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Bondings in Life

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They call me Junior even that’s not my name.
 
My parents never call me that, and besides, my real name’s more dignified and appealing. I couldn’t remember when it all started, but according to Ma, others called me in that nickname since I was a baby. It was my looks, the majority said, especially the dark hair and deep-blue eyes. Like a spitting image of my Da.
 
And speaking of my Da, he was holding my arm as we entered his building. I tried to admire the vast area with gleaming floors and mag decorations, but couldn’t find a heart to do so. Ever since he fetched me to school and rode a limo going here, he was not talking to me.
 
Several employees greeted us as we passed, with Da responding them the same greetings. He was not looking at me, and I guess these employees could sense the atmosphere. When we entered the glides, I buried my face in his suit for shame. He was still holding my arm – not too tight, not too hard.
 
Caro was waiting for us at the elevator entrance. She looked at Da first then to me. Her eyes were full of pity, which I bet it was for me, so I moved to Da closer until we entered his office. He let me sat on the couch then went to the bar counter.
 
“I’m sorry,” was all I could say.
 
Da went back with a medicine kit. He opened it and laid the contents on the couch.
 
“I’m sorry.”, I said it again.
 
Da was opening a cap of ointment, rubbed his fingers with it, then dabbed it to my left temple. He was not talking me, looking at me, or listening to me.

So I cried.
 
Keith said that boys never cry, only the sissy ones. But he was not here, or anybody else besides Da and me, so I’ll just keep this as a secret. I couldn’t help but burst out when you’re all guilty and the person you’re sorry for won’t acknowledge it.
 
A large hand pulled me closer to warm shoulders, patting my back to ease my hiccups, then cradled me. I love it when Da carry me or have my piggy-back ride. I hugged him tightly, burying my face in his mane hair. He finally looked at me, and while I am expecting to see an anger there, all I saw was sadness.
 
“Did I hurt you?”, Da asked.

I shook my head. He pulled a hanky to wipe the tears from my eyes, then lightly squeezed my nose – maybe I got a snot there. Ew.
 
“Did you know why Da was mad at you?”
 
“I got myself into trouble.”, I replied as I nod.
 
“And then?”
 
“I got myself hurt.”
 
He put me down on the couch again then finished dabbing my eye. The throbbing sensation I felt there was gone, maybe because the ointment was more effective than our stingy cream in the school clinic.
 
“But Da, I was just defending myself. Keith and Rolly and Bert called me a rich, pampered, spoiled brat.”
 
“Are you?”
 
“Of course not!”, I defended, then gave a thought. “Am I?”
 
Da chuckled as he placed a dressing on my left cheek. “Are there some rich, pampered, spoiled brat who would go all means to defend a classmate from a bully?”
 
I did not answer.
 
“I can’t say that I’m proud you saved someone, but perhaps you could have avoided something like this. Did you know that you knocked somebody’s nose, somebody’s teeth, and somebody is having a concussion?”
 
Which of them have I injured that severe?
 
“They were aiming a bat on Hub, telling him that he’s better as crippled, so I went to stop them. Hub is like a toothpick and has this asthma sickness, and scared like a puppy. Besides, they were the ones who hit me first. First blood, remember?”, I explained, quoting a line from an old game.
 
“Those kids were older. You could’ve been hurt.”
 
“I can handle myself.”, I pouted.
 
Da was about to say something when his link’ beeped. A frantic voice boomed through it. Oh no.
 
“Where is he?!”, Ma asked.
 
If there’s someone whom I don’t want to tell about this, it was Ma. She'll go ballistic over the school, and I’m afraid what she’ll do to Keith, Rolly, and Bert…and the faculties.
 
“He’s fine, energetic and cheerful. Say hi to your Ma.”, Da said as he moved me towards the link’.
 
“Hi, Ma.”, I said then gave her my widest grin.
 
I could see the shock on her face, almost similar when Da saw me in the Principal’s office a while ago, but with controlled tears.
 
“I’m on my way there.”, she mouthed.
 
“Ma, I’m fine! Really, really fine! See, Da has taken care of me, and I’m okay. You don’t have to come here, okay?”
 
Da must have sensed my panic so he took the link’ from me then patted my head.
 
“Eve, he’s alright. No major injuries. I personally checked it. Just scratches. Relax.”
 
“Scratches?! You call that shiner and abrasions scratches? They used a steel bat on him, for Christ’s sake, and they were bigger than him, and you’re telling me to relax? And why was he on a three-day suspension? I’m coming.”
 
I mouthed a voiceless NO to Da, waving my hands in the air as a signal.
 
He flipped the transmission to private, gave me an OK hand sign, then moved to the farthest corner. I slammed my body face-down on the couch, silently praying that Da would win the negotiation.
 
Now I felt sorry to all of the staffs in the school.
 
It was a fifteen-minute private conversation, and when Da clicked off Ma’s transmission, he sat on the couch near my head.
 
“Did you win?”, I asked.
 
“Why son, are you betting on us?”
 
“You know that my money’s on you, Da.”, I said then raised my head and stared at him. “So, did you win?”
 
Da simply ruffled my head with his hand. “You’ll face her wrath at home.”
 
“Yeah, but, she must have vented it out, right? I’m glad you fetch me first, Da.”
 
“Am I less scary than your mother? Do you want me to impose a hard punishment then?”
 
“No, please. That’s not what I meant. I mean, you’re more understanding than Ma in this because, you know, man to man.”, I said sheepishly.
 
To be honest, both of them were scary when they got mad. Being a son of two prominent people, you have to know where and who to run when things went wrong. In this case, it was Da. But there were several cases when Ma was the best person.
 
Just like what I did last Christmas.
 
We always held a house party to all of my parent’s associates, and since it was an adult’s party, I was forced to go upstairs and sleep. I’m not yet sleepy that time, and the movies played on the screen were generic Christmas stories and the music played were generic Christmas songs. So I crept downstairs to observe. It was also boring, so I went to the technical booth operated by our droids then ran a program. I never knew that I toggled the keys from a serene ballroom to a disco house, and the music shifted to something that labeled The 80’s.
 
Da was very angry when he caught me, gave me a long-hour sermon, and grounded me for thirty days. Ma was the one who calmed Da, and was able to lessen his punishment because ‘everyone enjoyed it more than the past parties they have attended’.
 
“Erm, Da, can I have a request?”
 
“What is it?”
 
“Can I stay here for a while? I’ll behave, just don’t call Poppy to send me home yet.”
 
He smiled.
 
“Why not? You can ring Caro if you want something, or play around here.”
 
“Really? That’s so mag!”, I said, almost jumping with joy on the couch and leaped to Da.
 
We did not notice Caro was standing at the door and was observing us for a while. She cleared her throat.
 
“Sir, the associates are here. Would you like me to relieve them for a while?”
 
Da sometimes travel for business. It makes me sad, especially Ma, but I know they were all important. And every time he gets home, Da would always bring souvenirs for me and gifts to Ma, much to her annoyance.
 
“I’ll be back in an hour then we’ll eat downstairs at the restaurant. Caro’s going to make reservations, so better tell her what you would like to eat there, okay?”, Da said.
 
“Okay!”
 
He went to Caro to take the folders from her then went outside. Caro waved her hands towards me.
 
“Hey young fellow, what do you want for lunch?”
 
“Hmm…do they have lasagna and tacos there?”, I inquired.
 
“I believe they have those. That’s all?”
 
“Chocolate pudding.”, I added, almost gleaming with the thought.
 
 
 
 
And true to his words, Da finished his meeting in an hour. He found me sitting at the reception’s desk, cooed and played by some employees. They scrambled and resumed their work when they spotted him coming.
 
I’m excited as it was my first time to spend with my Da in his office during schooldays. I ripped a suspension anyway, so better enjoy it while it lasted.
 
There were several diners in the restaurant. The waiter led us to our reserved spot. It was a table for two located near the windows. Before the waiter could place the tablecloth on me, which I really despised much, I snatched it immediately then laid it on my lap. Our food was delivered to our table in a minute, especially my chocolate pudding.
 
“Poppy called a while ago. I told him that I’ll be staying here and he said okay and that Ma already told him that.”, I reported while munching my food.
 
“Really?”, Da said, raising his brows.
 
“Really. That’s why I don’t want to go home now because Poppy sticks with Ma’s side. He always reports to Ma anything related to me. And he said that you were worse than me when you were at my age.”
 
Da frowned. “I might be a troublemaker when I was your age, but I don’t give your Poppy a heart attack like what you did.”
 
This time I frowned. “Everybody said that it’s ‘like father, like son’ why I’m like this.”, I defended, “Were you also alike with your dad?”
 
Da stopped suddenly.
 
Then in a heartbeat, he looked at me and said, “Aye, like your Poppy.”
 
 
 
 
After we finished our meal, I pulled something in my pocket.
 
“This is for you, Da.”, I said, offering him a lollipop.
 
“My classmate Karla gave me three of these this morning. She said that her feelings are with these and if I could share the same. I don’t have a candy that time so I don’t understand.”
 
Da looked at me with a grin on his face.
 
“I think I need to teach you some proper manners of a gentleman before you could break somebody’s heart.”
 
We both peeled the wrappers and popped it in our mouth. It tastes like strawberry.
 
“I’ll be giving my last lollipop to Ma as a peace offering. Do you think she’ll like it?”, I asked.
 
“Absolutely.”
 
Da paid and left the bills on the table, took my hand, and went back to his office with lollipops in our mouth.
 
 
 
 
Da spent most of the afternoon sitting on his table, doing several things I don’t know of. Some came to have a short talk then went outside. His desk link’ beeped for several times and he answered them in a serious tone. Sometimes he went outside for a few minutes then returned to his table. It was fascinating to see him work in all-serious eyes and calm demeanor like he’s an opposite of my laid-back and lazy Da.
 
Ma was very similar as well. She was all poker-faced with an authoritative voice and snappy movements, and always using it to Aunt Peabody. I remember when I was still in a crib, she used to place me in her office, and like Da, Ma went outside for a few minutes to update her ‘murder board’ as I’ve heard, then came back again.
 
Unlike with the usual kids I know of, I never touch or disturb my parent’s workplace for their attention. I never whine if they won’t notice me when they’re on work-mode, or do tantrums if they won’t play with me. Poppy said that only spoiled brats do that.
 
Da went outside for a bit again. I went to the television screen that he had at the bar counter. I clicked it on, scanned some interesting channels then stopped at 75. It was Auntie Nadine on the screen, reporting something like ‘criminals’ and ‘chase-down’ jargons I usually hear with Ma. The scene changed into a street with a big man running, bumping the people along his way. Behind him, I saw Ma doing the same thing, and in an instant, she leaped on his back. The man smacked his head on the pavement, and when he struggled, she planted a fist on his face.
 
“Way to go, Ma!”, I cheered.
 
When Da entered the room, I saw his eyes were completely glued to the screen.
 
“Ma slugged somebody. Total knock-out.”, I announced.
 
I heard Da groaned, murmuring something about reprimands, then returned to his table.
 
When the screen started to get boring, I clicked it off. That was when I noticed the hologram on Da’s desk. I went closer to it, gazing the structure of a tall building.
 
“What’s that?”, I asked, pointing the antennae-looking design on its top.
 
“Ah, that’s a device used against lightning, in order to protect the building not to get hit.”
 
I was clearly engrossed by its design and appreciated its view more when Da let me sat on his lap. His intercom beeped. It was Caro. “Mr. Stradiskova is in the visitor lounge now.”
 
“Let him in the office instead.”, Da said then clicked off.
 
“Would you like to meet the one who made it?”, he asked me.
 
I nodded then asked me again if I would like to play a game. He laid out the rules for me, and as he explained, I couldn’t stop grinning.
 
When Mr. Stradiskova entered, that was our cue.
 
 
 
 
Da was at his last meeting of the day – according to Caro.
 
She was arranging some files on her desk when I spotted a tall, willowy-haired woman entered the receiver’s area. She was wearing a black suit, with high pump heels. Her skirt was above her knees, quite short for my standard, which only highlighted her butt.
 
“Who is she?”, I innocently asked.
 
When Caro followed what I was referring to, she immediately scowled.
 
“A bimbo applicant for one of the positions in the HR department.”
 
Ah, that jargon was not difficult for me to understand. Bimbo.
 
“If you hate her, then why are you hiring her?”, I probed.
 
Caro gave a short laugh.
 
“I don’t have any capacity to hire her or even reject her. She’s an internal hire from one of your father’s branch office who wants to be relocated here to a higher position. She doesn’t have to pass me for screening.”
 
I was curious about her now that Caro revealed her total dislike. So I walked towards her and sit in the opposite chair.
 
“Hi.”, I greeted.
 
I saw her eyes bulged for a moment when she saw me. Her back was facing Caro’s location, so she couldn’t see the secretary’s furious hand signal.
 
“You must be Roarke’s junior. It’s a pleasure meeting you.”, she said.
 
Uh oh. One markdown.
 
“May I know your business here, Miss…”
 
“Ah, Miss Wesley. Lori Wesley, but you can call me Lori.”, she fumbled.
 
I waited for a beat then offered her a handshake. Another markdown.
 
“So, may I know your business here, Lori?”, I asked her again.
 
“I was called for a final interview here, in relation to the position of HR Admin.”
 
“And may I know what HR Admin is?”
 
She did explain what HR Admin was all about but after the first three phrases, I stopped listening. Another markdown.
 
When she was done, I stood up.
 
“Okay, Lori. I think I already got an impression from you. Nice meeting you.”
 
“May I know your impressions are?”, she asked sweetly.
 
“I was taught not to tell a lie, so I’ll be frank. You failed.”
 
Somehow my words bolted her like an arrow. Her sweet expression suddenly turned into vicious.
 
“Ho-how dare you telling me that?! Do you have any idea what you are saying?”
 
I tilted my head like I’m giving a thought.
 
“Ah, I don’t think so, because your idea might be different with my idea. And because you were much older than me and may have lots of ideas than me, I’ll tell you my idea. Your hand is wet when you shake my hands and you’re not even bothered offering it to me. It was vital for introducing yourself. Then you explained lengthily about the position when the one’s asking was a simpleton. Then third? We have proper dress codes to follow.”
 
She looked baffled.
 
“Don’t worry, Lori. I’m not the one hiring you but my father. And to think that I have given you some cheat points?”, I said then walked out.
 
I didn’t need to look back to know that she was fuming on my comment. She stormed out into the elevator and punched the ground floor.

Caro was not the only one observing me. Her other assistants saw my actions.
 
“What?”, I asked Caro who was grinning at me.
 
“It would be a great loss to the law force if you decided to become an Executive, and to the business world if ever you will be a Detective someday.”
 
I just scoffed and went to my Da who just ended his meeting in the conference room.
 
“Do you have another meeting?”, I asked.
 
Da looked at Caro. Since his last appointment backed out, his next option would be home.
 
“Before I forgot sir, the IT department handed me this disc.”, Caro said as she gave the item to Da.
 
He inspected the label then flashed a beaming smile to me.
 
“Would you like to play a game with me?”


Chapter Text

Ma was sick.

She was quite fine this morning when she gave me a kiss-goodbyes. Actually, I was the only one – aside from Da of course – who received a kiss at home since I'm still suspended from class. I thought it was cool at first because you can do anything you want until I realized it sucks. Not even a sibling to play with or a friend to hang out with.

Only Poppy and Galahad kept my company.

While I was in my room to patch up my toys, I heard the opening sound of our iron gate. Imagine my surprise when looked at the window and saw Ma's car. I was so happy and excited that she was home but puzzled when Aunt Peabody gave her an arm to walk straight. Da was even standing behind them, just a few steps away from Ma.

I could hear Ma saying something to Poppy as I ran to the foyer and barely registered how her voice sounds horrible. When I was about to greet her, Da suddenly swiped Ma off her feet and carried her in his arms.

"Ma, are you okay?"

My sudden question broke their commotion.

Ma looked so pale with red puffy eyes and chapped lips. I remembered her sneezing during breakfast but not alarming enough to expect that it would lead to worse in a matter of hours.

"Don't you ever undermine me in front of my son for carrying me like an invalid!", Ma croaked.

"You bloody listen or you'll let my son see me how I can shove a soother on your throat!" Da snapped back.

I looked at my parents who were obviously angry with each other.

Aunt Peabody led me to the lounge while Da held Ma securely as he brought her upstairs. Poppy followed them after he fetched a medicine kit from his bedroom. We didn't hear any uproars above but we have a definite picture of what was happening there. As they said, Ma hates medicines

I tugged Aunt Peabody's sleeve."What happened to Ma?"

"She got mild flu but don't worry, she'll be alright. She needs plenty of sleep and food."

A few minutes later, Da and Poppy went downstairs in a hushed voice. I ran directly to Da and asked the same question.

"What happened to Ma?"

He picked me up as we went back to the lounge.

"Ma's fine. She needs to rest. By tomorrow, she'll be back to normal.", Da answered with a smile.

Da, Poppy and Aunt Peabody were talking about something I couldn't understand. They were all sporting a very worried expression and based on their actions, I was something not usual.

"Da, is Ma going to be okay?"

They immediately stopped talking. Aunt Peabody and Poppy eyed each other before they gave me a thoughtful look.

"I think Junior is our solution."

"I'm not Junior!", I pouted at Aunt Peabody who just laughed at my demise.

Da explained to me that Ma was so adamant to go to work despite her illness. She didn't want to sleep or take her medicines - no surprise there - and when they explained to her that she will be cooped until further notice, she went mad.

Poppy said that she was having a tantrum.

Since they were sure that Aunt Peabody couldn't hold Ma down, they considered me as their last resort. They said that I was one of Ma's weaknesses.

They were even thankful for the timing of my suspension much to Da's disgruntlement.

They briefed me the rules of the game:

Number One – never let Ma leave the bedroom.

Number Two – never let Ma hold any link' or communication devices.

Number Three – never let Ma skip her medicines and meals.

I am going play the Primary. Da will be staying in his office to monitor while Poppy will prepare the food and medicines. Aunt Peabody, on the other hand, will leave to finish Ma's work.

"Is this like an undercover assignment?", I asked them with glee.

"Well, of course, little Officer Roarke." Aunt Peabody ruffled my hair. "So, are you willing to take this mission?",

I clicked my skids as I made a salute "Sir, yes, sir!"

Da and Poppy laughed heartily.

 

 

 

I pushed my parent's bedroom door slowly as I slipped inside.

Ma was lying on the bed with the same horrible look yet calmer expression. She half-opened her doe eyes and gave me a worried face.

"Ma's sick. You'll catch my flu if you stay here."

"I'm strong, Ma.", I responded as I climbed on the duvet and snuggled beside her. She was quite warm.

"Ma, are you okay?"

She hummed. "Ma's not well today, but after some rest, I'll be fine. Sorry if I made you worry."

I shook my head as a reply. I never noticed Galahad was sitting near the bedpost until he strutted and sat on my ankle. I guess he was also worried for Ma.

"Did your Da sent you here to guard me?" she asked.

"No, he didn't." was my abrupt reply.

"Uh huh? You know that I can detect lies."

I almost forgot that Ma was the best cop in New York. Feeling busted, I giggled and hugged her for forgiveness.

"Ma?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you still mad with Da?"

"No, I'm not," she sighed as she raked my dark hair. "Ma's not in the good mood that's why I quarreled with him. But I love your Da so much, same as you."

"And we love you too so much."

I really like getting snuggles. When one of us gets sick, Ma would always stay in our bed until we fell asleep.

When Da was sick one time, she allowed us to sleep beside him, and at the same time guard him, just like how Da was doing to Ma.

When the notion suddenly struck me, I sat bolt upright. "You're not going to the hospital, right?"

There was a flash of fear in Ma's eyes but immediately disregard it. "Ma's not going there, definitely not. I'll just treat it like some sort of a bed rest. Just like before."

Bed rest?

"Ma?"

"Hmm?"

"Luis said that his mom was on bed rest because of the baby and that she was always at pains. Were you having pains when I was a baby?"

Ma tilted her head as if contemplating "Hmm, I think not. I was more like irritated because I couldn't get up without some help."

"Ma?"

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Were you happy after giving birth?"

"Very. My happiest moments happened in my life."

"Were you also happy before that?"

"Not as happier as now."

"Then, then, before us and Da, were you also happy?"

She was silent for a moment before answering "Ma was sad during those times, buddy. My job is only my life, and even with your Granda, Grandma and Auntie Mavis, I was living all by myself. When your Da came along, he made several changes - no, wonderful changes in my life. So here I am."

I feel sad for Ma. Like Da, she didn't like sharing her stories about her childhood days. But now that I somewhat knew the reason behind why, I decided not to pry further.

Poppy gave a beep on the house intercom as a signal that Ma needs to eat and drink her medicine. Since I was the only one permitted to enter the room, I made sure that I followed my mission to the tee.

Good thing Ma was cooperating.

We watched some screens afterward until Ma lulled herself to sleep. Lowering the volume, I moved closer to her side and took a short nap, only to be roused when Ma wriggled out for a toilet.

Instead of heading back to sleep, we began to talk about mundane things like school or stories about my baby days.

Ma wasn't aware that she was very chatty when sick.

"How did you and Da meet?" I asked curiously.

"It was during a funeral." she sighed as if reminiscing something. "While your Da was busy chatting with his friends, I was sitting alone there in a pew few rows behind them. And when our eyes met for the first time, I was like 'geez, he's the most handsome man I have ever seen'."

I rolled over laughing. "Da told me the same thing! He even told me that you brought him for an interrogation!"

Ma's brows shoot up "He said that?!"

"Yup!" I nodded as I munched my fries. "He told me that you were the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and didn't care if you were a cop. He even said 'I want to marry her' or something like that."

Ma gave me a deadpan glare. "Are you flattering me, young man, as a way to make me forgive your father after what he did to me today?"

I bit the inside of my cheeks "I don't know what you're saying, Ma."

The entertainment news that was flashing on the television immediately caught our attention.

It was a stolen shot of me and Da eating a slice of pizza as we sat on a bench near Central yesterday. We were waiting for Ma's end shift so we brought her a box of pizza to appease her wrath after my suspension.

I frowned indignantly when I read the description. "Why are they calling me Junior?"

"That question is yet to be answered." Ma chuckled. "Why do you hate it?"

"Because it sounds like a moniker for brats." I huffed with displeasure. "As if they are considering me as special because I'm a Roarke and my mother is Dallas. I mean, I don't mind them calling me Roarke in school, but sometimes I wish they will use my real name. It's not like it's unpronounceable, right?"

Ma scooted me closer then ruffled my hair "I feel you. It's like me being called as Roarke's cop all the time."

We paused momentarily when an idea struck.

"It was Da's fault!" we laughed in unison.

 

 

 

Ma's fever went down to normal.

Afraid to disturb Ma's state, I slowly left the bed and tip-toed towards Da's office. It seems that he was busy reading some papers.

"I won a fifty.", I declared as I jumped on his lap.

Da looked at his desk clock. "You still have two minutes left."

"Ma's snoring and there's no way for her to get up now," I said as I held my palm. "You owe me this time, Da."

He ruffled my short capped hair playfully. "You're trying to beat your own father in placing bets, aye? It must be in the blood."

He was about to add something but paused when he noticed Ma's movement on the screen. We could hear her tiny whimpers on the speaker and painful cries like she was hurt.

Without second thoughts, Da deposited me on his chair then rushed hurriedly to their bedroom. I followed him discreetly and saw how he held Ma tightly as he whispered some soothing words of love and affection.

It wasn't my first time to witness such heartbreaking sight.

 

 

 

I went to the kitchen and asked for a glass of milk.

"Ma had a nightmare." I confessed to Poppy. "Again."

I felt the warmth of his arms when he wrapped it around my body, and the callous of his thumb when he wiped my tears from my cheeks.

This was the reason why we always sleep beside Ma whenever Da was away. No one in the house ever talked about Ma's dreams, and I believe it was something that most people want to forget.

If only it was easy to forget...

"Poppy?"

"Yes?"

"When I grow up," I sniffled as I buried my head in his neck. "I will protect Ma from her nightmares."

After I calmed down, I went upstairs with a tray of warm milk.

It was a house rule to always knock on closed doors, especially bedroom doors.

I haven't lifted my knuckle when Da took the tray from my hands and ushered me inside.

"Ma, are you okay?" I asked as I crawled beside her.

She planted a kiss on my forehead. "I'm alright, buddy. Did I scare you?"

I shook my head. Looking at her face closely, she was happy and fine. Not even a trace of pain and suffering were found on her expression.

I sighed with relief.

After Ma finished her milk, Da took her glass then flashed me a sly grin. "I guess it's time for our big brother here to know our little surprise."

I did not get what they were talking about until Ma reached for my hand and placed it on top of her tummy.

I groaned inwardly.

"Not a girl this time, please."

Chapter Text

Poppy decided to bring me along on his marketing – not because I will be alone at home, but because of it.

He had this notion that I have to be monitored constantly ever since that day I performed a scientific experiment about mixing sugar, baking soda, and potassium nitrate I found in our garden.

To make the story short, my experiment exploded.

Poppy was so frantic that when my parents came over to check what happened, they had lost their ability to speak. No harm was done or damages incurred on the kitchen, but Poppy's reaction to the incident was totally exaggerated.

"Ah, reminds me of my youth!" Da's comment earned him a beady glare.

I never thought that buying meats, fruits, vegetables and other kitchen ingredients could be this boring. True that there were lots of impressive things going on in the market like the merchant droids that offer free tastes and Autochefs with ice pops, these menial tasks were nothing compared to Ma and Da's daily jobs.

There was basically nothing in the market that excites me.

Poppy would just fiddle the menu screens, and once he found the item, he would swipe it with his card.

"When your Da was little." Poppy said. "He would always accompany every time I go to the market. Soon he developed an interest in trading, he studied it, and now he's a very successful businessman."

Poppy would often tell me stories about Da's adventures – though I dubbed it as misadventures – to keep me entertained. I wondered if all of them were true, but whenever I ask Da about it, he would simply give a casual hum.

Another thing that kept me from boredom was the persistent cuddles I received from Poppy's friends.

"What an adorable little grandson you have here, Summerset!", Miss Imelda the fruit vendor said as she pinched my cheek. "Where's the other one?"

"School.", he replied promptly.

"So it's a bond time for both of you, eh?"

Poppy nodded as he began to check for the purchase.

Before we left the store, Miss Imelda handed me a free apple. "Here's one for you, to keep the doctors away."

I could barely finish my fruit when Mr. Sigorne gave me croquettes. Mrs. Dee gave me lollies when we passed her stall followed by Mrs. Hanson who offered me banana chips. When we entered another alley, Mr. Simpson provided me a corndog.

All for free.

"You may eat these later else you'll spoil your appetite," Poppy said as he gathered my freebies.

I really did my best to obey him, but Miss Scarlett and Miss Ginger shoved me warm sausages and ice creams before I could protest.

Poppy only sighed with disbelief.

We took our meal in a small bistro that serves good cassoulet. The owner, Mrs. Sullivan, was one of Poppy's close friend.

"Oh, Summerset, you're here! And you have a very adorable company.", she greeted then pinched my cheek.

Her daughter Anni was also pincher, and like her mom, a loud squealer.

"I've heard you got yourself hurt and now you're on house arrest. Aww, poor little lad.", Anni cooed. "Your Poppy told us that you'll go to Ireland this school break. How long will you stay there?"

"Two to three days, I guess," I answered with a shrug.

"So you know how to speak Gaelic then?"

When I briskly nodded, they nudged me to speak a few words. So I complied to their request and said "Bíonn tú do mo chiapadh."

(Translation: You're so annoying)

Despite not knowing the implication behind it, the mothers were squealing with joy. Poppy, on the other hand, rolled his eyes with bemused face.

We left the bistro with take-outs and another free dessert courtesy of Anni.

"Poppy." I tugged his sleeve as we walked towards the car. "I think I want to poop."

He gave me a concerned look. "We can go back to the bistro for a toilet break if you want."

Remembering the pains that my cheeks had suffered, I decided to control my bowel and wait until we reached home.

Before I could tell Poppy about it, he nudged me to stop. His eyes were roaming around, probably noticing that our car was parked on the other side of the road.

Then he leaned down and whispered. "Will you be alright if we walk for a bit?"

"Where?"

"Just...somewhere."

He gripped my hand tightly as we turned to the opposite direction.

When we're about to cross the pedestrian lane, he immediately carried me by his arms and walked briskly. He pulled out his 'link, encoded something on the keys then slipped it back into the side pocket.

He let me down and walked when we entered a certain boutique. After looking for nothing, we headed out and checked another store. Five buildings later, Poppy hasn't bought a single item.

Weird.

As we reached the end of the road, he scooped me up abruptly and ran.

"Poppy?!"

Behind us was an unknown man in a dark shirt running towards us at full speed.

I was enthralled yet trembled with fear when I realized that we were being pursued.

Poppy held me securely as we blend among the crowd. When we entered a small deserted alley, he placed me on the ground and hovered over my head.

"Hide behind the bins there." Poppy instructed coolly. "Don't get out until I say so. When I say run, you run. Alright?"

I nodded then followed his commands without any questions asked.

Once I secured my position, I poked my head just a little enough to see Poppy standing behind the bricked walls.

The dark man that chased us a while ago glanced at our location, but before he could react, Poppy immediately grabbed him by his lapels then slammed him into the wall.

It was a swift move I could barely blink.

I might be situated away from them but the alley was so silent I could audibly hear Poppy's deep voice - one that I've never heard before.

"Try to touch anything with my boy." his Slavic accent thickened. "And I'll remove your insides with a gullet."

"Mr. Su-summerset!" the man squeaked. "I'm not here to ha-harm you! I'm a new servi-service agent hired by Lorimar!"

Da has a business that goes with a name of Lorimar.

"Why would I believe you, bloody git.", Poppy growled as he pushed the man against the wall.

"I-I have my ID with me...and a communicator..."

As if on cue, the man's communicator hummed. Poppy snagged it from his elbow hastily then pressed the Answer button.

"Agent Malik, have you reached Mr. Summerset yet?" the voice on the other line asked.

"Agent Malik has successfully reached me, Richard. And since I believe you don't want me to incarcerate him right now, I want you to be here at 24 Bronx Street. We're in the alley between two sweet shops. ETA five minutes."

The man slipped down with relief when Poppy loosened his grip.

"Give me a single valid reason." Poppy towered him with a menacing grin. "A single valid reason Agent Malik, why I'm not going to cut your balls for following us."

The man sputtered then fumbled his words out of fear.

From the gist of it, he was hired as an intern just today and still on the training. His first assignment was to become our bodyguard for the day.

Unfortunately, they forgot to brief Poppy about it.

Poppy noticed my presence when I tried to approach Mr. Malik, but before I could utter anything, Poppy gave me a serious look, "Why don't you go to that corner then turn around? Just for a little bit."

Even though I wasn't looking on their way I could still hear Mr. Malik's grunt when Poppy punched him squarely on his torso.

 

 

 

Seeing Ma and Poppy's banters on the porch was a common sight, as if it was their traditional way of welcome home. This time it was different.

Instead of targeting Ma, Poppy went directly to Da.

"Why did you hire a very incompetent, very amateurish person for guarding us?" he complained. "And why you didn't say anything about us being shadowed the whole time?"

Da was grilled before he could enter the house while Ma was left stupefied on the door.

"What happened?" my sibling who just arrived from school asked.

"Poppy went to a fight this morning," I answered nonchalantly. "And it irked him."

My parents might be busy with their work but they still managed to have some time for us and eat dinners together.

Ma finally told us about her pregnancy with a precaution about her possible mood swings during the first eight months.

"I want it to be a girl." my sibling said.

"I don't want it to be a girl. Girls are quite sissy." I reasoned out. "I want it to be a boy"

"Boys are rude."

"Hey!"

"What did I tell you about fighting in front of the food, kids?", Ma warned us then sighed. "It doesn't matter if it's a boy or a girl. What matters most is knowing that you'll love your siblings no matter what. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes." was our reply.

"Darling, It'll be a great experience for both of them if they tag along for your check-up this week.", Da said then added. "Especially if it ended up as twins."

Poppy, upon hearing his words, choked his food.

Chapter Text

I went to see a dentist today.

I was suffering from a toothache for two days already, and with that mild fever last night, it was decided to have my tooth extraction first thing in the morning. It's just a baby tooth, everyone had said to me, that will be replaced by permanent ones.

I've been crying for Ma the whole time, and I was happy that she stayed with me until we arrived at the clinic. Rumors said that tooth extraction is painful.

"No, buddy. You'll never feel a thing." Ma soothed calmly. "The doctor will give you something to block the pain, and in just one minute your toothache will disappear."

"But how about the injection? Is it painful?"

"Nah, it's just like an ant's bite."

"So it is painful."

"Look at Ma." she nudged me, "Would you like to keep that toothache forever?"

I shook my head profusely.

I looked at Ma and plead for reassurance when the dentist told me to open my mouth.

Ma raked my hair with her hands while maintaining our eye contact, "After this, we're going to eat a jumbo ice cream. A big, mumbo-jumbo ice cream. Rocky road, double dutch, triple chocolate fudge – you name it! Topped with your favorite marshmallows, sprinklers chocolate chips, and oozed with strawberry and chocolate syrup mixture. Of course, there will be some vanilla whipped cream and a cherry on top. And sidings? Hmm, let's say some bananas, mangoes, peaches..."

My head perked up with a surprise when the dentist told me that it was done.

I barely felt a sting, to be honest, maybe because I was distracted by Ma's promised ice cream treat?

Or maybe because the dentist really knows his job.

When I asked the dentist for my tooth, he showed me a small petri-dish.

"Take that!" I mocked an affronted look. "The bane of my existence!"

And just like what Ma had promised, she brought us a large bowl of ice cream with my own choice of flavors and toppings. Besides, the dentist required me to eat cold foods like ice creams, shakes, popsicles or anything that can be found in a fridge.

How I wish every day would be like this.

"Let's see what your Da will say on this." Ma said as she pulled her 'link and dialed Da's number.

When his face appeared on the screen, Ma held the 'link towards me as I gobbled a spoonful of ice cream.

"You're eating a giant parfait?"

"Da, look at this!" I squealed as I showed him my missing tooth.

"Now there's no nasty tooth. How's your feeling?"

"I'm fine! Really, really mag fine! I can eat lots and lots of ice creams for a week! And I did not cry when the dentist pulled my tooth. Right, Ma?"

Ma only nodded as she helped herself some of my sweets.

"What do you want for Da to bring later tonight as your prize for being so brave?"

"Hmm...a latest release of X-6180 game 1st generation series hologram version?"

"Didn't the dentist advise you to take a rest?" Ma interrupted. "That means no holo games."

"Aww, Ma.", I pouted indignantly then looked at Da's transmission with sadness. "I'll take a pint of gelato."

"Don't worry, I'll bring something that I'm sure you'll definitely like most.", his subtle wink raised my hopes. "Could you pass this 'link over to your Ma?"

"Roarke, you're spoiling your kid.", Ma said as she accepted the 'link.

"Darling Eve?"

"Yes?"

"Is the dentist still alive?"

Ma immediately ended the transmission.

 

 

 

 

We were about to get back to her car and leave the place when I remembered something.

"Ma!" I exclaimed.

"What?"

"I forgot my tooth in the clinic!"

Ma gave me an indifferent look. "Now, buddy, your tooth ought to be left in the clinic. We went there for that purpose."

"But that's not what I meant! We have to get back to the clinic to get my tooth for the Tooth Fairy."

"Tooth Fairy?"

"Yes, Tooth Fairy! You put your loose tooth under your pillow when you sleep and the tooth fairy will exchange it for something! Like money!"

"Is the Tooth Fairy even real?"

"Well, probably," I muttered. My teacher said it in a story. "But we'll never know if it's true or not if I'm not going to try, right?"

Ma reluctantly agreed.

Before we could leave the place, her communicator suddenly beeped.

She answered it hastily. "Dallas. No audio."

After reading the information on the screen, she slipped her communicator back in her pocket and groaned inwardly. I gave her a curious look as she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.

"Ma's in a great pinch today, so will it be okay if we go to the Central first?"

"How about my tooth?"

"Yeah, yeah, your tooth." she grumbled then pulled her 'link and switched into private mode.

"Hi there, Dr. Smith, this is...yes, you're right...ah, he's fine...Let me cut you off there, Doc. I need the tooth of my son. The one you...what? You did...I need that tooth badly. Do what you must do, even sterilized it I don't care. I just need that tooth in one piece...I will be there before 1800, but if we'll be late, I'll tag you in an hour...I don't care...Oh God, just do it then...1800 hours...bye."

Ma ended the transmission with a deep sigh. She focused her staid gaze on the bustling traffic then slowly patted my head.

"After our little detour in Central, we'll go back to the clinic and get your tooth there, okay?"

"Okay!"

I've been to Central and visited Ma's office several times so I fairly knew most of the cops there. She would often impose a rule of 'No cuddling my kid in public' and everyone has no choice but to obey. If she wasn't around, that's a different story.

Ma carried me by her arms as we took the glides and entered her bullpen. I was immediately spotted by Aunt Peabody.

"Little Roarke's in the house!", she announced as she approached us.

"Aunt Peabody! Look at this!", I said as I flashed her my missing tooth.

"Wow, no more nasty tooth. So, how's the dentist?"

"Dr. Smith told me to eat lots and lots of ice cream!"

"That's great. So that means nothing happened to the dentist – "

"Peabody," Ma interjected with a huff. "Finish that sentence and I will hurt you."

Aunt Peabody feigned a trembling look. "Aww Mommy, I'm just curious."

Ma has an important meeting upstairs so she left me with Aunt Peabody with an instruction of not doing anything weird.

"Is the Tooth Fairy real?" I asked Aunt Peabody after Ma left us.

"Ah, well...", she fumbled. "What did you Ma say?"

"Ma said that she doesn't know either, so I guess it's not...real?"

Aunt Peabody gasped with disbelief. She crouched down to hold my shoulders then gave me a worried look. "Your Ma was innocent and naïve when she was a kid that's why she has no idea about things like that, but Tooth Fairy is an epitome of childhood life, like Santa Claus..."

"Ah, Ma said Santa's – "

"It's okay, Auntie will tell you all the things your cynical parents don't even know of." she pulled out some credits and dropped it in my hands. "Starting today, I will be your Tooth Fairy for. So here's you tooth fee."

I accepted the credits and decided not say anything about my tooth pickup appointment later.

I heard Uncle Ian's voice calling Aunt Peabody's name. He gave me a high-five when he saw me.

"Rumors reached to our department that you're here. How's your day, buddy?"

"I ate a very big ice cream!" I answered as I showed him my missing tooth.

"Whoa, that must be a nasty tooth. So what's your Ma's reaction afterward?"

Before I could reply, Aunt Peabody dragged Uncle Ian around the corner to discuss something in a very hushed tone. I've heard someone called my name, and when I looked around, I saw Jekinson and Reineke's hands waving at me.

I ran towards them then Carmichael One scooped and carried me on his shoulder. "Hey little man, I've heard that you and your Mommy went to see a dentist today?"

"Yup! The dentist even took my tooth. Look!" I said proudly as I opened my mouth.

"That must be one hell of a nasty tooth." Jekinson awed. "So what happened to the dentist?"

"Ah, he told me to eat lots and lots of cold softies. Isn't that mag?"

They looked at me with reverence as Carmichael Two made a gesture towards the vending, "Why don't we let our buddy choose his favorite treat?"

I punched my chosen Popsicle stick and received some praises from Reineke how different I was with Ma in terms of treating machines.

When I asked them about the story of Tooth Fairy, everyone was silent.

"Ma doesn't know, but Aunt – "

"She said that?!" Santiago reacted with fear in his eyes.

They murmured something, something against about something, that they didn't notice Ma was standing behind them.

"Kindly repeat that, Jekinson?"

They froze at her words.

"I got Popsies!" I waved it at Ma when she scooped me from Carmichael One. Behind her was Auntie Nadine running towards us with a cameraman.

I frowned at the sight. I really like Auntie Nadine but not her association with cameras, especially those with large black lenses.

"What a lucky day it is to have a scoop of Dallas and her junior."

"I'm not Junior!" I yelled then burrowed my face when they all laughed much to my embarrassment.

"Jesus, your Popsies is dripping on our clothes." Ma took my popsicle from my hand then gave Aunt Nadine an authoritative tone. "If you want to transfer yourself to Gossip Station, you're at the wrong department, Nadine."

Ma marched into her office but Auntie adamantly followed her, leaving the cameraman behind.

Ma's office was quite smaller than Da, filled with large filing cabinets and antique chairs.

Ma let me sat on her lap as she pulled a box of tissue to wipe the dripped stains from my shirt and hands. She licked the melted portion of my popsicle with a grimace.

"Urg, what's the flavor, Tutti Fruity?"

"Yum!" I answered as I took my Popsies then sucked it into my mouth.

"Aww Dallas, you look so good at parenting.", Auntie swooned then looked at me with a grin. "I've heard you lost your tooth to the dentist. What did your mom do afterward?"

"Why do all people getting fuss about it?", Ma grumbled when Auntie laughed.

"Aren't you happy your Tooth Fairy might visit you tonight?"

"Tooth Fairy?" Ma and I asked in unison.

Auntie's face paled at our confusion. "Oh my God Dallas, don't tell me you..."

She was interrupted by a short knock, followed by a familiar mop of hair. "I heard the young man is here, so I – ah, you have a meeting?"

"Granda!" I yelped then ran towards him with glee.

"Feeney. Great timing."

"Look, look!", I said as I pointed my missing tooth.

"Ooh, what a nasty tooth you had there!" he scooped me with a smile, "I think you have some meeting and things to be discussed with Nadine, Dallas, so will it be okay if I borrow this man here?"

Before Ma could respond, Auntie interjected, "Oh yes, Mommy will appreciate that. Besides, it's been a while since Granda played with our little Roarke, right?"

"Can I?" I asked Ma, in which she gave Granda thumbs-up sign as yes.

Granda and I immediately left Ma's office with enthusiasm.

"Now, buddy," he said as we took the glide. "Why don't we play some toys in the office while you tell Granda about your dental experience?"