“When we first met, did you ever picture we’d be sitting here like this?” I tore my focus away from Kevin and Bryan in the living room and glanced over to Maddox to see his reaction.
He was shaking his head and grinning. “The only thing I was thinking when I first met you was that I was hoping you hadn’t given Bryan a heart attack and that you guys seemed insane.”
I fought to keep my laughter quiet so I didn’t disturb the Scooby-Doo fest in the living room. Bryan and Kevin were both completely worn out from their first week back at classes and Maddox and I’d both decided they needed a night in to be little and just relax.
That usually meant cartoons and subtly stealing cookies.
Bryan was getting more confident in stealing Kevin’s and no longer sat there with wide eyes while Kevin ate as many as he could. They were adorable.
“Bryan was so sure no one else would be able to relate. This past summer was eye-opening for him.” Maddox smiled as Bryan moved his bowl of animal crackers farther away from Kevin’s wiggly fingers.
“Me too.” Kevin jumped into everything headfirst, so it shouldn’t have surprised any of us how easily he’d settled into being Bryan’s pseudo big brother.
I just wanted him happy.
That was all I’d ever wanted.
I’d never cared what form that happiness had taken as long as I was part of it.
And right now, that form was coloring and playing with Bryan and sometimes Hailey when he and Trent had time to come over.
Maddox dropped his voice low, subtly watching the half-asleep boys on the floor. “Is he still bugging you for a dollhouse like Hailey’s?”
He was probably just as afraid of starting that conversation again as I was.
“Yes, and I hate telling him no. But we really don’t have room for it.” The apartment had never been that big, but once Dad had given us the stuff we’d had to leave behind, we were filled to the brim. “Just sticking a shelf in the living room to put some crayons and things on required us to move everything around. It’s ridiculous.”
Maddox nodded. “Yeah, I hear you. Bryan was hinting that a sandbox like Cody’s would be fun, but there’s no way.”
I grinned. “The dollhouse would be more practical.”
Maddox huffed. “Yeah, tell me about it. I’d love to figure out a way, but it won’t work. Neither will work. We’ve actually talked about looking around to see what else is for rent, but finding anything with a private backyard on our budget is hopeless. Something a little bigger that has room for more toys would be doable. But there are always tradeoffs.”
I nodded, seeing where he was going with the conversation as he looked at Bryan and Kevin. “Yeah, having you guys around makes up for a lot.”
I sighed when Kevin started eyeing Bryan’s cookies and the blue crayon he’d been coloring with. He wasn’t even hungry. They’d both filled up on pizza and juice boxes less than an hour ago. “But it also adds to the crazy in my life too.”
Like when Kevin decided that driving Bryan crazy was fun. I dropped my voice and kept my tone stern. “Kevin.”
His hand snapped back to his lap and he smiled. “I’m being good.”
Sure he was.
“I appreciate that.” I gave him a stern look. “Because if you can’t be good, we have to head home.”
We were still figuring out how to handle the new aspect of our relationship, but aside from a few bumps, it was going fairly well. Of course, I was still working on punishments and what kinds of boundaries he was searching for when he was in his role.
Spankings didn’t work—they were rewards.
Now, having to leave playtime early—that was a punishment.
“Yes, Sir. I’m being helpful.” He pushed some of the crayons closer to Bryan. “See?”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” It wasn’t going to last long. One of his favorite things about being a middle was having new ways to push Bryan’s buttons.
Bryan gave him a side glance and sucked harder on his binkie as he pulled his crayon closer. Maddox cleared his throat. That had Bryan giving Kevin another huffy look before aiming wide eyes at his Daddy. That was a pure Kevin look and even Maddox knew it.
Groaning, Maddox turned to stare at me. “He was not that manipulative until he started hanging out with Kevin.”
I shrugged. “Good luck. I’ve never found a way to get rid of it.”
Not that I’d really tried.
I liked how funny he was, and it gave me a thousand options a day to punish him. Especially now that he was exploring his version of age play.
Maddox huffed. “You’ve never tried.”
I gave him an innocent look that would put Kevin’s best to shame. “No idea what you’re talking about.”
“And there it is.” He grinned. “Most of the time I forget you guys are brothers, but then something like that pops out and I can see it.”
My favorite thing about that comment was that my relationship with Kevin didn’t faze him at all. When Kevin had first declared that we’d find other people to share the truth about our relationship with, I’d thought he was crazy. But no, he’d been right many times over.
“He’s the troublemaker. I’m the boring, sensible one.” I couldn’t fight back my smile as Maddox snorted.
“Sure. Keep telling yourself that.” He smiled as he glanced back over at the boys. “It’s going to be a long time before I take this for granted. I knew there were a lot of littles out there, but meeting you guys and everyone else these past two years has been incredible.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I watched as Kevin’s head started nodding and he leaned back against the couch. He was beyond exhausted and so was Bryan. He was doing the same head bob, but he didn’t have the natural inclination to deny being tired. He liked naps when he was little, so it didn’t really surprise me when his head came down on Kevin’s shoulder and his eyelids started slowly sinking.
“I keep telling myself that there’s a whole world we can explore, but the more I think about it, the more I want to stay here. I can’t imagine moving him away from Bryan and everyone.” I looked around at their apartment, seeing ours for a moment instead. They were almost identical and both too small.
“But as fabulous as I remember thinking these apartments were when we moved in, they’re not going to work much longer.” I sighed.
“Yeah, tell me about it. And that’s not even taking into consideration the money.” Maddox sighed too. “I didn’t care how much the actual rent was when the school was paying for it, but now that I’m paying half, it’s crazy.”
“Everything within a reasonable distance of the campus is crazy.” I smiled as Kevin realized he was pinned down by a sleeping Bryan. When moving didn’t seem to be an option, he sighed and let his head rest against the couch. He was going to be out in seconds. “I wouldn’t mind paying a reasonable amount if it got us more room, but it’s just trading one tiny apartment for another.”
I saw Maddox nod out of the corner of my eye. As he spoke he smiled, clearly finding the boys as cute as I did. “We’re going to have to make a decision sooner or later because I need an actual office.”
“Business going that well?” It’d been a few weeks since we’d touched base about work, but he’d been steadily growing his bookkeeping business over the past two years.
“Yeah, at first I was worried that it wouldn’t be enough to support us once I was out of school, but it’s doing great. Bryan’s mom was even able to help out more last year, so we’ve got some money saved up just in case.” He looked a little embarrassed. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
I shrugged. “Don’t feel bad because he has a functional parent. The rest of us got screwed.”
Maddox too. His parents had gotten a little better, but they hardly spent any time together. The fact that they’d continued to pay for school had been great, but I thought he’d have rather had a happy family over the money any day.
He chuckled. “Yeah, but your dad’s coming through.”
Nodding, I looked away from the sleeping boys and back to Maddox. “It’s still weird, though. He doesn’t blame us for their marriage erupting, but I know he wishes everything were different.” I tried to look at the bright side. “But he’s not tiptoeing around our relationship anymore. He’s trying.”
“Bryan says you need to talk to Miles and have some sit-down time with your therapist.” Maddox grinned when I sighed.
“That’s what Kevin said too. I’m starting to feel like they’re ganging up on me.” Not that they were wrong. “I’ll call him. Maybe now he’ll let me pay.”
Maddox snorted. “No chance of that, but good luck trying.”
“Okay then, maybe I’ll drag him out to lunch and pay for that instead.”
“You might get that to work.” Maddox chuckled as Kevin let out a little snore. “They’re so tired.”
“I don’t remember them being this exhausted last fall when classes started back.”
“You’re insane.” Maddox shook his head. “You were going to school full time and running the business too. You were exhausted yourself.”
“I guess it just feels so weird not being in class. It seems like the last two years have flown by.” It was all so vivid as I thought about it, but somehow it seemed impossible that the time had gone by so fast.
“Work has to be keeping you busy.” Maddox’s statement had me nodding.
“Yeah, my old boss from before we moved has been after me to pick up more work from him for a long time and I was finally able to say yes. Between those and my regular work, we’re doing great.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve been looking at getting someplace new as well. I could use an office to spread out in.” I’d spent the last few years frantically planning on how we would live after I graduated, but now that it was here, it felt weird.
“When you add in toys and those kinds of things, you guys really need three bedrooms.” Maddox chuckled as I groaned. “Hell, we could use two more bedrooms. I would love to have a playroom for him and not have to hide toys under our bed.”
“Then you could do a real changing table too and we could put the dollhouse at your place.” I chuckled as Maddox sighed. “Then I could drop Kevin off to play.”
“Oh no, huge crazy toys stay at your house so that Bryan has to leave his room sometimes.” Maddox looked over at a sleeping Bryan and smiled. “It’s good for him to get out. He had fun over at Miles’s house.”
“They both had fun, and now all Kevin has been talking about is going over to Cody’s house and playing in the sandbox.” I rolled my eyes. “That has to be driving Ford and Jameson nuts.”
“Even when they’re not little, they talk about how great it will be.” Maddox’s smile was ear-to-ear. “Bryan was talking about it with Hayden the other day and neither of them were little. Just walking along campus talking about when Cody’s sandbox would be done.”
Bryan had come a long way.
“Two years ago, that would have given him a heart attack.”
Maddox laughed quietly. “At the very least, he’d have fainted at the idea.”
“Oh yeah.” I pointed at the two sleeping boys. “Just imagining he’d be curled up little with someone else besides you would have been more than he could handle.”
“It’s more than he could have handled six months ago.” Maddox shifted, leaning back against the counter. “But it’s Kevin. He’s not sure how to describe their relationship anymore, but now that Kevin’s seen him little and they have this part of their lives in common, it’s like the last of his fears have faded away.”
All Kevin had talked about since he first understood what Bryan and Maddox were into was that he wanted to see Bryan when he was little. I hadn’t understood it at first, but looking back, he was probably searching for something he couldn’t even name. I wasn’t sure either of us would have gone looking for it without Bryan and Maddox.
“‘Insane’ is the only way to describe their relationship.” I pushed away from the counter, trying to work out the kink in my back. I’d been hunched over the kitchen table for too long earlier and I was starting to feel it. “But it works for them, so I’m glad. They need each other.”
Maybe it should have felt weird to say Kevin needed someone else other than me, but it didn’t. They were family and he’d found a part of himself through them. That bonded us all together in a way most people wouldn’t understand.
But just pointing it out brought me back to one of my main issues with looking for a bigger apartment. I wasn’t sure either of them would be happy living across town from each other. Maddox was clearly thinking the same thing too because he sighed. “Is it weird to admit that I’m not sure Bryan would be happy without you guys living next door? That honestly feels a bit codependent.”
I chuckled. “You’ve been letting Bryan psychoanalyze you.”
Maddox huffed. “He keeps talking about the different things he’s learning in class and from Miles. I know it’s not insane or Miles would have said something about it. But I just can’t help wondering how someone from the outside looking in would see us.”
“Sounds like I’m not the only one who needs to have lunch with the shrink.” I chuckled again as Maddox groaned. “But no, I don’t think it’s weird or codependent or anything like that. We’re family. There’s no rule that says you have to move away from family if they make you happy. Most people just hate theirs, so we’re special.”
“Special, huh?” He grinned, nudging my shoulder as he walked past. “I can agree with that. But I have another question for you.”
“What are we going to do about them?” Maddox looked down at the boys who were out for the count. Even our conversation hadn’t been enough to keep them awake and we’d long since forgotten to keep our voices down.
“I’m not carrying Kevin’s ass home.” It was a fine ass, not a light one. “I’ll wake him up and—”
“There’s no point in waking him up.” Maddox looked around. “Help me move the coffee table and the chair and we can lay them out on the floor. They can have a sleepover. Bryan’s already in his pajamas and diaper, so he’s fine. You can bunk with me or on the couch. I’m good either way.”
I had to shake my head as he reached over and gave the front of Bryan’s pajama pants a pat. “And still dry, so no issues there.”
“That works for me.”
Sometimes I couldn’t wrap my mind around how much had changed. Conversations about cartoons and diapers and sleepovers…though there was a part of me that wanted to freeze this perfect moment and keep anything else from happening. But it just wasn’t possible…or practical. Eventually, we had to move and things would change.
We couldn’t stay like this forever, no matter how much I wanted it—or could we?