She had done it. Alicia had somehow made it down that aisle and mumbled her assent to this farce. She toyed with her glass of champagne. She had taken barely two sips in the past hour. She had not felt this sick since… No, she couldn’t be. Well, of course, she could be. But now was definitely not the best time.
She looked towards the pool where her daughter, Amy, and J. T.’s middle son were splashing on the steps. Did timing really matter? Tomorrow, she’d buy another of those tests. But she still had to get through today. She sat her glass down on the mosaic table next to her. Without alcohol. Just in case.
“Are you okay?”
Alicia could not bring herself to lie to Kaitlin. But neither was this one of their counseling sessions where she unpacked her fears and insecurities. So, she simply smiled.
“What did you say you do, dear?” Marianne Buford Walker Tyler was doing her absolute best to make everyone uncomfortable.
Katie turned to the older woman with that same smile, “I took over my mother’s foundation after her death.”
“Really? The Tylers have always been involved in philanthropy. Of course, the Walkers and Bufords as well. It is, after all, our duty to help the less fortunate. Perhaps we’ve heard of your little foundation?” The woman brought her flute to her lips as she stared over the rim at Kaitlin.
“Perhaps you have. The Danvers Foundation has been active in advocating for the rights of the oppressed for a quarter of a century. My mother was a strong ally for the gay, lesbian, transgender, and poly communities.”
Alicia wished she had a camera to capture the look on Marianne Buford Walker Tyler’s face at that moment. But it was Sarah who picked up the baton as well as grasping Katie’s hand and giving it a gentle squeeze.
“Yes, our Katie and the Danvers Foundation has been such a blessing to me as I transitioned.”
Alicia was a bit shocked by her friend’s words. She knew that Sarah rarely shared such intimate information with anyone. It had been quite some time since the woman had been misgendered.
“Transitioned?” It was J. T.’s wife who stepped into it. Alicia tried to remember the woman’s name but honestly thought of her as more of Marianne’s mini-me.
Sarah turned with a smile to Priscilla; Alicia was almost certain that was the woman’s name. “Yes, dearie, I wasn’t born this fabulous.” Her friend leaned in as if sharing a secret, and Alicia supposed in some way she was, “I was born with one of those penises.”
The woman’s gasp was audible before she downed the rest of her champagne. Was it her third or fourth? “You mean you’re a cross-dresser?”
Sarah threw back her dark head and laughed, “Oh no, sweetheart, I moved past that years ago. I am as much a woman as you are.”
“I hardly think so,” Marianne Buford Walker Tyler mumbled as she brought her glass up again.
“And attitudes like those are what my mother fought her whole life. Mrs. Tyler, people are people. We all have the same fears, doubts, and insecurities. We also have the same capacity for joy, compassion, and love. No matter the color of our skin, how much money is in the bank, what we were born with between our legs, or whether or not our sex organs agree with what is in our head.”
“Joy Danvers message, the one that I am privileged to continue, is that sex is more than a mere physical act of procreation. It is communication. A word which is derived from commune. Through sex, we commune with one another and with the divine forces within ourselves. My mother believed and taught me that nothing done in love can ever be a sin. Can ever be wrong. Love is the divine power within us all. However, we choose to share that is no one’s business but ours and our partners.”
At some point, their little women’s group had broadened. Alicia smiled at the two men who now flanked their wife. Once again, Chase and Chance wore sleeping babies on their chests.
But even former SEALs were not enough to silence some people’s prejudices, “That is not how this world works, dear. Such deviant behaviors have never been acceptable in our societies. Both governments and religion have always had rules and laws against such…”
“Actually, Mrs. Tyler, you are wrong. There is ample historical evidence of the acceptance of homosexuality, transpersons, and poly relationships throughout our pre and early written history.” Kaitlin reached out and squeezed Alicia’s hand, “I will be happy to email you those references as well as copies of my mother’s book and my own. But we are not here today to debate the nature of love but to celebrate the union of your son and his family.”
Steve, too, had joined their group, resting his hands on Sarah and Mandy’s shoulders. “Would you care for more champagne, Marianne?”
“Yes, please,” J. T.’s wife bubbled more than the beverage, though perhaps it was those four glasses of bubbly that spoke?
“I think you’ve had quite enough, Priscilla. If you’ll excuse us,” the older woman placed her hand on her daughter-in-law’s elbow, helping the younger woman to her feet.
Sarah waited until the women had entered the house before she lifted her hand to her red lips and patted her lashes, “Well, I never.”
Steve leaned down and captured them in a heated kiss before smiling and winking at Mandy, “I know for a fact that you have, darling. And that you like it.”
The whole group erupted into laughter. The tension broke before they began to disperse. Of course, the babies choose that moment to wake, demanding their dinner.
“Excuse us. I think that Sky and Joy want some Mommy time.”
“What my Katy-Did is trying to say is that these little hellions want boob,” Chase laughed.
“Then give it to them. No need to go hiding, dear. Unless you would rather, that is.” Sarah played the consummate hostess.
Kaitlin took one of the babies in her arms. Alicia was never sure which one since the family had chosen not to gender their children, preferring neutral colors and clothing. Her mentor and friend adjusted the layers of her clothes to accommodate nursing. “Thank you, Sarah. I was bolder when they were younger. But once they got to be a year, well, few understand the value of extended nursing and child-led-weaning. Even feeding our children has become another societal taboo.”
The next half-an-hour was filled with discussion on the issue and others related to parenting. They were equally intrigued when the topic turned to self-directed learning and democratic schools. Alicia lost herself so much in the exchange that she did not even notice that her mother and sister-in-law had not rejoined the group but instead taken up residence in chairs on the other side of the pool.
But she did catch when Jon nodded to Kacey, and he, his brother, and Steve slipped inside for several minutes. She had a good idea what was going on in there, but given the way this day was going, Alicia was not sure she wanted any part of the on-going Tyler family battle. Did she have any choice, though? She was a Tyler, too, now. As was her daughter. So too, would be any other children they had. But looking over at the other two women, Alicia wondered how that would even be possible?
Jon shifted from foot to foot as Kacey set the documents out on Steve’s desk. The past eighteen hours had shown him how important this was. But would it be enough? If the worse came to worst, would this be enough to protect his wife and child from that woman?
He realized then that somewhere in less than a day, Marianne Buford Walker Tyler had gone from his mother, admittedly a poor one, to ‘that’ woman. He looked across the room where J. T. seemingly studied every book on the shelves. Anything to keep from looking at him? Was that anything new in his family? Where did he stand with the man, his brother? Or his little sister, for that matter? Did he even care?
He studied the other two people in the room. He was not especially close to either Kacey Turner or Steve Saunders. It was not because he had anything against either of their lifestyles. His mother’s prejudices had never sufficiently taken in his mind that questioned everything. But Kacey, Steve, and Noah all worked long hours. So it was only natural that he had gotten to know Chris and Sarah better. Still, he trusted them enough to ask their help with this.
“Okay, Jon, I have made the changes you requested to the will. But…” The woman looked at his brother’s back before she continued, “But after meeting your mother, I downloaded another form. It’s a Declaration of Paternity. We’ll need Alicia to sign it as well, but once she does, it gives you full parental rights and responsibilities for Hope. You can even apply for an amended birth certificate that lists you as her father.”
“No blood tests or anything required? We have talked about me adopting her. If things go okay with the surgery, I mean. But don’t we have to go to court or something?”
Kacey shook her head as he observed J. T. turn around to face them, “No, signed by both of you and notarized this document supersedes all that.” She looked at his brother as she spoke this time, “We know Alicia. Our family does not. But I am obliged to tell you that this document is virtually irrevocable.”
“Meaning?” J. T. directed the question to his friend.
“In California, even if DNA results later showed that Jon was not Hope’s biological father, the Declaration of Paternity makes him so legally.”
J. T. turned to him, “Jon, you know how mother feels…”
“Steve, will you ask Alicia and Kaitlin to join us?” The man stared at his brother for a long moment before nodding and leaving without a word.
“J. T., I’m sorry now that I brought you into this. You’re welcome to go back outside with the others. But I’m going to sign the declaration as well as my new will. Marianne Buford Walker Tyler made her feelings abundantly clear on this matter last night. But so did I.”
“I will not begin my marriage based on distrust. There is no doubt in my mind that Hope is my daughter. And I don’t need or want a DNA test to prove it to that woman. I don’t want to place you in the middle any more than I already have. But I hope that we are adult enough you won’t run tattling to Mommy.”
His brother, if the man had ever been that, shook his blond head and sighed heavily. “No, if this is what you want, I owe you this.”
“You don’t owe me anything.”
“Yes, yes, I do. For all the times that I did not stand up for you. For all the times that I was her patsy, trying to convince you to do things her way. And yes, for running to the illustrious Marianne Buford Walker Tyler and snitching you out. I won’t do that this time. You have my word.”
“And if you want, it would be my privilege and honor to witness the will and declaration. I know it can never make up for those other times. But believe it or not, baby brother, I’d like another chance to be your brother, and maybe one day even a friend.”
Jon was glad for once that his tear ducts were no longer functional. His brother’s words seemed so genuine that all he could manage was a slow nod as the others entered. Even Steve’s study seemed a bit cramped.
“What did you want, Jon?” Alicia frowned.
Jon asked Kacey to explain it all to his wife. Alicia nodded her head a couple of times before asking, “What do we tell Hope?”
He was not sure who she addressed the question to, but Kacey answered. Which was good considering he had not even thought about that dilemma. “At this stage, I would recommend nothing. Children rarely see their birth certificates. So, that gives you a few years to figure out how to handle the issue.”
Alicia nodded again, then she glanced across the room to his brother before turning back to him. “Are you sure about this? Honestly, Jon, if your Family needs a DNA test to be comfortable with things, I’m sure we can manage something without Hope even knowing what it means.”
He shook his head and answered her with the truth that even he had tried to avoid. “No, not even a DNA test will make the great Marianne Buford Walker Tyler ‘comfortable’ with our child or our marriage. And frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. You and I, and one day Hope, are all who need to know the truth. All this is about legalities that we both Hope will never be necessary but that I can’t afford to ignore. This is the fastest and easiest way to do things, sweetheart. Will you sign it? If not for me, then for Hope?”
The rest was over in only a couple of minutes with signatures and seals, handshakes and hugs. Jon steeled himself as J. T. held out his hand. He shook it quickly. While he was grateful for his brother’s assistance and more so for his promised silence, only time would tell how genuine the man was about the rest. He was a bit shocked when his brother embraced Alicia, “Welcome to the family. If you can call it that.”
Alicia’s mind was elsewhere as her friends talked about baby showers, homebirths, and breastfeeding. If what she suspected was true, she should probably pay closer attention. While she was not so sure about the whole water birth thing, she had learned more today from Kaitlin about breastfeeding than she had the nurse in the hospital after Hope was born. She had somehow struggled through sore nipples to nurse her daughter, but once she had gone back to work, it had become more than she could manage. But next time, maybe…
“That’s a mean thing to say. Take it back,” Alicia looked up in time to see Amy push Jon’s nephew into the pool. Thankfully they had all been cooling their feet in the shallow end. So, the boy was in no real danger. But her daughter was in tears.
Before she or Kacey could make it to the other side of the pool, Jon’s mother was there. Mrs. Tyler helped her grandson from the water, passing him to his mother before turning on the girls.
“How dare you?”
“But he said…”
“A lady never resorts to violence. Your behavior shows your poor breeding, lack of the social graces, and discipline.” The woman reached out and took both girls by the ears, dragging them from the pool.
“Get your fucking hands off my child,” Chris had made it around the pool faster on four wheels than they could on two legs. Though perhaps, she and Kacey were both frozen by the events that were transpiring.
“If you had taught the child proper manners, then none of this….”
“I have taught my daughter to defend herself. Come here, lollipop.” Chris held out his arms, but Amy shook her head, clinging to Hope. Until Jon pulled their daughter from the woman’s grasp, then the girl ran and flung herself on his lap, burying her little face in his Hawaiian shirt.
“And you of all people should know better than to allow that urchin to associate with such people. Jonathan Edward Tyler, your father and I taught…”
“Taught me that appearances were more important than honor. That drinking, adultery, and nagging were what marriage was all about. That brotherhood was a competition. That power and money were more important than honor, compassion, or justice. Need I go on?”
Jon bent down and cradled his crying daughter, “It’s alright now, Hope. I’m here. It’s okay.”
Chris drew his daughter back and brushed the tears from her eyes, “This isn’t like you, Amy. I trust you not to resort to violence except when absolutely necessary…”
“But Daddy, that boy called Hope a bastard. He said that Alicia was…” The little girl’s eyes found hers, and Alicia’s heart stuttered to a stop at what she saw there. “Mommy says that word is miscoginis… You know that word, Mommy. He said that Alicia only wanted to get her claws into Jon for his money.”
Kacey stepped within inches of Marianne Buford Walker Tyler. There was no sign of the friend that Alicia had laughed and cried with. The other new mother making it on her own even before her husband was killed in action. This woman looked every bit the hard-hitting assistant district attorney that she was reputed to be. Alicia was glad she was a law-abiding citizen.
“Mrs. Tyler, I am vaguely familiar with Texas law on child abuse. But let me remind you that you are in California now. And touching another person’s child is assault.”
“If that child had not bullied and abused my grandson, then…”
“And if you had not filled a child’s mind with such hate and prejudice, none of this would have happened. Those are not words that seven-year-olds come up with on their own.”
From the looks on both women’s faces, Alicia feared that her wedding reception was about to become a very bad episode of the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling. Not that she would mind seeing ‘that’ woman pushed into the pool in her designer suit.
But Steve and her brother-in-law appeared at the women’s sides at that moment. “As always, Mrs. Tyler, your presence is…” Steve shook his dark head and sighed before looking towards Jon, then addressing his brother. “I think it would be best if you took your family and left, J. T.”
The other man nodded to Steve then turned to look at Jon. Alicia almost felt sorry for the man. There was something about J. T.’s eyes. Then she realized what it was. She had seen that same pain in her husband’s blue depths so often. The pain was evident in the man’s trembling voice as he looked back and forth between Jon, Steve, and around the pool at the others, “I’m sorry. So sorry.”
Alicia could not stay to witness any more of the disaster that was her marriage as she turned and ran for the bathroom. It had been more than seven years since she first learned it was surprisingly easy to cry and vomit at the same time. But this was not how she pictured her wedding day.
Jon sat on the end of their bed. His head in his trembling hands. Why had he done it? Sure, he knew all the logical reasons, but shouldn’t he have seen that it wouldn’t really matter? That his mother, no, ‘that’ woman would never accept the woman he loved or their child. Just as the great Marianne Buford Walker Tyler had never accepted or loved him. He wasn’t even sure anymore that she genuinely cared about J. T. or Clarice.
But it was not his mother nor his brother that he was angry with. It was himself. He had failed. Again. Just like he had that day. Maybe Alicia and Hope had not died or been burned beyond recognition. But he knew all too well that scars on the soul hurt just as much. And right now, he feared that woman had killed something even more precious to him. Any chance of love and happiness with Alicia.
The look on her face as she ran from the pool. He had wanted to follow her, but Hope was still inconsolable in his arms. As Sarah tried to bundle his nephew in a towel, Priscilla had jerked it away, muttering something that sounded like freak. J. T. had disappeared into the house to get his daughter, who thankfully had been napping the whole time, while his oldest son just stared at the ground with his hands shoved into his suit pockets.
Steve had physically stepped between Kacey and that woman. Jon was still trying to figure out the look that passed between them. Sure, the scene she had caused was terrible. But that level of animus seemed to go deeper.
While he and Chris handled the little girls, Kaitlin Danvers-Logan had followed Alicia inside. It was probably for the best. Two hours later and he still had no idea what to say to her. How to apologize. She was still trying to calm their daughter and get Hope ready for bed.
This night was so different than he had planned. He and Chris had organized a surprise sleepover at their house for the little girls. And Jon… He had carefully planned and rehearsed how he was going to spill his guts to his wife. How much that night had meant to him. How he had come to recognize that he loved her before he had even stepped back inside that diner. How much these past weeks had meant to him. All his hopes for a future with them…
Instead, she had ruined it all. Once again, Marianne Buford Walker Tyler had destroyed his life and any hope for happiness he had. And he had let her do it. He had failed at the most essential part of being a husband and father – keeping this family safe. And he had no idea what to do now. How to make it right? If that was even possible.
“Hey, Jon, have you seen Hope’s toothbrush?”
Her eyes were still swollen. Alicia looked pale. And the smile on her face was as fake as most of the jewelry his mother wore. It took him a moment to even process what she was saying. But when her words hit him, it was as deafening as that IED had been. He clenched his hands at his side. He could not manage to force a single word from his throat as he stood and pushed past her. This time he might kill that woman.