“Lunch?” Herc asked.
“Lunch,” Lucy replied, and pat her backpack.
“Ms. Doge?” Herc asked. She pat the stuffed dog in her arm on the head and grinned at Herc.
“Chaffeur?” She grabbed Chuck around the thigh.
“Appreciate it, Chuck,” Herc said. Chuck nodded - he knew they weren’t going to get into in front of Lucy. And it wasn’t like he disagreed with the arrangement, in principle. He was living with Stacker and Herc while he found a job after graduating, only fair he help out around the house. He just sort of objected to helping out around the house including taking Lucy to and from preschool at ass o’clock in the morning.
“Right then, Lucy, let’s go.”
“And Ms. Doge!” Lucy said. She gave him huge, wide eyes. Herc shook his head. Clearly not Internet literate, his old man. Did not understand the inherent brilliance in strangers, upon finding out the name of Lucy’s stuffed Shiba, going, such soft much cuddles. “Byeee daddy!”
“Bye, Lucy-boo,” said Herc. Chuck shook his head at him. He remembered the first time he heard Lucy call Herc daddy. He had laughed and Herc had just shrugged his shoulders - what, you think Stacker was going to be daddy?
Well, with that mustache, Chuck replied, and Herc threw an empty beer can at him.
He buckled her into the car seat. “Ms. Doge too!” she said, and pointed at Max’s dog carrier, still strapped into the back of his car. “Safety is important!”
“Sure,” Chuck said, and he tucked Ms. Doge into the carrier and zippered it shut. He pulled out of the driveway. “What?” he asked, when he realized Lucy was pouting.
“Daddy and I talk on our drive,” she said.
“What do you want to talk about?” he replied.
“Today we are going to learn about squares,” Lucy said. “And Paxton and I are gonna get our turn to pick the song that we sing at song time and Mr. Becket said we were also going to get to use paint today because we are mixing colors what is your favorite color, Chuck?” Holy shit, Chuck thought, if I were a preschool teacher I would have to keep myself from swallowing my own tongue to end it all.
“What is your favorite color?”
“Uh...green?” Chuck really had no clue.
Lucy considered this. “Mine is mint that is a type of green.” She grinned at him and continued to talk to him about potential song choices for that afternoon.
“Great,” said Chuck, once she finally stopped. He sighed and turned the corner. There was a pretty large collection of people dropping off their kids - all rich looking, too, fancy cars and nice clothes. Chuck sighed and glanced down at his worn henley.
“We’re here!” Lucy said. Chuck helped her and Ms. Doge out of the car.
“Oh, hello Lucy,” said an older woman in a suit, holding hands with two twins. “Who is this?”
“This is Chuck he’s my brother and my cousin,” Lucy said. The mother arched an eyebrow. “Hello Amory and Gavin.” The twins just looked at her and waved.
“How nice of you to bring Lucy and Ms. Doge to school today,” said the mother. She was giving him a - no, she was definitely checking him out. Chuck nodded and then trotted after Lucy as she ran up to a father with a kid.
“This is my friend Regan!” Lucy said. “This is my brother and cousin Chuck.”
“Hello,” Regan said, pulling a pigtail out of her mouth, and Chuck nodded at the father.
“C’mon,” Chuck said, as some of the parents milled around outside. “Let’s get you settled, yeah?” He wanted to get back into bed with Max before he had to write cover letters. “You must be, like, the only kid here with a normal name.”
There were plenty of things that had been bad about the condition Lucy had been in for the first year and half for her life, but the fact that Scott hadn’t given her an actual name was the cherry on top of everything. What? Scott had asked Herc when he visited him in rehab. You get two years, legally. Not like there are any other kids I can confuse her with.
Lucy had quickly rose to the top of name choices on their refrigerator list. Mako had some more esoteric suggestions, but Stacker had shook his head. Trust me, he said.
Definitely trust me, Herc added. Chuck always thanked his father when he sent out a resume that just had Charles M. Hansen on it - mum had wanted to go with Brant or some shit.
“All those names makes it fun trying to figure out who the boys and girls are before the year starts,” said a man.
“MR. BECKET.” Lucy ran up to him and then stopped, almost falling into him, and smiled, holding Ms. Doge out in front of him. They must have had some kind of no touching rule. “Mr. Becket this is my brother and cousin Chuck.”
Mr. Becket smiled at Chuck.
Mr. Becket was hot. Really hot, and not what Chuck expected at all - mussed up blonde hair, strong hair, deep blue eyes, a sort of smirking smile. He had on an oversized knit sweater but it clung, at least, to his broad shoulders.
Chuck extended his hand. “Really nice to meet you, she talks about you all the time.” Mr. Becket said, and paused. “Well, Max.”
"You as well," Chuck said, and he glanced into the classroom. Such small chairs and tables.
“Max lives with me now, Mr. Becket,” Lucy said. “Ms. Doge is his girlfriend.”
“Such romance,” Mr. Becket said. “Much cute.”
Goddamnit, Chuck thought. “All right, Lucy,” he said. “Mako’s gonna pick you up this afternoon, OK?” He smiled down at her. Lucy nodded.
“Nice to meet you, Chuck,” said Mr. Becket.
“This painting is for you,” Lucy said, hopping into the house after an apparently stimulating day at preschool. She handed a piece of thick paper towards Chuck. It was all in shades of green and it appeared to be two dogs with lots of hearts around them.
“Oh, wow,” said Chuck. “That’s...that is great.”
Lucy looked up at him expectantly.
“I will get you some tape, Chuck,” Stacker said. “So you can hang it on your wall.”
“Yes,” Chuck said. “We can put it right next to my diploma.” Stacker gave him a feral grin - the type Chuck bet he used in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever it was that he met Herc. Fuck, the two of them must have been legitimately terrifying together. They were still, probably - Chuck felt bad for any of their clients who didn't listen to directions and messed up on the ropes course or tipped over their kayak.
But at home they were completely domesticated. Lucy had sort of changed everything. He has a sweater vest, Mako had hissed at Chuck one evening. I saw it in sensei’s closet.
Chuck put Lucy up on his bed so she could watch while he taped the drawing up. Lucy sprawled out over his comforter and started rolling around. Max grunted and Lucy giggled, pulling the cover back to reveal Max blinking at her, woken from his peaceful slumber. “Max!” she said, and reached forward and poked his nose. Max grunted again and looked up at Chuck.
“I know, buddy,” Chuck said.
But what were they going to do? They got a phone call three years ago informing them that: a) Scott Hansen had reproduced, b) she had been found sitting in one of his worn Van Halen t-shirts amidst a pile of Cheerios while he was passed out on the couch and c) she had been removed from his custody and headed for foster care unless an alternate arrangement could be made.
Of course we'll take her, Stacker said.
We should adopt her, Herc replied.
Mako and Stacker were a bit reluctant, at first, and it wasn’t like Chuck didn’t understand. On the other hand - you want me to share some choice stories from my childhood? he asked. There had been, according to Herc, periods when Scott had said he was turning things around and so he had been allowed limited interaction time with Chuck. Though that had ended after the bicycle incident.
There are four of us, sometimes, Herc said. We should be able to handle one child.
Any reservations ended when Lucy turned up, ginger, freckled, pretty much one hundred per cent Hansen. All twelve of her words spoken in a soft Australian lilt. A few little hearts might have started floating around Stacker’s head, but Chuck would never tell anyone about that.
“Chuck are you gonna live with us now?” Lucy asked, pulling Max onto her stomach and giggling.
“Um,” Chuck said. “For a little bit. I have to find a job. Somewhere.”
“Boring,” said Lucy. “Unless you are a teacher like Mr. Becket cause then you would get to play and paint and sing all day. And we have nap time and snack time.”
“It’s tempting,” Chuck said, until he remembered all of the children milling around in the morning, the rug with the alphabet squares, and how much children in general made him anxious. What were they saying? What did they want from him?
“Mr. Becket doesn’t nap though he says he doesn’t need them,” Lucy said. “But you take naps.”
“I’m very busy and important,” Chuck said. Lucy considered this. “Max doesn’t like to nap alone.” She nodded her head.
“He can nap with Ms. Doge,” she said, finally. “OK. I’m gonna go and play with Mako.”
Thank god, Chuck thought. He needed a nap after just that.
“So you’re bringing Lucy in, from now on?” The twin's mother asked. Her eyes seemed to be focused on Chuck’s chest. He glanced down - his shirt was revealing a bit of his chest hair, but...uh. He hated being objectified. And who lusted after furry, freckled gingers anyway? Especially ones young enough to be their son.
“Well, uh, Herc and Stacker are pretty busy,” he said. “It’s summer, so, you know.” They had some corporate retreat or team bonding session almost every single day - pretty soon, Chuck feared, they were going to drag him into it if he didn’t get, at least, a part time job. And if there was anything he wanted to do less than wake up and take Lucy to preschool it was to have to escort a bunch of corporate drones through mandatory company bonding on one of Stacker and Herc’s rope courses or wilderness hikes.
“You call your dad Herc?” the mother asked.
“I call him daddy,” Lucy said.
“Right, so I got upgraded to Herc,” Chuck said. “Come on.”
“But I wanna talk to Gavin and-” Yeah, well, I want to go and objectify Mr. Becket, Chuck thought.
“I know, but I gotta get home and make some phone calls, Lucy.” Lucy stared at him. “Lucy-boo?”
“OK.” Lucy trotted after him, dragging Ms. Doge behind her. “Morning Mr. Becket!”
“Hello, Lucy,” Mr. Becket said. Chuck was pretty sure that the sweater he had on this morning was the exact same as yesterday’s, and the day before - just a different color. It confused him. “How is Ms. Doge today?”
“Good we had oatmeal for breakfast,” Lucy said. “I’m gonna say hello to Jacinda!”
“She’s a really great kid,” Mr. Becket said.
“Ah,” Chuck replied. “Not really my, uh, can’t claim any part of that.” He reached behind his neck and scratched. He should not be this intimidated by a man who sang songs using a crocodile puppet named Sir Scales.
“Well, I just think it’s great, you know…” Mr. Becket shrugged his shoulders slightly and gave Chuck a sort of nervous smile, blinking his long lashes at him.
“Oh,” Chuck said. “Yeah, well. Would of got her sooner, if we had known Scott managed to reproduce. Really should of got him neutered, but they don’t allow that.”
“Yeeah,” Mr. Becket said. “Well, have a good day.”
Chuck frowned. He always did something like this.
“Here,” Mako said, and handed him a beer while he sat out on the back porch with his tablet.
“Thanks,” he said. “So.” Sometimes he was never quite sure what to say to Mako - mostly because he never knew what her motivations were. She might want to chat. She might want to tell him he needed to do something, either based on her own observations or as an emissary from Stacker. Chuck decided to strike first, just in case. “Get your grades yet?”
Mako was studying mechanical engineering at MIT. Mako was the perfect child.
Chuck felt a little bad because his question made her one eye twitch. “The grading deadline is in two days.”
“I’m sure you’ll do great.” This was sincere - Mako always did. Chuck glanced over at his tablet and the various jobs he had found. Maybe he should apply to medical school.
They sipped their beers, then Mako said, “You have stopped complaining about taking Lucy to school.” Chuck looked down and pet Max’s head. “You pick her up, as well. I was charged with picking her up.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got your internship to worry about,” Chuck said. Which was sincere. Sort of. “What if they want you to stay late?”
Mako gave him a sort of sly half smile. “It is too bad. I did not mind. Mr. Becket is very attractive.” Goddamnit, Chuck thought, because Mako knew his type. It started when she had discovered pages missing from her lady magazines when they were teenagers, typically the profiles of current celebrities but occasionally a picture dominated by a male model.
“I guess,” Chuck said.
Mako sipped her beer. “You know that father and Herc would pay you to work this summer.”
There it is, Chuck thought. “I do,” he said. He had prepared an excuse. “Can’t exactly go to job interviews sunburnt and covered in bug bites, though.” Mako pressed her lips together, meaning she accepted the argument. “I applied at some places at the mall-” Mako laughed, deep and throaty. “What?”
“You? Work retail?”
“I don’t think it’s that difficult-”
“Customer service?” Mako asked, and shook her head. She reached over and pat Chuck’s hand.
“Fuck you,” Chuck said, but only half-heartedly.