Mature (18+) Audiences. Contains bad words and sex-y scenarios.
It looked more like a huge carnival that a community had put together than a little girl’s seventh birthday party. There was a ticket booth at the front manned by a teenage girl from Ari and Julien’s neighborhood, and the girl had dressed the part, wearing a top hat, black and white pinstripes, and pigtails in her curly mop of hair. There was a Merri-go-round, a Ferris wheel, a mini roller coaster, food vendors, and a lot of children.
A crapload of children.
Xara narrowly avoided a collision with two boys soaking each other with water guns. She and Mike had arrived a few minutes ago and had been standing in line, but Julien spotted them and let them know they could walk right in since they weren’t guests. It was why they didn’t get tickets.
Tickets were for guests, not family.
“You think we’ll do something like this when our kid turns seven?” Mike asked, looking around the expanse of the park Julien and Ari had “rented out.”
Xara shook her head. “Umm…no. I don’t have the patience to organize something this big.”
“We could afford it.”
“It’s not the money, Mike.” She squeezed where their hands were joined. “Even if we hired somebody to put it together, we’d still have to host. By the end of the night, I’m fighting somebody.”
He laughed and kissed her cheek.
As far as she knew—if the pregnancy test she’d taken this morning was any indication—they were still not on the path to becoming parents, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. They constantly tried to the point where they had to relegate lovemaking to a bed instead of all the various on wall, against trees, and other standing up positions that were detrimental for conception. It had been three months of missionary and Mike claiming, “ass up and face down is essentially the same thing as missionary.”
In the beginning, for a nanosecond, she’d worried that them not being able to conceive would be a deal-breaker for him and their relationship. Sydney and Joel’s relationship had ended because they didn’t agree on whether they wanted to be parents. Sydney didn’t want children, and Joel wanted nothing more than to be a father.
Mike had quickly reassured her that wasn’t the case for them. He loved her, and he would love her until he was old, gray, shuffling, and grumpy, with or without children. And, if natural conception wasn’t an option, there was IVF, adoption, surrogacy…a host of alternatives. As long as they were on the same page about wanting to be parents, they would be fine.
She stopped, turned to him, and planted a kiss on his mouth.
“Not that I’m complaining,” he licked his lips, “but what was that for?”
Xara shrugged one shoulder, squinting against the sun streaming into her eyes. “No reason. I just love you.”
“I love you too, Xar.”
“Hey, Mike! Xara!” Mo, Giorgio’s wife, waved at them from a few feet away. “You’re just in time. Mike, we need somebody for the dunk tank. Xara, some of the girls want to put on a fashion show in the ‘Chic Tent,’ and yes, they came up with their names themselves.”
“I don’t know about—”
“See you later, babe.” Xara tugged her hand away from Mike’s. “I love you.”
He opened his arms, palms facing toward her. “Really, Xar?”
“They said the buzz word. Fashion. The children need me.”
She hurried off. When she reached Mo, she gave her a long hug, and they disappeared inside a gold, pink, and white tent with scalloped edges and balloons attached to poles along its sides.
Spending time with small children wanting to fashion ballet tutus, dresses, tuxedos, and Thandie’s “velociraptor-princess” costume left Xara with a pit in the middle of her stomach. More specifically, her uterus. The wives of the rest of the team—Mo, Ari, Larke, Tayler, Ayesha—had pitched in to help out. Ayesha’s boys, Theo and Josiah, were the only children old enough to participate, but they’d wanted to steer clear of tutus. Xara realized those were the two boys she’d nearly run into earlier.
Before today, she’d met everyone except Ayesha, who lived in Hawaii. Over the past year, she’d spent more than enough time getting to know the other women and feeling like she was part of the family. Part of something big. Even Ant and Val had taken to the group, but Ant wanted no part of joining the team. According to him, he was “more than satisfied” with his stable, non-high-flying job at the Fire-Rescue in Dallas.
“Excuse me, Auntie Xara?”
Xara looked down into Thandie’s large brown eyes. “ Yes, baby?”
“Can I say a bad word?”
Xara’s face grew hot. “Um, I don’t think your mother would approve of that.”
“I know. That’s why I asked you.”
She knelt to the girl’s eye level. “Why do you want to say a bad word, Thandie?”
Thandie pointed across the chaos of the Chic Tent to a little girl with wispy, light blond strands. A pink headband with a large bow separated the girl’s bangs from the rest of her hair, the locks spilling down nearly to her tailbone. From what she recalled, the little girl’s name was Lyalya, Yaya for short…and for English speakers whose tongues couldn’t contort into the syllables necessary to pronounce it.
Most everyone who’d attended from Thandie’s school was families with money, but Yaya was the only one who’d shown up with sunglasses-wearing bodyguards in dark suits.
Xara had noticed Giorgio watching them when they entered. It was hard to get a read on him, but she’d still been able to tell there was something about them he either didn’t like, recognized, or both. Whatever it was, she never wanted to be on the receiving end of Giorgio Pozza’s “dislike.” It seemed more like a death sentence than a social circle snub.
“Did Yaya do something?” Xara asked.
“She called me a bad word.” Thandie, pouting, faced her. “I can’t say the word, but Mommy said it’s a bad word, and I shouldn’t let people call me that.”
Xara tapped her ear. “Whisper it to me then.”
Thandie leaned forward.
When the word left Thandie’s lips, Xara almost cursed out loud herself.
“She said it was what you call people who look like me.” Thandie held out a smooth, brown forearm. “With my color.”
Logic said she couldn’t beat up a child and that Yaya, given her age, had definitely learned that word from someone older and ignorant. That didn’t stop her from imagining herself marching over to give the little stormy-eyed cherub a history lesson.
“You’re right, she shouldn’t call you that,” Xara affirmed. “And, I’ll tell you know what? I’ll talk to your Mom. We’ll handle it.”
Thandie nodded. “Thank you, Auntie Xara.”
“But, before you handle it, can you help me go to the bathroom?”
Her Velociraprincess outfit would make it impossible for her to get out of it herself.
“Yeah. Come on.”
She walked Thandie out of the tent to the bathroom facilities across the large park. Once inside, she helped her unzip her costume and waited outside the stall. While she waited, her mind replayed the incident. Thandie was seven. Seven. It was unfair to her to ever have to be exposed to that word in the first place, especially used in such a manner, but seven was entirely too soon for it. Even if Thandie didn’t understand the full extent of the slur, she knew it hurt, and she knew it was tied to her appearance. That, in and of itself, was traumatic.
Small knuckles rapped on the stall door. “I’m all done, Auntie Xara.”
Xara stepped back so Thandie could push the door open, entered the stall, and helped her back into her costume. They walked over to the sinks, washed their hands, and without prompting, Thandie took her hand as they left the bathroom facility.
I want a daughter.
The thought hit her like a lurker jumping from their hiding spot.
She and Mike didn’t really care whether their first child was a son or daughter, but she realized, right then, that she wouldn’t mind a Velociraprincess like Thandie.
She received a text from Ari that said she should bring Thandie to the parking lot when they were finished so she could change back into her regular clothes. On the way to the parking lot, to take Thandie’s mind off the incident, she asked her about school, her baby brother, and how she was liking her party—whatever topic she could think of until she was handing her off to Ari to get changed in the back of the family’s Land Rover.
“I’ll go finish up at the Chic Tent,” Xara said, walking off.
Ari lowered the car window. “When you’re done, head over to the picnic tables. We’re gonna eat soon. The family table is the one with the yellow balloons.”
Xara smiled. She loved it when they used that word.
Suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to see her husband, she pulled out her phone. Just as she was getting ready to text, arms snaked around her from behind.
“Hey, baby,” she greeted.
That’s not Mike.
She jerked away from the person’s hold. They spoke with an accent that sounded distinctively Russian. A gentle Russian. Like if the language was hit with a cloud of setting powder. His English wasn’t as broken as Giorgio’s, however.
A man, tall with blond hair past his shoulders and icy blue eyes, waved. “Hallo.”
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“No, no.” He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his dark brown slacks. “Well, maybe. Your name, what is it?”
“None of your business.”
He grinned. “Earlier, at the little, uh,” he drew a circle in the air with his index finger, “fashion show, I notice your shirt come up. You have dragon on your side.”
Xara self-consciously tugged at her shirt. “And?”
“I like it. And ring in your nose. And your hair.” He dragged his gaze over her body. “Come home with me.”
Xara turned to walk away.
He stepped forward and grabbed her elbow. “Why do you walk off?”
“Because,” she pulled away from his grip, “I’m not interested in anything you have to say.”
“You come here with the Chinese guy.” He used his fingers at the corners of his eyes to stretch them into slits, and she realized this man had to somehow be connected to Yaya. “You know Chinese men have little penis, yes?”
When she started off this time, he hurried and placed his body in her path.
“The way you talk,” he said. “You do not bend. You are strong, but I will make you bend, on your knees, with my coc—”
Her hand connected with the skin on the side of his face. “Fuck off,” she repeated. “I’m not wasting any more time on you. Grab me again, and I can do a lot worse.”
He rubbed the spot, grin slackening his jaw.
It made her think of slime and sludge.
She didn’t run off; she didn’t want him to assume she was afraid of him or in any kind of hurry to get away from him. Instead, she took her time walking back into the venue, not so much as tossing a glance over her shoulder.
* * * * *
Mike moved his head from side to side, studying the man who’d grabbed Xara, his wife in the parking lot. He could leave the situation alone since Xara had handled herself well. He could go check on her, ask her about it, and give her a chance to talk him down. But his brain wasn’t exactly wired that way.
It needed an outlet.
And it would get it.
Mike watched Xara bend over to place a slice of cake in front of a child and ask them what they wanted to drink. Bending stretched her jeans tight over her already round ass, and Mosvar shifted in his seat. Grabbed his dick.
Mike felt the vein in his neck pop.
That’s strike two, motherfucker.