*Cracks a smile* Well he had uh floppy-armed Mr Peanut he toted around until he wus.. ten ‘er so. He’d git angry if folks said hello tuh him but not th’doll, so he’d find sum way tuh include it in conversation that its feelin’s were hurt. His lil buddy Keith gave him real’ hell over th’thang so Ellis eventually stopped bringing it outtuh th’house, but he kept sleepin’ with it through highschool an’ Ah seen it in th’top drawer of his dresser uh few times recent-like.
Arden turned three in May, and he’s very proud of that fact, because it makes him a big boy officially. He, like his brother, is still a little smaller than most of the other boys their age at the playground, but he’s quicker and smarter, and gets along with boys almost twice his age who like to get into mischief.
Like the time they put bubblegum in that bitch Alyssia’s big, messy brown curls. He’d chewed up three pieces and kept their wadded up mess hidden in his hand until he ganged up on her with Jordan and Paul, smearing its wet cling across the thickest part at the back of her tossing head, where it would force her mother to cut it all off. He was smart enough to duck into the tire tunnel immediately thereafter, hiding in its cool shadow while his jeering companions were descended upon by adults and dragged off to spankings and time-outs, both of which he himself avoided.
Bitch is a bad word, which is why Arden likes it so much. He’s heard Lissy say it, he’s heard Mommy say it, but most of all he’s heard Daddy say it, when he’s talking about what life is.
Arden wus th’first tuh start awn the “Ah can do it mahself” kick that really got us goin’, development-wise. He’s more aware uh thangs an’ concentrates better than his brother, but he’s moody an’ too smart fer where he’s at developmentally, so he gits real’ frustrated when he understands but can’t do.
Maybel’s more like other kids his age, bright-eyed an’ unconcerned, so even though he wants tuh learn how tuh do anythang an’ everythang, he celebrates thangs more like uh three year old shud.. an’ that keeps’im from gittin’ too frustrated ‘er ahead uh himself.
Ah’d say Arden’s farther ahead up here *taps her temple* an’ more socially aware, but they’re still about th’same when it comes tuh applyin’ their understandin’, cus Ardy’s so goddamn fussy. *Smiles fondly*
Ah saw Overalls’s momma an’ we exchanged hellos, but Ah never got close tuh her like Ellis did. Otherwise Ah ain’t seen too many other Ellises at awl, let alone their moms; ‘course Ah cud’uh met ‘em an’ jus’ didn’t know it. *Laughs*
Oh, Jesus, when did we start awn that? Two? *Pauses to consider* Maybe earlier even… They started askin’ about th’potty an’ we jus’ went ahead with it. They don’t spend but uh hour uh week with boys their age so they were quick tuh wannuh git rid uh their diapers..
Most folks git their kids their own lil’ toilet, which we did, but they had none uh that; they wanted tuh use th’regular one like errybody else, right from th’start, so Nick got ‘em lil’ step stools an’ we’ve awl gotten usetuh wipin’ up pee from about every surface but th’bowl. *Snorts in amusement* They still need help sittin’ down sumtimes, an’ they never go alone at night, so that’s ended up in sum accidents… they wet th’bed every now an’ then, a’course, but they don’t ever have problems durin’ daylight hours.
He knows Ah don’t like him poppin’ ‘em in th’mouth, but he tends tuh do it anyhow. We got heated over it once but Nick’s real’ open about reasons why he does anythang with them, an’ Ah ended up jus’ lettin’ it th’hell go. Ah don’t like his time-outs — addin’ awn minutes if they can’t stay still ‘er hush — but we’ve been talkin’ it over.
Ellis gits ‘em started awn thangs like swimmin’ an’ bikes - ‘course their idea uh swimmin’ is still kickin’ around like fish awn uh hook an’ their bikes ain’t been touched since Arden busted his tooth, but it’s uh start. *Smiles*
Nick’s more’n willin’ tuh offer uh hand in those kinduh thangs, but he’s got higher expectations, Ah think. Ah wanted th’boys tuh be like how Ellis wus as uh kid; communication an’ independence’re important thangs even at uh young age, so we’ve done errythang we can tuh keep ‘em awn that track. They can write their names, recognize hundreds uh words.. when they stutter or get frustrated talkin’, we stop an’ have ‘em slow down an’ work through wut’s keepin’ ‘em from gittin’ it awl out..
We been talkin’ ‘bout Nick home-schoolin’ ‘em, but th’way thangs have been… *Sighs and waves a hand* Nick’s got uhlot uh his own shit tuh deal with, so we’ll see.
Nick taught Maybel how tuh put uh can awn th’electric can opener an’ that’s awl he’s wanted tuh do for two days now — eat spaghetti-o’s jus’ so he can open ‘em up.
Tch. *Smirks a little as she lights a cigarette, drawing it away from her lips to gesture as she speaks* Ardy started callin’ him ‘daddy’ as soon as Ah started lettin’ him take th’boys overnight.
Nick pays fer uhlot uh their thangs - clothes, mostly, but he’s been real’ blatant abouh buyin’ ‘em whatever they need. He’s got plenty uh money an’ Ah don’t. *Snorts, grinning*
He had ‘em awn th’Mah Baby Can Read train so quick Maybel cud recognize words a’fore he cud speak uh full sentence. He takes ‘em tuh th’park, taught ‘em how tuh behave in uh restaurant, puts awl their pictures up awn his fridge ‘er framed awn his walls. He helped potty-train th’both uh them, was there at th’hospital when Ardy knocked uh tooth out.. He’s th’one th’boys wannuh call when uh nightmare makes ‘em feel unsafe, ‘er they’ve done summin they’re proud of..
Nick made himself their daddy, an’ Arden saw that long buhfore Ah did. Support like uh daddy, teach like uh daddy, be proud like uh daddy.. yer gonnuh git th’title.
“Thanks,” he said as he took the cards from Arden, giving the brunette a final look before he slipped the cards in with the rest, looking to Sarah as he went back to shuffling.
“I’ve always been a little ben- What,” he stopped, attention jerking up to the kitchen doorway as Overalls stepped back into the living room, muscled arms toting the full weight of a third Easter basket.
A basket full of bunnies.
The bunnies Nick had said no to.
Ellis was holding the No bunnies.
They were in his house.
God. Damned. Bunnies.
Screams of pure, dazzling excitement erupted in unison as the twins tore away from the couch, descending on Overalls with grabbing hands and hysterical bouncing. They tugged at the hem of his shirt and the loose drape of his ill-fitting pants, pawing at the upheld basket and the tufts of living fluff it contained, wordless squeals melting into delighted cries of “Bunnies! Baby bunnies!”
“Welp,” Sarah murmured with a considerable amount of mirth, moving up from the couch as she fished a pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of her shorts, “Overalls done bought th’boys righ’ out from under us, Nick. Smoke?”
“Arden,” the conman snapped, voice stern as he looked to the boy. He kept his gaze on the youth, taking up what cards he could easily reach. “You know better. Hand me the rest of these and I’ll teach you how to shuffle, alright?” He asked, knowing he could keep the boy in line and out of trouble if he gave him a bit of attention along with a lesson of sorts. He spread his hands a bit, clacking the cards in a swift shuffle, flicking them rapidly in a neat stack back and forth between his hands as he waited for Arden to do as he said.
“Guess you could say that,” he replied to Sarah, relaxing a bit even as a twitch began just below his ribs.
Arden opened his mouth to protest, but the sharp confidence with which the gambler shuffled the cards he’d managed to pick up distracted his impending fit; he wanted to be able to do that. “Kay,” he mumbled, setting his basket aside and sliding off the couch to pick up the rest of the play deck.
“Teach me too!” Maybel demanded, his voice pitched as he leaned over in his mother’s lap to get a better look at the ease with which the ringed fingers moved the cards.
“Yer as bent up as uh run-over slinky, Nick,” Sarah noted rather fondly, sliding her fingers into the conman’s hair to smooth it back further. “Yuh know m’proud uh yew,” she added in a soft voice, nails giving the glide of his stubble a brief scritch before she slid her arm across the back of the couch instead.
“Got’um!” Arden announced as he moved back to the couch, standing in front of Nick with the retrieved cards held up for the survivor’s taking.