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Growth Spurt

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A night of crashing at his place had turned (at his offer) into a weekend, a week or two, had turned into furnishing a room for Lex and Hannah and giving them a home under his roof a mere few months after Becky had moved in. In the fall, Tom and Lex went back to Hatchetfield High School side by side and the car had just enough seats for the new quasi-family they were building together. Like the pieces of a new puzzle falling snug into one another, the home made more sense with the girls sharing their lives. Tom, who had expected for years to have just the one son, was finding that he enjoyed parenting Lex and Hannah every bit as much as his Tim − but then he reflected that there wasn’t much different about providing for three, for five, and that if he could be a father of one, he might as well apply the skills to all the young ones in his care. Lex gave back more sass than Tim had ever dared to, but then Hannah was much more quiet and meek than the boy, too. Together, the three of them balanced each other out just about as much as could be expected. Tom was starting to be really happy.

Life was falling back into predictable habits and he loved knowing that he could once more count on what would come tomorrow, for it would be much like what had come today. He hoped so, anyways, and indeed every day the foundations he was laying were a little more sturdy. It was as though his existence could fall into the boring mundane once more. A breath of fresh air.

"Ah, Christ!" He cried out, jumping back from his workbench. "You gave me a fright."

His work headphones on, he had not noticed Hannah enter his workshop shack until she stood at his side and tugged on his sleeve. He rubbed sweat from his forehead. The entire afternoon, he had been working on a new dresser he meant to put in the girls’ bedroom, so that they each had their own. A friend had let him reclaim some old pallets for this purpose, but the wood had needed more treating than he was expecting and he was slightly behind on a self-imposed schedule.

"What’s up?" He asked her. He noticed the girl was looking very pale and worrisome. "You okay?"

Hannah hesitated. It was generally accepted by the rest of the household that she preferred not to talk unless it was truly necessary. Tom knew better than anyone how easily one could show affection without so much as a peep, but nothing on the girl’s face gave him any hint as to what seemed to be bothering her. She shuffled from one foot to the other. Her hoodie, which was really Lex’s, was tied around her waist.

"I… think I’m injured," she muttered.

He tore the headphones from around his neck and dropped his tools to look at her, though there was no sign he could detect with his bare eyes. She still stood upright, didn’t she?

"Where?!" He asked. "What happened?"

He circled around her frantically, anxious not to touch her and take the risk of hurting her. Hannah was staring at the ground, her hands twisting in front of her.

"I’m bleeding," she said in a voice so low he could have missed it if he weren’t so worried. "Not much, it’s a little bit, but it hurts."

"Let me look at it," he said. "We got a first aid kit in the bathroom. I’ll see if it’s serious."

"You can’t look at it," she hurried to say. "It’s… it’s… uh…"

She tugged the hoodie tighter around her waist, flattened it, and Tom realized the girl was a young teenager now. He’d seen this sort of demeanor before. A few times back all those years ago with Becky, and in all the time he’d been teaching. If high school had given him any sort of street smart at all…

"Oh." Already, a weight dropped from his shoulders. There was nothing wrong with her. "Oh, you’re bleeding from…"

He gestured very generally, but Hannah’s face turned bright red and he stopped right there. At least, there would be no trip to the emergency room.

"That’s normal," he told her, a hand on her shoulder. "Well, it should be. Fuck, Lex isn’t here to talk to you about it?"

Hannah slowly shook her head and her hands covered his, taking it between hers. It was as though he held her very life and dignity in his palm, the way they were trembling.

"Okay," he breathed out. "Okay, we’re doing this. Alright. Come along."

Hand in hand, they crossed the backyard again towards the house. He had never been any sort of expert on biology, especially that which was not his own, but he had a partner. He’d had a wife. And now, it began to sink in, he had daughters.

"Lex never told you about this?" He asked again.

Lex and he had made an arrangement when they had moved in that Hannah’s education still laid mostly in Lex’s hands, that his input had a clear limit that laid in Lex’s final word. They had never talked of what they should do in this situation and as such, he had drawn the natural conclusion that it pertained to her half of the bargain. He had never even thought about it at all, if he were truly honest.

"It’s your, erm, your period. Do you know what that means?"

"I’m not sure," she replied, still whispering as if she were afraid to take up too much space, to move too fast.

At the threshold of her bedroom, he awkwardly suggested she should grab a new pair of undergarments. Hannah closed the door after her as she did, and hid them behind her back when she came out again. She would not look at him, but then Tom was every bit as keen on avoiding eye contact as she was.

"Okay, so this is where Beck and Lex store their things," he said, opening a cabinet under the sink in the bathroom. "There’s pads and, er, tampons, and you can probably just grab some from their boxes, I don’t think they’ll mind…"

She was staring at the little basket (which was Becky’s originally, all pretty and decorated with pale blue ribbons) and its content like she had never seen anything so foreign. She did not dare to crouch to have a look. Tom sighed and sat on the edge of the tub, patted her back. Hannah startled and when their eyes met, she looked every bit as young and child-like as she had yesterday before this. Fourteen was barely out of childhood at all. The girl was terrified.

"Look, when girls are about your age, often a bit younger I think, they start getting those and it’s… erm, every month, you guys bleed from… Well, it’s perfectly natural. Nothing to be worried about. You’re not injured, you’re just… turning into a woman." Her lip quivered. There wasn’t anything womanly about her, or at least not more than Tim was at the cusp of manhood either. "Or into a teen, at least."

"Uh huh…" She replied, unconvinced. "I’m… I’m okay?"

He pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head.

"Of course," he said. "You’re fine. It’s gonna be… okay."

She said nothing. Her little face scrunched up into intense focus and she picked the basket from the cabinet. There was a box of pads neatly opened along the dotted line, half empty, which was Becky’s, and a haphazard pile of tampons and pads of several different brands which had to be Lex’s.

"What do I…"

Tom cleared his throat. It was odd and foreign for him to be explaining to her something he had no experience with, aside from the fact of women in his life having been through it. There was no shame in it, or at least he hoped he would not let her believe so, but still the territory came with inherent awkwardness on his part.

"Oh, they have a sticker thingy, I think," he said, gesturing without knowing what he was pointing at. "They wrap around the underwear and stay put to absorb the, the blood, and… and the tampons go inside but you don’t have to use both and…"

He had to call Lex. Without a doubt, he was realizing, this fell under her own jurisdiction. He only hoped she would not be mad at him for overstepping. Some explanations from Becky wouldn’t hurt either.

"Can you…" She asked softly. "Can you leave?"

Tom jumped to his feet. He was feeling rather red in the face himself.

"Yup. I’m out. Just put your… Just put it in the hamper when you’re done and… I’ma make some hot chocolate or something…"

He left without another word − he might have said too much already. Only a moment after he had closed the door, he heard the sound of water running in the shower and let out a huge sigh. Pulling out his phone, he shot a quick text to Lex.

Hannah just got her first period. − Tom

In the kitchen, he made hot chocolate on the stove while Hannah was handling herself. He would have to run a load of laundry tonight and jotted it down on the running list of tasks Becky kept on a notepad pinned on the fridge. They had a heating pad Becky used occasionally he put in the microwave for it to be ready and warm when Hannah would come out. In the bathroom, he was sure there were painkillers, though he never used them. He racked his brain for something more to do. When he walked back into the living room, Hannah had changed into her pajamas and was hugging a pillow to her chest in an armchair.

"Here," he said, placing a mug of chocolate in front of her. "Feeling better?"

She shook her head, but her mood lightened the moments the chocolate passed her lips. Closing her eyes, she savored another sip.

"I’ll just… Pain. I’ll be back."

Hannah had hidden away all her laundry at the bottom of the hamper underneath everything else and Tom left it exactly there out of respect for the poor girl’s privacy. The basket of menstrual products was on the counter now and, from the shelf behind the mirror, he grabbed the painkillers back to the living room. He placed one in her palm.

"Take this," he instructed. "It’s gonna help."

Obediently, she swallowed the pill and rinsed it down with more hot chocolate. Her mug was nearly empty and Tom took it back to the kitchen with him for a refill. Was the heating pad still warm enough? Across the hall, he heard the front door push open and Tim and Becky chat lightly together. Relief flooded him in more ways than just the pleasure of hearing them getting along. Crossing the hall in a few long steps, he pulled Becky aside, who startled at the motion but smiled at him.

"Beck," he muttered to her, "Hannah’s having her period. It’s her first. I didn’t know she hadn’t…"

Becky’s face fell. Quickly, she glanced into the living room where Tim was sitting down next to the girl and trying in vain to make conversation. She looked back at Tom.

"I should have made sure she knew…" She said, a little plaintively. "I didn’t think about it. It’s all been so new at home here and…"

"Yeah," he nodded. "Yeah, I dunno what I was expecting. She knew, erm, nothing."

"Nothing at all?" Suddenly, a smirk quirked up at Becky’s mouth and she poked a teasing finger into his shoulder. "And what have you taught her, sir?"

"I did my best," Tom replied, frowning. "I showed her where you keep the thingies and all. I tried to explain but fuck, I don’t know what more I can do. She looks miserable."

Becky’s hands flattened against his chest as she pulled herself up to kiss him briefly on the lips.

"I’ll see what I can do."

Outside, Lex’s bike pulled noisily into the driveway and she barged inside. Straight up ignoring the two of them, she rushed to the living room.

"Banana, are you okay?!"

Tom handed Becky the still warm heating pad and she nodded at him understandingly.

"Why wouldn’t she be?" Tim asked, confused, but Tom squeezed his shoulder to lead him away, back to the kitchen. "What’s wrong?"

"I can’t believe you’re all grown up," Lex was lamenting. "I thought we still had time, oh my god…"

"Tom says I’m not dying," Hannah said timidly.

Lex stared at her, incredulous. After a few long seconds, she burst out laughing despite herself and pulled her sister into the tightest hug. She covered her head with kisses.

"You’re not dying at all," Lex replied. "You’re alive."

As he pulled Tim to the kitchen to give the three of them some space, Tom overheard Becky enquire about Hannah, how she was feeling, if she needed anything. It wasn’t long at all before she began explaining the whole process to her in much more details than Tom ever could have. Tim frowned as they heard her talk of hormonal shifts, of ovulation, uterine lining shedding, and Tom chuckled to himself.

"What’s going on?" Tim asked.

Tom closed the door to the kitchen to give Becky and the girls a space of their own to discuss everything in as much or little details as they wished. He patted Tim’s shoulder affectionately.

"Hannah’s got her period," he said and hoped she would not mind him saying so. From Jane, he had gotten the idea that Tim should not be raised blindly to all things female and he meant to keep this. "That means she’s gonna be bleeding every month or so from now on, so she’s a little under the weather."

"Oh. Like Becky." He kept silent the words Tom saw plain on his face. Like mom. "Is it like a hemorrhage?"

Tom snorted.

"Not really," he replied. "It’s just a bit of blood, but there’s cramping and stuff… You can ask Becky later. She knows more than I do."

Through the door, he heard Becky and Lex laugh together at something Hannah must have said. He smiled.

"Hey, you wanna go on a ride for a bit?" He asked his son. "I think I’ll go grab some ice cream tub or something."

Tim’s eyes lit up with interest at the mere mention of ice cream. So full of surprises, yet always so predictable in the best of ways.

"Yeah, let’s go," he said and dragged Tom by the arm behind him all the way out of the house again.

When they came back, Tom served Hannah the bigger portion of ice cream and she snacked on it all the way until dinner. When they cooked, he asked Becky if everything was as should be and Becky smiled and nodded.

"A new little woman right at home," she said fondly. "The poor sweetheart, she’s cramping bad. She’s not looking forward to a few decades of this."

He chuckled, filled with compassion for poor Hannah. It was better, he thought, that she would have gotten it here first rather than on the trailer. Already, he thought of what Lex had gone through and felt a special surge of affection for her. No kid should be living like she had. He knew that better than most.

"She’s very brave," he said. "They both are."

"Mmh," Becky nodded. "Here, take this to her."

She had reheated the pad in the microwave. Lex was cuddling Hannah on the couch and gave him a kind smile when he brought it back for her sister.

"Thanks, dude," she said. "Here, banana, this’ll help."

"Yeah," Hannah said. "Thank you."

"You’re, erm, you okay?" He asked.

Hannah looked at him, pouting slightly, but nodded. Lex kissed her temple.

"Our little warrior," she said adoringly. "Thanks for handling it, Tom."

"It’s my job too," he replied and went back to help Becky finish dinner.

He felt braver than he had in the morning, too, although he knew he had no credit to take here. Hannah alone had been bold enough to ask for his help and he owed it to her to give it to the best of his abilities. Somehow, he did feel like a significant step had been crossed not just in her life but also in the evolution of their family. She had needed them at a crucial moment of her existence and all of them had provided. Even now, Tim was trying to distract her with jokes and stories and Hannah was trying to smile in return.

For the first time since taking in a couple of teenagers, Tom and Becky had experienced a first time in either of their lives, something new never yet lived before. He loved that more than he cared to admit. God willing, there might be many more first times for both of them, a fresh new start in their lives ever reaching. And he hoped that for all of them, he would be there to soothe and guide them. This, after all, was what being a father was all about.