When reading this oneshot, bear in mind that Bas is 13 years old and Evan is 3. Neither one will think like an adult, and neither one will make the same decisions as they would if they were adults.
“I heard she jogs through the park every afternoon.”
Thirteen year-old Sebastian Zelig—better known as ‘Bas’ to his friends and family—nodded slowly and turned his gaze out the window at the clear blue skies over the Maine coastline. “The park.”
“I like the park!” Evan Zelig—the three year-old terror—piped up as he grabbed a hold of Bas’ arm and clawed his way up his brother’s back.
“Ouch, Evan . . . careful,” Bas grumbled but made no move to stop the youngster.
“Park, park, park . . .” Evan chanted in a sing-song voice.
Tom, Bas’ best friend, idly tossed a football into the air and caught it, rolling his eyes at Evan’s unrelenting chatter. “Anyway, I gotta motor.” Setting the ball on the counter, he shuffled toward the door but stopped short, casting Bas a calculated glance over his shoulder. “Your, uh, mom isn’t around, is she?”
“Lay off my mom,” Bas grumbled, cheeks pinking with irritation since it was his considered opinion that Tom had an unhealthy preoccupation with his mother, Gin Izayoi Zelig.
“But I have to lay on her before I can lay off her, don’t I?” Tom complained.
Bas narrowed his golden eyes, and Tom relented, holding up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay! You’re way too uptight about that, though . . .”
“Whatever,” Bas grumbled. Tom took off. Moments later, the front door slammed, and Bas heaved a disgruntled sigh.
Bas scratched his chest and pulled the refrigerator door open, grabbing the jug of apple juice off the top shelf. He held it up, silently offering Evan a drink. Evan ignored him, preferring to continue with his enthusiastic, “Park, park, park!”
Shaking his head, Bas shrugged and sucked down half the bottle before a light pinch on his side made him jerk away, nearly spilling the juice down his chest as he spun away from his mother’s probing fingers. “Mo-om,” he complained, screwing the cap onto the juice once more. “You’d have felt bad if I dropped Evan, wouldn’t you?”
“No drinking out of the bottle, Sebastian,” Gin chided, taking the bottle and sticking it back into the refrigerator again. “Use a glass—and you wouldn’t drop your brother.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Bas grumbled. “But I could have . . .”
“Park, park, park!” Evan hollered, bouncing up and down to punctuate his words.
“Stop choking me, you little brat,” Bas gasped out, carefully digging his hands under Evan’s arm to loosen his brother’s death grip around his neck.
“Oh, maybe I’ll take you to the park this afternoon,” Gin said absently as she dug through the freezer trying to decide what to get out to thaw for dinner.
“Bubby take me to the park!” Evan insisted. “Bubby, Bubby, Bubby!”
Bas made a face, pulling Evan’s arms apart to set him back on his feet again.
“Jilli likes the park, too,” three year-old Jillian Zelig said as she slipped into the kitchen and climbed onto one of the high barstools. Hair pulled back into high piggy tails on either side of her head, she looked fresh and neat in a crisp, pale blue jumper dress.
Bas sighed, shaking his head slightly as he cracked a little grin. “You want to go to the park, Jilli?” he mumbled, glancing at his mother to make sure she wasn’t looking before retrieving the bottle of apple juice from the refrigerator once more.
“Yeah!” she exclaimed quietly, pale blue eyes bright as a brilliant smile surfaced on her little face.
“Me, too? Me, too? Me, too?” Evan demanded, yanking on Bas’ hand.
“Yeah, yeah. You, too,” he agreed.
“We can play football?” Evan asked cautiously.
Bas chuckled. “Yeah, all right. Go get your Nerf ball.”
Evan’s little face shifted into a concentrated scowl. “You’ll play wif me?”
“Yes, I’ll play with you,” Bas agreed.
“You promise? Just you ‘n’ me?”
Bas rolled his eyes but nodded. “I promise—just you ‘n’ me.”
“Yeah, yeah, exactly like pals . . . just go get your Nerf ball, will you?”
Evan’s smile was instantaneous and brilliant. “Okay!”
“That’s so sweet of you, Sebastian,” Gin approved warmly, reaching up to pat her son’s cheek with a tender hand. “Doesn’t mean you can drink out of the container, but it is awfully sweet.”
“I can be sweet sometimes,” Bas grumbled, but grinned as Gin took the juice from him and poured it into a glass.
“Here, let me give you some money, but don’t go overboard with the ice cream . . . if they don’t eat supper tonight, I’ll know why.”
“Okay, Mom,” he said. Jillian got to her knees and leaned over the counter as far as she could, snagging the glass out of Bas’ grip and wrapping both of her dimpled hands around it, draining the juice before Bas could protest. “Care if I take the golf cart?”
Jillian shot him a sidelong glance. He could feel the lecture forming. “Okay, but you know the rules: Evan and Jillian have to be buckled in, and you be careful! I mean it!”
Bas nodded. “Yeah, I know . . . I could always take your car . . .”
“Very funny, young man!” she scolded as she turned to face him, hands on hips as she slowly shook her head. “You might not look like a thirteen year-old, but you are, and best you remember that!”
“You know, I doubt I’d get in much trouble if I did take your car,” he pointed out. “I know how to drive.”
Gin rolled her eyes. “Just because your father lets you drive doesn’t mean your mother will. You’re not allowed to—not legally—until you’re sixteen—”
“I can get my permit when I’m fifteen,” Bas pointed out reasonably.
Gin wrinkled her nose. “Which won’t be for another couple years—”
“Year and a half, tops.”
“At least you won’t have to run me to and from football practice,” he pointed out.
Gin giggled. “I love taking you to practice.”
Bas stifled a groan since she normally did take him to practice—then she sat there and watched said-practice, yelling her head off whenever she disagreed with the coach. Brought up in Japan, one would think that Gin Izayoi Zelig wouldn’t be as great a football fan as she was, but no . . . something about the bone crunching tackles and the general roughness of the game seemed to inspire her . . . Maybe it reminded her of the old man—InuYasha—as well as Uncle Ryomaru and Uncle Kichiro, two of her three brothers . . .
Evan sprinted back into the kitchen with his blue and white University of Maine football tucked under one arm with a clean, white U of M tee-shirt and shorts and matching baseball cap smashed down on his little head. Jillian squeaked upon seeing Evan, all decked out in his U of M clothes, and she hopped off the stool, skittering from the room as quickly as her little legs would carry her.
“What are the odds that she’s not changing clothes?” Bas grumbled, planting his hands on his hips as he scowled at the ruckus of his sister on the staircase.
Gin laughed, rubbing Bas’ back in a consoling way. “It’s so sweet of you to take them to the park,” she said once more.
“Who’s going to the park?” Cain Zelig asked as he shuffled into the kitchen.
Bas rolled his eyes as his father headed straight for the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting that stood on the raised cake stand in the middle of the counter. “I want a piece of that,” he said, gesturing at the cake and knowing what the answer was going to be before he bothered to say it.
“Hmmm, I’ll think about it. Ask me when this one’s gone,” Cain replied.
Bas grinned. He didn’t really want a piece of the cake anyway, but teasing his father . . . that was always worth a chuckle or two . . .
“Cake, cake, cake!” Evan hollered, hopping up and down as he raised his arms to his mother, dropping the football on the floor in lieu of the forbidden treat.
“Maybe just a little slice,” Gin mused.
“Pfft!” Cain snorted, stuffing a huge bite of cake into his mouth. “No.”
“Ith mine,” he pointed out around the huge mouthful.
Gin wrinkled her nose. “It’s just a little bit,” she pointed out.
Cain shot her a raised-eyebrow-ed look. “Sure it is . . . a little bit for Evan, a little bit for Bas, and then Jillian’ll come in here, see them having some, and she’ll want a little bit, too. Before you know it, they’ve eaten all of my cake, leaving me with nothing . . . Forget it, baby girl. There are some things in this world that can and should remain sacred.”
“But they’re your children, and you adore your children,” Gin pointed out reasonably.
“Sure, and yes . . . not enough to share my cake, though . . .” Cain muttered as he pulled the refrigerator open, grabbed the carton of milk, and proceeded to down it straight out of the container.
Gin rolled her eyes and gave up since the subject of sharing his cake just never made much of a difference to the North American tai-youkai. “That’s where Sebastian gets it,” she pointed out solemnly—or at least as solemnly as Gin ever was able to manage. “Use a glass, Zelig-sensei.
Cain snorted and kept chugging. He only drank milk when he ate cake, and even then, he was the only one in the house including Gin who would willingly touch the stuff. All the same, Gin always made sure that there was some in the house, though Bas figured that was because she sometimes needed it for cooking.
Bas rolled his eyes when Jillian skipped back into the kitchen once more, and she had changed clothes into the little cheerleading dress that Gin had bought for her birthday about a week ago. “Jilli can go now,” she informed him, smiling sweetly as she held her dress out and turned from side to side for his inspection.
“All right,” Bas agreed, rinsing his glass out and setting it upside down on the clean white towel beside the sink. “But you have to listen to me, you got that?”
Jillian nodded once—a grand gesture of acquiescence. “Jilli listens to Bassie,” she stated, her pale blue eyes wide and serious.
“You, too, Evan . . . When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”
Evan didn’t answer, and Bas sighed.
“He’ll listen,” Gin assured him. “Won’t you, my little angel baby?”
Evan smiled up at his mother before darting over to climb Cain’s back. Slinging his arms around his father’s neck, he hung there, bracing his knees against Cain’s lower back and bouncing quite happily. “Park, park, park!” he hollered.
“Gah! You’re choking me,” Cain rasped out, pulling Evan’s little hands apart and holding onto his wrists. “Little ape.”
Gin giggled, leaning on Cain’s shoulder to kiss Evan’s cheek. “Be a good boy for your brother, Evan, and watch out for Jillian, okay?”
“Jilli, Jilli, Jilli!” Evan sang.
Bas rolled his eyes again and grabbed Evan around the waist, pulling him off his father’s back. “Come on, if you want to go to the park,” he said, “before I change my mind . . .”
“Race, race, race!” Evan hollered, lightly slapping Jillian’s arm before taking off at break-neck speed in his haste to beat his younger sister to the golf cart parked in front of the Zelig mansion.
Cain tossed Bas the keys and leveled a look at him. “Keep them out of trouble, Bas.”
Bas nodded, catching the ring in his teeth and spitting it out into his hand. “Yes, sir.”
Gin smiled, leaning against the counter as she watched Bas stride out of the kitchen. “He’s a good big brother, isn’t he?” she mused.
Cain shrugged. “Sure.”
“Oh, the house is so quiet when they go,” she went on with a wistful sigh.
Cain stole a glance at his mate as the barest hint of a smile touched his lips. “Quiet, huh?” he drawled as he crossed his arms over his chest, his smile taking on a more devious light.
Gin didn’t notice as she slowly shook her head. “I don’t even want to think about what this place will be like in twenty years.”
“You know, baby girl,” Cain began slowly, grasping her elbow and turning her to face him.
“There’s still the matter of you trying to give my cake away.”
Gin rolled her eyes. “Oh, Cain! They’re your children! They should be allowed to have some cake, too.”
“Maybe,” he said in a tone that bespoke his disagreement with that particular notion. “Still, you make those cakes for me, remember?”
She giggled, leaning into him as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “And the children are a part of you.”
He snorted. “Pfft! You’re my cake fairy, or did you forget? Anyway, if it’s all the same, I think you should be punished for that . . .”
“P-punished?” she echoed, her breath catching as her eyes lit up at the challenge in his words.
Cain nodded slowly, letting his arms drop as he draped his hands on his lean hips. “One.”
Gin’s eyes flared wide, and she held up her hands but didn’t try to run. “But—”
“This is hardly fair, don’t you think? I mean, come on, Zelig-sensei . . .”
She retreated a step and shook her head. “Cain!”
With a tiny squeak, she carted around and dashed out of the room as Cain’s grin widened. Shuffling after her, he took his time, figuring that maybe this once, he’d let her get to the bedroom before he caught her.
“Bubby’s too slow!” Evan goaded as he waved the football in the air between his chubby hands and wiggled his butt in a mocking dance.
Bas quirked an eyebrow and almost smiled at Evan’s antics—at least he’d stopped repeating one word over and over . . . “Better run, Evan,” he said as he sauntered over to intercept his sibling.
“Run, Jilli! I frow it! I frow it!” Evan yelled.
Glancing over his shoulder in time to see Jillian skip away, Bas chuckled. Jillian wouldn’t catch the ball. She never did. Evan grunted as he hefted the ball heavenward, and Bas stopped, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched the ball sail over his head. Jillian squealed, throwing her arms up to cover her head but stopped when the ball thumped onto the ground before scooping it up and skipping toward their ‘end zone’—in this case, the monkey bars.
Two long strides was all it took to intercept Jillian. Scooping her off the ground, Bas tossed her over his head. She screamed but laughed as he caught her, ticking her sides with his carefully curled knuckles as she kicked and shrieked helplessly.
“Tickle me, Bubby!” Evan hollered, latching onto Bas’ leg and tugging.
“Oh, yeah, you little runt?” Bas growled, setting Jillian on her feet before nabbing Evan as the child tried to dash away. Evan growled but the effect was undermined completely when he screamed in laughter as Bas started tickling him, instead. “Say ‘uncle’,” Bas insisted.
Evan giggled insanely. “No-o-o!” he yelled.
Bas tickled more. “You gotta say ‘uncle’.”
“Aunt!” Evan gasped out.
“Nope,” Bas replied with a chuckle.
Evan squirmed to gain his freedom to no avail as Jillian ran a few feet away to pick flowers.
“Whoa!” Bas exclaimed when the wiry child nearly slipped out of his grasp. Evan dug his claws into Bas’ shoulder. “Ouch! Watch the claws!” Bas grimaced.
“Sorry, Bubby,” Evan said, the amusement dying on his features as his fine eyebrows drew together in a consternated scowl. “Did you bleedin’?”
“‘Are’,” Bas corrected as he set Evan back on the ground and pulled the neckline of his tee-shirt to assess the damage. Four little red welts but no broken skin . . . Bas smacked the bill of Evan’s baseball cap. “Nope, no blood,” he said.
Evan didn’t look entirely placated, but he scrunched up his shoulders and shrugged. “You wanna play catch now, Bubby?”
“Okay,” Bas said. Evan let out a sound akin to a war whoop and ran off to retrieve the football again. An insistent tug on his hand made him look down, and Bas shook his head as Jillian stuffed a sorry-looking bouquet of wilting dandelions into his fist before skipping off toward the sand box to play with some other little girls.
Whipping around as color infiltrated his cheeks, Bas smiled bashfully as Holly Bessemore stopped just behind him. The light blue sweat suit she wore complimented her sparkling eyes, and she smiled back at him as she wiped her brow with the pushed up sleeve of the jacket.
“H-hi,” he stammered, crossing his arms over his chest and realizing too late that he still had a handful of dying flowers clasped in his fist. “Uh . . . my sister,” he explained, holding up the bright yellow blooms with a slight grimace marring his features.
Holly giggled and waved her hand. “That’s okay,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d see you here.”
“Yeah, well . . . my brother and sister wanted me to bring them.”
Her smile widened. “Your brother and sister? That’s so sweet!”
“Bubby!” Evan said, a plaintive note creeping into his tone as he shuffled over with the Nerf football. “You gonna play catch now?”
Bas shot him a cursory glance. “Yeah, in a second, okay?”
Evan frowned, glancing from Bas to Holly and back again. Tilting his head to the side, he scuffed his shoes in the dirt as he ambled toward Holly. “I’m Evan,” he said matter-of-factly. “Who are you?”
She spared a moment to smile at Bas before kneeling down, hands on knees. “I’m Holly . . . I’m a friend of Bas’.”
“You’re a girl,” Evan stated.
Bas peeked back at Jillian. She had her back toward him, and he dropped the flowers before turning to face Holly and Evan.
“And you’re a boy . . . a really cute boy,” Holly quipped.
Evan digested that for a moment then nodded. “You wanna play football with Bubby and me? You and me and Jilli because Bubby is bigger.”
Bas rolled his eyes but smiled, scratching his temple a little self-consciously as he caught Holly’s amused look and shrugged. “I don’t know, Evan . . .” he began.
“I can play football,” Holly interjected.
She pushed herself to her feet and nodded. “Of course I can!”
“Jilli! Come on!” Evan yelled, tapping his foot impatiently.
Jillian stood up, brushing off her dress before skipping over and skidding to a stop as she blinked up at Holly before ducking behind Bas’ legs.
He chuckled. “Come on, Jilli . . . this is Holly . . . she’s nice.”
Jillian peeked around Bas’ legs as though she were sizing Holly up. She must have decided that Holly was okay, because she shuffled out from behind him and clasped her hands behind her back, twisting her body from side to side without moving her feet. “I’m Jilli,” she said.
Holly giggled. “That’s a really pretty name.”
“Can we play ball now?” Evan asked.
“Okay, okay,” Bas agreed. “I promised I’d play with him,” he offered apologetically as Evan grabbed Jillian’s hand and darted off toward the open area in the center of the park.
She smiled. “No, it’s fine . . . it’s nice to see such a dedicated big brother.”
She nodded as her smile took on a more timid air. “Yeah.”
The game was a farce. He’d figured it was going to be. He also figured out that while Holly was a cheerleader and did attend every football game, she didn’t really have a very good grasp on the sport that he adored. Still, did that matter when he’d had a crush on her for the last year?
‘No,’ he supposed as he shuffled after Evan to ‘tackle’ him. ‘No, it really doesn’t . . .’
Running over between plays to drop her warm-up jacket over the back of a nearby bench, Holly dashed back with a jaunty wave at a gaping Bas. She was wearing what amounted to a sports bra that barely covered her breasts, and as she waited for Evan to figure out just what he was going to do with the football, she rolled the waistband of her sweats down a couple times, revealing even more of her torso and leaving Bas with a drop-mouthed, rather stupid expression on his face.
She wasn’t well-developed, no, but by a thirteen year-old’s standards, she was fairly well-rounded, and it took Bas a moment to figure out that Evan had dashed past him with the football and was hollering from his place between the ends of the monkey bars.
“Bubby!” Evan complained as he stomped back over and stuffed the football into Bas’ slack hands. Holly giggled, and Bas blushed, realizing a moment too late that she’d caught him staring.
Bas cleared his throat and forced his gaze away as Evan scrambled up his back, smacking him hard on top of the head and announcing in a very loud voice that Bas was officially tackled. Bas shook his head as Evan dropped to the ground and swaggered over to Holly. “I tackle him!” he stated proudly. “I tackle Bubby!”
Holly giggled and shuffled her feet. “Better luck next time, Bubby,” she quipped.
Bas chuckled and tossed Evan the ball. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Jillian. She was sitting in the middle of a patch of dandelions with an expression of the utmost concentration on her face as she tried to decide which one was the best choice to pick.
Evan tossed the ball to Holly, who managed to catch the ball for once. Bas ran after her as Evan zipped past, heading over toward the monkey bars, waving his arms over his head. “Frow it, Holly!” he hollered.
Holly stopped and looked as though she might well be considering it, but she squeaked and started running again when she saw Bas closing in fast.
He grabbed her, slipping his arms around her waist, his strength bearing her down into the grass, managing to roll just in time to take the brunt of the fall, and grimacing when Holly’s knee smashed into the ground uncomfortably close to his groin. “Looks like you caught me,” she said, her voice breathless as her cheeks pinked.
“Yeah, I . . . I guess I did,” he agreed.
“I . . . don’t mind . . .” she admitted softly as the color in her skin intensified and the sparkle in her deep blue eyes brightened.
“You don’t . . .?”
She giggled, slipping her hands between them, bracing herself to lean back; to stare at him. “N-no . . .”
“Bu-u-u-ubby,” Evan complained, scuffing the toe of his shoe in the dirt. “Pla-a-ay.”
Holly’s eyebrows lifted as her smile turned a little teasing. “Your brother wants some attention, or so it seems,” she pointed out.
Bas felt the blood wash into his cheeks, and he swallowed hard as he stared at the girl who wasn’t even trying to move away from him. “Y-yeah,” he stammered as his face reddened even more. “He’s like that . . .”
Levering herself off of Bas’ chest, Holly hopped to her feet and dusted her hands off briskly. “Too bad . . . I was sort of hoping we could spend some time together.”
Bas was slower to rise. “Hey, Evan . . . why don’t you go swing awhile?” Bas called without looking away from the cheerleader.
“I don’t wanna swing,” Evan grumbled, stomping his foot hard enough to raise a cloud of dust. “I wanna play football! You promised!”
“That’s okay, Bas. I should probably get going, anyway,” Holly remarked, striding over to retrieve her warm-up jacket off the bench.
“Good!” Evan chirped, lifting his hand to wave in a deceptively sweet way. “Bye-bye, girl!”
Casting his gaze around wildly, desperate to keep Holly from leaving without breaking the promise he’d made to Evan in the process, Bas’ eyes widened when the music box trill of the ice cream truck’s PA drifted to him on the breeze. “Want ice cream, Evan?” he asked, praying the boy could be sidetracked. “Holly, wait . . . D-do you . . . you wouldn’t . . . I could b-buy you some ice cream . . .”
She pondered his offer as she slowly slipped her arm into the sleeve of the warm-up jacket. “I like ice cream,” she allowed slowly, her smile finally returning.
“Yeah? Okay,” Bas said, unable to keep the absolute relief out of his tone and hoping that she didn’t hear it and interpret it as desperation.
“Jilli can have ice cream, too?” Jillian asked, tugging Bas’ hand as a wide smile illuminated her pale blue eyes.
“Yes, you can have ice cream, too,” Bas allowed, smiling at the endearing way Jillian always referred to herself.
“I want Marvin the Martian!” Evan hollered, dashing around Bas and Jillian in a wide circle. “I want to bite his head off!”
Bas rolled his eyes but chuckled. It was always the same with Evan: he always wanted a Marvin the Martian shaped ice cream bar, and he always wanted to bite his head off. Come to think of it, Evan had actually gotten into a fist fight with a boy in his preschool class named Marvin, as well. ‘Must be something about guys named Marvin,’ Bas mused to himself as he picked Jillian up and headed toward the parking area where the ice cream truck always stopped.
Evan hopped around on one foot, waiting impatiently in line while Jillian rested her cheek against Bas’ shoulder with her index and middle fingers stuck in her mouth. Leaning back far enough to glance down at Jillian’s face, he chuckled softly when he saw that she was staring at Holly in a bashful sort of way. “It’s not nice to stare, Jilli,” Bas muttered under his breath.
Jillian giggled and nestled her head deeper under Bas’ chin.
“Can I help you?” the man inside the gaudily painted bright orange truck asked, leaning on the little counter with his head sticking out of the window.
“Marvin! Marvin! Marvin!” Evan hollered.
Bas waved a hand at his brother. “One Marvin the Martian ice cream bar . . . what do you want, Jilli?”
“Cup of white,” Jillian replied.
“One vanilla cup,” Bas went on. “Holly?”
“Oh . . . um . . . a Drumstick?”
The man nodded.
“That’s it,” Bas said.
The man disappeared from the window to retrieve the ice cream. Bas set Jillian on the ground and dug a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket, handing it to the man and taking the items from him in exchange. “Here, Evan,” he said, tossing the unwrapped treat to the boy. Evan caught it and took off running. He liked to sit under the dome-shaped climbing apparatus when he ate his ice cream. Holly took hers, and Bas held the ice cream cup out of Jillian’s reach while he took the change from the vendor and stuffed it into his pocket without bothering to count it. “Hold on, Jilli. I have to open it first.”
Jillian hopped after him as he strode over to the nearest trash can and pulled the paper cover off the little plastic cup. “Here,” he said, handing her both the ice cream as well as the little wooden paddle. She’d keep that paddle, Bas knew. She had a gazillion of them in a box in her bedroom, and despite the fact that it had to be completely unsanitary, Gin Zelig never seemed to complain about her daughter’s odd habit of collecting the silly little things.
“You don’t like ice cream?” Holly asked, dropping the wrapper from her Drumstick into the trash.
“I like ice cream,” he remarked as he watched Jillian carefully set her ice cream on a picnic table and climb onto the bench. “I just didn’t want any.”
Holly smiled, flicking out the tip of her tongue to lick the ice cream after nibbling away the waffle cone. “You know . . . I’ve been watching you for awhile now,” she admitted, ducking her chin as a secretive little smile .broke over her features.
“Y-yeah?” he asked, unable to keep the hint of a blush off his face at her softly uttered words.
“Yeah . . . You’re kind of different from other guys, aren’t you?”
Bas shrugged in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner. “Not so different,” he countered, scuffing his shoes in the dirt.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said with a slow shake of her head. “Most of the other guys are more interested in scoring with girls than anything else . . . You’re not like that.”
He almost grimaced at that since there was a very real reason why he wasn’t as forward when it came to girls: the embarrassing green crests that were painfully obvious on certain parts of his anatomy, for starters. Add to that the incessant teasing he’d had to endure for the last couple of years when his body had started to change, and, well . . . Bas made a face. No, as much as he liked Holly, he wasn’t at all certain that he was ready for anything very serious . . .
“Anyway, your brother and sister are just adorable,” she went on, not commenting on Bas’ sudden silence. Whether she realized his discomfort or not was debatable, though he couldn’t help but be grateful for the sudden change in topic.
“Yeah, they’re not so bad,” Bas allowed with a self-conscious grin as he craned his neck to glance back at Evan, who had already managed to decapitate Marvin the Martian.
“I always wanted a brother or sister,” Holly went on with a slight shrug. “Mom bought me dolls instead.”
“Jilli likes dolls!” Jillian announced happily, scooping the last of her ice cream out of the cup and popping it into her mouth.
“Jilli likes everything,” Bas countered.
Jillian giggled but didn’t argue his statement as she climbed down from the picnic table and leaned on the bench, rising onto her tiptoes so she could grasp the empty cup and the little wooden paddle. She stuck the paddle into Bas’ pocket in passing before tossing away the trash and skipping off toward the nearby swings.
“So your brother has long hair, too?”
Bas stuffed his hands into his pockets and followed Holly toward a bench swing close to Jillian. “Yep . . . My family’s kind of weird that way, I suppose.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen your dad before.” She laughed, bracing her feet against the ground and pushing back. “It’s amazing, just how much you look like him.”
“You think so?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“I guess so.”
Holly’s laughter died away slowly though the heightened brightness in her gaze didn’t diminish. Staring out over the serene park, she looked like she was anticipating something.
He cleared his throat. “So, um . . . you . . . do you like movies?” he asked quickly, unable to keep his face from reddening. It registered in the back of his mind that the way he’d stated the question hadn’t sounded entirely intelligent, and he grimaced.
“I love movies,” she blurted as she shot him a quick glance.
Bas blinked and shook his head, positive he was hearing things, after all. “Y-yeah? I do, too.”
Bas sighed. “I mean, if you like movies, and I like movies . . . maybe we could go see one . . . you know—together.”
“I’d like that,” she said quietly. “I’d really like that . . .”
“Bubby play football!” Evan demanded, striding over to stand in front of Bas and Holly with a rather confused look on his face.
“Did you throw your stick away, Evan?” Bas asked, wondering how it was that his brother could inadvertently manage to interrupt at just the wrong time every time.
Evan jerked his head once in a nod. “Trash goes in the trash, not in the grass,” he recited the words their mother quoted often, puffing himself up in a righteous stance as though he were imparting the gravest of secrets.
“Catch!” Evan insisted, chucking the ball at the center of Bas’ chest.
Bas caught it more out of reflex than anything else, and Evan giggled, hopping up and down while waving his arms in the air. “Frow it to me!” he insisted.
Bas shot Holly an apologetic glance before tossing the football half-way across the park.
Evan hollered happily and took off after the ball, leaving Holly and Bas alone, at least for the moment. “Maybe that’ll keep him busy awhile,” Bas mumbled.
Holly grinned. “You think so?”
“In a word? No. Evan’s a little hyper. It shouldn’t take him long to—oh, see? There he is.”
Holly followed the direction of Bas’ gaze and laughed when she saw the pup running back with the football tucked neatly under his arm. “I gots it, Bubby!” Evan hollered with a wide grin.
“Yeah, you did,” Bas agreed evenly. “Toss it here.”
Evan did, and Bas had to lean forward to catch it. “Here,” he said, hurling the football away once more.
“Okay!” Evan yelled as he careened around to chase it.
“I can’t believe how adorable your brother and sister are,” Holly stated once more as she watched Evan. “They don’t really look like you at all, though.”
Bas shrugged offhandedly. “I guess I look more like Dad,” he allowed.
“Oh, right . . . I saw your father at one of the meet the teacher nights . . . Fourth grade, if I remember right . . .” She shrugged simply. “Guess I don’t remember seeing your mom.”
“Mom? She’s always at the games and practices . . . Really short with long silver hair . . .”
Holly looked surprised. “That’s your mom?”
“Oh . . . I just thought she was an upper-classman . . .”
“Ha . . . nope. That’s my mom.”
Bas blinked and shook his head, preferring to let the subject of his unnaturally young-looking parents drop.
‘You think that’s tough? What do you think she’d do if you told her that your father’s nearly four-hundred years old?’ his youkai blood commented.
‘Shut up,’ Bas grumbled in his head.
‘Yeah, yeah . . .’
Wracking his brain for a change of topic, Bas latched onto the first thing that crossed his mind, hoping that Holly wouldn’t notice the abruptness. “You remember that far back? To the fourth grade?”
Holly nodded, her cheeks pinking as her gaze skittered away to stare at the ground. “Yeah . . . that was the first year I noticed you . . .”
“Uh . . . oh?”
She giggled a little self-consciously. “Anyway, I’m glad I saw you today . . . and I’d love to go to the movies with you sometime.”
“I-I-I’d like that, too,” Bas blurted, feeling his face warm under her close scrutiny.
If Holly noticed his discomfort, she didn’t remark on it, and Bas could only watch with his mouth hanging agape as she slowly, hesitantly reached out, placing her hand over his. Her palm was warm and dry—a stark contrast to his since he’d broken out into a nervous sort of sweat when he’d first broached the subject of going on a potential date with Holly.
“Bubby, play, play, play!” Evan demanded, stomping over with the football tucked neatly under his arm. Scowling at the two of them, he looked like was about ready to launch into a fit or worse.
Bas sighed. “Evan, why don’t you go play with Jilli?”
The child wrinkled his nose as his expression turned mulish. “I don’t wanna play wif Jilli! You promised you’d play wif me! You promised!”
“I can play with you,” Holly offered, leaning forward, shoulders scrunched up with her elbows on her knees.
Evan shot her a suspect glance then smiled suddenly, trotting over and climbing onto the bench beside her then nudging her back with his head as he ferreted his way onto her lap. “You can be my girlfriend!” he announced proudly.
Holly laughed. “Can I?”
Evan nodded proudly as Bas narrowed his gaze on his demon-spawn sibling. “Holly can come live wif me and make cake for me!”
Bas snorted. “Yeah . . . Mom and Dad would love having someone else sleeping with them all the time,” he muttered since Evan, at three years-old, had still not outgrown that particular habit.
“Holly’s my girlfriend,” Evan stated loudly, resting his cheek against Holly’s shoulder, much to Bas’ irritation. “Bubby go ‘way!”
“Aww, I like having him here,” Holly ventured, obviously enjoying the attention she was receiving from both Evan and Bas despite Bas’ wish that the ground would open up and swallow Evan whole.
“Bubby lied,” Evan stated solemnly. “Bubby said he would play wif me, and he won’t. That’s a lie, Mama said. If you say you’ll do something and don’t do it, then that’s a big—fat—lie.”
“All right, come on,” Bas said, pushing himself to his feet and gesturing for Evan to follow him.
Evan thought it over for a moment, his little face scrunching up as he considered his options. He must have decided that playing with Bas had more potential for enjoyment, and after leaning up to smack a loud kiss on Holly’s cheek, he wriggled off her lap and darted over to his brother. “We can play hide and seek!” Evan hollered, waving his hands in the air in his excitement. “Jilli! Hide and seek, Jilli!”
Jillian looked up from her task of picking dandelions and dropped the handful she’d collected before skipping over to join the game, little silvery pigtails bouncing up and down as she trotted along. “Bassie, it!” she proclaimed, tapping his hand as she darted past him.
“No peekin’!” Evan insisted as he grabbed Jillian’s hand and took off with her.
“Not so fast! You’ll make her fall!” Bas called after Evan who slowed his pace so that he wasn’t dragging his sister along after him. Bas shook his head and glanced over at Holly before slowly ambling back over to the bench swing and sitting down once more.
“Shouldn’t you be counting?” she asked.
Bas shrugged. “Nah . . . I won’t have any trouble finding them.”
“Awfully confident,” she countered with a little grin.
Bas smiled, too. He knew better than to try to explain it to Holly, after all, and Evan normally complained whenever they played hide and seek since Bas could and did use his nose to sniff out his siblings without any real effort. Call it a perk from being born a dog-hanyou, at least, technically speaking. Holly was a human, though, and Bas had been taught from early on that he could not go around arbitrarily telling humans about the youkai and hanyous in the world. “It could be dangerous,” was all Cain had ever really said. It had been enough of an explanation for Bas.
Holly scooted closer to him, casting him a somewhat calculated sidelong glance. “Are you sure you didn’t send them off to hide just so you could have me all to yourself?” she teased.
Bas cleared his throat, tapping his right foot nervously as he hunched forward, staring at the packed gravel under his feet. “W—I—uh—no!” he stammered.
“Oh . . . that’s a shame,” she went on lightly. “I would have been rather flattered if you had.”
She nodded, sticking out her bottom lip and exhaling. Bas grinned, watching as her bangs shot straight up in the air with the force of her breath before drifting back into place a moment later. “Uh-huh.”
“Well . . . I . . . I kind of did,” he admitted.
Holly laughed. “You’re a funny guy, Bas Zelig.”
He chuckled a little self-consciously. “You have no idea . . ."
“I don’t know . . . I like funny guys.”
She leaned in closer—close enough that Bas could feel the heat radiating off her skin. Her tongue darted out to dampen her lips as though her mouth had suddenly gone dry. His had, for that matter, just moments after the natural ability to breathe disappeared . . . Closer and closer . . . his heartbeat sped up, hammering hard, erratically against his ribcage.
“Bassie,” Jillian’s sing-song voice interjected.
Bas stifled a sigh and cleared his throat as he dragged his eyes away to look at his baby sister. Standing before him with her fists curled around handfuls of her pleated cheerleader’s skirt, she twisted from side to side with a bashful smile on her cherubic little face and a light blush tinting her cheeks a dusty pink. “What?” he demanded though not unkindly.
Jillian shuffled closer, casting Holly quick glances. Bas couldn’t help the small smile that surfaced. It wasn’t that Jillian was shy, exactly, but she tended to be a little reluctant when she first met people . . . “Evan’s hiding,” she said, leaning up on her tiptoes and cupping her hand around her mouth to whisper in Bas’ ear.
“Sure, he is,” Bas replied with a shake of his head. “We’re playing hide and seek, aren’t we?”
Jillian shook her head, smacking Bas in the face with one of her jaunty pig-tails. “No . . . he’s stuck,” she reiterated.
She nodded, her pale blue eyes wide and solemn. “Stuck!”
“There,” she said, twisting her body as she lifted her arm to point at the branches of a very tall, very stout ash tree. The closest limb was easily fifteen feet off the ground, and Bas stifled a groan as Holly shot to her feet, covering her mouth with both hands as her eyes flashed open wide, as her harsh gasp whistled in the air.
“I’ll get him,” Bas grumbled, pushing himself to his feet and starting toward the tree, wondering how many witnesses besides Holly there was going to be should he decide to maim his brother after he talked Evan down.
“Maybe you should call the fire department,” Holly fretted, wringing her hands in a decidedly nervous fashion.
“Uh, no . . . I can get him,” Bas grumbled. ‘It’d serve the little shit right,’ he thought with a grimace, ‘if I called Dad to come get the little miscreant . . . after all, Mom and Dad were the ones who thought having Evan was a good idea . . .’
‘Sure, except your mother will be all upset that her ‘angel baby’ is stuck up in a tree, and you really hate to upset your mother.’
Bas snorted as he stomped around the trunk, trying to figure out if there was any way he could get the brat without making it seem obvious that he could do things that normal humans weren’t supposed to be able to do . . . ‘Shuddup.’
Evan cautiously leaned to the side, peering down from the branch where he was sprawled with his arms and legs wrapped securely around the limb and a completely freaked out look on his tiny little face. “Bubby! Help me! I stuck!” he called down, his expression an almost comical mix of acute embarrassment and fear that might have made Bas laugh—if he weren’t so irritated with the boy.
“Evan! Damn it! Get down here!” Bas growled.
Evan’s arms and legs tightened around the branch, and he stubbornly shook his head. “Help me!” he whined.
Bas could hear the tears thickening in Evan’s voice, and he sighed, raking a hand through his bangs. “Okay, then jump,” he called up. “I’ll catch you.”
The head-shaking grew more emphatic, and Bas had to tamp down the desire to growl in abject frustration. That desire was exacerbated moments later when the salty smell of fresh tears infiltrated his nose. “I swear I’ll catch you,” Bas said, hoping that he sounded calmer than he felt. “I promise.”
Evan sniffled loudly, refusing to let go of the branch. “You never keep promises,” Evan wailed miserably. “You’ll drop me for positive!”
“Damn it, you little ass monkey! Just fucking drop already, will you?” Bas snarled, lifting his arms as Evan’s howling escalated.
“No-o-o-o!” Evan cried.
“Here,” Holly cut in, touching Bas’ arm in an entirely placating sort of way. “I’ll call the fire department.”
Grimacing as the horrific thought of the screaming sirens of the local fire trucks as well as the absolute spectacle the entire situation would create, Bas shook his head again and drew a deep breath, willing away his rampant frustration—no small task, that . . . “Come on, Evan. I’ll catch you, I swear—” ‘If I didn’t, Mom would kill me . . . she likes him for some ungodly reason . . .’ “—then we can go home . . . Mom’s probably about finished with dinner . . .”
“I want my mommy!” Evan bawled.
Bas could have kicked himself for bringing up their mother. Shaking his head at Evan’s contorted expression, he heaved another sigh and dug into his pocket for his cell phone. “Hold on, Evan. I’ll call Mom and Dad . . . of course, they’ll decide that you’re too big a baby to go to the park anymore,” Bas went on under his breath as he wondered if that wasn’t really such a bad thing . . . Jillian was much easier to manage, after all. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he sighed again. Jillian was pacing around under the tree, wringing her little hands as she stared up at the spectacle Evan was making.
Evan’s sniffling stopped abruptly, and Bas grimaced again when Evan sniffled loud. “I . . . I can jump,” he blurted, obviously having heard Bas’ dire assessment. “I jump,” he stated once more.
Holly’s hand tightened around the handful of Bas’ sleeve. “Is that really a good idea?” she whispered, her face pale, her eyes frightened.
Bas shrugged. “I can catch him,” he grumbled, brushing off the stab of irritation that she doubted his ability to take care of his sibling.
Holly winced. “Yeah, but you’re used to throwing things, not catching them,” she pointed out.”
Bas snorted, figuring that her comment didn’t even dignify a response. Lifting his face, he pursed his lips together for a moment before shaking off Holly’s hand and holding up his arms. “All right, brat. Let go.”
Evan looked like he was going to chicken out. Squeezing his eyes closed, scrunching up his face, his arms tightened a little bit before he forced himself to let go, slipping off the branch and plunging toward the ground.
Bas lunged forward, hitting his knees in the dirt beneath the branch, but he caught Evan easily enough. The late realization that he was safe and close enough to being on the ground resulted in a fresh wash of sobs as Evan threw his arms around Bas’ neck and wailed, burying his face against Bas’ chest as his little body shook. “It’s all right, Evan,” Bas grumbled, hating the spectacle that his brother was creating. Strangers were stopping to stare, and every time Bas tried to pry Evan’s arms from around his throat, the boy’s sobs grew louder. Bas rubbed Evan’s back rather clumsily while Jillian made soothing noises—a fair imitation of their mother.
“It’s okay, Evvie,” Jillian said, squatting down beside the brothers and shooting Bas an imploring look before frowning solemnly at Evan. “Bassie caught you! It’s okay!”
It seemed like it took forever before Evan’s wails trailed off into hiccups and stunted breathing, and with a tumultuous sigh that wracked his little body, he wiped his face on Bas’ chest and leaned away.
Grimacing at the mess of his once-clean shirt, Bas set Evan on his feet and slowly stood up. “You better now?” he asked though not unkindly.
Evan wiped his eyes with balled-up fists and nodded. “I’m okay,” he whimpered.
“Good. No more trees, all right?”
Evan sniffled and made a face when Jillian threw her arms around him. “You can play wif Jilli!” she announced matter-of-factly. “Evvie and Jilli pick fwowers!”
“Football . . .?” Evan asked cautiously, peering up through the thick fringe of tear-spiky eyelashes to meet Bas’ gaze.
Bas sighed and nodded, deciding that in his current frame of mind that there was too good a chance that Evan would flip out again if he said no. “All right,” he agreed, casting Holly an almost scared glance. “You, uh . . . you want to hang out a little longer?”
Holly thought it over, her gaze darting to the side—toward home, Bas figured—before answering. “For awhile longer,” she allowed, a timid smile brightening her eyes when she finally looked at him once more.
It was only then that Bas released the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. His arms and legs felt oddly wobbly as late relief surged through him. Evan was hanyou—at least technically—of course, but . . .
But he was also a child, and fifteen feet would have been a hell of a fall if he’d hit the ground. Then, too, Bas couldn’t help but be a little thankful that Holly hadn’t thought to wonder just how Evan had gotten up on that branch, to start with. With any luck, the question wouldn’t occur to her, either . . .
He sighed. All he wanted was a little time alone to talk to Holly. Maybe he could find another way to distract his brother . . . Maybe . . .
The distraction didn’t last nearly long enough. In fact, it hadn’t lasted more than five minutes, much to Bas’ chagrin. It took him a few minutes to talk Evan into resuming the game of hide and seek, and after the first couple rounds, Bas let himself be ‘found’, giving him yet another opportunity to speak with Holly, one on one.
Evan gave up after five minutes when it occurred to him that Bas had dropped out of the game. Then he’d crept up behind the bench where Bas and Holly were talking and started plucking hairs off Bas’ head.
“Knock that off, Evan,” Bas growled, reaching over the back of the bench to grab at his brother.
Evan was quicker, darting away before Bas caught him. Holding his hands up on either side of his head, he stuck his thumbs in his ears, popped out his tongue, and, wiggling his fingers around, announced, “Nah, nah! Bubby’s gots a big ol’ butt!”
Holly’s laughter cut him off, and Bas narrowed his eyes at Evan in silent warning before turning his attention back to Holly again. “Maybe I should be glad I don’t have a little brother,” Holly teased with a wink.
Bas grunted, cheeks pinking as he checked his watch and stifled a sigh. “Yeah . . . he can be a regular pest.”
“Bubby play football with me!” Evan stated loudly, stomping his feet in the grass. “Football, football, football . . .”
Holly giggled and stood up. “Anyway, I’d better get going . . . maybe you can give me a call sometime?”
“I can call you!” Evan interjected, dashing over to grab Holly’s hand and tugging on her arm.
“Knock it off, you pest,” Bas grumbled, reaching for Evan’s arm. “We’ve got to get going, too.”
Evan’s face shifted into an angry scowl, and he shook his head before jerking away from Bas. “We didn’t get to play football,” he protested.
“Yes, we did,” Bas reminded him. “We played football for awhile. It’s time to go now. Come on.”
“No!” Evan shouted, retreating even further. “Not until we play football!"
‘What are the odds that I could convince Mom and Dad that they just thought they had another son?’ Bas wondered, unable to staunch the frustrated growl that welled up in his throat as Evan turned on his heel and darted away toward the hulking wooden jungle gym in the middle of the park.
“Uh, would you mind keeping an eye on Jilli for a minute?” Bas asked, making a mental list of ways he could potentially get rid of Evan permanently without having to suffer the consequences.
Holly nodded. “O-okay,” she agreed, raising her voice since Bas hadn’t really waited for an answer before taking off after his errant brother.
Evan glanced over his shoulder in time to see Bas giving chase, and like a streak, he climbed the steps onto the platform high overhead. He could take the fireman’s pole down to the ground or the sturdy plastic pipe that led to another turret, and if he made it that far, he’d likely take the covered slide into the covered pit filled with brightly colored plastic balls.
Muttering dire curses under his breath since Bas knew—just knew—that he was going to end up looking completely foolish, he grabbed the handrail and ran up the steps after Evan, who was on his hands and knees at the opening of the five-foot pipe that joined the two sides of the structure. Spotting Bas, or more likely, the irritated, pinched look on Bas’ face, Evan yelped and scooted into the pipe—and stopped.
Heaving a sigh, Bas hunkered down by the opening and grasped the pipe, bending down to peer inside. “Come on, damn it! Get your ass out of there. Now.”
A high-pitched whine escaped the child, and from his vantage point, Bas could see Evan shake his head. “Uh-uh,” he stated.
“Why the hell not?” Bas snarled.
Evan flinched. “You’re gonna beat me!” he hollered.
“I’m not going to beat you,” Bas bit out, reaching into the tube and grimacing as he struggled to intercept his brother, “much.”
Evan heard the added quantifier and let out a panicked shriek. Bas’ fingertips brushed against Evan’s arm moments before a frightened growl echoed through the air; seconds before Bas jerked his hand back with a startled gasp. He didn’t have to look to know that he was bleeding; that his devil-spawn of a brother had clawed him but good. The scent of his blood only served to heighten his escalating irritation, and with a loud grunt, Bas swung his hand, latching onto Evan’s arm, and jerked the boy out of the tube despite Evan’s ear-piercing shrieks.
“Shut the hell up, you little fucker!” Bas growled low in Evan’s ear.
“You scratched me!” Evan blubbered, swinging his little fists at Bas as the latter dragged him roughly toward the steps and down to the ground.
Bas slapped Evan’s punches away, grasping his shoulder and shoving him in the general direction of the golf cart. “I’m going to do worse than scratch you if you don’t move—your—ass—right—now,” Bas snarled, shaking his hand and grimacing as a few droplets of blood arced through the air.
Evan whimpered and uttered a tiny growl—the sounds being completely at odds with one another—but kept moving. “I don’t wanna go home wif you!” Evan pouted, stomping his feet but walking just the same.
“Feeling’s mutual, brat,” Bas growled, shaking his hand again to alleviate the sting from the lacerations.
“It’s too high,” Evan grumbled, scuffing the toes of his shoes in the gravel beside the golf cart.
Bas rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh, yanking Evan rather roughly off the ground and thumping him down in the back seat. “Put your seat belt on or I will beat you,” he snarled, pausing long enough to get a good look at his damaged hand. The cuts weren’t deep, but they did ache. At least he hadn’t hit any veins . . .
“Bas!” Holly’s voice intruded, snapping Bas out of his irritated funk. His head snapped up, and he blinked at the absolute outrage on the girl’s pretty features. She held Jillian in her arms, and when Bas reached for his sister, Holly turned sideways; far enough to keep him at bay. “Weren’t you a little rough with him?” she demanded, her gaze skittering around as though she was trying to keep from making a spectacle of them.
Bas snorted, stepping toward Holly and neatly plucking a teary-eyed Jillian away before striding around the golf cart and setting the girl down a little heavily. “Buckle up, Jilli,” Bas growled, still too irked to modulate his tone as he stomped back around to the driver’s side once more. “As for your question? No, I don’t think I was ‘too rough’ with the little shit. He knows better. He’s just being a pain in my ass to be a pain in my ass.”
“Still, he’s just a little boy; not a sack of potatoes to be hauled around like that,” Holly maintained.
“It’s none of your business,” Bas grouched, draping his hands on his hips.
Holly scowled up at him, crossing her arms over her chest and slowly shaking her head. “I thought you were cool. I thought you were different. I thought you were a nice guy. I guess I was wrong, after all.”
“No, Holly, it’s just—”
“How could you be so mean to your brother? And your sister’s crying because she’s so upset!” Holly insisted.
Bas glanced around, grimacing inwardly when he realized just how many people were staring rather unabashedly at him, his siblings, and the girl who was busy lambasting him. “Hell, he’s lucky I brought him along with me,” Bas shot back, his exasperation reaching an apex. “I should have just left him home. Jilli would have been just fine, but no-o-o . . .”
“Then why’d you bring him if you didn’t want to?” she challenged.
“Because,” Bas bit out before he could stop himself, “Tom said you jog through the park every day, and I didn’t want to miss you!”
Holly’s mouth dropped open, and she shook her head. “You know, I think maybe I was wrong about you,” she said, her tone tight, even, as though she were dangerously close to . . . well, something. “You’re such a jerk! Using your brother and sister like that! I thought you were different! I thought . . . I . . . I . . . I . . . I never want to talk to you again!”
It was Bas’ mouth that dropped open, hanging agape as he watched in silence as Holly spun around and ran away. He wasn’t sure what she was so angry about, and it didn’t help that everyone and their uncle was staring at him. As the frustration subsided only to be nudged aside by acute humiliation, Bas heaved a disgusted sigh and climbed into the golf cart. Evan was sniffling in the back seat—Bas didn’t bother to check whether or not the little miscreant had his seatbelt fastened or not—and Jillian was whimpering quietly. She hated it when anyone was angry at someone else in the family, and Bas didn’t have to look to know that she was precariously close to tears, herself.
Turning the cart onto the road that ran parallel to the highway, Bas scanned the horizon and tightened his grip on the steering wheel, grimacing when the thin scab forming on his hand pulled open once more. Concentrating on the road, he let out a deep breath and slowly shook his head.
He should have known that taking Evan to the park was a bad idea. All he’d really wanted was a few minutes alone with Holly, and of course he couldn’t get that, not with the little brat constantly underfoot, reminding Bas that he’d ‘promised’ to play football with him. He scowled. He had played football with Evan, damn it. He’d played with him the entire time he was waiting for Holly to jog through the park . . .
Anyway, it just figured that the day had been a complete wash. Holly would never speak to him again, and worse, she’d probably tell all of her friends about it, too. No doubt about it, whatever reputation he had was ruined, he was certain. He’d be lucky if he ever dated anyone, ever . . .
“Does it hurt?” Jillian murmured, drawing Bas’ attention. He opened his mouth to answer, peeking back over his shoulder only to do a double-take when he realized that she hadn’t been talking to him. Flinching as he quickly pulled the golf cart over on the side of the road, Bas sighed yet again.
In the midst of his own frustration and too preoccupied by the scent of his own blood, he hadn’t realized that somewhere along the line, he’d cut Evan’s cheek with one of his claws.
Hopping out of the cart, Bas rummaged under the driver’s seat for the small but well-stocked first aid kit that Gin had installed before allowing anyone to ride in the cart. Though Cain and Bas had teased her about it, she had been adamant. Her mother, Kagome had instilled in her children that they should always have a first aid kit in the ready. It was likely a residual habit from her time spent in Sengoku Jidai with InuYasha, now Bas’ grandfather.
Tearing open a tiny packet containing an antibacterial wet-nap, Bas let the foil wrapper fall on the ground as he turned to face his still-sniffling brother. “Let me see,” Bas said, his voice much softer. Something about the sight of Evan’s blood coupled with the deep-rooted knowledge that Bas had hurt the child . . . he swallowed hard and carefully turned Evan’s face to get a better look. Evan resisted, but Bas was insistent, and with a shaking inhalation, Evan finally gave in.
Dried blood streaked his pale cheek, and a few stray strands of hair had gotten stuck to the slight ooze that was scabbing over fast. Bas grimaced, seeing no help for it as he carefully pulled the hair loose. Evan flinched but didn’t holler, and somehow, Bas felt all the worse for it. Wiping Evan’s cheek as gently as he could, he slowly inspected the wound. “Sorry, Evan,” Bas muttered. “I didn’t mean to cut you.”
Evan didn’t reply, but he did jerk his head once in a rather sullen nod. Bas stuffed the wet-nap in his pocket and retrieved a gauze pad. “Here. Blot your cheek with that, okay?” he said, sticking the pad in Evan’s hand.
Evan sniffled and nodded as Jillian scooted closer to Evan, slipping an arm around his shoulders. “It’s okay, Evvie,” she said as tears washed into her eyes. Bas could sense her absolute relief. As much as she’d hated the anger that she hadn’t understood, she knew intuitively that it had passed, and that was the reason she was ready to cry. “Bassie’s not mad no more,” she said, her tone taking on a placating calm, much like the tone their mother used whenever one of them fell down and scraped a knee. If she could have, she would have kissed Evan’s cheek, Bas supposed. Sometimes the girl was so much like Gin that it was frightening.
Bas dropped back into the driver’s seat and grabbed a travel size packet of tissues from the small compartment on the dashboard. “Dry your eyes, Jilli,” he said, almost in a monotone, sticking the packet into Jillian’s hand.
Pulling back onto the road once more, Bas heaved another sigh. One of the things that his father had always told him, had constantly reminded him was that, as a hanyou, he was stronger than a human, and as such, Bas had to take care to remember that he could easily hurt someone who was weaker, and in the midst of his irritation, he’d been careless. It didn’t matter if Evan scratched Bas first, and it wouldn’t matter that Bas hadn’t meant to do any such thing. The bottom line was the same: he’d inadvertently hurt Evan because he’d lost his temper.
‘No doubt about it,’ he thought ruefully as a man waved as he drove past. ‘Mom and Dad are going to kill me . . . and maybe . . .’ Bas trailed off with a wince as he rehashed the afternoon in his mind. Evan really had been very good, hadn’t he? At least, he had been until Bas brushed him off for Holly . . . ‘Maybe . . . I guess I deserve it . . .’
Cain shook his head and sat back in his chair, staring at his son long and hard as the seconds slipped away, punctuated by the soft tick from the antique clock on the mantle over the fireplace. To be completely honest, he wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the situation. Bas wasn’t being very forthcoming with information, and strangely, neither was Evan. The boy normally told Gin everything, and suddenly, there he’d been with his face smashed against his brother’s shoulder while Bas had struggled to carry both him and Jillian into the oceanfront mansion after their afternoon excursion to the park.
No, it wasn’t the trip that bothered Cain. It was the heavy scent of blood that did it. Bas’ injury was easy enough to spot. The bright red welts on his hand that were freshly scabbed over spoke volumes, but it had taken less than a second for him to discern the other scent: Evan’s blood.
And that had led to over an hour of pleading and cajoling on Gin’s part to get the child to let anyone see his cheek. The wound wasn’t deep, but Cain hadn’t missed the guilty expression on Bas’ face, either, and he didn’t suppose he was far off in assuming that something had happened between the two that had resulted in Bas’ hand wounds and Evan’s scraped cheek.
As it was, he’d just managed to talk Gin into spending some time with Jillian. The girl had been uncharacteristically sober since she’d gotten home, and Gin . . . well, she needed the diversion. Besides, Cain wasn’t entirely certain he could get answers out of Bas if his mother were sitting there, listening.
“So tell me what happened,” Cain finally said, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallen in the room after Gin’s reluctant departure.
Evan sniffled and rubbed his eyes, nestled close against his brother’s shoulder.
Bas sighed. “It was nothing,” he mumbled but couldn’t meet Cain’s gaze.
“Nothing?” Cain repeated, careful to keep his tone even. “You’re sure?”
Bas jerked his head once in a nod, scowling at the carpet beneath his feet. “Yes, sir.”
Cain nodded slowly, unable to make sense out of the situation. So far as he knew, Bas had never lied to him. That he was doing so now didn’t sit well with Cain; not at all. “Am I right in assuming that the two of you caused each other’s injuries?”
He didn’t miss the startled glance Bas shot him, and he didn’t miss the slight flinch that crossed his eldest son’s features, either. “No, sir,” Bas blurted. “I . . . they were my fault.”
“I . . . I lost my temper with him,” Bas admitted, an embarrassed flush rising in his cheeks as he cleared his throat and went on. “I scared him . . . he wasn’t trying to hurt me, and—”
“I was bad,” Evan interrupted, sitting up on his brother’s knee, his tiny face scrunched up in a self-disgusted scowl. “Bubby didn’t play football wif me, and I was mad . . .”
That made Bas grimace even more, and Cain simply shifted his gaze back to Bas once more and remained silent.
“I told him it was time to go, and he ran off, but . . . but he’s right. I promised him, and I . . . well, I . . . I kind of . . .” Bas winced, shrugging as though it were the only thing he really could do. “I lost my temper and scratched him as I was trying to drag him off the playground.”
Cain digested that in silence. Though he didn’t doubt for a moment that the entire thing could well have been accidental, he also couldn’t let it go, either, all things considered. Heaving a heavy sigh, he patted his pockets for a pack of cigarettes, realizing with a grimace that he’d told Gin that he’d stop smoking. “Tell me, Bas: what is it that I’ve always said?”
Bas cleared his throat and swallowed hard before answering. “That there is no such thing as an accident, and that it’s my responsibility to look out for those who are weaker than I am.”
“Mmm. Bas, Evan’s a lot smaller than you—a lot weaker than you. You cannot—cannot—lose your cool with him. You can’t.”
Cain paused, pinning his son with a doleful look; with an expression full of sadness and maybe a little disappointment. Bas winced and clenched his jaw so tightly that Cain could see it ticking. Evan whimpered and squeezed his eyes closed, burying his face against Bas’ shoulder once more.
“I . . . I’m sorry,” Bas muttered, his voice low, thick with emotion.
Cain nodded but didn’t respond to that right away. Standing up, he dug his hands deep into his pockets, letting out a deep breath as he shuffled over to the windows to stare at the moonlight reflecting off the ocean. “I know you are,” he finally said without turning away from the placid scene; the rising waves and the dancing ripples touched by a hint of silvery highlights, shimmering hues in the darkness. “Bas, you’ve always been bigger than everyone else, your age or otherwise. There cannot be mistakes; not when they involve you, and not when they involve your brother. Your mother . . . She loves you both. Think about what your ‘accident’ has done to her, will you?”
Bas forced himself to nod again. “Yes, sir,” he whispered.
Cain slowly shook his head as he turned back to face his sons. “And you, Evan . . . you never—never—raise your hand against someone in your own family . . . not like that. Sparring . . . practicing . . . that’s different. The thing is that you never strike anyone out of anger. Do you understand?”
Evan choked back a whimper, his deep blue eyes filling with tears that he stubbornly refused to let fall. “Okay,” he choked out.
Cain sighed. Either he was getting old and going senile, or girls were just simpler because he really couldn’t recall having had this sort of trouble when he was raising Bellaniece, at all. Being the ‘big heavy’ just wasn’t really his cup of tea, at least when it came to his children, but if he’d left the lecturing up to Gin . . . well . . . No, it was his responsibility, after all, even if he did loath it. “Come here,” he said not unkindly, gesturing for Evan to come to him. “Let me see your cheek.”
Evan hesitated but scooted off Bas’ lap, dragging his feet as he shuffled over to face his father as Cain knelt down and carefully lifted his son’s chin with a gentle hand. “Good. It should be healed up by morning,” he decided, letting his hand fall away before standing back up again. “Go get cleaned up. Your mother’s had dinner done for quite awhile."
Sensing that the worst was over, Evan scooted out of the study as quickly as his little legs would carry him. Bas stood up, too, but paused before following his brother. “I’m sorry, Dad,” he said once more, refusing to look Cain in the eye.
“I know,” Cain told him. “Just . . . just don’t let it happen again.”
Bas nodded and walked out of the study. Cain rubbed his forehead and sighed. ‘Boys,’ he thought as he headed for the door to go find Gin so that she could stop worrying. ‘Should have had more girls. They’re easier to deal with . . .’
‘Yeah, sure . . . too bad you don’t really mean that.'
Cain smiled slightly, spotting Gin sitting on the floor with Jillian in her lap. They were reading a book together; the absolute image of calm. ‘Yeah,’ he agreed, pausing just a moment before ambling over to his mate and youngest daughter. ‘I suppose not . . .’
“Is everything all right?” Gin asked, turning her anxious gaze on at Cain as he approached. Jillian’s eyelids were drooping, and she was struggling to stay awake.
“It’s fine,” Cain told her. “I think maybe they stayed at the park just a little too long, is all.”
She frowned but nodded, her shoulders slumping suddenly. “And they’ll both be more careful?”
“I think they will,” Cain assured her.
Gin sighed. “Good.”
Cain bent down and plucked Jillian off Gin’s lap, kissing her cheek soundly before holding out his hand to help his mate to her feet. She let him help her up, leaning on his arm for just a moment as the turbulence in her youki slowly settled. Cain hugged her for a moment, finally feeling his own tension loosening its grip. Kissing her forehead, he shot her a little smile. “Anyway, where’s dinner? I’m starving . . .”
The reminder startled Gin, and her eyes flashed open wide moments before she darted away from him, heading for the kitchen. “Oh, I hope it isn’t ruined!” she called back to him.
Jillian lifted her head and stared at Cain, her eyes troubled and bleary with sleepiness. “Bassie and Evvie aren’t mad no more?” she questioned.
Cain gave her a little squeeze and shook his head. The entire situation must have frightened her. She never had liked conflict very much . . . “They’re fine now, Jilli. Just fine . . .”
“. . . Are you mad at me?”
Lying on his bed, flat on his back with his hands tucked neatly behind his head, Bas turned his head and blinked as Evan poked his head into the room. Twisting his hand around and around in the hem of his Power Puppies pajama shirt, he looked a little frightened but completely determined, just the same. “Mad at you? No . . . are you . . . mad . . . at me?”
Evan shook his head quickly, digging his toes into the carpet under his feet. “No . . .”
“Good . . .”
Evan wrinkled his nose and scrunched up his shoulders. “Bubby . . .?”
“I . . . can I lay down wif you?”
Bas’ eyebrows shot up at Evan’s softly uttered question. He normally slept with their parents while Jillian ended up sleeping with Bas more often than not. Cain had tried to talk Evan into sleeping with Bas a few times, and it never worked before. That he was asking to now . . . Bas sat up slowly and nodded. “All right,” he agreed, inflicting just enough resignation into his tone to let Evan know that it wouldn’t be an every-night thing. “If you stick your feet in my face, though, I’ll kick you out of my bed.”
Evan giggled suddenly. It was the first time he’d laughed since they’d left the park. For some reason, the sound of it offered Bas a very real sense of relief as Evan scampered over and hopped up beside Bas. Bas’ puppy, Badd, lifted his head and glanced from Bas to Evan then back again as if he were asking just what the runt of the litter was doing in the bed.
Evan flopped down with a happy sigh, burying his face in one of Bas’ pillows and sticking his butt in the air.
Bas rolled his eyes but couldn’t help the little smile that surfaced as he swatted Evan’s rear end and flopped back.
Evan giggled louder and pushed the top of his head against Bas’ shoulder.
“Ouch,” Bas said though it didn’t really hurt at all, and his admonishment lacked any real irritation. “Lie still or you can sleep on the floor.”
“Floor, floor, floor . . .” Evan sang as he rooted around for another minute to make himself comfortable.
“This is why Dad keeps trying to get you out of his bed,” Bas pointed out when Evan nudged him with his butt in his continuing efforts to find the ‘perfect’ sleeping position.
“Daddy, daddy, daddy . . .”
Bas snorted as Evan finally settled down. Pulling the blanket up over his brother, Bas stared at him for a moment. Silver hair shining in the dim light of the lamp that Jillian insisted Bas leave on to ward off the boogeyman, Evan was almost asleep that quickly. “Hey,” Bas said as he tucked the blanket under Evan’s chin.
“Y-yeah?” Evan drawled, yawning but not opening his eyes.
Bas chuckled and lay back, tucking his hands behind his neck once more. “Tomorrow . . . we can play football all day, if you want."
“. . . Promise . . .?"
Pulling his hand out from behind his head, Bas stared thoughtfully at the thin red lines that were quickly disappearing. They’d be gone by morning . . . “I promise.”
“And I can make . . . cookies with Mama,” Evan slurred. “I share with you . . . promise . . .”
Bas smiled, draping his arm over his eyes as a wide yawn reminded him of just how tired he was, too. “‘Kay,” Bas murmured, or at least, he thought he did . . . He fell asleep too quickly to know for sure . . .
“Well, will you look at that . . .?”
Gin held her index finger up to her lips to shush Cain, lest he should wake up the two sleeping boys. “Let them sleep,” she whispered.
Cain rolled his eyes but smiled. “I don’t think anything could wake those two up right now.
“Maybe,” Gin agreed though she didn’t look completely convinced. Stepping away from Cain’s side, she pulled a thick fleece New England Patriots blanket off the closet shelf and carefully spread it over Bas before gently kissing her sons’ cheeks.
“Now for you, little girl,” Cain said, shifting Jillian to lay her down beside her brother in her usual spot.
Jillian slowly shook her head, pinning her father with a look that stated quite plainly that she was having none of that. “Evvie sleep wif Bassie; Jilli sleep wif Mommy an’ Daddy!” she announced.
“W—? But—” Cain began.
Gin giggled and reached out to take Jillian from Cain’s arms. “Of course you can sleep with Mama and Papa,” Gin crooned, turning on her heel and heading for the door since she was satisfied that the boys were fine for the night.
“Uh . . . wait! I mean—” Cain protested, heading off after his mate and daughter.
“Now, Cain, Evan’s sleeping with Sebastian, and it’s only fair if Jillian sleep with us tonight, instead. Besides, our bed would feel so empty without the babies, don’t you think?”
Cain snorted loudly but gave in. At the rate they were going, they’d never be sleeping alone, ever again . . .
Pausing in the doorway, he glanced back at his sons and narrowed his eyes for a moment before shaking his head and carefully pulling the door closed.
It figured. It really did. As if it weren’t bad enough that Jillian had decided she needed to take Evan’s place in their bed . . . Damned if Bas hadn’t been smiling in his sleep, too.
Marvin the Martian belongs to Warner Brothers Animation and Comics.
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Final Thought from Bas:
Blanket disclaimer for Guerrilla Warfare: I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.