The drive had gone by quicker than anticipated. Greg stood beside Lacey, his arms folded at the front doors of the castle. His initial amazement at the majestic architecture had worn off. Greg wasn’t the patient type.

Thankfully, their collection of kids was occupied. He’d instructed them to play a game of tag while waiting for the owners. He always wanted his kids active and contending. He knew their futures, and he most certainly depended on the competitive spirit.

“The fuck is taking so long?” Greg asked. “I wish I knew,” Lacey replied.

His wife shook her head, her pink hoop earrings swaying. Her puffy blonde hair glistened in the sunshine as she reached for the zebra slap bracelet on her wrist.

“I’m getting pretty damn tired of waiting,” he grumbled. “They said eleven, no?”

“They did,” Lacey agreed.

She unrolled her gift into its alternate stiff and flat form.

Greg grimaced. “Well, he’s got about five more minutes before—”


The sound of the bracelet connecting with Lacey’s dainty wrist caught Greg off guard.

“Jesus!” he said. “Do you have to do that? I heard one of those things malfunctioned and poked someone right in the damn vein. Bled out right on the spot, the way I heard it.”

Lacey continued anyway. She wanted to do it again but saw Greg was getting annoyed, so she decided to refrain.

“Relax, baby bear,” she said. “That story is just an urban legend. Everybody has these things. And who cares if we hang around here a little while? They’re paying us to be here, remember?”

“I don’t give a shit if they’re planning on putting the kids through college. Nobody leaves the Matthews waiting.”

Despite the tough talk, Greg wouldn’t be budging anytime soon. Doing so went against his philosophy. The boys were supposed to generate income

—perhaps Tanya too. They weren’t just family; they were an investment, one that should be lucrative so long as he instilled them with the proper ethic and nudged them along. The kids reeling in three grand just to test out a stupid playground was too easy, but Greg was confident this was only the beginning.

He watched his oldest son, thirteen-year-old Bobby, get chased down by Greg’s pride and joy, CJ. He was certain CJ was going to be special from the moment he got his legs under him. The boy’s uncanny speed, muscularity, and intangible prowess were easy for the former athlete to see dollar signs behind.

Son-of-a-bitch is faster than a Ferrari. Little shit might even be faster than me, Greg thought.

Greg watched Bobby as he tried to close in on his tag target. He was mere inches away when CJ juked him. CJ’s natural gifts frustrated his oldest, causing Bobby to give up and focus on the youngest of the litter, Kip.

It ain’t even fair to the rest of them, Greg chuckled to himself gleefully.

That’s money in the bank.

Greg saw himself in his son. CJ held the same set of attributes he had before tearing both ACLs in his third college football game. While his body had failed him, he knew that CJ wouldn’t be hindered by the same gremlin.

As he watched CJ’s long slicing strides, Greg knew he’d have made one hell of a wide receiver. The kid had hands like Cris Carter and cut as sharp as Barry Sanders. But all that was too risky. He didn’t want his golden ticket to suffer the same injury that sullied Greg’s scholarship.

Although the ligament tears that ended Greg’s career had the potential to happen in any sport, he wanted CJ to do something with minimal contact. The gridiron was too violent. It wasn’t so much that Greg cared for his well-being; he just wanted to see his show horse run in as many races as possible.

When Greg pushed him into baseball, he took to it like a duck to water. With CJ at shortstop, sensational catches and double-plays were always the norm. And when he stepped up to the plate, there was always the chance that he might blast one out of the park. The natural, sporty talent that he harbored left him leaps and bounds ahead of his age group. And just as Greg had told himself, CJ was the king of whatever diamond he graced.

Bobby, on the other hand, was a painfully crushing disappointment. Greg had high expectations for his firstborn. He definitely didn’t expect a stinker. But it wasn’t like he could just return him or go back in time and have an abortion. Greg still pushed Bobby the same as all the others, but he knew there was no light at the end of his tunnel. He liked that Bobby could still beat the shit out of most kids, but he was still too fat for a pair of gloves and headgear. Toughness alone was useless to Greg in the fiscal scheme of things.

At least he ain’t a faggot, Greg thought. It was all his warped, bigoted brain could find to be proud of.

Bobby’s stride stretched far further than his seven-year-old brother could. In less than a minute, Bobby, red-cheeks and all, was able to close in on him. He slapped his back with a thunderous tag and Kip fell onto the grass.

“You’re it, dumbass,” Bobby hollered.

He ran away unleashing a hyena-like laugh. “Hey! Language!” Lacey yelled.

It was a request she’d made to Bobby more times than she could count.

Greg watched Kip like a scout before draft day. His brother had given him a decent shot in the lungs, and he’d taken a tough tumble. Despite being disappointed with his boy getting caught, the blow and fall didn’t faze Kip. The jury was still out on his overall potential—he was too young for Greg to figure—but at least he could take some pride in his son’s toughness.

Welp, he ain’t no pussy, that’s for damn sure.

Kip lifted himself off the ground and looked to his sister Tanya, pegging her as the easiest catch.

Upon seeing Kip key in on her, Tanya readied herself. The nine-year-old coyly positioned her body beside an extravagant cement birdbath at the center of the lawn.

Fuckin’ birds got a better shower here than I do at home, Greg thought.

When Kip charged in, Tanya tactfully sidestepped the boy and made her way around the fixture.

“Why is she playing with them again?” Lacey asked. “I dunno, ’cause they’re kids?” Greg reasoned.

“I just… I don’t want her thinking she’s going to be something she’s not.”

“Seriously? She’s just messing around.”

As shallow as Greg could be, even he was a bit shocked that his wife was irked by Tanya mixing it up. His buzz was also wearing off, making him just more argumentative than he normally was.

“We’ve been letting her mess around with them too much,” Lacey whined “Now she’s talking about swimming lessons.”

Lacey and her daughter locked eyes momentarily. Tanya’s shoulder’s tightened and her eyes drifted as she grew distracted by her mother’s scowl of disapproval. The dirty looks were nothing new. She’d seen them many times before and even grown somewhat accustomed to absorbing her glares of displeasure.

Routine didn’t make them hurt any less though.

Tanya’s mother had a vision for her, but the last thing Tanya wanted to do was stand on the sidelines of a sport she didn’t care about. She wasn’t looking for an eventual suitor; she wanted to compete. The idea of cheerleading felt low and idiotic. It disheartened her that it was the only thing her mother believed her to be capable of.

What Lacey surmised was best mattered little to Tanya. She might’ve been young, but she was already old enough to understand that no one, not even the woman she came out of, was going to control her.

Tanya didn’t need her mother’s belief; she had her own.

She envisioned herself swimming with the best of them, or maybe competing in gymnastics which she’d taken an interest in recently. Tanya hoped that her mom might be asking her father about the lessons they’d discussed at the table that morning.

Tanya wasn’t sure what more evidence they needed from her. At the YMCA she was the fastest in the water, but her parents were never there. How could they even know? They used the club more as a babysitter for Tanya than a means to support her passion. It allowed her father to focus more on training her brothers, and left her mother to do whatever it was she did in her free time. It worked like a charm when the investment pricing

was low. But now Lacey’s babysitter had become more expensive than it was worth.

She’d show them.

She’d show them right now.

Tanya only relinquished a meager amount of her attention toward her mother’s cancerous attitude. She yearned to watch her failures bloom, but today, she would have to wait.

As Kip closed in on her, Tanya let him get close enough to think he had her dead to rights. But as Kip blasted full-speed ahead, Tanya pivoted her body and went tumbling sideways. Planting her palm on the ground, her cartwheel successfully evaded the tag. As she landed on her feet in perfect form, Kip found himself sliding belly-first past the birdbath, over the impeccable front lawn.

“Whoa, did you see that?” Greg asked. “Maybe there’s something to it. It’s only normal for her to have a hobby. All the boys do. Hell, she might even be a little better than you think. Maybe she deserves those lessons after all.”

“You’re going overboard now,” Lacey replied. “Am I?”

Lacey gritted her teeth.

The move Tanya had shown off was impressive, a trick she might’ve even been able to use in cheer if Lacey could somehow break her daughter’s will. But it didn’t help convince Greg that the costly lessons might not be worth it. If anything, it was an argument in favor of the investment.

Greg and Lacey were alike in how they viewed the children that matched their gender. All Lacey wanted was a daughter that would follow in her footsteps. But she never expected Tanya to have her own ideas or have a stronger mind than the rest of her siblings. She couldn’t be molded to simply worship those within her familial circumference just because they shared the same bloodline.

“She got lucky,” Lacey grumbled. “The sooner she realizes that, the easier it’ll be. She’s not like the boys. She’s thinking Olympics, but she should be thinking pom-poms.”

Greg chewed on the thought for a moment before a jock grin graced his face.

“I remember you in those tight-ass outfits. Fuck, you were something else, baby doll.”

A beam of joy crept up on Lacey’s face, matching her love. “Is that right?”

“That’s right.”

The intimate memory was abruptly disturbed by the sound of tires slowly churning through the gravel.

Greg and Lacey turned their attention to the vehicle heading in their direction.

“Hey! Timeout!” Greg yelled. “Watch out for the car! I can’t afford to have any of you getting hurt!”

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