The Botanic Gardens were an oasis of calm and green, growing things. Songbirds flew among the trees while rabbits hopped in the rosebeds. I lay on soft grass with my head close to Quint’s and Theo’s, listening to them point out clouds that looked like bicycles and guitars, and I breathed deep. I didn’t even notice how much time was passing until Zain’s phone call.
When I came back to them from the bench where I’d moved during the call, Quint sat up. “Everything alright, mon chaton?”
“Yeah,” I said, lowering myself to the lawn again. “He sent me photos of that house he saw, so we can talk on Skype later and decide if we want to have my parents start putting in an offer today.” Then I pressed my lips together to keep from asking to go home.
Theo rolled onto his stomach. “Can we see?”
I showed them the pictures, both of them bending over the screen to shade it from the sun as I slowly flicked through them.
“Wowza,” Theo said on first sight of the bathroom. “That is some ugly tile.”
“Yeah, but taking it out and laying new ones isn’t too hard,” I said. “Look at the tub. Isn’t it great?”
“Sounds like you’re seriously considering this house,” Quint said.
“I have to talk to Zain more,” I said, hoping he’d pick up on the hint, “but it could be the one.”
“You’re gonna put an offer on it when you haven’t even seen it in person yourself?” asked Theo. “Isn’t that risky?”
“Zain didn’t see our first house in person until the day we moved in, because he was deployed,” I said. “He trusted my judgement about it. I trust his.”
Theo didn’t reply, just swiped the phone screen to move to the next photo, of one of the bedrooms. I bit my lip, remembering the trouble we had over the summer because he was upset about me moving out. Was this stirring that up again?
I looked to Quint, but his eyes were on his husband. He said, “Why don’t we go see the Conservatory and then head home?”
“Yeah, okay,” said Theo, pushing himself up onto his knees. “Seb, you’ll love it. They keep all the tropical plants there. I bet there’s some from Hawaii.”
The glass greenhouses and the plants inside were equally beautiful, but I found myself walking ahead of the other two, trying to hurry us through. More than once, Quint called me back to look at a flower I’d passed by. The third time, he said, “Stay next to me, please,” quietly enough for Theo not to hear. I flushed, but kept a step beside him until we were finally on the subway home.
There, I headed straight to my room to start Skype. Quint came in after me, while from the kitchen, I could hear Theo taking Jagger out for a walk. Sitting on the edge of my bed, Quint offered a reassuring smile. “I’d like to talk with you and Zain about something.”
Unease rocked through my stomach. “Okay,” I said.
The call connected on Zain’s bright, cheery face. Unlike last time, JJ wasn’t behind him at the other desk, which I was grateful for when his eyes went to Quint. He said, “Uh-oh,” without losing an ounce of cheer. “What’s up?”
“I just wanted to let you know that Theo is showing signs of struggling, again, with the idea of Seb leaving us,” said Quint. “However, I’ll speak with him tonight, to remind him that we will be seeing each other regularly afterward. This transition period is going to be hard on all of us, but Theo and I will adjust.”
I swallowed on guilt. “If I could live in two places at once…”
Quint got up and dropped a kiss on the top of my head, then rested his palm on my shoulder as he spoke. “I know, mon chaton. Neither of us are blaming you or Zain. I’m only telling you both what I’ve noticed with Theo because I sensed you were picking up on it already, and if you’re going to be worried about it, I would rather it be out in the open where we can see.” He nodded to Zain. “I’m sure you agree.”
“Absolutely,” Zain said. “The three of you should talk about it together, too, so Seb can hear this from Theo.”
“I was planning to have us do that after dinner tonight,” Quint said.
“Good. Habibi, do you need a spanking to tide you over?”
I sputtered for a few moments before managing, “No!”
“Nice and indignant,” Zain said to Quint, grinning. “I think he’ll be alright until bedtime.”
“I think you’re awful,” I said, crossing my arms.
“If you don’t wanna move down here anymore…” he said, and put his hand on his mouse like he was going to end the call.
“No, I do,” I said. “I don’t know why at the moment, but I do.”
“Because I’m irresistible, duh!”
I rolled my eyes. “Right.”
“I’ll leave you to talk about the house,” Quint said, looking amused. He patted my shoulder and went out.
On the screen, Zain eagerly leaned closer to the camera. “What did you think, babe?”
“I love it. The bathtub especially.”
He smirked. “I knew that was the main selling feature for you. And it’s big enough for both of us.”
“Shh,” I said, craning back to see through my doorway and make sure Quint was out of earshot.
“Oh, is the door open?” Zain asked, and then, of course, he raised his voice. “Imagine all the fun we could have in that tub.”
I hit the mute button on my laptop before he could elaborate and got up to close the door. When I sat down again, he was pouting.
“Spoilsport,” he said as soon as I unmuted. But then he settled back in his chair with a more serious expression. “So, downsides: it does need quite a bit of work, and with both of us in college now, it’s going to take longer to do than the Hawaii house. First priority is making you a studio. Cecilia—she’s the realtor, you’ll love her—she said the one enclosed porch area under the main roof is listed as a four-seasons room, but it felt a lot warmer than the rest of the house in there. I think we might need to have the insulation looked at or install better windows.”
That sounded expensive. My parents would be funding the remodeling so we didn’t need to pay for it out of pocket, but the whole idea was for them to get most of their money back when they sold the house after we graduated. We had to keep costs down.
“I could just use the extra bedroom for my studio,” I said.
“Then where will guests sleep?”
“I’ll move my stuff out when we have guests.”
“So you’ll be uprooted once a month when Quint and Theo come visit?” he asked, angling his head at me. “Um, no. You’re getting a dedicated studio space, because your needs are important and you’re worth the work to put it in. Got that?”
I squirmed like he could reach through the screen and swat me. “But the money…”
“You’re worth the money, too,” he said. “Plus, if the inspector says it needs repairs to make it really a four-seasons room, we can negotiate a lower price or have the sellers chip in something, alright?”
He always made things seem simple. I knew they might not be. “What if it’s not a good studio, anyway?” I asked. “If the windows face south–”
“They face north,” he said, cheerful. “You think I wouldn’t check that after hearing you talk about north light being the best for painting all these years?”
I kind of wished he hadn’t. It only solidified my vision for the room as my new studio. I missed having one.
“So we’re settled on that,” Zain said, and went on before I could object again. He took me through the photos one by one, pointing out things I’d overlooked. Soon, we were both describing the changes we wanted to make. It painted an image in my head, clear as pigments on canvas, of our lives growing back together after the long eighteen months apart.
Thinking about that made me remember leaving Hawaii last summer. I had dreaded our separation, of course. To a lesser degree, I’d also dreaded departing the house we’d turned into a home. This time it wasn’t only a place I had to say goodbye to. The idea of seeing Zain more often filled me with joy—light and fluffy as the clouds over the Cherry Esplanade—but it meant leaving Quint and Theo, too.
If only I could live in two places at once, I thought again.
Yet when Zain asked, “Think we should put in an offer?”, I nodded without hesitation. Mes dieux, why was I so selfish?
He called my parents and put them on speakerphone. They promised to get in touch with their realtor right away to work out the details, and suddenly, I knew why Theo was struggling again. It was really real now, as concrete as the house itself.
After Zain hung up with my mom and dad, he said, “Talk to me, habibi. You went quiet there.”
I shrugged and brought my heels onto the chair to hug my knees close to my chest. “I shouldn’t feel like this.”
“…Excited,” I whispered, with a glance towards the door.
He studied me a moment, his brown eyes soft as toffee, and then shook his head. “Okay, you need to discuss it with them now rather than later. No matter how much I tell you you’re allowed to want this, it’s not gonna help.”
I can’t, I thought. It was such a terrible thing to admit. But I sighed in resignation and started to get up. “I’ll go bring them in.”
“No, just the three of you. You need to know it’s coming directly from them and not only because I’m here. I’ll talk to you later. And babe?” He waited until my attention was fixed on him. “I’m excited, too. Love you.” Then the window went dark.
I found Quint and Theo in the living room watching TV, Theo using Quint’s thigh for a pillow. Jagger picked his head up off the floor and jumped into the armchair beside me as I sat on the edge of the cushion. I rubbed his ears. Before I could gather my nerves to tell Quint what Zain had sent me out to do, he asked, “Is there good news on the house hunt, mon chaton?”
“Um,” I said, looking down at the dog. “There’s news. Not sure if you’ll think it’s good. We’re putting in an offer.”
“Of course that’s good!” Theo said, so forcefully that my head jerked up in surprise. He was frowning. “Why wouldn’t we think so?”
“Well, because… you know,” I said. It was the best I could do.
“Sit up and move over a bit, please, angel,” Quint said, and when Theo obeyed, he patted the couch between them. “Come here, Seb.”
I made myself stand and go over. Jagger followed me, jumping into Theo’s lap as I settled under Quint’s arm.
Theo was still frowning. “Just because I’m gonna miss you doesn’t mean I’d be mad you bought a house,” he said. “Quit being stupid.”
“Theodore,” Quint warned.
“Well, he is! Did you think I wanted to trap you here, Seb?”
“No, I just know it was hard for you… over the summer,” I said, awkwardly.
He grimaced. “I remember, believe me. But part of that was because it was stirring up bad stuff from when I was a kid. I know it’ll be fine, and I’m getting used to the idea, okay? I’m glad you’re buying that place.”
“The seller has to accept our offer first, and then there’s a whole bunch of other steps, and then my parents buy it,” I said. “And even if all that happens, we’re not moving until January.”
“Well, I hope all that happens,” he said, sticking his chin out, “because you really liked it, didn’t you?”
I bit my lip so I wouldn’t agree. On my other side, Quint bent his head to catch my eyes. “Answer the question, please, Sébastien.”
No words came. I knew it was ridiculous, but I just couldn’t say it, even surrounded by their warmth on both sides.
“Alright, come with me,” Quint said, perfectly calm, and Theo groaned while my stomach flipped. Yet when Quint stood and held his palm out, I gave him my hand with a sense of steadiness settling on me, like the tremors of an earthquake coming to an end.
He led me back to my bedroom, gently shut the door, and sat down on the edge of the mattress with my fingers still held in his. To my surprise, I didn’t feel the slightest urge to undo my pants myself. That was, until he let go and said, “Get your hairbrush, please.”
I swallowed and shifted from foot to foot. “You– you don’t have to use that.”
His eyebrows climbed up. “Young man, that is not for you to decide.”
The hairbrush was on my desk, hidden under a pile of papers. I wondered what he’d do if I said I didn’t know where it was. Then shame propelled me the two steps over to retrieve it.
When I turned back to him, my free hand went automatically to my fly. He leaned forward and caught me by that wrist, pulling it away and me toward him in the same movement. “It’s alright, mon chaton,” he said, looking at my face as he took the hairbrush. “We were expecting a bit of backsliding.”
But I was doing good! I thought, utterly frustrated with myself. Tears prickled in my eyes before he’d even gotten my pants down. Why is this so hard?
I went limp the moment he guided me over his knee. His leg lifted me a few inches, and I winced. Apparently, he wanted to start low.
He didn’t ask for my hands to pin behind my back. He just began. Emotions I couldn’t name swelled like a tide. I was drowning from the inside. I choked and gasped for air, and I felt his palm smooth over my spine between my shoulderblades, offering comfort even as the brush lit a fire in my bottom.
“It’s okay, you’re alright,” he murmured, soothing like he normally does after a spanking, and the dam broke. The water flowed out as salty tears, soaking a spot on the duvet in seconds. “Good. Just a little bit more, mon chaton.” Quickly, he cracked the brush down twice, lower still than he had been and harder than all of them.
I sobbed. And went on sobbing for quite a long time after.
When we came out of the bathroom after he washed my face, Theo was at his keyboards, playing with his headphones plugged in. Probably so he didn’t have to hear me crying. Jagger was by his feet, but he got up to come sniff me, which made Theo look around. He took the headphones off and got up.
“You,” he said, shaking his head as he came towards me, “are not Bratting properly again.” He pulled me into a hug that lifted me off my toes. Setting me down, he went on, “When you want something, you’re supposed to announce it loudly and often, with maybe a whine and a stomp of your foot. Here, I’ll demonstrate. Quiiiiiinntt, I don’t wanna cook tonight! I want pizza!”
“Certainly, angel. Would you like to call and order it, or shall I?”
The look on Theo’s face brought a laugh bubbling up through my straggling sniffles.
“Of course,” Quint added, “that would mean no pizza next weekend when we’re in Maryland, but if you want to have it now, there’s no rule against it.”
I doubled over with giggles. Theo narrowed his eyes at his husband and said, “See, this is why I’m gonna miss Seb so much. He commiserates with me about you.”
“I’m sure you’ll still be able to do that,” Quint said placidly.
Mom called during dinner—Theo decided to cook it after all—to confirm they’d spoken with their agent and the official offer would be drawn up and sent on Monday. “He thinks we have a good chance,” she said. “I’m keeping my fingers and toes all crossed for you, Sebby.”
I hung up with butterflies in my stomach. Suppose the offer was refused? Or they counteroffered and it was too high? We’d have to start looking all over again.
“How are you feeling, mon chaton?”
Pushing corn around my plate with my fork, I said, “Nervous, I guess. I want the sale to go well.”
“So do we,” Quint said. “However, if for some reason this house doesn’t work out, you’ll find another, right?”
“Hopefully.” I’d made a neat row of kernels along the rim of the plate. As I was nudging more into it, he put his hand over mine, stilling the fork.
“Look at me, please.”
I didn’t want to, but the weight of his hand was solid and unrelenting. I raised my eyes to meet his blue-gray.
“You will find another if you need to,” he said. “Neither of you are the type to give up easily. Now, I’d like you to try putting the food into your mouth rather than making artwork out of it.”
My gaze dropped to the plate again. The corn did look like the beginning of a sun laid down in daubs of paint. “Oui, monsieur.”
He patted my hand and let go, and across the table, Theo started talking about a gig he had lined up for Monday night, making me wonder if he was changing the subject for my benefit or his own.
If it was for mine, it backfired when he said, “Seb, you should come! It’s been awhile since you’ve gone to a gig with me.”
My stomach jolted unpleasantly as I thought about Monday night. “I’d like to,” I said, “but I have my history class then, remember?”
“Shit, I forgot,” he said. “Sorry.”
For the rest of dinner, though, my concentration was divided between the offer on the house and my upcoming class. I hadn’t spoken to my professor since leaving a few minutes into the last one. This week we’d get our topics for the presentation. Only ten days stood between me and being forced to speak in front of a dozen people. The butterflies from my mom’s phone call came back, bigger and more powerful, like they’d transformed into the huge Black Witch moths that native Hawaiians say are the spirits of deceased loved ones.
It took effort to keep eating until my plate was cleared. Still, I finished before Theo or Quint, probably because I wasn’t talking. Quint and I collected the dishes and brought them into the kitchen. He set his own pile in the sink to be rinsed and then took mine away from me. As he did, he softly asked, “Worrying about the house?”
I nodded, biting my lip. “I’m sorry. I can’t stop. That and my class Monday night.”
“What about the class worries you?”
“Just… going back, seeing them all again. What if they ask why I left? I guess I could tell them I felt sick. But it’s also the night we’re getting the presentation assignment. If it’s a topic I don’t know anything about, I’ll be even more scared. What if– if I can’t do it?”
He was loading the dishwasher as he listened. I watched him put a pod of detergent in and turn it on, and I suddenly realized I was doing nothing to clean. But when I reached for the dishcloth to wipe the counters down, Quint took it away just like the dishes. “Go and get a book from your room, please,” he said.
I blinked. “What? Why?”
“Because we’re going to do an exercise,” he replied. “Go on.”
“I’m supposed to help,” I protested, gesturing vaguely to the table. “What exercise?”
He didn’t answer, except to spin me around and land a swat on my still-very-tender butt. I jumped and squeaked, and blushed red when Theo stopped playing with Jagger to look over. Hurriedly, I moved beyond Quint’s reach and out of their sight into my room, where I stared at the bookcase and tried to figure out what Quint meant to do with whatever book I picked. I couldn’t fathom a reason for this.
Poking my head cautiously into the hallway again, I called, “What kind of book?”
“One of your favorites,” replied Quint’s voice from the kitchen.
So I grabbed the closest Diana Wynne Jones and brought it slowly out to him. He’d just finished on the counters and hung the dishcloth up again. Coming around the peninsula, he took me by the shoulder and made me walk with him until I stood between the TV and coffee table, facing the sofa. Then he let go.
“Stay here, please.”
Theo was watching all of this, equally as mystified as I was. He moved over a few inches to make room for Quint when he sat down on the sofa next to him, and glanced between us in silent question.
“Mon chaton,” said Quint, “I’d like you to read us the first page of that book.”
“What?” I almost took a step back into the entertainment stand. Theo shrugged when I looked at him.
“Read to us, please,” Quint repeated. He was sitting forward a little, towards the edge of the cushion, with his elbows on his knees and his hands loosely held together, his expression steady and calm. “You can do it. It’s only the two of us, and it’s your favorite book, so you know it well. Take a breath, open it, and start reading.”
I swallowed. My heart rate doubled and my entire gut felt chilly, from the ribcage down. At least it was a change from the moths. When I opened the book and held it up, my hands shook, making the blurry page even harder to see. I closed my eyes. Merde, why was I so weak? It was only Quint and Theo!
“Seb, take a breath. Now.”
That was the tone he used to call me ‘young man.’ I obeyed, and instantly felt less lightheaded. I must’ve been holding it before.
“Good,” he said. “Begin.”
I knew the first few sentences by heart. I stood there with the book high up in front of my face and my eyelids squeezed together, and I spoke.
My voice came out trembling and quiet, but it formed the right words. By the time I had to open my eyes to see what came next, my arms had started to relax, giving me a view of Theo and Quint sitting side-by-side over the top of the pages. Jagger was half in Theo’s lap, watching me just as attentively as they did. A ghost of a smile flickered over my lips. Then I focused on the words again.
When I reached the bottom of the page, I stopped and looked up to Quint for approval.
He nodded. “Very good. You’re doing well, mon chaton. Read the next one, and this time, I want you to pause at the end of each sentence for a breath, so you aren’t rushing through.”
At first, it was difficult to do as he wanted. My tongue clearly thought if it rushed through, it could stop quicker. I suspected Quint would just make me read until I had the pace he wanted, though, so I controlled the urge to skip from sentence to sentence. That truly made a difference in how I felt. At the end, my pulse had slowed some, too.
“Excellent,” said Quint. “Now, have you ever read letters by George Washington?”
I shook my head, frowning in confusion. Without explaining, he got up and went down the hallway to the master bedroom. Theo twisted around to watch him walk away over the back of the couch, and return a few moments later with a thick book.
It had a portrait of Washington on the cover. Quint held the spine flat on his palm and let the leaves fall open to a page near the middle. Then he offered it to me over the coffee table. “Read through this letter here, please,” he said, pointing to the start of one.
I set my own book down before I took the other. It was heavy enough that I needed two hands. Once I had it, Quint sat again and nodded for me to start.
This one was much harder. I stumbled on the longer words and unfamiliar ways they fit together several times. “Sorry,” I said after one gruesomely awkward stutter. I hoped my fingers weren’t sweaty enough to leave imprints on Quint’s book.
He replied in his most soothing, post-spanking manner. “You’re doing fine, mon chaton. Deep breath and relax. There you go. Take your time.”
I did. The letter wasn’t short. It seemed I’d never finish, and yet both of them stayed completely focused on me all the way through. When I read out Washington’s name at the end, Theo gave a little whoop and applauded. I laughed weakly.
“Good job,” Quint said, smiling. “And remember, when you do your presentation, it won’t be material that’s completely foreign to you.”
“No, but it won’t just be you two sitting in front of me, either,” I had to point out.
“Which is why you will be practicing more, in different ways, over the coming week. I promise you, you won’t be going into that classroom unprepared.”
“What different ways?” Theo asked.
Quint shook his head. “That’s for Seb to ask Zain. This was another of his ideas.” Transferring his attention to me, he added, “Although we didn’t plan to start until your actual presentation was ready, mon chaton. I thought beginning early might help you tonight. Did it?”
Closing the book, I looked at the painting on the cover and considered how I felt now compared to earlier. The mere idea of standing and speaking in front of people no longer filled me with a pit of dread quite so deep. That had to be an improvement. I nodded. Then honesty made me say, “Un petit peu.”
“It’s a start,” Quint said. “I think it’s also enough for tonight. What board game would you two like to play?”
“Scrabble,” Theo said. “English only, though, none of that Frenchy-French stuff.”
“Is that alright with you, Seb?”
“Bien sûr,” I said, and Theo rolled his eyes.
The game was fun, yet remnants of the worry over the house and the presentation remained in the back of my mind all evening. It was such a cruel twist of fate that my class fell on the same day the offer would be sent in. We could hear back one way or the other on Tuesday. And then Wednesday night was the Spectrum meeting, when Bradley might find out Myrick was also bisexual, and I had no idea how that would go… What terrible thing did fate have in store for Thursday?
We played right up to bedtime. Quint spanked me again before tucking me in. He didn’t use an implement, though he didn’t really have to after the hairbrushing. I felt wrung out as thoroughly as the washcloth he used to wipe my tears away. At least it quieted my brain enough to let me sleep.
A full bladder woke me earlier than usual the next morning. I threw my covers back to get up, and the gray light of dawn shone on three crumpled-up wads of something next to me. Frowning, I picked one up and flattened it out. It was a granola bar wrapper.
Crumbs of granola lay scattered all over my pillow, now that I looked. I must’ve eaten them half-asleep, treating a low. Three packs, though? That was way too many carbs for most lows. And what was the hard thing by my feet? I dug it out from the tangle of my sheets and discovered it was a tube of glucose tablets. Or had been. Now it was just the tube. It definitely had at least four tablets left in it last night. Five? Six? I popped it open to double-check it was empty, then found my meter and pressed the memory button to bring up my last test.
It showed the result from after dinner. I groaned, hating Low Me. Thanks to his zombie-eating, I had no way of knowing what my blood sugar had actually been, or what time I ate, or how many carbs.
Which meant no matter what I did, I’d probably have a Giant Dipper Day.
I took my test kit with me to the bathroom and pricked my finger after I’d used the toilet and washed my hands. It showed I was high, no surprise. I decided to play it safe and bolused with the bare minimum dose of insulin. Then I crawled into bed and surrendered to the thick, sticky fogginess of hyperglycemia. I was dozing again in seconds.
Strong sunlight beamed through my window when Quint’s knock jerked me back to consciousness. “Seb?” he asked.
“M’okay,” I half-mumbled, but the door swung open to let him in anyway. I sat up and tried to look put together.
“What’s wrong, mon chaton? Theo’s already out of bed. He never beats you,” Quint said, coming to sit beside me. He reached out a hand and pressed the backs of his fingers to my brow.
“Sorry,” I said. “It’s not a fever. I was high.” From the way I felt, I must still be. I had to pee again, and a dull, steady throbbing filled my head. “What time is it?”
Letting his hand fall, Quint said, “After nine. You should eat breakfast. Would you like me to make you something low-carb? Eggs?”
The concern in his expression had me shifting uncomfortably. “I can cook my own,” I said.
“I know,” he replied, very mild. “I was offering to help.”
“Well, I don’t need help!” I said, a lot louder than I’d meant to, and he looked taken aback.
I scrambled out of bed to escape across the hall before the monster inside me yanked fully free of its bonds. Quint didn’t follow. As I locked the bathroom door, I could hear Zain’s ringtone playing from my phone, and then being cut off like someone had answered it. Great. Just great.
I peed again and took a Tylenol from the medicine cabinet, washing it down with three cups full of water to quench my thirst. Then I stood staring into the mirror. Dark circles under my eyes, pale skin everywhere else. No wonder he’d thought I was sick. Even after fifteen years of this stupid disease, I didn’t know how to manage it properly. I glowered at myself.
On the other side of the bathroom door, Quint called, “Seb? Come out here, please.”
“Not done yet,” I called back.
“Young man, I would suggest you reconsider lying to me. I may not be able to spank you when you’re in this state, but I can still wash your mouth out.”
My stomach somersaulted as I flashed back instantly to when he’d done it before, right in this very bathroom. He didn’t sound even a little bit like he was joking, the way Zain would’ve. With hot blood flooding my face, I reached over and unlocked the door, then pulled it open half a foot. Quint pushed it the rest of the way and stood in the doorframe, tall and broad, holding out my phone. Zain was on the line.
I took it and brought it to my ear, turning away from Quint as I did. “What?”
“Interesting morning?” Zain asked, and I could hear his grin.
“Ta gueule,” I snapped.
“Careful,” he said, laughing. “You’re still right by the soap, aren’t you?”
“I’m allowed to say that to you,” I said, but I glanced cautiously at Quint over my shoulder. He was watching me with his arms crossed and his face soft with sympathy. Tears stung my eyes. I went back to looking at the bathtub before he noticed. Lowering my voice, I pleaded, “Tell him to leave me alone.”
“Z, you know how awful I am on these days,” I said. “I don’t want to–”
“Quint can handle it,” he interrupted, still cheerful. “You’re not gonna break him. And what ‘these days’? From what he told me, you’re high. That doesn’t automatically mean anything.”
I explained about the granola bars and glucose tabs. When I was done, he asked, “Okay, so where are you at now?”
I sniffed and rubbed my nose. “High still. Not sure how much, I haven’t tested yet.”
“Then you don’t know it’ll be a Giant Dipper Day,” he said. “Test, and pee on a ketone strip so you can see if you’ll be able to work the rest of it off. Eat breakfast too, though. You got this, babe. But if it does turn into one, no shutting him or Theo out.”
“They’ve never really dealt with one,” I whispered around the lump in my throat. “Last time I hit Theo and wound up in the hospital.”
“Which is why you’re not hiding in your room or the bathroom this time,” he said, with obvious patience. “Let them support you.”
As if he’d heard, Quint stepped up behind me and pulled me into a hug. I went stiff in his arms, thinking, No, go away, I don’t deserve that, but he only squeezed tighter.
“Give the phone to Quint a sec,” Zain said, so, making a face, I offered it over my shoulder.
Quint unwrapped one hand from my elbow to take it. I heard him say, “Me again,” very softly, and then silence interspersed with agreeing murmurs. I wished Zain’s voice was audible. Quint said, “Alright, I understand,” and then passed the phone back to me before starting to rub up and down my arm as I sniffled into the speaker.
“Habibi?” Zain asked.
“I told him he can still swat you no matter what your ketones or glucose are, so cooperate for the good of your very cute ass,” he said. “And by cooperating, I mean let the brat out to play and blow off some steam. You’ll all be fine.”
Easy for him to say. I was practically vibrating with suppressed steam. It was a wonder Quint didn’t burn himself, holding me like he was.
“I’m gonna go,” said Zain. “If I stay on with you, you’ll just direct it all at me because you feel like I’m safer. I’ll call again in a couple of hours, alright? Love you.”
“Je t’aime,” I said, and then he was gone. Carefully, I lowered the phone and spoke without looking around at Quint. “I’m sorry for how I snapped at you earlier. There’s no excuse for that. I’ll behave now.”
I caught a glimpse of his expression from the corner of my eye. He’d angled his head to look incredulously at me. Then he let go and took a step back. To give himself room to swat me, I discovered a moment later as the force of it drove me onto my toes. I yelped.
“Sébastien Leon, what have I told you about that act that hides your true feelings?” he asked, very stern, and he spun me to face him.
I said, “Désolé,” fast, and with a lot more sincerity, but part of me thought, How ridiculous. I’m apologizing for apologizing? Since when is that bad? Where the hell are all the Tops? Then that part won out and my chin came up. “I’ll just snarl at you freely, shall I?”
Quint shook his head, but in a way that was… fondly indulgent. “You don’t scare me, mon chaton,” he said. And then he kissed my forehead. “Come along. I’ll make your breakfast.”
He disappeared out into the hallway, leaving me with a very strong urge to stomp my foot.
Instead, I took a deep breath and followed him. Theo was sitting at his keyboard, but with the chair spun sideways because he was playing tug-of-war with Jagger. As I came in, he glanced over with a casual, “Hey.” Then he did a double-take, told Jagger, “Drop,” and stared at me while the dog instantly let go of the toy and plonked down. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” I spat, pointing accusingly at Quint in the kitchen. “According to him and Zain, anyway. They want me to be acting like this. But if you do it, you get cornered. It’s not fair.”
I wasn’t sure if my aim was to get Theo a reprieve from corners or to get myself sent to one. Zain probably would’ve said it was the second. Quint shook his head calmly and cracked an egg into a bowl. “We don’t care whether it’s fair or not.”
“Plus, I don’t always get cornered,” Theo put in. He was starting to look amused. “Sometimes he ignores it. Why’re you in such a bad mood?” Without waiting for an answer, he held the toy out to Jagger. “Good boy. Take.”
I was going to scream if they kept making breakfast and playing with the dog like this was all a normal Sunday morning. My teeth gritted and my headache throbbed harder. “High blood sugar, except that’s no excuse, any more than being tired is.” I leaned against the peninsula between the bar stools and pinned Quint with my glare. “You shouldn’t be letting me get away with this just because you feel sorry for me. Remember the Pride march?”
He quirked an eyebrow. “That isn’t why I’m doing it, and I don’t need a lecture, thank you.”
Gentle as the rebuke was, his face was stern, and hot, squirmy shame filled me. I knew it wasn’t the real reason. But I thought of all the vicious things I’ve said to Zain in the past, taking out my anger and frustration on him because I know he won’t mind, taking advantage of that in the most selfish way, and I thought of how Theo and Quint might react to those same things. They’d always demanded a different sort of respect than Zain. Now, suddenly…
“I don’t understand how you want me to act!” I said, exasperation driving me near to tears again.
Quint’s expression softened. “We want you to be truthful about how you feel, mon chaton, because that’s the only way it can be dealt with.”
Be truthful about how I feel. How did I feel? Beneath the irritation, like bitterly cold water flows beneath ice, how did I feel?
I took a harsh breath and blinked rapidly, staring at the counter with eyes gone blurry from moisture. “The truth is, I hate this.”
“Okay,” Quint said, composed as ever. “What do you hate?”
“All of it!” I said, and it came bubbling up out of me in a mess. “I hate being high and having a headache and having to pee every five minutes, and I hate acting this way. I want to be kind and good, but it’s so hard. If I were a better person, I could control it, but I can’t, the diabetes always wins, and there’s nothing you can do about that, so what’s the use of complaining?” I broke off to swallow before adding, quieter and even more broken, “And I hate crying, too.”
His hand came across the counter to rest on my shoulder. I didn’t look up. “Seb, you are a good and kind person,” he said, “and there’s many things we can do to help you, starting with getting your blood sugars down, but even if you’re short-tempered today, it doesn’t change who you are.”
“Anyway, acting a little grumpy isn’t the end of the world,” Theo put in, getting up to come stand close beside me. “If it were, I’d’ve caused a million apocalypses by now.”
“This is true,” Quint said, with a fond smile at his husband. “Yet it’s never once changed how I feel about you. The same goes for you, mon chaton.”
I swallowed around the lump in my throat. “I guess.”
“You don’t need to guess. I know,” he said, like that was final. “How do you want your eggs?”
“An omelette with spinach and cheese?” I asked, looking up through my wet eyelashes. “There’s some in the fridge.”
He nodded and went to get them. The moment he let go, Theo wrapped me in a sideways hug. Into my ear, he said, “I know, too. I’ve tested that theory so many times over the years, they should name it for me. It’s really okay.”
I had to pee again. Sighing, I shrugged free of his hold and headed for the bathroom. I’d left my phone in there earlier, next to the sink. It buzzed as I came through the doorway, and I glanced at the screen. Email from Bradley. The first line showed in the notification. It said, I think I ruined everything.