Jared caught sight of me first. A wide smile stretched across his face and caused one to do the same to mine. “Good morning, Vanilla Latte.”
“Morning, guys.” I moved towards him and brushed my lips against his before doing the same to Ryder’s head. I made the rounds, kissing Stella and Lila before giving Rhea a hug. I stopped at my brother and kissed Chris’s forehead before meeting Austin’s eyes. He swallowed harshly and I knew he was having a hard time accepting everything. He offered me a pathetic smile.
“Love you, Steph.”
I nodded at him and wrapped my brother in a tight hug, squishing Chris between us as we did. I pulled back and ran my hand down the baby’s cheek.
“I love you, too, twerp.”
Chris started fussing the moment I walked away from him but I just smiled and whispered a promise that I’d grab him in a minute. I sat down at the table next to my oldest nephew and pressed my lips to his forehead.
“Good morning, Tanner.”
He didn’t bother looking away from his plate. “Good morning.”
“How are your pancakes?”
“Fine.” Again, he didn’t look up. I sighed and glanced up at my family. Everyone was watching me carefully and Jared gave me an encouraging nod. I smiled at him and looked back to Tanner.
“Will you come with me?”
He nodded and stood from his chair, letting me take his hand so I could lead him into the living room. I sat on the couch and had him take the spot next to me. I waited about thirty seconds but he finally looked up to meet my eyes. His brown ones were shining with tears.
“He hurts her all of the time, Auntie Steph. And not just with his mean words. She doesn’t know that I know but I can hear them from my room. I hear her crying and I hear Daddy yelling. Why doesn’t he stop when she asks him to?”
Tears pricked at the back of my eyes and I tried my hardest not to let them fall while I shook my head. “I don’t know, Tanner. But I know it’s not right, what your Daddy does. We never hurt people with our hands or with our words- especially the people we love. Mommies and Daddies should always respect each other. What he’s been doing to your mommy is not okay and he’s in a lot of trouble.” I reached out and placed my hands on both of his cheeks. “You calling nine-one-one last night was the right thing to do. You helped Mommy so much and we are all so proud of you. You’re a good son and the best boy.”
“Daddy’s mad at me, though,” he replied in the smallest voice possible and I saw the fear all over his face. He thought Eldon was going to hurt him.
“I won’t let anything happen to you. None of us will. Do you understand me?”
He nodded his head and let me pull him to my chest in a long hug. We stayed like that for a few minutes before he started to squirm. When I asked if he was ready to finish breakfast, he said he was and we went back to the dining room.
Although he wasn’t as boisterous as he normally was, I could tell Tanner felt a bit better. He participated in conversation around us while we ate and the look of relief that hit his little face when his mother walked through that door was heartbreaking.
“Mommy!” Stella jumped down from her chair as she and Tanner rushed towards Kate. My father stopped them both before they could crash into her and kneeled in front of them.
“Mommy has some owies right now, guys, so you need to be careful with her. She needs lots of love but let’s go with soft hugs, okay?”
Both kids did just that and Kate looked down at them with a sad smile on her face. “I’m okay, my loves. We’re all okay.”
She didn’t look okay. Her face was bruised all to hell and her eye looked disgusting. She was also moving slowly and I knew that meant her body had taken a lot of hits, too.
Ryder was also elated to see his mom. She winced when she took him from Jared but he leaned against her chest with a content expression on his little face. I watched Kate wipe a tear but she didn’t speak. My mom, however, clapped her hands once with a fake expression of cheer on her face.
“You’re going to come stay at Nana and Papa’s house for a while. Why don’t we go pack some of your things?”
Mom, Kate, and the kids headed down the hallway and I stood with my dad, Jared, Austin, and Rhea as we watched. Dad sighed and turned to look at the four of us, taking Lila from Rhea when he did.
“They kept her overnight to watch for a concussion but she’s okay. Physically, anyway.” He kissed his granddaughter’s head. “We’re making her stay with us for a little while. Stephanie, can you get us some names of counselors she and the kids can see?”
I nodded and took Chris from my brother when he started to fuss. “Of course. What else can I do?”
“Just be there for your sister. She’s pressing charges against that prick and we’re going to get things together so she can file for divorce immediately. He better hope that I never see his cowardly ass ever again. I’ll kill him.”
“I’ll help,” Austin agreed with a growl. “Has anyone told Briana?”
Dad shook his head. “Kate doesn’t want us to because she’ll leave the wedding if she knows. We’ll talk to her when she comes home this week. Thank you all for being here when we needed you. You’re a good bunch of kids.”
We stayed at the house for another couple of hours to help get what they would immediately need. I promised Kate I would come back to pack up more of their things and Rhea offered to help me.