Another one. And this time, Seb’s yelp was audible through the wall. Jagger lifted his head off my legs, cocked his ear in that direction, and whined.
“Shh, boy,” I said, reaching across the couch cushion to pet him. “It’s okay.”
He settled back down with a softer whine, clearly not quite convinced. He wasn’t the only one. I’d lost count of the number of swats I’d overheard since the first one woke me up. Somewhere around a dozen by now, I thought. Never in my life has Quint ever given me so many in one morning.
What could Seb possibly be doing to earn himself that, but not a spanking? Every time I went to check on them, he was just quietly unpacking stuff while Quint worked at the desk. I offered to help, and the other Brat shook his head and said he wanted to do it alone, even though I could see it was taking him forever. My husband simply ushered me back to the living room, saying, “It’s alright, angel. We’ll come out for lunch.”
It was nearly lunchtime now. In fact, Quint should’ve already been setting the table and heating up our leftovers. Should I go ask what was keeping them?
I shifted Jagger and made to stand, and one more swat rang through the air, quickly followed by a scurrying of feet in the hallway and the bathroom door closing. I twisted around too late to see Seb, but Quint came out after him. As I watched, he crossed behind me, went into the kitchen, and began to take plates down from the cupboard.
Okay, that did it.
Getting up, I marched over to frown at him from the other side of the peninsula. “How many times are you going to swat Seb today? Just curious.”
“Lower your voice, please,” he said, with a glance toward the bathroom, even though I was already speaking as quietly as my mood allowed.
I crossed my arms. “Quint, how many–?”
He gave me a sympathetic look. As if I were the one who needed his sympathy. “As many as he needs, angel.”
“To do what?!” I demanded, at just above a whisper.
“To believe that he’s allowed to take up space here.”
That stopped my righteous indignation in its tracks. I opened my mouth, closed it again, and went around the peninsula to Quint’s side. He pulled me into a hug.
Against my hair, he said, “I do appreciate you not interfering, angel. I’m sorry I couldn’t leave Seb and explain in more detail earlier.”
“Zeggy tried to warn me he might have trouble adjusting to living with us full-time,” I mumbled. This was right after she grinned and said, Aw, I thought Quint wouldn’t let his foster Brat stray from the nest for long, and I swore at her because she’d never let on that she knew that about Seb before. “I don’t know how she could tell when every time we’re over there, he hardly speaks two words to anyone.”
“She’s a psychologist,” Quint said. “It’s her job to observe people. Are you alright now?”
I drew away a little and looked up at him. “Wouldn’t it be better just to give him a spanking? I’d hate feeling like I was disappointing you all day long.”
He shook his head. “My instincts are telling me that would be the wrong thing to do. I’m trusting them on this one.”
It was such an un-Quint thing to say, I blinked. He’s always got a completely rational and thought-out (some might say overthought) reason for his decisions. Usually with research citations to back it up. “Your instincts?”
“‘Kay,” I said, doubtfully. “If they start telling you otherwise, let me know. I’ll take Jagger down to the park until you’re done. I don’t like hearing him cry.”
A small gasp drew both our attention to the living room. Seb was by the sideboard, staring at us with his chin trembling. “You’re… you’re going to–”
“No, mon chaton,” Quint said, letting go of me and crossing to him in three steps. “You’re doing wonderfully. We’re making good progress. There’s no need for that.”
“I meant if,” I said, wishing I could eat the words before they ever put that look on his face. “You know, in some hypothetical, far-distant future, not today, okay?”
He glanced at Quint again, like he was making sure, and then nodded.
“Come and sit down,” my husband said, guiding him to the table. “Theo, you too. I’ll bring the food over momentarily.”
The other Brat’s wince as his butt made contact with the chair was almost imperceptible, yet it made my own rear end tighten with empathy. “Sorry,” I said in an undertone as I came to join him. “If you’re that sore from the swats, no wonder you don’t want the full thing.”
“I don’t mind that,” he said, turning pink under his freckles. “It was just the idea of it being so bad that Quint would, um, do it.”
From behind me, Quint said, “It’s nowhere near that point. Don’t worry, mon chaton. We have this under control.”
Seb nodded, looking relieved, and I suddenly understood Quint’s instincts. My own had full confidence in them again. Even if he needed to give more swats before the day was through.