Tuesday June 28, 2005
Cedar Hills neighborhood
“Goooood morning, sunshine!”
Boyd shot up in bed, his blond hair a mass of tangles and fluff. His golden eyes were wide, turning to the door even as his little Batman pajama shirt fell partially off his shoulder. Cedrick grinned and took great hopping strides into the room, all the way to the bed.
“How’s my favorite son today? Did you sleep well?”
Boyd rubbed at his eyes and frowned. “What are you doing, daddy?”
Cedrick threw himself onto the bed, looping his arms around Boyd and dragging him down with him. He hugged him close, rolling back and forth while Boyd let out a startled huff.
“Guess what I did already today, Boyd? Can you guess?”
“You didn’t even try!”
Boyd giggled as Cedrick shifted to ruffling his hair. “I don’t know!”
“Well, if you aren’t even going to guess I’ll just tell you. I called in sick for you and me.”
Boyd twisted around to look at Cedrick, amber eyes large and confused. “Why? I’m not sick. Are you?”
Cedrick had already run through his mind how he would handle this today, so he smiled and said, “No, but you do well in school and that should be rewarded. I’m instating a new system, where if you do super well, we’ll get to play hooky sometimes and go around together doing all the fun things we want. Besides,” he added, “this is just the summer academy right now. They won’t mind if you take one day off.”
Boyd frowned but it was more thoughtful than anything. “Then what are we doing today?”
“You’ll see!” Cedrick sat up and pulled Boyd along with him, absently smoothing down his hair. “Okay, get ready, buddy. I can help you with your hair. Do you want help with your clothes?”
“No.” Boyd scrunched up his face.
He had liked choosing his own clothes for a while now, preferring not to be treated like a little kid. Cedrick thought it was adorable, but didn’t say anything because Boyd Would Not Appreciate That.
“Alright, meet me in the kitchen when you’re ready. I’ll get breakfast going. You have any preferences today?”
Cedrick rolled off the bed and stood up, grinning wickedly down at his son. “Okayyyy, Belgian waffles covered in candy and whipped cream and powdered sugar, it is!”
Boyd scrambled to get off the bed. “No, daddy!” he called out, aghast, as if Cedrick had said he was off to kill a puppy. “I don’t want that!”
Cedrick laughed evilly as he left the room. When he heard the pad of little feet behind him he called over his shoulder, “Nope, you can’t come out until you get dressed! I’ll go make our super sweet, mega special waffles! Extra chocolate and ice cream on top!”
The feet slowed to a stop, then Boyd huffed so loudly Cedrick could hear it down the hall.
“No, I want oatmeal!” Boyd yelled, his voice getting more muffled as he ran back into his room. “I want plain oatmeal!”
Cedrick laughed under his breath and headed to the cupboards.
“Daddy, I want—!” There was a crash, and Cedrick froze, looking over his shoulder, listening intently for sounds of wailing or pain.
“You okay?” he called.
“I want oatmeal!” Boyd yelled indignantly.
“Okay but what happened?”
“I tripped on my pants.”
“Wow,” Cedrick said to himself with a laugh. Boyd was rarely clumsy. “The kid must really want some oatmeal today.”
He turned and walked fully back into the kitchen. “Okay, okay,” he yelled. “Be careful and take your time, okay? I’ll get the oatmeal ready for you.”
Boyd didn’t answer but Cedrick could hear him opening and closing drawers. Cedrick continued to listen with half his attention, just to make sure his kid was okay, while he went about making boring old oatmeal for his no-sense-of-taste son, and the sweetest cereal they owned for himself. He then resumed preparing the food and coffee he had started making earlier.
Vivienne walked into the kitchen just as he finished everything. She was almost completely ready for work, in her business casual blouse and skirt and with half her hair swept back off her face, but she hadn’t yet put on her shoes or grabbed her purse.
She swept her gaze across the table set for two, then accepted the plate he handed her with a tartine on it, and a mug of café au lait. She settled on the edge of one of their chairs, and set the plate on the table.
Taking a bite of the tartine, her eyelids slid closed in happiness. This early in the morning, Vivienne liked to take a moment to relax before she left for work. Cedrick knew this after years of living with her, and smiled fondly at the look on her face.
She sipped the café au lait, a slight pinching of her features marking her only indication of distaste.
“We need to get you an espresso machine.” He leaned over, pushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear and kissed her on the temple. “You and Boyd are both so ridiculously sensitive to sweet things.”
Her lips curved slightly, her eyelashes lowered. “You say that as if it is a bad thing.”
“It is. It’s terrible.”
“It is not.”
He watched the way her smile grew, a quiet and simple thing that always felt caught between them in a moment in time. He let out a soft laugh, his palm lingering warmly on the side of her neck. “You’re proud he got your taste buds, aren’t you?”
“Hmm.” Her lips quirked higher, a bit of mischief kept within her cool exterior. She looked up at him through her eyelashes, the mug caught between her palms and eyes so blue he felt like he was falling into the sky. She flicked her gaze across the oatmeal, the sugary-sweet cereal sitting in a bowl in front of Cedrick, and back up to him. “What is this?”
“Ah. I have plans for Boyd today.”
“You plan to stay home?”
“Yeah.” He looked over his shoulder, saw Boyd still hadn’t appeared, and leaned closer to her. He dropped his voice to a low rumble. “Remember what we talked about last night?”
“Yeah. You’re still okay with it?”
That slight pinch of her features, there and gone in seconds. She leaned back, gaze on the butter with a touch of honey spread across the baguette.
“Whatever you feel is best.” She took a bite of the tartine.
“You said the same thing last night.”
“So I did.”
“And you seem annoyed right now.”
“I am not.”
“Viv,” Cedrick said heavily, his eyebrows raising. “Don’t try that with me. I know your moods.”
She sighed. “It would be more of an annoyance to shift our plans, but on this topic, I will do what you feel is best.” She shot him a challenging look. “You know I will.”
“Yeah, I do.” He reached out, pushing baby hairs back from her face again.
Before he could decide on what to say next, Vivienne stiffened and looked past his shoulder. He turned and saw Boyd hovering in the doorway, one hand on the door jamb. His hair was a complete mess, but at least he had dressed himself. He had chosen a pair of dark blue pants, a red t-shirt with a plaid pocket, and his favorite little black fitted peacoat.
At the sight of him, Vivienne huffed out a sigh and set down her food. She stood and walked out of the room, expertly swaying around Boyd so they did not touch.
Boyd watched her go in silence and then turned to Cedrick, who smiled widely at him and waved him over.
“Come on, punk. Let me see what we’ve got here.”
Boyd smiled and walked over. When he was within reach, Cedrick dragged him closer and turned him all around exaggeratedly. “Well now! What have we here? Boyd Beaulieu is walking down the runway with a pair of designer pants, expertly made of water from the depths of the Mariana Trench. Only the finest for this young son of a former millionaire! This shirt is made from the ripest berries of the rare Unicorn Fruit—”
Boyd snickered and tried to wiggle out of his dad’s grasp. “No, it’s not!”
“—and the plaid pocket is made from compressing the rivers of the world where they crisscross over one another. It was taken directly from a space station roaming beyond our atmosphere.”
Boyd laughed when Cedrick reached under his coat and started crinkling his clothes.
“No it isn’t, daddy!”
“And this coat! It’s worth a thousand million dollars, forged from the shadows at the base of Mount Olympus—”
“You’re wrong! You’re wrong! It’s just clothes!” Boyd was snickering as he said it, and Cedrick grinned as he cuddled and ruffled his son.
“Like I said—only the highest quality for Boyd Beaulieu, superstar of the day, most beloved son of the world—”
“Stop it,” Boyd laughed.
Boyd and Cedrick both noticed at the same time that Vivienne had re-entered the room. Boyd paused, his laughter dying down, while Cedrick smiled up at her.
“Oh and look who we have here! Former millionaire Vivienne Beaulieu herself, heiress extraordinaire visiting us all the way from France. Tell us, Vivienne, what do you think of the unicorn and water and shadow ensemble your son has created for himself today?”
She looked down at Boyd and then up at Cedrick. “He will be too hot.”
Cedrick released Boyd and leaned back with a roll of his eyes. He’d thought the same thing but would it kill her to play along now and then? He hadn’t planned to actually let the kid walk into late June weather wearing Fall clothing.
He noticed she held something in her hands, and watched as she came closer. She knelt in front of Boyd and gestured imperiously for him to disrobe. Boyd’s lips set but he still took off the coat and pants. She handed him a pair of black shorts, and took the coat and pants from him. When he finished pulling on the shorts, she frowned at his feet.
“Where are your socks?”
Boyd frowned down at his feet too.
They both had such consternated looks, staring down at bare little kid feet, that Cedrick couldn’t help snickering. They turned twin indignant looks up at him, which made him laugh.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he said, waving a hand. “He can wear sandals.”
They both looked so affronted that he laughed more loudly.
Vivienne shot him a look and then turned to Boyd. “I will get them.”
While she was gone, Cedrick hooked his hands under Boyd’s arms and swung him up onto a chair. “Here you are, young master. Your gross and boring oatmeal, as ordered.”
Boyd looked positively delighted at that and Cedrick sighed. Boyd and Cedrick started eating, and when Vivienne returned she set down a pair of Boyd’s socks, as well as red and black shoes that matched his outfit. She glanced at the clock, then leaned over to quickly eat the rest of her tartine and drink half the cafe au lait.
They were quiet as they all ate, until Vivienne set her dishes in the sink and turned to leave. Cedrick stood in time to come up to her and hold out his arms. She ticked up an eyebrow but it wasn’t in displeasure. They hugged and he kissed her on her cheek, careful not to mess up her makeup.
“I’ll see you later, hon. Have a good day at work.”
Vivienne nodded, let her hand linger briefly on his temple half into his hair, and then pulled away. She flicked a glance at Boyd, who remained hunched over his oatmeal eating, then back at Cedrick.
“You bet we will,” he said with a smile.
She left to grab her purse and shoes. Soon after he heard the click of her passing across the floor, then the front door closing.
Cedrick returned to his cereal and toast, and eyed Boyd.
“Where are we going today?” Boyd asked.
“Nowhere, until we get that rat’s nest of your hair under control. What were you doing, fighting tangle demons in your sleep?”
Boyd scrunched up his face and stuck his tongue out. Cedrick stuck his tongue out in return. Boyd laughed and Cedrick reached over, messing his hair up further. Boyd fended him off, crouching forward and slapping lightly at his hand.
They got into a short, playful tussle between Cedrick’s hands and Boyd’s, before Cedrick almost knocked his mug over and Boyd almost dropped his elbow in his oatmeal.
“Uh oh.” Cedrick threw his hands up, backing away. “Truce! I call truce! You done with your food?”
“Okay. Go grab your brush for me and I’ll get cleaned up here.”
“I can brush my own—”
“I don’t care what you can do, buddy! Today I’m pampering you. I’ll be done by the time you get back.”
Boyd gave Cedrick an odd look but nonetheless got off the chair and trotted out the kitchen toward the hallway. True to his word, Cedrick was lightning fast and quite proud of his prowess, getting everything in the right area and put away in the short time it took Boyd to dig through the drawers and find his brush. When he came back, he held the brush out and Cedrick motioned for Boyd to sit down. He stood behind his son, carefully holding his hair and slowly working on the knots.
Boyd’s hair was mostly straight with a light wave that showed up when it was damp or too short. Cedrick loved the shade of blond; depending on the lighting, it reminded him of the rich gold of a sunset or the pale buttery hue on the outreach of a sunrise. It wasn’t quite the same shade as Vivienne’s, but it was another part of Boyd that came from the Moreau side instead of the Beaulieu side, and so Cedrick loved it all the more.
At the moment, Boyd’s hair was past his shoulders. As Cedrick methodically worked his way through the tangles, he studied the top of his son’s head. Should he try bringing anything up now, or wait until they were in the middle of having fun when Boyd may be more relaxed? Which way was best?
He stayed quiet at first, and then decided it could seem casual enough when done right now. If he tried commenting later, Boyd may notice and wonder.
“Your hair is getting long.” Cedrick ran his fingers through a cleared section to make sure there weren’t hidden tangles.
Boyd started to nod, remembered not to, and said, “Yeah.”
Cedrick pinched his lips, wondering the best way to say this without making Boyd think he was saying something he wasn’t.
“Seems like short hair’s all the rage among the boys lately. Like Lou’s.”
“Do you like it long?”
Boyd tried to look over his shoulder but had to stop when he pulled at his hair. Cedrick could see his furrowed eyebrows. “Do I have to cut it?”
“No, buddy,” Cedrick assured him. “You don’t have to do anything. I just wondered if you like it.”
Boyd frowned, his little shoulders setting.
“Why? Did someone say something to you?”
Boyd turned around fully, facing away from Cedrick. He didn’t answer.
Cedrick fought to keep his hands moving calmly, casually. Not tighten with anger on his son’s behalf. “You know, when I was your age some of the kids weren’t very nice to some of the other kids. Sometimes they said things.”
“They didn’t understand people who were different. They even said things to me.”
Boyd tilted his head as much as he could, straining his eyes to see his dad. “To you?”
Cedrick let out a rueful half-laugh at that. “Well… A lot of reasons, really. I was really hyper, talked a lot. And my mom wasn’t from around there.”
“Quebec. You know how I grew up in Canada? My mom was American. She had a funny accent compared to there, because of where she grew up. People weren’t terrible about it, most people didn’t care. But there was this one kid in my class, he was mean to everyone. He teased me about her, and how I looked, and the things I wore, because we didn’t have a lot of money. People got annoyed because I asked so many questions, didn’t stop talking. And my older brother was not very nice either, so sometimes people got mad at me because of him. Things like that.”
Boyd was quiet. “What did you do?”
“I told my mom and dad. And you know what they told me?”
Boyd shook his head.
Cedrick finished the last of the tangles and set the brush down. He moved around in front of the chair and knelt, placing his hands on Boyd’s shoulders while looking straight into his eyes.
“They told me that they loved me. They said that everyone in this world is special for different reasons, and that more than anything else it’s important that we always be ourselves. Even if we feel different than others, if that is who we are then that’s a wonderful thing to be. They said this world would be really boring if we were all the same, so anyone wanting me to change and be like them wasn’t thinking anything through. And they said that if someone is really mean to me, they’re probably reflecting something about themselves onto me. It’s probably not about me at all. It’s probably them being mad or sad about something in their own life. They said it wasn’t my fault.”
Boyd searched Cedrick’s eyes and then dropped his gaze to his hands, where they tangled lightly with one another. When he didn’t speak, Cedrick reached up and ran a hand warmly down the side of Boyd’s head, over his smooth hair. He softened his voice.
“Do the other kids sometimes say things to you too, Boyd? Maybe about how you look or something else?”
“I don’t know,” Boyd mumbled, his hands clenching.
Cedrick withheld the mixture of anger and sadness he felt. He was fairly certain the kids were saying something, but the principal was completely unhelpful when he tried talking to her. He’d tried asking Lou, but Lou wouldn’t say anything without Boyd’s permission. Still, judging by Lou’s expression at the question, the answer was a yes. All Lou would tell Cedrick was that Boyd looked different than the other boys, that Lou thought he looked fine. The ‘but…’ was left unspoken in the air between them, and that was the best Cedrick got.
It was completely ridiculous he had to go to a kid to get the information in the first place. But he couldn’t dwell on that now; he would get too angry with the school and Boyd might misread everything, thinking the frustration was aimed at him.
“The thing is, Boyd, you do look different. Your hair is longer than theirs, your eyes are a different color than anyone else’s—”
He thought Boyd mumbled something about a girl but he couldn’t hear properly and when he paused, Boyd was quiet. So he pressed on, squeezing his son’s shoulders.
“But being different is a good thing. Being yourself is the very best person you can be. When I see your hair and your eyes and all of that, do you know what I think?”
Boyd shook his head.
“I think to myself, ‘That’s my beautiful son. That’s my Boyd.’ And I’m proud of those differences of yours.”
Boyd still wouldn’t look up, but a little of the tension in his shoulders loosened.
“And you know what else I think?”
Boyd shook his head again.
“I think about how I love you more than the moon and the stars and all the planets in all the universe. I think about how important you are to me. And I think about all the things my parents said to me when I was your age, and right now I’m saying them to you. If someone is mean, they’re mean because of something about themselves, not you. If they want you to change, they’re wrong. This world needs you, Boyd, not someone else. Just you, happy with who you are, confident in being yourself.”
At that, Boyd finally risked looking up through his eyelashes. His expression was so uncertain that Cedrick couldn’t resist leaning forward and kissing him on the forehead.
“Okay?” Cedrick asked softly.
Boyd wore at his lip and, hesitantly, nodded.
“Okay.” Cedrick smiled, but even he could tell it was subdued. He smoothed Boyd’s hair back off his face. “I know your hair is longer than the other boys’. We can do anything you want, Boyd, but I don’t want you to choose something because someone else makes you. So I’m going to ask you again: do you like your long hair?”
Boyd nodded mutely.
Cedrick’s smile was a bit more genuine this time. “Okay, good. I like it too. We’re going to keep it.”
He hesitated, and then asked the biggest question he had:
“Do you want to stay in summer academy, Boyd?”
Boyd watched Cedrick with wide eyes. “What do you mean?”
Cedrick rubbed at the back of his neck. “Well, if… If you don’t want to be around the other kids as often, we can take you out of summer academy. We can find a babysitter or someone to watch you during the day instead. Then you don’t have to see the other kids until next school year.”
Boyd worried at the hem of his shirt, his lower lip slipping in and out between his teeth. He looked down at his hands.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to be there, Boyd.”
Boyd mumbled something but Cedrick couldn’t hear it well enough.
“I like school,” Boyd said quietly.
“Oh.” Cedrick considered his son. “So, you… want to stay in summer academy?”
Boyd twisted the hem around his fingers, in and out in an interweaving pattern. “I like learning.”
Cedrick didn’t feel entirely convinced, but he could tell he wasn’t going to get further with his son today. And he didn’t want to push it too far. Today was supposed to be fun and refreshing, not upsetting.
“Okay. You just let me know if you change your mind, okay?” He kissed Boyd on the top of the head and stood. “You ready to go?”
Boyd fiddled with the end of his shirt. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Then let’s go. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”
This time when Boyd was quiet, Cedrick hoped it was him digesting what he’d said, integrating some confidence where there may have been concern. He was going to have to have this conversation many times, he thought, even if Boyd ever decided to cut his hair short. His features were too androgynous, his eyes too unique, his personality too reserved, to ever be someone who fit in with the crowd.
The truth was, Boyd was always going to be different. Cedrick only hoped he could impress upon Boyd just how important that difference was to accept and love.
Lincoln Square neighborhood
“I’m making a dragon guarding a castle and it’s gonna be really cool, just you wait,” Cedrick announced to Boyd. He said it louder than he intended, and got some looks from the kids surrounding them.
Cedrick didn’t care. He stood out, anyway. He was the only dad at the kid’s art event hosted by Grover Books, and one of only three parents actually making art. The other parents helicoptered around the area, keeping an eye on their kid but conversing with an adult. Two moms sat way on the other side of the table also making art, but they were paying more attention to their kids’ art and their conversation than they were their own work. Hunched over the kid-sized table as the only adult taking this kid art time seriously, Cedrick felt like a giant, which was what got him thinking about a fantasy theme.
Boyd looked at him sidelong through a fall of blond hair, glanced down at the shaky and overly strong line Cedrick had already drawn across most of the page, and then simply nodded. Meanwhile, Boyd had already sketched out a rough outline of what he was going to do. Cedrick could already see that it was a drawing of one of the kids nearby, a little boy with a nest of wildly curly hair. Cedrick didn’t know why Boyd chose that boy as his inspiration. Maybe because the boy was really intent on drawing and wasn’t moving around much in comparison to the others.
A local artist had volunteered her time and was currently deep in discussion with the mothers at the table, so at least none of the adults had heard him speak. Cedrick focused all his attention on drawing the castle and the dragon, taking as much care as he could with the crayons they’d been given. He kept messing up and tried to fix it with thicker lines or colors layered on top of one another. And then more lines. And then darker colors. And then even more lines…
It felt like it took twelve hours to finish, but finally he placed the last line on the dragon’s wings. He sat up straight, cracking his back and surveying his masterpiece.
He held it as far from his face as he could, and then brought it closer, and then moved it back again. He frowned and tilted his head.
At what point had he put green on the sun? He didn’t remember doing that.
He slid his drawing over to Boyd. “Look what I did!”
Boyd was midway through finalizing a curl with a dark brown crayon. He glanced over and froze.
“Oh,” Boyd said uncertainly.
“What?” Cedrick looked down at his drawing. “What’s wrong?”
Boyd peered at the paper, then pointed to the green bit on the right. “The dragon?”
“Yeah! Looks real life-like, doesn’t it?”
Boyd’s lips pinched. He stared at the drawing for a long moment. “Do you… want help?”
“Help?” Cedrick echoed blankly.
Boyd pushed his own nearly-finished drawing of the kid over in front of Cedrick, and pulled Cedrick’s drawing in front of him. He searched through the crayons scattered in front of them.
“Maybe if you use the gold,” he muttered under his breath.
Bemused, Cedrick watched his son and then turned his attention to Boyd’s drawing in front of him. Despite being drawn with the same supplies, and by a kid twenty years Cedrick’s junior, it was way better. Boyd had even mixed a few colors together to get a good approximation of the kid’s skin tone and the highlights of his hair color. He hadn’t quite finished filling in the black cowlicks on the side of his face, but he was otherwise basically done.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was way better than Cedrick would ever be able to do; especially with blunt, communal crayons as the material.
Cedrick noticed movement behind him and saw the art volunteer had made her way around the table to Boyd’s side. She smiled down, her hands braced on her thighs.
“Hi sweetie, and how old are you?”
Boyd didn’t spare her a glance, just held up five fingers. He was too busy trying to find the right shade of yellow, apparently.
“Well, you’re really good for your age! What a nice… house and tree you drew there.”
Boyd froze and looked up at Cedrick.
Cedrick stared aghast at the woman.
“I can see how much effort you put into making those leaves,” the woman continued warmly.
Cedrick looked down at his drawing. What leaves? There were no leaves! There was only a dragon!
Boyd made a choking noise in his throat, his lips pressing down. Cedrick knew that look well enough to recognize that his son was trying his damnedest not to laugh.
“Hey!” Cedrick said indignantly. He tried to snatch the dragon drawing from his kid.
The woman looked up at Cedrick, misinterpreting his indignation. She placed her hand on the drawing to keep him from taking it. “This is really very good for a five year old. You can see he’s starting to experiment with color and… lines.” She glanced down at Boyd’s drawing in front of Cedrick and her eyebrows shot up. “Wow! And look at you! That’s a wonderful piece of art. That’s the best thing I’ve seen a parent draw this month.”
Boyd made that damn noise again and covered his mouth with his hand. He was suddenly very intent on reading the names of the colors printed on the crayons.
Cedrick shot a look at Boyd.
“See the way he tried to layer greens for the leaves?” The woman pointed to the dragon wings—dragon wings! Not leaves! Wings!! “It’s the beginning steps on the way toward how you blended everything together in yours. Once he learns to pay attention to the pressure he uses, he will go a long way. By the time your son is your age, I fully believe he will reach your same level. You should be proud.”
Cedrick couldn’t decide on what sort of expression to make at this point, so his face just ended up scrunched.
“Yeah,” he said unenthusiastically. “Real proud.”
The woman watched him a moment, clearly unsure what to make of him, and then looked down at Boyd. The little shit was hunched forward, his shoulders trembling from the effort to remain serious.
Apparently misinterpreting that as Boyd crying, the woman shot Cedrick a dirty look. So did the two moms down the table.
“Well I think it’s beautiful,” the woman reassured Boyd, patting him on the head. “Don’t ever stop drawing, sweetie.”
She stood up, glared once more at Cedrick, and moved on to the next kid. Cedrick scowled at Boyd’s shaking shoulders, and picked up both their pictures. He folded them up and shoved them in his back pocket, then reached over to shove Boyd lightly on his shoulder.
“Alright, wise guy. You ready to go before you lose your cool?”
Boyd was definitely hiding a grin behind the fall of his hair. He nodded and stood, keeping his face tipped downward. Probably to keep from catching that lady’s eye so he wouldn’t burst out laughing.
Cedrick couldn’t be mad, because even as indignant as he was about his dragon drawing—dragon drawing, very clearly a dragon and a castle, where the hell did she get off saying the dragon was a tree?—there was one thing the volunteer had completely right: Cedrick was proud. The fact she thought a parent drew Boyd’s picture, and that it was good for a parent, said a lot about his skill level even at five.
As they walked away, Cedrick ruffled Boyd’s hair. Boyd snickered loudly and then caught himself. Cedrick rolled his eyes, but couldn’t stop his own grin.
Julian was neck deep in writing up a report about the latest asshole to drop out on child support and his partner’s attempts to track him down via one hot and sexy PI, aka Yours Truly, when he heard the door to the building open. His own office door was mostly closed, so when the person passed down the hallway and didn’t knock he didn’t pay much attention. Especially when they then went straight into the office across the hall.
He rocked one foot back and forth, one hand holding up his cheek while the other scrawled notes on a dirty sheet of paper, splattered and crinkled with brown dots.
Not his fault gravity decided to attack his cup of coffee earlier this morning. If his client took issue, he would advise them to take it up with the laws of physics.
He could have finished the report in another hour, if not for the god-awful noises that erupted in the other office. Some squealing of the highest order, for one. Did Krysta from down the street bring in that damn dog again? She knew the ladies lost their shit the second they laid eyes on that tiny little thing.
He tried to ignore it, but the sounds only got louder.
And then he heard it.
A familiar fucking voice.
“Oh my god,” Julian muttered in disgust under his breath, and then for good measure slammed his drawer shut as he stood and shouted, “Oh my god!”
Cedrick’s cheerful laugh made Julian want the superpower ability to manifest pillows to shove in the man’s damn face.
Julian stormed around his desk and to the hall. Oswald Insurance, Inc’s door was wide open, giving Julian the perfect view of the insurance ladies huddled around Cedrick oohing and ahhing over something.
“What the fuck are you people doing over here?” Julian demanded as he strode inside. “Some people are trying to work in this place.”
“Julian!” Marie hissed, glaring at him over her shoulder. “Language!”
“Oh come on, since when do you two care about—”
Marie glared, Linda shifted her weight, and Cedrick looked up with a gleeful grin. Julian finally saw what had drawn them like moths to a fucking flame.
Julian slowed to a stop with a grimace. He rubbed a hand through his hair, feeling a little abashed.
“Brought the kid again, I see.”
“I did,” Cedrick announced proudly. “I had to show him off. Aren’t you jealous of how cute my kid is?”
“I am.” Linda knelt in front of Boyd and smiled at him like he was Krysta’s little dog she was trying not to scare. With that alien kid, maybe it wasn’t too far from the truth.
“Want some?” she asked, holding out a handful of wrapped chocolate. Boyd looked at it, so she held it closer. “It’s okay. You can have some.”
Boyd stared at her.
“Sorry, he doesn’t like sweets,” Cedrick said. “But I’ll take it if you don’t want it. I never turn down a good chocolate.”
“Really?” Linda’s eyebrows shot up. She straightened and absently handed over the chocolate to Cedrick, who happily squirreled it away. “I’ve never met a kid who didn’t like a little chocolate here and there.”
“I know, right?” Cedrick grinned at her and clapped a hand around Boyd’s shoulders, rocking him into a side hug against his hip. “My boy’s really unique. He’s going to be someone important someday, just you watch! He’s really intelligent and mature for his age, and he can draw better than anyone else—he can do anything he wants. He’s already special to me, but I’m telling you now, he’s going to become just as special to everyone else someday.”
“Yeah, yeah, the world isn’t ready for how amazing the kid is, blah, blah.” Julian loped to the desk and rested his ass against the edge. “I’ve heard this a million times, you know?”
“Julian, shut up,” Linda said without heat. “You have no concept of how adorable Boyd is. Or Cedrick is, for how he dotes on Boyd.”
“None!” Marie peered at Julian.
Julian rolled his eyes. He could have commented on how Cedrick didn’t always spend this much time with the kid so he wasn’t always that doting, but he didn’t want to get into it. He pushed himself away from the desk and shoved his hands in his pockets, feeling restless.
“What’re you doing here, anyway? With the kid, no less. Doesn’t he go to some god-awful summer school bullshit?”
Marie smacked Julian at the same time that Linda kicked him in the shin. “Language, Julian!”
“Ow!” Julian grimaced at the ladies, rubbing his arm. “Abusing me won’t change my mind.”
“We’re having a skip day.” Cedrick beamed at Julian like he was announcing that Boyd won the goddamn lotto and became the President of the United States on the same day.
Julian refused to take the bait. Marie and Linda were much more susceptible, because they were actually friendly little fuckers.
“Yep! I called in sick today and I told the school Boyd wouldn’t be in academy today. He’s such a good kid and has been doing so well, I told him he needed a break. So today we’re playing hooky!”
“What are you doing?”
“Everything Boyd likes. We went to Grover Books and played around with some art. I was very good at it.”
Boyd made a noise. Cedrick widened his eyes exaggeratedly and looked down at his kid.
“What’s that, son? You want to say something?”
Boyd smiled to himself and looked down at the floor.
Cedrick put a hand behind one ear and rocked Boyd lightly with the other. “Whaaaat? I didn’t hear you. You got something to say about what I said?”
Boyd grinned and shook his head, still not looking up.
“You want to tell them yourself about how I was sooooo gooooood?”
Cedrick playfully rocked Boyd around. Boyd snickered.
“Oh come on, don’t be shy. You can tell them. You can tell them Daddy’s better than Picasso! Degas! Da Vinci!” Cedrick reached down and started tickling Boyd around the shoulders, the neck, the underarms. Boyd burst out laughing and squirmed all around out of his reach.
“No, no,” Boyd laughed.
Cedrick grinned and knelt down to get a better tickling angle. “No what? No tickling? No Picasso? Nooooo one’s better than Daddy?”
“No, no!” Boyd laughed even harder and fended off his dad’s insistent fingers. “No, it wasn’t good!”
“What!” Cedrick gasped and pulled back, a hand resting to his heart. “I can’t believe it—my own son!”
Boyd giggled and, eyes alight with much more mischief than Julian was accustomed to seeing, darted forward and started tickling his dad. Cedrick fell back dramatically, rolling all around the floor as his son followed trying to tickle him back. Any time Boyd made contact, Cedrick laughed, and any time Boyd got away from retaliation, Cedrick shouted out protests.
“Unfair! Scandal! Scoundrel! My own son! My own flesh and blood! Julian! Julian, save me!”
Marie and Linda laughed and jumped out of the way, egging on Boyd. Cedrick bumped into the chair legs and desk legs and human legs pretending to try to get away.
Julian couldn’t decide if he wanted to laugh or kick Cedrick. He settled on saying, “You are such an idiot. I think your kid is more mature than you are.”
Cedrick rolled onto his back and threw an arm dramatically across his eyes. “Slain! By negligence of my friends, at the hands of my tickle monster son. What a life! What a world! What a time!”
“Oh my god,” Julian muttered.
Boyd laughed and kept trying to tickle his dad, until Cedrick peeked from beneath his arm with a wicked grin. “Boyd, don’t you think Uncle Julian seems cranky right now? Why don’t you tickle him too?”
Boyd paused, eyebrows slanting up, before he turned to Julian. His hands raised in front of him, fingers clawed out.
Julian stumbled backward. “Oh my god.”
Before the kid could make haste with the tickle-me-zombie impression, Julian jumped up onto the desk.
“Julian!” Marie yelled. “You’re going to knock over my—”
Gravity: 2. Coffee cups: 0.
Julian paid her no heed. He smirked down at Boyd. “Ha! Take that! Shorty can’t reach up here, can you? Try tickling me when I’m—”
Boyd crawled up onto the chair and reached his grubby little hands for the desk.
Cedrick burst out laughing.
Linda grinned. “Reaaaally didn’t think that one through, did you, Jules?”
Julian scrunched his face at her and jumped off the desk before Boyd got to him. Marie grumbled at him from where she knelt, cleaning up the mess that gravity had wrought.
Boyd started carefully crawling down too, his huge alien eyes centered on Julian like a damn missile. Julian threw his hands out in front of him and waved the universal sign of a frantic truce.
“Alright, alright! Uncle, or whatever! Jesus. What did I do to deserve this today, I ask you? I’m just a poor, gentle soul, innocently minding my own business when I’m accosted by everyone around me.”
Marie muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “I’ll show you ‘accosted.’”
Cedrick finally got off his ass and stood up. He dusted himself off but it was futile. Dude probably had twelve months of food crumbs and dirt and a bit of mayhem stuck all over him now.
“I thought it’d be fun to bring Boyd to some places around town he might like, and couldn’t decide where to go next. Then we got hungry and we were nearby so I thought I’d swing in and see if you wanted to get lunch.”
“Oh really. And what makes you think I want to be seen eating with you?”
“Maybe all the years of experience where you did?”
“But not with the kid.”
“And that makes a difference because…?”
Julian made a face. “It doesn’t make a damn bit of—”
Marie smacked him on the ankle, the only part of him she could reach. Julian scowled down at her and then at Cedrick.
“Scratch that, it does make a difference in one very specific category. Namely, that apparently I have to censor my fu—”
“Julian Jones, go back to your office!” Marie shouted.
Julian was about to tell her to go back to her office (even though that made no sense) when Cedrick moved between the two of them with an easy smile.
“Marie, Linda, do you mind watching Boyd for a second? I have to go over to Julian’s office real quick.”
Julian quirked his eyebrows, and left the little tickle monster behind in lieu of senior Beaulieu. Linda started saying something to Boyd but Julian didn’t pay attention; he followed Cedrick into his office and shut the door behind them, leaning against it with crossed arms.
For once in his life, Cedrick got right to the point. “You know how I told you I think Boyd is getting bullied?”
“Well, I’m all but positive now. I took him out of the academy for the day to see if I could figure it out, get more information from him, let him know we could take him out of school all summer if he prefers.”
Julian dropped his head back against the door. “What’d he say?”
Cedrick shoved his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight, his gaze glancing away. “He said he likes school and doesn’t want to leave. He seems okay right now, but I’ll have to continue monitoring the situation.”
“Did you talk to the school?”
Cedrick grimaced. “They were useless. I will again, if this continues.”
“Okay,” Julian drew out the word, “so what’s this got to do with me?”
Cedrick rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I decided to do a bunch of things Boyd likes today, or bring him places I think he’d like, to give him a break.”
“So you’re giving him a happy day, that’s cool. But again. What’s that gotta do with me?”
Cedrick aimed a sheepish smile Julian’s way. “You’re on that list. Boyd likes you, for some reason—”
“—and I thought he’d really like a chance to spend some time with you today. And you mentioned you were trying to do recon on that alley where that rapist was, right?”
Julian eyed him suspiciously. “Right.”
“I might have a suspect for you. I did some digging of my own and there’s this guy who fits the description, who has a cousin who lives near that alley, and who we got these reports about ages ago at the Sun saying he allegedly sexually assaulted some women at a college out of state but we could never prove anything and the women disappeared. I know he used to be a smoker but I don’t know if he still is, and I haven’t heard his voice to see if it matches the description. But he runs in his spare time so that could make him fast and light on his feet. A few months back he started working at the library, of all places, but I heard he might be moving out of the city soon. As in, allegedly he’s going to finish packing tomorrow.” Cedrick raised his eyebrows meaningfully.
“And Boyd loves books,” Julian said. “So, you thought you’d get it all done at once—give Boyd a place he’ll enjoy, let him hang with me, while giving me a chance to check out the suspect for Finny before he skips town.” Julian let out a low, impressed breath. “You really know how to multitask, Ceddy boy.”
“I don’t want Sex Assault to lose the chance to ID him if he leaves town this week. Even if it turned out Sgt Finley wouldn’t have enough to arrest him before he’s gone, if you can help verify if he’s a viable suspect then you can get Sgt Finley out there in time for him to make contact. If nothing else, at least then he would have a face and name.”
“And fingerprints. Maybe DNA, if I’m lucky. I can get it all to him so he can check the databases, maybe get some better probable cause to catch the guy.”
Cedrick looked at Julian questioningly.
“Listen, if that asswipe is going to hurt women in my neighborhood, I will see to it that fucker doesn’t stay anonymous. You said he works at the library? I’m sure I can find a way to get the guy a much-needed cup of joe on his break.” Julian felt the evil gleam in his own eyes even as he affected an innocent tone. “You know. Being a friendly customer who still remembers that time months ago when he helped me with a project. He probably doesn’t remember me since he sees so many people but I sure do remember him. Made all the difference in the world in my grad school work. Oh, and here, I’ll just throw that away so he doesn’t have to walk all the way to the garbage. Thanks again, man, what a real help.”
Cedrick smiled to himself and shook his head. “You would be a dangerous enemy to have, my friend.”
“You too, if we’re honest.”
“Yeah, well.” Cedrick looked away in dark thought. “I hope so.”
“Alright, so we’re off to the library to catch a maybe-rapist and I guess also borrow some kids books.”
Cedrick laughed softly. “All in a normal day’s work.”
Julian snorted. “No kidding.”