Adoption Day: A new short story! (Post #450)

Here’s the surprise I promised for the 450th post on this blog: A new short story! It features Henrietta Honeycutt and Duncan Wizansky, two characters who debuted in Redblade (needless to say, there are spoilers ahead). It’s a slice of life story, much like “That’s Amore”, and there’s only a little magic…unless the magic in the human heart counts.

If you like this, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line, and you’re welcome to share the link all over social media! Spread the word! And read on…after the cut.

Adoption Day

a short story by Robert Dahlen

It had been an even more chaotic Sunday morning than usual at the Wonderland Diner and Tavern. A group of visitors from San Francisco had shown up the previous day, to help rescue one of their own, and had stuck around for breakfast before heading back. All of them but one were at one large round table. There was Theresa Drake, sorceress and BIP agent, who had helped bring down the dreaded wizard Kraimorg. There was Charlie Main, Theresa’s husband, a hero on other worlds but almost unknown on his native Earth. There were Pierre Desmond St. Martin, the enigmatic warlock, and Hitchcock, the teleporting hyperactive bawson. Windsor, the reformed (more or less) faerie rogue, was there, and Puck had been given a seat at the table.

The last four seats had been filled by a somewhat unusual family. There was Henrietta Honeycutt, the ginger witch, who dressed in black and white and kept an old and battered broomstick within arms reach. There was her wife, Duncan Wizansky, a literal wizard of math. She had thick glasses, a blue dress, and a layer of baubles, bangles and beads. And seated between them were two children.

The younger one was a girl with blue hair and a marvelously frilly black dress. She was smiling, listening to the grownups talk as she picked the marshmallows out of her hot chocolate with her tongue. The older one was a boy with round-rimmed glasses and a striped shirt, feigning boredom as he finished his waffle and sausage.

The girl suddenly stopped and turned in her chair to face the boy. “Milo!’ she said.

“What?” Milo said in a voice that was just as bored as his expression.

“I need to ask you something important,” the girl said. “Reeeeally important.”

Milo tried not to roll his eyes. “What is it now, Meg?” he asked.

“Can I have your marshmallows?”

Milo straightened up. “Marshmallows? That’s what was really important?”

“It is to me,” Meg said. “I love marshmallows.”

“Just don’t lick them out of the whipped cream.” Milo pushed his mug over.

“But that’s the fun part!” Meg said.

“You want me to get cooties, don’t you?” Milo said with a sigh. Meg giggled as she grabbed a spoon and dug into her brother’s hot chocolate.

***

At another table in the diner, four people watched the interplay between the siblings with quiet amusement. One of them was Abigail Main-Drake. She was the daughter of Charlie and Theresa, and had come to Nortonville for a recruiting visit to Cooper College that wound up as an unexpected adventure.

Seated with her at the table were the two who had helped her family and friends from San Francisco rescue her at the end of that adventure. They were Michiko Koyama, the hero nicknamed the Monkey Queen, and her partner, Beth McGill. “Those two are something, aren’t they?” Beth said.

“Very much so.” Abby sipped her coffee.

“Did you ever have to babysit for them?”

“I have.” Abby grimaced. “That’s one reason why I looked into going to college up here.”

Michiko giggled. “I think they’re cute!”

“So do I. At a distance.” Abby smiled.

The fourth person at the table, a gremlin with a stained white t-shirt and blue jeans, glanced up from his smartphone. “So they’re Henrietta and Duncan’s children?” Mec asked.

“They are.”

“And that means…” Mec grimaced. “I can’t think of any way to ask this that isn’t completely awkward.”

“Or any of our business,” Beth added.

“They’re fine with discussing it,” Abby said. “Meg and Milo are adopted. There’s a story behind it.”

“Do you have time to tell it?”

“I’ll make time.” Abby sipped her coffee. “It had been a dark and stormy night…”

***

Henrietta Honeycutt and Duncan Wizansky knew from the start that they wanted to adopt. They had considered the other option when it came time for them to start a family, but finally decided against it. But they knew they had the issue of what they were to deal with—not the “married lesbian couple” part, but the “practicing magic users” part. This made going through government channels for adoption a no-go, as too much poking into their background could reveal secrets that needed to be hidden from prying eyes.

They had consulted with several old acquaintances, and one had referred them to Marjorie Crittenden. A retired crafter of potions, she had in recent years turned to making arrangements for adoptions and other favors for people in Duncan and Henrietta’s position. She was short and gray-haired, but she had the energy of someone half her age and a taste for very bright clothing.

The three women were in Crittenden’s office that morning. Crittenden was tapping a folder on her desk. “I must say, you two are quite qualified! Your financials are excellent!”

“Thanks!” Henrietta grinned.

“I was surprised to find out that you were looking to adopt slightly older children.”.

“We thought it was the best option for us,” Henrietta said. “It’ll be easier for us to adjust.”

“And she didn’t want to change diapers,” Duncan added as she idly smoothed out her blue dress.

“Duncan…” Henrietta winced.

“She had to do that when she babysat once or twice. I think it scarred her—“

“Duncan!”

Crittenden chuckled. “Now…I’m not trying to pressure you, but based on your financials, it looks like you could adopt two children.”

Henrietta and Duncan looked at each other. They started to blush. “Well…” Henrietta said. “We did think about it, but our place is kind of small.”

“And rent’s expensive in San Francisco,” Duncan said.

“There’s a big conference this winter that Duncan wants to go to.”

“And Henrietta’s been saving for a new broomstick.”

“Of course.” Crittenden glanced at two folders on her desk. “It was just that…well, we have two candidates for a dual adoption. I brought them both here to meet with you.”

“Are they siblings?” Duncan asked.

“Second cousins,” Crittenden said. “Their families were close…but they left their kids with a neighbor when they went boating some months back, and there was an accident.”

“Oh no,” Duncan said softly. Henrietta shook her head.

“Neither of the children had relatives who could take them in, so they’ve been staying in a series of foster homes. Their current host family has scheduled an extended vacation, so we’re hoping to find something more permanent for them quickly.” Crittenden paused. “They’re good children, but they’re both a bit…eccentric.”

“And you thought that would make them a good match for us?” Henrietta asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well…”

“You got that right.” Henrietta grinned.

***

“I’m bored!” Meg said as she dangled her feet off the edge of her chair. She was wearing a black dress that was plainer than usual for her, and she idly played with her long blue hair. “Bored!”

“I’m not,” Milo said, not looking up from his book. “You should try reading.”

“I’ve read them all!” Meg pouted. “Except for the ones with bigger words. And I can’t wear my pretty dresses today!”

“It’s always like that.” Milo turned a page. “They always need us to look proper when we’re meeting possible parents..”

“I don’t want to look proper.” Meg smiled. “I hope we get to meet someone who wants to adopt us. If they do, we get to go somewhere with comfy beds and basic cable!”

“And if they don’t?” Milo asked.

“We get ice cream!”

“Yeah. The ‘sorry you still don’t have parents, have some chocolate chocolate chip’ flavor.”

“Yummy!” Meg smiled.

Milo started to speak, but stopped and looked up from his book when he heard the knock on the door. “Meg? Milo?” said Crittenden, her voice muffled by the door.

“Yes, Ms. Crittenden?” the children said in unison.

The door opened. “We have a couple that would like to meet you!” Crittenden said in a cheerful voice. “Are you ready for company?”

“You bet!” Meg said as she jumped off her chair. Milo nodded and set his book aside.

***

“Are you ready for this, Henrietta?” Duncan asked as she and Henrietta settled into the meeting room by Crittenden’s office. It was small and sparse, with one table and several chairs, some adult-sized, some child-sized.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Henrietta smiled faintly. “I’m looking forward to meeting the kids.”

“I wonder what Ms. Crittenden meant by the children being ‘eccentric’.”

“They probably put ketchup on their cottage cheese or something.”

Duncan tapped her chin. “I should try that sometime,” she said absently.

There was a knock on the door. It opened, and Cavendish stuck her head in. “Ready?” she chirped.

“Let’s do this!” Henrietta said as Duncan nodded.

Cavendish entered the room, leading two children in with her. “Kids?” she said. “This is Henrietta—“ The witch nodded. “And Duncan.”

“Hello!” Duncan said to the children with a smile.

“And these are the children I was telling you about. First, Meg Thompson.”

Meg edged past Cavendish and hurried up to Duncan and Henrietta. “How do you do?” she said, eagerly shaking their hands. “I’m glad to meet you!”

“So are we,” Duncan said politely.

“And that’s such a pretty dress!”

“Thank you.”

“And this is Milo Norton,” Cavendish said.

Milo raised his hand. “Hi,” he said.

Cavendish frowned slightly as she closed the door. “Milo…” she said as she took a chair and pulled it into a corner.

Milo shuffled over to the adults and shook their hands. “Hi,” he said again as he sat down. Meg jumped in the chair next to him.

“Well, then!” Henrietta said with a cheerfulness that was mostly unforced as she and Duncan sat down. “Why don’t we start with you two telling us a little bit about yourselves.”

“We didn’t mean to do it,” Milo said.

“Huh?” Henrietta blinked.

“The linguini thing. We didn’t know that the water would boil so quickly.”

“But it was fun when everything stuck to the walls!” Meg smiled.

“And I forgot I was allergic to shellfish.” Milo shook his head. “I didn’t mean to sneeze all over the antique china.”

Crittenden smiled faintly. “Perhaps we should try telling them something different about yourselves.”

“Okay!” Meg smiled. “My name’s Meg, and I love frilly black dresses and blueberries and stories with vampires and werewolves and big scary monsters! They’re my favorite!”

“She’s not kidding,” Milo said. “She’s seen every Gamera movie.”

“So have you!”

“I was just making sure they didn’t scare you too badly,” Milo said.

“Gamera doesn’t scare me! He’s a friend to children.” Meg smiled as she turned towards Duncan and Henrietta.

“Of course,” Duncan said dazedly. “How about you, Milo?”

“My hobbies,” Milo said in a dull voice, “are reading, watching TV and keeping Meg out of trouble.”

“I never get in trouble,” Meg said.

“What about that snipe hunt? You knocked over half the racks in that comic book store.”

“I almost caught one.” Meg pouted.

“What do you like to read, Milo?” Henrietta asked.

“Books,” Milo answered.

“I see. What kind of books?”

Milo scrunched his face up in thought. “Ones with words in them?” he said. “And pictures?”

“He reads everything!” Meg said. “Even the books the grownups say he’s too young to read! One time, Milo found this book called 50 Greys in the Shade, and he got in trouble when he started to read it!”

“It was boring anyway,” Milo said. “No spaceships or dragons.”

“Dragons are cool!” Meg said with a smile. Milo nodded.

“Okay, then.” Henrietta glanced at Duncan. “So…did you want to talk with Meg by herself next?”

“If that’s alright with everyone,” Duncan said.

“It is,” Crittenden said. “Milo? Could you wait outside?” Milo silently nodded, got up and left the room, closing the door behind him.

“So…” Henrietta looked at Meg. “You can see that, if we adopt you, you’ll have two moms. We need to know if you’re okay with that.”

“I guess so…” Meg said slowly. “It’s better to have two moms than not to have any mom or dad at all, isn’t it?”

“A lot better.”

Duncan nodded. “What about school? What’s your favorite subject?”

“I like science,” Meg said. “But they don’t let me do any of the experiments any more. The last time I did, the smoke didn’t clear out for three days.”

“I see. And what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I don’t want to grow up!” Meg smiled.

“She’s got the right idea,” Henrietta said.

“Henrietta…” Duncan shook her head.

“Do you have anything you wanted to ask us?”

Meg nodded. “Are you witches?”

Henrietta and Duncan exchanged glances. “Promise you won’t tell anyone?” Henrietta said.

“I promise!”

“Okay.” Henrietta took a deep breath. “I am a witch. Duncan isn’t, but she knows magic. Hers is a lot more—“

“A witch!” Meg bobbed up and down. “Do you have a flying broomstick and a magic wand?”

“Yep!”

“Have you ever turned anyone into a toad?”

“Well—”

“Have you ever danced in your birthday suit under a full moon?”

“What? No!” Henrietta started to blush. “Where did you get that idea?”

“It was in a book Milo read.” Meg paused. “We both thought it was kind of silly. You would get really cold outside at night if you didn’t have any clothes on.”

“It was—” Duncan started to say.

“Duncan!” Henrietta facepalmed.

“—just an old wives’ tale that someone made up,” Duncan said quickly.

Meg giggled. “You two are kind of weird. I like you.”

“Thanks,” Henrietta said. “What can you tell us about Milo?”

“Sometimes, he can be no fun. This one time, I was all set to jump off the roof and fly, just like Supergirl, and he grabbed me and said that I’d hurt myself bad if I jumped.” Meg sighed. “I guess he was right, but I had such a pretty superhero cape on.”

“He watches out for you, then?”

Meg nodded. “And I watch out for him, too. Sometimes, he gets caught up in thinking about things and gets all quiet. That’s when I make him play with me!”

“That’s nice,” Duncan said. “This next question is really important…we were thinking of adopting just one of you. Would you be okay if we separated you from Milo?”

“I don’t think he would be,” Meg said. “He’d just hide in a corner and read. He did that when I had to go the hospital to get my tonsils out.”

“I see.”

“And I could just play by myself with my dolls or my Godzilla toy with Power Action City Smash, but I wouldn’t have as much fun.” Meg smiled at Henrietta. “Can you teach me how to be a witch?”

“Well…it’s not as simple as that,” Henrietta said. “You need to know at least a little magic to be a witch.”

“And fly a broomstick?”

“And fly a broomstick.”

“And soar through skies with your magic wand, rescuing helpless kittens and brewing potions and spreading fear on your enemies from up high?” Meg smiled. “That sounds like fun!”

“It is!” Henrietta grinned.

“But there’s more to it than that,” Duncan quickly added.

“I think we’re done,” Henrietta said. “Ms. Crittenden? Could I talk to Duncan before we see Milo?”

Crittenden nodded and stood up. “Come on, Meg,” she said.

Meg smiled as she jumped to her feet. “I liked talking to you!” she said to Henrietta and Duncan. “Bye!” They smiled and waved as Meg left the room, singing, “I’m going to be a witch, and turn everyone into a toad…”

Henrietta glanced at her wife. “We’ve got a winner!” the witch said. “Meg is really something!”

“And I’m wondering what that ‘something’ is,” Duncan murmured.

“She’s cute, she’s sweet, she’s funny.”

“And just a tiny bit crazy.”

“I know!” Henrietta grinned.

Duncan cocked her head as she glanced at the witch. “You know, she could be a handful without someone to help keep an eye on her.”

“That’s what babysitters are for. Should we bring Milo in now?”

***

Milo looked up when he heard Meg coming out of the meeting room. “Is that your witch’s song?” he asked.

“They’re so neat!” Meg smiled. “Weird, but neat!”

“How weird?”

“She’s a witch,” Meg stage-whispered.

“Which one?” Milo asked.

“Henrietta!” Meg twirled around happily. “She’s going to teach me how to be a witch, and we’ll fly through the air on our broomsticks…” She closed her eyes, not seeing Milo as the color drained from his face.

The door to the waiting room opened. “Milo?” Duncan asked. “We’d like to talk with you now.” He nodded wordlessly as he stood up.

***

“So, Milo,” Henrietta asked as the boy sat down, “we’re going to ask you the same questions we asked your cousin. Is that okay?”

“I guess.” Milo shrugged.

“Okay. First…you can see that if we adopt you, you’ll have two moms. We need to know if that’s something you’re okay with.”

Milo nodded. “Well…I knew one kid back in school with two dads. He was fine with it. It was just some of the adults that got mad.”

“Some adults are like that,” Duncan said softly.

“I guess it would be okay.”

“Good! Now, what do you like to study in school?”

“English,” Milo said quickly. “Learning all those words is fun. And I like math because it helps me figure out how things work. But I don’t like P.E.”

“Physical education?” Duncan said.

“In one class last year, we were playing volleyball and I got distracted when Meg started cheering for me and I got hit by the ball in a place I’m not supposed to mention to strangers because when I did the last time Ms. Crittenden got all embarrassed and Meg couldn’t stop giggling.”

Henrietta grinned. “So have you figured out what you want to be when you grow up?”

“Um…” Milo paused. “Maybe a writer or something? I haven’t really decided.”

“Okay. Is there anything you wanted to ask us?”

“Meg told me you were a witch.” Milo glared at Henrietta. “Is that true?”

Henrietta nodded and stuck her hand in her vest pocket. She pulled out a wand, a black dowel with a five-pointed star at one end. “Don’t make me turn you into a toad!” she said with a grin.

“And you’re a witch, too?” Milo said to Duncan.

“No.” Duncan smiled. “It’s funny that you mentioned math, because I’m a wizard whose magic is based around that sort of thing.”

“You don’t look like a wizard.”

“Henrietta didn’t like it when I tried to grow a beard.” Duncan grinned. “She said it was scratchy.”

Milo smiled slightly. “Can I see?”

“I suppose I could provide a simple demonstration.” Duncan took a thick bracelet off her wrist. She stared into space for a moment. Closing her eyes, she chanted an equation under her breath.

She opened her eyes and stretched out her hand. “It goes in here…” she said as she dropped her bracelet. It vanished.

Milo’s eyes widened. “What—?” he started to say.

The bracelet popped out in mid air and fell into Milo’s lap. “And it comes out there,” Duncan said with a smile,

“Whoa.” Milo gaped at the bracelet. “That is so cool. Do you do that all the time?”

“No. We don’t want to call attention to ourselves. Most people don’t believe in magic, and it’s simpler to keep it that way.”

“When did you know you could do that?” Milo asked as he handed the bracelet to Duncan.

“When I was in my teens. My brother Taylor and I both showed an affinity for magic, but we had to keep it secret from our parents.”

“Does Taylor do the same kind of magic?” Milo asked.

The smile slipped from Duncan’s face. “He…he passed away some time back.”

“Oh,” Milo said softly. “Do you still miss him?”

“I do.” Duncan lowered her head.

Henrietta took her wife’s shoulder. “Milo, what can you tell us about Meg?”

“Well…” Milo squirmed in his seat. “She gets into trouble sometimes. But she doesn’t mean to; it just happens.”

“And you get in trouble with her?”

“They won’t let me in that comic store any more.” Milo shook his head. “At least she behaves herself when we go to the library. She likes to get something to read there.”

“That’s nice.” Henrietta smiled.

“Then after that, we go to the playground next door, and she likes to run around and scream. She always makes me get on the slides and swings too.”

“Do you like doing that?”

“Well…it’s nice for a change,” Milo said. “I guess.”

Henrietta nodded. “Milo…we were looking to adopt just one child. How would Meg react if we adopted you but not her?”

“Um…I don’t know if that would work. Meg needs someone to keep her…”

“Company?”

Milo thought it over and nodded. “Yeah.”

“But didn’t you say that she got you in trouble all the time?” Duncan said.

“Yeah.” Milo stared at his lap.

“So you wouldn’t get in trouble if she was gone, would you?

“I wouldn’t…but if she wasn’t around…” Milo blushed. “I wouldn’t get into much fun, either. I kinda watch out for her…and she kinda watches out for me. It’s been like that ever since our parents…”

“I know,” Duncan said softly.

“I think we’re done,” Henrietta said. “Could you wait outside with Meg?” Milo nodded as Duncan walked over to the door.

Duncan shut the door as Milo left the office. “He’s quite an interesting young man,” she said.

“He seems a bit quiet, though,” Henrietta said.

“He reminds me of someone I know.”

“A little, huh?” Henrietta chuckled. “They’re both good kids. I hope Milo finds a home soon.”

“And that means?” Duncan raised an eyebrow.

“You know, toots.” Henrietta rubbed her hands. “We sign the papers, and Meg’s our daughter. She’s a great fit for us.”

“Henrietta…”

“Milo’s a good kid too,” Henrietta said. “Are you thinking about adopting him instead?”

“Well…” Duncan stared out the window.

The witch sighed. “Okay, Duncan. Out with it. What’s wrong with Meg?”

“Nothing. It’s just that…”

“She’s adorable, she’s smart, she’s energetic—”

“We can’t separate them,” Duncan said quietly, still looking out the window.

“What?” Henrietta raised an eyebrow.

“We can’t. You see how much they care for one another.”

“Come on, toots. It’s for the best, really. Milo’s a sharp kid. He’ll—“

“Henrietta.” Duncan lowered her head. “Listen to me.”

“Okay…” Henrietta took a breath. “I’m listening.”

“Milo and Meg…they’ve been together ever since their parents died. They’ve stuck it out through thick and thin for months, bouncing from foster home to foster home. They’re all they have left. Each other.”

Duncan lifted her head. “I was just as close to Taylor,” she said. She was crying. “When he had that accident, when I lost him, it crushed me. It broke me. I went back into my shell. I might never have come out again if I hadn’t met you.”

“Oh, Duncan…” Henrietta said softly.

“If we tear them apart—” Duncan paused for breath. “It would crush Milo, just like it crushed me. And it might even crush Meg, too. I can’t do that to them. I just can’t. I’m sorry.”

Henrietta nodded and turned away. Duncan wiped her face as she stared at the floor. The only sound in the office was the hum of the air conditioner.

Henrietta gazed at the ceiling. “You know, toots…” she said slowly. “Maybe…maybe I don’t need that new broom after all.”

Duncan jerked her head up. “Henrietta?”

“The old one still works.” Henrietta shrugged. “Maybe it just needs a tuneup and some varnish.”

Duncan started to smile. “And perhaps I don’t need to go to those conferences. I could watch them online.”

“And if we cut back on cable—”

Henrietta stopped as Duncan embraced her. “And I’ll just eat in more,” Duncan said. “I’ll learn to like your cooking.”

“Aw, toots.” Henrietta smiled as she looked into her wife’s eyes, shining with love through the tears. She kissed Duncan softly. “See Ms. Crittenden first?”

“She will need to prepare the paperwork.” Duncan took Henrietta’s hand as they left the office.

***

“I’m gonna learn to be a witch,” Meg sang, dancing around the meeting room as Crittenden closed the door from the outside, leaving her alone with Milo. “And I’ll turn everyone into a toad…”

“Everyone?” Milo said as he slouched in a chair.

“Not you!” Meg smiled. “So what are we doing here?”

“What do you think?” Milo said.

“That maybe it would be mean to turn everybody into toads?”

“Meg,” Milo said patiently, “did they tell you that they were looking to adopt just one child?”

“They did,” Meg said. “But I got so excited about being a witch!”

“So do you know what that means?”

“No…”

“They’re going to adopt you.” Milo looked away.

“Yay!” Meg jumped up and down. “We’ll be—“

“Just you, Meg.” Milo swallowed. “Not me.”

Meg froze. “What?” she said softly.

“You’ll have a home and a family. Not me.”

Meg was quiet for a moment. “No,” she said as she started to cry. “You’re my best friend, Milo. I don’t want us to be split up.”

“Neither do I,” Milo said.

“They can’t do that!” Meg said. “They can’t! It’s not fair!”

“They can.” Milo sighed. “They can do whatever they want. And we can’t do anything about it.”

“But…” Meg sniffled. “What about you, Milo?”

Milo shrugged. “They’ll find another foster home for me. I’ll wind up in an orphanage or something someday, I guess.”

“Milo…”

“I’ll be okay.” Milo looked back at his cousin and tried to smile. “I’m gonna miss you, Meg,” he said quietly.

Meg wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “I don’t want this to happen,” she said. “I don’t want to be adopted without you. If we have to—“

There was a knock on the door. “It’s them,” Milo said. Meg ran over and sat in the chair next to him. They stared at the door as Milo reached over to Meg. She took his hand and held it tightly.

The door opened. “Let me do the talking,” Duncan said quietly to her wife as they entered the room.

“Got it,” Henrietta said as she closed the door.

Duncan looked at Meg and Milo. “I have a big, important announcement for you two,” she said with a slight smile.

Meg bit her lip. “Here it comes,” Milo said to himself.

“As of right now…you are no longer cousins.” Duncan’s smile widened.

Milo’s jaw dropped. “What?” he said.

“I told you they were weird,” Meg whispered.

“Plan F,” Milo whispered back. “I’ll distract them, you go for the window.”

Duncan chuckled. “Of course, you’re still cousins. You’ll be better than that. I mean, biologically you’ll always be cousins, that can’t be changed legally either, but what I mean is that when other people talk about you—“

“Duncan?” Henrietta said.

“Yes?”

“Let me do the talking.”

“Okay.”

Henrietta turned towards Meg and Milo. “What Duncan was trying to say is that you two won’t be just cousins. You’ll be brother and sister.”

Meg and Milo stood up, staring wide-eyed at each other. “You mean…?” Milo said slowly.

“I do.” Henrietta smiled. “We’re going to adopt both of you.”

Milo dashed across the room to Henrietta. He wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his face in her belly. He was crying, loud gasping sobs, and Henrietta’s smile widened as she stroked his hair. “Thank you,” he managed to say.

“You really mean it?” Meg shrieked to Duncan.

“We do,” Duncan answered.

“You’re not splitting us up!”

“No.”

“We’re staying together!”

“Yes.” Duncan started to smile.

Meg jumped into Duncan’s arms. “I LOVE YOU!” she screamed into Duncan’s ear as they embraced. “I LOVE YOU!” Duncan kissed her daughter’s cheek.

She set Meg down just as Milo was pulling free of Henrietta. Meg ran to Henrietta as she kneeled. “AND I LOVE YOU TOO!” Meg yelled as she held Henrietta tight.

“Why?” Duncan turned to face Milo. “Why both of us?”

“Because we saw how much you two loved each other.” Duncan took Milo’s shoulder. “Henrietta and I were going through some tough times when we first met, and it brought us together. Your tough times brought you and Meg together too, and we were touched by how much you care for Meg, and how much she cares for you. You two deserve to stay together.” Duncan smiled. “It’ll be a tight squeeze, but we’ll make it work.”

Milo started to cry again as he hugged Duncan. “Thank you,” he managed to say. Duncan nodded as a tear trickled down her cheek.

Meg broke free of Henrietta. “I’m so happy!” she shouted. “I’ve never been so happy in my whole life!” She grabbed Milo’s collar and pulled him away from Duncan. “Group hug! Group hug!”

“Meg—“ Milo tried to say.

“Group hug!” Meg led Milo over to Henrietta, Duncan following. Meg did her best to put her arms around the others all at once, and they all did the same. “My family,” Meg said. “You’re all my family now.”

“Our family,” Milo whispered.

“Yeah.” Henrietta held the others tightly. “Our family.”

Duncan straightened up. “Now that’s all settled,” she said to Meg and Milo, “we have to fill out some paperwork. And once that’s done, we have something really important to take care of.”

“What?” Milo asked.

“What else?” Henrietta smiled. “Ice cream.” The children cheered as they and their new parents left the office.

***

“So everything worked out okay?” Beth asked as Abby finished her story.

“It worked out wonderfully.” Abby smiled. “I tease and joke about them a lot, but Meg and Milo are good kids. It’s not perfect, though.”

“Raising children never is,” Michiko said.

“Even you?” Beth raised an eyebrow.

“Grandmother Fox can tell you some stories.” Michiko grinned.

“They’re also facing a housing issue,” Abby said. “Their apartment is quite small, and rent in San Francisco is getting ridiculous. They may have to move out of the Bay Area soon.”

“They can move up here!”

“Don’t say it…” Beth said.

“We can babysit!” Michiko said.

Beth groaned and facepalmed. “Michiko…”

“I have another question,” Mec said, “and it’s going to sound awkward again. What do Meg and Milo call their parents?”

“Awkward, yes,” Abby said, “but it’s not a bad question. They use Henrietta and Duncan’s first names; it’s unusual, but it avoids confusion. But sometimes…well…”

She glanced over at the big table, where Duncan and Henrietta were preparing to pose for a photo with their children. Meg was smiling happily; Milo was slouched and looking bored. “Sit up straight and smile, Milo!” Henrietta said.

“And wipe the whipped cream off your chin,” Duncan added.

Milo rolled his eyes. “Aw, moms!” he said.

 

With thanks to everyone who’s waiting patiently for the next Monkey Queen book. I hope you enjoyed this! If you did, share the links and spread the word.

If this is your first Monkey Queen story, welcome! You can find out much more, and read short stories and previews of all the books, at our website.

© 2016 Robert Dahlen. All rights reserved, except those allowed by “free use” laws where you live.

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