I curled up on Hyrum’s bed and listened to him cry. He was on his side with his knees drawn as tightly to his stomach as he could manage, and twice he slid out of bed to throw up. I’d intended to peek at his dreams, to see if there was anything he wasn’t saying, if there was anything I could tell Drew or Will that would help, but he never made it past that drifting stage of slumber, where a person hovers in that gray area between sleep and being awake.
He didn’t get up to make coffee for Jax or to sit at the table with him. He waited until Jax had left for the day, until Aubrey was getting ready for Will to bring Rhys and the twins downstairs, and then waited a bit longer to make sure they’d had breakfast. His stomach rumbled and the smell of waffles almost nudged him out of bed, but he didn’t move until Aubrey knocked quietly on his door and then opened it when he didn’t answer.
“I’m okay,” he said thickly. “I didn’t sleep good, that’s all.”
“I just wanted to make sure you’re all right, sweetheart,” she said before she closed the door again.
“What am I gonna do, Wick?” Sitting at the edge of the bed, he looked like he had a hangover, and held his head in his hands as if it hurt like one. “I don’t know what to do.”
Tell her no.
Remind her Jax is the head of your family, and you listen to the head of the family.
“I know my daddy isn’t there anymore and he can’t ever punish me again, but I don’t want to live with my mom. I want to stay here.”
Go take a shower. Maybe hot water pouring over your head will help clear it a little.
His breath hiccupped. “Aubrey lets me have toys.” He barely spoke above a whisper. “I have blocks and cars and even a doll. Mom would make me leave them here. There’s nothing to play with there.”
“She would make me leave my pencils and markers here, too, on account of I used to eat them. But Aubrey lets me have as many as I want, and she doesn’t yell when I forget and stick one in my mouth. She just says, ‘Sweetie, don’t eat it, all right? If you eat it, you won’t have the pencil anymore.’ One time, when I was thirty, I bit a pencil in half and Mom got so mad that she hit me and said that was stupid. I love drawing pictures, Wick. I’ll never get to do that again.”
Go stand in the shower. It helps you think. Even Will thinks so.
I waited on the bed while he showered, listening in case he had a meltdown. If he sat down and started wailing, I could run and get Drew. Or Aubrey. She would understand if I bolted from the cat flap near his door and started howling at her. She would at least follow me to see what the problem was.
He didn’t sit in the shower and cry. When he came out of the bathroom, his eyes were brighter, and he was an entire new level of happy.
What did you think of? The shower helped, didn’t it?
“Are the babies done eating?” He cocked his head to listen. Loud giggling drifted from the living room and Charlie loudly proclaimed he was wearing pants today. “Good.”
It’s always good when he wears pants.
He probably means a diaper, but that’s something.
He was named for you, you know. You and Finn. At least you two keep your shorts on.
For the most part, Hyrum kept his pants on. He limited his nudity to his bedroom, on nights he felt a tiny bit naughty and wanted to sleep naked, and occasionally he wandered to the guest bathroom across the hall to grab a clean towel without getting dressed. No one cared; Zed had a history of stomping through the entire apartment naked, before marrying Sophia and moving downstairs.
Around the toddlers, however, he was careful. I waited while he dressed, and then followed him out. All three of them jumped up from where they were playing in the living room and ran to hug his legs, and then demanded he bend over so he could collect his good morning kisses.
“I thinked you was sleeping all day,” Alex said after she kissed his cheek.
“I have pants!” Charlie proclaimed.
He was, indeed, wearing actual pants, a toddler-sized pair of jeans that were a half size too big. He lacked a shirt and had removed a sock and a shoe, but he was wearing more than he normally did.
“For all day?” Hyrum asked.
Charlie shrugged. He knew better than to commit.
Hyrum waved off Aubrey’s offer to make breakfast for him because he was capable of making his own and it wasn’t fair for him to expect her to do it. He poured batter onto the waffle machine and then watched the kids play while he ate, and after he finished he quietly washed the dishes. Aubrey slipped past him to get to the coffee and kissed the top of his head, asking whether he worked today or not.
“Only if Zed calls me. I work for Drew in a couple days. We made new air tubes and we have to test them.”
“Any plans for today?”
He shrugged. “I’ll play with the babies for a while. And maybe when they take naps, I’ll go for a bike ride. Is it okay if I go to Pier Thirty Nine and watch the birds bug people? It’s really funny.”
“You wouldn’t be planning on tossing a little food around to help that happen, would you?”
His “no” was wrapped around a giggle.
“Go have fun but be nice.”
The rest of the morning was a blur of building blocks and games invented by toddlers and a four-year-old. Hyrum led them in a march up and down the hall and around the living room, going fast enough that they had to jog to keep up with him. Aubrey asked him if there was a reason, aside from pretending to be the pied piper, and he leaned in to tell her, “If they’re tired, they’ll take good naps and I won’t feel bad about leaving for a bike ride.”
He often took rides while they slept, but she nodded and thanked him for it, because his attention to them now meant she could get a few chores done, and that meant she could sit down and read while they napped. After giving them a snack, Hyrum tucked them in and told them a story about Lazybones, the cat he’d had when he was little.
Lazybones, who was not nearly as lazy as his name suggested, had once caught a baby squirrel and brought it into the house. He hadn’t killed it; Hyrum thought he wanted a pet of his own, and he let it loose in the living room while Levi Munson met with elders from the church. Lazybones, being a cat, allowed his prey to run halfway across the room before he gave chase. He scrambled over chairs and laps, leaping over the head of the High Priest, and he ran across the bishop’s shoulders before pouncing on the terrified little squirrel, which he then deposited at the feet of First Minister Munson.
“Levi,” the bishop said dryly, “that cat believes you to have inferior hunting skills. I suggest you accept his offering with praise and thank him for the bounty you are about to enjoy.”
The squirrel shot off again, missing Levi’s ire-laden, “Fuck off, Brother Hamilton.” He bent over and jabbed a pointy finger at Lazybones and warned him to catch the vermin and take it outside, or else wind up with his lazy bones on the outside of his fur.
Valerie Munson heard the commotion from the kitchen, and when the tiny brown streak headed straight for her, she opened the back door and shooed it outside with a broom, slamming it closed it before Lazybones could follow.
The impressive thing, Hyrum said, was that Levi didn’t get mad. “Daddy told that story about Lazybones and the squirrel in church even. He said it was proof that God uses even his smallest creatures to teach us things and take care of us.”
“Like Wick takes care of us?” Rhys asked, yawning.
“Yeah, like that. Wick takes care of everyone here. I hope my mom knows that, so she doesn’t get mad when he gets on the table when she’s here.”
She has been informed.
Charlie and Alex were already asleep. Hyrum kissed Rhys on his forehead and told him to have a good nap, but he didn’t tell him he would see him after he woke up.
He always said he would see them. Sometimes he warned them he might not be home, but he would be back for dinner. Sometimes he said he would be in his room reading, or that he had to go to work to help Drew think about things, but he never sent them to sleep without promising he would be there later.
What are you up to?
I followed him into his bedroom. He grabbed his red and blue zebra-striped backpack and shoved clean underwear and a fresh t-shirt into it; when I pawed at the zipper, he whispered, “I’m running away, Wick. Not forever. Just until my mom goes home.”
If you run away, she won’t go home. She’ll stay here until they find you.
Aubrey was picking up toys and had her back to the hall and the stairs, and didn’t turn as he called out, “I’m going for my bike ride now.” She called back, “Have fun,” but her hands were full of plastic blocks and he was down the first flight of stairs before she could look.
I’ll go and keep an eye on him.
I ran after him, and when he pulled his bicycle out from under the stairs, I jumped into the basket.
“You can’t go, Wick. Not this time.”
“You need to stay home.” He slipped the backpack on, and then tried to pick me up. For the first time, I leaned back and let slip a tiny growl. Not enough to scare him, but enough to let him know I meant business. “Wick, I’m not gonna—”
You need to let me come with you.
“Oh. You can tattle on me,” he said as the realization settled. “If you go with me you can’t tell.”
He grabbed the protective mesh cover for the basket and clipped it in place and rolled the bike out the door. We headed for the Embarcadero, but this time he didn’t stop at the Ferry Building for a cheeseburger. He sped by the red kiosk that had the best hot dogs he’d ever tasted, and that included the ones Aubrey made for lunch on rare occasions. He kept pedaling until we were past Marina Green and at the edge of Crissy Fields, and then stopped to consider where he wanted to go. If we kept heading west, we would wind up at Fort Point, which wasn’t a good place for running away unless one wanted to sleep nestled in a brick alcove, which we did not. He had the rest of the city to consider, even places he hadn’t yet explored, but he turned around and headed the way we came, going past Ghirardelli Square and back to the Embarcadero. He stopped near the intersection of Jefferson and Hyde, considered what he could do, and turned in the direction of Alcatraz.
He knew how to get out there—Zed’s skiffs were parked close by and he was allowed to use one to get to work—but it wouldn’t be a good spot for someone running away. Zed was there and would tell Aubrey where he’d gone.
“I don’t know where to go,” he finally admitted.
Turn around. There’s a hotel behind you.
“I could find Ash. He knows places to hide.”
That’s not a good idea. Ash sleeps on the beach.
“Maybe I could sneak into the Ozoo building. There are lots of places to hide there.”
And security guards who would know you were there. Just turn around.
“Maybe I’ll just ride for a while and think about it.” He mounted the bike and turned to ride toward the Ferry Building, but only went ten feet before he stopped again. “That’s a hotel, Wick.”
“I can stay there as long as I want.”
He hesitated at the entry.
You’re allowed inside.
“Can I take my bike inside?” he asked the doorman. “And the cat? If I pay for a room?”
The doorman beckoned to the guy whose job was to open car doors for customer. “Our valet will secure your bicycle,” he said. “And yes, your cat is welcome to stay.”
Yeah, they know who you are. They’re not gonna tell you no.
“It’s my only bike.” Hyrum wasn’t quite willing to give it up. “If I lose it, I’m gonna get in trouble.”
No, you won’t.
“Sir, if we misplace your bicycle, we will offer compensation,” the valet said. “If there are issues, I will personally address them.”
It’s fine, dude.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“If something happens to your bicycle while under our care, we’ll pay for a new one.”
He didn’t want a new one; he had an attachment to this bike but agreed because no one would say that unless they planned on being super-duper careful, and super-duper was better than regular careful.
Once in the lobby, he clutched me to his chest. “Wick, this is nice. It’s not as pretty as Father Dan’s church, but I like it. Daddy would say it looks like a place for people with their heads up their butts. I think he probably stayed here before.”
Hyrum made no special requests but was taken to a large room with a sweeping view of the bay. There was no balcony; instead there was a massive window that ran nearly floor to ceiling, and it opened to an iron safety gate. Placed in front of it were two comfy chairs and a tiny table. Someone could sit with their morning coffee and enjoy the early morning or watch the restaurants come to life at night.
He settled onto the oversized bed to search for something to watch on the big-screen entertainment monitor. He pulled his shoes off—taking care to set them neatly on the floor, side by side—and then piled all the pillows behind his back and pulled me onto his stomach. “We’ll go get some food after I watch some TV,” he said. “But if you get really hungry before then, just crawl onto my lap and poke me. Okay?”
Don’t count on it.
He scrolled through the available videos and broadcast shows and decided that he needed to keep up with the news while he was away from home. Will and Jax often talked about things going on in the world during dinner, but if he wasn’t going to be there to listen, it seemed like something he should do. Cartoons could wait until he was home again.
“Sometimes I see Red on the news,” he said absently. “He doesn’t run Florida anymore, but they talk like he does.”
Reporters in Florida are biased. The Prime Minister is a woman and they’ll never give her credit for the progress she makes.
“He made a new rule so girls are allowed to wear nice pants in church instead of dresses all the time, if they want to. Boy, people got mad about that. That was even in the news.”
I’m not sure why it matters what people wear, but okay.
“Oh, and he made a church law that says ladies can teach high school seminary. People got super-duper mad about that. But girls have to take it just like boys, so they know all about the Bible and the other books, so I don’t know why it’s a big deal. Used to be they had to take it even if they didn’t go to high school.”
I thought teaching was one job women were allowed there, at least teaching small children.
“I didn’t get to take seminary on account of I didn’t go to school, even when the girls got to. But Red and Joe and Spencer made sure I learned the same stuff. Daddy didn’t even mind.”
He didn’t mind as long as you memorized everything.
You don’t quote the Bible like you used to. I kind of miss that. I wonder what it says about running away.
“Maybe someday girls can be priests, just like—”
He twitched at a knock on the door, but he didn’t get up to see who it was.
That’s a mistake. You need to answer it.
“Be really quiet,” he whispered.
The TV is on. He can hear it.
He ignored it twice more, even when I warned him that not answering wouldn’t do any good. I slid off his chest because I was pretty sure about what came next, and I was right.
The lock made a clicking sound as a key card was tapped onto the entry pad, and Hyrum jumped up as the door opened.
“Relax,” Will said as he entered. “I wanted to make sure that you’re all right.”
Hyrum was off the bed, clutching his hands at his chest. “How did you find me?”
“Your guard alerted me.”
Shirt clenched in a tight fist, he bounced on his toes. “That’s not fair! They’re not supposed to tell! You said so!”
“No one called Aubrey or Jax.” Will kept his voice even and spoke calmly. “The guard was merely concerned for your wellbeing and was also worried because you seemed uncertain before entering the hotel. There was question regarding whether you entered on your own, or because someone else had directed you to.”
“That’s still telling.”
This time, Will assured him, it was necessary. They would have also informed him if it had been Oz or Zed, if they felt that something was not right. “When there’s a question, they notify me first, Hyrum. I decide whether Jax and Aubrey are informed, and I promise you, I was called on many occasions when they were younger. When Rhys is older, Drew will be informed if there’s a question.”
“But I’m not little like Rhys. I get to go where I want.”
“Indeed.” Will sat in one of the chairs by the window and gestured for Hyrum to sit in the other. “If Rhys had left the building, Vicat would have physically restrained him and then brought him home. No one is stopping you, Hyrum. They were only concerned and didn’t wish to intrude.”
Hyrum let go of his shirt and crossed his arms. “I’m not going home.”
The corners of Will’s mouth twitched up, just a tiny bit. “I’m not here to take you home. You have every right to be here. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a night to yourself. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your own space. You could get your own apartment, if you chose, though I think that would break everyone’s hearts.”
“I don’t want an apartment. I just—I’m not going home until my mom is gone.”
“Ah. I see. She certainly chooses to ignore that you’re not a little boy anymore.”
“I’m a man now,” Hyrum murmured, uncertain.
“But you are still her little boy,” Will said. “We will always be our mothers’ little boys, Hyrum. Yours simply has difficulty understanding where the line is drawn, and why she should not step over it.”
Will should know. His mom tried to draw a line between him and Aisha.
The fog of stubbornness faded, and Hyrum sat on the bed with a sigh. “She’s always talking about her house that got fixed up and a room she has just for me. A really big room with a new window that no one ever threw me out of. She wants me to go with her and live. I’m not gonna.”
“If I have to go back, she’s gonna treat me like a baby. I won’t have a job, and I won’t be able to ride my bicycle on account of I might get hurt or lost. She would make me leave my toys here. I don’t want that anymore. I want to take baths alone or showers if I want. I get to take showers here.”
“Wait. She was still bathing you?”
Hyrum shrugged. “I could wash myself, but someone had to be in the bathroom with me on account of I might drown. But I’ve never drowned, Will, not even a little bit. Aubrey only ever helped me when I first got here, right after you found me. And she lets me go places. I have friends here. I don’t have friends in Florida.” He grabbed at his shirt again, clutching the fabric with both hands. “Mom makes me sleep with the bedroom door open so she can hear what’s going on. I don’t even know what that means, but I like sleeping with the door closed.”
He’d never be able to sleep naked again.
It’s a new thing, Will. It makes him feel adult.
“All right.” Will reached for a notebook that had been placed on the little table. “We’ll make excuses for your absence. Do you know how to order room service? This is the menu.”
He carefully explained how to order food, how to tip without cash, and where to place his tray when he was done eating. When he was certain Hyrum could place an order for the cheeseburger, fries, shake, and root beer he would surely want, he demonstrated how Hyrum could order a movie that didn’t appear in the monitor’s menu.
Warn him about the movies in red. He won’t want to watch kissing things.
“Are you gonna tell Aubrey?” Hyrum asked before Will left.
“She deserves to know where you are. When you fail to show for dinner, she’ll be worried.”
“She’s gonna come get me.”
“I promise, she won’t.”
“She’ll have time with Aubrey,” Will said. “I imagine she hasn’t had time alone with her since she was a very small girl.”
“Wick?” Will asked. “Are you staying with Hyrum?”
It’s my vacation, too.
“I’ll inquire at the desk about having a litter box sent up, then.”
I can use the facilities. No worries.
He reminded me to aim better that usual, told Hyrum to have a good night, and left. Hyrum pressed his hands to his stomach, and then swallowed hard.
“He’s not mad.”
Of course not.
Relief poured over him. “We get to stay!”
His grin reminded me of his first Christmas here, when he saw the bicycles Santa had left for everyone.
Dude, if she shows up and tries to make you leave, I’ll fight her. Like, teeth and claws. Or just a deep growl. People don’t like a deep growl.
He turned to look out the window, searching for the first thing he wanted to do. I hoped it included something dead and delicious, but if not, something to make him giggle and smile.
“What’s something I never done before, Wick?”
Well, this, for starters.
“I told Aubrey I was gonna go to the pier and watch the birds bug people. We should do that, so that it wasn’t a lie.”
I’m not a fan of pigeons.
“If I find a bench to sit on, you have to get on my lap, okay? That way I know you’re okay. People like you and I don’t want someone to try to take you.”
The guards would stop that, but okay.
“I know my guards are still following me but if a bunch of people got between me and them, they might not be able to stop someone really fast. Like I saw a man on TV, he runs so fast that he can jump over things and other people running still can’t catch him. I bet he can even run faster than Will.”
Well, to be fair, Will is pushing fifty and isn’t as fast as he used to be. He decided against getting his bike from the valet. He walked toward the pier with me trying to balance on his shoulder—he was getting better with me there but still didn’t have the hang of it—and stopped short of Pier 39 to buy a bag of popcorn. I knew it wasn’t his snack. This was a bag filled with pigeon magnets. Hundreds, if not thousands, of buttery little pigeon magnets.
The long bench halfway down the pier was vacant. He bought a soft drink from the hot dog cart and sat down, reminding me to get on his lap, and he waited. There was munching of the magnets, of course, because it’s impossible for a person to hold a bag of warm, buttery popcorn and not eat some. That would be like setting a plate filled with real live fresh dead shrimp in front of me and expecting me to not at least sample it.
I don’t care if you tell me no. Turn your back, and I’m stealing a bite.
We sat directly across from a popular fish restaurant, one with al fresco dining for the people-watching tourists that frequented Fisherman’s Wharf. He nibbled on the popcorn and leaned back as if he were soaking up the sun, though he was searching for the birds that often lurked on the second level railing. When he’d spotted half a dozen, he flicked a kernel that had fallen onto his knee and giggled as they descended on it.
Hyrum was careful to not launch any popcorn near the tables where people were eating. He carefully flicked pieces to his right and his left, and the only ones bothered by it were people trying to walk past without being bombarded by hungry pigeons. When there were a dozen birds pecking at popcorn pieces, a server from the restaurant stomped to the railing, mouth open to complain.
One of the guards strolled past, muttering as if talking to himself, and moved on. The waiter sighed and went back to work; Hyrum was a nuisance, but he wasn’t breaking any law and none of the birds had landed on the patio. Yelling at the Queen’s little brother for something that was merely annoying was not worth the potential fallout.
Jax and Aubrey would have sided with the server, but he had no way of knowing that.
Hyrum giggled again and lifted me to his shoulder, declaring the shenanigans almost complete. He headed toward the end of the pier and the view of the bay, with a dozen birds hopping behind him. He casually dropped pieces of popcorn along the way, and when we reached the pier railing, making sure no one was standing nearby, he upended the bag and with a swiping flourish, sent the remainder flying.
People watched from periphery. If it bothered anyone, they were too amused by Hyrum’s gleeful laughter to do anything about it. He bounced on his toes, hands pressed to his chest, and giggled wildly as more birds flocked to his buttery bounty.
This time, a guard stepped up to him.
“Hyrum, you’re too close to the rail. Wick might fall off your shoulder and into the water.”
He stopped bouncing. “I’m sorry Wick.”
I could have jumped in the other direction if I thought I was about to be launched. No worries.
“One question. Do we need to call for bicycles? All but one went back with the last shift.”
“Nuh. I’m gonna walk the rest of today. I might go to the marina grassy place and then the sand. I think Wick will like the sand.”
“You need anything, Wick?” the guard asked. “Food or water?”
He asked as a reminder to Hyrum, lest we repeat the panting incident.
“Oh, I bet he wants something to drink. Do you think the fish place will give me a little cup with water in it?”
The guard reached into the cargo pocket on his pants and pulled out a collapsible cup. “Take this. It’ll fit in your pocket and you can fill it at water fountains.” He demonstrated how to open and close it, and then handed it to Hyrum. “It’s okay, I have another one. Please take it.”
The cup was not standard issue, and I wondered if Hyrum’s guards carried them now, just in case.
He offered me water on the pier, again when we reached the aquatic park, and yet again when we reached Crissy Field. I would have preferred food at that point, but he was happy playing in the sand, and he mentioned getting lunch at the Italian place across from the hotel.
“Drew says they have really good pizza. I like the place we usually go but I want to try it. He says the pepperoni bites back.”
I wasn’t sure a restaurant was a good idea, given that he was digging in the sand and by the time he was done he’d jammed most of it under his nails. He brushed it from his pants, though, and went into the restroom where he thoroughly washed his hands and arms, digging out the detritus from under his nails.
“You need to go potty?” he asked as he dried his hands. “Oh, no. I’m sorry. You’re not one of the babies. But if you gotta go, meow at me. I’ll help.”
Given the volume of water you’ve offered me, that’s not a bad idea.
He made sure I didn’t fall in, checked to be sure I hadn’t missed, and for good measure washed his hands again. Before we left, he asked if I needed another drink—just meow—and I head butted his cheek to let him know I was fine.
He hesitated outside Piazza’s; some restaurants allowed me inside, some allowed me on the patio if they had one, and others—unless I was with Will or Jax—wouldn’t let me in at all. Hyrum didn’t want to cause a fuss and realized that if he said he was Aubrey’s brother that they would let me in no matter what the rules were, but he didn’t want to use that.
“Oz says that’s rude, and it’s not fair to other people. If you can’t eat here, I’ll go somewhere else. I can get pizza another day.”
Or order it to go.
Still, his hand lingered on the door handle, uncertain. He was about to turn around and find another place to eat, but the door popped opened and Sean McAllister stuck his head out.
“Hyrum! Long time no see!”
Sean had been a reporter for the university newspaper and had once scored an interview with the King. The interview turned into a short adventure in Will’s birth When followed by several days in a holographic simulation of Saint Francis. He’d learned too many of the family secrets and was a potential liability, but neither Will nor Jax were worried he would tell anyone.
There was little reason to worry.
No one would believe him.
Sean did not want to find out what the penalty would be if he blabbed to the world that the royal family not only traveled in time, but each of them had—in his words—superpowers. He’d seen Hyrum and Rhys play with electricity. He knew Will and Drew could communicate with me. By the time we left Saint Francis I was certain he had no intention of blabbing to anyone, but it was not because he was afraid.
Sean McAllister was loyal, and he wouldn’t put any of the family at risk for the things they could do.
Hyrum hadn’t seen him since they’d parted ways in Finn’s lab, but he’d read the editorial piece Sean wrote at the end of the school year, and blurted out, “I liked your story about Jax! It was really good!”
Grinning, Sean ushered him inside. “Thanks. Did Mr. Blackshear like it?”
Hyrum nodded enthusiastically. “He says he thinks you should be a writer when you grow up, but not a reporter on account of you’re not mean enough.”
“Yeah, I don’t like pestering people.”
“But you can write stories about them! How come you’re here? You look like a waiter now.”
“I am a waiter now. This is my grandfather’s restaurant. I work here every summer and sometimes on the holidays. Is this your first time here?”
“Uh huh. Drew says you got really good pizza here and I wanted to try it.” He slid into the booth Sean gestured to. “Is it okay for Wick to be here? I don’t want to get in trouble if he’s not allowed. I can come back.”
“He’s fine. I know the owner and he kinda likes me.” Sean sat on the other side of the table. “Hey, want to split a pizza? I’m due for a break and I’m hungry, too.”
Hyrum nodded again. “I like pepperoni. What do you like? We can have different things on the same pizza. Drew showed me how to do that one time when I wanted pepperoni and he wanted stupid stuff. But then he added pepperoni to the stupid stuff, so I don’t know why he didn’t just get pepperoni by itself.”
“Drew’s weird,” Sean said, chuckling. “He and Oz come here every now and then.” He leaned forward and whispered, “One time, he got ravioli with spinach in it.”
“So how come you’re here by yourself?” Sean asked as he tapped their order into a tablet.
Hyrum giggled. “I ran away.”
Sean’s finger hesitated over the tablet. “Should I text Drew and tell him that you’re all right?”
“Nuh. Will knows where I am. He said it was okay if I wanted to stay in a hotel while I run away.”
“Does he know you have Wick?”
“Uh huh. Wick said he wants to stay with me, so we’re gonna do adventures. Today we tossed popcorn at pigeons and then went to the sand and played in it, but I washed my hands so I won’t get any on the pizza.” He held his hands up and checked his fingernails. “Maybe there’s a tiny bit left.”
Sean assured him the few grains of sand still under his thumbnail wouldn’t leap out and attack the pizza. When another server brought their drinks to the table and they smiled at each other, Hyrum whispered loudly, “Is she your girlfriend?”
Sean’s eyes widened. “Um, we haven’t talked—”
She grinned and said, “Yes, I am. Introduce me to your friend, Sean.”
Hyrum jumped up and held his hand out to her. “I’m Hyrum. You’re pretty.”
“Thank you. And I’m Kit.”
“Like a kitty?”
“Something like that.”
“Wanna have pizza with us? There’s gonna be lots.” He looked at Sean. “Are you gonna marry her?”
“Oh my god, Hyrum. We’ve only been dating—”
She laughed and let go of Hyrum’s hand. “I’m not on my break but thank you for asking.”
She leaned toward Hyrum and whispered, “We just might get married someday, but he doesn’t know it yet. Don’t tell him.”
“Kit smells nice,” Hyrum said as he sat down.
“What about you?” Sean pressed. “Any girlfriends?”
“No, no, no, I don’t want a girlfriend.”
“Sure about that? They’re kind of fun to be with.”
I thought you could barely talk to women. That’s what you told Jax.
“Ah, Wick speaks. I’m just teasing him. I know he’s too busy for a relationship right now.”
“I’m not too busy,” Hyrum countered. “I just don’t want to. Girlfriends want to hold hands and kiss and do other kissing things.”
“Never met a girl you liked that much?”
Hyrum considered it. “There was a girl in school who wanted to kiss me, but I said no because you only kiss your girlfriends and I didn’t want one. But she was nice. Her name was Maddy and that was short for Madison, and even if I wanted a girlfriend she was only seventeen so I said to her, ‘I’m old enough to be your daddy,’ and she said, ‘Nuh-uh you’re in school too,’ so I told her I was forty-four on account of I was then, and then she said ‘Oh, you’re super old.’ So then I met her to Barry, and she liked him and he was only eighteen and new in our class, but he liked kissing things. I made him promise to be nice and not kiss her until she said it was okay.”
Somehow, Sean followed Hyrum’s train of thought. “Well, it’s probably a good thing in that case. She wasn’t old enough to give consent if you had wanted to kiss her.”
“Uh huh. Will said if I ever want to kiss a girl, I need to ask him or Drew if she’s old enough and then to make sure I have consent, even though I don’t know what that means. I said I would ask Aubrey, but Will says she might cry on account of she doesn’t want me to move away and if I start kissing girls I might want to. Oh! You kiss a girl now! Did you move out of your mom’s house?”
Sean had, in fact, moved into his own apartment. While they ate, they discussed what independence felt like, and Hyrum admitted that even though he lived with his sister, that was a big part of why he didn’t ever want to go back to Florida. Here, he was independent. There, he was a child.
“That’s why I ran away. My mom is coming tomorrow, and she might make me move back there. So I’m gonna stay in the hotel until she goes home.”
“I get it. I love my mom, but I don’t think I’ll ever want to live with her again. Look, a hotel is going to get expensive. If you need a place to crash for a few days, you can stay with me. I have a spare room. No bed, but I can pick up an inflatable. I have a pretty good entertainment system with tons of video games, and there’s a playground close by. It could be fun.”
Hyrum thought the hotel would be just fine; his mother was only going to be there a few days, and it’s not an adventure if you stay with someone else. Then it’s just visiting. Sean put his number and address into Hyrum’s phone just in case and made him promise that he’d call if he needed company or just wanted someone to hang with.
“We can run around on Ocean Beach with play swords and pretend we’re the Lost Boys,” Sean said.
Hyrum agreed that sounded fun, but the light in his eyes changed.
After wandering around the Wharf for another hour, he decided that stretching out on the bed sounded like a good idea. We watched cartoons until he was hungry again, and he carefully planned out his meal before calling room service. Before he picked up the phone, he muttered the directions to himself: “Will said say ‘hello’ when someone answers and then to ask for room service, and then wait for another person to answer, and then say ‘hello’ again and my name and my room number. Then I get to say I want a cheeseburger and fries and chocolate milkshake. Be sure to say thank you.”
He followed Will’s instructions exactly, until after he’d given them his order when he blurted out that he needed cat food, too, and did they have the kind in the can with the red stripes and the little kitten face on the front?
“Wick!” he gushed when he hung up. “They have your favorite kind of food, and they’re bringing two cans! One’s beef and one’s fish and shrimp, so you can pick.”
“I never heard of a hotel having cat food, but I asked because just in case, and they have it.”
There may have been interference on my behalf. But it’s still nice.
He celebrated this little victory by jumping on the bed. “It’s not an adventure if you’re not a little naughty.” He bounced for several minutes, giggling, and when he stopped he said, “Okay, I won’t do it anymore. But that was fun. I never got to do that before.”
I don’t think anyone minds.
Worse things have happened on that bed.
After we ate, he carefully stacked the dishes just outside the door, the way Will instructed. He watched the news—he did not see Red, which disappointed him though he expected as much—and then another cartoon before taking a shower and helping me in the bathroom. Before he turned out the lights, he knelt by the bed to say his prayers, remembering to ask for good things for all the people he loved, and he gave thanks for the fun day he’d had. After a quiet “amen,” he reached into his backpack and grabbed Chuckles, the stuffed rabbit he slept with. He left the curtain open so he could watch starlight bounce off the water while he fell asleep, and I curled up on the bed next to him.
“That’s so pretty,” he whispered. “I wish we lived near the water. I’d like to see it every night.”
He was quiet for a long time, but he didn’t close his eyes. I waited; I didn’t want to fall asleep until he did.
“If we lived near the water, we could play on the beach every day. Bike rides would be a lot funner, too.”
The kids would enjoy it, for sure.
“Maybe sometimes I can sleep in Will’s office. He can see the water from there.”
Drew has a bay view, too. He’d let you stay there every now and then.
There was another long stretch of quiet, and he blinked slowly, slow enough I thought he was drifting off.
“I’m not a lost boy, Wick,” he finally said. “I’m not lost.”
He rolled onto his back.
“I’m not a boy, either.”
I know that, too.
“I know Will and Drew think I’m a man, but I still don’t feel like one.”
I don’t feel like I’m over four hundred years old, but here we are.
“How come I have to be like this? Why can’t I be normal?”
You are normal.
“My daddy did this to me. It’s not fair.”
No, it’s not. But we wouldn’t have you any other way, dude. You’re what we need, you know.
“Joe said Daddy did mean things to Mom on account of he thought I was gonna be a girl. But Joe didn’t know why that was a bad thing. He said girls are really nice and sweet, and he wanted a bunch of daughters because boys give you headaches and they eat boogers.” His breath hiccupped and he wipe his arm across his nose. “If he didn’t want a girl so bad, he coulda taken Mom to one of those doctors. Joe said that was against the law, but people do it anyway. He says it shouldn’t be against the law because sometimes people get scared and do stupid things on account of not having safe doctors or safe homes, but I don’t know what stupid things.”
I don’t know, dude. I’m glad he didn’t.
“Maybe because it’s a sin? Daddy cared about sin and what the church thought, except for when he punished us. And a doctor coulda told them I was a boy. Like Oz and Drew found out Eli was a boy when he was still just a tiny thing in her tummy. Is that a sin, too? Finding out?”
Religion was not my strong suit. Hyrum and Aubrey were the only ones I knew who held onto faith as a matter of fact and not hope-filled belief. Still, I’d heard enough from Hyrum over the years he’d lived with us to have an idea which direction he would always head, and that was wherever he thought God and Jesus were.
The only thing your dad feared was Jesus. He probably didn’t do it because no matter what, Jesus wanted you to be there. Beating on your mom was just an outlet for his rage. He had a lot of that.
“Jesus loves everyone,” Hyrum sniffed. “But all the things Daddy did, it probably made Jesus cry.”
I’d ask what about God, but I was there when your dad told the world he was God.
“Why didn’t Jesus fix me?”
Because you’re not broken.
“I know what I don’t know, Wick. And I’ll never learn things like Drew does. The only time I ever felt a little bit smart was when Aubrey and Jax sent me to school. I already knew how to do most of the things we were supposed to learn. I even wanted to quit because I knew those things, but the teacher asked me to stay, on account of the other people in my class could see how I did things and know that if they really wanted, they could do them, too.”
Here’s a thought for you—Drew will never learn things like you do. He sees things other people don’t, but you see things he doesn’t. He loves that about you.
“Drew got to go to real school, not life skills. And he got an extra degree when he graduated. And he’s gonna be a doctor, but not the kind that gives you shots.”
That doesn’t make him better than you.
“He’s loads better than me. He’s not afraid of anything, not even kissing things.”
Dude. I jumped onto his chest so that I could see his face. How much of what I’m saying are you grasping?
“Can I tell you a secret, Wick?”
“I won’t ever do kissing things because it hurts. I don’t think it hurts men when they’re doing it with women, but I think it hurts women. It hurt when Daddy did it to me.”
It doesn’t hurt them. If it did, they’d just go around kicking random men in the junk until all men stop trying.
“Daddy hurt me so much. That’s why I did the thing and set his hair on fire. I didn’t mean to, but he was gonna punish my little sister, and—”
He pulled Chuckles in tight and gulped for air.
He deserved it. And you put the fire out before it did damage.
“Why didn’t Mom stop him, Wick? She knew he was doing it. She heard me crying, I know she did. She didn’t stop him from doing it to Aubrey or our little sisters. And she cleaned the room under the stairs on account of he didn’t want to punish anyone in a dirty room. Why didn’t she do anything? She could have stopped him. I know she could.”
He would have beaten her so badly that she would have died, Hyrum. I don’t think she knew how to stop him.
“She knew how to stop him. Or she could have called the police. Or told Grandpa. Grandpa Jake would have made him stop. He hated Daddy. If she had told him before he died, he would have made it all stop.”
Your dad was the head of the church and the country. I’m not sure he could have done anything. Levi would have killed him, most likely.
“I think Daddy got someone to kill him, anyway. Grandpa knew Daddy hit Mom and they had words about it. I heard him say that it made him sad that he ever made her marry Daddy, and then he was dead a couple days later. I guess it doesn’t matter now. Even if Daddy never punished me, I’d still be stupid.”
Listen to me.
Hear me. Please hear me.
You’re not stupid. You just don’t know things you’ve never been taught, same as anyone. You learn at your own pace. That’s fine.
“Rhys knows things I don’t, Wick. He reads really big books and he can do fractions. He’s not even four years old yet.”
Rhys is like Will was at that age. He’s an anomaly. Look at Charlie and Alex. Rhys was reading when he was their age, but Charlie can’t even keep his pants on, and Alex thinks Grandpa Eli ate the last living unicorn in the world.
Jax told her that unicorns have rainbow blood, and after Eli ate it, he sold all the blood, and that’s how they make rainbow cotton candy.
“Charlie just likes being naked, that’s all. I bet if he wanted, he could learn to read like Rhys does. Will tries to teach him, but Charlie runs off on account of he thinks Rhys can do all the reading for him. I wonder why they’re so different.”
He’d stopped crying, and his breathing evened out; I wanted to keep him from ramping up again.
Maybe Rhys was conceived in Will’s birth When. I know kids there read and write earlier than kids here do.
“Can Isaac read?” Isaac was Jay’s little brother. Technically, he was George’s clone—Jay’s other stepfather—but Jay considered him to be his brother as much as he did Rhys and Charlie. He was created in Will’s birth When and lived there part of the time. “If it’s a time thing, he should be able to read.”
I’ve seen him and Rhys trade books. And Aisha has been teaching him math when he visits. They like to play school together.
Isaac and Rhys, I mean. Not Isaac and Aisha. I suppose Aisha likes it, too.
“I like Isaac. He’s pretty quiet, though.”
I think he doesn’t feel well a lot of the time. George is afraid he’s getting time-sick, but Jay says he mostly feels bad before he has to go back to the other When, and he’s always afraid it’s time to go back.
“Maybe he’s nervous.”
Or just sad that he has to go. But he has to because George needs to go home to reset every now and then. Otherwise he’ll get time-sick and that won’t do Isaac any good.
“If I had a thingy in my head like Rhys does, I could have run away to Will’s When. That would have been the best adventure.”
Rhys only has one as a safeguard, in case he gets separated from Will and Aisha. Oz got hers when she was little, too.
“Or maybe I would have gone to see Shivan and Jeff and Fluffy. I’d like to ride on Jeff someday, if he’ll let me.”
He’ll let you. Tell him he’s pretty. He digs that.
“I hope we go back soon.”
I’ll make sure of it.
“We have to take Rhys, so he can play with Quinn.”
We will. You sound sleepy now.
He closed his eyes and I waited until his breathing slowed before sliding onto the mattress. I curled up on the other pillow and was almost asleep when he said, voice thick, “I have to go home tomorrow, Wick. Real men don’t run away from stuff like this. I have to go tell my mom I won’t move no matter what.”