Babysitter Boogie

by


Story #14 in the Emma universe


I walked into the house to find Bodie talking on the phone.

"'s okay," he said, "no problem. We didn't have anything planned for that weekend, anyway." I put down my keys and nuzzled the back of his neck, giving him a nip for good measure. He yelped. "No, its just your Da biting me, is all," he said. So it was Emma.

"I have all our weekends planned for the rest of our lives," I whispered. "Were going to be making love."

"He says . . ." Bodie began, but I clapped my hand over his mouth and pulled the phone out of his hands.

"I say hello, Minx. How are my grandbabies?" A grandfather at my age----shocking 2

"Hullo, Da. Its lovely of you to sit the kids next weekend." I glared at Bodie who was wearing his choirboy expression. "Alecs been looking haggard lately." I wasn't surprised to hear that.

"Next weekend? All weekend?"

"Thats what Bodie said. It is okay, isn't it?" she asked in her little girl voice that always got to her old Da.

"Fine, lovely. Looking forward to seeing you then, Love. Ciao." I rang off and locked both hands around Bodie's neck. "Kill, kill, kill," I shouted, eyes glazing over at the thought of sitting four young children for two days. He began to laugh. "The least you could do is to look terrified until my rage passes off."

"Oh, sorry." He pulled me into his lap. "Are you really upset?" he asked. "I thought you loved those kids as much as I do."

I was forced to confess that I did indeed just about worship the little buggers, but that my idea of a nice romantic weekend did not include them. Bless Bodie for not pointing out that not every weekend off had to be romantic. "It cramps my style, lover," I pouted, and he kissed the corners of my mouth very gently. I like it when he does that. We kissed for a little while, and I relented. As long as we could sleep together it would be a good weekend. The rest of it we'd always have.

And so, that's how we ended up on Friday evening driving out to Emma and Alec's with our overnighters. Michael and Danny came out to meet us, both talking a mile a minute. There was a little jostling and a few half--hearted punches were thrown and fended off, and I started to understand why Alec was looking haggard.

Emma was inside feeding Georgie. "He never cries," she said, even before saying hello.

"You don't have to sell us on the kids," Bodie told her, chucking little Georgie under the chin. "We're here, aren't we?"

"I want to make sure you'll stay. Are you sure," she asked very emphatically, "that you want to do this?" She handed Georgie to Bodie and said, "Burp him while I get dressed."

"Maybe we ought to reconsider," I muttered as Bodie draped the baby over his shoulder and began to pat its back.

"Nothin' to it, Mate. You just have to know how to talk to them. Watch this. Danny, Michael, how'd you like to take our things to our room?" They nodded enthusiastically and both dove for the same hold--all, each tugging on one of the straps.

"I'll take this one," Danny announced.

"No, I will, I saw it first," Michael countered.

"Well, I'm older."

"I touched it first," Michael said. "You saw me touch it first, didn't you, Daddy; didn't you, Da?" Danny smacked him.

I expected tears, but Michael is a tough, stubborn little sod, just like his Da, and he grabbed Danny's arm and tried to bit it.

"Just a minute. If you can't do it without fighting, you can't do it at all. Danny, you take the heavier one because you're bigger." Bodie the wise. We watched as the kids hefted first one hold--all then the other, scrupulously determining the weights of each. Then each of them ran off with their assigned burdens, and Bodie smiled seraphically. "Nothing to it," he said, patting Georgie's back vigorously. Georgie spit up all down the back of Bodie's jacket.

I washed the baby while Bodie washed his jacket. Emma came into the loo and presented us with a list of instructions and phone numbers that we were to use in case anything went wrong while they were gone. Still undaunted, Bodie mopped at his jacket. "Oh, don't worry, what can go wrong?" he asked. I began making a mental list, and Alec, who was looking tired, expressed my sentiments when he said, "don't tempt fate, Bodie, you don't want to know what could go wrong." And then they were off for a well deserved vacation (two days in Paris) and we were alone with . . . Them.

It occurred to both of us at the same moment that we hadn't yet seen Justine, and I think the realization gave both of us the slightest moment of panic. One thing I do know about baby Bitting is that when a child is quiet there's dirty business afoot. Bodie and I raced up to Justine's room, ignoring the loud but harmless sounding argument that was going on in Danny's room, and found Justine, looking more angelic than ever in a bright yellow pinafore, sitting on the floor having a dolly tea party. All of her dolls and stuffed animals were arranged in a semi--circle in front of her, and she was chatting with them. I thought I recognized Rupert among them, and wondered if Michael was allowing her to entertain his teddy, or if Justine had light fingers and a passion for company. In any event, she seemed quite happy. We weren't invited to join the party.

As we started back downstairs, Michael yelled for Bodie. "Daddy, Danny's looking at me!" he shouted.

"I am not."

"Yes, you are.

"No, I'm not. I wouldn't look at you if you were turning into a frog." At that last, Bodie began to snicker, pressing his face against my chest to smother the noise.

"You two had better settle down," I warned, as sternly as possible, considering Bodie. I poked him. "You're the one who volunteered us, Mate. You'd better take care of this." I shoved him toward the bedroom and went down to start dinner.

It was nice and quiet for the better part of ten minutes until Cio--Gio--San, the half Siamese maniac feline, lost a hairball on the kitchen table, reminding me forcibly of why I didn't keep cats, much as I like them. She hissed at me when I went to clean up the mess, then jumped down and began that maddening Siamese howl that drew the other cats from all corners of the house. "Oh, Christ," I breathed, "what now?"

"She's in heat." It was Michael at my elbow. "She's going into heat again. Mama said that we're going to have her fixed as soon as she and Papa get back from Paris, if she ever isn't in heat." These kids seemed to have a good grasp of animal facts of life as well as human. "She's always in heat."

Fortunately, the others were all neutered, male and female alike, so while in a couple of cases the spirit was willing, the gentlemen cats could do no harm. Michael pointed that out to me as well.

"Where's Bodie and Danny? I asked him as he settled down on one of the high stools.

"Upstairs. Daddy's reading Sherlock Holmes to Danny."

"Don't you want to hear the stories, too?"

"I'd rather watch you make dinner. What are you going to fix?"

I opened the refrigerator, one of the enormous, modern American models that was necessary in a family this size, and inspected the contents. Emma had laid in a good stock of food, including some exotic stuff that would make a wonderfully romantic late supper the next night. "Um, fish sound good?"

"What sort?"

"I don't know, whatever there is." I inspected the package of fish. "Cod?" Michael made a face.

"What else is there?" he asked, and I listed every possibility, only to be met with the same expression of disgust each time.

"Well, and what would his majesty like for supper?" I asked.

"Pasta with vegetables and cheese?"

"How about lamb chops and mashed potatoes and peas and carrots tonight, and pasta tomorrow?" Tomorrow night I'd be willing to make something easy and get the kids to bed early, but tonight I was determined that they'd have a good dinner. Michael's lip, curled eloquently.

"Don't like meat," he said.

I put him to work setting the table, and the whole time he chattered about Mama and Papa and Daddy, and Danny and Justine and Georgie and the cats and the dogs (all of whom were outside. Only Polyphemus, an enormous, brown brute with one blind eye, was allowed in the house, and only then because he was a favourite of the children. To give him his due, he was the gentlest of creatures with the kids, and a superb watchdog as well.) and all the other assorted creatures that Emma and Alec had adopted. I couldn't help but think of my own childhood and what little I knew of Bodie's, and reflect that Michael was a lucky child. They all were.

Bodie appeared just as I was ready to send Michael up to call them down to dinner. Danny was riding piggyback, and they were both shouting 'the game is afoot, Watson!' Five children, I was babysitting five children.

"You forgot Justine," I reminded him as he began to peek into the pots on the stove.

"Oh, yeh, Danny, Michael, go and get your sister, will you?" They raced up the stairs, sounding for all the world like a whole herd of children. "How can they make so much noise?" Bodie asked. "What's for dinner?" I told him and he made a face.

"Da . . . I think you'd better come up here," Danny shouted. His voice had a definite 'wait 'til you see what's happened now' quality to it.

"How will it end?" I sighed, and trudged upstairs, leaving Bodie to finish preparing the food. As I feared, it was messy, but fortunately not harmful. Justine had tired of dolly tea party, and had gone on to playing Mama, and she was washing all her dollies. She'd filled the basin in the kids' loo with water, and the better part of a bottle of French's henna shampoo, and was scrubbing her 'babies' with real enthusiasm. Fortunately, she'd not gotten around to washing the stuffed animals, and Michael had rescued Rupert and, after swatting Justine's backside, had run off to God--knew--where. Unfortunately, the shampoo that hadn't found its way into the basin had ended up on her nice yellow pinafore, staining it reddish--brown. I undressed her and tossed the clothes into the bath to soak, hoping that the stains were only temporary. Justine was crying. She had soap in her eyes, and she was furious with all of us.

It took me a few minutes to get her calmed down and into her pajamas, but she's a fairly sweet tempered child, and the promise of supper went a long way to restoring her smile. Bodie and the boys had dinner on the table by the time I brought her downstairs. Bodie sat on a cat, but apart from that, things seemed to have calmed down considerably.

Hostilities broke out again a few minutes later. Danny tucked into his dinner with real enthusiasm, but Michael pushed his chop around the plate and mushed up his peas and carrots with his potatoes. Danny felt obliged to point this out to Bodie and myself, Michael called him a toady, and Danny retaliated by launching a spoonful of peas at Michael across the table. There was a moment of silence, but before either Bodie or I could stop him, Michael had picked up his chop and flung it, boomerang style, at Danny's head. His aim was superb. Bodie leaped up and grabbed Michael, only to get a fistful of mashed potatoes in the eye.

For a moment I wondered, as I watched them in identical profile, the same look on both faces, if Michael's time had come. Of course, Bodie was slightly less than imposing with the potatoes sliding down his cheek, but still, he looked angry----as angry as Michael looked. Then, very calmly, Michael reached out and smeared the potatoes into Bodie's hair, smiled and licked his fingers. Bodie wiped his face with equal calm and stuffed the mess into Michael's mouth. Danny began to laugh--a high pitched shriek of laughter. Michael spit out the potatoes and began to laugh, too, patting Bodie's face with both gooey hands. "Daddy's all messy!" he gurgled. "Daddy's got potatoes in his ears.

Michael laughing is irresistable, and even Bodie broke down then and joined in the laughter. He hugged Michael and licked his face clean in that wonderfully innocent way he has. It's a habit that Michael and Danny both have----licking and sniffing like little animals. He gave Danny a lick, too, cleaning off the chop juice.

"No good, you're all for the showers after supper," I promised. "Now sit down and eat your meal. I worked hard on this. And no more flying chops, thank you."

Bodie picked up the poor chop, rinsed it and put it back on Michael's plate, only to find that his own had been hauled off by one of the cats while he and Michael had been engaged in their battle of wills. So Bodie speared the slightly shopworn meat off of Michael's plate and ate it himself, which made everyone happy.

After supper, I washed the dishes and Bodie went upstairs to wash the boys. I talked to Justine as I worked, and she was a wonderful audience, never interrupting, accepting everything I said on face value. Of course, it helped that I'd given her some custard. I put her to sleep, fed the cats (though none of them were too hungry after polishing off Bodie's meal) and went up to see what was happening with the cleanup.

I found the three of them in the bathtub in Emma and Alec's loo, Bodie telling a ghost story and the two boys wide eyed with delicious terror.

"You lot are going to look like prunes," I warned. Bodie rolled his eyes and extended one already pruney foot from the water.

"Dry them off, will you?" he asked, passing Michael to me. I wrapped Michael in a towel----he's undersized for six and was dwarfed by the bathsheet----and then did the same for Danny. Then I packed them off to bed, promising to tuck them in in a few minutes.

"Alone at last," I whispered, hanging over the side of the tub to kiss Bodie.

"C'mon in, the water's fine."

"Fine? It's full of mashed potatoes, isn't it? No, thank you. I'd rather romp between clean sheets." The corner of his mouth twitched and he hooked one hand around my neck . .

And the voice of the children was heard. "Da" from Danny. "Da, Daddy?" from Michael, and from Justine (who had been nearly asleep when I tucked her in)" "Mama, Mama, Mama . .

Bodie sighed and slipped under the water.

I was so tired by the time I finished tucking everyone in, fetching glasses of water, turning on closet lights, checking under beds, letting Pol in and shooing the other dogs back out, and locking up the house, that I wondered if 'romp' wasn't too active a verb for the energy I had left me. Bodie was sitting up in bed reading Country Life.

"I don't recall your lifting a finger to help tonight," I observed as I undressed.

"One of us has to take care of the kids, speaking of which, I checked Georgie and changed his diaper while you were downstairs."

"Bless you. G'night." I fell face first onto the bed and began to lose consciousness immediately.

"Goodnight? Ahhh .

"Oh, God, Bodie, I want to, but I don't think I can." I was hoping that he'd try to persuade me that I could, and sure enough, the feel of lips nibbling up the back of my left leg did a lot to restore my interest in, ah, more active pursuits. He paused to lick the backs of both knees, lingering maddeningly over the very sensitive skin back there, then he continued upwards, trailing his hand between my thighs and leaving a trail of saliva up the back of each thigh. Bodie is a very moist lover. We were getting down to cases when I heard Michael's voice very clearly.

"Daddy? Iwannaglassawaterdaddy"

"That's you," I said, rolling onto my back and giving Bodie a shove. He sighed and threw on a robe which only just hid the fact that he was in a state of arousal. It was sort of funny, really, but I did my best not to snicker as he trudged off, mumbling something about vasectomies.

When he returned about half an hour later, I was asleep, but not deeply so. I felt him settle back onto the bed and woke up enough to crawl into his arms.

"He just wanted loving," Bodie said, sounding tired and pleased and a little shy. "Just wanted a cuddle."

"Do you do requests, then?" I asked. "I could use a cuddle, too."

He put his arms around me and rested his chin on my head. "Ray, I'm sorry about all this. I reckoned we'd have time to ourselves this weekend----that the kids would take care of themselves."

"It's okay."

"Yeah, but, it's not the romantic weekend in the country, is it?"

"Isn't it?" I asked. "Feels pretty romantic just now." I kissed his throat. I get silly around Bodie these days--feel all sorts of things I thought I'd never feel again, or things I'd never felt before.

"Strewth You have a thing for squalling infants?"

"Not at all, but . . . I wasn't quite sure how to say what I meant, but I bashed on. . . . but, I enjoy our family," I told him. I felt his arms tighten around me ever so slightly. "I love this place and I love being here with you. That's romantic to me, y'know."

When we finally got around to making love, it wasn't terribly active or acrobatic, but rather a melting together, slow and patient and rather more like a good cuddle than sex. Newlyweds wouldn't have done it that way; they'd have wanted fireworks and bells and the 1812 Overture every time. But Bodie and I were an old married couple. All we needed was each other. Nice. I told him how much I cared about him afterwards. I don't do that often----it makes me feel so terrifyingly vulnerable----but with Bodie it's not as bad because I trust him completely.

Some time in the night I heard someone crying, and felt the bed dip. When I woke up, Georgie's crib was in the bedroom with us. It was early when I woke, and Bodie was face down in the pillows as usual, sound asleep or dead----I'd long ago stopped trying to figure out how he breathes like that. I amused myself with fantasies of what our life would be like if we really were an old married couple.

"G'morning, Mr. Doyle, Mr. Bodie. Isn't it a lovely day?"

"Morning, Missus, yes, lovely. And how's little Jimmy? Is he over his whooping cough, or was it the plague?"

"Ooooh, he's much better now the buboes have disappeared. And how is your brood?" At which Bodie would proudly hold up all four brats for inspection, smoothing their hair and straightening their clothes. I imagined all the boys in sailor suits and Justine in dotted swiss pinafores and big pink ribbons in her hair. Very Edwardian, just like Bodie.

I started to giggle, and dropped off to sleep again.

The next thing I knew, Bodie was kissing my ear and the sound of thundering feet rose from outside the door. "Oh, God:" he groaned, and fell back against the pillows. There was a knock at the door and before we could tell them not to come in, they were in----all three of them. God knows how Justine had gotten out of her crib.

"What're we gonna do today?" Danny demanded, climbing up on top of me and staring down, depressingly bright eyed, into my face.

"Daddydaddydaddy" Michael yelled. The kid is mad about Bodie.

Justine jumped up and down at the foot of the bed yelling, "PinkiePinkiePinkie, which for some reason is what she called Bodie. Nobody's been able to figure out where she got the name or why she uses it, though.

She gave one good jump, flying up very high, and came down, missing the end of the bed by inches to land with a dull thud on the chest at the foot of the bed. Everyone held their breath as we crept down to the foot of the bed to see if she was still alive. She slid off the chest, looking slightly dazed, and fell on top of Pol, who was lying at the foot of the bed. He gave her a sloppy lick, and rolled onto his side. Justine lifted her head and grinned at us. Disaster averted.

Breakfast was somewhat pleasanter than dinner had been. Bodie set the boys to planning what we'd have, and he cooked while I went out to feed the dogs their one meal of the day, came back in to feed the cats their first of many, and checked all the other animals. There was a (literally) lame duck that they'd found on their property when they'd first moved here. Her name was Melvin, and she was evil tempered, though a great favorite of the kids'. I put her into a large washtub for her daily swim and she tried to nip me. filled the bird feeders and fed the two Dutch rabbits that Alec kept in his studio, and the finches that Emma was so fond of. The kids were responsible for their own pets, but I snuck upstairs and checked each room to be sure. Danny had fish--two tanks full----and a guinea pig named Sasha. Michael's budgie had recently died (we'd attended the funeral several weeks before) and he had a new cockatiel and a very large tortoise. Justine was too young for pets of her own, but three of the cats were in her crib, sleeping or washing themselves. Every one looked well fed and content, so I ambled back down the stairs to a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage and fried bread and tomatoes.

Danny and Michael seemed to have resolved their differences, and they traded breakfasts, Danny giving his eggs in exchange for Michael's sausages. Bodie just shrugged and poured more milk all around.

We sent the boys out to put Melvin back in her pen, figuring that she wouldn't nip either of them, and Bodie did the dishes while I had another cup of coffee and played with Justine, who was turning into a first rate little charmer with killer dimples. "Y'know, Bodie," I began, feeling expansive, "this family thing is nice. I quite like it."

"You weren't so sure about that last night," he pointed out. Damn Bodie's memory, anyway. I was about to respond sharply when Danny came to the back door and asked if we'd please come out and look at Melvin. "What's wrong with her?" Bodie asked, drying his hands and tucking Justine under one arm.

"She's sick or something," Danny told us as we walked over to the little barn. "Or dead, maybe."

"Oh, God," Bodie moaned.

Melvin was lying in the pen, on her side, eyes glazed. She was dead, all right----stone dead. I ventured that observation and, to my surprise, neither of the boys seemed particularly upset.

"I thought she was limp when I put her in the pen," Michael responded.

"So she's really dead, hunh? Can we have a funeral?"

"Don't you think that's a little macabre, Danny?" I asked as Michael poked at Melvin experimentally.

"I think we should dissect her," Michael offered. Bodie didn't say anything, but he sucked his cheeks in and stared at the loft.

"We'll have a funeral, boys," I told them. "Somebody get a bit of canvas or something to wrap her in."

"I'll do it, I'll do it," Danny shouted, running off to Alec's studio.

"I still think we ought to dissect her. Maybe we'll find out why she died."

"Where'd he learn that word?" Bodie whispered as we carried Justine back to the house. I shrugged.

"Advanced kid, I guess."

Bodie fed Georgie and this time burped him properly. Justine went out to pick some flowers for Melvin's grave.

"Ummm, d'you reckon this is healthy, Ray?"

I shrugged, "Kids have to learn about death and dying. I imagine this is a good a way as any. You remember the funeral they had for the budgie."

"Yeah, nice little service. 'e looked real nice."

"Sod off, Bodie."

"Language," he said, covering Georgie's ears.

About an hour later, Michael ran up to the door and told us to come out for the funeral. When we reached the barn, we found Pol hitched to a little antique wagon in which there rested a shoe box with the name 'Melvin' written on it.

"She's in there?" I asked.

"Yeah, well, we sort of had to scrunch her up," Danny admitted. Michael began to giggle, and Danny poked him. Both boys were wearing black arm bands that looked suspiciously like socks.

The procession took us down toward the river. "We decided to bury her here because the ground is softer and because this is where we found her," Danny explained. There was a shallow hole already dug, and Michael carried the box over and put it into the grave.

"We are saying farewell to our sister, Melvin," Danny intoned, sounding uncomfortably like the local vicar, "beloved wife of Marvin, beloved daughter of Mort and Mabel . . . Michael began to giggle again, and so did Bodie. Justine began to cry. . . . beloved mother of Minnie and Millie and Mickey and Molly and Maggie and . . .

"Muffin?" Michael offered. "No, not Muffin. Esmeralda." Bodie rolled his eyes.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . . Oh, Grave, where is thy victory?

Ah . . . Danny frowned for a moment while Justine's sobs became louder and I picked her up and cuddled her. "Mi, Amen," Danny said.

Michael threw a handful of dirt on the box, then kicked the rest into the grave. Bodie nudged me. "He's good at that, is Danny."

"I wanted to bury her at sea," Michael complained as he patted the dirt into a nice mound over the makeshift coffin. Justine squiremed out of my grasp. She wanted to put the flowers on the grave. While she was trying to make the poor, wilted daisies stand up in the packed earth, Danny erected a cardboard headstone which read: 'Melvin, d. 1989, Well done good and fateful servant.

Bodie turned his face against Georgie's arm and shook with silent laughter. I bit my lip very hard and said, "That's nice, boys."

"It's only eleven. What's the rest of the day going to be like?" Bodie asked when we got back to the house.

Before I could answer, Michael was back at the door asking what we were going to have for lunch. "Ask your father," I snapped, then relented because he looked so surprised and unhappy. "What would you like, Love?"

"Cheese sandwich and soup?"

"Okay. I'll call you when it's ready."

"Lunch? We just finished breakfast," Bodie observed. He hadn't put Georgie down, yet, and I had the feeling he rather liked holding a baby. He looked very natural with one in his arms.

"Takes after you," I told him.

"Da?" It was Danny. "When's lunch?"

"When I say."

"Okay." He rabbitted off to find Michael or one of the dogs.

"Him too.

"You really think so, do you?"

"Yeh, I do," I admitted. I'd thought that from the moment I saw Danny. wanted it to be true. Justine tried to climb Bodie's leg and he grabbed her by the back of her jeans and hauled her into his lap.

"Okay then, if that's what you want."

"Aren't you curious?" I asked, checking through the refrigerator for cheese. "I would be."

"I was when I first saw him, but not now. He's Emma's son. That's the way she wanted it. It didn't pay to push the issue, did it?"

I had to admit that he was right, that Emma had made such a fetish about Danny being HER son first and foremost, that if Bodie had pressed a claim, even so innocuous a one as asking Emma if he was Danny's father, we might have lost both Emma and Danny. She was skittish when she came home. Danny was her anchor, and she refused to share any part of him for the better part of a year, until she met Alec and fell in love. I'd thought at first that Bodie's seeming indifference was callous----I was disappointed in him----but over the years I'd begun to realise that he'd given up a lot when he'd given up any claim on Danny. He'd never have that special love that Danny gave to Emma and Alec and to me, as his grandfather. In a way, I guess, it made Michael even more special to Bodie.

I couldn't resist----I kissed the top of his head. "I love you, Bodie. You're a special person.

"Love ooo Pinkie," Justine cooed.

The luncheon conversation ran to graves and funerals and headstones and dissections until Bodie laid down the law. "Let the dead rest in peace," he ordered, and Danny slapped his forehead with an exasperated sigh.

"THAT'S what I forgot to put on the headstone:" He wanted to run out and do it immediately, but I told him it could wait until we finished lunch. Unfortunately, about five minutes later, it began to pour, which effectively put an end to gravesite improvements for the afternoon. I had the feeling that all there would be left of beloved Melvin's grave would be a pile of soggy cardboard.

Bodie and I tossed a coin to decide who would do the dishes and who would entertain the kids. He lost, and was forced to play hand after hand of Happy Families until he looked half crazed. I took pity on him and told the children that he and I wanted to take a short nap and suggested that it might be wise to play quietly or they'd be put to bed. Being wise children, they trudged up to the nursery to play at explorers. Bodie and I went up to our room.

One of the cats had had a fur ball on the floor, but I decided to leave it until we woke up. It wasn't going anywhere.

We cuddled up together, and were asleep in a matter of seconds, I think. It' s surprising how much four children can take out of you----even a highly trained C15 operative doesn't stand a chance against the little monsters.

I woke up first, and it was very dark in the bedroom. I could barely see the clock on the opposite wall, but it looked to be almost five. I couldn't believe that we'd been allowed to sleep undisturbed for almost three hours, and I wondered if we'd have time for a quick one.

"Bodie," I whispered. "Bodie, wake up, lover, and make love with me." He was rumpled and sleepy, but as willing as could be. I could have done anything to him, and he wouldn't have objected.

As it was, I started stroking him like a great cat and he stretched and rolled around under my hands, and I swear he even purred a little. He's smooth to the touch----nice, skin against skin, and utterly sensual. I stroked his chest and belly and thighs, and his back, cupping my hands over his fanny and squeezing, maybe a little harder than I ought, but it felt so good to be touching him like that. He surged upwards and gave a little choked cry that wasn't quite pain or discomfort, but something excited and exciting. He was going to be my toy this time, I realized with a rush of incredible arousal. He was going to let me use him in whatever way I desired. I pushed him back onto the bed and began to lick him, sucking gently at his nipples and dipping my tongue into his navel. Then I took his cock into my mouth and began to suck. I was going to suck him dry, I thought in a crazy moment.

But I wanted more, and so I pushed his legs up until they were bent against his chest, and I took him----anxious, hungry----and Bodie relaxed and drifting along on the sensations. I felt like a lunatic, like his owner . like some crazy lover who is given everything and wants more. I wanted to eat him alive.

I wanted to cry when I came so hard I couldn't breath for a few moments, and lay against him gasping like a beached fish. I felt like a fool. And Bodie was stroking my back and my face and hair.

"You're really something, lover," he whispered, and we both laughed, weak and silly.

"You think they're still in the nursery?"

"They were probably watching," Bodie grumbled as he wiped himself off with a tissue. "Danny asked me this morning what it is we do. He wanted to know if it was like what Mama and Papa do."

"How does he know what they do?" I asked, thoroughly annoyed at Emma. Honesty in child rearing was one thing .

"I asked him that and he said because it was what the cats and dogs do."

"Oh. And what did you say?"

"That we do pretty much the same thing only we don't make babies when we do it with each other. He seemed happy with that."

"Good . . . I guess.

"Yeah, well, at least he asked. If I know Michael, he'll try to peek some night."

I had to admit that he was probably right.

I was a little uneasy about the silence in the house as I had a wash. "Bodie," I called from the loo, "check the kids, will you?" I heard him shuffle out, grumbling. There were a few moments more of silence, and then shrieks of outrage that sounded depressingly like Justine, and Bodie yelling for the boys. I tossed on a robe and ran to the nursery.

I found Bodie comforting a near hysterical Justine, who was covered in make--up----lipstick, eye shadow . . . God knows what all. The make--up was all over her clothes as well as her face which, underneath all, was crimson with anger.

"What's wrong?" I yelled over her shrieks.

Danny! Michael!" he yelled again. "They left her up here tied up and gagged, is what."

Two dark heads appeared in the doorway. "What did you do to Justine?" I demanded.

"Forgot her," Danny admitted, shamefaced.

"Didn't hurt her," Michael added sulkily. "Just tied her up a bit."

"Tied her up? Tied her up? What d'you think she is, a pot roast?" Bodie shouted. Michael made the mistake of laughing. "You two are in trouble," he promised, the look on his face enough to kill. I'd never seen Bodie lose his temper with any of the kids----usually, he's the most patient of parents, much more than I am. It was frightening. Michael shut up and melted back against Danny, who was white as a sheet.

"We're sorry. We just went down for provisions," he explained, supping an arm around Michael in a protective gesture. "We forgot. It wasn't long, though. I mean, we never meant to hurt her. She wanted to play our captive Indian maiden. She said so.

Justine, who had buried her face in Bodie's shoulder, looked up, the ridiculous, limp feather headdress hanging sodden in her eyes. "Don't wanna be Pokeyhunkas nennymore," she sobbed. "Wanna be Smif." Bodie patted her back and cooed that everything was all right. Then she brightened. "You bring fox stew?" she asked the boys.

"What's that?" I asked them.

"Danny held out a saucepan full of what looked like soup. "Cream of chicken soup," he explained. "We call it fox stew. Explorers eat it."

"Want fox stew, Pinkie!"

Bodie sighed and put Justine down, and she ran to the boys.

"Gimme fox stew or I'll scalp you," she threatened. Disaster averted.

"Y'know," Bodie said as we went back to the bedroom to dress, "She looked rather like Emma did when she was sixteen."

"Ha ha. I'm feeding them early and putting them to bed," I told him. "I may padlock Justine's crib."

"She's a funny little sod . . . like her grand-da."

Dinner that night was pasta, and Michael was overjoyed. He helped me cook while Bodie read another story to Danny. I heard the words 'Scarlet Pimpernel,' and had a good guess as to what Danny had requested. I half listened after that and made a note to reread the story soon. Or better, I thought, to get Bodie to read it to me. He read aloud rather well. I got them all fed, and during dessert I announced that I was calling early curfew that night. It didn't go over too well, and I was forced to explain that I did not expect them all to go to bed immediately, but that I did expect them to stay in their rooms for the duration of the night.

"Howcum?" Michael asked, mouth full of cake and ice cream.

"Because Bodie and I want some time together----alone."

"You were alone this afternoon," he reminded us with an air of someone who's discovered a plot. Danny leaned over and whispered something, and Michael's eyes widened and he nodded. "Oh, like Mama and Papa?" Danny confirmed this. "I get it now," Michael said. "Why didn't you say so?"

Bodie put his head down on the table and made a small, strangled sound.

Finally . . . finally all the teeth were brushed, the pajamas gotten into, closet lights switched on, goodnight kisses given, and bedding tucked in.. Downstairs, the cats were fed, the baby was fed and put back to bed, and Bodie walked out in the rain to check on the dogs. He took Pol with him, intending to leave him in the barn, but Pol wasn't having any. He was a house dog, no mistake. Finally, everything that needed doing was done and we were ready for a nice, romantic evening in front of the fireplace.

Bodie opted to fix the food while I built the fire. He switched on the radio to a nice, quiet station and hummed along as he worked, flashing me smile from time to time. It all felt very right, rather domestic and exotic at the same time, like an old married couple planning a second honeymoon.

By the time I had the fire going, Bodie had brought out a plate of biscuits and two champagne glasses. "Champagne?" I asked. "There wasn't any in the f ridge."

"I found it this afternoon, just before nappies. I put it in the freezer to chill faster." He kissed my nose and went back to the kitchen, humming all the way.

The humming stopped. "Oh, no!" he wailed. "Oh, bloody hell!"

"What?" I came running out to see.

"Sodding bottle exploded, didn't it?" He was really upset about it, but I thought it was sort of funny. I put my arms around him.

"Never mind," I cooed. "There's white wine in the fridge."

"Oh, but it's not champagne, is it?"

"It'll be lovely. Now what else are we having?"

"Well," he began, looking rather sulky, "some fresh fruit . . . and cheese and pate . . . he smiled a little. ". . . and I've got some brie. It should be ready by now.

"Ready?"

"Yeh." He pulled out an oven mitt. "It was supposed to get runny at room temperature, but it wasn't warming up fast enough, I guess. Anyway, I reckoned a few minutes in the oven . . . I shut my eyes as he opened the oven door. Silence. Then the oven door closed. "I hope you like gorgonzola," he said.

We had brie soup from what we rescued. The rest slid through the rack and toasted itself on the oven floor and was given to the cats, who thought it a magnificent treat. Pol had some too. It was a lovely meal, all things considered, perhaps simply because we could share it, and laugh about it together.

And afterwards, we stretched out in front of the fireplace and necked for a while, and talked----mostly about our lives together and what sort of future we wanted to have, but we talked about the past, too. It was a beautiful evening.

We stayed there until the fire died; we almost made love there, and but for the kids we would have done. It was nice, though, to close the house together and check the children's bedrooms together and watch Pol choose the child he would sleep with that night . . . all together. Our family.

And when we did make love, it was fantastic----all those fireworks and bells and overtures I said we didn't always need----we had them this time . . . and after the explosion we let the fire die down to a glow, holding each other and both knowing that this, for better or for worse, was forever.

A light, tentative touch woke me, and I looked down to find Michael standing, in tears, by the side of the bed. "Daddy," he sobbed, and held out his arms to me. I lifted him into the bed and laid him between Bodie and myself and tried to comfort the poor little bugger. Bodie woke up and cuddled him. I guess he'd had a nightmare, at least that's what I got from the incoherent weeping. We let him fall asleep there between the two of us, and Bodie smiled at me across Michael's curls. Later the thunder woke me, and there was Danny holding Justine, who wasn't crying, but who was white--faced with terror. The storm was fairly violent, and Pol was in the room, too; in fact, he was curled at the foot of the bed along with five cats. Only Georgie, serenely asleep in his crib, seemed unaware of the commotion.

Danny slept curled up against Bodie and Justine on my chest. It wasn't the most comfortable night I've ever spent, but in a strange way it was one of the nicest. I couldn't help but hear strains of 'raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens' as I dropped back to sleep.

It was still raining as I struggled up out of sleep the next morning, and the room was grey but not entirely cheerless. Justine had drooled all over my chest, but she'd slept through the night without another whimper, and Danny and Michael and Bodie were all tied into a sort of knot and all three of them looked like they might have died in their sleep. Pol was sleeping on my feet, which were asleep, but the cats had gone off, presumably in search of food. Georgie was still asleep, and I couldn't help but think that new babies were good for cat--meat and not much else. Sleep, eat and sleep some more was all Georgie did. Well, really, he was a good baby----he hardly ever cried.

Bodie woke with a snort. "S'time?" "Past nine. How you doing?"

He shook his head muzzily. "Dunno. "Georgie still alive?" he asked.

"I was just wondering that. Y'know, he's been so good this weekend---no problems as all." I should have known not to speak too soon, for as I was climbing out of bed to check on him, Georgie began to wail with hunger. Bodie grinned at me and pulled the covers over himself and all the kids.

I took the baby down and tossed a bottle into the microwave, trying to calm him down while I waited for the thing to heat up. It was a little warm to my skin, but not too hot, I thought, so I gave him the bottle, and watched the little crimson monkey face change into a nice pink little contented baby face. He sucked like it was going out of style, and I was surprised that he was so hungry, but then he was a growing boy. It was sort of nice to be holding him. I'd never had a chance to play Da with Emma, so now I couldn't get enough of it. Truth be known, I wasn't at all displeased when Bodie volunteered us for this weekend. In fact, I probably would have done the same myself in the situation.

He finished the bottle in record time and I burped him and carried him back upstairs, figuring to feed the animals and crawl back into bed for another couple of hours, but before I could get him to his crib, he started coughing and gagging, and then breakfast started coming up. I swear, I never thought a baby could spew like that. He wasn't just spitting up, he was doing the bit from The Exorcist where . . . well, it was messy. I yelled for Bodie and raced Georgie into the loo to clean him up, but not before he'd spit up all over me and the floor.

"Bodie, mind the . . ." Too late. The sound of someone hitting the floor, then the wall, made me cringe. Then there was a sound of weeping. Justine.

"What's going On?"

"Chaos," I said as I mopped at Georgie, who seemed to be slowing down. Bodie appeared at the door holding Justine, who was nursing a bumped head and a skinned knee. Her little nightgown was covered with Georgie's breakfast. Poor kid wouldn't have one clean outfit when we were through with her. I remembered the pinafore left to soak on Friday night and wondered if it had fermented yet.

Bodie patched her up with a plaster and a couple of kisses and got her to stop crying. "Boys are still dead to the world," he said as he rocked her.

"How could anyone sleep through this?"

"Oh, my God .

"What? What now?" He was standing in the doorway, and a funny sound came out of him. Justine laughed.

"You don't have to clean up after Georgie," he told me. His face was slightly tinged with green. "The cats just did it for you."

He and Justine helped me feed the pets, and we managed to get back to bed by ten fifteen . . . just as the boys woke up and wanted attention. "Phew! What smells?" Danny demanded, sniffing each of us.

"Georgie, Justine, me., Ray----take your pick," Bodie muttered. I couldn't smell anything, but then I was just as glad. "Baths all around this morning afternoon," he amended, turning on his side and shutting his eyes. "I'm hungry!" Michael wailed.

"Yeahmeetoo, Pinkie."

"I could fix breakfast," Danny offered, but the thought of what the kitchen would look like after haunted me.

"Can't you boys wait for a little while?" I begged, very near sleep and very comfortable. Georgie decided for us. He started to cry again.

I had to admit that by noon I was checking the clock every few minutes, calculating how long it would be before Emma and Alec got back. The rain just kept coming down and coming down, and the kids, forced to stay in the house, started to get fractious. Danny and Michael began to fight again, and Justine's normally sunny disposition turned as grey as the day. Georgie cried all the time, and when he was fed, he spit up his meal, and started to cry again.

"Hope he's not sick or anything," Bodie said, and I told him to shut up. I was worried, too, but I didn't like hearing my fears voiced quite so bluntly. I wasn't sure if it was my imagination, but Georgie looked greyish and sickly.

Michael and Danny got into a fight over some building blocks and Bodie lost patience and shouted at both of them to clean up their mess and go to their rooms. Danny was properly abashed and set to work, but Michael threw a block at Bodie and got a spanking. When Bodie got through with him, he went over to the box and threw another block at Bodie. Then he took off like a bat out of hell. He may be bad tempered, but he's nobody's fool. Poor Danny looked like he expected to get the next spanking, but Bodie took one look at him and gave him a hug and a kiss. "I'm not mad at you," he assured Danny.

During lunch, the rain stopped, and I sent the kids out to play, not really caring that they were going to get soaked in the wet grass. I was just grateful to see them go. From the window, I watched them work off excess energy with the dogs.

Bodie made tea, and we curled up in front of the fireplace and toasted our toes. "We're going to have to wash them all before Emma and Alec get home."

"And clean the place, too. Remind me of this if I ever look like I'm going to volunteer us again."

"Wasn't so bad, was it?"

He thought about that for a while. "No, I don't reckon it was as bad as it could have been."

"I thought it was kind of nice."

"Some parts of it," he admitted. "Most of it." His face split into a broad grin. "It was pretty funny, really."

"Not just funny. Nice. You know what I mean," I said, poking him in the ribs and making him squirm.

"Yeh."

We were quiet together for a while. "Let's have a baby," he said. I poked him again and he chuckled. "We're married, aren't we?" he asked.

"I guess we are," I admitted, startled by the question.

"Took us long enough."

I remembered that first meeting and how much I hated him . . . and how attracted I'd been to him. Was it really almost fourteen years?

The kids were a lot less trouble after their playtime, and we managed a communal bath in that enormous bathtub of Emma's, with a lot of splashing and giggling. Michael didn't exactly apologize to Bodie, but every time Bodie turned around, Michael was kissing him. "You'd think the kid fancies me," he joked, but I could tell he was pleased. Then Michael started kissing me and Danny and Justine and even Georgie. Very free with himself, is Michael. He's got a great career ahead of him if he follows his instincts. Silly little bugger----he reminded me so much of Bodie sometimes that it was. painful to look at him.

Dinner was a picnic in front of the fireplace--leftovers. Georgie kept his dinner down, too, and it looked as though we might have the situation under tentative control. We played games until Emma and Alec arrived home with presents all around.

"Hullo, Angels," Emma said to the kids, who gathered around her. Bodie rolled his eyes at me and grinned. "Have you been good?"

"Yes, Mummy," they chorused. I choked, and Michael shot me a killing look.

"You look rested," I observed as Alec sat down to have a drink with us.

"I feel rested. You know, though . . . I hate to admit it, but I missed the little monsters." His long, elegant face twisted into a grin. "Were they as awful with you two as they are with us?"

I cleared my throat, but before I could say something appropriately noncommittal, Bodie spoke up.

"Not at all," he said, expansively. "Perfect angels."

"He's just afraid you won't invite him back," I added. "They were awful part of the time. The rest of the time they were angels. They were wonderful the whole time. I had a fine weekend."

"So did I," Alec confessed. "And I'm just as glad to be back." He ran a hand through his long, chestnut curls. "Can we count on you for other weekends?"

Bodie smiled at me, and I smiled back. "What do you think?" he asked Alec. I remembered Melvin just as we were leaving. "Ah, um, I don't know how to tell you this, but Melvin died on Saturday. She had a Christian burial," I assured them.

It was funny, but our house seemed sort of empty when we got home. I kept expecting the sound of tears or laughter or red indians and explorers.

"I miss 'em," I said to the room.

"Me, too." Bodie handed me a brandy and kissed my cheek. "I still think we ought to have a baby."

"We could have a cat or a dog," I suggested.

"You willing? It'd be nice."

"I'm willing. I'd rather have a baby."

"They spew," he said.

"I suppose so. Cat then . . . or a dog."

"Or both."

We went to bed and he wrapped his arms around me. "Thanks," he said. "For everything."

It didn't take a genius to understand what he meant.

-- THE END --

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