* * *
"Ka--Carlos, quit playing with the manipulatives."
Kane didn't even look up at him. "If they didn't want us to play with the toys, they shouldna left them here for us to play with," he mumbled. He'd gotten into the bucket of math toys and was making patterns out of the colored stackable blocks.
"We're trying to look like parents here," Dex hissed. God. They were in a teacher's classroom. Frances was going to pre-school now, the kind where they trained you for Kindergarten. She'd been coming home all happy and excited about learning, and suddenly they'd gotten the note. The note that said their kid had said something inappropriate and now they were in trouble. So here they were, two weeks before Christmas, looking around the classroom like it was worse than a pit of snakes.
Kane probably would have preferred the pit of snakes.
At the moment, Mrs. Richards, a tiny--as in, sub-5-foot-- woman, was talking soberly to a giantess about no sugary drinks in the lunch, and Dex was trying to remember what Frances had been eating for the past two months.
"What'd you put in her lunch yesterday?" he asked, because Kane had been in charge of dropping off.
Kane looked up at him blankly. "Bologna, cheese, mayo, wheat bread, apple slices, one cookie and a quarter for milk," he recited. "Why?"
"Well, it's not that." Dex barely refrained from tapping his toes. Dammit-- that note could have been a little more forthcoming.
Little Mrs. Richards said goodbye to the giantess, who lumbered away in what Dex could sympathetically see was mortification. The tiny teacher--in her fifties, with dyed reddish hair and bright brown eyes--grabbed a folder from the desk and came to sit down at the child's desk where Dex and Kane were sitting with their knees up to their chins.
"How are you all?" she said. "We're Frances Nuno's guardians?"
Dex pushed himself up off the tiny little chair behind him, and bent down to shake her hand. God. Four-foot-nine, maybe. He'd never in his life "loomed" over anyone at the same time he'd been made to feel uncomfortable.
"Hi, ma'am, I'm David Worrall. This is my husband, Carlos Ramirez, we're Frances's uncles."
Woman didn't even blink. "So lovely to meet you. Do sit down." She winked. "Or, remain sitting, Mr. Ramirez."
Kane looked up from the blocks and said, "Look, Dex, when you do your times tables in color, it makes a pattern."
Dex blinked. Well, he was right, it did. "That's great," he said sincerely, because he loved watching Kane discover stuff that he'd missed when he'd been small. There was a wonder on his square jawed face, a purity of heart. It was why he had so much fun playing learning games with Frances. "Kane, uh, Carlos, this is Mrs. Richards. Mrs. Richards, this is Mr. Ramirez."
That made her blink. "Oh-- that makes sense," she said, nodding. "Frances calls you Uncle Dex and Uncle Kane. I didn't realize they were nicknames-- I thought your extended family must be quite large."
Oh shit. Dex swallowed. "Well, uh, yeah." Great. They had a four year old girl calling them by their porn names. They were going to hell.
"So, is one of you named John or Galen or Chase or Tommy?" she asked, still smiling.
Dex shook his head. "No--those are... well, friends. I mean, John's my boss, uh, Galen's his boyfriend. And Kane's, uh, Carlos's, I mean, you know, Kane's. But... you know. Family."
She nodded. "Oh, of course, I understand. And Uncle Ethan and Uncle Jonah--"
"Also friends," Dex confirmed. "Ethan provided daycare for her for part of last year."
"Yes, I got that impression. She was not happy to leave the babies--I haven't figured out whose they are, but I gathered she only got a couple of months with them."
"We visit," Kane said, voice wounded, and it was time for Dex to intervene.
"Yes-- well, uhm, besides family, was their any other reason for the conference?"
Mrs. Richards gave him a professional smile. "Well, first of all, Frances is very bright. I know you were worried about her language acquisition because she'd been sick as an infant, but she's catching up phenomenally. She says that her Uncle Kane helps her at night, and that he pretends he's not very good at reading to let her help."
Dex and Kane met gazes and Kane grimaced. He'd actually gotten to high school reading level this year, but he still had problems with some words he hadn't been able to pronounce when he'd been small with a cleft palate. Some sort of mental block.
"Kane's wonderful with her," Dex said softly. "They're really good together."
The little hobbit or pixy or gnome or whatever smiled. "That's so good to hear. And I understand that not everybody's family situation is usual or the same. But... well, I just have some concerns about her basic knowledge of animals."
Dex straightened, his eyes going big. "Animals?"
To his left, Kane said, "Uh-oh."
That tiny smiled in the wrinkling face became decidedly uncomfortable. "So, Mr. Worrall, we asked the children to tell us a story about animals, and to draw us a picture."
Dex said, "Uh-oh."
Kane said, "Oh my God."
She pulled out the drawing--very colorfully done, in five kinds of crayon.
"Could you gentlemen explain what this is?"
Dex said "Oh Dear Lord."
Kane said, "I had no idea she saw that."
Mrs. Richards said, "Yes, but what is it? She kept calling it a flower. She said that when the turtle saw his favorite snake, Tomas, he brought it flowers."
"Aw," said Kane. "Isn't that sweet? She thinks the turtle's courting!"
Dex stared a him. "Courting."
"Yeah! Like when I bring you cookies because I fucked something up and I don't want you to be mad."
"You bring me..."
Kane chuckled, the sound disproportionately low and sexy in this child's classroom full of colored paper projects, bright fuzzy yarn, and manipulative toys. "Flowers, Dexter. Get it? Flowers?"
Dex said, "Oh my God."
"So... the turtle does have a flower?" Mrs. Richards asked uncomfortably.
"Well," Dex said, "Uh, all turtles have flowers. All, uh, boy turtles have flowers."
"Oh my God," Said Mrs. Richards.
"Yeah, uh..." Dex looked over his shoulder at Kane, who sort of shrugged. "See... this turtle here is a box turtle. And we usually keep him and his... uh, buddy, outside in a brick tank under the tree. But it's been really stormy lately, and their tanks a little flooded, and they like a little water, but you don't want them to get too cold, you know?"
"So you bring them inside."
"Yeah," Kane said, nodding. "And we have to put them in their old tank, but, you know, turtles get big, and then they break your house!"
"So, the turtles got out?" Mrs. Richards said, sounding a little stunned.
"Yeah," Dex nodded, grateful she seemed to be getting it. "And one of them we could keep in the bathtub. But the other one kept getting out--"
"He got sort of a hard-o...uh, crush, on my snake," Kane said seriously.
"Your snake-- so, that's Tomas?" Like she was making sure.
Dex nodded. "Yeah-- which is sort of fruitless--"
"Tomas is sort of in love with Dex," Kane said, chuckling. "It's not even funny-- that snake fell in love the first time he escaped and found Dex's, uh..."
"Leg," Dex said darkly. Whenever Kane left Tomas out, that animal had an uncanny ability to find Dex's balls. It was like a superpower.
"Yeah," Kane smirked. "Uh, leg. But this turtle, he's got a crush, and so every day when we leave, he escapes the bathtub and crashes--"
"He broke the door!" Dex said, outraged. "Like, pushed the door so hard it busted the little lock. That fu...uh, animal is breaking my house!"
"Yeah," Kane agreed. "Sorry, Dexter. We should give him to Chase and Tommy-- they've got a big heated terrarium in the baby's room. Anyway-- so we get home the other day, and, well, the damned turtle is, uh..."
"Courting," Mrs. Richards supplied, her eyes big.
Dex nodded. "Courting. He's, uh, courting the snake. Against the glass side of the terrarium."
Dex had actually worried that the terrarium would crack, and then the turtle had finished and they'd just needed a shitton of windex.
"With his 'flower.'" Mrs. Richards clarified.
Dex nodded weakly. "It's not really a flower."
"She gave the turtle a santa hat," the teacher said, her voice as dry as toast.
"I saw that." Dex tried his best smile. "It looks great."
"She says all santa turtles bring flowers for snakes, and she knows this because Uncle John and Uncle Galen told her that."
"I swear," Kane muttered. "Galen is a sarcastic, snarky sonuva--"
"But apparently, Uncle Galen told her that the snakes usually hid inside the flowers, and now she's very confused."
"He's a lawyer," Dex told her without blinking. "They've got a very dry sense of humor."
"So I gather," Mrs. Richards said. "What I would like to know, is how we're going to explain flowers and snakes to a four year old girl."
"Just tell her the turtle's in love," Kane said simply. "Turtles bring flowers, men bring... flowers or, you know, sometimes snakes, and that bringing a gift is never a bad thing even if the snake wants another snake."
Mrs. Richards sighed. "Or I could just tell her that turtle is in love, and turtle penises look like flowers, and that all the men she knows are gay."
"That would work," Dex said, nodding helpfully. "But I think she's figured out about all the men she knows."
"Does she know any women?" Mrs. Richards asked.
"Yeah, yeah-- Kelsey helps Ethan and Jonah watch kids. And, uh, she knows you!" Kane could be charming too when he turned on his dimples.
"Well then. Now that I know what that picture is, and we're all on the same page, I think I can let you gentlemen resume your day."
Dex managed to stand up again, and he gave Kane a hand so Kane could leverage up too. "Thank you, ma'am--"
"Uh, Mr. Ramirez?"
"You need to leave the manipulatives here."
Kane sighed. "I swear-- kids have all the best fun."
* * *
Dex was still reeling in mortification at the end of the day. He and Kane had taken separate cars to the teacher conference because Kane had school that day, and he got home a little late because he'd needed to pick Frances up from Ethan's after he got off work. He'd tried-- in vain-- to explain the turtles with flowers and santa hats debacle to Ethan and Jonah, but those hosers had lost their nut at the part where the turtle had been fucking the terrarium, and so his humiliation at having the teacher call them in for turtle porn remained unassuaged.
He walked into the house, Frances trailing after him, wondering what he was going to pull out of his ass for dinner, only to be met with the smell of homemade Kane-made pizza cooking, and a variety of things on and next to the kitchen table.
Next to the kitchen table was a large, trench-shaped terrarium that hugged the dining room wall and took very little space in their soon-to-be-cramped house. It was made of inch-thick fiberglass, and looked like it would hold against the turtle's very determined courtship--at least until spring hit and they could put the turtles back in the brick terrarium outside.
ON the table was a big old vase of real flowers. With a stuffed snake around the vase.
Kane was in the kitchen tossing salad--actual food, this time, although Dex was starting to feel a strong urge to toss Kane's salad for him at bedtime.
"Hey," he said, smiling at Kane through a sort of hazy joy.
"Hey, Dexter. You recovered yet?"
Dex shook his head. He and Frances had held the "Turtles in love" discussion in the car on the way home and he was still traumatized. "Nope," he said bleakly. "Still a little..."
Kane grinned and came around the counter. "Frances, bunny, go put your backpack in your room, okay?"
"Okay, Unca Carlos. Love you!"
"Love you too."
He kissed her on the top of her little head and she skipped off, probably to play with her dolls before dinner.
Then he stood and pulled Dex by the hips until their groins touched. "You sure you're not recovered?"
"We got called in for a teacher's conference because our niece saw turtle porn," Dex said, feeling the embarrassment deeply. "They're gonna take away our parent card for this, Carlos."
Kane laughed gently, and pulled Dex's head so he could whisper in his ear. "Would you like to see my snake, Dexter? Cause it sure would like to explore your flower tonight?"
Reluctantly, Dex smiled. "Sex? Can we call it sex?" he asked plaintively.
"I'll go you one better, Dexter. You and I will fuck tonight, until neither one of us can see straight. After this afternoon, we're totally due."
Dex kissed him-- he had to. Because snakes and turtles might be destined for unhappy endings, but he and Kane were going to have a happy ending of their own that night, and he was so damned grateful he could cry.