Maksim felt relieved, when the house was still standing when they returned. The cars were all parked in front of it too and they had not seen any police car drive by on their way home. The boys were loudly discussing different car types, something he knew nothing about and couldn’t offer any insight on, but other than that the evening seemed to be rather quiet. Still, his eyes kept searching for anything suspicious on the horizon. His agitated squeezing on Laura’s hand wasn’t helping it either and at some point he let go, jerking away when he realized his palms were sweating. After cleaning them on his thighs, catching her inquisitive look, he hid them in his pocket.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
He shook his head, refusing to answer and in the end, she gave up, pressing her lips in a thin line which did not suit to her otherwise composed face. Her hands slipped into her pockets too and for a second he was drawn away from his own head, musing how her posture copied his. Only, hers was younger, her skin velvety and untarnished by age or rough life. Her dark hair were gathered up under large black clip with simple geometrical shapes and the wind was blowing the free bangs to her face. She didn’t look angry, but uncertain of what she was expected to do while he was sulking. But she was too young to be able to hide information on a whim and Tess was too old not to see through her masks should he ask her to keep it a secret. No, it had to come from them.
They watched the row leading their way and he smiled, imagining seven puppy tales wanking with content before burst laughing second later, realizing how ridiculously sweet that would be. There was his brother, scared shitless by the the possibility of one kid and here he walked by a woman, who couldn’t imagine her life without seven extras, with god knew how many puppies, kittens, rats, snakes, tarantulas or who knew what else that household would entail.
He snorted and cleared his eyes and nearly burst back in tears, when he looked up and realized the entire company was looking at him, frowning, as if he’d lost his mind. He waved them off and one by one they turned and continued their trip back home. He glanced on the woman by his side and nodded, adding quickly. “I’m fine now.”
Although her eyebrows didn’t move upwards, she smiled and nodded, probably giving up on whatever was bothering him, entwining her hands around his middle instead to pull him closer into a hug. He couldn’t resist the kiss on her hair.
Ten minutes later they entered the house and ran into the boys, who clomped up at the door, eyes wide like saucers. They made their way through the boys, gently pushing them aside, to see what scared them and not for the first time today, Maksim prayed he wouldn’t be walking into a murder scene. He winched on the thought of it, or more on the one that this was even a possibility.
The house smelled divine, and he heard the oven being opened before Tessa rose above the boys heads with a tray of potatoes covered with cheese to go next to a tray of bacon strips and broccoli.
“I made dinner?” She offered softly, offering up the abundant smell of garlic and cheese and meat and…
“I hate broccoli!” Anton whined and earned a quick slip of hand from Jevgeni, who in return got one from Laura. Who received a reminder of how bad examples work from him. She scowled up at him, but he didn’t care. She was old enough to know better and after a small glaring contest her shoulders slumped and she turned her attention on Tessa, who looked awkward still holding the tray.
“Thank you.” She said, pushing the boys aside. “Set it down before you burn yourself!” She scolded. “Boys, go wash up!” She waited until the last of them had disappeared into the bathroom. “You didn’t have to.”
“I’m sorry, I just… I wanted to… I -” She looked sad, and he knew Laura was picking up on it.
“Where’s Alik?” He asked softly, trying not to scare her off.
“He will be OK!” Her mild expression hardened, warning him to pack off and he nodded, taking the hint. He rose his hands in sign of resignation. She could be quite a mother bear when she wanted to be and if there was anything he’d learned over the years working with pregnant women, was to back off when shown teeth.
“Wait, they can’t go-”
“Ah, there he is…” Laura singsong, setting plates up on the edge of the table together with the baskets of forks and ketchup, ordering the row of boys to pick each of one. They were all running and beet red.
Jevgeni was the last one to return, looking dazed. “There’s an angry whale in the bath.” He said, pointing over his shoulder and stepped into the line, helping Kaspar get his fork. Then her eyes met Tessa’s and he quipped a smile. “Sorry about that, ma’am, we honestly didn’t know.”
“No apologies, I should have warned you.”
Alik appeared five minutes later, still fuming from the injustice. “Don’t you know how to knock?” He demanded, but there was no real bite behind it, when he trailed off, looking at the kids with renewed eyes. Maksim knew that look. He’d seen it too many times in his own reflection, when he caught himself staring out the window of his office towards the playground.
“Better get used to that – this is your future!” Maksim smiled at him through tight lips, passing him and clasping at his shoulder, suddenly feeling the sting in his chest how the faiths had once again screwed him over. What he wouldn’t do to be in his brother’s shoes right now?