The house is fully ready when we get there and I collapse onto the sofa with a heavy breath. It’s one of those cloud couches apparently, that’s what Lexie said, she has one in her apartment and loves it.
“Are you comfortable?” Boulder mocks as he drops the backpack on the floor by the door.
“I am actually, thanks for asking.” I groan heavily when a small body lands on top of me, “Oh you cheeky little minx!” I roll Toby so I can tickle him as he squeals in laughter, his blonde curls flying everywhere. “Say mercy and I’ll stop!”
“Mercy!” He shouts breathlessly a few minutes later and collapses on top of me, panting in overexertion.
“That’s a win for me.” I fist bump Boulder and stroke Toby’s hair back as he melts into my chest. I remember when my sister was twelve, she wasn’t this cuddly and she didn’t like me very much. She was very rebellious and kicked off at everything, I used to get hit in the head with a lot of things so no wonder I joined the army. “So, what do you want to do before bed? We have...” I crane my neck to look at the clock on the wall, “three hours.”
I figure half nine is a good time to get him settled in his new bed. Millie used to kick off whenever I sent her to bed but she was always grumpy the next day if she wasn’t asleep by ten, I would rather have the anger ten minutes before bed than for the entire next day. I choose my battles.
“I'm kinda hungry.”
“How does pizza sound?” I look up at Boulder who is leaning on the back of the sofa, watching us with soft eyes. Aww, he’s such a sweetheart underneath that biker façade.
“What’s that?” I feel my heart break at that, every kid should have tried pizza. It’s one of the best foods ever and has very little nutritional value, it’s the staple of every lazy day. Disgraceful.
“Pizza it is.” I love him.
“This bed is big.” Toby comments as we settle him in a double bed. Lexie chose linen sheets because Boulder said that’s what he’s used to and it might bring him some comfort in a new place.
“It is. So, is there anything you need us to pick up from the store? Favourite food or drink?”
“I like pizza and milk.” I laugh softly, bringing the duvet up to just below his neck.
“Yeah? I like those things too but unfortunately, we can’t eat those things all the time. Are you sure there’s nothing you want? Anything?” He just shrugs with a sad face, I look over at Boulder and he gives me a sad look.
I suppose it was the same for him when he left, except he was more mature. He had the time to communicate with people his age and other adults outside of his commune and he found a job with people that taught and protected him. We’re all this kid has. “I’ll just have to pick up something for you.”
I move to stand up from the bed but his little hand reaches out and grips my wrist. “Will you sing to me?” When Millie was younger, she liked it when I sang to her. Her favourite song was ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong.
It’s a song I know back to front in almost every key so I shift myself to be able to look at him better as he rolls on his side. I sing softly and watch as his eyes drift closed, my wrist still tightly in grip. I wait after I’ve finished the song and he’s fully asleep before tucking his arm under the covers and heading out of the room with Boulder right behind.
“How do you already know how to parent so well?” He asks as soon as we’re in our room. Lexie decorated it beautifully with black and light blues everywhere. King size bed, cotton sheets and a cream coloured bathroom. She nailed this shit.
“I raised my little sister. My older sister was so preoccupied with school and mum was working ninety hours a week. When my dad died it was even worse, I mean he wasn’t really hands on when he was alive. He gave the girls the attention but he wasn’t really a parent, I was. Still, he’s better behaved than my sister ever was.” I laugh softly and find myself tearing up, “I haven’t seen either of them in years... I almost died and they didn’t even care.”
He hugs me tightly from behind and I fall into his arms, basically sobbing. “Looks like we both come from messed up families.”
“Hey,” he turns me around and brushes my cheeks, “you’re my family now. You, Toby and the club.” I bury my face in his neck and just relish in the comfort I haven’t really had before. Looks like everyone’s bed time is half nine because I am exhausted.
“What are these?” Toby asks as I pass him a bowl of cereal.
“Those are fruit loops, little man.” Boulder tells him as I make myself a cup of tea. It’s like ten am and we all woke up about twenty minutes ago. Well Toby woke up twenty minutes ago and then jumped on us within seconds of having seen the sun. Unfortunately for the poor kid, he got stuck with two people who hate mornings.
Toby seems to enjoy his new cereal and is quite happy spilling milk all over the table as he stares at the newspaper Boulder is holding. I excuse myself when my phone rings, I almost cry when I see Chief’s name on the screen. It’s never good when he’s calling me.
“Hello child o’mine.” He greets and I feel the need to lob my phone through the wall.
“Morning, Chief.” I yawn and slip down the wall to sit on the floor, I rub my leg absentmindedly as a small ache is always there in the back of my mind.
“I have a mission for you. Can you leave tomorrow morning?” I snap out of my sleepy state and look through the archway to see Boulder and Toby talking at the table. Last night I was considering giving up my job and staying here, maybe becoming a bounty hunter with Saviour but I’m not ready for that yet.
I went through so much pain just to get my job back and I’ve always been career driven but it is six weeks until Christmas. “You’ll be back in America before Christmas, I promise. It’s a simple recon mission, a month max.”
“Okay, I’ll ship out tomorrow.” He thanks me and I hang up with a sad sigh. I feel so bad, Toby needs security and stability and here I am dashing out the second day he’s with us. I can’t imagine how Boulder will feel about this, I doubt he’ll be very happy. He did say that it was okay, I mean he said he’d be happy to see me six months out of the year but I guess now we have a child that will have changed.
“Why don’t you go and get changed, kid? You can meet the family later.” Romeo and Runner put some of Ollie’s clothes in Toby’s room considering they’re similar sizes despite the age gap which is worrying at this point. “Everything okay, baby?” Boulder asks and I just look at him.
“You’re leaving.” He states, already knowing me well.
“How long for?”
“A month max.” He just hugs me then, tight and unrelenting. “I’ll come back to you, just like I promised.”