let me feel you burn into me
Pairing: Luke Hemmings/Ashton Irwin
Word count: 4,184
“Maybe you just need to relax, Lu. I’ve seen your shoulders grow more and more tense for the past hour.”
He rolls his shoulders and yes, they do feel tense. He sighs, “Maybe.“
“Lucky for you, I have here the perfect way for you to relax,“ Ashton holds up the joint, a glint in his hazel eyes. He wordlessly offered it to Luke earlier, right after joining him in front of the little fire pit. Luke didn’t want it then, preferring to keep a clear head when writing, but he thinks he could go for it now, except-
“I don’t feel like getting too high.”
“That’s okay,” Ashton gives him a lazy grin, licking over his lips. Luke finds himself watching him, fascinated, “I can shotgun you, just like old times.”
While taking a few days off, staying at a cabin with Ashton, Luke tries to get a little song writing done, but he finds himself stuck. Ashton offers to help him relax. Just a little shotgunning quickly turned into something more.
Tags: Established Relationship, Smoking, Recreational Drug Use, Underage Drug Use (mentioned), Shotgunning, Kissing, Hand Jobs, Ashton shotguns Luke, things get heated pretty quickly
pairing // calum hood x fem!singer!reader
summary: the media doesn’t fully know about your relationship with calum until you sing an unreleased song on live
bold italic: lyircs
(i recommend listening to the exception by olivia rodrigo while/before reading this.)
"hello!" you exclaimed as you started the live. you waited a few moments to let more people join before answering or saying anything. you played a few random notes on your piano as you read over the comments, answering a few questions that seemed interesting to you.
"'when are you releasing new music?' i actually don't know. i write a lot, but i haven't been in the studio," you answered, continuing to play some random notes, which you ended up playing 'lover of mine'.
"'what's your favorite moment from hanging with 5sos?' um," you thought for a moment, "i- oh i actually can't say that." you thought about the time where the four of them were doing their cocktails chats video. in the middle of calum explaining one of the songs, you walked into the room.
"hey, baby," calum smiled once he caught sight of you sitting down beside michael.
"hi," you replied, watching the smile fall for his face. "why are you pouting now?"
"i'm sitting here with no kiss and i don't like it." you, along with the rest of the people in the room, laughed at his statement before you got up to give him a kiss.
of course you could tell that story, but you and calum wanted to keep your relationship private for as long as you could or felt like.
after answering a few more questions, people finally realized what you were playing on your piano and asked if you could sing something. you smiled, thinking now would be a good time to sing an unreleased song. without you realizing, calum had joined.
he was in the studio with luke, michael, and ashton when he noticed you were live. he had called the boys over so they could all watch you.
"your hand on my leg under the oil painted sky. wind blowin' through our hair on the 405."
memories of sitting in calum’s car with his right hand making a home on your left thigh, riding around for hours with no specific destination ran through your mind as you closed your eyes to visualize your lyrics.
“and traffic's at a standstill, it's LA, what'd you expect? we're listenin' to Zeppelin, you're kissin' my neck.”
“cal, stop it,” you giggled as calum left a trail of kisses on your neck. the radio was turned to low volume but you could still hear the song playing.
“why?” he asked, one of his arms going around your shoulder to keep you close to him.
“you need to be watching the road to see if the traffic starts moving,” you told him. it didn’t make any sense since you’ve been sitting in traffic for the last 20 minutes.
“mm,” he hummed against your neck, “it’s LA, we won’t be moving any time soon, love.”
“you cradle me in your arms in the dark in the back. we're lookin' at the stars, the moon's lit cheshire cat.”
calum’s favorite thing to do when either one of you were stressed was to take you to “see the stars” as he likes to call it. it would usually be in the middle of the night, but you never did mind.
he’d let down the top of his car and lie down in the back seat, cuddling you in his chest as the two of you stared up at the stars.
it was a place where the two of you would have most meaningful conversations, or have your most memorable moments.
you shared your first kiss there, gave yourselves to each other, any meaningful memory with him happened at that spot.
“and your parents can probably see from the window. they'll say, "they're just kids", oh, what the hell do they know?
you open your eyes to look through the comments. some comments wanting to know who inspired the song or when it was written. others were simply complimenting your voice and how much talent you had. you closed your eyes again once the chorus came along.
“scared, i love you so much i’m scared.”
this was the first time you had sang this song in front of anyone. after six long years of you and calum dancing around those three words, you had finally said them out loud. obviously, no one really knew that you were talking about calum, excluding the people who do know about your relationship.
“'cause they say young love's a loss or it's a lesson.”
while your eyes were closed, there were some fans who realized calum and michael had joined.
‘okay we have two out of four where are luke and ashton 🙄’
there were many more comments, some of michael praising you and dropping hints, none that you could see because your eyes remained closed.
“here, i just wanna be here. my heart is tellin' me we're gonna be the exception.”
you thought about the words that were said at the very beginning of your relationship with calum, whether it was from friends or family, they were stamped in your mind for a long time.
‘they’re not going to last long’
‘it’s only temporary’
‘it’s not like you’re going to marry him, you’re young’
no matter how many people doubted the two of you, you had faith that calum was the one.
as you finished playing the notes on the piano, you looked at the screen with a shy smile on your face. you scrolled through a little before one comment caught your eye:
calumhood: alright, let’s go sit in traffic and listen to Zeppelin. that okay with you?
5SOS Appreciation Week 2021: Day 5
College AU featuring:
Michael Clifford, Computer Science major who spent his last class playing video games
Calum Hood, Economics major who switched from CompSci so he could spend more time with his dog
Luke Hemmings, English major who is half doing this for the aesthetic
Ashton Irwin, Psychology major taking a lot of Philosophy classes he does not shut up in
Bonus (because a single picture of Jack Barakat from this post inspired the concepts for this whole AU):
Ashley, Fine Arts major who works at the bookstore and knows everyone
Rian, Architecture major who sees Zack everyday on his daily coffee run, knows Ashton vaguely through band, and hasn’t slept since last year (hyperbolic)
Zack, English major who sees Luke around the department, is roomies with Jack, and enjoys weightlifting in his free time
Jack, Computer Science major who TAs Michael’s class, is besties with Alex, and does not know the answers to that exam *wink*
Alex, Computer Engineering major who was in Calum’s group for a Software Engineering class, is roomies with Rian, and probably enjoys college more than the average student
i feel like we could always use some laughs and im feeling nostalgic for scene 14 tonight AND it works great for the prompt from #5sosweek21: collage au | fake dating so i would like to present you the memes i sent jess ( @daydadahlias ) throughout this whole ordeal (under the cut cause spoilers):
Catch it here on AO3!
5SOS Appreciation Week | Day 4: favorite song (WAYF) + angst
Also a moodboard for i take the chances that i'm given ('cause i'm desperately all yours) by Woahsos (@escapesos) because I'll take any chance I get to promote them and their work lmao
And then the first notes of ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ start, and it all fills Michael’s lungs again. His chest hurts, his throat is so tight he can barely sing, Luke sounds too good singing about himself , about how gone Michael is for him. And it’s like he’s not even bothered even though it’s tearing Michael up inside.
It just sort of slips.
“ Still wrapped around your finger!”
It just sort of tears from his throat.
A/N: another 5sos fic! Luke Hemmings x y/n. Y/n’s gender is not specified for this fic, my apologies to anyone it might upset, but you can always request. Feel free to correct any mistakes! also i originally wrote this for someone who i no longer support. since then i have taken it off my tumblr, i edited today so it doesn't go to waste. Enjoy?
Warnings: angst, reader death
taglist: @calpalirwin @suchalonelysunflower @cigarettesandcartier send an ask to be added to the taglist!!
Gif not mine, italics are flashbacks
As Luke walked into the home, he felt the emptiness surrounding him. He had been gone for days, refusing to go home. His chest tightened and his lips frowned further. Taking slow steps looking around the home he used to share with the love of his life. The silence killed him, the only noise being the refrigerator running. He had become so used to coming home, finding y/n playing music while preparing dinner for them. He turns to look into the kitchen. He knows there's no one there, but he can’t help reminiscing about the feeling of finding y/n freshly showered after work, next to the oven checking on his favorite dessert. He already misses the feeling of running his hands under their shirt while hugging them from behind and thanking them, as usual, for making sure he doesn’t starve to death. He already misses the sound of the music, that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t understand. He remembers them explaining that no matter where in the country they were, they would play the latin music as loud as they wanted because they were not going to let anyone make them ashamed or embarrassed of enjoying the delightful sounds of their culture. He also remembers the first time he heard their favorite latin song, all those years ago when they first met. It was like yesterday.
“Faster Luke! We’re gonna be late!”
“Calum, it's just a party.” He states trying to calm his friend.
“It’s not just a party, it’s my best friend’s birthday, Luke.” he states clearly frustrated with Luke’s attitude. He still doesn’t understand why Calum was so insistent on having him meet them at a party. While Luke seemed like a big party person, he was actually pretty shy. Nevertheless he let his friend drag him up the hill, which was partly his fault since he took forever getting dressed, from the parking spot they got stuck with. The walk up the hill would have taken him forever, but Calum was pulling almost all his weight while speeding walking towards the house that was rented for the party. Calum obviously loved Luke and the friend group, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have other friends, and he just happened to make another when he crashed into y/n spilling his coffee all over them. Of course he was rushing to get to the studio, but he made the time to apologise to y/n then writing down his number handing it to them, then leaving after telling them to text him their venmo, so he could pay for their shirt. Y/n did in fact text Cal, but it was to inform him that he will not be sending them any money. After much back and forth, Cal had convinced y/n to meet up in the same cafe and buy them a new coffee instead. Since then the two were only apart when they needed to work. This caused Luke and their friend group to have Calum invite them to y/n’s party that Cal had been planning for y/n for weeks. Calum had no intention of inviting them or even them knowing, but Michael had seen the AirBnb on his computer and eventually got the cat out of the bag. After much convincing they had gotten him to invite them...without cameras and made them promise to act on their best behavior. Finally reaching the top of the hill had made Calum regret picking this AirBnb as his feet hurt before even walking into the house. Even from outside the building, you could hear the music, the spanish lyrics entering one ear and leaving through the other. Once in the house Luke wasn’t surprised to see most of his friends already there. Though he was slightly surprised to find Michael was conversing with the party host. Walking toward them, still being pulled by Calum, he was met with the back of y/n’s head. watching Calum tap his friend, his jaw almost dropped when he saw his friend’s beauty. He hadn’t expected it, having never seen a picture of them before since Calum was way over protective of y/n. Having zoned out, with thoughts of the beauty, he got another surprise to see their hand out for him to shake and a very weirded out face in front of him. Quickly shaking the hand as his friends could see the blush spreading on his face.
“I’m Luke.” He states.
“I know.” y/n respondes nodding her head to Calum, making the cute boy’s blush turn darker.
Luke walks out of the kitchen and towards the bar in his home, standing there for a while before completing his initial intent. He pours the whiskey into the glass. He remembers y/n coming home with sets of glasses stating that he was weird for not having proper drinking glass. He drinks it quickly and pours another glass hoping for the buzz to come quickly. Luke hadn’t drunk in years, he was never really a drinker, but with y/n beside him, he gave it up completely. Mostly because they had explained addiction problems in their family and Luke didn’t want to give them any reason to believe they would have to go through the same with him. Though that wasn’t what he was thinking right now while shooting down a third glass of whiskey, finally feeling the buzz hit. Putting down the glass, he goes to pull out his phone and pulls it out. Realizing there's also y/n’s ring resting in his pocket, he abandons the phone next to the glass, then pulls out the ring. After a couple of minutes of just staring at the ring, that y/n never took off from the moment it was received, he had thoughts drowning his head faster than the whiskey did his liver. He risites the words he told y/n a million times the day he gave it to them.
“I love you.” He says, blush appearing on his cheeks like they always did. The truth was that no matter how many times he said it, he still felt like it was the first.
“I love you more!” y/n stated as usual.
“I love you most.” he argues.
“Not possible” they say walking just a bit ahead of Luke in their favorite park that they went to every sunday.
“Are you sure?” confused, y/n turns around noticing that not only was Luke a little behind, but that he was also on his knee. He reaches for y/n’s hand, his smiling somehow becoming bigger when they take it.
“y/n from the moment i saw you, you have become the only thing on my mind 24/7. You have become the only one, the only one I could see myself with. I never said that to you because I thought there was no way you could feel the same, but these past couple of years have me hoping that you want the same as me.” he paused to take a breath and to wipe the tears that had escaped, but not once did he stop smiling. “I'm hoping that you want to be with me for the rest of our lives, growing old together while raising children and arguing with me because a song might be a little too scandalous. I just- i just want you by my side, so-” he goes to pull out the ring he’s had in his pocket but stops when y/n reaches for his other hand. He should've expected it really, he knew y/n was never one to care for materialistic stuff, so he just simply held their other hand before continuing . “-so will you, y/f/n, let me have the honor of marrying you?”
Slipping the ring back into his pocket, he fills up the glass once more and heads to the couch. On his way though, he stops himself as he sees the antique record player that y/n had brought when they moved in. He slightly runs his fingers on the top of it, setting a reminder in the back of his head to never let it become dusty. Though y/n was never the materialistic person, records and books were the exception. They loved their records, blasting it as loud as possible almost every minute of the day. The only time they actually listened to music on their phone was when they were yet to collect the record or didn’t have a record player with them. Which is why, his heart was breaking even more, if that was possible, see that it wasn’t spinning y/n’s favorite album.
To say Luke was worried, was an understatement. y/n was never late, they were practically home at the same time every day. Today shouldn’t have been the exception. He was pacing the house for the fifth time. Thoughts in his head were giving him bad possibilities but nothing prepared him for the call. His phone was ringing, it was an unknown number, which gave him chills. A billion what if’s going through his head and there was no way to stop them.
“Is this Luke Hemmings?” the voice asks.
“I have you listed as an emergency contact for y/f/n, I've just called to inform you that at 5:45 this afternoon, they passed away.” The person continued to talk but most of it wasn’t even heard by Luke.
Trying to get recent events out of his head, Luke opens the computer that was left charging on the couch, and pulls up y/n’s favorite playlist and presses shuffle. Of course with his luck, the first song that played was the song they discussed dancing to at their wedding. For the first time today, he let the tears fall. More than fall really, it was like a hurricane on his face. How could he survive without y/n? There is no way, is there? As much as he wanted to smash everything, most of his home reminded him of them, so there was no one he would ever change any of it. The pain was visible on his face and if Calum was there, he probably would have called for help, but he wasn’t so Luke dealt with the pain by himself.
day four of #5sosweek21: ex-lovers || favorite song
summary: The picture that you paint of me looks better in your mind.
author’s notes: Michael!!! This is the first time I’ve written for him no one attack me
warnings: angst, mentions of smoking
masterlist || request
Michael’s phone switched off, the black screen reflecting his tired expression back onto him. His headphones, which had been playing a demo of a song that he and Luke had been working on for the past week, covered his ears and kept out the quiet chatter from the plane. His eyes burned and if he was being honest with himself, the red-eye flight wasn’t going to be granting him any sleep. His mind had been awake since early in the morning when the same phone he’d just turned off had lit up in the darkness of his room. His vision blurry and unfocused as he tried to read whatever text message you’d sent him in the early morning hours.
“I know it’s been a while but I still miss the memories of the mornings we were high.”
It had been a couple of months since the breakup. Since Michael had walked out of that club where he'd been left hurt and broken. It had been months since you’d watched him walk out and since you’d sat back and did nothing about it. It had been a mistake; one you’d realized the second the door to your apartment closed and you were left alone, listening to the sound of your friend’s laughter on the other side. It had all happened so quickly you weren’t even sure when you realized just what had happened, not even when Michael’s tear-stained face was standing in front of you as you defended them. “You’re always taking their side,” he sighed quietly, his head shaking as his sleeve soaked up his tears, “You know all they’re trying to do is break us up, they’ve always been a bunch of fake friends to you!” “Oh because your friend group is just the best, isn’t it? They’re friends with you because they want to be and not because you’re in some giant band? Fuck off Michael, maybe my friends are right. Maybe I am better off without you.” you muttered. “You know what? Maybe I am better without you too,” he sighed, standing up and running his hands through his hair, “I hope you and your great group of friends have a great time talking shit about your new ex.” And with that he was gone, slamming the door before the sound of his car starting and driving off was the last memory of Michael that you had. You’d prided yourself on believing your friends, for taking their word that they knew what was best for you and letting Michael go. It was what was best for you, sticking with the group of friends who’d never let you down and dropping the man who you were in love with. If they didn’t like him, there must’ve been a reason you weren’t seeing, too blinded by Michael to see what they saw him. But when your so-called friend group did indeed start talking badly about Michael a few days after the breakup, you realized that Michael was right. “He was just…weird,” one of them scoffed, “He was so needy and always wanting your attention!” “Yeah, and then he would just leave for weeks on end! Like why would you even think dating him was a good idea?” another one joined in as you threw back another mimosa. “I’m glad you’re single again, we can finally have our fun girl trips away without worrying about you having to keep him updated.” Brunch had gone on, with you silently sipping away and the mixture of juice and bubbles while your friend group trash-talked the man you had been in love with. You knew that they were wrong, that Michael had made you happy, and that you had thought it was insane that he’d ever want to be with you. He was sweet and caring and all those text message conversations you’d spent the past couple of days reading back had made your heart race. But no matter how wrong they were about Michael, you couldn’t bring yourself to shut them down, because what would happen if they left you too then you really would have no one. It went on for months, the constant complaints about how horrible of a person Michael allegedly was drilled into you until eventually you snapped and cut yourself off from the people around you. It had been two months since you’d told your so-called friends off, your harsh words towards them having been pent up and finally spewed out. Two months since you’d left the girl’s night with shaky hands and tears in your eyes while you tried to think of ways to apologize to Michael. It had been a month since you’d tried to call him, your heart thumping in your chest as you listened to the monotone ringing. “Hey! This is Michael, sorry I couldn’t get your call but maybe I’ll get back to you soon!” It had been three weeks since you’d seen him driving past the coffee shop you’d recently found yourself going to more often than usual. He’d gotten a new car, the one he’d taken you to see a few days before the breakup, and he looked happy as he drove away from you until a turn made him disappear from view. You’d grabbed your coffee and gone home, memories of car rides with Michael playing in your brain as you yearned for those memories to come back. It had been two weeks since you’d sat in your living room, the plush carpet under you a comfort as the room spun and your hand trailed over to find your phone. Michael’s contact picture had popped up before you could stop yourself, your fingers typing out a message that you hopes made sense despite the smoke that had filled your lungs and the fog that covered your brain. But before you could hit send, the incoming call flashed across your screen and you hesitated before picking up. “Hello?” you asked quietly. “Hey. I...you called.” Michael’s voice rang out, his voice like honey that made you want to melt. “Hi, yeah I just…” you mumbled, really wishing you weren’t high for the first time that you got to talk with him again, “I wanted to talk to you...apologize.” “Are you...are you high?” Michael asked and the frown in his voice was evident as he sighed. “Yeah, I just…it’s been a hard couple of weeks, and I…” “Maybe we should talk when you’re not high. Just...I’ll text you, okay?” his voice laced with sadness and a hint of something your brain couldn’t quite place. “Okay, I’m sorry.” It had been two days since you’d finally gotten the courage to read the message he’d sent back after your own that night, the notification sitting heavy in your pocket until once again you found yourself on the floor of your living room. Your fingers shook as they floated over the screen, finally finding the courage to click the message and letting your eyes scan through the paragraph. You’d barely finished reading the text before you were calling Michael up again and hoping that he’d answer. “Hello?” his tired voice answered, a yawn covered up as his phone moved away from his ear. “I know I’ll never meet your expectations,” you started, “And I know that I’m an idiot for listening to them and letting them say those things about you. I was just...stupid and I thought that I’d be no one without them but I miss you. I miss you so much that sometimes all I can do is think about is those mornings when we would stay in bed until we were both too hungry to keep quiet. And I know that maybe you’ll never even forgive me but I just need you to know how sorry I am.”
“I...I’ve had a lot of time to think about us, about what happened between us,” Michael mumbled after a pause, “And I think that maybe it’s better that we let things end, that maybe it’s better if all the memories we have together just stayed as memories.”
“Michael,” you whispered sadly.
“I just need to stop letting me down,” he sighed, “And we both know that whatever we had, it wasn’t meant to last more than a night.”
“I hope you still think of me high.”
And those were the words you heard a few weeks later, playing out on the radio for everyone to hear and experience just like you did.
join my taglist: @hoodhoran @moonlightcriess @mxgyver @calpops @karajaynetoday @notlukehemmo @calumrose @devilatmydoor @lowkeyflop @conversecake @hemmo1996-5sosvevo @ashtonsunflower @2fangirl4u @multistann @wiiildflowerrr @himbohood @in-superbloom @ashtonsunflower @suchalonelysunflower @killmywildflower @sebsbrokentoe @nicebasscalum @itwouldburnupintheatmosphere @mikelitorisdotcom @letmereadpls
Calum’s been a dad for sixteen years now and it’s gotten easier in some regards. But it’s gotten a lot harder in other regards. When his eldest starts to push away from him, Calum realizes he’s got to make some choices for his family.
Dad!Cal, Gender-Neutral Reader (Non-binary parent described). Dad!sos (Luke, Michael, and Ashton).
CW: There’s like one (maybe two if you squint) steamy scene, but it like fades to black. So: Smut adjacent, so 18+ readers please!
Masterlist (on a semi-hiatus)
Calum gets the last of the bags into the trunk of the car when he feels his phone buzz from his coat pocket. He takes note to check it once he’s inside the car and before he heads home. Closing the trunk and returning the cart, Calum takes a small moment to glance up to the cloudy skies. A few rainy days have been predicted in the forecast and while Calum had planned on taking the family up to the beach house, a weekend at home isn’t a bad alternative.
His phone buzzes again and Calum digs out the device. I’m making no progress. I don’t know what else to say to them. I can’t lose Ro.
Roslyn, the eldest, was growing distant. Calum hadn’t been there to notice the beginning of it. But he did notice when he came home on a break between legs of the tour that Ro had done a 180. Once a child that couldn’t be pried away from him was now barely speaking to him. They spoke to you, which was a relief. But they still hadn’t opened up about what was bothering them.
It hurts. Calum’s flight got delayed several times over to the point he missed their opening night in the school’s play. He was there for every other showing and they said they understood, but Calum knew. The delay, no matter who’s fault it was, hurt them. Calum had promised to always be there no matter what. And Ro, who he couldn’t fault, believed them. Having a promise broken was no fun thing.
And there was you--in the middle trying to help Ro, get them to open up so maybe you could mediate. But Calum had told you time and time again that it was his mess to clean up. And he, again, couldn’t fault you for trying. Twenty years together and sixteen married with kids, there was always going to be a part of you that fought to keep your family and work through whatever issues arose.
I’m on my way home. Let them be. You won’t lose Ro. It’s just going to take some time. Did you sign Yvonne’s permission slip for them to turn in on Monday?
Signed and made double sure she put it in her backpack. INSIDE a folder so she can’t lose it.
Calum chuckles. Yvonne’s always had a little bit of trouble keeping track of things. Distracted sometimes because a lot is happening in her head, or at least that’s the way she’s described it to them. She’s still a good kid--decent grades though a lot of times they still get notes about Yvonne being chatty in class. A ball of compassion compressed into a ten year old as she’s proudly noted her passion in life is saving animals. The trip to the local animal rescue is right up her alley and it’s imperative to keep that permission safe for her.
We’ll have to double check Sunday afternoon, just to make sure. And the field trip is scheduled for next Saturday?
Yes, next Saturday and No doubt we’ll have to do a double check. The house has voted to order Chinese food for dinner. Do you want that or something different?
That’s fine with me. It’s the last text he sends before walking back to the truck and slipping into the driver seat. He reclines his head into the headrest, exhaling hard. Ro’s not six anymore. He can hug them and promise a solo trip to McDonalds for ice cream and the park for them to talk. He can’t snap his fingers to fix their moods anymore. But he wished he hadn’t hurt them--he wished the universe was kinder to him for his kid’s sake.
A small tear tracks down his cheek and he lets it track down his skin. It reminds him he’s human too, but a human with so much to fight for.
The house is alive, like usual, as he cracks open the door and pushes into it with a handful of grocery bags. Two sets of paws come clicking down the hallway to greet him and he greets each of the dogs. He’s careful of their wagging tails and bodies as he walks down the foyer into the kitchen, setting the bags down on the floor next to the fridge.
You stand against the counter, phone to your ear, with the menu in the other hand. “Yes, that’s all.” When you spot Calum, you smile and push up to press a kiss to his cheek. He slides a hand around your waist to still you. He can faintly hear the voice on the other end confirming the price and estimated time it’ll be ready to pick up. You thank them and then stretch up to kiss him properly.
“I’ll pick it up. I tried to order it before you’d be home. But Yvonne needed help with some math homework.”
Calum nods. “It’s alright. You sure you don’t want me to get it?”
“Hi Dad!” Yvonne exclaims, feet thundering down the stairs.
Calum turns to the sound, smiling at Yvonne. “Hi, sweetheart. Have a good day at school?”
She nods, reaching out for a hug and Calum happily obliges. He hoists her up, knowing these days won’t last much longer. But he hopes they last longer than he’s anticipating. He needs them to last longer. “I got a B on my Spanish quiz! But I swear the lights were going to drive me insane. There’s one in the classroom that’s been flickering for a few days and I don’t know when they’re going to fix it.”
“I’m sorry about the distraction. ButI’m glad you got a B.” Calum sets her down and Yvonne grabs a water from the fridge before jetting back up the stairs. Calum watches her go, to make sure if she goes to the study room the door stays open. Which it does. “I have a couple more bags to get, and then we can grab the food.”
“Yeah, yeah, we. Sue me for wanting to spend time with my spouse.”
You laugh, rubbing at his back. “Alright, fine. We. I’ll let Ro know we’re stepping out to get dinner so they keep an ear out for Yvonne at least.” It’s with nods that you two separate. Though you do grab one of the grocery bags, noting it has the toilet paper and some hygiene products in it.
The stairs give a small creak as you climb up them. Yvonne sits at the table in the study room, feet dangling slightly as she reads over the papers in front of her. “Are you sure I have to do homework first?” she complains, noticing your shadow pass by the door.
“Yes! But I can sweeten the deal with a popsicle if you promise not to make a mess,” you return as you backtrack and lean against the door molding.
“When have I ever not made a mess?”
“Where are you at?”
“Halfway done with this first side of the worksheet for Earth Science.”
“Finish that first side and meet me in the kitchen for a mid-work break.”
“Sweet,” she grins before diving back into the work.
Ro’s door is shut mostly, but you still knock anyway. “Yeah?” they call out but don’t come to the door. You push it open a bit more to find the navy blue and gray bedspread rumbled at the foot of the bed. But they are sitting at the desk in the corner of their room. They smile a little at you. “Hey.”
“Hey. Dad and I are going to be leaving in twentyish minutes to pick up dinner. Are you okay to keep an eye out on Yvonne til we get back?”
They shrug, the gold chain Calum gave them clicking against the layers of other pieces of jewelry. Even though whatever is happening is going on, they still haven’t taken that off. Which is a good sign. “Yeah, it’s cool.”
You nod, looking down into the bag. And the words catch on your tongue but you remember Calum’s warning. It’s just going to take time. “Thanks, Ro.”
“Of course,” they give a nod and turn back to the computer before facing you again. “Also, can you help me with something?”
You nod, stepping further into the room. Is Ro going to finally tell you what’s going on? You try not to show that question and then watch them unlock their phone. You don’t watch too intently until they’re showing you a text message thread. “It’s from this girl--she just moved into town like a week ago. I-I don’t know how to respond.”
Girl trouble--not what you anticipated. But you understand. “I’m not going to read anything that’s going to scar me, am I?” you tease, gingerly holding onto the phone.
Ro laughs. “No, god no. You think I’d show my parent that kind of stuff?”
“Hey, I just have to check.”
They give you an explanation that because Ro agreed to work in the guidance office, they give tours of the school to students who transfer in after the orientation. This particular girl complimented Ro’s hair--an undercut they had to win you over on. Calum was more agreeable on it. And part of you was scared that if Ro didn’t like it, they’d be stuck growing that out for months with a very poor attitude about it. And it was less about shaving hair and more making sure Ro knew if they didn’t like it, growing it out would be a tedious process. But thank all the stars that they did like it, especially the star the barber cut into it.
The girl’s compliment sparked an interest, you gather, listening to Ro’s retelling and reading through the messages--they get a little flirty and it’s clear they both like each other. Though neither one’s admitted just yet. Until you get to the last message from the girl--Claire, you think is her name--asked what Ro was doing this weekend.
“I mean, the most obvious thing to do is respond with the truth. A weekend at home with your lame parents. But awesome sister.”
Ro scoffs. “You and Dad aren’t lame. Older, yeah. But not lame.” You nod, listening as they continue. “Besides, it was supposed to be a family weekend and I-” They go quiet. A sigh leaves their lips and they flop onto their bed, face up and bouncing for a second.
“Tell Claire--that’s her name, right?”
“Tell Claire the truth and if something does come up as a result, then something comes up and you, me, and your Dad can talk about it then.”
“Are you sure?”
“Just text the girl back. You’ve left her on read for twenty minutes now. She’s probably having a heart attack.”
Ro takes their phone back with a tiny smile. “You’re sure?”
“I am as sure as I am your cennend.” You softly run a hand over the top of their head. “Your binder shipped, by the way. Should be here by Tuesday.”
Their grin breaks out even wider. “Can I wear it to school?”
“After we make sure it fits properly and that you’re comfortable in it and not definitely not during your P.E. block.”
Ro nods, eagerly. “I’ll break it in around the house.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Their fingers fly across the screen and you watch for a moment. This is the Ro you’re used to. Happy, laughing about something.
When you return downstairs, Calum’s put away a fourth of the grocery. You fall in a steady rhythm around him, working together to put up the last of it. Calum takes the dogs out as you grab your shoes. “Ro--we’re headed out now,” you call up the steps.
They pop their head over the railing giving you a thumbs up. “I will go down with the ship if need be.”
“Hmm, maybe save yourself and your sister. The house ain’t worth it.”
Yvonne pops out. “I didn’t get my popsicle!”
You wave her down, grabbing a grape one from the box and wrap a paper towel around it. “Stay in the kitchen until you’re done. If you make a mess, call for Ro, alright?”
“Who’s that I see with a grape icy pole?” Calum booms, but you can hear the smile in his voice.
“I was told I could have it by a parental unit,” Yvonne laughs, pointing at you.
“I did say she could have it as a mid-work break. But she has to eat it in the kitchen.”
“And I have to call Ro if I make a mess to help me clean it up.” You and Yvonne nod at each, the signature on the dotted line of your verbal agreement.
Calum grabs the keys and the two of you exit the house. You go take the keys from him, but he holds them out of reach. “What are you trying to do?” Calum almost always drives when it’s the two of you.
Ro didn’t say that you couldn’t tell Cal and normally you try to always make sure you have consent to pass along information like this. But if they do get asked on a date, you want to give Calum a heads up. Maybe it won’t fix what’s going between them, but you definitely don’t want it to get worse.
You need to drive because if you sit in the passenger seat, it’s going to eat you alive. Not that it hasn’t already. And you’ll see the weight of the confession on Calum’s face—something you’re doubly not prepared to witness. “Please just let me drive.”
And it’s the way your voice cracks in the plea that Calum nods, handing you the keys without a second that. He walks around to the passenger side door. Did Ro tell you something? And if so, how bad could it be to make you want to drive instead of him?
You readjust the seat a smidge, and when the car finally starts you immediately reach for the radio. “Okay, no, you need to talk to me,” Calum returns, turning the volume down but letting the radio stay on.
Down the driveway and out onto the street, you exhale. “Ro’s talking to a girl and I’m not sure if a date’s going to happen. But they both really like each other..”
“For this weekend?”
“I don’t know,” you answer honestly, braking at the stop sign at end of the neighborhood.
“But it’s--” Calum can’t let his own feelings hinder Ro. They’re their own person. But it still stings. That’s his baby and they’ll always be that, even if they hate him. But he doesn’t want Ro to hate him. “And what did you say?”
“I told them that if something happened as a result that the three of us would talk about it.”
It’s a valid response. But it still doesn’t completely take away the sting in Calum’s chest. It’s not that Ro’s growing up. That’s just par for the course as a parent. It’s that part of Calum can’t shake that Ro’s pushing away from him. As worried as you were that you were losing Ro. Calum can’t help but fear the same. And in some twisted way it was his fault, that he had an opportunity to take a behind the scenes approach in the music industry, but he couldn’t take it. And sure it would’ve meant being home more with his family but Calum still ached in some part for the road. Still ached to be on stage. And he hadn’t been able to shake it, not then, not before the damage happened. But maybe now was the last time, maybe now he needed to refocus back onto his family.
“Okay,” Calum says softly. Because that’s all there is to say.
“I’m sorry, Cal. I don’t know--I didn’t know what else to say.”
“No, it’s not you. It’s just they’re not young anymore and now it’s like balancing my own feelings against what’s best for them. It’s just hard.”
“I wish I knew what was wrong. I know they’re upset about the missed performance. But there’s something more.”
Calum stares out of the front window, watching other cars turning left, or following alongside you down the street. “We can’t interrogate it out of them,” he states.
And he’s right. You two can’t good cop bad cop Ro about it. But the wait’s horrible. All either one of you wanted to do was fix it. But until Ro opened up, there’s nothing to be done. Maybe if Ro went on the date, it would help. Maybe. But it still scared Calum that it would get to a point where the divide between them was just too large to overcome.
In front of the restaurant, you finally turn to Calum. He’s frozen, eyes partially widen and seemingly unfocused on anything in front of him. Gingerly, you take his hands, wrapping your fingers around his and squeezing lightly. “I have to do something,” he mutters. You can’t tell if it’s for you or more to himself, but it’s chant like prayer crossing his lips.
“We’ll-we’ll figure something out. We always do. They haven’t taken the necklace off. It’s a good sign.”
It’s a small nod, almost indiscernible, and Calum squeezes your fingers in return as well. “We will.”
You take a minute, waiting for the slightly glazed look to finally pass from Calum’s eyes. He blinks, turning to face you. “I’m okay.”
“Okay--I’ll go get the food. You just chill out here.”
“I’d rather go inside with you.”
“Whatever you’d like,” you return. Calum’s hand is warm as you thread fingers together and walk inside.
The owner greets the two of you by name, a testament to how often your family orders from here. You and Calum moved into the neighborhood when Ro was five, already planning to expand the family, but still before confirming Yvonne as an addition. Since the move, you made it a tradition to at least order from the place every couple of weeks. Over time, the previous owners would see you and Calum pulling up and as you stepped through the door they’d shout the total at you. Now the children of the previous owners have taken over and know you and Calum just as well.
“At this point, you two should take over as owners.”
“I highly doubt we could run it as well as you could,” you return, laughing at the tease. It’s only a few more minutes before your food is ready and you pay. Calum takes the bags before you can even put the card back into your wallet.
“My hands ain’t broke,” you tease, but make sure to hold the door open for him.
“And neither are mine.”
Inside the car, you turn to the passenger side seat. “What are you thinking?”
Truth be told, he’s not entirely sure what to think. “I’ve gotta try something. But I don’t want it to be materialistic, nor do I want them to feel like I’m only trying to make up to them because they’re angry.”
“Maybe--maybe you just need to tell them that you care. That you know they’re hurt and you’re willing to listen to them whenever they’re ready to talk so you two can actually work on a resolution. It’s how we’ve always done things and I think, given our two kids, we’ve done pretty damn good at actually listening to them and getting their input on how to reach a solution. I don’t know why we’d stop now.”
“Yeah, but how do I do that? They barely talk to me.”
“Maybe you just gotta say your peace and move on. I think Ro’s just working through a lot of difficult emotions right now. And it’s scary and it hurts to see them shut you out. But you can’t kick in that door. And I don’t want to make it worse, but if I gotta play ref for that conversation I’ll do it.”
“Thank you, love,” Calum whispers, leaning into you and kissing you softly. “Thank you for being there.”
“I meant what I said in my vows.”
The return back home is quiet, minus the soft whisper of the radio. Sure, Calum could make a big show, put his foot down. But that’s never worked with Ro before and it most definitely wouldn’t work now either. When they return home, Calum takes the food inside ahead of you. You don’t say anything, having already noticed the resolve that set his face like stone. You shut the door behind you and catch him heading up the stairs. Though you didn’t always rely on your religion all the time, you pray now in a soft whisper for the two of them--for your family.
The TV downstairs is on, and you spy Yvonne sitting criss crossed with both dogs surrounding her. You slip out of your shoes and walk behind the couch to kiss the top of her head. “Go get cleaned up before dinner please?”
“Can I get to the commercial break before I do that?”
“Yes. Thank you for asking.”
“Of course,” she replies, grinning up at you from below.
Calum pauses outside of Ro’s door. It’s halfway open, most likely opened in case Yvonne needed anything. From his vantage point, he can just make out Ro sitting at their desk, half their screen a video and the other an opened word document. He knocks on the door on his exhaled breath. “Ro?” he calls out softly.
They spin around in the chair. “Yes?”
No ‘Dad’ not even a full smile--Calum should’ve expected it. But it still swings like a hammer against his chest. He continues on though. “Can I get two minutes of your time? And you don’t have to respond. I just need to tell you something.”
Ro freezes for a moment. It hurts. He was supposed to be there. And they know it’s not his fault the flight got so far delayed. They know that. But that didn’t take away the sting. And Ro didn’t want to take the feelings out on him. They know it’s not right. He tried--he went to every show since the opening. He still cared even when they weren’t the nicest. And sure, it’s easy to say that’s what parents are supposed to do. But Ro’s friends didn’t have parents like theirs, didn’t have parents that wanted to have productive conversations and not some sort of dictatorship. But it fucking sucks because all Ro wants is their Dad. That’s all they’ve ever wanted. And when they were younger it was different. They could go on trips more easily and Ro didn’t feel like they were constantly choosing between friends and family. But now it feels like a fucking a choice and it’s easier to choose friends. It’s easier to keep being angry because it means they don’t have to choose again.
“Two minutes?” they verify.
Calum nods, stepping into the room. He points over to the beanbag in the corner. “Can I sit?”
Pulling the bean bag closer to them, Calum tries to suppress the grunt that falls from his lips to settle down low. “Jesus,” he huffs but settles down.
“Don’t hurt yourself now.”
And though the slight jab comes out a little hot, there’s a tiny smile on Ro’s face. And Calum could cry right then and there. Ro’s not gone--the sarcasm they learned from you still poking out from the surface. “I’ll try not to, boss.” A silence settles as Calum tries to gather the right words. And while he’s always had a habit of shutting down and wanting to retreat, you’ve broken part of that habit. And he certainly doesn’t want his kids to get that from him. It’s unproductive.
“I can’t assume your feelings and take that assumption as fact. But I can tell by some recent behaviors that you’re hurting. I know I apologized. And I know that doesn’t magically fix your feelings. But I can tell you it’s not fun to see you hurting and not knowing how to best go about reaching a resolution. I can tell you that I do want to fix it--whatever’s hurting you and especially if it was my absence on opening night.” Calum sniffles, trying to keep the tears as much as he can at bay. But also knowing that showing emotions isn't bad. He shouldn’t run away from them. Even if he wants to keep strong for his kids, sometimes it’s just hard. “I will listen to you, whenever you’re ready to talk. And I’m sorry, so fucking sorry that my choices and actions hurt you.”
Pinching his nose, Calum notices too, like you said, the necklace of hooking pinkies he gave Ro is still around their neck. With his clean hand, he holds up his pinkie. They did it all the time--promises not to tell you about ice cream before dinner, promises to take over the world, promises to save the world in all the imagined worlds Ro would create as a child, promises to stick it out with each other in blanket forts. And it’s a promise that Calum always meant and to do as much as within his control he’d do to keep them too.
Ro flicks their gaze up to the ceiling, eyes tearing up too. They believe him and he’s always done his best to listen and keep neutral and it’s not always easy, they’re sure. But he tried. They hook their pinkie around his with a nod. Right now it hurts to talk about. And yeah, it’s not a pleasant feeling to know that he was hurting because of their actions. But like they had always been told each action has a reaction, each choice has a consequence. At least they weren’t getting blamed--just an acknowledgement. Ro needed that kind of acknowledgment that others noticed they were hurting but didn’t want them to hurt in silence.
Yvonne’s thunderous ascension up the stairs echoes about them. Ro speaks in a whisper. “I believe you, Dad. I’ll talk when I’m ready.”
“That’s all I can ask for, kid. Dinner’s here. And if you feel like you can’t eat with us, I understand.”
Calum offers because maybe they both have a lot to process and forcing Ro to be at the dinner table could disrupt whatever progress they were making. Calum wants them at the dinner table but he’s not going to force them to be in an uncomfortable position. They have their own boundaries and he wants to respect them.
It’s with another not fully suppressed grunt and with a bit of dramatics that Calum gets up and Ro snickers a little. “Ay, alright, I get it. Pick on the old guy. You do punk jumps and see how well your knees hold up.”
Ro just shakes their head, biting down on their lip to hide the smile. “Not as bad as Uncle Mike though. So there’s that for you.”
“Damn straight.” Calum takes a couple steps towards the door and pauses. “You know I love you, right?”
“I know, Dad,” Ro answers.
“Good.” He exits, fully closing the door behind him. The stairs give a creak, undoubtedly as you ascend the stairs as well.
Yvonne rushes past him and your voice carries down behind her. “Your food’s at the bar countertop on a plate.”
Calum waits for you at the top of the second set of stairs, holding out a hand. You take in the tear tracks on his cheeks and the slightly red eyes. It’s silent as the two of you shuffle into the master bedroom and you shut the door quietly behind you. “They listened,” he starts softly. “But they might eat dinner in their room. I think that’s really all I can do right now.”
“Yeah, we’ll play it by ear. But thank fuck they were willing to listen. Do you want a cold compress? For the puffiness?”
“I got it. Head back to Yvonne. I’ll be down in a minute.”
For a moment you hesitate, hoping that he’s not shutting down. But you have to trust him. Cupping his cheeks, you kiss Calum gently. “Let me know if I can do anything.”
Calum watches you slip back out of the room. He settles onto the edge of the bed, hands covering his face as he exhales again. Calum underestimated parenthood--and maybe everyone did until they were in it. Maybe no one really understands what it means to be a parent until you’re dealing with your child in waters you thought you’d crossed before, or waters deeper than anyone anticipated. He wouldn’t trade this for anything else. Even though the gray hairs have multiplied faster than he can count them and though the house feels like a circus sometimes, there’s no other place he’d rather be at in his life. A happy spouse who’s just as willing as he is to do the hard work to raise their family and two children who were blooming into their own beings was a miracle to witness. But it was hard work.
Thunder rumbles overhead. The rain that wasn’t predicted until night time will surely be sweeping in soon. In the stillness of the room, Calum promises to himself to be kinder. Not that he didn’t think he wasn’t kind already, but just in general. He needed just as much grace as his kids did sometimes.
Someone descends the stairs--he’s not sure who but just as quickly as they head down they’re soon ascending back up. A door closes and Calum knows Ro decided to eat in their room. His chest aches just a little. But grace, but kindness, but allowing himself to feel the emotions and knowing that in the end it’s all going to be okay. It has to all be okay in the end, Calum thinks to himself on every inhaled breath.
It only feels like a few minutes that he’s been in the room. But when Calum walks down the stairs, he can see Yvonne already curled up on the couch with the dogs. Her dish in the sink and you sitting at the bar counter hardly touching your food. He grabs his food and moves onto the bar stool next to you, tucked at the end, near the wall. “You okay?” he asks.
You nod, glancing up. “Yeah, just not as hungry as I thought.”
Gently, he runs the back of his head over your forehead. But he doesn’t feel a fever. He doesn’t say anything else, just kisses your temple and turns back to his plate. The house feels eerily silent and you glance up to the stairs, wishing Ro would come down. But Calum gave them the offer not to and at this point, you’re not going to go back on his word. He did it for a reason, to respect boundaries.
The thunder gets a bit louder in the soft hum of the TV, with a quick flash brightening the skies. The dogs make a little noise, and soon they’ll need some more attention to keep calm during the storm. “I’ll clean the kitchen,” Calum volunteers after he finishes. “And I’ll put your leftovers in the fridge.”
You smile up at him. “Thanks. Should we make s’mores tomorrow? Let today just be a relaxing day?”
“Did I hear something about s’mores?” Yvonne pipes up.
“Later--you already got a popsicle before your dinner,” you call out in return.
“Ah, man, really?”
“Lovebug, later. Tomorrow, for sure”
“Okay,” she huffs, setting back down into the cushions. “I finished my Earth Science and Math homework, by the way.” Her voice carries even from below the top of the sofa.
You sigh, looking to Calum for refuge, a degree of solace. He snickers just a little as he scrubs at the plate. Her attempt to bribe for the s’mores doesn’t go unnoticed by him either. “Did you need me to repeat what I said?”
“No. You said later on the s’mores. Tomorrow for sure. I just need the record to show that I tried.”
“Record noted,” you chuckle. “Going to get the shirts for the dogs and some flashlights just in case.”
Calum nods at your statement. A few moments go by before a plate clinks against the counter next to his almost gone stack. Ro stays at the edge of the counter, fingers twirling at the jewellry. “I’m not going to blow my top over a dish, you know?” Calum says, plopping it into the sink.
“It still feels awkward, you know. Like when the stack is so low.”
“Hmm, I getcha.”
“I-I sorta got asked on a date.”
“Yeah. It’s for next weekend.”
The confession surprises Calum. He was sure Ro would ask for something for this weekend based on what you said. And he’s shocked that they’re telling him and not you. He’s not sure if it’s progress or not, but he does his best to keep his chill. “Do I or Cennend know this person?”
“She’s new in town. Her name’s Claire. Is it okay? To go? On the date?”
“Where is the date?”
“The downtown center--to the movies and frozen yogurt. And maybe the bookstore--she’s looking for this third installment in a series. And there’s a bookstore downtown that always has got books when you can’t find them anywhere else. The BlueCrab one, where we went and got those old school detective novels that I was reading over Christmas break?”
“I remember. You got your nose pierced in the tattoo and piercing shop in the same block.”
“How I convinced the two of you to let me get my nose pierced I’ll never know.”
“I didn’t tell you this. But the rebel streak is strong in both your parents. So we get it.”
“I didn’t tell you this,” Ro starts. “But I could tell.”
Calum smiles at the retort. “When is this date?”
“Saturday. The movie starts at 12:25 and is like two hours. But with the frozen yogurt and bookstore, we probably wouldn’t get done until like 5? And I know I don’t have my license yet. So either of you would have to drive me. So I wanted to make sure?”
The drain sucks down the soapy water and Calum wipes his hands clean. “Yvonne has a field trip that same day and I think your Cenn’s going with her. But I’m not entirely certain--”
“Dad, I don’t hate you. Let’s just start with that. I appreciate you giving me my space and letting me know you still care and that you do acknowledge and want to fix what’s happening. It just sucks, okay? It sucks that you have to go. Sometimes it feels like being angry is easier so I don’t have to choose between my family or my friends.” Tears have started and Calum hands them a tissue, but gives them some space to speak. “There’s so many emotions and so little of me, ya know?”
“I understand. Take your time.”
Taking a second to wipe under their nose, Ro continues. “The best way I can describe it is like--I want you here and I want you to be there like the stupidest and smallest fucking things, like going on my first date or like when I ace a really hard test. Or when I, I don’t know, do something stupid like climb a tree and fall out of it, breaking my arm. I want you there for every little thing. But I know it’s your job. So I don’t hate you. It’s just not easy. It’s okay that you drive me next weekend. It’s okay if you still want to call me kid, or whatever. It’s okay that I’m still your child. Because I want to be. I just don’t want you to leave me, okay? Just don’t leave and forget about me.”
Ro ends the speech by colliding into his chest and Calum’s quick to wrap them up tight. “Ro,” he croaks out. “I think about you every second I’m gone. I want to be here for everything too.” He’s not sure if the words can fix the feelings. He’s not sure how hard he hugs them is going to convince them that this family is his entire world. “I love you so fucking much,” he whispers to them. “I could never forget about you.”
The winds no longer whistle outside the house. The storm caused the dogs a little anxiety but thankfully not a lot. And now, under the sheets, things feel relatively normal. Though Calum’s gone again. Something in his mind turning the gears over and over. Laying on your side, you just watch for a moment. You’re not entirely sure what happened, having to go into the garage to gather the flashlights, extra batteries, and a few candles just in case. But when you returned, Ro was crying into Calum’s chest and he was crying even in his best attempts to console them. But whatever happened, it was definitely a good thing.
“Can I ask what you’re thinking?” you ask softly.
“Our contract’s up for renewal after this album.” You nod, already aware of this information. “Michael’s been producing for a while and I’ve helped a few times. It’s been a successful endeavour. Maybe it’s time I took a backseat to this whole business. Gave someone else the limelight.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
For Calum to be honest, he needs to admit that no--it’s not entirely what he wants. However, Calum does want parts of it. He wants more control back of his life. He wants to stay relevant in the music world. The guys have all vaguely wondered if they could negotiate a little bit of time off for their families too, of which there is a sufficient amount. But not what they all really want. And maybe now’s the perfect time.
Calum lays on his side to face you, arm slinging over your waist. “I’m going to sleep on it. But I think, before it’s too late, I should be home more.”
“I’d like having you home more, for sure,” you tease.
Calum smiles, a small tuft of laughter escaping him. “Of course you would. Until we wind up with human baby three or somehow acquire fur baby three and then you will shun me.”
“I feel like a third pet could and would absolutely be either one of us just telling ourselves we’ll go down to the shelter just to look and then walking out with another Duke type situation.”
“Okay, yeah I can agree with that. I don’t know. Yvonne’s getting older. And before long Ro might be going off to college. I thought I wasn’t missing a lot. But maybe I am. Ro basically thought I was forgetting about them, that somehow my leaving was going to cause them to just puff--not exist to me anymore. And I-I don’t want them or Yvonne thinking that me leaving is somehow to escape them.”
“If your track record proves anything, Calum, is that you’ll do whatever you think is best. And I will be here by your side. I just don’t want to cut off a piece of yourself. They need their father. But they need him whole. I need my husband whole. No matter what you choose, make sure that it’s not at an alarming detriment to yourself.”
The grip tightens around you and Calum pulls you into his chest. The kiss is slow, but deep as you gently trace your fingertips down his back. You pull away first to kiss the tip of his nose. “I love you,” he whispers.
“I love you.”
“Tell me one good thing about your day,” he commands softly, noticing the fluttering of your eyelids.
“One good thing about work is that I was able to pass along a manuscript approval to be adopted into a series. And one good thing here, now, is that my family is still as solid as ever. And that’s all I could ever want.”
“Was it the one you were telling me about? The paranormal detective series with a love story subplot?”
“Hmm, no, that’s still on the table. It was one of Kyle’s picks. Steampunk adventure series.”
“Yours will be next. All the other ones you’d given a yes on have been huge successes.”
“Thank you, love.”
With two kisses, one to each of your closed eyelids, Calum settles back into the pillows. Though he’s the one with the notorious habit of falling asleep in three seconds flat, he keeps awake long enough to see you settle deeply into your slumber. Thankfully, the steady rise and fall of your chest and ribs under his arm is enough to send him to sleep right behind you as well.
More rain greets you all when you awaken the next morning. Calum’s head is on your chest and you’re not even sure when the two of you managed to get into this position but you let him lay for a moment. And in the silence, running your fingers through the turning gray strands of the curls on his head, you find enough peace to slip back into sleep. It’s not until you feel the bed dipping that you stir awake again. Some sun peeks out through the shades and Calum’s grabbing something from the bathroom before slipping through the door of the bedroom.
You figure he left to check on the dogs and sigh before turning to your back. “Those gears are still turning in that head of his.”
“I hear you talking about me,” Calum says upon his return.
“Those gears are smoking in that head of his.” You laugh when he walks to your side of the bed and lightly taps your thigh.
“You’ll regret that. And I’ll have you know, I went down to check on the dogs and see if Yvonne was awake. I think she stayed up late because she’s still out like a sack of hammers.”
As Calum settles back into bed, shrugging off his robe, you reach out for him. “Good, means you’re mine for now,” you return.
“Correction: I have always been yours.”
You settle onto his chest, enjoying the steady rhythm of his heart in your ears. “Hmm, you’re right. Ro told you about the date, correct?” You got informed later but weren’t sure if they told him or not.
“They did. I’m dropping them off and picking them up since you’ll be on the trip with Yvonne--right? You’re going on that trip?”
“I volunteered as a chaperone, yes. But Yvonne’s made sure that she is with her friends and not with me. So she’ll be running amuck on that poor farm.”
“We should go back and do the horse riding again.”
“That was fun. Beautiful to see the trees like that. But I really want to take them ATVing.”
“Do you think Yvonne’s old enough?”
“Yeah, they make some models small enough for six year olds. If we wait until we go to my parents’ then I know for sure there’s one good enough size for her.”
“We’ll ask them.”
“Remember the first time you met my parents and we went riding and you--”
“Yeah, and I hit the mud spot. Not my most shining moment. But racing to the old general store was pretty fucking awesome.”
“Very illegal, because that was a highway we were on.”
“Not too worried about it, we didn’t get caught.”
“I’m glad. The sheriff at that time wasn’t too fond of my family. So that could’ve been bad for rockstar Calum Hood to wind up with a record over small town politics.”
Calum laughs a little. “Would’ve made me look badass though.”
“I think your management team at the time would’ve kicked my ass for getting you into trouble like that.”
“They could’ve tried.”
You sit up on your elbow. That was still early on in your relationship. Calum had been on tour and in a town not too far from where you grew up. When you told him that you had to go back home due to some emergency health concerns with your grandmother, he asked if he could stop by. Just to say hi and see you and if there was anything he could do to help. The band had a double show in the state and rather than leaving, they were up in a hotel. You and Calum hadn’t even said ‘I love you’ to each other. But something about the relationship felt right.
So, you drove to him the morning after a show and picked him up from a hotel. You drove the forty-five minutes back to your home town and spent most of the day around in the more vibrant and built up downtown, but by about midafternoon, you asked if he was comfortable meeting your parents since he was already in town. You disguised it as you and some cousins already having prior plans to go riding once everyone was in town to which your parents would be there since it was their ATVs you all would be riding. You got there a day earlier to visit your grandmother--she was holding on okay at that point. But more of your family was coming into town and you knew the more people showed up the more your mother would ask you to help with cooking and hosting. So you needed to seize your window with Calum.
You hadn’t expected him to be more than happy to meet them. Nor did you expect him to be eager to go riding. You figured he’d cite some excuse, needing to get back for rehearsals or some sort of meeting.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Calum asks, sitting up too.
“When you met my parents for the first time, it was about a week before my grandmother passed. We hadn’t even really put a label on us and you talking like you had planned on marrying me in that second.”
“Oh you’re so wrong. It was even before I left for the tour, like two days before or so. My mum called me, I swear like right, right before we were going to have sex. And I was going to ignore it. But you happened to see the contact name and made me fucking answer it. And you left the room! You went to the front of the old house with Duke and I could’ve sworn you were going to come back and check in a few minutes so I was trying to keep the conversation quick. But I spent forty-five minutes on the phone with my mom and you didn’t interrupt me once. And that’s when I knew.”
“It was your mom, of course you were going to answer it. I did put on the TV and the Food Network was on so I lost track of time if I’m honest.”
Calum giggles. “You did seem invested. And when I came back to the front, we finished an episode before going back to the bedroom. And I was like, if I can have a full on facetime conversation with my mom, watch a cooking show and still want to sleep with them, I’ve found the one. So yeah, even if the sheriff found us that evening and wanted to arrest the lot of us. Management was going to have hell to pay if they were going to try and blame you for it or do anything else to you. Because I was not going to lose you.”
“I did not know that.”
“I knew that us being together was going to change me and I wanted it to change me. I wanted to be different in that moment with you.”
“You sap,” you tease, quickly wiping under your eyes.
“You can call me whatever,” Calum starts, maneuvering you to settle on his waist. “As long as at the end of it I’m still your husband.”
“They’ll have to bury me before I stop saying that.”
Calum stands outside the closed bedroom door, keys dangling from his fingers. “Ro--we’re going to be late, if we don’t leave within the next two minutes.”
“I’m coming!” they return. Thankfully, you went through the outfits last night but now it seems Calum was going to get stuck with the need to perfect the hair. Though, they purposefully had the undercut lifted up higher on their last trip to the barber so they could still wear it down to hide it, but if they wore it up, it would be predominant. “Bun okay?”
Ro steps out and the bun’s up high enough to show off the undercut. But just a hair messy. “I think it pairs well with the outfit,” Calum returns. He’s learned not to say something just looks fine. That phrase in particular is bound to cause trouble.
“Do you have the money for the tickets and frozen yogurt?”
Ro pulls out their wallet from their pocket. “Yes.”
“Phone and keys? The ring with your mace?” They pat pockets and pull out each item to verify that they have them. Calum nods. “Onward, if you’re ready?”
“Ready. I think?”
Calum gently slings his arm around their shoulder. “That’s a sign that you’re ready.”
The drive is mostly silent. Even though Ro and Calum have reached an understanding it’s still a little awkward. Calum’s still unsure if he’s going to move into a behind the scene role or if he’s going to continue with making his own music. But at the very least, while they’re still recording the latest album Calum can make more choices to be home and be there for the small things. Like right now.
The silence is interrupted by Ro’s voice. “What if I make a fool of myself?”
“You’ve been talking to Claire for weeks now in school. I think you’re going to be okay.”
“Yeah, but that’s school. Not a date.”
“What does she like?”
“Dance, reading. Oh, she likes sea otters and I’m hoping the bookstore has bookmarks and maybe animal themed ones. She’s really into crochet--like she made this little top. It’s so cute it has sunflowers on it.”
“Ro, I don’t think you could make a fool of yourself. You’ve listened well to what she likes and you know what’s happening in her life. So I think if you continue that trend, you’ll be okay.”
They pull into a parking space of the movie theater and Ro turns to face him. “You mean that?”
“I mean it. Now let’s go. You’ve got a hot date to get to.”
“Dad--please do not.”
Calum nods. “Consider that noted.”
Even on the walk to the ticket booth, Calum spots a girl with her mother. He should’ve kept his glasses on, but he’s still not hugely fond of them unless necessary. They exchange parents’ names, though Ro and Claire have made sure each parent already had the other’s contact information. Calum tries not to smile at the little bit of awkward shuffle and dance Ro and Claire do before taking hands and getting into the line.
“Don’t you miss that stage?” Vanessa, Claire’ mom, jokes watching them too.
“As much as I want to say yes, I think I’m pretty glad to be past the awkwardness. I wasn’t always as smooth as I thought I was being. So I’m glad to be past that. But I will say, watching my kid be as awkward as I was is a relief. Means I’ve done something right,” Calum returns.
“I almost feel like I can’t leave. I’m more nervous than she is,” Vanessa confesses.
“My secret--there’s a music shop and a crystal shop nearby. I don’t think I’m leaving any time soon.”
“You into crystals?”
“My spouse is and I was given strict instructions on what to pick up. I just follow instructions. The music shop is where I can spend a few hours.”
“I originally had a similar plan. But our youngest is almost done with a field trip and my husband had an emergency at work so he can’t get them.”
“The trip to the local animal rescue?” Calum asks.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Ro’s sister and my spouse went on that trip.”
Vanessa laughs just a little, more out of shock than amusement. “Small world. Well, it makes me feel a little bit better that you’ll be hanging around.”
“If anything goes array, I’ll scoop them up and let you know. No worries.”
“Thanks, Calum. Enjoy the music shop.”
“You’re welcome, Vanessa.”
He lets her head back to the car first and then catches one last look at Ro and Claire at the window, ordering tickets. He won’t leave his car parked in the spot. He’ll at least move it down further into the shopping center to hopefully conceal the fact that he’s been hanging around just in case they needed an emergency exit.
Just as he gets into the car, his phone rings. “I just dropped Ro off,” he answers, noticing your contact name lighting up his screen.
“Damn it. I wanted to give them a pep talk. But I got held up with lunch clean up.”
“You probably would’ve been better at the pep talk than me. But it’s kinda cute. Watching them--very much that first date nerves getting the best of both of them.”
“Did you meet Claire’s parents?”
“Her mom was there, Vanessa. Her dad had some sort of emergency at work. But there’s a younger sibling who, like I’m 99% sure, goes to the same school as Yvonne.”
“Huh, small world. We’ve got another hour here before the buses return. I want to be back by the time the movie ends.”
“Did you still want me to go to the crystal shop first then? I still have the list. But I thought it would take longer for the buses.”
“So did I. But if you get to it first, that’s fine. If not, then I can always go another time. Besides, I’m also trying to account for traffic. So I can’t even say for certain I’ll be back in time.”
“Well, I don’t want you to have to make a trip.”
“But do you think Ro really wants to see the entire family after their first date?”
“It would be the Hood way. But I’ll just go to the shop like we agreed. And if you get back earlier then maybe you, me and Yvonne can grab a couple slices of pizza for dinner. There’s a good pizzeria over here.”
“That means we’d have to eat the leftovers tomorrow if we do that.”
“Aye, aye captain.”
“Love you. See you soon.”
“Love you too.”
It’s not terribly hard to find everything you’ve requested in the crystal shop. And part of Calum likes being here, even if you’re not here to answer his fifty thousand question. But it does remind him of you--the way you’d burn candles or incense for very specific reasons and tucked little spell jars into the children’s backpacks. They didn’t always appreciate having to explain why they were there, but it was a small gesture that they appreciated.
Confident that he has everything, Calum checks out and starts towards the music shop a couple stores down. He doesn’t really need anything. He’s mostly here to waste time. The door chimes above head as Calum steps through. The young girl from the register greets him briefly before returning to the customer already preoccupying their attention. Calum knows he doesn’t need a damn thing out of here. And though he likes to tease you about all the things you get suckered into buying, he gets it. Sometimes, things just speak to you. He starts at the front, looking at the various parts--from reeds to picks. He has plenty of picks though. But out of habit, he takes a look. He wonders if he’d have time to go to the vintage store about a block down as well.
He probably would, but if he goes and Ro finds out, there might be hell to pay as it’s one of their favorite stores. So he’ll save it for later, another time--some other weekend or Calum’s pretty sure as the school year starts to wind down there will be some half days that he can scope both of them up from school to come back out.
Calum follows the side wall down to the back of the store. He passes cymbals and the banjo section of the wall before spotting the acoustic guitars. There are some pretty ones--one a deep blue with dark brown or maybe black accents. One’s a deep red that he nearly asks the associate to get down for him. But he stops, knowing that there’s no way to sneak it into the house. Not that it was physically impossible but more like he’d tell on himself because he’d just have to show you.
Much like the time he tried to surprise you with a bass. After months of teaching you, you became obsessed with them and wanted at least one that was yours. The obsession isn’t as strong as it once was, but it’s a nice feeling to share the love for the instrument. Calum spent weeks looking to see if he could commission one like the picture you found, a clear body with streaks of gold and other blue and purple jewel tones in it. It wasn’t until he ventured into a vintage shop about four months from your birthday, that he spotted a few guitars on the wall. It didn't necessarily shock him to find them here, but he had combed through so many stores that he was nearing his backup plan.
But there it was--not quite like the one you wanted. A bass with a beautiful blue burst in the middle with white on the edges. It was a beauty that Calum couldn't leave behind. So he bought it and he had a plan to hide it away but the closer and closer he got back to his house the more he itched to show it. So much so that night, during a FaceTime call, Calum showed you the instrument.
“But it’s a birthday present that I totally didn’t ruin by showing you now,” he warned.
And you laughed. Because of course he couldn't help himself. Of course, he was proud--so proud he just had to show it off. “I will pull my best surprised face. I promise.”
Yeah, Calum could not and would not let himself ask to see any new guitar because there was no way he’d be able to not tell you.
“Look for anything in particular?”
Calum turns to the voice and smiles. He hadn’t realized the previous customer had gone already. Maybe he really had been standing there for far too long. “No, just looking. Thank you though.”
“Of course. Let me know if you need any help.”
Calum does end up buying one thing, extra strings. Not that he absolutely needs them, but he’s in the mindset of having extra or spare around just in case. By the time he does his browsing, it’s just in time for the movie to have been over for at least twenty minutes. So he makes sure not to venture too close to the yogurt shop or the bookstore. Instead he wanders down to the shoe store.
His phone rings right as he gets to the door, so he stops short and lingers outside as he answers. “Date update?”
“Love,” he laughs, “I haven’t got the slightest clue.”
“You’re still in the shopping center, right?”
“Yes, but I am purposefully avoiding the theater and bookstore. Because if Ro spots me, you’re going to have to ID me at the morgue. Do you want your dear old husband dead? And to have to bail out your eldest on a murder charge?”
“Not ideal.” In the background, Calum catches the distinct high pitch cacophony that must be the bus ride back. “We’re headed back now. I suspect traffic will be the death of me.”
“It won’t be that bad.”
“You’re right, the thing that’s going to kill me is the fact that our kids are growing up. What are we going to do?”
“Cherish what we can,” Calum returns leaning into the brick column, staring down into the direction of the theater. He thinks he sees Ro and Claire exiting the frozen yogurt shop and heading towards the bookstore. But he can’t be certain. One of them is wearing black pants and boots like Ro had on. But he curses his eyesight for going on him slowly.
“Shit, I should’ve gotten my glasses from the car,” he whispers, ducking his head. Any of his hats would give him away.
“They’re a ways off, but I can’t see for sure.”
“How did we go from ducking our parents to being the parents to hiding from our own kids?”
“Ain’t life got a sense of humor.” He looks up again and the couple’s gone from his sight. He assumes they’ve gone inside the store. He keeps gaze for a moment or two longer for a moment he can almost imagine you here with him, undoubtedly tucked behind him but still peeking at as well. “How far are you into the drive back?”
“Ten, fifteen minutes. Still got a ways to go.”
“Looks like we can’t play spy together this time. But maybe next time. I rather need your eyes--better than mine.”
“That’s all you need of me? Just my eyes?”
Calum laughs, ducking his head again. “I’m not doing this knowing you’re a bus full of children. I will not be to blame for ruining them. But I will say there’s more that I need of you than just your eyes. A lot more than just your eyes.”
“It’s my personality, isn’t it?”
“I am hanging up now. I told you I wasn’t going to play this game.”
With an indignant huff, you grumble into the receiver. “You were a lot more fun when we were younger.”
“When we were younger, we didn’t have kids, nor were we surrounded by them at every turn. But just because I’m deciding not to play now doesn’t mean I won’t play later.”
“Oh, now that’s what I like to hear,” you laugh. “We’ll probably get back just as you pick up Ro. And please know I am putting heavy air quotes around pick up.”
“I know you are. If you don’t pass out on the couch before dinner, I’ll be sure to have a nice surprise for you in the room.”
“I am old and deserve naps.”
Calum’s laughter erupts from him, head throwing back with the sound just a little. “Have I told you I loved you today?”
“Once or twice.”
“Well, that is severely lacking. I ought to be ashamed of myself.”
“Whatever shall you do?”
“I will back away from the line. I am backing away.” Then there’s silence between for a beat, then two. Just as the sound of the kids starts to carry their conversation, you speak up again. “I missed you today.”
“Who? Me?” Calum takes a step forward to allow a group of people to pass by. “Someone needs to check your temperature.”
“Oh I’m not sick. I just missed you. Ironic I know. I miss you when you’re the closest.”
“I think that’s just a sign of the times--you’ve had to get used to me leaving.”
“And I’m not saying this because I want to sway your decision--not at all. Just meant it more along the lines of, it’s funny how things happen.”
“I think it might be time to retire the horse anyway. I’ve had a good run, but I do miss being home. Miss my family.”
“You don’t have to decide now.”
It’ll be easier. If Calum decides now, it won’t nag him later. It won’t haunt him either. “If I drag my feet too much, I’ll never decide.”
You don’t want to keep asking him if he’s sure. You don’t doubt his decision, don’t doubt the choice he makes. You don’t want him to regret it. “You can still break out the old horse every once and a while.”
“Yeah, everyone once and a while.”
“Hi, Mr. Hood.”
You laugh just as Calum looks up to the voice. And there’s Ro and Claire arm in arm. “I am totally not here. But hi Claire. Seriously though, I’m actually not here. It’s a mirage. Of me shopping but it’s all an illusion.”
“Someone’s busted,” you sing in his ear.
“You are not helping,” he directs to you through the receiver.
“Call me back when you’re out of trouble.” You hang up first.
Calum takes a second—noticing Ro hasn’t actually given him a glare worthy of death. “Whoa, everything alright?”
“This guy kept following us in the bookstore,” Ro sighs. “I don’t know—we tried ignoring him but it just felt weird. So we left.”
The truth of the matter—Calums always feared this. He’s always known it could happen to Ro, no matter how the dress and it could happen to Yvonne too. And though he’s put them in self defense classes and done what he can, there’s still nothing quite like it happening.
“I’m here—alright. I know it’s lame or whatever. But I can play bodyguard,” Calum offers.
Ro laughs at his puffed out chest. “Sorry Dad but you’re not Kevin. But thanks.”
“Kevin?” Claire questions.
“One the guys that does security for my dad and his band,” Ro explains.
“Oh, yeah you did mention that. I forgot. Sorry.”
Calum watches Ro, gently tug on Claire’s hand. A soft grin lifting their cheeks. “No need to be sorry.”
God, he could just melt at the sight—overjoyed at Ro’s tenderness. The moment lingers just a beat before Calum speaks up, “Well, I can’t promise to be as intimidating as Kevin. But I can do whatever you two need me to do so you both feel safe.”
The two glance at each other and then notice it’s a shoe store that they’re standing in front of. Not exactly what they planned. “Just a browse?” Ro suggests.
“You already call my shoes grandma shoes, so I don’t want to hear anything,” Claire retorts.
Calum opens the door for them, but grins at the way they playfully bicker with each other. Ro mentions something about at least trying on a pair of boots like theirs. And Claire agrees, but the rest of it is lost as they venture deeper into the store. Calum’s browsing doesn’t even last all that long. He looks in passing but eventually on a bench near the store’s front window. He can see Ro and Claire in the back from this vantage point, but is far enough away to not be hovering.
Vanessa returns not too long after his text to her about the unfortunate run in and it’s not an easy goodbye for Ro or Claire. Though Calum suspects in no time flat, they’ll be texting each other again. “I’m a goner,” Ro admits quietly. They tuck themselves into Calum’s chest and he drapes an arm around their shoulder.
“Uncle Mike is holding a pool party in a couple weeks. You should invite Claire,” Calum suggests. He usually does it before school lets out as they all make plans to travel during the summer if they can to visit family.
“You sure it’s okay?”
“If you’re as much of a goner as I can see you are, Michael can fight me on it.”
“But two weeks is so long,” Ro complains. “I want to see her again.”
“School’s on Monday.”
“Ew to the school and learning part, but point taken about seeing Claire. We only share the same English class though and lunch period.”
“There will be plenty of opportunities, sweetheart. Plenty of them.”
“Thanks--for being there about that creep. I didn’t want to get into anything unless necessary and Claire’s not big on confrontation.”
“What else are Dads for?”
“Buying pizza slices?”
“Cennend’s gonna be pissed about the leftovers.”
“Did they get back with Yvonne yet?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Well what they don’t know won’t kill them, yeah?”
Calum laughs, letting Ro pull him through the door. “Yeah, but it might kill me.”
When Ro and Calum return home, there’s no sign of you or Yvonne. Though just as they get through the door, Calum hears the crunch of tires on the driveway. He turns to spot Yvonne passed out in the back seat. He walks back down and waits for you to park and unlock the doors before opening the back passenger side door.
“She partied hard with the animals,” you joke.
“I can see.” Calum’s quick to unbuckle her and the action only rouses her just a smidge, enough so that she wraps herself around Calum. “Date was a success minus a creep.”
“What happened?” you ask, grabbing your backpack and Yvonne’s bag too.
“They were in the bookstore and some guy followed them. They basically just decided to leave and that’s when they busted me in front of the shoe store.”
“Are they okay?”
“A little annoyed, but not terribly distressed,” Calum relays, stepping into the house as you keep the front door open.
“That blows still.”
Calum’s hum is a sound of agreement as he starts to ascend the stairs, Yvonne still clinging to him. You rest the bags next to the stairs, only for a temporary reprieve. You spot Ro stretched out across the couch and walk over to them after closing the door and locking it. With a gentle tap to the bottom of their foot, you grin. “So are you in love?”
“Please stop, Cennend,” they groan but you can see the smile growing.
You place the back of your hand on your forehand with a dramatic sigh. “Cenn, Claire’s favorite flower is a sunflower. Do you know any crystals that look like those? Cenn, should I get into crochet? Maybe knitting? Cenn, Claire’s allergic to seafood. So we can literally never eat it ever again.”
“I do not sound like that.”
“You’re right. You don’t sound exactly like that. But you did almost throw out your own crab legs. Which you wantedm a week ago because you found out Claire’s allergic.”
“Food allergies can be deadly.”
“Love, I adore you. But she wasn’t at the house.”
Ro groans, throwing an arm over their face. “I know! Okay. I know. I told Dad I was a goner. And he said I should invite her over to Uncle Mike’s pool party.”
“You should. If you want. But that’s the lot of your whole family here at least she has to meet.”
“You think Uncle Mike, Luke, and Ashton will scare her off?”
“I don’t think they will as much as the sheer number of cousins that will be over.” Michael and Luke only had three and two kids respectively. Ashton on the other hand had big plans holding the current lead for children at 5. One round of twins who were two years younger than Ro, two kids at 10 and 8, and another one at 6. It was sure to be a riot with all of them there. “And we’ll have to make sure Michael knows about her food allergies sooner rather than later so he doesn’t cook any that day.”
“I really like her, Cennend,” Ro confesses, sitting up and folding their legs beneath them.
You plop onto the couch in front of them. They fall forward, forehead resting on your thigh. “I see you do. And I’m very happy for you.”
“I’ll ask her if she wants to come over. But can you tell Uncle Mike now about her allergy.”
“You have my word.” You shake their shoulder gently to get them to sit up and hook their pinkie around yours.
“Also Claire says hi. And that she’s sorry she missed meeting you today.”
“Tell her we’ll make up for lost time if she attends the pool party.”
Ro stretches up after you as you push up from the couch to head upstairs. You smell like a farm and would rather not sit in the stench any longer than you already have to. “No baby photos.”
“Okay,” you return. “No baby photos.”
“I don’t like how you said that. What are you planning?”
“Nothing--you said no baby photos. I simply agreed.”
Ro sighs as you ascend. You remember it all, or at least for the most part. You remember all the embarrassing things. There’s no need for the no pictures rule because you can still tell the stories. Their phone buzzes--a message from Claire and the frown that was pulling down their cheeks turns into a smile.
My parents said yes I can join the pool party!
In the master bedroom, you sigh, a relief to be back in your own home, when you hear the bedroom door creak open behind you. But you don’t really turn to the sound as you head towards the attached bathroom. The water cascades down to the tile floors, the temperature starting to hit the sweet spot when you feel a presence behind you. “Is this later?” you ask, finally turning to face Calum.
His fingers settle around your waist, pulling you in for a kiss so soft you’re not sure it’s even a kiss. That is until he presses another one to your lips firmer this time. “Yes, it’s later,” he whispers against your lips.
In return you slip a hand under the t-shirt and trace your nails across his sides. “Good.” The two of you share another kiss, fingers gently tracing skin and muscle. His shirt goes first, and yours follows soon after. Chest to chest, you let yourself be consumed by the warmth of him. How he ran so warm you’ll never understand. But you revel in it at this moment as you share languid kisses with a bit of tongue.
Bottoms and under garments go next and without hardly a break in the kiss, Calum guides you towards the shower. “Don’t break a hip,” he teases.
“Don’t shatter a knee,” you return, but tug him inside as the steam billows out from the glass doors. Up against the tiles, with some of the water spraying the both of you, you take in the sight of his tattoos. “Do you know how much of a heartbreaker you are?”
His lips seal around your neck for a moment, but he finally breaks away long enough to answer. “Oh, love, is there something you want to tell me?”
“Not an actual one. Just your looks. Still give me damn butterflies. Like I’m fucking teenager.”
His chuckle is breathy and tickles your neck. He straightens up, cupping your cheeks. “You should see what you do to a room. I pale in comparison.”
You grip lightly at the hair at the nape of his neck, tugging him closer. And you swear that the salt and pepper will be the absolute death of you. “I’m a very lucky person to have you.”
“Then makes me the luckiest for you to choose me.”
“Just to lucky motherfuckers I guess.”
Calum laughs as he leans in to kiss you again. “Hell yeah we are.”
The sun’s not too high in the sky, but just overhead enough to make the concrete around Michael’s pool warm to the bottom of your feet. Water drops from the glasses in your hands, landing on your toes and you appreciate the feeling knowing in another half an hour or so the sun will be reaching its peak. You’re thankful for the shade brought on in part by the awning and umbrella you set up because you know you and sun usually get along but only in small doses. Calum smiles as you approach, taking one of the glasses from your hand and then pats the spot in front of him in the lounge chair.
You settle between his legs and recline into his chest, setting your drink on the side table. It settles with a soft clink. Most of the kids are in the pool. Ashton keeps close to his six year old and the older kids are playing in the middle with pool noodles. The eldest of the kids are sitting on the edge or floating on various animals. Ro opted for a bat and Claire stays close by them in her donut.
Michael’s been manning the music for now. Soon he and Calum will take over grilling duties as you man the DJ station for lunch. Luke’s happy to tend to the bar--an assortment of alcohol and juices. With a pile of water sitting on ice too--every household brought a package of the bottle water because they know it’s an all day affair.
“Look at the love birds,” Luke’s wife teases as she settles into the lounge chair next to you too.
It’s no secret you and Calum are the most physically affectionate in the group in private. Though you two have a line you don’t cross in public. But it’s not an uncommon sight for you to be drifting in circles close to each other, if not standing exactly next to each other. You just like to be close, knowing that both your social batteries can be short and it’s easier just to stick together. Others have described it like between the opposite ends of a magnet. No matter how far apart, they’ll always be drawn to each other.
“Tweet, tweet,” Calum jokes.
“I meant Ro and Claire, but yes, you two too, I guess.”
You laugh, a small snort escaping you. Though you don’t fault Calum. “We’re just setting an example.”
“I will never understand the way you two can be so calm about this. Luke almost had a heart attack when Bryce talked about a girl he liked. Just talked. Never mentioned a date or anything.”
“Oh I almost shit my pants,” Calum returns. “But it’s Ro’s life. They gotta live it for them. On their first date, I didn’t leave the shopping center. It was what--movies and frozen yogurt?” he addresses you.
“And the bookstore,” you add on.
“Yeah--I mean, Ro’s done something like that a thousand times with their friends. But I just--I had to be around at the very least.”
“So it’s a facade?” she laughs around a sip of her water.
“Partially, if I’m going to be honest.”
A moment’s silence falls around the three of you before she speaks back up, “When did they grow up? I swear it was just yesterday we were chasing them around in their little floaties.”
You hum at the notion. In some ways, it’s good that it’s happening faster than you can keep up with. That you had to take moments like this to step back and watch just how far you’ve come. Being in the thick of it, in the trenches, was always a hard time. But having a moment to think that you wanted more time meant that some of the good days had come into your life. That you managed to have more good days than bad ones. That was something you could be proud of. Something you could pat yourself on the back about.
“You can’t catch me!” You look to the left to see Ashton chasing after his littlest one, Cymelle. And it’s not quite a real chase, but she speeds past the three of you with all her might, wrapped in her towel and goggles pushed up on her head.
“A real cheetah on land,” Ashton laughs.
“Unlike her pops,” you chime in.
“You talking a lot sh-crap there,” he calls in return. “But I see you haven’t added any new babies into the Hood household.”
“Daddy, can I get juice?”
Ashton looks up to see Cymelle in Luke’s arm. “Water, sweetheart. You can get juice with lunch, okay?”
She pouts for a second but then Luke drops a tiny umbrella into the cup for her and she smiles. “I’m fancy!” she cheers, carefully taking the cup in both hands.
“The sight of Luke with a baby is almost enough for me to reconsider my position on no more kids,” his wife says. It’s to no one in particular. Just a thought said out loud. “But there’s no space. Between the studio, the office, and the playroom--I’m not looking to revamp any of those into another room for a child.”
“Did you finish those kitchen renovations yet?” Calum asks.
She shakes her head. “No, the new fridge that we ordered was backordered. And we knew that going in, which is why we did the counters, light fixtures, and backsplash first since it was going to take us longer to do that and then we could add the new appliances. But I didn’t anticipate the fridge taking this long. It does give us some space to clean out a corner in the garage for the old fridge. I don’t think we’re going to get rid of it.”
“Not until it croaks,” you laugh.
“Luke wants to toss it, but I keep telling him we can put it in the garage and when the kids are in the backyard. Rather than tracking all the way from the backdoor into the kitchen, they can just use that side door and get water or whatever from that second fridge.”
Ashton chuckles. “Such riveting conversation--man, getting old ain’t for the weak that’s for sure.”
“Not quite our old smoke sessions in my background,” Calum chimes in. “But I think we did alright, yeah?”
Ashton casts Calum a small smile. “Yeah we did alright for a couple guys unsure of everything in life, besides life was what we were living.”
They share a long glance and Ashton speaks up first. “I could use some help on a side project.”
“Mate, I am not helping you with your deck again. I refuse,” Calum laughs. That was hell. The first cut Ashton made in the planks was only measured once and way too short. The saw then died soon after and getting a new one took going to three different hardware stores. The second Ashton talks about doing any sort of home project Calum hides.
“No, no, I don’t mean a house project. I mean after this album--I got something else I want to work on. Need a producer I trust.”
Calum freezes underneath you and you turn to look up at him from the gap in your sunglasses and your face. The shock is clear as his mouth hangs open just slightly and his own brows raise above his sunnies as well. “Yeah, I mean-- of course, man.”
Ashton looks back out to the pool for a second. The kids have floated more towards the middle. Their laughter cuts above the fade out of one track into the other. He turns back to Calum. “I think, too, the road’s getting real rough to be on. So dabbling on the side would be nice.”
Calum didn’t think he was the only one getting tired of the road but still loving it. But he didn’t think others were thinking more seriously about settling down. The conversations always felt like they occurred in the future tense, in a “we’ll settle down for real eventually” sort of way. “We-we should talk to Luke and Michael though.”
“Of course, yeah. It’s just--it’s strange. I want to be home more, ya know. Want to tuck my kids in at night. And not that I didn’t want it before. But I want it more now than ever.”
Calum looks at Ro. They get tipped over with a shriek but pop back up to the surface in hardly a blink. “Jeremy--you’re dead,” they point out to one of Ashton’s twins. “And don’t think for a second I won’t murder you either Bryce.”
What happens if Ro needs Calum and he’s doing another late night in the studio with a project? What if he misses their graduation? He finds Yvonne sitting on the edge of the pool laughing with Anderson, Luke’s second, and with Shelby, Jasmine, and Kaden, Michael’s trio. What if he missed Yvonne’s first crush? Or something important to her? What would it all mean if Calum missed the important things for his family?
“No, I get you, Ashton,” he replies eventually. “I totally get you.”
“Maybe you’ll write that book of poetry too,” Ashton tacks on. “Shit, we could do a lot more with our time.”
Calum wasn’t ever really serious about the poetry, but it always intrigued him. So he kept it on the back burner, far enough out of reach that he didn’t feel committed to it, but close enough that if he wanted to do something about it he could. “Yeah, maybe.”
But more importantly, Calum would always be home for dinner. For a cuddle with the dogs and movie nights. He’d be there for prom’s and all sorts of school dances. He’d be there for more dates between Ro and Claire. And he’d be there to hover on Yvonne’s first date and he’d be there. As simple and un-eloquent as the thought really is--Calum could be here with his family.
The thought fills his chest with warmth and he squeezes at your waist. “Can that really be my life?” he whispers into your ear. “Could I really just be Dad to my kids?”
“You already are. But whatever you want, it can be real.”
“I want to be home. I want to watch them grow up while I still can.”
You attempt a shrug, but it’s hard with the tightening hold. “Then it’s yours. Watch them grow up.”
Michael steps through the backdoors, hollering as he does, “Who wants hot dogs?”
A cheer erupts from the kids and even Luke joins in, still holding Cymelle. Calum kisses your shoulder and the both of you stand from the lounge chair. You grab your lemonade ready to take over as DJ and Calum grabs his glass, water for now, to help Michael.
You stop him before Calum can get too far. He smiles as he looks at you. “Yes?”
“You’ve always been a good dad. Always. And you’ll always be a good one too to the kids. I know your job’s not easy because you have to be away and I know we’ve all had to adjust with this last tour. But I want you to hear it--you’re a good dad. They’ve never cared that you’re in a band. They’ve never cared about how many people fawned over you. Because to them you are only just Dad. So don’t beat yourself up for what you had to do to provide for us, and to make yourself happy. This is just a new chapter--not you making up for something.”
“Have I told you I loved you today yet?”
“Once or twice.”
Stepping into you, Calum cups your cheek with his free hand. “I’ll do my best not to think I’m making up for something. But I also think of this choice as doing what I can to do right by my children. I don’t want Yvonne to ever question me like Ro did. And I know Ro didn’t mean it maliciously. But I’m not going to make that same mistake twice. I want to be home. I want to be just Dad. For me. For them. For you.”
“I can get behind just Dad.”
With a chaste kiss, Calum slides his arm around your shoulders to bring you into a hug. “I love you,” he whispers into your hair.
“I love you,” you return in a whisper. It’s slightly muffled by his chest. Sliding your arm around your waist, the two of you cross the backyard towards your respective spots. Claire waves as you pass from the pool and you wiggle a few fingers at her in return in order to not drop the glass.
“Alright kids, I’m taking requests until however long the food takes,” you shout, turning the volume down just a hair so they can hear. They cheer and start shouting at you songs--some you know some you don’t. You open the notes app on the second laptop to keep track of them all.
“Can I help?” Claire asks. Ro walks on past the DJ set up and keeps going towards Calum and the grill
You nod at Claire’s quesiton. “Mind getting all their requests down? If Michael has it, I’ll shuffle them in.”
She nods, stepping to your right. “I can do that.”
“Thanks.” There’s a slight pause as Claire gets situated to take down names of songs and artists. “You enjoying yourself so far?” you ask.
“Yeah. Everyone’s really nice. Except Jeremy for tipping Ro.”
“Jeremy can be a hell raiser.”
“So like are these actually their cousins?”
You laugh, scratching lightly at the turntable as you transition into the first requested song. “No, Luke, Ashton, and Michael,” you point them each out as you name them, “are Calum’s bandmates and best friends. They’ve been through thick and thin and are like brothers. So all our kids call each other cousins and the other bandmates uncle. Calum’s family is overseas. Sister’s in Londonl. His parents are in Australia. My family’s here in the states, but not in California.”
“Oh, that makes a lot more sense! So the band’s been around for a long time, huh?”
“Yeah, a long time. The album to check out of there is Youngblood. But I didn’t tell you that. Was not me.”
Claire laughs. “Got it.”
“Doing any new crochet projects?”
“Okay,” Claire starts excitedly, facing you fully. “You cannot tell Ro. But I’m working on a little bat for them. It’ll be stuffed. And like I know it’s totally cliche. But I wasn’t sure what other animal to make.”
You smile. “I won’t say a word.”
“A bat is too cliche, right?”
“Oh, Claire, they’ll love it no matter what. Don’t worry.” You’re working to find the right point to transition to the next song, bobbing along to the beat.
“How-how do you do all of this?” she asks, waving over Michael’s set up.
You lower the volume on one song, slowly turning up the second one until it’s at the beat drop, letting the two meet seamlessly until the second song takes over fully. You then take the headphones off and hold them out to her. “Michael taught me many moons ago. And I think it’s fitting to pass along the tradition.”
“He won’t be mad?”
“Who? Michael?” She nods. “No, not in the slightest.” She finally takes the headphones, keeping one ear off, so she can hear your instructions at which knobs do what.
On the opposite side, Ro stands next to the grill, reaching for the beer in Calum’s hand. He gives it easily but warns, “A sip and this one is bitter.”
Ro takes a bigger sip, not quite believing the warning. “Oh, you were right,” they laugh, face scrunched up as they hand the bottle back to Calum. “How do you drink that?”
As his sip goes down, Calum makes a dramatic show of smacking his lips lightly. “Years of training,” he teases.
“I think you should’ve done the kebabs first. The marinade probably would’ve tasted good against the burgers too.”
“Kebabs smoke a lot. You want a little bit of chare, not a five course meal of it,” Calum returns.
“Okay, that’s fair,” Ro laughs, grabbing a pair of tongs and saving one hot dog from rolling too far away from the heat.
“You’re going to put me out of job,” Michael teases before asking to slip behind Ro. “Not that I’ll complain too much.”
Ro steps out of the way before speaking, “If you want, I’d definitely take over grilling duties.”
“I can help inside then. I think some sides need to be warmed up. If you’re chill with it? If not, I have no problem.”
Ro grins. “I’ll help on the grill.”
“Alright. Just let me know when you need anything.” Michael slips back out from behind them and jogs into the house. Calum hands over the second Kiss the Cook apron and Ro doesn't hesitate to put it on.
Calum studies the smoke for a moment. “Can I run something by you?”
“I can’t--I can’t break contract right now. But we will be re-negotiating soon. And what would you say if after this album, I didn’t renegotiate, like not under my own music, but producing for some other artists.”
Ro presses their pair of tongs together--the metal making a pointed clapping sound. “What do you mean? Like that’s your last album?”
Calum nods. “Yeah. It’s an idea that’s been floating around for a while and I think we’re all getting to a point where it might be a good time to take a break--a real one.”
“So you’d be home more?”
“I’d be back to huff and puff about you being up late and for movie nights.”
“I’d-I’d say that you should do what’s best. But I’d really like to have you home more for sure. But could you just tell your label, you’re done?”
“We’ve been working on this for a long time now. Two years at least. It’s been looming and I wanted to see how you feel. We might not technically get done until you almost graduate high school. But even still--I’d be home. Just like we’re making any other album. I’m on my way back to the house by 6 and I call if I’m going to be late. But then if you do go to college, I could help you move in. There might be a few months while I’m away, but then I’d be back for good and we could take road trips on your school breaks.”
It’s not the immediate sort of solution that Ro would’ve wanted. But they look back to the pool and see Yvonne sitting under the shade. And it would mean that for her, she’d get more time with their dad. And Ro and Calum could do the drive down the coast like they talked about when they get their license. And in some regards, Ro could see that he was listening. He was doing what he could to be home more.
“That’d be cool.”
Calum finishes turning off his section of hotdogs and looks up to see a smile on their face. “You mean that?”
“Yeah, like, I understand you can just say you're done right now and walk away. There’s still obligations you have. But to know soon you’d be home and be staying home a lot more, that’s a comforting thought.”
I’m sorry it’s not more immediate--really I am. But I will do what I can to make sure I am home more.”
“I can see it, Dad. Thanks--for listening.”
“Of course. Now don’t forget your flip. Charred, not burnt.”
“Right, right, right.” Ro snaps the tongs a few times to punctuate the sentence. “Now it’s my turn to listen.”
Excuse me while I make way too big a deal out of this 😌