“And then I said to her, ‘If you keep this up, you’re going to end up on the streets like your mom.’”
“What did she say?”
“That I should mind my own business and it was my fault her mother ended up like she did.” The woman sighed and shook her head dolefully. “As if I could ever stop that girl from doing anything.”
Dom wanted to roll his eyes at her forbearing tone, but her companion, a woman of about sixty, glanced over at him just then. He smiled briefly and went back to his article on a series of new experiments in cold fusion. It wasn’t very interesting, mostly just a lot of ‘what ifs’, but it was more interesting than the endless commentary from the woman across the aisle. First class or no, she was only a few feet away and he hadn’t been able to shut her out as she complained first about her daughter and then about her granddaughter.
He could use work as a distraction. He had his laptop, loaded with all the drafts and blueprints, but he really wasn’t in the mood. Because he was tired of work. Because the trip to Houston to check out the beginning stages of the renovation was supposed to have been quick—a day at the most. Instead, it had turned into six.
Spent patiently at first because these things happened and it wasn’t the contractor’s fault that the scaffolding materials necessary to blanket the old church hadn’t arrived in time. Or that everyone came down with the flu on the same day and the delicate work of installing the intricate steel and wood structure had to be put on hold for three days.
He’d called home every morning and every night, telling the kids that he had to stay one more day, that it wouldn’t be long now, that he’d be home before they knew it.
They’d also been patient at first. A lot more patient than the two-day trip he’d made late in the February when he’d gone to consult with the church’s advisory board on the repair.
That time, James had called four times a day and Phillipa, two. Each ending with, ‘When are you coming home?’ Said in plaintive voices threaded through with fear and anxiety. Something he’d expected and planned for since it had been the first time he’d left them since the mess in September.
But, he’d found, just because he’d expected it and planned for it, didn’t make it any easier to bear when Phillipa had asked if he was going to make it to her gymnastics night because she had a new trick she wanted to show him. Or when James asked about Mal for the first time in almost a year.
This time, though, they’d talked about the general things, like school and the art projects they were working on. It had been he that had to grit his teeth to make sure his anxiety didn’t travel from his chest to his voice because anxiety was contagious. And when he crawled into his cold, comfortable hotel bed each night, he tossed and turned until sheer exhaustion pulled him down.
It was only after the fourth day that the kids began to drag the phone calls a little longer, to ask a little more urgently if he was coming home yet.
He supposed they were getting used to their new situation. They were all getting used to their new situation and it was understandable that they’d be anxious; it was understandable that he’d be the same.
He stared unseeingly at the magazine page with its diagram of a high-tech fusion reactor that looked like something from a bad sci-fi movie, lost in the fluid memories of going to bed at night discussing the day’s events, making love quietly so as not to wake the kids, waking up with a heavy arm around his waist or a warm leg entangled between his own.
“…that’s what I told her, but did she listen? No, of course not,” the woman said, her voice rising on the last few syllables, breaking into Dom’s thoughts. He looked at his watch, then tucked the magazine back into its holder. They’d be landing in twenty or thirty minutes—he might as well give up trying to concentrate on anything but the obstinate anticipation that was growing with every second. He turned to the window, leaned his chin on his fist and sighed.
Getting off the plane was one more exercise in patience, hopefully the final one. He had to wait until the woman gathered her various pieces of matching luggage—she’d managed to store it in each of the first-class bins. Dom didn’t have to wonder how she got it all on board—she’d probably just harassed the flight crew until she got what she wanted.
Then there was a minor issue when a kid who couldn’t be more than eighteen zipped in through from coach, pushing the other passengers aside, dragging his rolling suitcase with him. The woman huffed, but the kid didn’t pay any attention—he was on the phone, arguing with someone named Daniel. Or maybe it was Daniel he was arguing about.
Whatever, he’d ignored the noisy woman’s strident, “Some people’s kids,” ignored the flight attendant’s firm, “Sir, we’re not ready to deplane.”
When she touched him on the arm, trying to get his attention, he jerked away, accidentally hitting her. What started out as a stupid incident changed dramatically and for a moment Dom thought he might have to intervene. But the flight attendant handled it professionally and soon she was unlocking the hatch, keeping half an eye out on the kid. Who was through the door like it was a race and Dom couldn’t decide if he was sorry for Daniel or the kid.
The airport was unusually crowded for a Sunday evening. People were everywhere, doing the things people did at airports. He told himself they weren’t purposefully getting in his way as he dodged this person and that group. He eventually gave up trying to hurry and went with the flow. Down the long hall past the other gates and small shops to the escalator to the baggage area.
He was waiting at the carousel, hands in pockets, when he heard a familiar voice—the two women had caught up with him. This time the woman was complaining about the kid and what the authorities should do to him. Apparently, the woman’s companion had run out of sympathy because her answers were short and colorless. When Dom turned—because he had to—she was looking off in space, her arms folded across her breasts, the picture of tired stoicism.
He looked away before they caught his smirk and turned his gaze to the surrounding crowd. Like a flock of birds or a school of fish, it ebbed and flowed around him as new clusters of passengers arrived at the baggage area. They’d mill around for a moment, then one would take off in a purposeful direction and they’d all follow.
He hitched his laptop bag up higher on his shoulder, wishing he were a bird. He could just take off, out the door and up, making a perfect line north to the house.
He smiled at his own thoughts, but filed the idea away for later. He wanted to make a pop-up book for James for his birthday—maybe he’d use the idea of a boy who turned into the bird as the main storyline.
The luggage took eighteen minutes to arrive. He knew because he began to check at his watch every few minutes, realizing it wouldn’t change anything, unable to stop. It didn’t help that the watch was a patent reminder of the day he’d received the gift. A present that should have been relatively meaningless and was anything but…
He was lost in thought again when a clatter and a bang made him jerk his head up—the luggage had finally arrived, the first bag tumbling out of the chute.
If anyone would have asked, he would have predicted—based on the last few days and all the things that had gone wrong—that his bag would be the very last one to arrive. It wasn’t—it was one of the first and he leaned forward eagerly, reaching around a man to grab it with a grateful hand.
It was an awkward shape, designed to hold the drawings, and he had to navigate the crowd carefully. But once he was free of people, he strode to the door and was out in the night air that smelled of exhaust and the ocean. The night and the salt air were triggers and the anticipation returned, this time tenfold—he wanted nothing but home, home, home.
He was making a beeline for the taxi stand, zeroing in on the first in the queue, when he heard them. First a, “Cobb?” and then, “Daddy!”
He whipped around, startled, his heart giving a great thump in his chest.
They’d made no arrangements to meet at the airport. He was arriving too late and it was a school night, after all. But apparently he’d let himself hope because it wasn’t as big a surprise as it should have been and he smiled at his own crazy self-deception.
Saito was cradling a sleeping James to his chest with one hand, while he held Phillipa’s hand with the other. Surprisingly, he wasn’t wearing his usual suit, but a pair of jeans and a black leather jacket. It took Dom a second to realize they were his own clothes and he pictured it, Saito rifling through his drawers and closet. Somehow the small thefts were incredibly sexy, shockingly intimate, and his smile died. They stared at each other.
It was like one of those moments from a movie, experienced rarely in real life—quiet and hollow as if time’s insistent march forward was halted by some invisible force.
He nodded, then looked away briefly as time reset itself, afraid he might do something incredibly stupid, needing a second to contain his happiness.
Phillipa helped. She tugged on Saito’s hand and he glanced down, as if surprised to find her there. He let go and she ran forward, throwing herself at Dom right as he dropped his case.
“Hi, honey.” She was in his arms, his face muffled against her hair. They’d taken her to a beauty salon to get her hair cut a few weeks back and it floated about her head in a pale cloud. “It’s good to see you.”
She mumbled something into his neck that he couldn’t quite hear. Saito had reached them and Dom said over her head, “This is a nice surprise.” In the harsh LAX lights, Saito’s skin looked more gold than usual.
Saito shrugged. “I was worried that you might think it was too late for them.”
James’ head was tucked into his shoulder and the contrast between his blond head and Saito’s darker skin made Dom want to step close and run his fingers down Saito’s throat to his son’s blond head. He was so glad to be home. “They’ll survive. How are you?”
‘Happy to see you,’ his slight smile added and Dom touched his sleeve. “Me too.” And then, “Hey, buddy,” he said to James who was waking up.
“Daddy!” James held up his arms.
Dom and Saito exchanged children, an action that was now almost unconscious. “How are you?”
“Someone told me you lost a tooth.”
James leaned back and gave Dom a broad grin. His left canine was missing. “I did. I pulled it out myself.”
“Really? I didn’t hear about that,” Dom said, mostly to Saito who nodded regretfully.
“He did. I found out about it when he came to me, tooth in hand.”
“There was blood everywhere,” James said happily.
Phillipa made a face. “It was disgusting.” She pushed away and Saito sat her down. As natural as breathing, he reached down and she took his hand again and something in Dom’s chest squeezed at the sight.
Unaccountably, she and Saito had formed an immediate bond. It had worried Dom in the beginning when he didn’t know where his relationship with Saito was going. After it became clear they were in it for the long haul, he’d shelved his concern that the kids would come to rely on someone who would eventually leave. They’d had enough of that in their short lives. Hell, he’d had enough of that in his short life.
“I’m sorry you had to deal with that,” he said around the lump in throat.
Saito just made a small moue. “It wasn’t a problem.”
James nodded. “Hiro told me to pack the hole with a cotton ball.”
“That was disgusting, too,” Phillipa grumbled.
Dom carefully didn’t let his smile show as he bent down for his case, his hair brushing Saito’s arm. They hadn’t, of course, told the kids about what he’d been doing during those lost years, or about Saito’s old life. But he knew that Saito was long familiar with wounds and the getting of them, just as he was. “Where’s the car?” he asked, diverting the conversation to more normal things.
Saito nodded to far end of the curb. “I took the service. Mark is down there.”
Dom shifted James to his hip and they walked side by side. “How was everything?”
“Quiet. Miss Ramirez called again.”
“Did you tell her I’m still not interested in selling?”
“I did,” Saito said, adding with a sidelong glance, “She’s very insistent that you meet to discuss her new proposal.”
Jeannie Clarke had brought her realtor, Sophie Ramirez, by one day on the pretext of showing her the improvements on the house and ever since, Dom would get a call a couple times a month, fielding offers from Sophie, both to sell the house and for a date.
He’d been worried that Saito would grow jealous, but every time she called, he’d just smile benignly as if the whole thing amused him greatly. He’d also taken advantage of the situation by hiring Sophie to purchase the house next door and the one behind. “Did Fischer call?”
Saito nodded, his smile disappearing. “Yes. The groundbreaking begins at the end of June. I will need to be there for the month of July.” He didn’t look at Dom as he spoke.
“Daddy?” Phillipa began, but Cobb preempted her with a quick, “Yes, we’re going with him, honey. We can visit Paris on the way back and see your grandparents.”
Saito gave Dom a surprised glance. They’d discussed it briefly, the construction of the new plant and Saito’s need to be on site. Saito had wanted him to drop everything and stay the summer. Dom had said that he’d think about it and it would depend on the kids and what was best for them. The conversation went downhill from there until they’d finally agreed to talk about it later. Time and distance had solved the problem for him. There was no reason not to be gone the month and the kids would love it. He couldn’t think, now, why he’d been so opposed to the idea.
“Can we visit Hiro’s sister, too? In Lyon?” She pronounced it, ‘lion.’ “She called and I got to talk to her. She sounds nice.”
“If it’s all right with Hiro, sweetheart.” He’d overheard Saito’s conversations with his sister a few times—they generally spoke Japanese, which he still struggled with. But sometimes they broke into French and he more than understood that Kimi was worried about Saito’s new relationship, worried that he was making a mistake. It would be an interesting trip.
He and Phillipa looked inquiringly at Saito. He raised an eyebrow and murmured, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Yay!” Phillipa crowed.
Dom gave her a squeeze, then nodded to Mark, already hurrying towards them.
“Good evening, Mr. Cobb. It’s nice to see you,” Mark said as he took Dom’s case and opened the door. “How was your trip?”
“Long.” He leaned in and sat James in his car seat, then reached for Phillipa.
Mark opened the trunk and laid the luggage inside. “You’ll be home in fifteen or twenty minutes. Traffic will be light.”
Dom nodded, saying over his shoulder to Saito as he got Phillipa settled, “Do you want to sit in front or back?”
Saito cocked his head as if to say, ‘You can’t be serious,’ and got in front. Dom grinned at the back of his head; he climbed in next to the kids.
Everyone was quiet as Mark navigated the car out and onto the highway. They were passing through the city when Dom remembered something he meant to suggest when Saito first told him that James had lost a tooth.
He put his arm over the car seat and said, “James? When we get home, you can put the tooth under your pillow for the tooth fairy.”
“He has already put it there,” Saito said, turning around. “I’m afraid the pillowcase and sheet are a little bloody.”
“That’s fine,” Dom said with a smile. “But next time, James, let’s wash the tooth first, okay?”
“Okay, Dad,” James said. He was starting to droop again. “But if the tooth fairy doesn’t take it, I want to throw it under the house.”
Dom narrowed his eyes and smiled, confused. “What?”
“That was my doing,” Saito said. “I told him that in Japan, we have a different tradition.”
Phillipa nodded eagerly, leaning around James to say, “Daddy, in Japan they throw teeth on the roof or under the house. They say,” she paused, frowning in concentration. “‘Ue no ha—’”
She couldn’t remember the rest and she looked over at Saito, who finished for her, “Wa en no shita e, shita no ha wa yabe no ue e nageru.”
His voice was liquid and soft and Dom remembered all the nights spent hearing that same tone, whispered words against his own lips or in his ear. He cleared his throat. “What does it mean?”
“‘Throw your upper teeth under the floor, your lower teeth over the roof,’” Saito said.
“So I guess that’s to encourage your teeth grow the right way?” he guessed.
“That’s right, Daddy,” Phillipa said before Saito could answer. “And since James lost an upper tooth, we need to throw it under the house, not on the roof. Otherwise it will grow up, not down.”
“That might be a problem, honey, since the crawl space is hard to get to. How about we just let the tooth fairy handle it?”
She started to object, but Saito interrupted gently, “Phillipa? Have I ever told you about le petite souris?’”
“No, what’s that?” she answered, her attention diverted.
“It is a who, not a what. It is what the tooth fairy is called in France. Only the tooth fairy isn’t a fairy at all, but a mouse.”
“A mouse?” James asked sleepily.
Saito twisted so he could see James. “Yes, a mouse, James. And when this mouse hears that you have lost a tooth, she comes for a visit and takes the tooth in exchange for a coin.”
James frowned. “What kind of coin?”
“The same kind that the tooth fairy would leave, only it is in French francs, not American dollars.”
“Daddy?” James looked up, squinting a little. “Can we leave a cookie out for the mouse?”
Dom gave Saito a quick, affectionate glare. That’s all they needed. “No, sweetheart. Remember we already have a mouse living somewhere in the house? I don’t want another. Even if it’s just to take your tooth.”
“Daddy,” James whined weakly. They’d already had this discussion, brought on by Saito’s unwitting suggestion that if they had mice, they should get a cat. Dom had nixed the idea—James’ asthma was better, but a cat could set the whole thing off again and he wasn’t going to take that chance.
There was a small pause as James wavered between a tantrum or just accepting the fact that he wasn’t going to get a cat. He finally sighed and dropped his head on Dom’s arm, tantrum averted.
It was after ten-thirty when they got home. They ignored the kids’ tired complaints that they weren’t sleepy and got them straight to bed. Saito made sure Phillipa washed her face and brushed her teeth because she’d been forgetting, while Dom took care of James.
He listened to James’ sleepy monologue about why it would be good to leave a cookie out for the tooth mouse, just in case, and what kind of cookie that might be. In the next room, Phillipa was chattering about something, her childish voice rising and falling. He couldn’t hear what she said, just as he couldn’t make out Saito’s deep replies, but she sounded happy and so did he.
These four walls and roof. These voices. It was all so familiar, and he stroked James’ head, letting the knowledge sink in that he was home.
“Good night, honey.”
“‘Night, Daddy. I’m glad you’re home.”
“Me, too. I’ll see you in the morning.” He closed Phillipa’s door. She’d taken down the ‘girl’s only’ sign sometime around Christmas. He traced the area where it had hung with bittersweet gratitude, sad for the reason for the sign, happy for its disappearance.
He turned and went back down the hall. He wanted nothing more than to do what he’d made the kids do—go straight to bed. But he had his nightly ritual to perform. Even with the one-month old, state-of-the-art security system that Saito had put in without telling him, he still had to walk through the house and make sure everything was as it should be. It was necessary.
He’d finished and was in the kitchen, just turning off the fluorescent light above the stove, when arms wrapped around him from behind.
“You are taking too long,” Saito whispered in his ear. “The house is secure. The men will wake if the alarm sounds. You have no need of your worry.”
Dom sighed. It was a running argument, Saito’s insistence on the small army he’d installed in the house next door, Dom’s own desire to have his kids grow up as normal as possible. Which translated to no bodyguards, no security cameras everywhere, no high fences. It was a fight he was going to win, although Saito didn’t know that yet. But it was also a fight for another day and he tipped his head to the side, asking for Saito’s kisses, encouraging without words.
Saito breathed a laugh and tugged Dom’s collar down, kissing, making him shudder, saying, “Come.” He pulled, dragging Dom around the island and down the long hall.
He had time to shut, then lock the door, but that was it. As soon as the lock snicked, Saito was pressed up close, tugging him back to the bed, a dance that wasn’t fumbling or graceless because they’d done it far too many times.
When they got to the bed, Saito sat and turned Dom around by his hips, drawing him close to stand between his thighs. They stared at each other again, that long moment returning. Dom brushed Saito’s temples with his thumb—the fine hairs were turning gray. It shouldn’t have been so sexy, but it was. He smiled and Saito cocked his head.
“What is it?”
He shook his head, then gasped when Saito—curious expression changing to one of lust—gently dug his thumbs into the hollow of his hips. Even through wool and cotton, the pressure was honey-sweet and he pushed and bowed his head. Bending for Saito’s kiss the same time he leaned up.
They kissed, lightly at first, then not when Dom kneeled on the bed, climbing astride Saito’s lap, already rocking. He unbuttoned Saito’s shirt without ripping like his fingers wanted to do and it was only then that he realized he was shaking, a subtle tremor originating deep in his stomach.
“Dom,” Saito murmured into his mouth, clasping his hand and back to stop his restless movements, to hold him steady. “We have all night.”
“It’s not enough,” he answered, stifling the words he wanted to say, the words he hadn’t let himself say once, those six days. ‘Do you miss me?’ And, ‘Do you miss me as much as I miss you?’ Because even though he’d had three years of being lonely, he’d also had those years with Mal, almost sixty, all told. And he would’ve thought it would take more than a few months of someone else in his bed, in his life, to bring him to this state.
Saito pushed him back to look up, consideringly. He combed his fingers through Dom’s hair, running a strand of it through his fingers, examining it as if seeing it through bright sunlight. “It’s always enough,” he finally answered. “As long as we’re together. Come,” he said again, leading Dom as he fell back to the bed, pulling him on top.
Afterwards, Dom lay there, face buried in his pillow as his breath and heart returned to normal. Saito was warm and heavy on his back, one leg entwined with his, stroking his side in a rhythm that was hypnotic.
During those first months, when they were getting to know what each liked in bed, after fucking him, Saito would always ask, ‘Did I hurt you?’ Running careful hands over Dom’s body as if searching for hidden bruises or wounds. And at first, Dom had either frowned or rolled his eyes, confused as to why Saito thought he was so fragile. Until he realized what Saito was really asking and he’d changed his non-response to, ‘Of course not,’ or, ‘I’m fine.’
He smiled softly at the memory of that epiphany and gave it another minute before drawing away. He sat up and turned to slide the back of his fingers over Saito’s cheek in a passing caress. He whispered, “I’ll be right back.”
Saito didn’t ask where he was going—he didn’t have to. He just took Dom’s hand and turned it, kissed the center of his palm. Then he let go and closed his eyes with a pleased smile.
Dom pulled on the pair of jeans that Saito had been wearing and buttoned them up as he left the room. He checked first on James, and then on Phillipa. She was lying with her back to the door. He leaned over to see her face, making the mattress sag.
She was sound asleep with that fierce concentration that only children seemed to have. As if sleep was a refuge and adventure, both at the same time and for a moment he was envious of her easy entrance into that fugitive dimension he still struggled to regain. But, he remembered that life had compensated him in other ways and he watched her for a long while, engrossed by the curve of her nose and chin, so like Mal’s.
Then he bent low and kissed her cheek and went back to Saito.