She speaks for us both on this matter.” He said and he pulled his mother in on the other side. “I do still care about what happens to you, Dad. You don’t have to leave, but you will not bully anyone inside of this house. We’re a family, all of us.”

Mark and Miles stepped up on either side of the trio we had going and I watched Ben’s fathers eyes dart back and forth between us all.

“In spite of everything that happened Mo, I do still love you and I’d like you to be a part of Thanksgiving. But what happened is in the past. If you can’t let go of it, please go.”

I could see the man in the cage seething. He clearly wanted to be in control of the whole thing. I felt sorry for him because it just wasn’t going to happen.

“Okay. I’ll do my best.”

I looked up at Ben. “It’s up to you, if that’s good enough.”

Ben nodded. “I believe he’ll try. Let him out.”

I nodded and held up a hand, the bars rattled and shook, then vanished back in to the floor. His father’s eyes widened as he saw what happened.

“What are you?”

“No one to be messed with.” I said as I picked up my coffee and took a sip. “I’m going to go get dressed. I still think I have some of the sausage from the other day. Does anyone want eggs with it?”

I didn’t bother sticking around, I walked back upstairs and got ready for the day. I had no doubts that this week was going to be a week of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I could feel it in the air. Ben could too because when he came in to the bathroom while I was pulling on a sweater, he scooped me up and carried me to a chair. Flopping down with me in the chair, he kissed me and then cuddled me close.

“Can we just run away? I hear the Bahamas are great this time of year.” He said.

I smiled and kissed him. “Nope. We’re stuck. The best we can do is make sure your Mom and Dad don’t kill each other.”

“I think he’s already afraid of you. I’ve never seen your eyes turn that color unless we’re in bed together.”

“It’s my natural eye color and I can’t control it when I’m with you in bed.” I murmured and kissed him again.

“This pleases me.” He said and I laughed, punched his shoulder.

We cuddled in the chair until the light from the sunrise let us know that the day would start whether we’d like it  to or not. With a sigh I reluctantly got up.

“Who’s turn is it for dinner?”

“Mine. I started it last night, in the slow cooker. We’re having pot roast.”

“Your pot roast is better than mine, which isn’t fair.” I said.

Ben laughed. “I had to keep myself from starving when I got here and Murphy taught me to cook.”

That was new. I didn’t know that. “Interesting. I wonder if she’d part with her recipe for her sugar cookies.”

“You don’t have to ask. I already have it.” Ben said as he got up and started stripping for the shower. I stared at his behind and sighed. I really liked that man’s ass. Ben heard my sigh and shook his butt at me. I laughed and threw a used towel at him and he started laughing.

“You’re lucky I’m already dressed.” I said.

“Letch. Come scandalize me.” He replied.

“I wish, but there’s breakfast to be made and it’s my turn.”

“Miles and Mark took it. Gonna join me now?”

I didn’t have to think about it long. I shucked my sweater. “Yep.”

An hour later we were downstairs and laughing like a couple of teenagers as we walked in to the kitchen. There were four people in the room and the silence was deafening. Ben and I shrugged and made enough noise for those four people until they joined in. We talked about when to get the tree for our first Christmas together and what time we all wanted to eat on Thanksgiving. Only Jude and Ben’s father remained silent. When breakfast was done, Ben and I stood at the sink doing the dishes while Mark sat at the kitchen table making notes about Thanksgiving dinner. We were going to go get everything that day. Jude came in and took a look at the list.

“I’d like to add a couple of things, if I may?”

“Go for it, that’s not a complete list anyway. Most likely when we get to the store it’ll be bigger. There’s about,” I paused because I didn’t know how many people were coming. “Well I don’t know how many people are coming, so we’re planning on turkey and trimmings for at least twenty people.”

Ben snorted. “You seriously under-estimate our friends. We should plan on at least thirty.”

I thought about it and decided he was right. “Thirty then.”

Ben’s mother looked at us and shook her head. “You two have built something I’d call amazing. What time are we leaving for the store?”

“As soon as Mark says ‘Enough! That’s enough food!’ but it hasn’t happened yet.”

“It’s bigger than the cookout we threw back in the summer. Even I’m not sure there will be enough food.”

I paused for a second then turned to Mark. “Who exactly volunteered us for this year?”

Ben snorted. “Grandma Murphy. She opened her mouth and pretty soon my phone was bombed with acceptances.”

I groaned. That woman was going to be the death of me. Ben and I finished the dishes just as Miles came back in, followed by Ben’s father.

“So when are we leaving?” Miles said as he rubbed a towel over his hair.

“Leaving? You’re all leaving?”

“Yep and so are you. If you’re going to be here, you participate.” I said as I dried off my hands and handed the towel to Ben so he could do the same.

“We leave as soon as Mark has finished getting ready to go.” Ben said. “We won’t be back for at least three or four hours. There’s a lot of errands to run and since Marlowe has the only 4 wheel drive car, everyone goes.”

“Ben there’s six of us now. We’re going to have to split up.”

“I rented a Land Rover, yesterday. We can take the rental.” Jude said.

I nodded. “I like that idea. We’ll drive, everyone else rides. Ben go with your mother and Mark. Miles and Me with your father in my car. Everyone happy?” There was a round of nods. “Good. Mark, go shower, we’ll finish up the list while you’re gone.”

Mark got up and left and I sat down and took over. His neat and precise handwriting stared back at me. “This list is.. extensive. We’re going to have to start the night before if we’re going to make all of this.”

I looked up at Ben and passed him the list. We bickered back and forth, good-natured name-calling with Miles about whose best at making what. When Mark walked in, he joined in and took over the list again. Soon he said enough and we all got ready for the trip outside. This included letting the dogs out so they could go to the bathroom. When they came back in, we left.

Getting in to our separate cars, Ben’s father sat up front with me and Miles got in to the backseat. As I started the car I hear him clear his throat.

“Yes?” I said.

“Why’d you see to it that I was in the car with you?”

“I’ll not have Ben upset. Thursday is important to him and you will not upset him.” I said looking over at him.

“What makes your think I’m going to upset him?”

“Your very presence upsets him. The two of you didn’t part kindly. I mean it when I say I won’t have him upset. You upset him and I’ll make you bleed.”

Ben’s father went quiet as we drove in to town. “You love him.”

“More than I ever imagined I would love anyone. Do not upset him.” I said as I parked the car at the grocery store and hopped out. I waited for Ben to get out of the car and arm in arm, we walked in to get the things needed for Thursday.

We walked out again an hour later after bickering over nearly everything on the list. What to get, how much to get and how much we were paying were the biggest ones. When Ben scooped up a lamb shank and other items for his father that was halal, I said nothing. I figured if doing that meant there was no arguments on Thursday or getting to Thanksgiving, we’d be okay.

We were on our way home when I got the phone call that my shop had been broken in to. I dropped everyone off at the castle and sped back over with Ben. We got there just in time to see the whole shop go up in flames.


End of the First Week With the Parents, Part 4

After the events of the full moon and Monday, the rest of the week settled down. Jude was a welcome guest in the home and Ben spent more time home from work, which was good because the man hadn’t taken a vacation since he arrived.

I spent more time at work because seeing them together made me miss my own parents. It’s not fair to Ben or Jude, I know that. So when Miles and Mark showed up to yell at me for burying myself in my work and caught me flipping through the pages of the photo albums I’d stashed away that morning to bring with me (it was a slow day), there wasn’t much yelling going on. More like sniffling and maybe a few harder sobs.

“Marlowe, you can’t keep sitting in the shop like this. You’re going to have to tell them why you’ve been avoiding them.”

“It’s hard to tell someone who you’re jealous of the fact that they can still have a relationship with a parent.”

Mark hugged me. “I don’t have my parents, either. They wrote me off when I came out. You’re the closest thing I have to a sister, so I’m telling you this for your own good: You’re a fucking doorknob.”

I slapped the back of Mark’s head and he laughed. “I’m serious. I lost Max. It’s still hard, but you’ve had nearly 25 years without them. It might be time to let some of the pain go.”

Mark put his hands over mine and looked me in the eye. “I love you. I really do, but it’s time.”

I gripped Mark’s hands and smiled. “Guilt is a funny thing. It doesn’t usually let you go.”

Miles hugged me from behind as I stared down at the photos of my parents.

“What do you have to feel guilty over? You didn’t hurt them. That was the driver who crashed in to them.”

“They wouldn’t have been out there than if I hadn’t gotten sick at home. They were coming home because of me.”

“That’s bullshit, Marlowe. They were already on their way back when they got the message on your father’s beeper. My Mom said so. She just used to tell you it was her fault because she felt so guilty about messaging them over your fever in the first place.”

“I’m not exactly going to trust your mother with any version of the truth, Miles.”

“Fair enough. There are reasons why we don’t talk, but being jealous of Ben and his mother is going to come between you and him eventually. I’ll sit there like a cancer.”

I sighed. “Okay. I’ll try.”

I hated it when he out Spocked me with logic. Miles hugged me from behind again. I felt Mark join in on our hug. Miles pulled away first.

“I have to get back to the library. It’s my night to close up. Are you going to be okay?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Good.” He kissed my forehead and was gone.

I looked up at Mark. “I guess this means you’re leaving too?”

“Only to meet with the lawyers. I’m selling the house.”

“So you’ve decided?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I can’t stay there.”

“Ben and I discussed it a couple of weeks ago so don’t even bother to ask. You’re staying. You’re family.”

Mark laughed and kissed my forehead. “Do you mind if I called you Sis?”

“No. It’d be the best in the world, Bro.”

We hugged inside my front office until the door opened and Ben walked in. We opened up our circle and Ben walked right in, no questions asked. When we finally let go, Ben tossed my coat at me.

“Close up, it’s a mess out there and no one’s going to come in tonight. Besides, we’re going to have a snowball fight.”

I laughed. “Who’s idea was this?”

“Mine. Hurry.”

“It’ll go faster if the two of you would get the shop doors while I did the books.”

“Deal.” Ben grabbed Mark and they went and locked up my shop while I did the books for the day. With the take bagged up and in the safe, we all walked out together. I locked up and Ben and Mark followed me back home. I had the only four-wheel drive car, so they had to wait for me to go through the snow first, then follow. It was going to be a bad storm. I just hoped that it wouldn’t be so bad as to snow us in for a few days.

We pulled in the driveway and were just in time to see Jude out front of the castle, waiting on us all. I might have teared up a little, I kept seeing my mother’s face on hers. It was still painful, no matter what I told Miles. I’d work on letting go of some of that pain, like I told Miles I would. I pulled my car up to the door of the garage and waited until it opened. Driving right in, I parked next to my Thunderbird and sighed over it. I couldn’t wait for spring so I could go cruising with Ben again. Ben and Miles parked in their spaces and got out. Ben grabbed my hand and pulled me along with him.

“No moping. I hate it when you mope. It means you’re unhappy and if you’re unhappy, I’m unhappy.”

“That makes no sense. You could be happy without me being the same.”

Ben stopped and kissed me. “Not anymore. Now come on, I want a snowball fight.”

Something cold and wet hit the back of my head and I turned around. Jude was laughing her ass off at Mark who was preparing another snowball.

“What? You said you wanted a battle.” He threw the next snowball and hit Ben in the chest.

“Oh, it’s on.” I said as I bent to make my own snowball.

Soon, the driveway was filled with the sounds of laughing adults and barking dogs. When Miles finally arrived he was subjected to a barrage of snowballs as soon as he stepped out of the doorway of the garage.

“Idiots.” Was all he had to say before he joined in.

When we were so cold that we couldn’t feel our fingers we trooped inside after knocking some of the snow off. Dinner was chicken noodle soup that Jude made. I was happy and when I looked around the table at the family I’d found and made, I realized I wasn’t the only one.

Sometimes, all you need is a snowball fight with your family to make a bad week great.


Digging out

Ben and I were woken up at dawn once again by the twins. They were poking at us and whispering to each other.

“Boo!” I yelled and grabbed Peter’s shoulder when they weren’t looking.

They screamed and fell backwards. I laughed and hauled myself upright. I looked down at Ben and saw that he was still asleep. That man could sleep through a brass band parade. The twins and I ended up making breakfast for ourselves, then we all got cleaned up and met back downstairs. Ben surfaced about eight and with a quick kiss for me, disappeared to get himself clean. He was back down in less than an hour to report that he’d called the weather hotline and the blizzard was going to blow over by nightfall.

It was more like three in the afternoon and by that time Ben and I were out shoveling our way to the garage while the twins played with the dogs in the snow. We hadn’t seen Miles or Mark all day, but when they mushed up on a dog sled, it was a little surprising.

“Well? Explain this one then.” I said as I stuck my shovel in to the snow.

“Um, I really can’t. It showed up this morning. So Mark and I, uh, ‘borrowed’ it and went in to town.” Miles said, looking a little sheepish.

“So a strange mode of transportation just shows up out of no where and you decide to use it?” Ben asked. We shared a look over the heads of the twins who were petting the dogs.

“Um, yes?” Mark said.

I turned to Ben and rolled my eyes. “It’s so tragic that they should lose their minds as such a young age, don’t you think?”

“I agree. Maybe it’s best we get them a sitter instead of the twins.” Ben said as he put his arm around my waist.

I sighed and looked at the two still on the sled. “Think for a sec about what’s happened the last couple of weeks.”

I watched their faces go white and they jumped off the sled.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You don’t know who could have sent that sled! You could have been killed!” I shouted.

When I saw the twins faces go white I knew I’d gone too far. I sighed and picked up Peter. Ben picked up Bonnie and we walked in to the house together. Miles and Mark followed after unloading the sled of everything they’d bought in town. It included the mail and packages for both Ben and I, as well as dinners from Murphy and Miss Maggie.

I was loading the fridge when I saw Ben’s face as he opened a letter. His jaw was slack and his mouth a little open. Concerned, I put my hand on his arm. He looked up at me, eyes a little wider than normal.

“My parents are coming to visit,” he said quietly.

I cursed. I knew what it meant, of course. We’d talked about what Ben was like when he first came to Blueville. He was withdrawn, moody. According to Murphy, who I bribed on the sly with my grandmother’s stew recipe; if it wasn’t an animal, he wouldn’t talk to anyone longer than necessary. From what I gathered from Miles is that he spent the majority of his time in this house.

Ben is the one who told me what really happened to him before he left New York.

Six years ago, Ben was happily completing his final year of veterinary school and doing his internship at a local vet hospital. One night after losing a dalmatian who was about to pup, he lost all of the pups and the mom from complications, he arrived at his apartment to find it cleaned out and a note saying that he was officially moved home and to forget this “dog doctor” nonsense. He was going to go to Medical school the following semester like he was supposed to and start a completely different career that the one he wanted. When Ben arrived at his parents home, They were just sitting down to dinner. It was Ramadan, so they were breaking their fast after sun down.

Yes, Ben came from a Muslim family. No, I don’t give to flying frogs from Pinks Pumpkin Patch about this fact. I love Ben for who he is, not where he came from.

Anyway. He unloaded on his father, who at that point told him about his impending marriage to a family friend’s daughter. That was a shock because as far as Ben knew, he was a single man who had no time for a family or dating anyone. Words were said, Ben snatched the key to the storage unit full of his things and stormed out of his father’s house. He crashed with a friend for a few days and when his mother arrived at the friend’s house, words were said, a check was exchanged and Ben finished his internship at the hospital. He left for Blueville a month after graduating and hasn’t been home since.

The only person he still speaks to on occasion is his mother, so when I curse because his parents are coming for Thanksgiving – it’s really his father I’m worried about. Not his mother.

I sent the twins off with Miles and Mark to play that new video game system with the plumber brothers in the Great Hall. I closed all the doors to the kitchen and walked over to Ben, wrapped my arms around his waist and leaned my head on his arm.

“We’ll get through this together. I’m not leaving just because your father couldn’t see the value he already had in you.”

Ben moved so that he was hugging me and murmured in to my hair, “I love you. Without question, I’d propose tomorrow if I knew it wasn’t going to freak you out.”

“Wait until Thanksgiving. Toss it back in their faces that you found your own happiness with the freaky ass family we’ve built.” Ben went still and I continued on, “besides, if you wait until then I’ll win the betting pool.”

That broke the ice and Ben started to laugh. “When did you bet on Thanksgiving and who hold the pool?”

“Sheriff Stiles and the night you changed.” I said with a grin.

“You already knew?” He murmured as he looked down at me and brushed my hair away from my face.

“I clean up after you. Those ring catalogs were not well hidden.”

“So that’s how those rings ended up circled.” He said with another laugh.

“Well if you’re going to get me something, I might as well give you hints about what I like.”

“It’s a good thing too, I almost went with the one you crossed out.”

I wrinkled my nose. “That thing was hideous.”

Ben laughed and kissed my nose. “Well, I could probably be mad that you found out before I could say anything. I was hoping to surprise you by Christmas.”

“At least you know I’ve been thinking about it just as much as you have.”

“Since Halloween?”

“Well, it did bring in to a certain perspective when I mangled the laundry cart.”

“He sent me a photo of the cart, by the way. I can’t believe you twisted it like that because you were so upset about not being able to get to me.”

I tightened my arms around his waist and looked up. “I was scared. Terrified. I don’t ever want to feel that way again. You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in years.”

“Not of all time?”

I laughed and raised up on my tiptoes to kiss him. “You’re getting there.”

Ben picked up the letter. “What do we do about this?”

“Invite them for the full moon.” I said with a wicked grin.

“Oh, you devilish woman. I knew I loved you for a reason.” Ben kissed me, hard. “That’ll put the fear in to the old man for sure.”

“Can you imagine? His son the dragon, cuddling his read-headed metalmancer girlfriend on the full moon? Heads will roll and it’ll be so much fun to watch.”

“You thrive on trouble.”

“Only when it comes to making your uptight father regret losing you? Damn right. He lost you, I got you and I have no intention of letting you go just yet.”

“Just yet?”

“Well, if something cuter comes along..”

I didn’t get to finish my sentence, Ben scooped me up and hauled me upstairs laughing.


The Shop

It was hard pulling myself away from Ben yesterday morning.

We’d spent all weekend relaxing and just taking it easy, but it was Monday and I finally got the go head from the Doctor and the Physio-therapist to go back to work. I was excited to get back under the hood. Ben was not as pleased as I was to get out of the house. He was still stuck in it for a few more days.

I’d only been at work five minutes when Miles sent me the first photo of Ben hanging upside down. The rain gutter had him by the leg and put him within reach of Miles so that he could bring him back inside. I received two more as I went through the motions of opening up for the day.

Ben outside being held by a gargoyle.

Ben outside being chased back inside by the stone lions at the doors.

I finally gave in and called home at noon when I got the one of Ben, covered in dirt and being dragged back inside by Mark.

“This place is a prison and I can’t take it anymore.”

“You can and you will. The Doctor’s orders say rest, Ben. The photos I’ve been getting are not rest. They are the exact opposite.”

“Come home. I’ll rest with you.”

I sighed and tapped my forehead against the wall. I got a brilliant plan when I heard him whine that he was bored.

“Come to the shop. I need someone to go over my books.”

There was silence on the other end, then Ben cleared his throat. “On second thought, maybe I’m not that bored.”

I started laughing. “Ben, I know how much you love your work and I know this is killing you being stuck at home, but I’m not letting anything happen to you again. I need you to say there.”

Ben sighed. “One more day, then I have to go back to work.”

“One more day. We’ll go out to dinner tonight. Just you and me.”

“You’re on.”

“I’ll see you at home.” I was about to hand up when I thought of something wicked. “Oh and Ben?”

“Yeah, Lowe?”

“I’m out of underwear. Can  you do laundry today? I had to go without.”

I heard cursing on the other end as I hung up. That would keep him busy. I turned my phone on silent and tucked it into my back pocket. The Judge had brought in his hearse for a tune up and I wanted to get my hands dirty.

I picked up a socket wrench and was halfway through changing spark plugs when I heard the shop door open and someone shout my name. I shouted out for them to come to the back and grunted when the Sheriff came around the side.

“Hello, Eric. Any news?” I asked as I pulled a plug and chucked it in to the bin of used parts that couldn’t be reused.

“Yeah. Every single one of the dragons homes had Hex Bags and all 13 of them changed.”

“You said that before.”

“Now I’m sure. I was just guessing before.”

“You do an awful lot of guessing these days. Is there something that you’re not telling me that I can not tell Ben?”

“We still don’t know what’s going on and who’s doing all the incidents. The best we can do is call a specialist.”

I stopped what I was doing and looked up at the Sheriff. He looked like he hadn’t had any sleep in a few days.

“Bonnie keeping you up at night, Eric?” I said, trying to keep the mood light.

The Sheriff smiled. “No and neither is Peter. Both sleeping like angels now. It’s easier now that I have help at night.”

“I was sorry to hear about Sue being caught in that mess back in October. Is her sister helping out?”

He rubbed a hand over his face and looked at me. “Yeah, though she blames me for what happened. Like I could have known Sue was going in to work that day.”

“If you need a break from her and the twins, bring them over to me and Ben. We’ll watch them for an evening. The whole evening.”

“You’d take on twin eight-year-olds? For me?” The look on his face was priceless.

“Think of it as a trade. I’m plenty angry about what happened to Ben. Someone could have been hurt, but I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and I’ve come up with a deal. I’ll babysit for information. You keep me in the loop, I’ll make sure your twin witches don’t go turning people in to toads again or making the dog fly around the house.”

I watched the Sheriff consider my offer for all of five seconds. “Done. Tomorrow night okay? I need a break and so does Sandy.”

“Done.” I said. “You have my phone number, call when you’re ready to bring them over.”

“Thanks, Marlowe.”

“You’re welcome. Now about your car..”

He laughed. “I’ll bring it in next week. I know I’m behind on my oil changes.”

“You also need new brakes.” I pointed out and smiled when the Sheriff sighed.

“Next week. I promise.”

I nodded. I was about to ask him if he remembered to change his wiper blades when his phone rang. He nodded at me and then stepped outside to take his call. I went back to changing spark plugs. I didn’t notice when the Sheriff stepped back in.

“I might have to take you up on your offer to sit earlier than tomorrow night, Marlowe.”

I jerked and slammed my head against the hood. Cursing, I pulled myself out of the car’s guts and looked up at the Sheriff.

“What happened?”

“Sandy’s in the hospital. Heart attack. It seems the twins made her fly.”

I coughed to hide a giggle and that got me a look from the Sheriff. “I’ll close up early and pick them up. Who’s watching them now?”

“Miss Maggie. She says to pick them up at five. No rush.”

I snorted. Miss Maggie obviously didn’t know how long it took to get grease out of my hands. “Okay. Five it is. I’ll pick them up.”

“I hope I didn’t ruin any plans for you this evening.”

I thought about Ben and what I’d promised earlier. I really hoped he wouldn’t be angry. “Nothing that couldn’t be changed.”

The Sheriff left then and l went back to work on the Judge’s hearse. I worked steadily, letting my mind cycle through of all the memories that came with touching the metal that old. I was deep in the memory of a woman who pressed herself up against the hearse, begging to be taken with her husband when I felt a hand grab my shoulder. For the second time that day, I slammed my head against the roof so hard I saw stars.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I tried calling your name but you weren’t paying attention.”

I pulled myself out from under the hood and glared at the person who interrupted my day. It was Sally Kolodney from the ice cream parlor. I nearly lost my temper, but reined it in. I kept telling her there was no hope for her car, but she kept insisting I try to fix it the poor thing.

“Hey Sally. How can I help you?”

She looked down and well, bashful. “Well, I finally took your advice and got another car.  I was hoping you could give it a tune up this week.”

If anything would surprise me yesterday, that’s all it would have taken. “What’d you buy, Sally?”

“Oh, that little Geo you said would be great for me. You were right. It’s perfect. Between that and the van, I’m all set for cars.” she was babbling, but I let her.

I was stunned someone in this town actually took my advice about cars. Sure, they’d let me fix them. Take my advice about what to buy? Not until today.

“Sure, Sally. I can tune her up for you. You’ll need to replace those breaks before we get too deep in to winter though.”

“Oh I’m sure. I’m sorry I didn’t believe you sooner, Marlowe. You were right about that car. We’re perfect for each other.”

I smiled. “Come back on Thursday. I’ll give you the whole morning.”


I watched her scoot out of the shop and then saw the clock. Swearing, I pulled off my coveralls and made my way around to close the doors. It was nearly four thirty. I had to hurry to get over to the Sheriff’s place to get the twins before five. I hurried through the motions, managing to close up shop in fifteen minutes. I broke every speed limit to get to the house and was only five minutes late.

Miss Maggie came out of the house with Bonnie and Peter, who ran up to the car, laughing.

“Miss Marlowe! Dad told us we’re going to your castle for the night because Aunt Sandy is sick!”

“All true poppets. In the back with you. Maybe the two of you eight year old terrors can tire my puppy out.”

They laughed and climbed in to the back with their bags, buckling themselves in before I could tell them to do so.

Miss Maggie coughed then and when I looked at her, she smiled. I knew that smile.

“No hints. Not even for you.”

“But haven’t put anything in to the pot yet on the date!”

“If you don’t know your own adopted grandson by now, then I can’t help you.” I said with a laugh.

“Now you’re just being mean.” She said as she put her hands on her hips.

“I am.” I replied with a laugh. I dropped my voice and leaned out of the car window as the two in the back started to squabble. “How is she?”

“Fine, fine. I saw her collapse when I was walking by. They didn’t see a thing. She’d started that movie about the talking things that look like Twinkies for them.”

“Ah, That one. I like that one. I’m glad she’s okay and that they didn’t see anything.”

“Me too. They’ve already been through enough.” When I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Peter raise a hand to his sister I raised an eyebrow and made the middle seat belt wrap around his arms so he couldn’t hit her.

“Hey! No fair!” He shouted. “You promised!”

“It’s not me!” She said and looked at me in the mirror.

“That’s right. It was me. You don’t hit each other, understand?”

They both looked down and sullenly replied, “yes, ma’am.”

Miss Maggie chuckled and patted my arm. “You’ll be just fine.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night. Ben and I will need a night out.”

“I look forward to it. See you then.” She said as she stepped back from the curb and waved good-bye to me and the twins.

I headed home with the twins in the back and prayed that Ben wouldn’t be too angry about not getting his night out just yet. When I pulled in to the drive, he met me at the garage and got a look at what was in the back seat.

“Well, well. Where’d you get these two?”

“Jail birds. I broke them out for fun in a haunted castle and to tire out Gibbs.” I replied as he kissed me. There was gagging sounds from the back that made Ben pull back, laughing.

“That’s enough, you two. Inside.” He smiled when they got out of the car with their bags and ran for the door.

I got out of the car and as I locked it, I found myself turned around and pressed against the door.

“That was a naughty thing you did this morning, Marlowe.” He said.

“Did you do laundry?” I asked as I nipped his lower lip.

“Yes.” He said as he kissed me.

“Then it worked.” I said against his lips.

“Still dirty.” He said with another kiss and pulled back. Taking my hand in his, we walked in to the house together.


“But he followed me home!”

I love Ben.

But there are some days where I’m not exactly certain that he understands why I do not want any more animals in the house.

“He followed me home!” – This works when you’re eight-years-old and cute enough to carry it off well. It does not work when you’re 32 and staring at your girlfriend who’s three-year-old golden retriever just ate her running shoes and she’s chasing him around the house trying to get the shoe back.

“Hey, Marlowe? He thinks it’s a game, so if you just stop-” Ben was trying to say as I ran through the house after Winston. I’d had just about enough of his shoe chewing ways.

“Ben?” I said as I stopped and leaned against a wall, panting.

“Yes, Marlowe?”

“Being another animal in to this house that you’re going to con me in to keeping and you’ll be sleeping next door.”

He winced and fed the parrot on his shoulder another cracker. The parrot squawked and grabbed on to it with a purple tentacle that slid out from under his feathers by the base of his wing. The bird sat there, holding the cracker and nibbling on it while giving off this air of ‘I really don’t care to be here.’

“but Marlowe, he has no where else to go.”

“Oh yes he does. He goes home with you or back to the clinic. I cannot handle another animal. Look at the mess that just two dogs creates!” I said as I gestured around me.

Ben frowned and sighed. “If you moved in with me..”

“No, you’re not getting out of this with that. It’s barely been six months, Ben. I’m not moving in with you yet. As for the bird, it cannot stay.”

Ben sighed and looked at me. His eyes were turned down and his shoulders fell. I felt my resolve weaken a little, but I was not going to be swayed. I’d said yes to the freaky dogs. I said yes to the dragon egg. I was saying no to a bird. Anything but a bird at this point.

“No, Ben. No birds.” I tried to make that sound as firm as possible while still being gentle, but I was afraid I failed at it when he got up off the chair he was sitting on and walked toward the door.

Before I could say anything else, he reached down and snatched my sneaker from Winston’s mouth before he could get up and run off with it again. Tossing me the shoe, he watched me as I caught it and dumped it in to the trash bin I had installed under the counter so the dogs couldn’t get in to it anymore.

“You need training.”

“For what?”

“For Winston, you need to go to obedience training. So he’ll stop chewing on your shoes.”

“Is there a class near by?” I would have paid the man in gold if he taught it, but no. He wasn’t a trainer.

“Next month. Miles can sign you up. It’s held at the library on Thursday nights.”

“Okay. I’ll go.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that, as long as you promise not to bring another animal here without telling me first.”

Ben eyed me. “I knew there’d be a catch.”

“I don’t like surprises that I have to feed.” I pointed at the bird. “I don’t know how to take care of that, or what to feed it. I’m not just telling you to hurt you.”

“Feels like it some times.”

“Well I’m not. I actually considered the squirrel before I realized I knew diddly about its care.”

“You would if you moved in with me.”

I sighed. I walked right in to that one and Ben knew it too. The rat smiled.

“Not yet. I’m not ready.”

“You keep saying that, but I’m not entirely sold that you actually believe it.”

“Well I do, and I’ve got Mark still here. There’s him to think about too, you know. He is family.”

“He can come too.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “You’d day anything to get me to move in with you at this point, but my answer is still no for now.”

“For now. I’ll wear you down yet.” Ben said as he walked over and backed me up against the wall before he kissed me. “Unless the houses decide for us. They’ve been known to do that.”

I sighed and leaned against his chest. Great. Another thing about my house that I didn’t know. “When does it usually happen?”

“Oh, usually around a major holiday if the couple hasn’t decided for themselves. It makes it rather awkward when the houses combine right before all the relatives show up for a holiday like Thanksgiving.”

I groaned. That was not what I wanted to hear.

“I’ll think about it, but for now you have to go back to work.”

“Not yet. You’re looking so very tasty and I haven’t had lunch yet.”

“Well Darling, I hate to break it to you, but your bird just let one rip on your shoulder and it’s disgusting.”

Ben swore and looked at me. “No birds.”

I laughed as he walked out of the house, an air of indignation at the bird on his shoulder that ruined his moment.


Fallout From the Full Moon

So after things got settled again after the full moon I remembered that I had yet to ask Ben about that damn egg in my fireplace. So when he showed up this morning with breakfast and a squirrel sitting on his shoulder, I was upset at the thought of yet another disaster in my home.

“No. Absolutely not!” I said as I put my hand on Ben’s chest to keep him from coming inside with the squirrel.

“It’s just a squirrel!”

“No. I have dogs, Ben. They like to chase squirrels.”

“They won’t chase him as long as I’m here.”

“What about after you leave? You’ll end up leaving the squirrel here and I’ll have to take care of it, like the others.”

“But you love Winston and Gibbs!”

“I was actually thinking about the egg in my fireplace.” Ben paused when I said that, then flinched when I went on. “Unless you have a damn good reason for keeping that green egg here, Dragon-Boy.”

Ben sighed. “It’s not mine. Offspring-wise, I mean.”

“Then whose is it?”

Mark interrupted from behind. “It’s Max’s. He’s the other green dragon in town. Though, He’s emerald-green, not the pale green-yellow mix that makes Ben so pretty.” Mark paused in the doorway and sighed. “I mean was. Max was the other green dragon.”

I left Ben and his squirrel at the door and went to Mark. I hugged him hard. Ben stayed in the doorway, unsure what I’d do if he came in with that squirrel.

“Things will get better, Mark.”

“I know, Marlowe.”

“Wanna go shopping with Miles and I later?” I asked.

“No, I’m going to head home, I think. For a little while to see if I can take being there with his things.”

“Do you want someone to go with you?” I asked.

He shook his head. I didn’t try to push and I didn’t say anything when he pulled out of the hug and went back upstairs.

“He’ll be okay, Marlowe.” Ben said from where he stood in the doorway.

“I know. I worry though.”

“You’re allowed to worry. He’s a friend.”

“No, Ben. He’s family.”

“Family then. You’re still allowed to worry.” Ben said as he leaned against the doorway. “Now about the squirrel,”

“No. If you push me, You won’t get to see what I buy this afternoon.”

Ben pouted. Damn, I do love that pout, but I wasn’t giving in this time. I gave in to the dogs and that egg, but not a squirrel. I sent Ben off with the squirrel, back to his practice and got ready to go shopping with Miles. He showed up on time for once. I think he was excited to get me in a store to work my credit card over. Now that I had the cast off and was in a brace, it was only a matter of time before I went back to work. Another six weeks and I’d be working again.

I was lost in my own thoughts that I didn’t even notice when Miles pulled in to the Serene Harbor outlet mall. When I realized what he’d done, I let out a groan.

“Now Marlowe, You need winter clothing and I happen to know that your bank account is fat from the settlement. You trust fund baby.”

I glared at Miles. “You know, my parents had to die in order for me to get that fund. I use it for my shop.”

“So now you’re going to use it to make yourself warm for the winter and stop glaring at me like that, if they hadn’t died I would have been short a happy childhood. You accepted me when no one else would.”

I bleated at him and made him laugh. It was an old joke, the black sheep of the family bleating at each other. We walked arm-in-arm in to the mall and stopped in front of the map. I winced when I saw how many stores there were.

“I want to play in them all.” Miles said with awe in his voice. “I’ve been saving up for this.”

“Then let’s get going. You’ve only got till the mall closes and I’m not coming back tomorrow.”

“Then let’s get started!” Miles said as he dragged me into store number one.

I walked out of that store a half hour later, carrying just one bag to Mile’s three. It went like that for most of the day, until we hit the lingerie store. I wouldn’t let him come in with me, but I walked out a much happier person and certain that Ben was going to weep later.

“You’re wicked, Marlowe.”

“You love me for it though.”

“That man is going to cry.”

“For what I spent in there? He damn well better.”

Miles laughed and we ran off to the shoe stores. After buying nearly ever pair of shoes I tried on and drunk on shopping, I declared that I needed dresses. Miles squealed with delight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that man so happy.

“You don’t do girly.”

“But I’m in a town where I’m expected to go to things as a business owner. With Ben. Fancy things.” I said as I let him lead me back to the shops that had formal dress wear.

“True, I had to buy suits when I got here. I’d never owned one before.”

“Now you just show up in a bow tie, suspenders and a wild color shirt to go with your pants and shoes.” I said dryly.

“People expect it now, I can’t let my fans down!”

We were inside the first store at that point and I couldn’t make my remarks because they were crude and there were children in the store. Miles managed to talk me in to a black cocktail length dress at that store, then two more at another. By the time we got back to the car, my arms were full of bags and shoe boxes. I looked at it all, a little bewildered.

“Miles, what did I do? I can’t keep all of this!? I’m crippled and my shop is dark and -” I stopped and panted a little, I knew my eyes were wide. My heart raced and I bent over, leaning back on the car with my head buried in the dress bags that Miles hadn’t yet taken from me to put in the back seat. I was starting to go a little gray around the edges of my vision.

“Breathe, Marlowe.” Miles said as he rubbed my back. “You never spend this much money on anything unless it’s that shop or some new tool. You’ve been down for 6 weeks with that cast because of that jacksock and I’ll be damned if I let you mope around the house any longer.”

“But.. the money..” I panted.

“You’ll make more if it worries you that much. You deserve today, Marlowe.” He rubbed my back some more, the little enabler. “You never touched a penny of the inheritance until college, then for your shop. They’d be damn proud of how much you saved to supplement that money. It’s okay to go a little nuts every once in a while.”

I leaned back against the car and looked up at him. “You’re an enabler.”

The rat laughed. He laughed! “Yes, I am. I mean every word though. You do deserve it.”

I wasn’t too sure – I’m still not – that he was right, but I nodded anyway and let him help me in to the car. About halfway home I started to smile.

“I know that smile. That smile is evil.” He said.

I laughed. “Ben’s not going to believe his eyes when he sees me in that green dress at the party on Halloween.”

Miles snorted a laugh. “That’s if he lets you leave the house.”

I grinned at him and settled down in to my seat.

“I still can’t believe he’s not gay.” Miles whined.

I couldn’t help it, I dissolved in to giggles and hugged Miles at the first red light leading in to town.

“I love you, Miles. Thanks for going with me today.”

“You’re welcome, Sheep.”

It took us three trips in to my house to get all the bags up to my bedroom. As I looked over my haul, I saw headlights cutting through the dark and looked out the window. Ben was arriving back to his home from work. His timing was perfect.



The blizzard rolled in to town a couple of days ago, so everything got put on hold. I’ll be frank, I did not enjoy the boredom of being stuck inside the house for the last couple of days. Especially not with a house full of people and the emotions that were flowing through the house.

The good news is that with all the people in the house, it decided to open up more rooms Thursday night. As it stands now, instead of my small two bedroom cottage, I have five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a new office in the fully converted attic with its own widow’s walk, a full library (with books, don’t ask me how that happened, I don’t know), and a much bigger kitchen with attached dining room. All of this is now packed in to four floors.

All of this has made me re-think the idea of having someone come in and clean the whole place, top to bottom, at least once every two weeks. That’s a lot of room for me. Well, I guess it’s not just me now. Mark has agreed to move in for a while, just until he’s gotten his feet back under him after last weekend. I’m a little afraid of him being alone right now. He loved Max so much and they were so happy together.

He spends most of his days up in his new rooms, writing in that journal of his. I’m giving him his space for now. He goes back to work on Monday though. I can’t imagine what that’s going to be like for him. He’s a CPA and his office faced Max’s, who was a real estate attorney on the same floor. I have a feeling he’s going to take Gibbs with him for support. I can’t imagine anyone is going to tell me he can’t have his puppy with him.

The Sheriff came and took Mark to identify Max’s body at the morgue now that the blizzard is over and the roads have cleared. He came back looking pretty destroyed. The part of me that was never really around relatives when something like this happens means that I don’t know how to really handle it when it happens to family I do care about. Normally I was the family member that was notified the night before the funeral and wasn’t really expected to show up. Anyway, Mark went straight up to his rooms after grabbing a bottle from my cabinet and I didn’t bother to stop him. The last week has shown me just how unprepared I would be if Ben or Miles ever died. I think that’s why I want Mark close by for now.

Ben showed up shortly before dark with the dogs in tow. They were all covered in snow which meant that Ben had outside appointments. After clean up and filling Ben in on what happened, he managed to coax Mark out of his rooms to watch the football games in the living room. I went up to my office until Ben came up to tell me that Mark had gone to bed early. We went out to dinner instead of staying home. Don’t worry, we made sure to bring home food for Mark. Grandmama Murphy wouldn’t have let us forget him. Though, she did send home enough to feed an army. I’m pretty sure that woman knows more than she’s letting on about things. Even after we filled her in on Mark, she just nodded and advised us to keep doing what we’ve been doing for now. She also reminded us not to over crowd him. Which won’t be a problem. Ben and I have been trying our best not to try to force him to spend time with us.

After bidding Grandmama Murphy goodbye, Ben and I went home. We separated in my driveway, him to his house and me to mine. It’s been six months since I moved to Blueville. I’m still finding this town weird. Why? Because when I turned back to wave to Ben, I caught sight of George who was flying over head. I still have her egg in my fireplace, which did not make me feel comfortable with her flying so close over head. Ben keeps assuring me that she gave the egg freely as a gift and that there are no repercussions from accepting the egg and keeping it safe in the fireplace.

I’m not entirely convinced though and I don’t think that I’m going to sleep very well tonight.


It’s Over

Ben came in with the news tonight as I was sitting on the kitchen table, trying to avoid the puppy-vs-dog play battle that was going on underneath said table. He got one look at me and laughed.

The rat.

It’s his fault I have two dogs and a dragon egg in my fireplace. He separated the two combatants, dumping Gibbs in Mark’s lap as he was watching some movie on the TV. Winston immediately sighed and went off to find a place to nap.

“You know, it’s not good for him to play so much that you’ve retreated to the top of the kitchen table.”

“I’m up here because they’ve spilled my beer four times and I’m trying to balance my books for the shop.”

Ben leaned in and stole a kiss before I remembered that I was mad at him for the puppy.

“Gibbs ate your tie, by the way. The red one that we used on Friday night.” I said as I watched him take off his coat.

Ben groaned and I got a little satisfaction from the noise. After all, it was his favorite tie.

“How much did he eat?”

“Enough to have me feeding him pumpkin.”

Ben dropped his head to the door frame he was standing in and tapped it lightly over and over again. I couldn’t help it, I laughed. That made him scowl at me.

“You find this funny do you?”

“I find this about as funny as you do. Especially since he ate my only good pair of white heels yesterday night, while we were all asleep.” I put the laptop I was working on down and tugged Ben over to me by his blue tie. “Looks like I’ll have to go buy another pair. Wanna go shopping with me when all this mess dies down?”

Ben leaned and kissed me, before murmuring in my ear, “only if you wear the skirt.”

“I think I can do that.”

“Oh please, why don’t the two of you just get a room already?” Miles said as he walked in to the room. Mark followed.

“They do, we’re invading it.” Mark said.

Miles rolled his eyes. “You’re not helping.”

Mark just shrugged.

“What are you doing here, Miles?”

“The word around town is that Ben here saw the finale to the ritual as he was checking on George.”

“Who’s George?” I asked.

“The dragon behind camp ground. The locals named him George last year.” Ben said as he tugged me off the kitchen table and plopped us both into one of the chairs.

“Oh. I thought it was a she?”

“She is a she. Her name is George.” Mark said, sitting at the table.

“Anyway, yes I did see the end. They were leaving as the worst of the storm hit. The Priestess looked a little worse for wear and the Sheriff had all available ambulances there for the survivors.”

“Max?” “Mark asked quietly.

Ben shook his head. “I didn’t see him walk out, but the Sheriff said he’d be calling the survivor’s families as soon as they’d been checked out.”

“Do we know who did this yet?” Miles asked.

Apparently his little network was failing him.

“Not that the Sheriff is saying.” Ben said.

Before I could ask a question, Marks phone rang from where it was on the side table. I watched Mark lunge for it and held my breath as he answered. He walked to the windows at the front of the living room. We could barely hear anything from the kitchen. I reached for Ben’s hand and gripped it tight as we waited. When Miles reached for my other hand, I gladly obliged and gripped his hand tightly.

Mark finally hung the phone up and turned back to us. His eyes were filled with tears and grief and my heart shattered for him. I was so hoping that he would survive this and come home. I pushed myself out of Ben’s lap and walked over to Mark, wrapping him tightly in a hug.

“He’s gone.” Mark whispered.

I couldn’t say anything, I just held on as he started crying. I started to cry too and when I looked over, I saw that Ben and Miles were both crying as well. We’d lost a friend, but that was nothing compared to what Mark had lost and there’s nothing that we could have said or done to make it better.

“You’ll stay here.” I murmured to Mark. “Stay here until you’re ready to go back home.”

Mark nodded and kissed my temple.

It’s funny, friends can mean more than family when they care for you like family.