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Tim and his pride wouldn't let her see him anywhere near the prison. She had to wait to see him at the welcome home party like everyone else. Tyra didn't try for subtle. She was smoking outside waiting so she could still be first, and for once she didn't care that everybody else knew exactly what she was doing. She needed to see him first.

The cab pulled up, and Tim got out. Tyra couldn't stand to look at him, almost. She looked away until he was standing in front of her, staring at her. Then she finally managed to fix her eyes on him. "See where dating a cheerleader gets you?" she said, the words coming out of some seed of resentment in her soul she was sure she'd gotten rid of. 

Tim kept staring for several long seconds. She avoided his eyes again. "That was two years ago," he finally said. 

"Butterfly effect," she shrugged, and then couldn't keep herself from smiling. Smiling at him, even, because he was snorting back and his eyes weren't warm quite yet but they were getting there. 

"You really liked that dweeb more than me?" he said.

"Well that isn't saying much, Tim, cuz I don't like you one bit," she answered, dropping the butt and smudging it out with her toe. And then she hugged him, because she missed him so much she couldn't stand it. 

Tim hugged back, pleasant enough, but he wasn't here like he usually was. When they separated, he gave her an awkward sort of grimace and mumbled excuse as he went around her, inside. She heard Mindy shriek and Billy yell, and it's not like she wasn't happy for them but she also really wanted Tim to herself for several hours or maybe years to figure out how he was different now. Because he was different. And the thing was, she was too. 

Whatever. Tyra was a full grown adult now, that was one of the differences, and that meant she could set aside her personal feelings and have a damn good time. So that's exactly what the hell she did. 

After about two hours, when Billy was shit-faced and Mindy and Mom were a mess and Becky had left for some party and Tim was unusually sober and restless, Tyra took control. She nudged Tim's knee with her toe, lounging next to him on the couch. He looked over, obligingly. Tyra jerked her head at the door, and Tim nodded once. They met out at the truck. No one had noticed them leaving. 

"Where do you want to go?" Tyra asked. 

"Somewhere big.” 

She stopped off at Walmart first, and got a couple things. Tim came in too. He was the only boyfriend she'd had with steps were as long as hers. She didn't have to slow down for him. "Not quite what I meant," he said as they walked in. 

"Shut up, Tim," she sighed. 

The doors slid open, air conditioning hitting their faces. They were just here for beer. She got a bag of popcorn too, and paid. Tim carried it for her. 

From there, she drove them out to a field. Not a football field, but just a normal old field in the middle of nowhere with a good view of the sunset. They sat in the truck bed, leaning back against the cab, and drank and watched the sun go down. 

"So," Tyra finally said. "What's the plan?" 

"Stay out of trouble. Work in another garage, or something. Finish parole. Try not to disappoint Coach again. Which, I know he was the one who told me about the fundraiser to get me out, but. I know it was your idea." 

"I wasn't... well, wasn’t the only one," she ended up saying.

Tim grinned, she saw it out of the corner of her eye. "Yeah, alright. Well. Thank you." 

"Course.”

Some more time passed. 

"I was gonna buy some land," Tim said. "Out by Billy's garage. Sold while I was locked up." 

Tyra leveled a look at him. "There's a lot of land, Tim. This is Texas." 

"Yeah, yeah." 

Maybe that was too mean. She threaded her arm through his and pulled him closer. "Would you ever consider," she began, and hesitated. This would show all her cards. But she was never much at poker, especially when Tim was involved. He knew all her tells, and she knew his. Like two fucked up puzzle pieces. They only ever fit with each other. "Would you ever consider looking at land near Dallas?" 

"Why?" he said, in his classic dumbass voice. As if she'd fall for that. 

"Because I want you near me," she answered anyways, because she was a good sport. "And I'm gonna be there for the foreseeable future. I'm gonna be a lawyer." She was getting better at saying that like she meant it. Hadn't helped when Mom had acted like she was saying she wanted to go to space but you couldn't win every battle right off the jump, she figured. 

Tim took his time answering. "Great," he finally said. "So instead of being a washed up felon living with his stupid brother, I'll be one living alone, in Dallas." 

"I swear to fucking Christ, Tim, if you make me connect all the dots for you," Tyra began, building up a healthy head of steam. 

"I'm not making you do anything." 

"No, you're just bullheaded enough for me to need to, and I'm stupid enough to put myself out there for you, again, so you'd better be good and ready to make me not regret it or I will leave you in this field this instant, okay,” she said furiously, and put her head down on his shoulder. "I'm trying to tell you I want to live together, you bastard." 

"Then why the hell didn't you start there?" Tim said. 

"Because I'm not really the kind of person who enjoys being turned down by the same person more than once," Tyra said crossly. "And that's not an answer." 

He didn't have an answer. There was a long pause. 

"Do you want to tell me we haven't seen each other for a couple years, because I personally don't think that matters," Tyra said. "I know you don't know what a laundry hamper is and you know I only do the dishes when forced. Or maybe you want to tell me you're not the same person."

"I'm not," Tim said. 

"Good, neither am I. But Tim, I know that I'm never gonna be a person who doesn't want to be around you. And... I don't know, I think you'd know one way or the other too, by now." 

Another long pause. Honestly this was the part of being with Tim she kind of hated, but at least he was actually thinking about it. She just didn't understand how he needed to. Every decision Tyra ever made, she knew in her gut whether it was right or wrong the moment she made it. But Tim was different. He did things like go down for Billy's dumbass chop shop to protect him. All she could do was get him out of jail. 

"You want to take me to Dallas with you," he finally said. Like he couldn't believe it. 

"Yeah." 

"And be together for the rest of our lives, or whatever." 

"Basically." 

"You got a ring or something?" 

Tyra could smack him, but it would ruin the moment. "Pretty sure that's your job, cowboy. But I'm not in a rush." 

The sun was well and truly set now, behind the horizon with only orange streaks to show for it. It was getting a little chilly. But when Tyra started to move, Tim held her there. "Can we just stay?" 

"Of course," Tyra answered. 

Tim put his arm around her shoulders then, and she slipped hers behind him so they could sit closer. "Sure," he said eventually. "I'll stay with you as long as you'll have me." 

So, forever then. Tyra didn't say that, because she didn't want to spook him, but that was the truth. "Great," she said. "Glad I got an apartment. Dorm room would be a tight fit." 

 

 

Tim had a job a week after moving to Dallas. Minimum wage at some oil change place, but that was fine. Tyra was working too, waiting tables at an Applebee's that looked a lot like the one in Dillon, and between the two of them things were comfortable. 

There was one big purchase. About two weeks in, he came home one night with a box he tossed to her. "What's this?" Tyra frowned. 

"A ring." 

She thought he was kidding. He got a beer out of the fridge while she untied the ribbon and opened it. Sure enough, it was an actual ring. Two of them. A plain band, and then one with a big square stone, the band thickening to hold it there securely. "Jesus, that's a big rock," she said, her heart stuttering. 

Tim was watching her now, as he had his first sip. "Yeah," was all he said. 

No point in playing hard to get; Tyra put both of them on, and looked over to find a ring on Tim's left hand too. She met his eyes on accident, because this was actually kind of shocking, now that it was happening. Part of her never expected to get married. It was hopeful, and conventional, and too cute and needy and lovey-dovey. But right now, with the ring on looking at him, she liked it a lot. 

"Glad that's over with," she said, with less than her usual verve. 

"Me too," Tim said. And that was about it. 

 

 

Tyra got into law school. Seven of them, actually - every single one she applied to. Tim was not surprised. That was the kind of shitty thing about how intensely he believed in her; her accomplishments never blew him away. But losing the element of surprise was totally worth it because in return she got this perpetual source of confidence. Tim's belief in her was so comprehensive that she had the sense she could tell him she'd created a new language and he'd tell her he'd already learned to speak it. 

And honestly, it was kind of insane how much better she did with Tim backing her up. She loved her mom, and Mindy, but living with Tim was teaching her exactly how much it took out of her, the slow drip of their expectations. Without that, she couldn't find anything hard enough to stop her. She was third in her class, passed the bar, and then got totally wasted with Tim and their friends. It fucking ruled. 

"Hey," Tim said outside the bar. 

Tyra was preoccupied with how they were going to get home. Both of them were definitely too drunk to drive in the city. If they were home, maybe they'd have tried it. She could call them an uber, that was probably the best option. The walk would probably be like a half hour and she'd worn some high heels based on the pipe dream that she wouldn't get too drunk. A walk would be rough. But, then, her phone was definitely dead. 

"Hey," Tim said again, and knocked her shoulder with the back of his hand. 

"You have uber on your phone?" 

"I found some land," Tim said in his dumb voice she loved so much. 

"So no on the uber?" Tyra said, and then registered what he'd actually said. "Wait, what? When? Where? Like just now?" 

Tim shook his head with a snort and a smile. "Called earlier today. Didn't want to steal your thunder."

Tyra whacked his arm and wobbled a little. "Tim!" 

He stabilized her, grin growing. "I'll take you to it tomorrow," he said. "There's the perfect spot for a house." 

"You're gonna build us a house?" she repeated. Not that she didn't believe it - she knew Tim had the same crazy willpower she had - but it just didn't seem real. 

"Cut back to part time at the garage," he nodded. "Hire some guys. I think I could do it by this time next year." 

Tyra just looked at him. She couldn't think of anything good enough to say to him, so she just hugged him. In these heels, she was taller. He held her around the waist, and kissed her collarbone. 

"And yeah," he said eventually. "I'll call an uber."

"I've told you how much I love you, right?" she said, fake serious to cover just how real she was being. And she pulled back to look him in the eye. "'Cause it's a whole hell of a lot." 

Tim looked back, just a hint of a smile. "Yeah," he said. "Kinda figured." And they made out for a while, until their ride pulled up. 

 

 

They combined a housewarming party with their wedding reception. It was Mrs. T’s idea, while Tyra was complaining on their weekly phone call about the number of parties she was expected to throw. And it was a damn good one, too. Everyone from Dillon came up just the once, parked all down the long driveway, and had a great time. Coach and Tammy even flew in. Tyra wore jeans and a button down, and Tim had a Panthers T-shirt on, and it wasn't anything they weren't. It was laid back and loud and fun, and Tyra found Tim halfway through to say in his ear, "Remember when we threw a party like this and made a ton of money?" 

"Yeah, we've always known how to have a good time," he said with a warm grin. "Should've charged a cover." 

"Next time.”

"What, our kid's graduation?" he said. 

She wasn't as thrown by that as she expected to be, rationally. Of course they'd have kids. Tim had wanted them since forever. "Yeah," she said. "Definitely charging a cover then." 

He kissed her, wrapping his arms around her loosely, and then got pulled away into a pickup game of football with all the old Panthers there. Smash and him reignited their friendly rivalry, shit talking between downs. Billy tried to run tight end and tripped. Buddy joked loudly that he should go in for a couple plays but didn't, in the end. Coach called out advice with a smile. Matt wasn't able to make it from Chicago, but since all the boosters were here JD McCoy was around to throw. Tammy and Tyra ended up watching together on the sidelines. 

"The more things change, the more they stay the same," Tammy said with a smile, and had a sip of her wine. 

"Ain't that the truth," Tyra said. 

"Did you get in touch with Matt?" Tammy asked after a moment. "I thought we might get to see him." 

"No, he and Julie can't make it," Tyra answered with a sigh. It wasn't much of a surprise. Julie was never great at making time for things she didn't want to do. Tammy's answering sigh seemed to get that. 

"And Landry?" Tammy pressed after a second. 

"He saw the invite," Tyra said, trying to sound unconcerned. "Guess he was busy." 

Tammy made a sympathetic sound, and patted Tyra's shoulder. "He'll get over it," she said, which Tyra doubted. "Oh goodness. Here goes Joe again." 

Tyra followed her eye line and saw JD talking with his dad. Contrary to everyone else on the field, the two of them looked serious - or Joe looked serious, and JD looked like he'd rather be anywhere else. 

"I thought he left the Boosters," Tyra said.

"He did not," Tammy said, over-enunciating the way she did when she was tipsy and also annoyed. "He is now a legacy member of the Boosters. Even though he spends a lot of time in Waco.” 

"Why Waco?" 

"Because he has chosen attend every one of his son’s practices at Baylor,” Tammy said, and smiled across the yard at Katie McCoy. 

Tyra frowned. "Jesus.” Joe finished whatever he was saying, and then patted JD on the back a couple times. Tim noticed that, Tyra saw him start paying attention. "Never thought the kid was that much of a problem," she said. 

"He's not. Or he hasn't had the chance to be, at least. Well and now that Katie's back, you know, I worry." 

"Worry how?" Tyra's eyes were on Tim. They were playing again, and JD sent a pass long. Tim actually ran for it, seriously digging in, and caught it with his fingertips. A couple people cheered. 

Tammy made several faces that meant she shouldn't be saying this, but she would anyways. “About her and him. With Joe.” The dots still weren’t connecting for Tyra, and Tammy could tell so she added, “Well, y'know that we ended up in East Dillon because of them." 

That was a confusing non-sequitur, until it wasn't. Tyra remembered then, the news that had gone around school but hadn't really been her first priority at the time. "Oh," she said then. "Yeah. Right." Tim tossed the ball back to JD, said something that made the kid smile. 

"And JD is a junior now," Tammy continued quietly. "And he's good, but I don't think the NFL's breaking their door down, exactly. That's the impression I have. And it can be... well, dangerous. To disappoint his father, I think. " 

"Oh," Tyra said again, which wasn't really enough of a reaction. She knew what Mrs. T meant, and that was something that deserved a lot more. But in the moment, that was all Tyra had. 

"I can tell you this," Tammy said after a moment. "I don't miss Joe McCoy and the Boosters one bit." 

"Amen to that," Tyra said, and they clinked their plastic cups together. 

When the game broke up, Tim came over to Tyra with a bottle of water, wiping his forehead off on his shirt. He'd stopped wearing his hair long a few years back, and Tyra couldn't remember ever being more grateful. It was a lot more pleasant to kiss him. "Good game, baby.”

Tim smirked. "Yeah, we really wiped the floor with 'em," he said, and took another drink. "Y'remember JD?" 

"Yep." 

"Didn't think he'd come, to be honest," Tim said. "He turned into a dick without Coach. Or that's what Cafferty used to say." 

"How old is he?" Tyra asked. 

"Twenty? I think? He skipped a grade," Tim said. "He's a kid, though." 

"Yeah." No doubt.

Tim finally met her eyes, and stepped in closer towards her. "Let's thank him for coming. Before he leaves." And that was more than what he was saying, a lot more. He definitely knew why Coach went to East Dillon. 

"Yeah, for sure," Tyra said. 

"Now, maybe.” Tim jerked his head at their house. JD was headed inside, alone. Joe was in the middle of a serious conversation with Buddy, and Katie had snagged Mrs. T. 

Tyra threw back the rest of her drink and tossed the cup in the trash can. "Alright. Let's go." 

Tim took her her hand on the way to the house. Hard to tell if he wanted to give her strength or needed some, so Tyra held on and gave his hand a squeeze. Someone tried to stop them on the walk in, a dad of somebody Tyra couldn't quite place, but Tim gave him a polite brush-off. He got the back door for her, a back door he built and hung and put the lock into. Still kind of unreal. Tyra loved this house. She was just about ready to be alone with her husband in it. 

The kitchen had a lofted ceiling, skylights set in high and countertops all gorgeous and dark. Tim’s kitchen. JD was in there, eating something off one of the plates on the island. He looked up when he heard the door. "Oh, you guys want some privacy?" he asked with a smirk that made him look younger. 

"I think we can handle being observed while we get a couple beers," Tyra said, when she sensed a second of hesitation from Tim. "Thank you very much. How've you been?" she added as she passed him. He was shorter than her, still a skinny little thing. 

"Good," he said automatically. "Yeah, uh. Y'know. We were 11 and 2 so, not that bad." 

"I don't care about football," Tyra declared, and opened the fridge. Might as well actually get some beer. "You are doing other things, too, right?" 

There was a pause that was not promising. "Yeah," he said, in a clear lying tone. "Totally. There's classes." 

“Yeah?” Tim said. “You meet somebody? A couple somebodies?” 

Again, he paused, and Tyra turned around to look at him. Tim was looking too, in a way that knew what the kid was saying before he said it. “Not exactly,” JD finally said. “I’m still really focusing on…” 

“You want to go pro?” Tim asked. 

“Doesn’t everybody?” JD said, almost hopefully. “I mean. If I get the chance to, yeah. Dad says if I have a good senior year, I’ve got a pretty good shot at being drafted. So.” He shifted on his feet uneasily. “I don’t know.” 

“Oh I’m not doubting you,” Tim said. “You’ve got a killer arm. But NFL is hard. Dangerous. You’ve really gotta think about what you want, y’know?” 

“That’s what college is for,” Tyra agreed. “Dry run for real life. You live on campus?” She joined Tim near the island again, handed him his beer and rested her arm on his shoulder. 

“Yeah,” JD said. “Come home every weekend.” 

They couldn’t just tell him that was weird, it’d feel like an attack. Tyra could feel Tim thinking it too. “Well that’s just great,” Tyra said for them. “I know I had a tough time being away from my mom. What degree are you getting out of there with?” 

“Uh, sports medicine. Kind of a back up plan.” 

“Smart,” Tim said. “You good at that shit?” 

JD nodded fast. “Yeah, totally.” 

“That’s real nice, JD,” Tyra said. Tim took her beer and opened it on the edge of the countertop for her, opened his too. “Thanks, hon,” she said, and had a sip. She could feel JD’s eyes on her. 

“Your dad really wants you to go pro though, huh,” Tim asked. Kind of random. Tyra looked at him before looking back at JD, and what she saw kind of worried her. Tim had his stubborn face on. 

“You got a problem with my dad?” JD answered, but not in a way where Tyra thought she might have to break up a fight. Kind of like he didn’t want to hear the answer. 

Tim took his time answering. That thing where he read the other person’s reactions before he gave his answer. “I’ve got a problem with people who hit their kids,” he finally said. “You tell me.” 

Shit. Tyra loved him so much. 

JD opened his mouth, and then shut it. “It’s not like that,” he finally said. “It’s…” 

“Sweetheart,” Tyra interrupted when the pause got awkward. “You don’t have to explain anything to us. He’s your dad, alright, and we get that.” 

“Do you?” JD said, to Tim in particular. 

“I think you should have a beer if you want to,” Tim said stubbornly. “And I think you need to get out on your own to know how you think, if I’m being honest.” 

JD screwed his mouth up, but didn’t say anything to Tim right away. He didn’t seem to know what to say. So Tyra stepped in again. “You want the tour?” she asked him. “Come on. Let Tim tell you about the guest bedrooms he decorated. They each have a theme.” 

“She’s overselling them,” Tim said with half a smile. “It’s just color, they have color themes.” 

“Which colors?” JD asked.

So they walked with him upstairs. Tim had built such a perfect, big staircase. Tyra liked the the bannister a lot. She’d helped sand it smooth, loved running her hand up it. Tim was going on about the foundation - he always started by talking about the foundation - and then about where he’d gotten the floorboards and the stain. JD was giving his best shot to looking interested or hell, maybe he was. Tyra didn’t know him that well. But she followed, because something was telling her not to leave them alone. Not that Tim would hurt him. More like he’d adopt him. And kids weren’t in the plan for a couple more years. 

“Couple of these are probably gonna turn into kids rooms,” Tim said, “but right now we’ve got a an emerald room, a yellow, and a blue, and a coral room. I like coral.” He opened the door to that room, and showed JD the color. That one was the most done, that and the blue which had some of Tim’s Panther’s stuff in there. The coral room had a white headboard on the bed, a dark purple coverlet, a ton of pink and orange pillows, and the biggest fern that would fit in their car at the Home Depot. “Fun, huh?” he said, looking in at it. 

“Yeah,” JD said. “You think you’ll have a lot of kids?” 

Tyra and Tim looked at each other. “Well,” Tim said. “A few.”

“More than two,” Tyra said. 

“Less than seven,” Tim suggested. 

Tyra smiled at him. “I’ve been thinking we might adopt, actually. Not to bring that up at the worst possible time. See, I’m a lawyer, I work with kids in the system,” she said to JD, to help him understand. “And you would not believe the number of kids who need homes in the state.”

Tim slung his arm over her shoulders - he was a little past tipsy. “I would believe it,” he said, then turned back to JD. “So yeah. That’s what we’re thinking. Now. Crazy, huh? I’ve settled down.” 

“Crazy,” JD agreed, but Tyra could tell he didn’t have any idea what the fuck he was talking about, really. He totally worshiped Tim, that was clear from the way he looked at him every moment they were around each other, so Tyra got the impression he would’ve agreed no matter what. He let Tim talk to him some more about beams and shiplap walls. And the whole time, Tyra was just watching Tim, this guy she’d known basically her whole life, do something she didn’t really recognize and couldn’t exactly name. 

They were wandering back towards the stairs, talking about not much. “I really appreciate y'all inviting us,” JD said, and Tyra tuned back in. “I know after the schools split, it was…” He didn’t know how to finish that. Tyra looked at Tim, because she didn’t know either.

“That was high school shit,” Tim said. “I did tons of dumb shit in high school, Tyra can vouch for that.” 

“Hell yeah,” Tyra nodded.

That was what Tim was looking to hear. He looked at JD again. “No hard feelings. Glad to see you here. You’re welcome back any time.” 

JD nodded too, gave them a few seconds of a polite smile before he bit his lip. “Really cool house, man,” he said, and led them down the stairs and back outside. The McCoys didn’t stay much longer, after that. 

It was a considerable while until they had their house to themselves again. They fell into bed around one in the morning, and all Tyra could do was listen to the silence for several long minutes. “So we’re having kids,” Tyra said when it came to mind.

Next to her, Tim snorted. “That’s your takeaway? From the whole night?” 

“Yeah, dude. What’s it supposed to be, Gracie-Belle learning to ride a bike?”

“Well, I don’t know. You really want to adopt some? That was news to me.” 

Tyra reached out blindly until she found his hand, and took it. “Yeah. I think so. Unless you hate the idea.” 

Tim shook his head. “I’d like a baby sometime,” he said then, thoughtful. “I want to teach someone to talk.” 

“We can do that.”

“Cool,” Tim said, a smile in his voice, and rolled over to kiss her. “You showering?” 

“Yeah, I’ll shower. You go first though, I have to wash my face.” 

She was at the sink, cleansing her T-zone. Tim was behind the shower curtain, scrubbing down. With all the hubbub of moving, they hadn’t gotten to use the tub yet. It’d be the perfect night for it if she wasn’t so tired. 

“Hey,” Tim said. “How you feel about McCoy?” 

“Nothing particular, I don’t really know him. Like I’ve told you, I was kinda busy when all that was going down.” 

“Right,” he said, and fell silent for a moment. “Would you be fine with him coming back?” 

“For what?” she frowned. 

“I think he needs a friend. And one that’s not some weirdo at Baylor who sees him as a meal ticket. I gave him my number.” 

“Well, alright there Dad,” Tyra said mildly. “Starting sooner than I thought we would.” 

Tim stuck his head out of the shower to look at her, slicking water down off his face. “Hey. Seriously. Are you good with that?” 

Tyra put her hands on her hips and looked back. “Sweetheart. I’d tell you if I wasn’t, alright? That’s the whole point of having this house, is taking care of people. Go for it. Seriously.” 

“Okay,” he said, and disappeared back behind the shower curtain. Tyra returned to her face, and rinsed it off. “You think we’ll ever convince Coach to stay with us?” Tim asked. 

“God, I hope so. We’ve gotta make up a reason to get ‘em back down sooner,” Tyra said, and she heard Tim snort. 

 

 

Tyra liked working from home, sitting in the breakfast nook particularly. Close to the coffee, with big bright windows and the table at the perfect height to type. She was composing an email when Tim came in, holding his phone up. “Babe,” he said. 

“One sec, hon.” Once she got to the end of a paragraph, she looked up. 

“I’ve got McCoy on the phone,” Tim said. “You have a second to talk?” 

“About what?”

“I dunno, he won’t tell me.”

Tyra frowned. “What?” 

“He asked if you’re a lawyer, and then said he wants to talk to you. If you have a second.”

“Give it,” Tyra said. 

Tim handed his phone over and sat down across from her. Feeling the weight of his eyes on her, Tyra spoke into the phone. “Heya JD, what’s going on?” 

“Hi Tyra. Um. Kind of a weird question, uh. You said you’re a lawyer?” 

“Not the kind of lawyer who can help you with the cops,” Tyra said warily. Then she relented. “Unless you really need some help. What’s going on?” 

“Well, I just kind of have a question,” he asked, but even still the question really blew her away. “Are there any circumstances where my dad could like, sue me?” 

“For what?” Tim gave her a look, and Tyra realized that she probably sounded a little more incredulous than she meant to. 

“For like. Anything. I don’t know. Changing my major, maybe? Since he’s paying for it?” 

Seemed like maybe that had come up, if Tyra was making a guess. “No, honey,” she said. “You never signed a contract promising to get any particular major, and even if you did no one would enforce it. So. Off the top of my head, no. Can’t think of a reason.”

“Okay. Good.” 

“Why?” 

“Just. Dad likes to exaggerate, I think. Not a big deal. Fact checking, here. Thanks.” Before she could hand him back to Tim, JD hung up. 

Tyra glared at her husband as she handed him his phone back. “This makes me me nervous, Tim, it really does. What kind of parent threatens to prosecute their teenage kid over some goddamn football?” 

“I don’t know, but it’s important,” Tim said, straight-forward as ever. “He’s not… I don’t think he has any idea how fucked up his shit is. So I think it really says something, that he’s coming to us with this.” 

She nodded, and looked back at her computer. 

“Oh sorry. Did I interrupt something important?” Tim asked.

“Little bit. But I don’t mind. Come here,” she said with a smile, and leaned in to kiss him. “What’s for dinner?” 

“Pork chops. Trying a new rub. I’m thinking we should get a smoker, I could make bacon.” 

“I’d love that, baby,” Tyra said, and got back to work. 

JD wasn’t the only former Panthers player to call, either. Tyra answered the landline one evening to find Matt Saracen doing his best to sound like he wasn’t scared to talk to her. “How are you?” he asked very awkwardly. 

“I’m just fine. Why are you calling, exactly?” Tyra said. 

“Well, I was hoping to talk to Tim. He around?” She’d forgotten how slowly Matt talked, Jesus. 

“Uh, he’s outside right now doing something with an axe. Can I have him call you back?” 

“Sure. Yeah. He’s got my number. How are you?” 

Tyra took a moment to not roll her eyes, purposefully. “Fine. How about yourself? Should I pass along a message?” 

“No, it’s fine. Nothing urgent.” 

“You coming back to Dillon any time soon?” she asked. 

“Yeah, I’ve gotta see Grandma soon or she’ll hold a grudge,” he said, and seemed to be very serious about that. 

“You should swing around sometime,” Tyra said, as politeness dictated.

“That’d be nice.”

“Welcome any time. But I think I’ve gotta get off the line here, so I’ll tell Tim you called.” 

“Thanks.” 

Tyra hung up, and in the moment of silence following, realized she sounded exactly like her mother.

 

 

A couple weeks later, the day after Tim staked out the floor plan for a barn, they had JD come over. He’d told Tim he just wasn’t feeling great, and Tim took that as some kind of red alert or whatever. Now JD was here, moping up their front steps, and Tim was picking up something from a hardware store so Tyra had to do the comforting first. She wasn’t great at it. “How you feeling, you hungry?” she asked to start with. 

JD shook his head. “Where’s Tim?” 

“Out.” Tyra checked her phone. “He’s on his way back though. Want to wait for him inside?”

“Would you mind?” 

“Not at all, come on in. It’s getting hot out here.” She led him inside, sat him on the couch while she went hunting for her laptop charger. By the time she got back JD was asleep, lying lengthwise across the couch. Tyra smiled when she saw him. Tim did too, once he was back. Same reaction. “When’d he get here?” he asked. 

“Lil bit ago,” Tyra shrugged, and got up to give him a kiss. “How was work?” 

“Fine,” he shrugged, and sat down in a free chair to take his boots off. “Is he sticking around for dinner?”  

“He fell asleep before I could ask. I’m gonna guess yeah, though. We can make chicken or something.” 

Tim found her attempts at menu-making amusing; his eyes crinkled up with a smile. “Or something. I’m gonna shower and then I’ll get dinner going.” 

“You’re the love of my life - you know that, right?” she said, looking into his eyes. 

“Don’t mind hearing it again,” Tim said agreeably, and kissed her one last time before heading upstairs. 

As the one in charge of dinner, Tim was also the one to go over and wake JD up when it was done. Tyra watched him, watched how he put one big hand right in the middle of JD’s chest and absorbed the kid’s startle like he knew it was coming. Probably did. “Dinner,” Tim said. “Come on.” 

JD was a little flushed when he made his way into the kitchen, his eyes still sleepy. “Sorry,” he said to Tyra. 

“Shut up, you needed it. Come get a plate,” she added, and he obeyed. 

“I’m more tired than before, somehow,” JD mumbled as they all got loaded their plates up - Tim made pasta with a meat sauce. Tyra had managed the garlic bread. 

Tim looked at Tyra over JD’s head. Tyra would swear she could read his mind in the moment. “Yeah?” Tim said. “You want to stay the night?” 

“Really?” JD asked, looking from Tim to Tyra. “I’m probably fine to drive, you don’t have to…” 

No, they did not have to, but Tyra was finding it hard to think of a world in which they wouldn’t. "Do you need any medication or anything?" she asked him, just to be responsible.

"No," JD shook his head, "no, but." 

"You're staying," Tim declared. He set his plate down at the table and came back to get a beer. "We'll lend you whatever you need. You can have the coral room, obviously. The best room. And head back in the morning for your classes. Does that work?" he asked, and popped the lid off his bottle.

"I think so," JD said. "If, um. I would hate to impose."

Tyra rolled her eyes. "Please. Go sit down, you want something to drink?" She pushed him when he wouldn't go, gently, and caught him smiling at the floor. 

"Just water. Thanks.” 

"Sure thing." 

 They asked him about his life, and about his friends and his classes. Tyra and Tim mostly ignored the football talk, through unspoken agreement. He obviously got enough of that elsewhere.

The thing that really stood out was how JD didn't seem to know quite what to do with the attention, which was its own kind of heartbreaking. He just smiley all night. Tyra was increasingly getting the gist that at his parents' house he was more of a decorational element, and that was sparking things in her chest she hadn't expected. Protectiveness, for one. A lot of that. 

After JD was in bed, Tyra brought it up. She and Tim were in their bathroom. He was brushing his teeth; she was moisturizing. "Hey," she said. Tim sort of hummed. "I think you're right." 

Tim spit into the sink and rinsed his mouth out. "About what?"

"I don't think he's got anyone. And I think we should be someone." 

"Two someones, even," Tim suggested.

Tyra rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean." 

He did; he nodded. "I don't think he'll ask for it. Or like."

"No, I know. But when he does." 

Tim nodded again. "I love how I knew you'd just get it," he said, a smile growing on his face. "Eventually." 

She knew exactly what he meant by that. There was something so important about knowing they had each others' backs in every major way. It never stopped being the best thing in her life. "Yeah," she said with a grin. "Kinda like we're soulmates or something." 

"Gross," he said. And then after they went to bed and the lights were out, Tim said something else. "Tyra Collette." 

"Yeah, sweetheart?" 

"All I want is to be with you for the rest of my life."

She rolled over to hold him, her head on his chest, and Tim wrapped his arms around her in a way that made it hard not to feel safe. "Well, Tim, that's where you're lucky. 'Cause that's all I want too." 

 

 

 

As with most consequential things, Tim sort of dropped it on her. "I invited the McCoys for Thanksgiving," he said, less than a week before the thing. 

Tyra put her hands on her hips and stared at him. "Now why the hell would you do that? You know our families are coming." 

"I do.”

"Mindy and Billy and their kids and my mom, you remember they're all coming to this house? And you've invited Joe McCoy into that situation?" 

Tim raised his eyebrows, a smirk on his face. "Well. At least we know it'll be a fiasco. Figured we'd get it all over with at once." 

"Sure, but when I said we should have them over for dinner, I wasn't really thinking Thanksgiving." She wasn't, but it did make a certain sort of sense now that it was on the table. So Tyra caved immediately. "Okay. And they said they're coming?" 

"Yeah," Tim nodded. "Katie's bringing some pies.” 

“What kind of pies?” 

“Don’t worry about it. Desert is not the important part of Thanksgiving. Now. Try these turkey legs, we have to make a decision.” 

They went for a peanut and soy sauce glaze, which was not what Tyra was expecting to like most but was also undeniably the best. 

She was happy to play assistant to him on the day of. Tim had turned into such a cook with his own kitchen, and more than a bit of a tyrant. Billy got it into his mind to try and help, but Tim gestured with his spatula until Billy took the hint and stayed in the living room with Mindy, watching the parade with the kids. 

“You’re too much,” Tyra said. “We could use a hand chopping carrots.”

“If you want an even chop, the only way to guarantee that is to do it is to keep Billy out of the kitchen,” Tim insisted. “We’ve got it under control.” 

Tyra sighed. “Well. You’re in charge.” 

Tim pulled her in to kiss her. “I appreciate the opportunity. Now get to mincing.” 

The McCoys showed up around three. Honestly, Tyra couldn’t tell why they were even here. It’s not like Tim was still involved in Panthers football; they had no reason to kiss his ass. But then she saw how when they arrived, Joe immediately pulled Tim and Billy off to one side to discuss some NFL game or something, and things made a little more sense. He wanted that power, she thought, the thing that came when men agreed they were better than everybody else around. 

JD and his mom came over to Tyra in the kitchen, so Tyra put on her best smile. “Hey, y’all,” she said, and she told herself she wasn’t going to hug JD but she did anyways. “How are you?” 

“I’m good,” he said with a big old smile. “Smells amazing.” 

“Well, you can thank Tim for that,” Tyra began. Then Katie came in for a hug too, and Tyra couldn’t very well resist so she accepted, stiffly. 

“Is he handling the turkey for you?” Katie asked. Her smile was kind of stiff. If Tyra had to guess she’d say the drinking had already started. 

Tyra took a moment to actively, firmly keep her face under control. “No,” she said brightly, when she could manage it. “No, Tim’s managing most of everything. He’s really the cook around here.” 

“Oh,” Katie said after a second. “Well. That’s… interesting.” 

JD was sort of dying to say something, but his mom was right there, and then his dad called him over. So Tyra minded her business for the moment, and minced until there weren’t any more onions left. 

Mindy came over to her, ate a piece of carrot off the cutting board. “Tell me this isn’t going to be some big dumb football fest,” she said. “I can tell you right now Momma won’t put up with that, when she and Becky get here.” 

“I’ll step in if necessary,” Tyra said in an equally conspiratorial tone. “Let them get it out of their system.” 

“God,” Mindy sighed. “They’d better.” 

Only a minute later, Tim was back micro-managing the kitchen. “Adequate work,” he said, regarding her work on the onions. 

“Wow, that’s high praise,” she grinned. “What else can I do adequately for ya?” 

Tim looked at his list thoughtfully. “Rolls are done. Turkey’s in.” He glanced up at her. “Will you kill me if I ask you to peel potatoes?” 

“I will not,” Tyra said, but she wasn’t thrilled. 

“I’ll peel a fucking vat-full of potatoes if you’ll take a turn with the kids,” Mindy volunteered. “Billie loves to be carried around. Like, everywhere. Even though she’s definitely getting too big.” 

Tim accepted that substitution, so Tyra ventured into the living room to see her nieces and nephew. Billy was on the floor with them, Joe was in a chair fussing with the remote, and JD and his mom were perched awkwardly on the couch, not speaking. Tyra leaned down and scooped up Billie like Mindy suggested, and bounced her a bit. “How are we, baby girl?” 

“Good,” Billie said. 

“Good? That’s just great.” Tyra looked down at Stevie. “How about you?” 

Apparently, that was all the prompting he needed to start telling her about the book full of trucks he’d brought. And then he told her about the twins and their interest in something called Doc McStuffins. Tyra feigned interest, and much like Billy, Stevie seemed satisfied by that. 

“You’ve got to just cut him off,” Billy said eventually. “He won’t stop.” He ruffled Stevie’s hair and smiled at him. “Let someone else get a word in, kiddo.” 

“Sorry,” Stevie said obediently. 

Tyra was used to this dynamic. But she noticed JD giving Billy an extra long look then, and she thought about how this whole thing might be new for him. A dad that gave a shit about his kid. 

Billie was getting heavy, so she sat down next to JD. “You a fan of kids?” she asked him. 

“Sure,” he said, though he didn’t seem sure. 

“Billie, meet JD. Can you say hi?” she asked Billie. Billie did not say hi. “She’s shy. You want to hang onto her?” 

JD accepted Billie into his lap and put an arm around her middle to keep her there. She was uneasy at first, but Tyra stayed right next to him and called Stevie over to listen to all his musings on Spongebob. And after a few minutes of that, Billie leaned back against JD’s chest and put her thumb in her mouth. So that was a success. 

Or it was, until Joe noticed and made some dig about Billy making JD be a babysitter. Even that was fine, though, because Tim heard it and asked JD to bring Billie over to the kitchen to help with something. And then Mom and Becky got there, so things were a little more chaotic. Too chaotic for Joe McCoy to focus on his kid. 

Tyra did noticed when JD and Becky saw each other across the room. She saw how charged the look was, and how they said exactly nothing to each other for the next hour. Not one thing. So Tyra did a bit of scheming. 

"Hey," she said to Becky when they were twenty minutes out from eating. "Come help me get the dishes out of the pantry, would you?" 

"Sure," Becky nodded and hopped up. 

And then, on the way back to the pantry, Tyra motioned JD to come too. He came with a visible sense of dread but he didn’t say anything. That’s when Tyra knew it was real. They needed to have it out.

Tyra ushered them both into the pantry and stood in the doorway. "I dunno what's going on here, but I'm giving you the chance to figure it out in private, before anyone else notices you won't look at each other. You've got sixty seconds, max." 

JD glanced at Becky and then at the floor. "You still talk to Luke?" he asked very casually. 

"Sometimes," Becky said, and chewed on her lip. "We're not together, though. If that’s…” 

Interesting. Tyra watched them, and what stood out was how JD seemed kind of happy about that. Huh. "I don't care. But, uh. Sorry, I guess," They made tense eye contact. "I was a dick, in high school." 

"You were," Becky agreed. 

"Yeah, well. I'm sorry about it," JD said, and Tyra thought she could detect him getting embarrassed. 

Becky gave him a long once-over, and then she nodded. "Okay. Awesome. Where are the plates we're getting?"

Tyra pointed, and the two kids helped get all the dishes down. They helped set the table, too, and then Tim served as air traffic control for a parade of food making its way to the table. Everyone helped out then, except for Joe, who was engrossed in the game on TV. Tyra noticed, and tried to let it go for the moment. It was Thanksgiving. Her mom wanted to talk about Mindy's kids, and Billy wanted to tell Tim about how the business was going. There was enough to focus on. 

And yet, there were things that she couldn't help but notice. Tyra caught Becky watching Joe with real suspicion, and Mindy was looking too. It was kind of hard to put a finger on what, exactly, he was doing. He was a little too loud, and interrupted too much. When Mom was talking and Joe loudly complained over her, JD looked at Tyra for a second and she got a chill from just that, the look in his eyes. If JD was sitting closer to her, she would put her arm around him. As it was, she just bit her tongue. 

"So, Mindy," Tim said a moment later. "Keep in touch with any of the girls from the Landing Strip?" 

Mindy answered enthusiastically, and with Billy's help. And that was such an effective distraction that Tyra knew Tim had noticed too. She made eye contact with him for a second and silently thanked him. Tim grinned, and had another bite of his drumstick. 

Joe really liked to direct conversation, that's what Tyra noticed now that she had no escape route. They were all at the same table, and if Joe wanted to make a point they had no real way to stop him. Katie was drunk before she sat down, and it's not like JD could do anything. Mom was playing nice, that helped. Thank God for her totally unflappable niceness. By the time they were on desserts, though, Tyra could tell basically everyone here was tired of Joe trying to take control of the conversation and steer it to the NFL, or Stevie's future in sports, or the Boosters, or the Supreme Court for crying out loud. It was really annoying. She didn't know how much more of it she could take. So, Tyra adhered to a long Thanksgiving tradition, and excused herself to the bathroom but really just sat on the stoop out front. 

Couple minutes later, Mindy and Britney joined her. Tyra turned at the sound of the door opening and laughed when she saw her sister. Mindy shushed her while she shut the door. "God," she said then. “I just needed a second away from that." 

"Yeah," Tyra said with feeling, and held her arm out to Britney. "Hey there sweetie pie." 

"I don't like pie," Britney declared. 

"You haven't had pie," Mindy sighed, and sat down next to Tyra on the step. 

Britney struggled free to go pick up some sticks or something. “God,” Tyra said. “Can’t believe they’re walking now.” 

“I know, right?” Mindy sighed, and rested her chin on her hand. She was a lil tipsy. Hell, Tyra was too. “I swear a year isn’t as long as it used to be.” 

“Yeah.” 

Mindy looked over at her. “Tyra. What the hell is going on with the McCoys? Why are they here?” 

That was the million dollar question, huh. Tyra let out a really deep breath, and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Does your Riggins like to adopt wayward youths?” she asked. 

“I mean you are aware that Becky is now registered to vote at our house, right?” Mindy said. “Isn’t that enough of an answer?” 

Tyra had to laugh. “Okay, yeah.” 

“Tim wants to take JD in?” Mindy asked after a second, and Tyra nodded. “Kinda hard given that he has parents, huh? And they seem kind of involved.” Tyra could feel her sister looking at her. “A little too involved, maybe?” 

“A little,” Tyra echoed. “That’s a way to put it.” 

“Hey,” Mindy said sharply. Britney looked up from down in the yard, Tyra noticed with warmth in her chest. Mom tone of voice. “Tell me what’s going on.” 

Tyra used to tell Mindy everything - or everything she could, before Mindy got bored. For a long time, her sister was the coolest person she knew. In this moment, she really missed that. “We think,” Tyra said quietly. “Well, we know. That JD would be better off out of that house.” 

“No shit. Total control freak.” Mindy sighed. “I wish I had a cigarette. Hell I wish I still smoked.” 

“You’re a good mom,” Tyra said out of the blue. “And I know I’m not a mom at all, yet, but. I don’t know.”

Mindy nodded. “You’ll be a kickass mom,” she said, no question in her tone at all. “And you want to start with some little football player, for whatever godforsaken reason, you’ll knock it out of the park.” 

Before Tyra had time to think of strategies, there was a pretty loud commotion from back inside. A couple loud voices. Mindy called Britney over to her. Tyra didn’t wait; she went straight inside. 

It took a second to assess the situation, but only a second. It was Billy who was being loud, and that wasn’t really frightening. The scary thing was how Joe was laughing, sitting at the table with his arms crossed. Tim was standing behind Billy holding Billie; he made eye contact with Tyra immediately, and she got the message to stay back, out of it. The next thing Tyra noticed was how Becky was sitting next to Billy still, posture tense and looking pissed. Tyra couldn’t really recall seeing her pissed before. She was a sweet girl, most of the time. 

“-is the moment you get to tell me how to be fucking parent,” Billy finished, running out of breath for a second. 

“I’m just saying,” Joe said, sounding satisfied. “You gotta be careful.” 

Tim had been silent, but the moment Joe said that he couldn’t help himself any longer; Tyra watched him get mad. “Actually, Joe,” he said, “you don’t. You just gotta love them. And that what we intend to do.” 

“Well, that’s why my son’s going pro and you’re running a garage, barely,” Joe said, and Tyra felt her eyebrows nearly reach her hairline. 

And in the split second of silence before things really went to hell, JD spoke up. “I don’t think I am, though.”  

“JD,” Katie began in a scolding tone. 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Joe said. 

Tyra looked over at Mindy, who’d joined her at the island. She couldn’t quite remember seeing Mindy this ice cold before. Then again, nobody had been dumb enough to try and insult their kids in her presence. 

“I’m not,” JD said, looking at his dad so sincerely. “Dad. They’re playing Bryce more than they’re playing me and I don’t even know if I want to, anyways.”

Joe turned to look at his son with dramatic disbelief. “You don’t want to play in the NFL,” he said. 

“I don’t think so.” JD shook his head, stubborn. “No. We’ve been learning about CTE in class, you know what that is? If I get sacked a couple more times, I could die. It could ruin the rest of my life, I don’t think-” 

“Who asked you to think?” Joe said, with menacing cheer. 

That silenced everyone. Katie drained her glass of wine. The air was so tense, Tyra couldn’t move. And then JD pushed his chair back and stood up, all at once, and went for the back door. Tyra looked at Tim. He needed to stay and handle Joe. Billy wouldn’t be able to keep his cool. Someone had to go with JD. Not Mindy, she had her kids. So, Tyra understood, it would be her. She nodded, and Tim nodded, and they did what they did best; they got shit done. 

Tyra shoved her feet into her easiest pair of slip-on shoes, grabbed her keys, and went out the door. As she did, she heard Tim trying to keep his tone respectful and Billy yelling over him. “I’m just saying,” Joe said, and Tyra was outside with the door shut behind her. 

JD was halfway to the barn. “Hey!” Tyra barked, and thanked everything for how coachable he was because he turned around. “Truck.”

“Which one?” he said. Fair question. There were five here. 

They got in Tyra’s and she took off down one of the paths into the bare part of their land. In two minutes they were over a hill that made it impossible to see them from the house, and then another minute after that she slowed to a stop, turned the engine off. For a second she just sat there, and then she looked over at him. “Is that true? You don't want to play football?" 

JD shook his head. His chin quivered. "Tim said I should just tell him." 

Surely, Tim did not mean for JD to blow up Thanksgiving like this, but Tyra prioritized. "You've been thinking about this a while?" 

"I got sacked,” JD said. "Hit my head pretty hard, I blacked out for a second. Pretty sure I had a concussion, but. I had to finish practice. And I was telling Tim about it, and he pointed out how that isn't gonna stop, and. The guys are gonna get bigger. I mean maybe if I was better, it'd be worth it. But I don't think it is." 

"Then it isn't," Tyra said, point-blank. "That's your decision to make, not your dad's. You don't have to ever step on a field again, alright?" 

JD shook his head again, and he took several unsteady breaths before he answered. "If I don't play, Dad's gonna kill me.” 

“Don’t worry about that,” Tyra said. “We aren’t going to let anything happen to you, alright? Hand to God. Look at me.” He looked, and she leaned in to give him a hug without really thinking about it. “Nothing will happen to you,” she repeated, and squeezed him tight. “We’re here for you, and if you need somewhere to stay we’re happy to help with that too. Alright?” 

He cried a little bit, just a little bit. She felt it, but didn’t say anything about it. Just waited with him, and when she thought he’d be alright with it, she said, “Let’s go for a walk. Come on.” 

“Walk where?” 

“Just a walk. Clear your mind. Why do you think Tim got all this land?” 

JD seemed very skeptical, but after they’d been walking for a bit he said, “I’m pretty sure Dad’s pissed.” 

“Maybe he is. So what? Are you scared of him?” 

“No.” He glanced over at her, probably checking to see if she could tell it was a lie, which of course she could. “He’s not crazy, he’s just…” 

Tyra waited, but she got impatient pretty quickly. “Not to get too personal, but I’ve had my fair share of father figures. I’m familiar with the species.” 

“What do you mean?”

“I mean Tim’s dad split young and I wish mine had, so we’re not judging you on top of some ivory tower, alright. I know what I’m talking about.”

“He wants me to be great,” JD said. “It’s not his fault I get lazy, and-” 

Tyra made a face and couldn’t help herself. “You don’t, though.” 

“What?” 

“You don’t! How many days off have you had in the last three years? Hell, since you were a freshman at Dillon High? Is it less than twenty?” 

“Probably,” he mumbled. “I dunno.” 

“You work hard,” Tyra told him. “If you were actually lazy, there’s nothing he could say or do to make you work that hard.” 

“Well. There are a couple things he could do.” 

So they were back on that. Tyra was getting the hint that he wanted to talk about it and had no idea how to bring it up. “Yeah? What would those things be?” she ended up saying, not really casually at all. 

“I dunno.” JD slowed to a dawdle, most of his back to her. “But it’s not totally, like… it’s not like it’s always bad, to… like.” 

She didn’t need him to finish the sentence. “I promise, promise it always is.”

They walked around until it started getting dark, and then Tyra brought them back in the truck. And that was only because she didn’t have her phone and couldn’t check on how things were. They were silent on the drive back, until she said something. “Stay behind me as we go in.” 

“Okay.”

“Whatever your dad says, you’re not gonna talk back, alright? You’re gonna follow up upstairs.” 

He nodded. But Joe’s truck wasn’t there when they got back. Still, Tyra played it cautious. She walked him in, taking stock of the scene through the big windows as they walked towards the back door. The kids were in bed, apparently, and Becky and Mindy were on the couch. The McCoys were nowhere to be seen. 

“Where is he?” Tyra said once they were inside. 

“Gone,” Mindy answered, and looked at JD. “You’re staying here tonight, kiddo.” 

“Is that okay?” JD asked Tyra. 

“Of course.” Tyra wanted to find Tim and get the details. But she could take a second to make him more comfortable. “You can stay here as long as you want,” she said, looking him dead in the eyes. “I mean it. Mindy and her family are already staying the night already, so.” 

“And you are not going back with that freakshow,” Mindy added. “Come on. Sit down. Tim’s got apple crumble in the oven.”

JD sat, he was taken care of so Tyra went to find Tim. “Living room,” Mindy said to Tyra’s back. 

“Thank you,” Tyra said, and kept moving. 

Tim was in the front living room with his brother, drinking on their couch. There was one lamp on. Billy was unusually pensive, looking in the middle distance. 

“Hey,” Tyra said to Tim. Without her needing to ask, he got up and came with her. They couldn’t make it to the bedrooms without being seen, so the only place they could go out of earshot to have a second was the pantry. Tyra grabbed a beer on the way, and Tim brought his glass of whiskey. 

“What the fuck,” Tyra said. 

“I know,” Tim said. 

“So what the hell did he say that sparked that all off?” 

Tim heaved a deep sigh. “Don’t freak out.”

“Hell of a way to start.” 

“Joe said if we weren’t careful Steven could end up gay,” Tim said, with a sense of resignation. He knew Tyra would be mad, that was for certain, and she was so fucking mad she couldn’t see straight. Couldn’t believe Tim had had the audacity to tell her not to freak out. “It was stupid,” Tim added. 

Tyra had some of her beer instead of answering right away but she was still furious when she spoke. “He’s a goddamn homophobe too, on top of all of this?” 

“I hear you, but we’re not doing that right now.” 

“Then what are we doing, Tim?” 

“We’re talking really seriously about if we’re in a place to take in the kid right now. Like, tonight.”

 

 

They sat down with JD the next morning, out on the deck. Tim brought coffee, and Tyra brought the mugs, three in one hand and her planner in the other. It was pretty simple, though, when it came down to it. 

“Ignore all the facts for a second,” Tim said, as they filled their mugs. “Pretend you could do whatever you wanted. You want to stay here?” 

“Yeah,” JD said. “If, y’know, if it all worked out with money and everything. And school.” 

Tim gave him a look. “Not doing a great job of setting aside the facts.”

“Right,” JD said. “Yes. I’d… but you guys have jobs, and lives, and-” 

“You need to be babysat every second?” Tyra asked. 

“No,” JD said slowly, obviously sensing he was being led somewhere.  

“You need a safe home base to figure out where you’re going next?” 

“Yeah.” 

Tyra gestured with her mug, and gave Tim a look too. She’d said her piece. And the boys talked about it, for a while, going back and forth on those details and making a plan, but in the end they got to the place she knew they would. 

Two days after that, Tim and JD left and came back with all of JD’s things from his parents’ house. JD quit football the next week. And that was it, for a while. Life reached a new normal. 

 

 

Adoption took a second to get going - longer than she thought it would, given the amount of unwanted kids in the state. Tyra tried not to be too impatient. She had more than enough to keep her busy at work, and Tim was always doing something. He’d started gardening, most recently. 

But then, all of a sudden, they were getting a call asking if they could be ready in a week to accept a one-year-old named Amy. Tim took JD on a shopping spree to outfit a bedroom, and Tyra ordered all the best baby toys she could find online. Things were moving fast. 

Tyra almost didn’t register the question when Mindy asked. “Sorry, what?” she said, tuning back in. She’d been cleaning when Mindy called, picked up and put it on speaker, and kept scrubbing out the sink. Now she stopped and listened. 

“Can Becky’s ex-boyfriend crash with you? I know ya’ll’ve got a lot going on, but-” 

“Kind of, Mindy,” Tyra cut her off, her voice high and tight. “Yeah, we’re just a lil bit busy with the adoption of our first child. If you didn’t recall.” 

“I do, but if you’d been listening you would’ve heard me say that there is no way this boy can stay with us, alright, Becky’s real torn up about how it ended. I’m not doing that to my daughter.” 

Tyra did love when Mindy let her mama bear out. She tried her best not to smile. “Okay. And why can’t he stay at home?” 

“Because Billy’s put his foot down, he absolutely won’t allow it. Ty, he says the kid was playing on no hours of sleep because his dad was making him work all hours. Things aren’t good there.”  

Unfortunately, Tyra knew Mindy knew that was enough to get her attention. “I’m not saying we can take him, but when does he get in?” 

“Billy’s on his way to pick him up from the airport now.” 

“The Dallas airport, by chance?” Tyra asked dryly. “The one that we’re right on the way back from?” 

“Tell me straight up. Can you do it?” 

“Let me talk to Tim, hold on. I’ll take you with me.” 

“Alright.”

He was upstairs putting together a bed, and JD was helping. Or that’s what they’d planned - when Tyra went up there, she found Tim being productive and JD on his back on the floor talking about his finals. “Hey,” Tyra said in a lull. “It’s Mindy.” 

“What’s up?” Tim asked. 

“She’s asking me if another kid can crash with us.”

“Why can’t they stay with Mindy?” 

“Because it’s Becky’s ex.” 

JD looked up sharply. “Luke?” he said. 

Tyra frowned. “Uh. Yeah. You guys were in school together?” 

“Yeah,” JD said after a second. His cheeks were pink. “We, uh. Well, we were gonna be on the same team but then the two schools happened, and he went to East Dillon.”

“Yeah?” Tim said with interest. He set down the screwdriver and looked at JD intently. “I seem to remember the two teams not getting along too well. Are you two cool?”

JD looked from Tim up to Tyra, and then back at Tim. “Yeah. We’re fine. Is, uh. Why can’t he go home, are his parents okay?” 

Tyra shrugged. “Mindy says he can’t.” 

Tim gave her sort of a sigh. “You want to add somebody into this,” he said dubiously. “Right before we bring a baby in. Just to clarify.” 

All she could do was shrug. “I’m asking the question, Tim.” 

He sighed again, deeper, and scrubbed his hand over his face. 

“And,” Tyra said when she remembered to mention it, “Billy’s picking him up now. So we’ve got a limited window of decision-making time here. Mindy’s on the phone.”  

“Hi!” Mindy said loudly. Tim did not reply, which Tyra couldn’t really blame him for.

After a second, JD spoke up. “Luke won’t make any problems. I was the bad kid, not him. And he could probably help out with the stuff you do outside. His dad owns a farm, Luke worked it since he could walk.” 

“I don’t need a field hand, JD, but thanks for the thought,” Tim said, annoyed. 

“Well, I’m just saying, he can earn his keep.” 

“He doesn’t have to earn his keep,” Tyra said. She looked at her husband. “Tim. You’re the one who’ll be home. Make the call.” 

Tim nodded, chewed on his lip. “Alright. Couple weeks. Figure it out from there.” 

“You hear that?” Tyra said into the phone, but Mindy was already thanking her repeatedly and emphatically. “Yeah, yeah. You owe me.” 

“I do,” Mindy agreed fervently. 

After they hung up, Tyra wondered if she would’ve even asked Tim about it if Mindy hadn’t called Becky her daughter. 

Luke Cafferty showed up on her doorstep not an hour later, with two camo duffle bags. He accepted a pat on the shoulder from Billy, and then hoisted his bags up on his shoulder and came towards Tyra. “Can I put these down somewhere, ma’am?” 

“Upstairs, turn left. JD’s in the first room, you can have the second.” 

The surprise on his face was almost comical. “JD,” he repeated. “JD McCoy?” 

“Yep.” Tyra was getting the feeling that she’d been tricked, but she didn’t entirely mind. “He’s been living here for the better part of a year, now. Since a big falling out with his parents.” 

“Over what?” 

“That’s probably something the two of you can get into. I’ve got quite a bit on my plate, right now, so if you don’t mind…” 

“Of course, ma’am.” Luke dipped his head. His face was hard to read. “Thank you. For…” 

“Happy to help,” she said, and it sounded like a lie more than she wanted it to. It wasn’t that much of one. “Just get settled and we’ll work the rest out,” she added more warmly, and patted his shoulder as he passed her. He was strong. Probably the army thing. 

JD was in the kitchen, acting like he was just getting a drink but clearly waiting to see Luke. He was pretending very hard to be cool, so hard Luke was the one to speak first. “Hey. How’s it going?”

“Good,” JD answered instantly. “Great. How, um. How are you?” 

“I’m back,” Luke said, with a bit of an edge in his voice. “So.” 

“Right.”

Luke went upstairs without saying anything else, and Tyra looked at JD. “Sweetheart.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” JD said.

“You can talk about it if you help me get all this baby shit in the pantry,” Tyra said. And after a second, JD came over to help. 

They worked in silence for the moment. Tyra was clearing out the tupperware - it was being relegated to a drawer, so the baby food would be easy access. Also bibs. Tyra didn’t know the proper amount of bibs, so she’d bought twenty. 

“I don’t know how to talk to him,” JD finally said in a small voice. 

“How’d you leave it?” Tyra asked. She was stacking jars of food now, trying to sort of organize them. 

“Uh. I didn’t really see him in the last half of senior year. And then he left with the military or whatever.” 

“Why didn’t you see him?”

JD screwed his face up. “Well, there was the whole rivalry thing, and then he got a girlfriend, and he and my dad never really got along.” 

“Can’t imagine why,” Tyra said dryly. 

“Yeah, well.” JD did not want to discuss that right now. “So we didn’t end up talking and then I didn’t know he was leaving until he was gone, and then I didn’t know how to call him.” 

“Okay…” 

“But I wanted to. I mean, we were friends, and.” JD bit his lip. “He kind of called me a dick the last time we really talked.” 

Tyra raised her eyebrows at him. She wished she’d known that before she’d agreed to bring another person into this house, but she also deeply, deeply did not have room to care too much. “Were you being a dick?”

“Yeah.”

“Then apologize for that. Like, first thing. And ask him what he wants.” 

“What do you mean?” 

Tyra put the last few things on the shelf - baby spoons and dishes and a few boxes of crackers and things - and turned to look at him. “Ask him what he wants,” she repeated. “If you were the one who fucked up, then let him take the lead. You can’t make him forgive you. Let him set the pace.” 

JD nodded. “That’s good advice,” he said glumly. 

“Don’t sound so psyched.” 

“Well, I’m not, is the thing.”

“Then I’m glad you’ve got the sense to know it’s the right thing to do anyways,” she said, only half thinking about it. 

While her back was turned, he surprised her by grabbing her from the side for a quick hug. “Thanks,” he said. 

She hugged him back with one arm, pressed her cheek against his head. “Of course. Just, please. We cannot handle anything on top of what’s already going on.” 

“I know.”

“Alright, then. Go talk to him, tell him we’re having pulled pork.”  

JD ran off, and Tyra put her hands on her hips to survey their work. The pantry was as ready as it ever would be, she decided. So she went up to check on Tim, instead. 

The nursery was basically ready now. He’d put together the bed, and the shelves they’d gotten, and laid out the rug. He was hanging a couple little pictures of birds when she walked in. “Hey,” he said. “Kid’s here?” 

“Yeah. I sent JD to talk to him, apparently they are… not on the best of terms.” She leaned in the doorway. 

“Wow. Interesting how that slipped JD’s mind before.” 

“Real interesting.” 

Tim stepped back to review his work, looked at her. “Is it gonna be a problem?” 

“I don’t think so.” 

He nodded, and then she saw him just relax and smile. “Four days.”

“You don’t have to tell me, baby.” She held her arms out to him. Tim came to her then, and she gave him a kiss and hug. “You know Cafferty?” 

“Yeah, sort of. Billy knows him better. Good kid.” Tim didn’t let go of her, he rocked back and forth with her. “Only got into football because he and JD were friends, I do remember that.” 

Tyra sighed. She couldn’t decide whether or not she had the energy to worry about the boys. “Well. We’ll see, I guess.” 

“You think he can cook?” Tim said thoughtfully. “That’d be helpful.” 

The answer turned out to be an emphatic yes. Even better, by the time dinner rolled around JD and Luke were on more than civil terms. They were talking normally, joking around a little bit. If Tyra hadn’t known to look, she wouldn’t have seen the tension between them, the too-long looks from JD and the way Luke’s face went dead sometimes. But she didn’t have anything to go on, so she let it go. 

The conversation turned to the new baby soon enough, to the timing of the pick up. “Okay, so. I’m officially off work,” Tyra said, “which means I should be free by ten, after answering the emails and everything.” 

“Appointment’s at eleven,” Tim said. “So we should leave at ten fifteen by the latest, I want to be early.” 

“Yeah, I want this baby in my arms the moment I can,” Tyra agreed. 

Luke set his fork down with an audible clank. “Sorry, hold on,” he said, looking at Tim. “What baby?” 

“They’re adopting a kid,” JD said, his mouth full. “Her name’s Amy.” 

“When?” 

“Thursday,” Tim answered genially. “Like we’ve been saying.” 

Luke was visibly taken back. “So why the hell am I here?” he asked, and then added, “Sorry, but. Seems like you’ve got enough going on.” 

“Does it seem like that?” Tyra asked Tim, feigning ignorance. 

“It does a little bit, yeah,” Tim said with a warm smile. 

“They love to do this,” JD said to Luke. 

It was true, which made it hard to be annoyed with him. Tyra smiled back at Tim, and answered Luke. “Look, hon, I’m too tired to play any games, here. Mindy asked, and we’ve got the space.” That was a simplification, it wasn’t the truth. But it was truth-ish, and it would make him feel better. 

“Well,” Luke said. “Thank you. Both. I really appreciate it, and I’ll absolutely pitch in around here.” 

Tim nodded. “No problem,” he said. He was better at sounding like he meant it than Tyra, better at hiding the stress. 

“You don’t want to go home?” JD asked Luke after a second. 

Luke glanced at Tim and Tyra before answering. “I don’t think it’d be a good idea,” he said in the end. 

It seemed like a non-answer, but JD’s brows drew together and didn’t move for the rest of the meal. 

Tyra was tired, so tired but she caught herself caring, just a little bit. 

 

 

Amy already slept through the night, when they got her. For some reason Tyra thought that might’ve been in question, but she slept like - well, a baby. But that didn’t mean Tyra slept well. She was up around two most nights, and rolled out of bed to do a quick round of the house or six. Tim stayed asleep after the first couple times, so Tyra just paced by herself. 

Two weeks in, she was up pacing the living room at a quarter till three when she heard a door open upstairs. She turned to look, and Luke was leaning over the bannister. “Everything okay?” he whispered. 

“Yeah,” she answered, as quietly as she could while her voice still carried. “You?” 

Luke nodded, and then gestured towards the stairs. He was heading down. 

They hadn’t really gotten to know each other yet. Tyra had been crazy busy, and Luke’s talent was apparently staying out of the way. She was working from home, half-days, and sort of in a bubble aside from that, so she’d barely seen him except when he was helping Tim with dinner or watching TV with JD. 

It seemed awkward to keep pacing with Luke up now too, so she sat on the edge of the couch. She clasped her hands and squeezed, like that would relieve some tension. He didn’t sit next to her, though, he paused several steps away. 

“Bad dream or something?” he asked, with a palpable sense of nerves. 

Generally, Tyra liked to inspire nerves. It helped her get what she wanted. Tonight, it was doing the opposite. “No,” she said. “Just. Brain won’t shut up. I’m up all the time, don’t worry about it.” Luke nodded hesitantly. “What about you?” And when he wouldn’t answer, she added, “War keeping you up?” 

“Yeah,” Luke said with great relief. He sat down next to her, his back ramrod straight, and let out a breath. 

Tyra nodded in a way she hoped was sympathetic. “Anything I can do?” 

“Don’t you have enough on your plate anyway?” 

“Good point,” she snorted and demonstratively relaxed, pulling one leg up and tucking that foot under her other leg. She was hoping it’d make him do the same, but Luke didn’t move much. “How are you? You have everything you need?” 

“Yeah, I’m good,” he began, and stopped. 

“But what?” 

“There’s nothing else I can help out with?” he finally asked, and glanced at her face. His had a twist in it. Guilt. “Y’all have been so generous and I just want to help. Somehow.” 

Tyra scoffed a little, gently. “You’ve been such a help already, please.” 

“If you say so, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ma’am, I’m only a couple years older than you.” She shifted a little, sideways on the couch to look at him better. And he turned a bit too, in reply. “You can unclench,” she told him. “I’m not here to…” 

“Be my mom?” he said dryly, and she giggled. Luke smiled then, his eyes going squinty. “Well, good. Glad we’ve got that out of the way. But, I’m staying in your house, and that means something.” 

She waved her hand around. “It means I’ve got a house. Got lucky. And you can’t go home for some reason.” Sheepishly, he looked down at his lap. Tyra took the opportunity to press. “Care to elaborate on that, by the way?” 

“I…” Luke hesitated again. He was wearing a Panthers shirt, Tyra noticed, and wondered if it was his or Tim’s. Tim had about fifty, and he was always giving them away. “It’s more about me than them,” he finally said. “They would just… I saw them on leave a couple years back, and they just told me how proud they were that I’m serving my country.” His tone had taken a mocking sort of turn. “And I don’t think it’d be a good idea to try and tell them the truth instead.” Then he clammed up real quick, like that was somehow controversial.

Oh, right. Tyra forgot sometimes, that she had to re-establish her politics with everyone from Dillon now that they were all grown. “Hey. The military chews people up and spits them out. You don’t have to convince me.” 

And for the first time Luke’s face opened up to her, raw and sincere. He let out a breath she hadn’t noticed him holding. “Yeah. Exactly. So it’s really about that, Billy’s just overreacting.” 

“To what?” Tyra asked. 

Luke rubbed a hand in his eye, really got in there with his knuckle. “Alright. Walked into that.”

“You’re tired,” she said sympathetically. 

“I am. But I’m also not really good being a liar, so. Chalk it up to that, too.” He was silent for a moment, and Tyra waited. “My dad’s an… authoritarian. He’s the boss. Couldn’t handle that right now. I mean I could, if I have to. I don’t need… you can kick me out if-” 

“But it would eat you up inside.” 

“Little bit.” 

That made sense. Tyra nodded. She could tell he needed help to get into whatever else he was thinking, so she asked, “Cup of tea? I’m making one for myself.”

“Okay. Thank you.” 

“Course.” 

When they sat back down, Luke was even more at ease. He leaned against the arm of the couch. Tyra curled up in the chair across from him, crossing her legs and holding her mug in both of her hands. She let him reopen the conversation. She waited. 

Luke didn’t hold out too long. “Is that a good enough reason?” he finally said. “For me to be here? It doesn’t really sound good enough, does it.” 

“Have we asked for a better reason?” she said in a friendly tone. She was getting the sense that Luke needed a more gentle touch. 

“No. No, but. I’m wearing out my welcome.”

“How, with all the cooking you’re doing?” 

Luke was feeling very misunderstood; he gave her a look, and then let his head fall back on the couch to look at the distant ceiling. “You and Tim have a way of making me feel like I’ve got… like, shell shock from back home, too.”

“Oh yeah?” 

“Yeah. I don’t know. Unless it’s just normal for people to just be… nice.” 

Tyra snorted. “Alright, you know I’m not nice so I’m gonna need to know what exactly you’re talking about. Tim and me hurt each other so bad we didn’t talk for like, a year, alright.” 

“Right, but then you got married. So it wasn’t that bad.”

That did make a certain sort of sense. “I guess you’ve got a point,” she had to admit when she couldn’t think of a good counter. “But it couldn’t be any worse. I mean, we always did care about each other. Under all of it.”

“Yeah,” Luke said quieter. “Maybe that’s it.” 

The way her heart clenched at that made Tyra hate herself a little bit. She didn’t need this right now. How did she keep finding empathy to spare? She pressed her lips together, but in the end she couldn’t stop herself. “You don’t think they care about you?” 

“I don’t know. They probably do, I just haven’t seen them in two years. I shouldn’t be speaking ill of…” He let out a deep sigh, and then shifted on the couch. “Well hell. I dunno. Maybe I’ve earned the right. I didn’t get shot or anything. But.” 

“Fuck that,” Tyra said. “You don’t have to earn the right to have opinions, and you definitely don’t have to bleed for them.” 

Luke didn’t look at her, but he smiled. “Well. And, if JD tells me my dad’s nuts, I should probably listen to him, right? He’d know.” 

Tyra laughed, accidentally loud, and covered her mouth. “You’re too much,” she said in a better, quieter tone of voice. “Yeah, I think he’s probably an expert.” 

“Did he tell you, like…” 

“We ended up finding out pretty much everything. Joe blew up during Thanksgiving.” 

Luke nodded, and had a sip of his tea. “Did he hit him?” 

“No. Did that happen a lot?” 

“What’s a lot?” Luke answered, kind of joking, but he didn’t offer an answer outside of that. He caught her looking at him, and she wasn’t sure what he saw but it made him screw his mouth up. “He’s different now,” he offered then. “Less of a shithead.” 

“I’d love to take credit, but maybe he’s just growing up.” 

He made the kind of face that seemed to imply that was the less likely option. “Guess it had to happen some time.”

They went back to bed soon after that, without saying much more. But it wasn’t the last time they were both up together. Luke was good at being quiet. He had kind of a sixth sense when they needed a hand with Amy and would duck in to take her off their hands or take over at the stove. But it was more than just help; he and Tyra were sort of fundamentally similar. They had the same style, of talking about important things without it needing to be a big deal. 

Tim noticed too. The boys were out one day, somewhere together, Tim and Tyra just hanging out with Amy on the floor of the family room, and Tim looked up from where he was on his stomach, arms crossed and holding him up. “So Cafferty,” he said after a second. “Been here a month.” 

“Has it already been a month? Jesus.” 

“Yeah, it’s been a month,” Tim nodded patiently. Amy was working her way to stand up, pulling herself up on Tim’s ear. “You like having him here?” 

“Do you?” 

“I… think I asked you first. Didn’t expect our guest rooms to fill up so fast. Should we get a vacancy sign we can light up as needed?” he said dryly. 

Tyra pulled one leg up to her chest and sighed. “I know,” she said. “Me neither. So you want ‘em out?” 

“I… want something,” Tim said. “A plan, at least. I mean it’s not like I want to never see them again, but I want our house to be ours again, in the next year or so. Sound okay?” He looked at her, his face half-covered by Amy who was now standing. “I know you and him get along.” 

“Well, he’s a little more grown,” she said, and Tim snorted in agreement. “He’s helpful, I dunno, he’s got a gift. Swear he can read my mind sometimes.” 

“So you want him to stay?” 

“Didn’t say that.” Tyra held her hands out for Amy. “C’mere, sweetheart. Walk to mama.” It was her latest trick, and Tim and Tyra couldn’t get enough of it. Amy made her way over on wobbly legs, and Tyra scooped her up into her arms and kissed her blonde hair. “I think,” she said then, bouncing Amy a bit, “that the first step is to get them jobs.”

“Bingo. There’s the smarts.” 

He made her smile in the stupidest ways. It was really annoying. “Okay, but I also think if we rush Luke into getting a job too fast, he’ll blow up.” 

“Wow. So much sympathy for a young man with a problem with authority.”

“Familiar with the type,” Tyra said, and set Amy back down again. “Go. Walk to your dada.” 

Amy did, waving fists in the air as she moved, and Tim swooped her up the moment she was in reach. “You’re a natural,” he said to her, and then looked at Tyra. “So you don’t want him to go.” 

“Well, I dunno, hon. It’s different, you’re the one doing the day to day. I’m not gonna tell you how to run your house. I just… I don’t think it’s the worst thing that they feel at home here.” 

“Me neither, darling, but that doesn’t mean…” Tim sighed out his nose, and didn’t say anything for a long time. Amy said something to him, very seriously, and Tim squeezed her closer. “Yeah, I agree.” 

Tyra looked at him until he’d look back. “Tim, you’d better be telling me exactly what you mean here pretty soon.”

“Thinking mainly that we’re not gonna argue about this when neither of us are sure,” he said. “Look. You talk to yours, I’ll talk to mine, we’ll regroup. Okay?” 

God. Tim was still just exactly who he was, and that was a person that never wanted to play games. Thank fucking God for that. “Okay,” she said. “But you’ll tell me, if.” 

“Obviously.” 

“Okay.” 

It wasn’t a fight, not anything close. But Tyra didn’t feel great about it, until Tim crawled over to her and kissed her. “Hey. I love you. Nothing else matters.” 

“Good point,” she agreed. And that night, when they were cleaning up after dinner, Luke told them he’d gotten a job working on a farm for someone he just called a family friend. So it sort of seemed like maybe things were going to take care of themselves. JD was graduating in a few months, and things would change then. And honestly, Tyra knew things would always be changing. The thing that mattered wasn’t how it changed but how they handled it together. 

God, wasn’t she ever lucky. 

 

 

Tyra was doing dishes for once in her life, because Tim was out running errands. JD and Luke were out, Amy was in her high chair, eating Cheerios and the house was the type of quiet that it rarely was. Kinda nice. 

The front door opened and shut, and Luke called out. “Hey.”

“Heya, how was work?” 

“Fine. Gonna shower.” 

“Alright, hon.” Tyra wasn’t about to complain. He did come home smelling like a barnyard most of the time. 

He was back down in five minutes, and Tyra was still working away at the dishes. Luke didn’t ask; he just picked up a towel and took a dripping pan from her hands. “Ever seen a dead body?” he asked. 

Tyra frowned at the sink, thought about Amy out of misguided instinct. Like her kid knew enough to be traumatized by this conversation. “Yeah, I have. I’m assuming you’re familiar with them too.” 

“Yeah,” Luke said. “I mean we ate chickens we kept on the farm, so. I thought I was pretty… pretty numb to it. But.” 

“Different thing,” she said, and he nodded.

“Lil bit.” Luke put the pan away and took the next thing from her. “So it was, like. A funeral or something?” 

“No,” Tyra said. “Nope. My friend killed a guy after he attacked me. Or, while he was attacking me, I guess.” 

Luke looked over at her. “Whoa.” 

“I assume your thing has to do with the war, probably.” 

“Yeah, no prize for guessing,” he said, and they both snorted. They fell silent for a while, working in unison. “Was it hard to talk to people, after?” he asked eventually. 

Tyra nodded. “Yeah. For a lot of reasons. You?” 

“Still is. Except you. And sometimes…” He hesitated for a second. 

“No wrong answer.” She rinsed a plate off and handed it over to him.  

“Well, JD. Which isn’t… I know there isn’t a wrong answer but I sure as hell feel like there’s a dumb answer.” 

“He’s your friend,” Tyra said. “How’s that dumb?”

Luke was silent, which didn’t seem like a real good sign. Tyra turned to look at him as she handed him the next plate, and found him looking at nothing in general until he caught her noticing. He threw a fake smile on for a second, took the plate. “He might’ve oversold the friend part,” he finally said. “If you hadn’t figured that out.” 

Tyra snorted. “Yeah. He can’t lie for shit. On top of that, though, he told me. Before you even showed up.”

“And you still let me in?” 

“Tim likes you,” Tyra said which was easier than trying to voice how much she liked him too. 

She passed him another few dishes before he picked back up. “Well,” Luke said. “He. Or… I. It’s complicated. And then somehow, I get back from an actual war and he’s still… he’s barely not living at home but he’s still the only person I can be honest with, y’know.”

“You want to know what I think?” Tyra asked. 

“Please.” 

“You might be underselling the friend part. Whatever fight you had, the two of you still know each other. Those two things can both be true.”

Luke pressed his lips together tightly, grimly. “Yeah,” he said, like she’d just told him he needed to go stare down a rocket launcher. 

They finished the dishes in silence. Tyra dried her hands off and refilled Amy’s little cup of Cheerios. She meant to ask Luke more questions after that, but he changed the subject. Desperately, with a look on his face begging her to go along with this. So she let him talk about going home this Thanksgiving and told him there wasn’t any pressure either way. Didn’t tell him she’d sort of been looking forward to having him here, seeing what it looked like when he and Becky were in the same room. But whatever. Luke was his own person. 

Tim came in on the tail end of that conversation, crossed the room and kissed her and then kissed Amy before he said anything. Then he came back to kiss Tyra again, longer and slower. “You’d better not be planning a menu coup,” he said after all that, a smile in his eyes. 

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Tyra said. “Talking ‘bout how Luke’s going home for Thanksgiving to see his folks.” 

“Yeah?” Tim turned to look at him. “How are they?” 

Luke shrugged one shoulder. “Fine.” He really wasn’t much of a liar, that didn’t sound even half sincere. “I’ll be back for dessert,” he added, which was a little better. 

Later that night, she brought it up again. She and Tim locked their door and did what her mom would call fooling around. And she didn’t mean to think of her mom while fucking, as a general rule. There was just this moment after where Tyra looked over at Tim, who was still a little dazed and breathless, staring at the ceiling. A moment where she thought about him as her husband, and thought about how lucky she was because it’d been probably six or seven years at this point, of Tim, and it never got any less fun. Life was just fun with him. The opposite of what her mom always got into. Tyra had done it, she’d escaped and she loved her life. All of it, even the parts that weren’t going the way she wanted. Which was good, because that had ended up being kind of a lot of it.  

“Babe,” she said. 

“Huh.” 

“I love you.” 

Tim looked over at her, and she could almost here the crack on the tip of his tongue. Usually takes more than one orgasm to get us there or something like that. And it’d even be funny. He just knew her better than that, so Tim pushed himself up on one arm to get a better look at her face and asked, “We okay?” 

“Yeah, we’re great, I’m just… we are so lucky,” she changed midway through her sentence. “We’re the luckiest people in the world, maybe. To be here.” 

“Yeah,” he said with a piece of a smile. “And?” 

“And… I don’t know. Can you believe the closest thing we’ve had to an argument is about how we’ve been able to give a couple of the guys a safe place to land?” Tyra turned so they were looking at each other on their sides, and Tim took her hand. 

“Well,” he drawled, in the way that let her know he was about to be a shit. “We did get into it over the Cowboys.” 

“Please,” Tyra rolled her eyes. “Getting into it isn’t a fair description of me being right and you hating it.” 

Tim smiled bigger, his eyes warm and deep and ambiguously green. “I love you. Have I ever mentioned that?” 

“It’s come up,” she said, and he crawled on top of her to kiss her properly again. But before they could really get going, Tyra pushed him off - gently - and looked Tim in the eye again. “Babe.” 

“What.” 

“I kind of feel like if we’re comfortable we should be doing more.” 

“I’m trying to do more,” Tim said with half a smile, dirty and sweet. “If you’ll let me.” He kissed her again, and then promised, “I hear you. Just can we-“ 

“Okay. Later,” she agreed. “Get to work, threes.” 

“Oh. Hell yeah,” he said, his smile growing. “That works for me.” 

“Oh yeah? Good.” 

“Good,” he echoed, and then they didn’t do much more talking for a while. 

Later ended up meaning a couple days, the next time they were alone. The boys were at their jobs, and Tim and Tyra were on a walk. Tim had Amy in a carrier on his chest. “Hey,” he said after a span of silence. 

“Huh.” 

“You talking about doing more. What was all that about?” 

Tyra raised her eyebrows, and glanced at him before answering. “Well,” se said. “Guess part of me feels like we should… I don’t know.” 

“We can’t have nice things?” Tim asked. 

“Of course we can, but. We grew up poorer than dirt, you and me and damn if I can’t help but want other people to have what we have too.” 

Tim gave her a knowing look. “The boys.”

“Not even them,” she said. “Another kid, maybe. Or just.” She trailed off as they started climbing a little ridge, and thought over what she meant. Tim had one arm around Amy and one out to keep Tyra safe, so they were both a little otherwise engaged for a second. Once they got to the top, they both paused for a moment to enjoy the view. 

“Pay it forward?” Tim finally said. 

“Something like that.” 

“I get it. You talk to Mindy?” 

Tyra frowned. “Why?” 

“Billy told me something I think he wasn’t supposed to yet,” Tim said. “Act surprised when she tells you.” 

“Okay…” 

 Tim made a face that didn’t make a ton of sense until he also said, “They’re having another kid.” And then it made a lot of sense. 

“Jesus. Another one?” Tyra wrinkled her nose. “On purpose?” 

“Billy doesn’t see a difference.” 

“What’d you say?” 

“I said congrats. You know Billy, he’s not exactly interested in a nuanced take, here,” Tim said, his frustration audible and also visible on his face. “So. Comfortable might be more temporary than you thought.” 

Tyra nodded. “Jesus. No kidding. How long until they ask us to babysit?” 

“She’ll crack in two months.” 

“Three,” Tyra said, and they shook on it. 

They made their way back to the house, walking in total unison. Amy was asleep against Tim’s chest, lulled by the motion. “I was thinking,” Tim finally said. 

“Huh.” 

“If our house filled up maybe we should build another house.”

Tyra raised her eyebrows and looked at him. “Whoa. That’s… that’d be a big thing, huh?” 

“Yeah,” Tim shrugged. “I’ll have the guys help me. I don’t know. What do you think? Too much?” 

“Not too much.”

“I just think you had a pretty decent point,” Tim said. He held the patio door open for her, and followed her to the kitchen. Tyra poured them both some water. “Almost like you’re smart.”

Tyra raised her eyebrows. “Almost like. Look at that.” 

“Tyra,” Tim said more seriously. And Tyra looked up to find him looking her dead in the eye in that way that always stopped her heart. “I’m asking how you feel before we get into anything we can’t take back. You want to do this? We don’t have to. I don’t think anybody would blame us for…” 

 He stopped when she was already shaking her head, and there was a game smile on his face already. 

It felt like high school all over again, like finding the one person that really got her and deciding she’d let him hurt her as long as he saw her. Except now she knew he wouldn’t, that he’d never meant to, and that he was the goddamn love of her life! They’d built a life together, and they were going to keep building together, and that was the best thing she could imagine. 

“Okay, fuck it,” Tim agreed with a grin. “What do we want to do?” 

“We want to take care of our own, right?” 

“Right,” Tim agreed. “Can we pick this up after Thanksgiving? Kind of a lot on my plate until then.” 

“Baby. You think I’m going to start telling you how to run the house now?” Tyra asked, and he pulled her in for a kiss. 

 

 

Thanksgiving without Luke was a lot like it had been last year, except for the knowledge that he could be with them here, now, and wasn’t. Billy and Mandy were over at eleven or so with Stevie and the twins, and Momma got there not much later. So Tyra wasn’t thinking about the kid. She was enjoying a holiday with her family that was as relatively uncomplicated as possible, and she was not thinking about it. 

It was a couple hours before dinner. Nothing to do but wait for things to finish cooking. Mindy and Becky and Tyra were painting their nails while the Riggins boys and JD talked about football in the kitchen and Momma played with the kids. “Amy’s fitting right in,” Tyra said, only half thinking about what she’s saying. 

“Oh she’s a treasure,” Mindy agreed. “How’s it going with your rescues?” 

“Mindy,” Tyra sighed, all too aware of Becky sitting on Mindy’s other side. 

“What! I mean it with love. You’re like a shelter for high school football stars. Free range.” Mindy was very focused on getting her pinky nail. “Where’s Cafferty?” 

“Mindy,” Becky whined. 

“What? Just a question,” Mindy said in the tone Tyra already knew to hate. 

Tyra figured she should answer rather than let this continue. “It’s going good. We’re having fun. I know some stuff’s going on with JD’s family, but he and Tim really leave me out of that.” 

“Good,” Mindy said, in a tone that sounded like widened eyes. “His dad’s a fucking nut job.” 

“I’ll say,” Tyra agreed. 

“You gotten anything else out of Cafferty about his folks?” Mindy asked. “He’s not really a talker.” 

“Not quite.” Tyra wasn’t exactly eager to tell Mindy the little she did know. Mindy and her big mouth, God love her. “He’s good, though. I mean, he went over there today, so.” 

“Please,” Mindy said. “Like that’s proof.” 

“He’s scared of his dad,” Becky said quietly. 

Great. Like that was what Tyra needed to hear. “He’ll be okay,” she said. “Fought in a whole ass war, he can handle his parents.” 

“Hope so,” Becky said. 

Mindy and Tyra made eye contact. But then the guys came over to demand some opinions on something about Dillon so the whole thing got dropped for now. And then they were putting food on the table, altogether, and Becky was telling them about her beauty school classes. This was Thanksgiving, and Tyra loved her family so much. Even though they were annoying sometimes, and nosy all the time. 

No blow ups. Just stories about the Panthers and the Landing Strip, and a long conversation about brining turkey properly. It was a great time. 

They were cutting pies when Tim perked up. “Someone just pulled in,” he said, and Tyra looked towards the back door just in time to see Luke climbing the deck steps two at a time. “Oh boy,” Tim said. 

Luke opened the door and looked sort of awkwardly between everyone. “Uh. Hey,” he said. “Any beer left?” 

“Tons,” Tim said. 

So Luke came and got one and chugged it. He paused just to answer JD’s quiet question about how his family was. “They’re them. So.” 

“Glad you’re here,” Tyra told him. “C’mon. What kind of pie do you want?” 

“What kind you got?”

Tim stepped in. “We got all kinds. C’mere. You can taste before you pick.” He slung his arm around Luke’s shoulders too, and Tyra knew he saw what she did. Luke was ready to snap. Or maybe he already had, in which case it seemed like he was ready to go again. 

He waited until after desert, at least. While they were cleaning up - mostly him, Tyra, and JD were doing the real work. Tim did no cleaning, as was his right, and Billy was slacking on the couch. Becky was helping, throwing glances at the boys, and Mindy was putting together her leftovers. It was quiet. 

Finally, Luke heaved a deep sigh and looked at Tyra. “You have a second?”

“I do,” she said in a dry drawl. “What’s on your mind?” 

“Bet I can guess,” JD muttered, from the sink. 

Luke sighed at him. “Shut up. Can I just say my thing?”

JD held up his dripping hands in surrender. “Fine.” 

“Thank you,” Luke said loudly. “Jesus.” But he took the next glass from JD gently, and spent a while drying it. Thinking. 

“What happened?” Becky asked eventually. 

And that was all it took for Luke to spill his guts. It had gone poorly; that was more than safe to say. But it took like two full minutes for him to get to just saying that. First he had to say a lot of nice things about his family to make sure he sounded fair, apparently. And like, great. So he’d had some nice moments growing up, and his parents were in a rough financial spot. Sure. Whatever. That didn’t make it any better when he got to the point where his dad made one too many comments about wondering when Luke would be headed back to service. Or when his mom suggested if he was staying, he could move home and help them with the farm work again. Though Luke immediately added that she probably meant well. 

“Right, sure,” JD said. “Because it’s your problem that no one else will work twelve-hour days without being paid at all.” 

“Or longer,” Becky interjected, and JD nodded. 

“And wasn’t there some awful injury you got? Couldn’t go to the hospital for?” Mindy said. Tyra heard the little twist in her voice that meant she had an agenda, and judging from the look Becky threw Mindy, she heard it too. 

It became immediately clear what Mindy’s ulterior motives were, when Luke recounted three separate stories that fit that criteria. A whole broken ribs thing where he let himself get tackled at practice without making a sound so he could keep playing. Then a thing where his hip got crushed and Billy had to basically force him to stay off of it so he could heal. And there was a third thing that even the kids didn’t seem to know about, a twisty scar on Luke’s arm from where he’d been ‘lightly gored’. None of those had gotten any real medical attention; Luke’s arm had gotten stitched up by a neighbor who was a vet, but the scar wasn’t exactly neat. And if this was the stuff he thought was big enough to complain about, Tyra didn’t want to know what he wasn’t mentioning. 

“Okay,” she said after all that. “So you’re not going to ever work for your dad again.” 

Luke took that right, at least; he tipped his head towards her and tried not to smile. “I’m not?” 

“Fuck no,” Mindy said. “The absolute fucking minimum standards for working for someone is getting paid, and going to the fucking hospital if you get hurt. One of the girls at the Landing Strip broke her ankle, and Ed drove her to get a cast, okay.”

“So you’re saying I should be a stripper,” Luke said. Which made Becky and JD both turn pink. Interesting. 

“Sure,” Mindy said. “If you want to be.” 

Luke smiled for real. “I’ll keep that in mind. Not sure I have the flexibility.” 

“Or the dance skills,” JD said. 

So then they were joking about that, and then Mindy and Billy were gathering all the kids up to head home. Tyra caught Becky and Luke saying something off to one side, but she was wrangling Amy and didn’t have brainpower to spare. 

Amy went to bed easily, at least. Exhausted by the day, which Tyra could more than relate to. It was a huge relief to flop down on her bed at the end of all of that. She was about ready to fall asleep right there. 

“Getting in the shower, babe,” Tim said as he shut the door. 

Tyra hummed in his general direction, one arm over her eyes. Silence reigned supreme for all of two minutes. And then someone knocked on the doorframe. “Hey.” Luke. 

“C’mon in,” Tyra said. “Tim’s in the shower.” 

“JD too.” Luke lay across the foot of her bed, his legs dangling off. When she glanced down at him he’d thrown his hands over his face. “Jesus,” he finally said. “What a fucking day.” 

“Yeah.” She was too tired to pry more. 

Luckily, Luke didn’t need much. "So I'm thinking I won't work for my dad anymore. Since I hate it. Which. I mean I never liked it, but I guess he had me thinking I owed him." 

Tyra snorted. "For what, being born?" 

No response. Tyra blinked her eyes open, looked first at the ceiling and then down at him again. His head was somewhere near her feet, his hands still over his eyes. "Luke.”

“Don’t,” he sighed. “Don’t feel bad for me, it wasn’t that bad. I know we’ve like, focused on the accidents and everything, but.” 

“Okay, but it’s not about the accidents, it’s about how they handled them. You get that, right?” she said, chin still pressed against her chest to look at him. 

Luke sighed, dug his knuckles in his eyes viciously and then dropped his hands onto his chest. “Not letting me out of this, huh.” 

“Doesn’t sound like me.” 

That got him to lighten up. A slow smile grew over his face, and Tyra dropped her head back down to stare up at the ceiling. “Good point,” he said. “You’re not much for cutting anybody slack.” 

“Not exactly,” she agreed, and then that struck her as sort of ridiculous. It felt true, but she’d taken him in just because he needed somewhere to stay.  Damn if she wasn’t a contradiction. 

“Meant that as a compliment,” Luke added after a moment. “I don’t either. Not like anybody taught me how.” 

She heard that a couple ways, heard him calling them family again. And she heard what that meant for him and the things that happened to him. He was hard on people because that’s what he learned, hard on himself because nobody told him he was better than that. Smashing his leg in a fence and continuing on with his day because at the end of the day, the work meant more than he did - that was what he got, growing up. Wasn’t so long ago that Tyra didn’t think she got to hope for more either. 

“Well, you’re a fast learner,” she said. “You’ll pick it up.” 

“Fucking hope so.” 

Tim came out of the bathroom then, his hair slicked back from his face. He was wearing the most threadbare Panthers shirt in existence, black briefs, and Tyra thought he was just about the hottest thing she’d ever seen. He grinned at her and Luke. “You good?” he asked. 

“Great,” Tyra agreed. 

Luke was struggling to his feet. “Sorry.” 

Tim pointed at him and clicked his tongue. “Relax, fours. At ease.” 

It was very funny, to see that hit Luke. He tensed up for a second, a twitch of something like offense before he did relax after all. “You sure?” he said, with a sense of preempting Tim’s answer. 

“Am I sure,” Tim snorted, and flopped into bed next to Tyra. She pulled him in with her arms around her neck, and pressed a bunch of little kisses onto the side of his head, and Tim put up with it good-naturedly so he could settle on top of her chest. “You showering?” he asked.

“Yeah. In theory.” 

Tim grunted, and then said. “Luke. Ever built a house?” 

 

 

Mindy and Billy made it a whole nine weeks before they begged Tim and Tyra to babysit. That was an all hands on deck kind of situation. Three toddlers and a newborn on top of Amy for a whole weekend when Tim was gonna be busy with the house-building? Yeah, Tyra called in her favors and got the boys to help. 

Luke and JD organized a game of freeze tag that tired them all out, ran the kids around in the yard until they were all pink and panting and then they all came inside and collapsed in front of the TV to play some kind of video game. Tyra couldn’t really give a shit about any of that. It was just so cute to see Luke teaching Amy how to use the controller. He was patient, he watched her fail with a smile on his face and then offered more help. God. Tyra wondered if everybody had this feeling, the pride when her friends and family worked together. Vicarious affection. She couldn’t get enough. 

“How’s it going?” Tim asked when he came in for water. “How you little maniacs doing?” 

TIM,” Stevie shouted. 

Tyra grimaced. “Do we have to shout?”  

“Inside voice, Stevie, sweetheart,” Tim agreed, scooping the kid up in his arms. “Ready to go for a nice long walk? Tire you out? Get you out of Auntie Tyra’s hair for a while?” He came over to Tyra to lean down and kiss her temple. “You good?” 

“Fine. I’m just gonna stay back. My head's killing me." 

"You're sure?" Luke said. 

"Yeah, go on. Have fun, all y’all. I'm gonna take some Advil and get syrup off the surfaces." 

Tim kissed her again before letting go. "Alright. Call me if-" He stopped, looking at his phone screen. "Scratch that. Phone's dead." 

"I've got mine," JT said, and Luke nodded. 

"So I'll call one of you," Tyra said, to get them out of the house before one of the twins screamed again. Her head really was throbbing. 

Tyra liked to think of herself as good with a ruckus. She was a badass, after all. Could handle a couple kids with her eyes closed. Who did Mrs. T trust to babysit Gracie? Enough said. Getting a headache from her sister's spawn made her feel pretty fucking lame. But she knew Tim wasn't holding her to that - nobody else was but her, so she tossed that whole line of thinking in the trash with the empty Advil bottle. They were really going through painkillers these days. That was something to address later, when her brain wasn't being flattened by a nail-studded rolling pin. 

She'd meant what she said about cleaning, but first Tyra put a bag of ice over her eyes and lay down on the couch. She lay there until it was just a bag of water, and then she stayed there. Now-lukewarm condensation ran down her face into her hair, tickling her just enough to keep her awake. The house creaked. Tyra breathed in deeply through her nose, consciously unclenched her jaw. 

The doorbell rang long before she was ready to get up, crumbling her calm quick. In her worst case scenarios, it was always the cops - someone arrested,  or a car accident, or bar fight. And once in a blue moon when her mind was truly sabotaging her, it was that guy. The one Landry killed. He'd say something like, Surprised? And push his way in and she didn't even know where her phone was right now. 

But it wasn't any of that. She peeked through the little window to one side of the door and saw a thin figure starting to turn away. Not familiar but only for a second. She'd know him anywhere, she discovered, so of course she opened the door for him. "Hey." 

Matt Saracen faced her with sheepishness in every muscle of his body, which seemed to be his default way of being. He wasn't much bigger than he'd been in high school. Scrawny kind of guy, inherently. His hair was a little longer than the buzz cut he had. Suited him. "Hi Tyra," he said. 

"Thought you were in Chicago." 

"Julie and me split. So. I'm back home for a while." 

Home that was a half hour drive away from here. Tyra nodded, but before she could get anything else out Matt continued to volunteer information. "Is Tim around? He told me I could stop by. I tried to call, but he wasn't picking up." 

And he came by anyways, huh. "Phone's dead. He's out with the kids. What happened?" 

"What?" 

"With you and Julie." 

"Oh." Matt scratched his forehead, a gesture she knew was habitual despite having no concrete memories of him doing it before. "Well. I don't want to, like. Put you in the middle." 

So whatever it was, he thought it was Julie's fault. Tyra sighed. "Please. Julie dropped me like a bad habit the moment she crossed state lines. We haven't talked in years." 

Matt nodded, grim. “You know she's already got a new guy? Whatever happened I guess she'd been over it for a while. Maybe that made it better, in her mind.” 

That sounded like a fat lot of rationalizing, and Tyra wasn’t much in the mood to entertain with the renewed energy her headache found in the sunlight. “Swear to Christ, Saracen, you haven’t gotten any better at not beating ‘round the bush. Let’s get out of the sun. Come on in. I promise I won’t take her side,” she added when he hesitated.

He smiled, the expression spreading unevenly over his face, and came inside. She pointed him back towards the kitchen. “Look, you can take whatever side, it’s just. I generally don’t like to talk bad about anybody. ‘Specially to people who happen to be close friends of the people I’d be… whoa.” He came to a stop in the doorway to the kitchen, looking up at the high ceiling. 

“You want some iced tea?” Tyra asked, because she was going to get herself a big icy-cold glass of it. 

“Oh, no thank you. Got pretty used to the unsweetened stuff up north, so. Not much of a taste for…” He trailed off. 

Tyra gave him the best version of her winning smile that she could. “Then good thing this isn’t sweet tea.”

“No?” 

“Nah. Tim got the taste for it not sweet, and I don’t care much one way or the other.” Tyra poured two glasses, and led them over to the couch so she could sit down again. “Something about this being good for circulation. Tim has a whole routine.” 

Matt nodded. The uneasiness was back, settling in his shoulders as he sat next to her. "Cool," he said lamely. He did a lot of shit lamely, though. She needed to stop noticing it.

"So," Tyra said. "What'd she do?" 

"Broke up with me. Not, like. Not out of nowhere, but I'd ask, and. Well, she finally answered for real, I guess." 

That was truly pathetic. Tyra took a sip and held it in her mouth for a second. Finally, everything was kicking in and her headache was fading. "What'd that answer look like?" she said after she swallowed.

"I dunno." Matt sounded almost sullen. He fiddled with the glass in his hands. "Said she didn't want to be her mom, and if we stayed together she'd like, die. Or something." 

Tyra snorted. "She's so full of shit." 

Matt's eyes landed on her, intense and focused. "Yeah?" 

"For sure," Tyra said, with an emphatic eye roll. "Please. You haven't noticed how everything comes second to her getting to do whatever the fuck she wants to do?" 

"You guys really aren't friends anymore," Matt said, like he thought she'd been protecting his feelings before.

Tyra couldn't help her smile, and she felt her posture relax a little more too. "So what's Tim got that you need? Anything I can help with?" 

"Oh. Uh." Matt raised his eyebrows, considering, and had a drink to buy some time. "This is gonna sound pathetic," he said then. 

"Sure. Why mix it up now." 

Slowly, it occurred to Matt that this was a joke. She watched it happen, watched him hit her with a very tentative smile back and an answer. “Answers, maybe. And I don't have a ton of friends left, so.”  

So he was looking for some friendly faces. That wasn't hard to put together. Tyra couldn't keep being mean to him, even for fun. “Shut up,” she said. “You’re here, aren’t you.” 

“Yeah. Talking to somebody who barely knew me, like ten years ago. Who’s taking pity on me, and-“ 

“You overestimate the amount of pity I have.” 

“What, so you’re saying you want to be hearing my whole sad life story? You, Tyra Collette. Since when do you have time to listen to people’s problems?” Matt finished sullenly. 

“Alright.” Tyra finished her drink. She stood up and Matt rose with her, which just made them both aware how she had a couple inches on him. “Look. I do shit tons of listening. It’s not my fault that we weren’t exactly tight in high school or whatever.” 

Matt’s answer was doggedly still annoyed. “Right. Well, is it your fault that my best friend didn’t talk to me for like a year?” 

“I don’t fucking know, Matt,” she snapped, and went back to the kitchen to try and escape this. 

Instead, Matt followed her. “Well, it seems like if someone was gonna know it’d be you. He was just, really weird and quiet and he wouldn’t tell me what was going on even, like. Way after. He said it wasn’t his story.” 

“Right.” 

“So I think it’s probably your story.” 

Tyra looked at him, and she knew there was a way to make him regret he asked the question. A bitchy way to answer that made everything with Landry sound as harsh as possible. But she was grown now, and she could afford to be serious about it. She leaned on the island, weight on her hands so they wouldn’t shake, and looked him in the eye. Told him the nice way. Still hit him like a truck.

It was something else to watch Matt’s face drain of all its color. “Oh.” 

“That was probably the weirdness,” she finished with forced cheer. "You hungry? I'm hungry." Hadn’t eaten much while her head was giving her grief. 

"Tyra," Matt began. She opened the fridge so she wouldn't have to see the sincerity on his face. That would just about be the end of things, if she let it be. "I'm so... that's."

"You gonna say you shouldn't have pried?" she asked dryly. 

"No, I think I feel fine about that." 

Tyra snorted, and emerged from the fridge with a couple tupperwares of leftovers. Tim made pot roast and mashed potatoes last night. "Fork?" she asked Matt. 

"Sure." 

So she gave him a fork and set the containers out on the counter for him to dig into. If he made a comment about germs she was gonna make fun of him endlessly, but like he heard the threat, Matt just took a bite of cooked potatoes and carrots and went to town. 

Matt commented eventually, his face still a little grim. "It's good."

"Tim," she said by way of explanation, and he nodded. 

They ate in silence, until Tyra decided she was done and offered Matt a last forkful before putting all the shit around. He took it - real testament to Tim's cooking, Tyra made a point of remembering that to tell Tim later. He'd love that. 

"Are you saying I shouldn't have pried?" Matt asked when her back was to him. 

"No. Not... I mean, I'm not a fan of talking about it. Haven't told anybody besides Tim."

"Ever?"

The fridge door fell shut the moment she was out of its way, cold air puffing her hair back from her face. “Well, it’s not exactly small talk material.” 

“Alright. That’s not what I meant.”

It wasn’t, they both knew it wasn’t. Matt loved to deal in redundancies, like he didn’t believe in anything he only heard once. She took a second to squint at him, to try and unspool that. His parents both left. Now his wife had. And here was his dogged solemnity still, not letting her skip a single conversational step. Maybe he thought if something got skipped, it’d end up being the pivotal thing. 

“Couldn’t look at you, after that,” she said, as evenly as she could. “Guilt was just about eating me alive. I’m sure you felt… some of that.” 

Matt nodded, chewing on his lip. 

“Yeah. Well. That’s what it was. Not… Tim’s not your only friend around here, is all I’m saying.” 

It was a gesture. She meant it to be a big one. Instead Matt was determined to stay in the dumps. “Great. So I have two. Maybe I’ll find a third before I turn forty.” 

“Julie got everybody you knew in the divorce?” Tyra put her hands on her hips. “When you lived up there for how many years?” 

“Well, me leaving didn’t make my odds of getting picked any better.” 

“Convenient, how you got around to leaving before any of them could.” 

And that, of all things, won another one of Matt’s reluctant smiles. “Figured it had to be my turn eventually, right.” 

The air between them relaxed, a slackening that made it easier to breathe again. Matt was totally willing to hang out after that; he stuck around and ended up helping her fold a load of laundry, and then Tim was back with the boys and the kids and that was its own whole thing. Matt and JD were like two awkward tomcats circling each other, and Matt and Luke could be each others’ reflection. Least surprisingly of all, though, was how well Matt and the kids got along. He was a born caretaker - which, given everything with his grandma made a lot of sense. Him and Tim took turns picking the kids up and spinning them around to make them breathless with giggles. 

It was dark out quicker this time of year. Dark before Mindy and Billy made it back to pick the kids up, and even darker by the time they left. And Saracen was still sitting on the couch next to them even after Luke and JD had excused themselves to go to bed. 

Tyra knew Tim would ask. She felt it in his chest under her hand, and she preempted him. “Hey, Matt. You need somewhere to stay tonight?” 

“You even have the room?” Matt asked, gesturing upstairs.

“We do.” Tim nodded. “We have exactly one more room, and we’d love you to take it. Come on. Don’t make me beg, Saracen.” 

“If you’re sure.”

Tim reached out to clumsily pat Matt’s shoulder. “Julie will see sense.” 

“No she won’t,” Tyra scoffed. “And he doesn’t need her.” 

Matt huffed out a laugh. “Mixed messages.” 

“Julie will see sense, and if she doesn’t you don’t need her,” Tim amended. 

 Matt sighed. “Okay. I know better than to argue with both of you.” 

“Good.” 

“But, can I ask you a question? Real quick.” 

Tim shifted, he pulled Tyra in closer and kissed her temple. They were cozy, the air around them sleepy. Big day. “You bet, seven. Lay it on me.” 

“Why the fuck do you have two JV Panthers living with you?”

All Tyra could do was laugh, and Tim with her. And Tim wasn’t much of a laugher. Not a loud one. She felt it more than she heard it. “I don’t fucking know,” Tim said at last. “Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it.” 

“Please,” Tyra said. “It makes perfect sense, Tim, you just don’t want to admit that you’re a mother hen and you have been since-“ Tim began to sigh and Tyra talked right over him. “And you have been as long as I’ve known you. Exhibit A, Becky.”

“Weren’t you Mrs. Taylor’s favorite babysitter?” Matt chimed in. 

“Yes. He heard about JD’s problems with his folks and moved him first chance he got. And then Luke got back from the service and he was a fucking time bomb even without getting his parents involved there, so we let him crash for a while-“ 

“Which, you pushed for that,” Tim cut in. “As I recall.” 

He wasn’t wrong, but that had never stopped Tyra from trying to argue before and she couldn’t see why it should now. “Excuse me for having a heart.” 

“We won’t tell anybody.” 

“Is there such thing as a good parent?” Matt said suddenly. That was Tyra’s first inkling that the beers had gone to his head. “I mean like, seriously.” 

What a question. Tyra loved her mom, but that wasn’t really a reflection on the quality of her parenting. Like. Mindy ended up a stripper, that was a pretty universal indicator of a child gone wrong. She taught them what not to do more than anything else, who not to fuck and how not to fight. And then she told Tyra she shouldn’t get her hopes up so many times Tyra forgot what hope was at all. And Tim’s parents - dead and gone - weren’t much of a credit to their profession either. 

“Us, hopefully,” Tim said. “And Coach.” 

Tyra scoffed. “How’d you explain Julie, then.”

“Wow!” Matt turned to look at her. “You are all in on the… the fuck Julie train, huh.” 

“How many ways do I have to tell you she and me aren’t friends until you believe me, dipshit.” Tyra forced herself to her feet with a sudden burst of energy, reached an uneasy, teetering balance and looked back down at the boys. Matt’s head was in spitting distance of Tim’s shoulder. 

“Uh oh.” Tim turned his head to look at Matt, a dopey smile on his face. “She only breaks out the ‘dipshit’ when you’ve been a real bonehead.” 

Matt’s smile was small enough that she wasn’t sure Tim saw it. “You talk like a dad, how come that doesn’t sound any different than usual.” 

“Born dad, like I said,” Tyra said. 

Tim struck out at her with his foot and missed entirely. “Lay off. I will go on strike. I will withhold sex.” 

“I think that’s my cue to head to bed,” Matt said, and let Tyra haul him up by the hand. “Tell me where I’m going.” 

She looked back down at Tim. “Last spare room?” 

“It’s yours,” Tim agreed. “Long as you want it.” 

“Couldn’t possibly impose,” Matt said. “If you’re sure.” 

“We are going to end up as a wayward home for orphan Panthers,” Tyra said, as she pulled both of them to their feet. Tim first. “A fuckin’ wildlife preserve. And don’t you dare take that wrong, Saracen, or I’ll dump you right over the balcony rail. Swear to Christ.” That last part was with a grunt, as she got him vertical. 

Matt blinked at her, pleasantly numb. “Well, if you insist," he said, and allowed himself to be bundled up the stairs. He wasn't a big guy. Well, duh. Quarterback for a reason. Saracen wasn't making any tackles, in a manner of speaking. But he gave a real life-changer of a hug, outside the door of his room. "I'm taking it the exact right way," he promised into her shoulder, and she squeezed him tight. 

Tim got himself to bed during that whole process; she found him flopped on his side, an empty water glass in his hand. "Tyra," he said.

"What, honey." 

"You want another baby?" 

That was the thing. Even with life getting more complicated, with all of Mindy's kids and the Panthers in and out of here, Tyra really did want another kid. She was tired, but she wasn't anywhere near her wits end. The more caring she did, the more she felt like she could do. It was the easiest thing in the entire world, to smile down at him and say, "You know what, Tim? I think I just might." 

 

 

The second house was up before Christmas. 

A few of the walls were just studs at first. It was a week or two before the counters were in place. They had their bedrooms, though, and it all worked out just fine. They got their guest rooms back, just in time for Matt Saracen to come back for good. 

Well, not for good but for longer. After his first visit, he headed back up to Chicago for a while. Wasn’t convinced he wanted to leave behind everything he knew for the second time, and Tyra couldn’t blame him. Said as much, every time he called asking for their thoughts. When anybody would listen - which basically just meant whenever she and Tim happened to talk about it - Tyra would voice her honest opinion, which was that Matt wanted things to work out with Julie again. Idiot. 

“Right,” Tim said dryly. “Because it’s only cool when you go back to your ex to try and make it work.” 

Tyra clucked her tongue at him. “That’s different.” 

“How?” 

“I was right.” 

“Oh yeah. I forgot about hindsight. That good ol’ trump card.” 

“Alright,” Tyra huffed, and folded the last shirt with a bit of extra flair. “Fine. I hope they make it work. Whatever would make Matt happy.” 

Tim gave her the grin she loved so much. “There she is. The saint I married.” 

“Oh, you’d better shut it.” 

“You’ll have to make me, sweetheart.” 

She gave a considering nod. “Maybe after the laundry,” she ended up telling him, and Tim agreed that would be alright. 

Matt was back a couple weeks after that. No prize for guessing what happened, but Tyra couldn’t help her smugness anyways. She also had one ace up her sleeve - a few days into Matt’s stay, she gave Tammy a call. 

“You did not,” Matt sighed so deeply when she told him, and dropped his head to run his hands over his hair. “Jesus.”

“She won’t tell Julie I asked,” Tyra assured him. “And I didn’t tell her anything about you.” 

“Yeah, but.” 

It was one of those gorgeous winter days outside, the world in crisp focus and the sky bright and clear. The kind of day she was glad to be inside during. Tim and the guys were out on a last-of-the-season hunting trip, something they were all excited about. And like good for them, but you couldn’t pay Tyra enough to join them. Amy was a convenient excuse. Matt was another. It was surprisingly nice to have Matt here with her. 

Hell, maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise. It did occur to Tyra that at some point, she owed it to the world in general to stop being surprised when she enjoyed the company of another human being. Be a little bit less of an awful misanthrope. 

After a fucking eternity, Matt continued his thought. “Why you doing all this stuff for me? This double agent routine.” 

“What kinda question is that?” 

“The kind of question that’s reasonable, I think. And very fair.” 

“Oh, shut up.” 

Amy contributed something to that conversation, she talked words of mostly nonsense very seriously. God bless Matt, he listened and then when she was done said, “Yeah, that’s a real good point. Your mom is being cagey.”

“Cagey,” Tyra repeated, scoffed, and rolled the dice. Yeah, so they were playing Monopoly because she couldn’t think of anything better to do with him that wouldn’t be mainly sitting in silence. Again, Tyra felt very much like a mom, if not particularly her mom. “I am not being cagey,” she said, and was treated to a look that let her know exactly how little he bought that. 

That was the other thing about Matt that she’d somehow gone this long without knowing - he knew damn near everything about the people around him. Just felt it. 

A real empath, as Mom would call him. Made sense why he and Tyra were never exactly close, especially given how in high school she was basically a walking ball of resentment and frustration. 

“Alright,” Matt said, as he moved his piece down one side of the board. “So you’re just helping me out of the goodness of your heart for no particular reason, the end.” 

“Don’t make that sound so unreasonable.” 

“Not unreasonable. Just not you.”

She scoffed, keeping a close eye on him to make sure he didn’t steal from the bank. “You don’t know me, Saracen. I do shit out of the goodness of my heart all the time.”

“Actually, I do know you, Tyra. Pretty well. And I think you’re trying to get out of admitting that you’re doing all this evil mastermind shit because maybe you want me to be happy.” He held the dice out. 

Tyra snatched them away. “That’s exactly what I said.” 

“No, you said it the way where you didn’t have to admit we’re friends.” 

She did. Almost like she didn’t intend to admit that at all. “Oh yeah. Can you babysit for us? We’ve got a date night planned for this weekend. Also, you owe me five hundred and sixty dollars.” 

Matt counted the money out infuriatingly slowly, handed it over with a smile. “Sure. But you’re not distracting me.” 

“From what?” Tyra tried, and that didn’t go over well. “Jesus. Fine. Yes, you’re right, you got me. Are you happy?” 

She had to wait for him to roll, to pluck his piece up and round a corner. Seemed like he was counting slowly just to infuriate her, though it was probably also possible for him to just be real bad at counting. 

Entirely possible as well, Tyra had to admit, for her to just be a real bitch on wheels right now. 

“I like getting you to say things you hate saying,” Matt said, with an almost goofy honesty. His eyes flicked up to hers. “It’s fun.” 

“Oh is it? Is it fun for you?”

He returned the favor, though. That was the thing she really liked about him. When they were finishing up - she wiped the floor with him, obviously - he fixed her in place with a smile and said, “You’re a good friend.” 

Tyra scoffed. “I know.” 

“You’re a good friend to me. Which is why I will babysit so you and Tim can go fuck in a hotel somewhere.” 

“Don’t give me any ideas,” Tyra grinned. 

She said that because it was the thing to say, but she didn’t need any help. Matt was pretty dead on the money, there. Fancy dinner first, because Tyra knew Tim liked to be wined and dined a bit and she enjoyed the excuse to get dressed in something nicer than a T-shirt these days, too. 

Someone recognized them, of course. The hazards of going to dinner somewhere less than twenty miles from Dillon. Of course someone walked up and wanted to tell Tim just how good his hands were while Tyra was sitting there, half-dying to tell them the extent of what they didn’t know. Made Tim smile, though, so she figured it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. 

“You know, I thought at a certain point we’d graduate from high school,” Tyra said when it was just them again. “Not for a few years, sure. Maybe not even for ten. But having a kid, another on the way. Thought we could be over this by now.” 

“Come on,” Tim said, a grin lingering. “You were a stone cold fox in high school. We had a whole power couple thing going on.” 

Tyra rolled her eyes. “Alright.” 

“Come on. The hottest girl in school and the best running back in the state.” 

“Smash wouldn’t love hearing that.” 

Tim kept going like she hadn’t spoken. “Jason and Lyla were the apple pie version, sure, but we were the real cool version. And then we both grew the hell up and made it work.” 

“Love that about us.” 

“Not as much as I love you, sweets.” 

She hit him with her dirtiest raised eyebrow. “There’s the charm.” 

The night only improved from there. 

There was an extra sense of security too, that came from knowing Amy was in good hands. Not that she thought about her kid much at the time, but the next morning when they made it back home - late, late to check out and later to get home because they took the long way, just to spend more time together - it was nice to know Amy was taken care of. They weren't in a rush. When they did get home, Matt had Amy cradled against his chest watching something on TV. Both of them happy as clams. 

“Hey, y’all,” Tyra said, dropping her bag near the door to beeline for her kid. “How was she?” 

“Perfect,” Matt said, holding her out for Tyra to take. “How was y’all's night?” 

“Less said the better, brother,” Tim contributed with a broad grin. 

Tyra hauled Amy up into her arms and kissed her cheeks a couple times. “Hey darling, how was your time with uncle Mattie? You have fun?” she asked. Any smiled, and Tyra couldn’t help the answering smile on her own face. “Yeah?” 

“We made pancakes,” Amy said. 

“Very nice,” Tim said, and stopped by to kiss Amy too. “Doesn’t get better than that.”

And yeah, Tyra had to agree with him. Things didn’t generally get much better than this.