The sun finally peeked over the horizon, casting the world in a flurry of warm autumn colors. Normally Stormy would have been sleeping, wrapped in her giant blankets, enjoying the warm cascade of heat that poured from the new duct work Dutch had put in. Laying there feeling the warm kisses to the back of her neck from Steven.
None of those things happened this morning. In fact, Steven hadn't come back until late the night before. When Stormy asked how he was, he just responded 'fine' and that was the last thing they said. Stormy couldn't even coax him to discuss what happened a few days before. All he wanted to do was go to bed. When she asked why, he just said he was tired. After a few more failed attempts to get him to engage with her, she just let it go. Not because she didn't want to talk about, or because she didn't care how he was feeling, but because she had to get up early and tend to a laundry list of things to do in the morning before her kids arrived.
When she did finally join him in bed, he acted different. Distant. Sleep hadn't come easy to her. Even with Steven laying behind her on the bed, which usually made her feel secure. She missed his tender touch, his loving kiss, and even the smothering canoodling they use to do. The only thing that kept her form crying was that he at least said goodnight to her. She laid there in the bed listening to him sleep until two thirty before she finally passed out.
At six she had gotten up and tip toed out the door, not wanting to wake Steven. For some reason she didn't want to deal with him, which had never been the case in the past. This new sporadic behavior was untraceable, unpredictable. Steven had never refused to talk to her about his feelings before. Steven had never really been mad at her before. What had she done that was so terrible? These were all questions that would have to wait for a later time. For now she had a lot of other things to focus on.
Later in the morning, Stormy stood on her front porch, sipping on a cup of coffee. The steam wafting up from the cup was visible in the cold hours of the morning. She was wrapped in a warm pink robe that Ruby had given her on her last birthday. She had joked that it was a portable Ruby hug. The thought of Ruby had left an icy sting in Stormy's heart that mimicked the frost licked world around her. The air was full of a thin layer of fog. It gave Stormy a creep feeling, much like an old black and white horror movie would. The porch sounded extra crunchy whenever she shifted around on it.
If things in her life were better, this morning would be the most perfect. If you never would had met Steven, you mean. A thought rose inside her mind. When it crossed her mind, guilt spiked her stomach. It sent her into a little panic attack. Since the altercation with Steven in the guest bathroom, thoughts of him made the feelings worse and worse. She didn't even know why she felt so bad about it. This time, she hadn't done anything wrong.
Stormy escaped her darkening thoughts when she saw a black Mercedes rolled up along the curb behind her car. It had been a really nice ride when she purchased it, but next to Dutch's Mercedes, it looked like a luxury piece of shit. Stormy slipped her cell phone out of her pocket and checked the time. Seven thirty on the dot. Dutch loved to be punctual. She had always admired that about him.
The driver's side door opened up and Dutch's huge body practically spilled out. The first thing Stormy noticed was that he wore one of his dorky workout outfits. The ones that rich people wore, when they wanted to look like they worked out all the time. It suited Dutch. He gave her friendly wave and went to pop the trunk.
Stormy let her phone fall back in her pocket and set her coffee cup down on the porch railing. She trotted down the stairs, careful not to slip on the icy steps, and along the walkway towards the car. She hadn't even known that she'd been smiling until it had grew painfully wide at the sight of her babies getting out of the car. Babies was a far stretch from the truth. Both of her kids were taller than her by at least half a foot, had been for almost at least a year now.
Amethyst, the oldest daughter by two and half minutes, was tall and lanky, due to her fascination with playing Lacrosse. It forced her to keep in shape, which was good, because she had always been the laziest of the two kids. Amethyst looked like she'd just rolled out of bed. Still wearing her Adventure Time pajamas. Her feet stuck into her oversize Jake the Dog slippers. She had a chronic case of bedhead, which she brushed to the right with an over abundance moose, spiked up and crispy, like the frosted blades of grass.
Stormy wasn't fond of her daughter's new hair color. The once beautiful blonde had been dyed the colors of the rainbow. Still, Stormy couldn't help the flutter in her heart when she saw her. Amethyst was growing into a beautiful woman.
The filly rubbed her eyes as she shuffled to the back of the car where Dutch stood. Aloe rounded the back of the car. She had always been her busy little bee. Up early, dressed sharply, ready to face each day like a calculated challenge. This morning seemed to be no different.
Aloe sported the kind of outfit that Ruby usually wore. A white dress shirt with three quarter sleeves, tucked neatly into a black pleated skirt. Knowing her kids, it was part of one of those Japanese cartoon outfits they were always sewing together. The thought only made her smile more. Aloe's blonde hair had been washed and brushed meticulously, as it always was. It folded down around her face like a hood. Her green eyes were shielded behind her thin framed glasses.
Stormy shook herself from the trance that her children cast over her, when she heard Dutch's friendly voice. “I know your legs ain't broken, get your ass over here girl.”
Both of her girls looked up at the same time, their eyes meeting Stormy's. They must have not noticed her standing there before. Because when they saw her the air around them ignited with an excited squealing. They tore off towards her, arms out. Stormy struggled to chock back her tears as best she could. When the girls got closer, she unfolded her arms to receive them. They reached her at the same time, clinging and embracing, almost knocking her off of her feet. Stormy could hear them both crying with happiness. That was what it took to break the dam. Tears streamed down her face as she knelt down beside them, embracing them both tightly.
“Mama, I missed you so much.” Amethyst cried, pushing her face into Stormy's neck, Stormy wrapped an awkward arm up under her daughter's armpit, petting the back of her head.
Aloe had her mom's head wrapped in her arms, pressed tightly against her non-existent bosom. “Mama!” Was all she could utter through her happy sobs.
It had been almost five months since she'd seen her kids in the flesh. They had talked hundreds of times on the phone, but the conversations were always brief for one reason or another. It was like that hadn't missed a beat though. Just as close as they had always been.
“Step away, let me have a look at you.” Stormy sniffled giving Amethyst the once over first.
Amethyst had streaks of mascara running down her face. Her big brown eyes colored lavender from the contact lenses she wore. Stormy pursed her lips as she noticed that her kid wasn't wearing a bra. That was something that was going to have to change. Lastly the hair, what was going on with that rainbow colored mess of hair. Aloe looked just the same as she always did. Though now she was starting to fill in her face, hips, and legs, taking after Stormy's body shape.
“You're wearing make up now?” Stormy cocked her head to get a closer look at Amethyst.
“Yeah, just mascara. I think it masks my lazy eye, don't you think?” She replied, her voice sounded deeper than her appearance warranted.
“And what is the deal with your hair?” Stormy wanted to touch it, but was afraid that she might prick herself on it.
“Isn't it cool? Twenty percent cooler to be precise.” Amethyst giggled and wrapped her arms around Stormy's neck again.
Stormy looked Aloe over again and giggled at the strange green thing stuck in her collar. “What the hell is that?” She reached up and touched it.
“It's a celery stalk pin for my lapel, although I didn't wear my blazer today.” Aloe said with her soft and shy voice.
“Why do you have a celery stalk for your lapel?” Stormy probably had asked once before, but couldn't remember the answer.
“Because that what the Fifth Doctor wore, on Doctor Who.” Aloe's smile grew wider when she mentioned him.
“Yeah. Aloe has a crush on him.” Amethyst playfully pushed her sister.
Aloe's face turned red instantly, before she pushed back. “Shut up!” Amethyst tore away running around the yard.
Stormy didn't pay any attention to her, she just looked back at Aloe. “Doctor Who, that's right! I remember him. Speaking of which, I take it Harvard called you finally. They just loved your concept for a real life Tartarus?”
“No mom...” Aloe sounded frustrated, her face still holding a smirk. “And its called the Tartis.”
“More like re-Tardis.” Chided Amethyst with a breathy giggle.
“I said shut up! Why don't you show mom your tattoo.” Aloe stared at her sister in a triumphant manner.
Amethyst stopped running around, the light tan color falling away from her face, Stormy turned on her heels and looked up at her eldest daughter. “Wait, what?!”
“Yeah, daddy said I could get it. He was there with me when it happened.” Amethyst's voice quickly grew smaller.
This had been the first time Stormy noticed that Dutch had walked passed them to drop the luggage off on the porch. When mention of the tattoo came up in unison with his name. He tried to sneak back to his car for a clean get away. But when Stormy grunted harshly, Dutch froze in his tracks.
“Kids, go wait for me on the porch. I wanna talk to your dad.” Stormy got up from the ground, dusting debris from her butt.
Dutch groaned and slowly turned around. “Thanks for throwing me under the bus, kids.”
Stormy walked over to Dutch looking up at him. She wasn't mad. Dutch could tell that from the look on her face. But her feelings were hurt. That fact that she hadn't been included in such a permanent decision, especially one that involved her kids, hurt. Dutch rubbed the back of his neck.
“How could you not have asked me first?” Stormy kept her voice quiet, not wanting to alert the kids.
“I'm sorry, I didn't want to involve you because...” Dutch stalled, whatever he had to say, it couldn't be make her feel worse than she already did.
“Because of what?” Stormy urged him to tell her.
“Well, she got it because of you. Every we talked during the divorce proceedings, we always talked about how Aloe was going to need a lot of love and care. We were wrong. Amethyst was the was that was hurting the most out of our babies. She was upset, like, ninety percent of the time. She wanted to do something to get back at you for leaving.” Stormy could tell that it hurt Dutch to have to tell her this.
“That explains the hair and makeup, too.” Stormy sighed. All the signs were there and she'd missed them. She felt like she'd been hit in the gut.
“Don't worry, though. The tattoo is nothing really bad. It's just a rainbow horse, or some shit. Tiny, please, don't make a big deal out of this,” he asked. It couldn't have been easy for him to tell her, and Stormy appreciated it.
She nodded, and swallowed hard. “I won't. Thank you for telling me. I know this sounds terrible, but I need to hear this kinda stuff. It'll make me a better mother in the long run.”
“Christa, you were always a good mother. Don't ever think otherwise.” Dutch touched her shoulder with his strong hand.
“Thank you, I need to hear stuff like that.” Stormy was tearing up again.
“No problem. Anytime.” Dutch pulled her into a tight hug.
Stormy hugged back, not wanting to let go. “Is there anything else I need to know?”
Dutch hesitated for a brief moment and cleared his throat. “The kids are on birth control now.” He winced as Stormy's gaze went wide. “I took them just last week.”
“Why would you do that?” Stormy wiped her eyes on the back of her hand.
“Amethyst has a little boyfriend from one of her clubs.” Dutch held her tightly in the hug, trying to keep her from exploding. “Now before you react...They're never alone together. They've gone to a couple movies. Aloe and I are right there with them. When they do get together, it's at our house, and always when I'm there to chaperone.”
“Then, why with the birth control pills?” Stormy and Dutch had never seen eye to eye on this matter in the past. Obviously. Her nagging voice reminded her.
“You know why. I just want to give my babies a better chance at staying as young as possible for as long as they can. Ignoring the fact that something could happen is foolish.” Dutch took a deep breath, his big dumb dog eyes where his greatest feature.
Stormy smiled warmly. “You're a good dad. I'm glad that you're their father.”
“What a coincidence, so am I.” Dutch laughed so hard it shook both of them.
When she finally pulled away from the hug, she turned and looked at the kids. They stood on the porch shuffling their feet against the frost uncomfortably. Obviously they had no interest in standing outside in the cold, watching their parents hug it out.
“Dutch, we should get going.” A smoky sounding voice called from the Mercedes.
The voice came from a very young looking cat, with silky brown fur, and tight curly hair that rested around her head. Thick lips and golden eyes that reminded Stormy of Ruby. But that was where the similarities ended. She had a frail looking body, no breasts to speak of, and a long neck. Ample hips and butt to boot. She looked as though she were sixteen. Stormy's heart raced in her chest, a little bit of the green eyed monster was swelling inside. The girl looked familiar, but Stormy couldn't placed where she had seen her.
“Alright, Gretchen, I'll be right there.” Dutch cleared his throat and stepped away, he was waiting to hear Stormy's disapproval.
“She cute. I'm relieved to finally know what she looks like. I think if she were uglier than me, my feelings would be hurt.” Was all she said before turning to walk away.
Dutch chuckled a deep rolling laugh. “Take care of our babies. You kids, behave! If you don't, you better believe that I'm gonna whoop ya.”
“I will.” Stormy said, but it got lost under the exaggerated screams coming from her kids.
They all waved to Dutch, until he had driven out of sight. Stormy leaned down to pick up a backpack and a suitcase. Amethyst grabbed her suitcase and the coffee cup from the railing. Aloe grabbed her overly decorated backpack and held the door open for her mom and sister, before stepping in behind and closing the door.
When they got inside, Amethyst jumped at the sight of a half naked man in the kitchen, making coffee. Stormy could tell that Steven had been a little started too, when he turned and saw a young stranger looking at him from the door. Steven reached over and grabbed a dish towel, covering up his torso.
“Oh shit! Steven, did we wake you up?” Stormy asked. She had not thought about how this was going to play out.
“I heard some noises coming from outside. I wasn't sure what it was. Are these your kids?” he sounded shaken.
“Yeah, these are my daughters Amethyst and Aloe.” Stormy felt a new uneasiness with Steven being around her children, in light of what he'd done to her recently.
“Hello.” Steven's youthful smile didn't hold the same endearing feelings as it had before.
“Wow! Not bad, mom.” Amethyst said.
Steven chuckled and dropped his arms to his sides. Amethyst was anything but shy. That was a trait she had gotten that from Dutch. Instead she paced around Steven, studying him as if he were a rare animal, or bug. She was only a little shorter than Steven. In fact, they carried themselves the same way. The two of them seemed like they could be classmates. Stormy gripped her stomach, trying to calm the nausea that was taking over her. Aloe lightly wrapped her arms around one of Stormy's arms, She could tell Aloe was feeling very self-conscious about Steven. Not that Stormy could blame her.
“How long have you and mom been a thing?” Amethyst asked, leaning against the counter.
Steven straightened up and cleared his throat, still sporting that boyish grin. “Couple of months now. I helped her fix the house up.” Stormy wasn't sure, but she thought she had seen Steven checking Amethyst out.
“Amethyst, lets go see our room.” Aloe called from behind Stormy, her voice wasn't more than a mumble.
“In a minute, I'm talking to Steven. How old are you?”
“Twenty-one, and you?” Steven responded. To anyone else it would had just seemed like a friendly conversation, but to Stormy it sounded more like flirting.
“Fifteen, I'll be sixteen really soon though.”
“Cool, sweet sixteen. That's a wonderful time to be alive.” Steven chuckled and tucked his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“Oh man, you're only five years older than me. Hey mom! Your boyfriend is closer to my age than he is to yours.” Amethyst said, probably not meaning anything by it, but it only enhanced Stormy's discomfort.
“Alright Amethyst. Let's get your stuff up to your room so you can unpack.” Stormy's voice, although light in tone, carried a firm insistence.
Amethyst took a few steps towards the door and looked back at Steven. “It was nice to meet you.” Then she walked out of the kitchen, grabbing her luggage on the way by.
“You kids head upstairs and get started on unpacking. I'll be up in a minute.” Stormy stared at Steven as she spoke.
“Kay. Which room is ours?” Aloe asked as she pulled on her backpack.
“It's the biggest room at the end of the hallway, you can't miss it.” Stormy gave them a glance from over her shoulder, watching them disappear up the stairs.
“They're wonderful kids.” Steven looked at her, his demeanor was as if nothing bad had ever happened between them.
“Don't take this the wrong way, but I want you to leave.”
“Leave? Why? I just got back last night.” Steven leaned against the counter, arms crossed defensively.
“Because I just want to focus on spending some time with my kids this weekend. I would have told you that last night, if you'd wanted to talk, but you didn't.” Stormy purposefully stood in the doorway so he couldn't avoid the conversation.
“Oh...okay. That's all you had to say. I don't want to get in the way of you spending time with your kids.” Steven gave her the boyish smile, the one that usually drove her wild, but she was wise to his tricks.
Thank you for understanding, was what she wanted to say, but what had come out was something different. “Are we never going to talk about what happened between us on Thursday?”
Steven's face went white, as if he had been avoiding thinking about it all together. “I... I don't know what came over me. I was upset.”
Stormy took a step forward, keeping her voice quiet. “Upset is an understatement. No you were a full blown lunatic.”
“Please understand, I've never felt that way before. I just don't know what happened. I'm so sorry that I did anything to hurt you.” Tears were welling up in his eyes.
That was her weakness. Stormy started to shrink at the sight of his tears. He didn't deserve that way she was treating him. If it had truly been an accident, if he really hadn't been in control, then they could work past it, but she wasn't about to risk the safety of her babies. Even if it meant she had to be alone for the rest of her life.
“Alright, calm down. Now isn't the time to discuss this.” Stormy said rationally. “Why don't you come back Monday evening, at six like you use to. I'll get us a pizza. We'll sit down and talk about it then.”
Steven seemed grateful, he ran to her, pushing his face into her neck like a beat dog, begging for her to hold him. “Thank you for giving me another chance. I'm so sorry.”
Stormy sighed, defeated and she kissed his cheek softly, it felt like glass shards against her lips. “I owe you that much.”
When he pulled away from her, he grabbed his hoodie from the back of the door, throwing it around his naked torso. He moved quickly, as if he were trying to flee the scene of a crime. Steven opened the door and turned to toss her a kiss before he left. The pain in her stomach vanished as soon as he had gone. The dark cloud in the room went just as quick. Monday seemed so far away, but not far enough, if Stormy had anything to say about it.
When Steven was finally gone from the house, Stormy walked towards the stairs. She could hear the girls carrying on. It made her heard swell to hear them playing around in her house. They were louder than she remember them being. It had been a long time since she'd heard their voices. A giddy urge to run up the stairs took over. When she heard what they were talking about, a warm blush pushed through her cheeks. It made her slow her pace, she didn't want to interrupt them.
“...She speaks...” Amethyst's voice echoed down the hallway. “O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art as glorious to this night, being o'er my head, as is a winged messenger of heaven.”
Stormy stifled a laugh that was fighting to get out. Why are they quoting Romeo and Juliet? She wondered. This was one of those moments that she struggled to understand why her children did the things they did.
Amethyst's deeper voice rolled out in proper tempo. “Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes of mortals that fall back to gaze on him. When he bestrides the lazy-puffing clouds and sails upon the bosom of the air.” Her tone animated and verbose, Aloe was giggling in the background.
Aloe sounded out now, her tone sweet. “O Steven, Steven! Wherefore art thou Steven?”
Stormy cocked her head. Are they making fun of me and Steven? Despite what had happened between the two of them. To hear her kids making fun of her was amusing. She started to move toward the door again. She wanted to see this first hand.
Aloe started again this time more animated at the urging of Amethyst. “Deny thy father and refuse; thy name; Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I'll no longer be a Capulet.”
Stormy slow clapped her way into the room, as if she were a villain there to break up their plotting. “Oh, you two are just hilarious.”
Stormy moved to sit on one of the twin beds. Amethyst wasted no time in jumping on the bed, wrapping her arms around her mother's neck. “Glad you liked it. We wanted to tell the passionate romance tragedy that is yours and Steven's relationship.”
Stormy blushed deeply. Tragedy was an appropriate word for it, she wanted to joke, but instead she elbowed Amethyst in the stomach, making her grunt. “It's not like that at all. We're just friends.”
“Mom, friends don't let friends walk around their house half naked.” Aloe chimed in sitting down next to Stormy on the bed.
“Yeah, and friends don't let friends sleep in their bed with them. Especially if they're the opposite sex.” Amethyst playfully bit down on Stormy's ear, shaking it like a wild dog.
“Ick, stop that, you're getting drool in my ear.” Stormy laughed and shoved her down onto the bed, tickling her stomach.
“You can lie to yourself and your minions.” Aloe sang, her arms soaring the air exaggeratedly. “You can claim that you haven't a qualm. But you never can run from, nor hide what you've done from.” Her singing stopped abruptly. “Well...us actually.” Aloe pursed her lips, sitting up straight up again.
“Yep, we're smarter now, much more observant then we used to be.” Amethyst rested her chin on the top of Stormy's head.
“How so?” Stormy was amazed at how smart and amusing her children seemed when she wasn't doped up. It was as if she were meeting them for the first time.
Aloe rose from the bed and paced dramatically before her mother. “Well, allow me to point your attention to exhibit number one...”
“The half naked man in your home.” Amethyst finished her sister's though as she was usual known to do.
“Right you are! Exhibit number two...” Aloe touched her chin with her index finger, waiting for Amethyst to see if she could figure it out.
“The only bed in the entire house that was messy, was yours mom.” She clapped her hands excitedly while looking up at her mom.
“Excellent Ame-kun. Finally, exhibit number three.” Aloe pointed her toy replica of the Sonic Screwdriver at Amethyst.
“You could tell us, 'well, he slept on the couch.' Except there were no blankets, pillows, or discarded clothes laying around the living room.” Amethyst was up off of the bed now, standing next to her sister.
“Right you are .And judging by his demeanor when we walked in and saw him.” The dramatic pause was killing her.
“He had been too tired to clean up the living room. Ergo, he was shacking up with you, mama.” Amethyst delivered the fine punch to the case.
With that Aloe turned and gave her sister an exaggerated high five, and they held the pose like it was the end of an episode, from one of their shows they were always watching.
“Bravo, bravo. But there is one thing that you didn't think of.” Stormy said, getting up from the bed.
“What? No. We thought of everything.” Aloe stated, Amethyst nodding her head in agreement.
“You think so do you?” Stormy paced around the room with her hands behind her back. “Did it ever occur to you that Steven was just a red herring. That I was actually...” Stormy paused for dramatic effect. “...after world domination.” She picked up the closest pillow and swung it at the girls.
They scattered like scared rabbits, giggling ferociously. Stormy chased after them through the house. Stormy found herself laughing like a crazy person. This had been the best she felt in days. No guilt, no discomfort, no Steven.