TJ cleared the dinner plates from the table while his husband Cyrus started talking to their daughter about a friend she made at school. Normally, they would have made her finish her vegetables, but tonight was kind of special.
“So Samantha….” TJ started as he came to re-join his family at the table. Cyrus looked over at him nervously, and they had a quick silent conversation about whether it was the right time for this discussion. TJ placed a hand on his husband’s shoulder and took a deep breath. “We have something we need to talk to you about.” Their six-year-old looked up at them with wide brown eyes.
“Am I in trouble?” she asked, her voice shaking a little.
“No!” her dads shouted in assurance. Cyrus reached across the table to take her small, soft hands in his.
“No sweetie,” Cyrus said more softly. He paused to breathe again before the next words. “We wanted to tell you that we’re adopting another child.” Sam tilted her head in confusion.
“Like a play date?” she asked curiously. She had play dates with Buffy and Andi’s kids all the time, so it made sense she would think that.
“No honey,” TJ chuckled lightly, shaking his head. “They’re going to live here and be part of our family. You’re going to have a baby brother.” The men smiled encouragingly at their daughter. Her mouth widened as she took a minute to process.
“How does that make you feel?” Cyrus asked before he could stop himself. His parenting style was usually exactly what you’d expect from the child of four therapists. He went overboard with it sometimes.
“Cyrus,” TJ reminded him.
“Oh sorry,” Cyrus gulped when he realized what he’d said.
“I’ll have someone to play with?” Sam asked, and her parents smiled.
“Well, he’ll be too little at first,” TJ chuckled. “But soon you guys will be the best of friends.”
“You’re gonna be a great big sister,” Cyrus agreed. Sam beamed.
“Okay,” she huffed, puffing out her chest. TJ and Cyrus shared a sigh of relief.
“It’s off to the bath with you now, missy,” TJ said after a moment. He stood and picked her up, although she was almost too heavy for it anymore. She squealed in delight as he carried out of the kitchen. Cyrus watched them go, thinking that his heart couldn’t have been fuller.
Cyrus's phone rang the next afternoon while he was at work. He picked it off the large dark stained desk to see that it was his husband. That was strange. TJ would normally be picking Sam up right now, and they usually waited until Cyrus got home at 5 to talk. Swallowing his irrational panic, he answered the call.
“Hey,” he said with as much strength as he could muster. He didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
“Hey,” TJ responded hesitantly. “You kinda need to come to Sam’s school.” His tone was not re-assuring Cyrus at all. He could practically hear how flustered TJ was through the phone.
“What happened?” Cyrus asked, his anxiety flaring.
“She...uh...got into a fight with another one of the kids,” his husband explained, ripping off the band-aid.
“What?” Cyrus yelped. “Is she hurt?”
“No, no,” TJ said. His voice did not sound relaxed though. Cyrus could imagine him pacing back and forth in protective dad mode. “The teacher just wants to meet with us.” That didn’t sound promising but Cyrus nodded to himself. He had to handle this rationally.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” he told TJ. He was technically still in the middle of the workday, but his family needed him.
“See you then.” There was a long pause before Cyrus thought of what to say next.
“Hey, we got this.” Hopefully, that would be enough to reassure him. It was true, at least. They made a great team.
“I love you,” TJ responded gratefully. He hadn’t forgotten to end a phone call with Cyrus like that in 20 years, and he obviously wasn’t gonna stop now. Cyrus was relieved to hear the much calmer tone of TJ's voice.
“I love you too,” Cyrus beamed before ending the call and shoving his phone into his pocket on the way out.
Cyrus walked into his daughter’s kindergarten classroom 10 minutes later as promised. His husband gave him a grateful smile as he went to join him at the front desk. Sam was standing there looking very shaken. Her teacher, a brunette middle-aged lady, looked between the three of them, clearing her throat.
“Good, we have everyone here,” she smiled plasticly. “Samantha, sweetie, why don’t you go play with the after school kids in the classroom next door?” Sam didn’t seem pleased with the suggestion, but she didn’t argue. She hugged her arms to her body as she clunked out the door. Her dads watched her go, and Cyrus squeezed TJ’s hand when he saw the pained look on his face. He knew TJ wanted to be protective, but that wouldn’t solve anything. Sam’s teacher was watching them with bated breath, so they broke eye contact to look at her.
“Thank you guys for coming here,” she started. “In these kinds of situations, the parents usually aren’t this receptive.” Cyrus raised an eyebrow.
“What do you mean?” TJ asked, reading his husband’s mind.
“Well, I’m used to seeing this type of aggressive behavior in my problem students…” she explained. TJ flinched at the word aggressive, but Cyrus squeezed his hand again when he went to open his mouth. “But Sam has always been a model student until today.”
“Well, she must’ve been provoked,” TJ spat, unable to contain himself any longer. The teacher leaned away from him, shaking her head.
“No, no, she was the one who snatched the toy from the boy in the first place,” she insisted. That apparently had been the start of the fight, but both men were still skeptical if that was the full story.
“Why exactly did you call us both here?” Cyrus asked curiously, wanting to lead the woman to the point she was trying to get at.
“Well, the behavior was so unlike her, I was wondering if maybe something was going on at home.”
“What?” Cyrus gasped. She said it so matter of factly like she had any idea of what was going on in their lives. Who was she to make assumptions? Suddenly, Cyrus realized he tended to do the exact same thing. He cooled immediately. “What do you mean?” he asked more calmly.
“Is there anything that might’ve happened in the past few days that might’ve made her lash out?” she clarified. Cyrus wracked his brain, but it was spinning so fast he couldn’t grasp onto a singular thought. He looked over at TJ and they made eye contact. TJ bobbed his head, and then it hit Cyrus.
“Yes, actually,” he breathed. There was a pause but his husband saved him.
“We told her last night that we’re adopting another kid,” TJ explained. The teacher’s eyes widened in understanding.
“That’s wonderful! I’ve had many students go through this,” she smiled as if everything would be easy-peasy now.
“She seemed so excited last night though,” TJ rebutted in confusion.
“Yeah, well, it can be a confusing time,” she conceded. “Did you guys ever go through that with your own siblings?” Cyrus shook his head at the same time that TJ nodded.
“I’m an only child, so I’m not much help in that department,” Cyrus chuckled. There was a pause before they all turned to TJ.
“Well, I hated my stepsister Amber at first,” he admitted.
“We all hated Amber at first,” Cyrus reminded him, unable to keep the bitter tone out of his words. They were all really close with Amber now, but middle school jealousy was a powerful thing.
“Fair enough,” TJ shrugged. “She can be a lot to handle but she’s not so bad anymore.” Cyrus nodded in agreement. The teacher just shook her head in confusion but smiled assuredly.
“Does Sam know about any of this?” she asked. Dejectedly, TJ leaned back in his seat and Cyrus shook his head. The woman sighed. “Talk to her. She’ll be fine.” Cyrus really hoped that was true.
They put off that conversation until later that night when Sam was tucked into bed. She had seemed to have calmed down, but they couldn’t let her get away with it any longer.
“No, sweetie, no more stories tonight,” TJ said when she asked for him to read another book. Cyrus stepped out of the doorway and came to sit next to them on the edge of her bed. He looked over at his husband and knew it was time.
“Samantha, honey, you know we aren’t mad at you right?” Cyrus asked her to test the waters. She nodded hesitantly so he went on. “We just want to know why you took the toy from the other kid.” Her eyes went wide for a second before she buried her face in her pillow to hide her shame. TJ started rubbing her back but looked over at Cyrus with great concern when they realized she was crying.
“Samantha,” TJ breathed, his voice shaking. He moved his hand to her shoulder and she slowly turned back to face them. She rubbed her eyes, but they were still red and her nose was dripping. “It’s okay,” the taller man urged gently. “You can tell us.” There was a long pause before the girl could get her voice back.
“He said that once you have another kid that he’ll take all your attention,” she admitted, her voice shaky. Her dads sighed in unison, finally realizing what was making her so distraught.
“Oh, sweetie,” Cyrus breathed sympathetically. “You know that’s not true, right? The baby might take up a lot of our time, but we’re not going to abandon you.” Sam looked down in shame.
“Hey, hey,” TJ placed his fingers softly on her chin and tilted her head up to look at him. “It’s okay to feel sad, but your daddies love you very much, okay? That’s not going to change.” Sam looked up at him like she didn’t quite believe it, but she slowly started to relax. “And you know what?” TJ said suddenly. Their daughter looked up at him in surprise. “You can be our big helper! I’m sure we’ll need you to help take care of him, too.” Sam looked pleased with this idea.
“Really?” She bit back a smile, completely forgetting her earlier reservations. “Do you think I’ll be a good helper?”
“The best!” TJ insisted. “You’re gonna be a great big sister.”
“There’s enough room in my heart for all of you,” Cyrus added, scooting closer to his family. It was his turn to almost start crying, but out of happiness and thankfulness instead of pain.
“Mine too,” TJ grinned. They looked at Sam, waiting for her to agree.
“Me too,” she relented, burying her face in TJ’s chest. TJ offered his open arm to Cyrus and pulled him close, wrapping his family in a tight hug. They held onto this moment as one of their last sweet memories as a trio.
Two Weeks Later
TJ looked over at his husband as they stood on the doorway, a heavy black baby carrier between them. They smiled at each other before TJ gently pushed open the door.
As soon as she heard the creak of their steps, Samantha came bounding down the stairs, followed closely by Buffy who had been babysitting while her dads were gone.
“They’re here, they’re here,” she squealed, running up to them as they kicked off their shoes.
“Shhhh….he’s sleeping,” TJ whispered. She immediately snapped her mouth shut and halted in her tracks.
“Can I- can I see him?” she asked more quietly, looking up at the carrier in Cyrus’s arms curiously.
“You ready?” Cyrus asked, a gleam in his eye. She nodded vigorously, creeping slowly forward. Slowly, Cyrus lowered the baby to the floor before peeling the blanket back to reveal a chubby figure with dark hair and squinty eyes. He was slightly starting to stir awake.
“Meet Anthony,” TJ breathed. Samantha smiled down at her brother.
“Hi, Anthony,” she cooed. She looked up at her parents with bright eyes. “I love him,” she announced. The men looked at each other, their hearts officially broken by the sweetness.
“Congrats, guys,” Buffy greeted them, stepping forward. She gave both of her friends a side-hug before leaning down. “Hey buddy,” she giggled, gently stroking the baby’s head. Before standing up again, she leaned over and whispered something in Samantha’s ear. The girl giggled.
“You’re funny, Aunt Buffy,” she smiled as the woman stood up.
“Be good, okay? Your dads are tired,” Buffy reminded her. Samantha nodded. Her dads looked over at their friend gratefully.
“Thank you so much for watching her, Buffy,” Cyrus replied.
“It was no problem,” Buffy assured him. “As much as it pains me to admit it, I love to see you losers so happy.” TJ rolled his eyes at this but Cyrus just grinned.
“Yeah, we are,” he agreed, wrapping his arm around TJ and looking down at his children like the proudest dad in the world.