Our Little Secret, Part Six

Our Little Secret

Part Six

Shadows shifted in the hot, thick mist, sliding, twitching, bobbing. The scrub and dry grass rustled around them with each careful step.

Sweat tickled down Lance’s head, his neck, his back, his chest. Carmen’s skin was beaded too, collecting and dripping, darkening her clothes and stringing her hair. Steam drifted off her skin in wisps.

Breath came too hot. It was hard to keep it quiet.

A dark figure rose, grew taller. A beak emerged from the hot steam. Following it was a head. One beady eye came around. A dull yellow reflection gleamed in the black. And then it opened its beak. Out came a clicking trill that tugged at his guts.

Mierda. This was it.

Lance took in a deep breath, pulling air about him. It filled him, straining the edges of his skin, made him lighter. Pain from past encounters met him too, pulled apart with his breath. He wiped his hands on his pants and renewed his grip on Thandosis.

“Gorman.”

Carmen stuck the tip of her knife into her forearm, rubbed it with her thumb, then smeared her blood onto his chest. Some of it trickled down, carried along by his sweat.

The pain eased. He felt lighter and surer. Like he’d had two more years’ worth of leg day and cardio. It felt good.

“Kiss for luck?” he asked.

She stepped closer. Tugged his shirt front. Their lips met. Tasted salty.

They parted.

“Make it count.” She patted him on the chest.

He gave her a smile. “Hell yeah I will.”

Lance front-flipped off the bus and approached the roadrunner. Another silhouette pushed through the steam, bobbing its head and turning its eye toward him. It trilled too.

“Look at me, pendejos. Don’t I look tasty?”

The first regarded the bus again, tilting its head this way and that.

“No, the real prize is down here, fucker!

He jabbed at the first one. It sidled, then looked at him again.

The tickle of danger hit him in the shoulder. He shrugged to one side, twisted, and stabbed.

The tip sank. The second one’s squawk rang out—in pain.

Good. Time to book it.

He pulled his spear free and took off. The steam left. Open sky, darkened by clouds. Cacti and shrubs zipped by. The roadrunner pair followed, talons patting up dust, heads bobbing like their beaks were pecking their way through the air.

They were gaining. But he just needed a couple dozen more yards.

Danger tickle.

He tucked and kicked a foot out, power-sliding to the side. Dust clouded up like steam. Then he slid upright and reset his stride.

Hah! Smooth! It probably looked fuckin’ badass.

They looked confused. Pecking around. Turning back to face the dissipating steam cloud.

He actually lost them?

Idiotov kusochki.

He circled back around. Looped around them. Stabbed at one. It pecked at him—missed by a mile. So he took off like a shot.

They followed.

He ran in a straight line for them this time. Wouldn’t do any good to demoralize them. Not until they were out of sight of the bus, anyway.

They gained again.

Damn! Just a few more yards! He just needed a few yards! If only he was fuckin’ faster.

Okay. Time to do something.

He twisted. Grabbed the runner’s neck. Swung around. His legs tucked around feather and flesh. Bone spurs tore at his knees.

Holy fucking hooy morzhovy meter up el culo de goatse.

He was riding a roadrunner.

Hooy na ny!

The land zoomed past.

Damn, was this what Ange saw?

The roadrunner flinched and banked and shook from side to side. He tightened. Its flesh gave under his arms. It trilled. He tightened. It stopped trilling. The other one pulled up beside them.

Danger tickle.

Shit. He threw all his weight to one side of the roadrunner, steering it away from the other.

Fire jabbed at his side. Cracked in his ribs like lightning. Stole the wind from him.

Something slammed into him. Dirt filled his mouth, nose, throat. Pain raked his skin, blasted his breath out.

And then he was on his feet. Sans spear. Skidding and sending up dust clouds. Blue and gray sky and brown and gray dirt flashed at him. Surfing the high desert. Feet and ankles slamming into rocks and shit, knocking them away.

Danger tickle.

He turned and drove a fist down. A beak met the ground.

Danger tickle.

He ducked. Something wooshed over him.

Danger tickle.

Lance spun around. A beak rushed to meet him.

And then the air cracked. Loud.

Blood, bone, and brains spat. The roadrunner jerked to the side, collapsed, and slid to a stop.

Lance jumped up, whirled. The other roadrunner shook itself off.

Another crack. And then it was down too.

Gun.

Jan, or—

All clear.

And then, the image of the landscape, like some kinda 3-D map, two runner corpses, him, and his spear, lying eight meters to his left. Dust still billowing to the sky.

Dovilė. Oh thank fuck.

He jogged to Thandosis, took it up and stuck it in the ground, threw a couple hand signals in the air, and leaned against his spear and waited, resting his eyes for a minute. The pain to start to trickle back in, nipping at him from everywhere at once.

Dovilė came out of the dust within his line of sight as if she’d been there all along. Her eyes were gold, her nose broad. The shadows on her face were sharp, like the shadows cast by the plateaus.

“A team will be coming for the bus,” she reported.

Thank fuck.

Then she kicked her chin up towards him. “Nice cactus. Very fashionable.”

Huh? “What cactus?”

She gently lifted his elbow with pressure from her fingers. He looked.

There was a piece of cactus stuck firmly to his triceps. Cactus juice dripped off of it, sliding through his coating of dirt.

Oh.

At least it didn’t hurt any more than anything else. It was gonna be a bitch to get all those spines out, though.

“Yeah. Been working on accessorizing.” Would’ve gone great with the crusty cape he left in LA.

Dovilė grunted and crouched under his arm, sliding her flask to her hand.

Oh. There was a gaping hole in his side. The blood was all gunked up by all the dirt. Explained why the wind stung so bad.

Vodka dribbled to the earth. A Russian prayer went up to the sky. The skin on his side moved and muscles twitched.

This part always made him a little sick whenever he watched it. So… time to go ahead and not watch it, then.

Man, that piece of cactus survived the beating he took? Damn. That deserved some kinda recognition or something. “I think I’ll name him Juan.”

His ribs crackled under it all, pushing together, and his skin tingled like it was made of a million little strings, all pulling. Some of the pain eased.

A shiver crawled up. Weird fuckin’ feeling.

Dovilė rose.

“Gerai, vilkukas. Let’s go keep Carmen company.” Her eyes flicked his arm’s way. “Juan can come too.”



A cry gave them warning. Then Moe streaked towards them from the homestead. In a flash, she collided with Carmen. They spun around in a whirl of dark and red hair, hugging tight, their laughter echoing off the hills.

Above, on the nearby hill, Aida waved. Benji and Sen poked their heads up from the garden. More folks began coming out of the bunker and heading their way.

It was official. They were home. Finally.

Moe pulled away and ran towards Lance. He opened his fingers a little, ready to catch her. She pulled up short, eyes flicking over him, her smile fading a little to pained sympathy.

“Looks like the pain train got to you first. I’ll just have to wait.” She wiped her tears with a couple fingers and sniffed. “Nice cactus. Goes with your eyes.”

“Yeah,” Carmen said. “He got to wear a cape in LA and since then he’s just been goin’ loco over fashion possibilities.”

“His name’s Juan.” Lance lifted his arm and looked to Dovilė. “Is this side good to go?”

Dovilė’s eyes flicked to him and her lip curled a little. “Jo.”

Moe eyed the invitation, then smiled, her shoulders dropping, and carefully sidled up to him. He put his arm around her.

“He-hey!” called a voice.

Dovilė turned, spread her feet, raised her gun, slid back the bolt with a sharp motion, and sighted. Lance tightened his arm around Moe, pulled her behind him, and turned.

Coyote jumped back, throwing his hands up, dropping the rope and a coconut. The coconut spilled its milk into the dirt.

“Sorry,” she said, lowering her gun. “Thought you were a monster.”

Coyote relaxed, stared regretfully at his fallen coconut, sighed, then looked up, shit-eating smile back on his face. “Moi?” he asked, pressing a hand against his chest. “Well, I can understand the mistake. My handsomeness is beyond mortal ken.” He tugged at his jacket.

Dovilė turned her face slightly to the side, keeping her eyes on Coyote, and spat a string of black chewing tobacco spit in the most unimpressed fuckin’ way possible.

Damn he’d missed her.

“Did you get the thunderstone?” Carmen asked.

Coyote pressed his chin out, squinting an eye at her and smiling a little confused smile. “Say again?”

After all that time he’d forgotten? Pinche mamahuevo!

Carmen’s jaw jutted and lifted her chin, showing the whites of her eyes. She took in a breath. He was gonna fuckin’ get it now.

Coyote held up a finger, then stuck a pinky in his ear as if clearing it out. Then he jerked his head to the side a couple times. Then turned away from Carmen, tilted his head her way, and hit the other ear with his palm.

Thunder split the air, cracking the ground next to him. A tear-shaped dark rock crackled in a small, smoking crater just in front of Carmen’s feet.

He turned his head and posed heroically. “Am I the man or am I the man?

Carmen stared at him, hard. Then she spread her hands and slashed them apart as if clearing a board. “I’m going to Suze. Catch up with y’all later.”

Coyote’s eyes followed her. Then they flicked to Lance, Moe, and Dovilė. He poked a thumb her way. “She on her period?”

“Otyebis, Coyote,” Moe snapped, tensing under Lance’s arm.

“Not cool, man.” Lance glared at him. “We waited for you for two days. And we’ve been busting ass pushing the bus back home for the past two weeks.

Coyote waved a hand. “Okay, so I was a few days late. Sue me. There was a storm!”

Was this fucker serious? “You said two hours. Tops.

Coyote gave him a look like he didn’t believe his ears. “Hah! No way I said that. Everyone knows that going beyond the horizon takes three days at least.

Was this fucker serious!?

Lance stabbed his spear in the ground, grabbed him by the jacket, and pulled him up to his face. “Sofie, Bren, and Mark are back towing the bus. You should go fix it for them.”

Coyote shrank and grew ashen.

Good.

Lance put him back on the ground and left him with a shove.

Coyote staggered back with a clattering of necklaces, found his feet, then straightened his jacket. “Very well! The brave and handsome Coyote doesn’t need a ‘thank you’ or fawning looks from his adoring female following to know that he played a vital part in the well-being of his tribe.” He kicked the thunderstone up and caught it. “He will continue to labor for the good of all without complaint.” He started off.

“This way,” Dovilė said, jabbing a thumb over her shoulder.

Coyote spun on his heel, fell forward, ate shit, then jumped up and walked in the way she indicated without skipping a beat.

Pendejo.

Moe pressed firmly into Lance’s side. “Man alive, I missed you.”

Dovilė grunted. “Jo-jo-jo. Now let’s get him to the med-bay, eh?”



Ruben’s eyes were nearly crossed as he reached forward with the tweezers. Then he plucked a spine. Dovilė held up the metal tray, where Ruben deposited it before turning back to Lance’s arm.

The curtain flipped open. Lisa entered, holding a plate in one hand.

“Tapas,” she said.

Food!

Lance grabbed a fistful.

Dovilė plucked one off the plate, popped it in her mouth, then took a couple more. Ruben didn’t even so much as blink, intent on his task.

“How’s it going in here?” Lisa asked.

Dovilė chewed some, glanced in the tray, and swallowed. “One Juan, one broken claw, twenty-two rock pieces, six—” Ruben dropped another spine in the tray. “—seven cactus spines.”

Really? All that shit had been embedded in his skin? Damn.

“Rube.” Lance held out a tapas thingy. “You wanna eat?”

Ruben looked up at him, stared a little, looked to the food, and then brightened. He took it. Then his eyes flicked around, settling on Lisa. “Thanks, Mom.”

Damn, this kid was fuckin’ cute. Lance rubbed his head. Ruben smiled, popped the tapas thingy in his mouth, and started on another spine.

Lisa gave a half-smile. “There’s more where this came from. And Moe’s promised at least three courses for dinner tonight.”

Oh man oh man oh man. Lance’s stomach growled.

“You should come home late from LA every time,” said Ruben around his mouthful.

Smartass!

Dovilė casually settled back to a slouch, eating some more tapas.

“So long as you do all the dishes,” Lisa retorted.

Ruben tilted his head. “Just kidding.”

Hah! She’d got him good.

“Bicho,” Lance said, pushing at Ruben’s head.

Ruben smirked, pushed at him back, and then got back to work. Lisa watched them for a bit, smiling.

“Welcome home, Lance,” she said. Then she turned to leave.

Wait. “Hold on. I wanted to talk to you. Need some Lisa-magic.”

She raised an eyebrow, but set the plate down on the table next to Dovilė and pulled up a stool. “What’s up?”

“So Carmen…”

Hold the fuck up. He didn’t know if Carmen wanted anyone else to know. And she was off at the lake taking a bath so he couldn’t ask just now.

But it was Lisa! She’d be totally cool about it and understanding and helpful and magical and shit.

But it wasn’t his call.

How the hell was he supposed to get advice now?

Well, he’d just have to figure it out.

“Let’s say something real fucked up happened in someone’s past and it came up after years of not having to deal with it as hallucinations of some weird holy acid trip.” Wow. Way to fuckin’ go, Gorman. Idiota kusok. “Uh…” Fuck it. Might as well keep going. “And it, like… it made them do something bad to you, and they might hate themself forever for it. But you don’t hate them at all. You, like, love them. How would you help them deal with it?”

Lisa looked him over a bit. “Well, I’m afraid I can’t give you much.” Her eyes slid to the side as her brain started on its magic-making. “I would set a boundary on taking acid, for one. As in, don’t do it around me.”

Oh, yeah! Good plan! No more offerings parties with Alejandra. Or, like, just one of them can do it and the other can wait on the bus. Fácil!

“How unhappy am I about what they did to me?” she asked.

Good question.

“Uh… I—you don’t want it to happen again. But it was, like, it was all part of a shitstorm. It wouldn’t’ve happened otherwise. It probably ain’t happening again. So I’m—you’re worried about the bigger part of the shitstorm. You know. The shit that could be stormed.”

“Then I would tell them that I love them and want to work on making sure it won’t happen again. Which means talking about this bigger problem at hand.”

Wait. He did that already.

Holy shit.

She was fuckin’ magical.

“Okay. But how do you talk about it?” Lance asked.

Lisa offered him a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, Lance. That’s contextual. I can’t answer that for you without knowing specifics.”

Oh. That made sense.

Okay, okay. But there was the whole silence thing. It’d driven him loco. It felt so much better to have talked about it. But the last two weeks had been too busy. But they just got home so now would be a bad time.

Shit, this was hard.

“How do you know when to talk about it?” Lance asked. “Like… how much space do you give ‘em?”

Lisa thought for another moment. “I’d work with them to come up with a regular schedule. Maybe one day a week where we’d spend one or two hours talking about and processing this past event. Something we’re both relatively comfortable with.”

Yebat-kopat! She was fuckin’ brilliant!

“Alright. Cool.” Just one more question then. “Now let’s say you wanna marry them. Would it be better to wait to ask or is it okay to ask, like, the moment you see them next?”

Lisa stared at him.

“You should wait,” Dovilė said, leaning over to grab another tapas thingy. “I need to get a shotgun first.”

Uh… he didn’t get the joke.

“Well, I wouldn’t ask,” Lisa said. “At least, not until it was clear what marriage means to each of us and whether or not that’s what we want from and are willing to do for each other. I would let them know I was thinking about marriage and ask if they want to discuss it.”

Oh. That was a lot less exciting. But Lisa was probably right. That sounded like a smart person conversation, though. What did marriage mean to him? He had no fuckin’ clue!

Why’d he want to marry Carmen, then? Well, he loved her and…

It’s not like there was any legal shit to deal with anymore. The wedding wouldn’t even be a big thing ‘cause their family and friends were already all here and the rest were dead. And he didn’t care about that anyway. And they already lived in the same fuckin’ house, so that wouldn’t change. Nothing was stopping them from sleeping in the same room. Hell, that meant jack shit, too, even before the end of the world. And Lance was already, like, committed to her and shit.

Literally nothing would change.

Fuck it all. It just felt right. That counted! Lisa kept saying feelings count!

But… Carmen might have a completely different idea. And it might not feel so right to her. And he didn’t want to ask her to do something that she thought wasn’t right.

Lance nodded. “Okay.” He gave her a bit of a smile. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Sure, kid,” she said, smiling back. “Hope it helps.”

It was probably gonna help. If he didn’t fuck it up. But he was gonna find out one way or the other.



Each pass of the brush was a drilling of the game plan. Scrub the feet, start with ‘I wanna talk about important things’. Scrub the pits, ask ‘when’s a good time for you?’ Scrub the back, ask ‘where would you like to talk about them?’ (He’d thought of that one himself. Sometimes he had a freak smart-accident.) Scrub the face, be sure to say ‘I love you’. Rinse.

“Hey, Lance.” It was Carmen, standing by the tree some ways from shore. She lifted up something in her hand. “I brought your shaving stuff. I figured you’d forgotten to do it before you took a dip in the lake. Mind if I bring it over?”

Oh, shit, that’s right!

Damn, her timing was on point. He’d almost been done.

“Yeah, sure.” Lance motioned her over. “I can do it now. Mind holding the mirror up for me?”

Carmen looked at him for a little bit. “Sure.”

She set the shaving stuff at the edge of the lake. He swam up, put one foot on a rock jutting from the lake wall, and the other on a root, then planted his elbow. Carmen tilted the mirror up for him, adjusting until he told her the angle was right. Then he lathered up his face.

There was no strop, though.

“I already sharpened the razor,” Carmen said, kicking her chin its way.

Mierda. She was amazing.

Carmen pressed one corner of her mouth out and clicked her tongue. “Don’t gimme that look, Gorman. It was easier than bringing your entire vanity set.”

Oh.

She was so on top of that shit!

He brought the razor to his neck and began mowing down the forest on his face.

“I… uh… want to talk to you,” she said. “About important shit.”

Oh! Dude! “Yeah, me too.”

“Oh. Great.” She tucked her lips in, her eyes sliding to the side, and then said, “Is it cool if we talk, like, whenever you’re done cleaning up?”

Whoa. “Yeah.”

Shit, son. She was really on top of it. Wow, okay. They were gonna talk. Before dinner, even. Cool.

Carmen’s brow furrowed. “What’s that look? You’re kinda freakin’ me out, here.”

Freakin’ her out? She was reading his playbook! But then again that was nothing new. She was pretty fuckin’ smart.

“I just thought… we just got back, so…”

Carmen looked to the side again. “We don’t have to talk about it now. I just wanna do it soon.”

“No! I really wanna talk. Really.” He gave her a smile. “Lemme just finish shaving and scrub my face again.”

She looked at him. “Alright.”

He got back to it.

Wait. He didn’t have a game plan.

Okay. Okay. Marriage thing first or fucked up things first? Well. The fucked up things they’d be scheduling for later. And the marriage thing could be good and shit! That would make it easier to decide when to talk about the fucked up things later, right?

“You missed a spot,” Carmen said. “Your left. Under your jaw.”

Lance lifted his chin.

Oh. There it was. He shaved it. “Thanks, babe.”

Wait. What if the marriage thing weirded her out? Or made her all stressed out and shit?

He rinsed his face and picked up the brush for another quick scrub.

Right. He wasn’t gonna ask her to marry him. He was gonna tell her that he was thinking about it and ask if she wanted to talk. That was less stressful and less… weirdy-outy. Probably. Lisa said it was good, anyway, so it’d be good.

He soaped and scrubbed.

Wait. Carmen came to him to talk. It was probably real fuckin’ hard for her to do, too. She didn’t need him yammering at her while she was trying to get herself to say the shit she needed to say. He should let her go first.

Okay. Good. New gameplan locked down.

Lance hoisted himself up out of the lake and toweled himself off.

She was just staring at the ground.

That’s cool. Collecting her thoughts and shit. Probably waiting for him not to be distracted.

He put on his clean clothes. Sat next to her.

Carmen stayed silent. Just staring.

That’s okay. He could wait.

But maybe he should ask her what she wanted to talk about. Give her a place to start. Prompt her. All official and shit.

But that sounded kinda stressful. Like he was pressuring her to talk. He didn’t want her to talk if she wasn’t ready to talk. He could wait. He’d be good.

Or maybe… maybe she needed him to talk first. Like last time. ‘Cause, like, it made it easier for her. She’d said so.

Carmen took in a deep breath.

Did that mean she was gonna talk? Okay, cool, he was shutting the fuck up.

She let it out.

Wait. Was she or wasn’t she?

Fuck this was hard!

Okay. Fuck it. He’ll break the ice. He could figure it out from there.

“Carmen, I wanna marry you.” “Lance, I’m pregnant.”

Wait. What? “Did you just say—”

“You want to—”

They stopped. Carmen stared at him. Silence fell.

Shit. What now?

Time to figure it out.

“You… uh… you want me to talk first?” he asked.

She stared at him more. “I don’t know.”

Silence fell again.

Yebat-kopat. She was pregnant. Because of his spooge. If she had this kid… that… that would make her a mom and… and him a dad.

Holy shit. This kid would have a dad. And he’d get to be it.

Mierda. He had no clue what a dad was supposed to do or be other than not be an asshole. He was gonna fuck it up. He was gonna fuck it up so hard and—

But Carmen’s stepdad was at the pretty fuckin’ fucked up end of the fucking it up spectrum. And Carmen was still amazing. Her kid would probably be incredible. He probably couldn’t make shit go bad if he tried. Not that he would.

Wait. Was this… something that Carmen wanted?

“Do you wanna keep it?”

“I dunno.” She drew her knees to her chest, planted her elbows on them, and ran her fingers through her hair. “Why do you wanna marry me?”

“Because it feels right.” Damn. It sounded lame when he said it out loud. “Because you’re fuckin’ amazing and smart and brave and gorgeous and funny and… and you. And you telling me that… about your fucked up life only makes you…” Fuckin’ words. “… more of all that! ‘Cause, like, it’s gotta be hard enough being all those things and you can be all those things on top of dealing with some jacked-up shit! ‘Cause I’m a pendejo and an idiota kusok and you still think I’m worth something. I mean, like, what!?

And… and he wanted to be a dad to her kids. If she wanted kids.

Holy fuck. That might happen in, like, nine months.

“How do you feel about this?” he asked.

“Shit, I dunno,” she said. “I mean. The world ended. What does being married even mean anymore? Does it even matter?”

Oh.

“I meant about…” Fuck it. “Well… being married…” Oh. Right. He hadn’t figured that part out yet. “I don’t even know, man. I mean, it’s got to matter because it feels like matters, but… I dunno.”

Carmen looked out to the lake.

“So what are we supposed to do? Just… make it up as we go?”

Dude! She was a fuckin’ genius!

“Yeah!” Carmen snapped a look to him, brow furrowed. “We make it up together. Make it work for us. We just build on what we already got.”

She stared at him like he’d just said something dumb again. And then she laughed a little, and then her face screwed up, and tears spilled out her eyes.

Mierda, that was… not what he was expecting. “Hey, are you… are you alright?”

“I love you and wanna marry your big dumb cute face, okay?” Carmen said. “Now hold me, estupid.

Oh.

Oh!

He scooted close and wrapped her up. She leaned against him and rested her head on his chest.

That was it, then. They were gonna get married. Be husband and wife. Shit, they didn’t even have to be, ‘cause they were gonna make it up! They could totally be, like… uh… something else. Nothing was coming to mind. And… well, he wanted to be her husband anyway. But that was gonna be their choice!

“Do you wanna keep it?” she asked.

Wh—oh shit. That’s right. She was pregnant.

Ohhhh now he got Dovilė’s joke!

Focus, Gorman.

Okay, okay. She wanted to know if he wanted to—wait.

“Why are you asking me?” That wasn’t even— “If you don’t want this one and then later decide you do want a baby, all I have to do is cum again. Like that’s hard.”

Carmen clicked her tongue and gently smacked the back of her hand against his chest. “First, I ain’t just asking you. Second, we’re gonna be married, Gorman.” Then she settled a little, and grew kinda still. “If I decide I do want it and everyone else is cool with that, you’re gonna have to live with it. See it every day. Our little date rape baby.”

Oh. Right. The last time they’d had sex was during the acid trip. He hadn’t even thought of that.

But… “We’re gonna work through that, remember? So it’d just be a… a… our little ‘we-worked-shit-out’ baby.”

She was silent a moment.

“So… you do wanna keep it, then?”

Well, yeah… No! Not if she didn’t want it… But he wanted…

Fuck, this was hard.

“Look…” Okay. He was just gonna talk. “I didn’t get to have a dad growing up. And I wanted it so bad. So if you have kids I want to make sure they have that. That doesn’t have to mean this kid. And, like, I don’t want it to if you think all you’ll be able to think about when you look at this kid is how much you hate yourself.”

Whoa. Dude. Had he just said that? When did he smarten up? Fuck it, he had more to say.

“Hell, it doesn’t have to mean any kids at all. Or, hey, it could mean a bunch of kids. I mean, it’d be really awesome to have more of… of you in this world. But that’s something we can figure out later.”

Carmen was silent again.

How many was ‘a bunch’ anyway? Five?

Wait. Five kids meant there’d be twenty-two people at the homestead. Sans a permanently fuckin’ benched Coyote.

“Dude. With five kids there’d finally be enough people for a pickup game of football.” Lance turned to her. “I could teach ‘em how to play.” Fuck yes! “Oh man—we could play games where it’s just them versus me. Getting taken down by a squad of kids would be fuckin’ awesome.

Carmen looked up at him, pressing her lips and raising an eyebrow. “Lemme get this straight: you want me to squeeze five kids out my cooch just so you can play football?”

Well, no, he didn’t mean…

Wait. She was taking the piss out of him. She was feeling okay enough to take the piss outta him.

Okay. Cool. He had this. “Tell you what—I’ll shit out five footballs and we can call it even.”

Carmen made a little pained noise and cringed against him. “Yoptel-mopsel!” Then she busted up, turning into his chest and shaking against him.

Score for Gorman!

Man. They were gonna be married. They were gonna figure out what that meant. Theirs was gonna be, like, Plutarch’s ideal of marriage, except in real life. And they might have a baby. Someday, sooner or later.

And possibly one day a football team. ‘Cause, like, it would be awesome to be taken down by a squad of kids.

Man. If only he knew a way to share this with Mom. If her soul was still around or something. It wasn’t college, but… maybe it would make her happy anyway.

“How are we gonna work through… through all this fucked up shit?” Carmen asked.

Oh! He had the answer to this! “How ‘bout we talk about it, like, once a week for an hour or two? Or whatever you’re comfortable with.”

She turned up to him again with that look of hers. “Damn, Gorman. When did you smarten up?”

Yeah… he couldn’t take credit for that. “Actually, I asked Lisa.”

The blood drained from Carmen’s face. She drew away from him.

Yoptel-mopsel! He didn’t— “No, no, no, I mean, I didn’t give her any specifics or anything! I just asked for her advice!”

Carmen closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, and let it out. Her shoulders dropped. Then she put her face in her hands and shook.

Mierda. This’d been a hard day for her. This probably called for another hug. Maybe. Lance tentatively put his arm back around her and drew her closer. She leaned into him and sobbed quietly for a little bit.

Then the dinner call went up from the homestead.

Carmen hold onto him a little longer, then pulled away. “Okay, Gorman.” She wiped her eyes with a knuckle. “Let’s get us some grub.” She sniffed. “And…” She looked off to the side, quiet for a moment. “Let’s talk about this more tomorrow, same time, same place. That’ll be our day.”

Whoa. Damn, son. That was fast. She was on this shit. Well, then he was gonna be on it too. He was gonna be so ready.

She looked to him. “Is that—does that work for you?”

Lance stood to help her up. “Yeah.” But what about the good stuff? “And when… uh… when did you want to talk more about being married? And maybe or maybe not having kids?”

Carmen looked down, thinking. Then she said, “How about the day after?”

Cool. Awesome. “Yeah, okay.”

A smile poked out. “Okay.”

There was one more thing. He knew it. There was the talking about what she wanted to talk about, the talking about marriage, and the scheduling of talking about the fucked up shit, both the when and the where…

Oh!

He held onto her hand as she walked away. “Carmen.”

She stopped and turned a little toward him. “Yeah?”

He tugged her to him. Wiped the tears she missed. Gave her a kiss.

“I love you.”

Carmen’s eyes flicked over him. “I know.” A corner of her lips came up. “But thanks for saying so.”

Our Little Secret, Part Six

God-Touched Nut_Meg