‘Does he scream all the time?’ Ray yelled at me over the deafening roars coming from the small bedroom above us.
‘No, only when he’s teething, in pain and sad, oh and hungry. He’s hungry a lot.’ I yelled back, the house was chaos, three fey guards were huddled around the kitchen island prepping dinner, Claire was cooking something in a giant pot on the stove, which had an odd smell that I wouldn’t call delicious, Louis-Cesare was in the garden with a vast number of the fey guards setting up the tables, I caught a glimpse of his attractive rear through the window nets, I was carefully balanced on the door frame, craning my neck to see when Ray, sharing the small space with me, smacked my arm playfully.
‘Stop that, horny woman, he’s only outside.’ He actually tutted at me ‘newly-weds!’ he exclaimed as if that was the reason for such a thing as a tut, my eyebrows rose up as high in question and accusation, but I stopped craning my neck and returned to regular height. Claire finally seemed to have enough of the noise, turned towards me and pointed with an old wooden spoon in my direction, her perfect infant balanced on her hip.
‘Go sort your son out Dory!’
‘He just hungry and it’ll be dinner time soon.’ I said, the feelings of embarrassment and shame were a clue that I may be wrong; I’d barely said the words when I turned on my heel and dragged my second up to the next floor to see what was causing Stinky to cry now.
‘Hey, why do I need to come?’ Ray whined at me as I dragged him bodily up the stairs.
‘I may need a hand, Claire will want him dressed for dinner.’
The door to Stinky and Aiden’s room was covered in stickers the boys had received from card packs, candies and activity books, a cute sign etched with their names next to each other in the middle. Getting the woman on the stand in the very mundane market to specially carve Stinky into the plaque had received a horrified look. I’d lied and told her it was the name of the dog.
Two small beds filled the room, an aging chest of drawers rested against the remaining wall under the window making the room feel even more cramped than two beds would. Aiden’s bed was freshly made, Stinky had pulled the covers off his the second I made it and dragged the sheets under the bed with him.
The wailing had calmed somewhat, probably from the realisation he was getting attention, and a small fuzzy brown head popped out of the nest of sheets and big eyes, wet with tears, stared up at me pleading for something.
‘Are you coming out of there?’ I asked arms out stretched towards my charge. Stinky made a whining noise which made Ray’s face twist in discomfort, but it seemed to be enough and Stinky moved towards me, bringing the blanket with him and climbing into my arms. He nestled into me, curling his long legs around my waist and sucking his stick like thumb like the baby he still was.
‘All that noise from that little thing?’ Ray asked, ‘hey, he’s kinda cute.’ I knew Stinky didn’t appear as cute to most of my acquaintances, even family regularly called him ugly. Louis-Cesare had kept his distance at first, though he’d warmed up to him since the marriage and was trying to entertain my ball of fluff when I needed a distraction, but he’d never called him cute, because he wasn’t really. He was all long thin limbs, a ball of dirty furry body and mismatched teeth, which looked painful rather than useful. Yet here was Ray, taking my fluffy baby out of my arms and cooing at him, making silly faces and baby noises. I thought Stinky might eat his face, but to my surprise he laughed, well I assumed that noise was a laugh; it wasn’t the pretty sounds human babies usually made, but guttural, raspy and not something I’d heard before.
‘Well I’ve found our new babysitter!’ I said. Ray’s eyebrows shot up in alarm.
‘What? Since when? I’m not kid minding material!’
‘No one has ever made Stinky laugh before. I’m sure I give him comfort and safety and Claire provides food and order, Aiden is his friend and I think Stinky sees himself as Aiden’s protector. The trolls are his family, but no one is his entertainer. He started out as a failed experiment, found in an auction and about to be put down and it’s been chaos in this house ever since he got here and I’ve just never heard him laugh, until now with you.’
‘Wow, this kid has had some life eh?’ Ray all but whispered at me, unconsciously rocking Stinky on his hip while we talked, a sleepy look filled those big eyes and the thumb returned to Stinky’s mouth.
‘Yeah. He has. Help me get his shorts on.’ I decided Stinky liked to show me up, as he happily placed his legs into the blue shorts Claire had picked out whilst in Ray’s arms. On a normal day it took me bargaining for all sorts and wrestling him around the room to get him in clothes.
‘You ready for some dinner little man?’ Ray asked, swooping the now appropriately attired fluff ball into his arms and heading towards the stairs. ‘You comin’ boss?’ He yelled as he went.
‘Yeah, I’ll be right there.’ I took in the little cramped room, there wasn’t room in this house for all of us, but it was home, chaotic, messy and temperamental as it was. I picked up the bedding and folded it on the end of the bed before heading back downstairs.
I returned to the packed kitchen, the food had started to smell delicious and my stomach rumbled in anticipation, through the window I could see Ray had taken Stinky out to the garden, now full of tables all neatly presented ready for the meal, all Louis-Cesare’s handiwork I could tell.
The man himself was talking to Ray, Stinky made a move towards Louis- Cesare, happily moving into his arms and climbing up to perch on his shoulder, I noticed it gave Stinky the view of the garden and surrounding houses, Louis-Cesare had his legs cupped protectively as Stinky took in the surroundings. My attention was caught by Claire in the steamy kitchen, she handed me Aiden and a stack of bowls and all but pushed me out of the door.
The evening was warm, summer was dying but fall hadn’t yet creeped into New York and the temperatures had moved from stifling to warm and comfortable. I walked over to the men in my life and sat Aiden down in the high chair at the head of the first table. While setting the tables with the last of the bowls, I felt a hand on my hip, I didn’t need to turn to know who it was.
‘Hi there’ I said, the arm curved around my waist bringing me into the hard body behind me, I sighed, relaxing into the grip and leaning back.
‘Hello’ he whispered into my ear. The promise in one word was almost enough to put me off dinner. I spun in his grip to face my new husband. In the dying light of the day he looked like a painting, the sun highlighted his cheekbones and the golden flecks in his auburn hair. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen, and he was all mine. I kissed him, like breathing, like it was a necessity to live until I needed to come up for air. Stinky was still perched on his shoulder, looking at me quizzically rather than the camp around us, suddenly his arms shot out, deciding he was done with my husband’s shoulder. I took him back on to my hip and turned back to look out at the garden before me, Louis-Cesare’s arms now draped over my shoulders possessively. The guards had started to come out for dinner, a dozen or so tall fae, in all their otherworldly beauty, moved out to find places at the set-up tables. The bread was already out and a gentle chatter and low murmurs had begun as the guards shared it out.
The pots of food weren’t far behind and Stinky practically leapt out of my arms as the food came past. I sat him next to Aiden at the table nearby and dragged Louis-Cesare with me to sit down and eat. He wasn’t a big eater, but he took a small portion to please me, I think.
I watched as our ever-increasing family ate their evening meal, in the warm calm late September evening, a sense of peace and calm washed over me. Stinky reached up with his hand, showing me his new spoon, a gift from Louis-Cesare when he moved in. Stinky seemed so proud of his spoon, bright blue and red plastic with a button to spin the head around. Most of his food ended up in his fur when he turned it on, but he loved it and I couldn’t take that away from him.
Ray leant over and cleaned up a mess the crazy spoon had made and fussed over Stinky a little, I never noticed the little things he does for us until now, but he’s always there. I guess that’s what a good second is. I made a mental note to schedule Ray into babysitting one evening and drag Louis-Cesare out for a romantic dinner, if he can make Stinky laugh, he can come over any time he wants. I sighed as I finished my dinner, leaning back in the chair and watching the sky start to turn a deep blue, the sun slowly setting behind the buildings.
‘This is nice.’ I said. Sharing a roll with Stinky and mopping up the last of the gravy.
‘Yep’ A croaky voice agreed, I wasn’t sure I was hearing things, but Louis-Cesare and Claire’s shocked faces agreed with my assessment. The word had come from Stinky.
‘Stinky? You can speak?’ I said in amazement
‘Yep’ he agreed, the gruff laugh was back, I wasn’t sure if he’d ever really learn more words, but I had never been prouder of anyone in my life. I laughed with him, joy in his new-found voice.