Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Journal of Penny Grant - August 2 - Poor Ruby

 "Penny? I'm sorry I'm late," Nick called out as he walked through the door.

I left the toddler's room and looked at Nick. "Elmer rang to say he was keeping you for a bit of extra work. He didn't want me to worry." Elmer was right about that. I would have been very worried if I hadn't known. Nick hadn't been more than a few minutes late since his return.

"Elmer did tell me that he rang and," he paused for a moment, "I was deep in the bowels of the base. There's no cell reception down there." He paused for another moment. "May I ask you a question or two, Penny?"

I nodded.

"How many relatives do you have in town? Cousins, second cousins?"

"Oh dear, that's a tough question. As for cousins, my Uncle Eric had three children; Jerod, Elmer and Roccio. Aunt Kathy had two; Malcolm and Shanna. Uncle Sammy had two; Glen and Devon. So that makes 7 cousins. But once you go deeper into the family tree, I think about 1/3 of Sunset Valley is related to our family to some degree. What brought that up?" I was curious since we hadn't really talked about family before.

"Elmer made a joke about how your family was a small army. I was wondering how true it was," Nick replied.

"It's a small exaggeration but not too far from the truth. I have 3 siblings. My dad had 3 siblings. My grandfather had 4 siblings. Since almost all of them got married and had kids, that does add up. My mom, she was the only child and her parents had no siblings so that side of the family is non-existent."

"I only have Aunt Amelia, who has never married, and Uncle Travis who has three kids. My dad and my uncle never really got along so I don't even know my cousins. And I only have two siblings." He looked at me with an odd expression. "I never really thought about how few relatives I have compared to you."

"The only cousins I really know are Jerod and Elmer. I know a few of the rest of them vaguely but not enough to hang out. The oldest of my cousins, I don't know at all. Which means it's not that different."

Nick gave me a very odd look and there was a moment when I thought he was going to argue with me. Instead, he just replied, "Anything happen with the toddlers that I should know about?"

"It's been very quiet all day. The toddlers have all been quite happy playing with their toys. In fact, Jerod was by earlier and I had time to train him a bit in martial arts. Odd that you should happen to mention cousins today."

Nick shrugged and went off to the toddlers room. I watched, thoughtful. It was very odd that Nick decided to ask about my cousins and Jerod turned up on the same day. Life is so full of weird coincidences like that though. It had been about two weeks since Jerod had given me the Axe of Pangu and he wanted to know if I was going to be using it any time soon. I told him I didn't know.


Since his return, Nick had been doing far more with the children than I'd originally asked. He didn't just start watching over the toddlers at their bedtime. From the moment he got home, he played with and taught the toddlers.

He also made sure he spent time with Buddy every day before dinner. When Buddy got home, he rushed to his desk and did his homework. Buddy knew that if he finished his homework, he could get his dad to play. If the homework wasn't done, then that would be what Nick and Buddy did together for the night. I don't know exactly what else Nick had done, but Buddy was doing well in school.  We never had phone calls about his bullying either.

Buddy, Nick and I would eat dinner at 7 each night. At about 8, Nick would put the toddlers and himself to bed in their room.  He'd stay in the bedroom with them until he had to get up, get ready and leave for work in the morning.

I hadn't adjusted to Nick being with the toddlers every night though. After two years of effectively being a single parent, I still had the habit of waking up several times in the night. I would spend a few minutes listening in case there were any signs of trouble. I never heard more than a small whimper without hearing Nick's voice as well.

Of course, sometimes I did get up and double check. There were times when I'd find Nick asleep in the rocking chair, with one of the triplets on his lap. Other times, he'd in the sleeping bag with a toddler cuddled on his chest. It was rare to find Nick in the sleeping bag without a toddler in his arms.

If I happened to check while Nick was awake, he always told me the same thing. "You can go back to bed, Penny. I have this." I had to admit, he did have it. He was taking it all in stride, not once did I notice him complaining.

The household had all gone to bed and I had been asleep for a little while. There was a soft tapping on my bedroom door which woke me.  "Penny? Penny?" Nick said quietly.

"Come on in," I replied around a massive yawn. Nick came into my room holding Ruby in his arms. "What is it, Nick?"

"I'm going to take Ruby to the hospital. She's been coughing a lot in the past two nights and she just started again." He was jiggling her, which was making Ruby smile.

"Surely it can wait until tomorrow?"

"Ruby can't sleep. I can't sleep because Ruby can't sleep. And it seems worse at night so it's probably a better time for a doctor to figure out what's wrong." He looked at me, the concern evident in his eyes. "I wanted to be sure you knew that Ruby and I were out so no one will be watching Daisy or Joey for a bit."

I yawned again. My brain just wasn't ready to function at whatever time this was. "Are you sure?" Just then, Ruby started to cough. It was a steady hacking cough that sounded far too intense for her little body. "I see. Oh you poor baby," I stroked Ruby's head gently. "All right, Nick. I'll be sure to check on Joey and Daisy while you're gone."

"Do you want to hear about the results when I get back or sometime tomorrow?"

"I won't be sleeping much, now that I am awake. I'll be worried about Ruby," Ruby's cough finally eased a bit and I stroked her head again. "And Nick?" I looked him in the eyes. "Thank you."

"Penny, I was a complete and utter arsewipe for suddenly disappearing. But I never ever stopped caring about my family." He sighed, "I freaked out because three little strangers at once was hard for me to cope with. After two years of getting switched between units all the time, three strangers is a piece of cake." With that, he left.

I looked at the clock, it was midnight. I had thought it later than that but I guess I had just been in a deep sleep. Bad timing but I can't blame Nick for that. Poor Ruby was the cause and it wasn't her fault either.

I went into the toddlers room to wait. The rocking chair was actually quite comfortable, something I hadn't realised. Both Joey and Daisy were quiet in their cribs. After an hour or so, I drifted off into a doze.

I woke to the sound of a car just outside the house. Sure enough, the front door soon opened. I quickly got up and moved to the main room, shutting the door so the toddlers would stay asleep. "So?"

His face was haggard, "I'd forgotten how awful waiting in the hospital was. If it's not critical, you have to just sit forever." He blinked as he realised that I'd asked a question. "The doctor thinks that Ruby might be asthmatic. There are a couple of tests they can do when she's older but he used some asthma medication on her and her breathing settled down in a few minutes."

I looked at Ruby, now sleeping in Nick's arms. "Is it dangerous?"

"The doctor thinks Ruby has a mild case and there's a chance she'll outgrow it eventually. Even if she doesn't, she'll live a pretty normal life. She'll just need to be aware of it and have an inhaler around just in case." He kissed the top of her head. "Given her reaction to the medication, I think it's the right diagnosis."

"Our poor baby."

Nick suddenly yawned. "Penny, I'm sorry but I have to put Ruby to bed and try to get a little more sleep. I'm going to be so useless tomorrow."

I nodded. It wasn't long before he was due to get up and get ready for work. "All right. Night night, Ruby," I kissed her on the forehead.

"Night, Nick," I kissed his cheek. His eyes grew wide, it was the first time I'd touched him since hitting him the day he got home. "Thank you for taking Ruby to the hospital."

He blushed, nodded shyly and then left for the toddler's room. I watched his retreat, thoughtful. Perhaps I could go back to China and resume the martial arts tournaments. Perhaps I could trust Nick.

Technical notes

Nick decided not to tell Penny that both her brothers and two of her cousins threatened him. He still feels guilty enough over abandoning his family that he won't complain about such things.

Penny's dad Phillip did have 3 siblings; Sammy, Kathy and Eric. Penny's grandfather Indiana had 4 siblings; Laura, Henry, Rick and Jack.

Family wise, Sam and Rachel had 5 children. Indiana and Judy had 4 children. Now I was going to let Phillip stop at 3 but number 3 turned out to be the twins Veronica and Penelope. So now the family heir is cursed to forever have 4 children - which means Penny and Nick are done having babies.

Spare pics

Let's ride, cowboys.

 wrong angle for that...

 Monster under bed!

Why did you get the only child who needs to be in a crib out?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Family Chat with Nick

"Gentlemen, are we agreed?" I asked as I looked over my co-conspirators. I'd just spent the last couple of minutes sketching out my plans.

I smiled as the other three nodded. It seemed likely that my cousin Penny would want to travel soon, now that she had possession of the axe of Pangu. But her husband, Nick, could be a problem. I decided to ask Penny's older brothers, Vincent and Stephen and my little brother Elmer to meet and have a serious chat about Nicholas Grant.

"You aren't planning to kill him?" asked Stephen. "I don't mind shutting it for an hour for some frank talk but it would be bad for business if word got out that someone died here."

I shook my head, "No, not this time. This time I just want to make sure he's very afraid."

"You'll be putting the fear of God in him?" asked Vincent.

"Oh no," I told Vincent with an evil smile. "I'm going to put the fear of me into him." I looked across the table at my brother, "You think you can handle your part?"

"Yeah, Jerod. It shouldn't be hard to get him in the car. Catch him 5 minutes before the end of the day and give him something to do that will take at least 10 minutes and they'll have left. He should be willing to get a lift from me," replied Elmer. "I guess I could even make it an order. Since we'll be off duty, he doesn't really have to accept orders though."

"Are you sure you don't want to involve more family?" asked Vincent. "I'm sure that they'd be interested."

"There are four of us. I think that should be enough to control Nick, if he should put up a fight. It also should be enough to get the point across that Penny's family will not let her get hurt again without serious consequences for him." I stood up. "Tomorrow at three then?"

"I kinda hope that Abbey doesn't find out about this." Stephen said with a serious look. "I'm not sure how my wife would like me taking part in threatening her brother."

"I would think that Abbey would be all right with it, Stephen. You and Abbey did help with the triplets when Penny couldn't cope, yes?" By the accounts I'd heard, Penny collapsed and might have died if not for the family. The sudden disappearance of Nick soon after the birth of triplets just completely undid her.

"Now that I think about it, Abbey hasn't spoken to Nick since he returned. It should be all right."


The next afternoon, I was waiting in the car for Elmer and Nick to emerge from work. I'd timed my arrival for a few minutes past 3, just after most of the soldiers has left the base. I heard Elmer speaking as they approached, "I'm sorry, I must have kept you too long. I think your ride left. We can give you a lift, if you like."

I saw Nick look around. "Yes, sir. Looks like I do need a lift. It won't take long, my place isn't far from here." I nearly laughed hearing Elmer being called 'Sir'. I never see the military side of Elmer's life.

I waited until I'd heard both doors shut then locked the car. I'd already taken the precaution of setting the child lock on every door but mine. Now that Nick was in, he wasn't getting out until someone let him out.

It was only a minute later when I turned toward town instead of the road leading to Nick's home. It wasn't long before he noticed. "Wait! It's quicker to drop me off first and you've missed the turn. This is the wrong way."

"That's because we aren't taking you home yet. We are going to the pub," said Elmer.

"But I don't want to go to a pub. I want to go home. I need to go home," protested Nick.

"No one said you had a choice. We are going to the pub," I told my reluctant passenger. I heard Nick pull at the door handle when we stopped at a stop sign. "Don't bother, it's locked."

"Who do you people think you are?" Nick demanded. He looked closely at me. "You're not in the service. But you do look familiar."

I shrugged and just let him stew over the question. We were already close to our destination and he'd have his answers soon enough.

"We're here," I declared as I pulled into one of the parking spots.

Nick's door was pulled open. "Out." He was roughly pulled from the car.

Nick struggled to free his arm when he noticed who had grabbed him. "Vincent? What's going on?"

"Inside. Now," was the terse reply. "You'll find out what's going on in the pub. Are you going to walk or do we drag you?"

Nick stalked into the pub then spun around to look at us. By this time, he was royally pissed. I heard Stephen locking the door of the pub behind us.

"What's going on? What the hell are you doing?" he demanded. "Who the hell are you? What gives you the right to bring me here?"

"I am Jerod Grant and that is my little brother Elmer. We are a very small sample of Penny's cousins around town. I believe that you know Penny's brothers?"

Nick nodded.

"I mentioned to them that I wanted to talk to you. Stephen volunteered using his pub as a meeting place. Elmer volunteered to arrange your normal car to leave without you."

"But why?"

I stepped closer and Nick took a step backward. "So I could warn you - this one time. If you should ever hurt Penny again or if she ever has cause to complain about you, you had fucking well better leave town and never come back."

"Because Penny may have forgiven you once but we haven't," said Elmer.

Vincent said, "And the family will never leave you in peace if you dare do it again."

"Penny has practically an army of cousins and second cousins in this town," I told him. "I can promise that most if not all of them will act if they are asked."

Nick hung his head. "I didn't really plan to do it in the first place. I got drunk. I wasn't thinking straight."

Vincent growled, "We don't care if you planned it or not. We care about our Penny. So will you be running off again? Will we have to pick up the pieces left of my little sister again?"

"No! I swear. Please believe me, I regretted leaving. But they wouldn't transfer me home." He looked at each of us in turn. "I know, you probably don't believe that. But why threaten me now?"

"I have reason to believe that Penny wants to travel. And if she does, I want to be fucking sure that her home and family are well cared for," I replied. "That's why now is a good time to have this little chat."

"Penny might travel? She hasn't said anything to me yet," Nick said. "Then again, she still doesn't talk to me except about the kids."

"She'd have a hard time making up her mind to go, if she thinks you might desert the family again while she's gone," said Elmer. "The fact that you deserted your family makes me sick. I'd love to find a reason to get you thrown out of the service for good."

"Easy, little bro. Four kids are a lot of mouths to feed," I said. "He needs a job to pay the bills. It's all right as long as he doesn't use the service as a way to escape again." I looked at Elmer, "We don't want to destroy the family by losing them their home." Elmer gave me a small nod.

"So none of the women in the family wanted to get involved?" asked Nick.

"Oh, you are so wrong. The couple I asked wanted to be here. But they also wanted knives and some time with your genitals," I said. "A very blood thirsty lot, the women in the Grant clan." I paused and stepped closer. "It was tempting to give you to them and see how it goes." I took a deep breath. "In fact, if you do totally fuck up again, I'll not only give you to the women, I'll make sure they have a huge array of sharp pointy things to choose from. And when they finish, I will kill you."

Nick gasped and looked at the others. "You wouldn't. Not really."

I spoke with deliberate emphasis. "Make no mistake. I would. I swear, you dare hurt my cousin again and when I catch you, you are a dead man."

"But ..." Nick paused as he looked at the others. Then he shut his mouth, there was no sympathy from any of them.

"For the moment, you are safe. Penny has chosen to take you back. I will respect her decision. I seriously don't understand it though."

"I do," replied Nick. "Our oldest, Buddy. He listens to me. He was being a bully at school and uncooperative at home. Now that I'm back, he's much better."

"So, you will be there for the family, Nicholas Grant? Penny can travel without worrying about the babies?" I asked.

"I swear to you I won't let Penny down. I won't let our kids down. If I fail, I'll bring the knives for you to use myself."

I nodded. "Then let's get you home, Nicholas Grant. Elmer rang your house to let Penny know you'd been delayed." We set off. Would Nick be true to his words? Only time would tell, but we could all encourage Penny to take her long overdue holiday.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Journal of Penny Grant - July 17 - What is that thing?

Not long after I left Buddy talking to his dad when my phone rang.

"Oh, hey Emerald."

"Yes, Nick did come over and he is still here."

"Send the boys?"

"No, I don't need James or Stephen to come over and remove Nick. I said he could stay."

"Don't worry, Em. He will earn his keep. I can promise you that. Starting with permanent night shift and potty duties."

"Thanks for the offer. Would you and Brad like to come for dinner? No? Okay, that's fine."

Nice of Emerald to be worried that I might needed help making Nick leave. That phone call brought home to me that there was no one in our family in Nick's corner. His parents, especially his mother, and sibs were taking my side just as much as mine own were.

That wasn't quite true. Buddy seemed to be firmly on Nick's side. He was chattering to Nick after so long of barely talking at home at all. Much as it pained me to see Buddy giving Nick getting so much attention when I’d had so little; I was happy to see Buddy opening up to someone.

And I have to give Nick some credit. Since getting home, he’s been very attentive to the toddlers. Potty training, trying to teach them to talk. He has two years of getting to know them to make up and he seems determined to make it up in a couple of months.

He never tries to initiate a conversation with me. Wise, waiting for me to decide to start a conversation. At the moment, there's not much more to say than I did when he first came home. Which I think he did hear quite a bit about that first night.


It was 2 in the morning when I woke up thinking about the toddlers. Since I was awake, I decided that I might as well get up and check that all was fine. Usually at 2, one of them wanted food or a cuddle or something.

After I flipped on the lights, there was a groan from near one of the cribs. When my eyes had adjusted, I saw Nick in the rocking chair with Ruby in his arms.

"Hi Penny," Nick blinked a few times sleepily at me. "You can go back to bed. I have this."

I glanced around the room and noticed a sleeping bag rolled up near the desk. "You sleeping here?"

He nodded. "Easiest way for me to know if any of the toddlers needs attention. You did tell me that I'm supposed to watch over the toddlers past 10. You really can go back to bed, I have this."

I watched Nick slowly rocking with Ruby. "All right. Good night." I flipped the light switch back off and left the room.

The next day, Nick quietly left for work with the triplets deeply asleep. Buddy ate his breakfast and then gathered his stuff for school. I heard a car pull up outside and wandered outside for a look.

To my surprise, it was my cousin, Jerod. I hadn't seen Jerod in ages. Then again, I don't go to Stephen's bar while I hear he does all the time. “Hi, Penny. I don’t know if you’ve met my little sister Rocio? She’s Elmer’s twin.”

I shook my head. “I don’t believe we have. Nice to meet you, Rocio.”

Rocio smiled at me. “Nice to meet you. I can’t stay long but after Jerod told me that you were the most appropriate person for the thing we found, I really wanted to come and talk to you.”

“Most appropriate person for what?”

“It's something special for an explorer. Jerod says you have the itchy feet of the family and we found this thing in storage box way in the back of a room that no one uses.” My curiosity was building. What was this mysterious thing that they found?

“I’ll go get it from the car,” said Jerod. He went off to fetch whatever this item was.

“Jerod also said you have triplets. Seriously?” Rocio asked.

“Oh yes, that’s true. They’ve recently turned two and they are all sorts of trouble.”

“I can’t imagine. I only have one baby and that’s plenty. How do you cope with three?”

“You do what you have to do, I suppose. My family pitched in to hire a butler and I don't know what we'd do without him.”

Jerod came back and Rocio left saying that she had to get to work. Jerod was carrying a huge axe. “Jerod? What the hell?”

“We were digging around, cleaning out some old stuff in the family home, and we found this axe. As far as I can tell, it’s the Axe of Pangu which was found by our great grandfather. Rocio doesn’t travel, and the damn thing creeps me out no end.” Jerod smiled at me. “That’s when I remembered that Uncle Phillip said you love to travel. So Rocio and I decided you should have the family heirloom.”

I took the axe from Jerod and I could swear that it spoke to me. It told me that it was ready to destroy any obstacles in our path. I can see why it gave Jerod the creeps.

Jerod leaned toward me. "I hear your husband has stolen my title of the black sheep of the family."

"Thoroughly, Jerod. I think you'd have to murder someone to get that title back."

He laughed. "I guess I'll have to live without it. I wasn't planning on murdering anyone in the near future. Unless you have a special request?" He gave me a sort of serious look with one eyebrow arched.

"If you are asking what I think you are, then thank you but no. Besides, I think you'd have to take a number. I do have two older brothers, you know."

"True, but they don't have a reputation in the family." He cocked his head for a moment. "Guess I don't have a reputation either, now." He gave me another grin. "But if you want me to do something, just send word."

"It sounds like you are in the family gossip loop. With the triplets, I'm really don't hear much. Anything new in your life?"

"My oldest married last week.  It didn't take him long at all to settle well to domestic life and his new spouse. I guess that means grandchildren on the horizon. The idea of a grandchild though, that's utterly terrifying."

"Just think, a baby you can cuddle and spoil to your heart's content. Then hand back to parents when they get annoying."

He nodded. "That part sounds good, but I don't feel like I should be a granddad yet. And the youngest will probably be leaving the nest soon. Elsa and I aren't looking forward to that. You won't like it when that happens to you."

"Jerod, that's a long long time in my future. Like after an infinite amount of pottys and schooling and..."

"It seems like forever now but it won't be. Look, I have to go but do call me if you need anything."

"Bye Jerod."

Jerod and Rocio's visit had given me something to really consider. The plane tickets that Nick gave me were sitting on my side table in the bedroom. I hadn't given them much thought since Nick handed me the envelope.

But now, I had that axe. An axe meant for exploring. An axe that my great granddad Sam once handled. A huge, badass axe.

Could I trust Nick with the family? Could I go back to China and renew my quest to be a master of martial arts?

Well, no, I certainly can't trust Nick alone with my toddlers. Not yet. But I did have backup. If I asked, my family would check on things.

And it would be my first time away from home since before I was pregnant. It's been a long time. Who should I ask? Veronica was out, her job was too much. My parents would try but I hate to put them to too much bother at their age. Vincent? Stephen? Just trust Jake?

Bonus pics and a bit of ancient history.

It is true that their great granddad Sam earned that Axe of Pangu when he was alive. He only got to use it a few times before it disappeared from the inventory.  I wanted Penny to have it but it might not have respawned in the temple. Since Rocio does live in the house where Sam and Rachel raised their tribe of 5, she and Jerod may well have found it and that's my story. :D

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Journal of Penny Grant - July 14 - Changes

I was busy with Daisy when my phone rang. "Hello?"

“Mrs Grant, this is Kayla Hill. I’m your son’s teacher.”

“Ms Hill,” I paused while I tried to think of an appropriate pleasantry as my mind raced through a dozen possibilities of why Buddy’s teacher would call. Was he sick or injured? Had he forgotten a school project? “I’m pleased to finally talk to you.”

“You won’t be soon. Look, can you come by after school today? We need to talk. Sooner will be better, Mrs Grant. Can you and Buddy’s father make it?”

“I’ll try, Ms Hill, but I can’t make any promises. I have triplets and it’s not often that I can get away. And Buddy’s father is overseas. He’s not due back yet.”

“I need to talk to you, Mrs Grant. Please try to make it.”

I ended the call. Obviously Buddy wasn’t sick, but what else would his teacher want to talk about? And I realised that Nick was due back relatively soon now. When he’d left, the babies weren’t that old. It was only about a month or so before his tour of duty was over.

“Jake, I have to go see Buddy’s teacher at around 3. Will you be all right?”

“Of course, ma’am. That should be the toddlers nap time. If they don’t sleep, they do have plenty of toys to amuse themselves with.” Jake nodded reassuringly at me. “We will all be fine.”

So I left home just before 3 and headed for the school. It took me a little while to find someone who could tell me where Ms Hill might be. I found her and Buddy in the library.

“Thank you for coming, Mrs Grant.”

“Please, call me Penny. Mrs Grant is too formal for me.”

“In that case, you should call me Kayla.”

“So Kayla, why did you ring?”

She sighed. “This is never an easy discussion. Penny, Buddy is bullying the other children in his class.”

“A bully?” I looked at Buddy but he was staring at his hands and refused to look at me. “I know he doesn’t like school but...”

“We knew that someone was bullying some of our other students. Sometimes one of the girls would be crying after recess. We’ve been notified by parents that their children was giving away lunch money. Finally though, we caught it on a surveillance camera.” She motioned toward the small tv in the corner and started a tape playing.

It took a few minutes to get to the critical scene. But I couldn’t deny that it was Buddy, first shouting at one little girl until she burst into tears and then shaking a boy until he was handed something. A few minutes later, he went over to the sand box and the two children in it scrambled to get out before he arrived.

I turned to look at my son. “Buddy, why? Why are you picking on them?”

He just shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t like them.”

I turned to Kayla. “Do you have any suggestions of where to go from here?”

She nodded. “The school has a counselling service. I would suggest that Buddy regularly has a chat to a counsellor and see if that helps.”

“Is that all?”

“Until we can be sure he isn’t bullying the other children, he’ll have to be supervised by a teacher while he’s on the school grounds. No hanging around before or after school since he might be able to bully someone again.”

Buddy was frowning deeply. But I couldn’t deny that the other children weren’t safe around him. “All right, that makes sense to me.”

“I won’t,” declared Buddy.

Kayla and I looked at each other. “You won’t what?” I asked my son.

“I won’t talk to the counsellor, I won’t be nice to the cry babies at school. I won’t!”

What was I going to do with him? “Thank you, Kayla. I appreciate you letting me know. I’ll talk to Buddy, and see if I can get him to listen.” I stood up and reached for Buddy’s hand.

He resolutely moved his hands away from me. “I’m not a baby. Just leave me alone.”

“If you insist, Buddy. It’s time to go.” I was relieved to see that he also stood up and grabbed his books. We left the building and Buddy hurried ahead. I assume so he wouldn’t be seen with me.

After we’d been moving for a few minutes, Buddy suddenly spoke. “This isn’t the way home.”

“We are going to visit your grandparents,” I explained. I didn’t know if any of them would have any useful suggestions but it would be worth asking.

“Which grandparents?” he grumbled.

“Both of your grandfathers, I hope. Since they live next door to each other, it shouldn’t be hard.”

Buddy slumped in the seat of the cab still grumbling. Fortunately, it was only a few minutes before we had arrived. I rang the doorbell first and while waiting for someone to open the door, rang up Brad to ask if he could come over.

Dad was the one who answered the door. “Penny? What’s up?” He looked around to see if I’d managed to bring the triplets as well as Buddy.

“Buddy, why don’t you go find something to play with?” I knew that Mum and Dad had never changed our room much so there were plenty of toys in the house. Buddy let out a loud sigh then wandered into the house.

“Dad, it’s about Buddy." I noticed that my father-in-law was on his way so I waited for him to arrive. "I just found out that Buddy’s bullying some kids at school and he’s not talking to me about it. I was hoping that maybe he’d talk to one of you.”

Dad winced. “Penny, I can’t promise he’ll talk to us either.”

I gave my dad a brief hug. “I know Dad, but maybe he will talk to one of his granddads when he just won’t talk to his mother. His teacher suggested a counsellor but I don’t know if that's going to work.”

"You have a chat with your mother while we see if Buddy responds to us," Dad said. He and Brad walked back toward what was our bedroom when Veronica and I lived at home. Mum was at the computer but she was willing to have a chat instead of working on another novel.

Some time later, Dad and Brad came back. "Sorry Penny but your son is stubborn. We tried but I don't think we made the slightest impression on him."

"That child is a Kane," declared Brad. "We do stubborn like nobody's business."

"Thanks for trying. I hope he doesn't start picking on the triplets too."

"We asked. Buddy looked shocked. I don't think he ever considered bullying the babies."

I nodded and went to collect Buddy. We went home, my son still unwilling to talk to me.


Unfortunately, weeks of counselling provided by the school also did nothing to change Buddy's behaviour. If he thought he could get away with it, he still bullied the other kids. The school started sending me suggestions about sending Buddy to a boarding school. Probably more to get him out of their school than to change his ways.

I was concentrating on what needed to be done for the triplets when the doorbell rang. I finished changing Joey's diapers, everyone who visits this house knows that it can take a while before I can answer the door.

When I finally opened the door, I saw nothing but wrapped packages. “I’m sorry, I would have hurried if I’d know you were carrying this much.”

I lead the way to the table. "Let me help you with those. Are they heavy?" A neutral grunt was the only reply.

I put several packages on the table before I finally saw who was behind them. "Nick?" He nodded and carefully put down the last of the packages.

All the feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, and depression I'd had in the past two years suddenly came gushing back. I started yelling at Nick for leaving us with no warning. There was definitely quite a lot of cussing and name calling involved. I vaguely remember shaking him at one point and slapping him at another.

Nick never once moved. He didn’t flinch, he didn’t retaliate, he just stood there while I released two years of pent anger and frustration. It wasn’t until I’d nearly worn myself out that I realised Nick had been quietly talking the whole time.  He was repeating, “Penny, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” over and over again.

“Why, Nick? Why did you sign up for a tour of duty? Why did you abandon us?”

“Before I explain, I want you to know that I’ve been trying to come home. I’ve asked each of my commanding officers if I could have leave or get reassigned here. They pretty much stop seeing me after the first couple of weeks. But I did try.” He took a deep breath. “Remember what it was like just before I left? Neither of us had enough sleep, and we were both tired and stressed out?”

I glared at him. “It didn’t get any easier here without you.”

“I’m sorry. Truly. That first day back at work, a couple of guys and I shared a few brews. The booze went straight to my head and so when I saw a sign asking for a few people to transfer to a unit that was due to be posted overseas, I signed up. It seemed like a great idea, there was a pay increase and overseas bonus. Plus I wouldn’t have to cope with three little strangers.” I noticed that he started to reach for my hand but stopped himself. “It was about 3 days after we arrived when I finally got over the jet lag and it dawned on me what I’d done. How I'd just left my wife, my family with no warning at all. After that, I turned on my phone to find I had about a dozen very angry text messages from my mother.”

He looked at me but I just shook my head. I wasn’t sure what to say. “That’s when I wrote the first letter. I was told that you didn’t open any of my letters but I still wrote every week. They all start exactly the same way. ‘Penny, I love you. I hope that you’ll forgive me some day.’ I know I haven’t the right to ask that yet. But I hope very much that you’ll let me earn that right.”

He motioned toward the packages strewn over the table. “Those are the gifts for the kids. I bought you something as well.” He pulled a long white envelope out of a pocket. “I asked your dad what would be the best thing I could give you.”

“My father spoke to you?” I growled.

“It took me about 6 months of sending him grovelling messages before he finally responded. I thought he’d block my number or change his before he’d answer me. Eventually though, he gave in and told me that the best gift I could possibly give you was this.” He handed me the envelope.

I opened it and found plane tickets to China. “The dates are completely flexible.” Nick said softly as I stared. “You can fly over when you want and return when you are ready.”

I shook my head. “I can’t go to China. The triplets need so much attention.”

“I’ll look after everything here.” I started to shake my head again. “Look, Penny, I know that you don’t trust me. But we both know that everyone in our families would be watching. I wouldn’t dare fail.”

“Nick, even then, how can I believe anything you say?” I stared at those lovely tickets in my hand. The thought of going back to China and resuming my martial arts training was so attractive. But I would never risk the triplets.

“All I ask for is a chance, Penny," he pleaded. "Could I go see the babies at least? My mother frequently sent me messages about them but she refused to send even a small blurry picture.”

“Yes, Nick,” I said reluctantly. “You can see the babies. You are their father after all.” He headed toward their room before I’d even finished the sentence. "Wait, they are out the back in the swings."  I followed along after he changed direction. “Emerald didn’t say she was writing you.”

“I think she didn’t want to upset you again. But I’m pretty sure that she used her rank to ensure I didn’t have much fun overseas.”

“What do you mean?”

Nick picked up Joey and started to cuddle him. “I left home because of these adorable little ones. God, they've grown so much. While overseas, I would just be getting used to the unit I was attached to when I’d get reassigned. It happened every couple of months, toward the end of the month, I’d get papers assigning me somewhere else. Which meant every couple of months, I had a new group of people to deal with and a new CO to boot. And it’s always the tradition that the newer soldiers in the unit get the worst jobs. I’ve peeled mountains of spuds and mopped hundreds of floors.” He put Joey back in the swing and moved on to Daisy. “I’m pretty sure it was my mother pulling in some favours. No one else was getting transferred every two or three months.”

I heard the school bus in the distance which reminded me about Buddy. I was at wits end about how to handle Buddy. He simply didn't listen to me at all. “Nick, I’ll let you stay here with a few conditions.”

His attention went from Joey to me. “Really? I thought I’d have to take Dad up on his offer of sleeping in a dog house. I thought he was joking until I heard Mum comment that it would contaminate the dog house if I slept there.”

Em was so outspoken that it could be harsh sometimes. “Buddy has taken to bullying kids at school. I’ve talked to him. Both our fathers have talked to him. He sees a counsellor at school twice a week. None of it is making any difference. He won’t really talk about it and he won’t stop doing it.” I pointed at Nick. “For you to stay, you have to agree to work with Buddy and take care of the triplets if they need any attention from 10 at night to 6 in the morning.”

“Yes, Penny, I accept. Anything else?” Nick replied quietly.

“I don’t know what we will do about you sleeping here. You are certainly not welcome in my bed. Buddy and the butler have the only other beds…”

The front door slammed loudly, announcing the return of our oldest son. “Buddy, could you come outside please?”

We could hear the stomping and the grumbles as Buddy approached. Nick put Daisy back in the swing and turned to wait for Buddy. The door was shoved open.

“Hey, Buddy. How’s my little man?” asked Nick.

“Daddy?” replied Buddy as his eyes grew wide. “Daddy!” Buddy flung himself at his father.

I decided that for the moment, I’d leave the two of them together. I quietly left the room. I didn't love Nick. I didn't trust Nick. But if he could do something about Buddy, I'd let him stay.


it may be that Penny does love Nick.