Chapter Description: In-laws...Why did it have to be In-Laws?
Cassie had barely knocked on the door to her family’s double wide. Her knuckles rapped on air the third time around. The door flung open. “Cassie!”
Herbert Braun flung the door open and gave Cassie a bear hug. Making exaggerated grunting and growling noises as he pretended to crush her. Cassie did her part by pretending to suffocate. “Oh god! Dad! You’re killing me! Can’t breathe! Can’t breeeeathe.”
It was their thing.
My father-in-law looked exactly like his daughter: Except for the mustache, extra couple hundred pounds, the gut, relatively huge arms, and deep voice, that is. Hair. They had the same light brown hair color is what I’m saying. The man was nearly thirty years my senior and I had more white in my hair than him.
“Clark!” he said once he’d released Cassie. “How ya doin’, carrot top?”
“Bert,” I smiled softly; politely. “Good to see you.” Bert’s hand gave mine a squeeze so hard I had no choice but to squeeze back as hard as I could just to try to meet the pressure. That’s something that I took for granted working besides Tweeners and Amazons: In Oakshire most people thought me fragile; kid gloves and gentle touch time. In Misty Brook I was average; everything was fair game. My father-in-law? Bert was a Little- way too short to be a Tweener- but he was so thick and strong that all suspected he had a few drops of Amazon somewhere way, way, back in his family tree.
We all stepped into the trailer so we could be bombarded with another round of welcomes; this time from Mrs. Braun. “Welcome home, Cassie.”
“Hi Mom,” Cassie said. “Thanks for having us.”
“Of course hon,” her mom hugged her and moved onto me. “Clark. It’s good to see you.” She wrapped her arms around me. Cassie’s father was tall for a Little; her mom was shorter than average. Cassie split the difference.
I hugged her back. “You too, Irene.” When we were dating, Cassie and I looked through some of her old family photos. I legitimately thought the hottie in the picture was Cassie with her hair dyed blonde and that the infant in her lap was some random cousin. Turns out that was one of Cassie’s first baby pictures.
“Let’s talk about what we’re doing together this week,” Cassie’s dad started. “Got a lot planned. I was thinking about doing some donuts out in Chester’s Field.” He looked at me. “I’ll even let Clark work the pedals.”
Because nothing says ‘family bonding’ like your father-in-law shouting ‘Gas it!’ and ‘BRAAAAAAKE!’ for close to an hour. “Why do I have to work the pedals?”
“It’s my truck, Clark.”
Cassie’s mom shot a warning look. “Bert.”
“Fine,” Bert grunted “We can split it fifty-fifty.” The corners of his mouth raised a little. “But I get to go first.” Herbert Braun was from a generation of Little Men that expressed their affection by being jerks to each other and it irritated the hell out of me. Yes, me and Cassie did some of the same things. Not twenty minutes before we’d been raising our middle fingers to each other while blowing kisses. But if you can’t see why that kind of thing might create a different reaction coming from my wife as opposed to my father-in-law, there’s not a lot I can do for you.
Cassie gestured to her suitcase. “Mind if we go upstairs and unpack before we make any plans?” Yes, my in-laws lived in a trailer. Have I mentioned that Bert was more than a little bit of a handyman? An Amazon sized double wide is still decent with the right modifications. Things like ‘stories’ and ‘floors’ are also fairly arbitrary units of measurement when you think about them.
The only thing Bert had never quite perfected was wiring. The top floor, containing the original ceiling, was bright as anything. The Amazon manufacturer had wanted a mobile home for less affluent Amazons to feel warm and inviting. The bottom of the trailer was lit by Little sized lamps and modified windows to let in sunlight, but there were always pockets of shadows here and there. It made the bottom floor cozy and rustic seeming during the day and kind of depressing at night.
The bathroom was downstairs, too. My father in law could only do so much with plumbing without attracting unwanted attention.
Conversely, the top floor was almost airport levels of brightness, with the lights meant to shine far further than they were permitted. But every electric cord or cable had to be snaked through a drilled in hole down to the bottom floor so that it could be connected through an extension or surge protector.
The beautiful part was that everything else was completely sized to us. I didn’t need a step stool to brush my teeth in the mirror, or go to the bathroom. Climbing into bed didn’t involve literal climbing. When I sat in a chair my feet touched the floor. And glory upon glories, there was the off chance that I might bump the top of my head on something. It was very livable by Little standards. It was also a major fire hazard. One spark and all of that lovingly made custom wood furniture could go up in flames. Such is Little life.
“Get comfortable,” Cassie’s mom said. “Then we’ll talk about plans.”
Two sets of footsteps came down the stairs. “Cassie! Clark!”
“MICHELLE!” Cassie let go of her suitcase and for the briefest moment she was a twelve-year old as she ran up, screamed and hugged her younger sister. Michelle screamed and hugged right back. That was their thing, apparently. Michelle’s husband, Bruce came down the stairs carrying their eighteen month old with him.
We exchanged nods. We’d seen this all before. “Sup, Clark?” He sat the toddler down.
“Hey, Bruce.” We shook hands and pulled each other in for a half-hug.
Bruce patted his kid on the head. “Hey, Olliver,” he said. “Do you remember Uncle Clark?”
“Cwark!” My nephew didn’t hug me as much as he gave my thigh a very friendly headbutt. “Unca Cwark!”
I picked Olliver up. “Whoah!” I said. “You’re getting big, dude! You were just starting to crawl the last time I saw you.” My nephew giggled and nuzzled my forehead.
“You wanna talk big?!” Cassie said. She pulled out of Michelle’s hug. “What about THIS whopper?”
Holy shit! Going by waist size alone, Michelle was damn near a Tweener. “When did this happen?” I put down my nephew so that I wouldn’t drop him.
“About seven months ago,” Bruce joked. “Ollie’s gonna be a big brother. Did we forget to tell you that?”
“Congrats guys!” I said before giving my sister-in-law a hug. “I don’t remember you being this...THIS...when you were pregnant with Ollie.”
“That’s how pregnancies are.” Irene stepped forward. “That’s how they were with me, anyways. First one sneaks up on you. Second one, I ballooned up right away. That’s how it was for me, anyhow.”
Bert joined his wife. Cassie and I were encircled, surrounded. “Speaking of which,” he said. “When are you two gonna let ‘er rip?”
“Dad!” Both Cassie and her sister said. Michelle added in by slapping her dad on the bicep.
“What?” Bert said. “I want as many grandkids as I can get.”
“And with that Amazon sized house of yours, you could use something to do with the space.”
“If you’d let me come by for a few weeks I could make an entire second floor for you two.”
My mother-in-law pivoted in front of her husband. Bert froze and shut his mouth; eyes darting off to the side. As scared as I was of Amazons, Irene Braun made a good case for short women being absolutely terrifying.
“Clark and I are going to go unpack,” Cassie said. She picked up her suitcase and moved towards the stairs. I picked up my suitcase and followed up into the overbright light.
Cassie’s room was just like it was back in college. Memory boards filled with pictures on the wall next to some of her early paintings. Up against a wall sat a well loved drawing desk filled with old paints, pencils and brushes, an old portfolio book of her old projects laying on top; remnants from high school and college before her business went digital. Next to the empty dresser on the far wall was a shelf with old nick nacks that were too precious to throw away; childhood awards, a doll or two that had been reclassified as display models, and a dusty high school yearbook.
A single pristinely made bed stuck out from the rightmost wall, and an air mattress lovingly made laid next to it for me. Amazons weren’t the only ones who never fully accepted kids growing up.
My wife threw her suitcase on her bed and started unpacking it. “Sorry about my dad.”
“It’s cool.” I threw my case next to hers and followed suit. “I’m used to it.”
“Michelle having another kid is going to make things awkward this week,” Cassie groaned. “I’m not ready to have kids, yet.” She opened a drawer and started transferring clothes. “Michelle isn’t either. Living day to day is hard enough. Add looking after another person, and it’s impossible. I don’t know how she and Bruce are gonna manage two.”
I did my best to bite my tongue….and failed. “If it’s from a survival perspective, I’ve never heard of a pregnant Little getting snatched and mind fucked, before. You’d be safe for a couple of months.”
“And then in double danger after.” Cassie slammed. “Growing up, do you know how many of my friends only had one parent because the other one got snatched?”
Cassie stopped unpacking and tore into me head on. “Do you think being a mother helped that Little girl in the restaurant a couple weeks ago? How do you think her kids feel knowing that their mom is sleeping in a crib every night and calling some stranger ‘Daddy’? Do you want to put that pressure on our kids? With your job?”
“What about my job?”
“If we had a kid, how would you explain to them that their father works right next to captured mind-fucked Littles and isn’t allowed to do anything about it?” She got in front of me. She looked very much like a brown haired version of her mother in that moment. “What would you do if I got caught? How would you explain to our kid that you saw his Mom at school everyday getting her ass wiped and put down for naps?”
“I thought you’d want me to run and bug out if you ever got caught,” I said. This was a mistake. I’d opened up the wrong can of worms.
“Okay, then run away,” Cassie said. “If I got caught today, you’d be on your own. It would suck, but you could get by. Now add a kid. Does that make things easier or harder?”
I held up my hands in defeat. “Okay, okay! I see what you mean.”
Cassie broke her stare and finished unpacking. “Honestly, I don’t understand why any Little has a kid.” She sounded sad, now.
“Cassie…” I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder.
“In a weird way,” she said, “I kind of wish every Little in the world would get snatched and mindfucked. That way there’d be no more Littles for those monsters to snatch.”
I stepped up and wrapped my arms around her. Held her tightly against me. “Don’t talk like that, hon.”
“Sometimes, I think the only reason they let us grow up is so that we can make more dolls for them. They’re breeding us.”
“That’s not fair…” I whispered.
“Life’s not fair, Clark.”
I held her. We were quiet as I heard Cassie crying a little bit. It’s times like this when I realized how much of a toll my job -fuck that- our very existence took on Cassie. Some days it felt like we had two choices in life: Live a life of dignified secrecy and squalor, or lose everything we’d ever been or could be.
Even our big fancy Amazon sized house wasn’t much comfort when either of us got in these moods. We’d lived there for years, but how much longer would it be before some jealous Amazon decided that they wanted the house for themselves and concocted some kind of excuse? All Amazons were crazy... but some of them were just mean.
We couldn’t win, we couldn’t break even, and we couldn’t get out of the game. I found myself thinking just then, that if we moved back into the trailer park, we’d at least be a smidge safer. More Littles to snatch in one place meant a greater chance for any one of us getting away. Cassie could still work from home, and I could at least manage part time working as an online tutor. Quitting the job would be difficult. It’d be akin to admitting I couldn’t handle it, and if worded wrong that might trigger even Beouf’s hyped up maternal instincts.
Damn. And this was supposed to be a vacation. The thing about letting your guard down is that’s when your body and brain decide it’s a good time to process all the pain you’ve been ignoring.
Taking a chance, I pivoted the conversation. “If your dad is so worried about you getting pregnant,” I teased, “we could tell him about how we plan on starting a family right away. Like tonight.”
“I’ve got condoms,” I said. “This time will just be for practice!”
That got a begrudging giggle from her. “Clark, no.”
“What?!” I kept teasing. “It’s not like this is the first time we’ve have had sex in this room. Remember college?”
She nuzzled me. “My dad doesn’t know that.”
“You’re right...we should tell him. No more lies!”
Cassie elbowed me in the ribs. Gently, but I lost my breath. Worth it. Totally worth it. “We are not telling him of how we’re having sex up here.”
“But we are having sex up here?”