Prompt: In Darkest Hour Before Dawn we learn Darla has a new beau. Can we see Calvin and Ethan having dinner with Darla and her new man? Also, Dex gets himself invited.
“You better be a figment of my imagination, Daley, or I’m going to dropkick you right here,” Calvin hissed, clearly trying his best to be quiet. Ethan could hear Darla, Sloane, and Armel talking from somewhere near the kitchen. Most likely the dining room. Ethan readied himself in case he needed to stop his boyfriend from committing murder.
Dex blinked innocently at Calvin. “Is that any way to speak to one of your mother’s dinner guests? Where’s that famous Southern hospitality?”
“Hospitality? How about I show you to a hospital instead? Admit it, you got yourself invited,” Calvin said, poking Dex in the chest. “How did you even get here before us?”
“I have a muscle car, lights, and a siren. Also, it’s me.” Dex winked at Calvin before stepping aside. “I make magic happen.”
“You make something happen all right, and it ain’t magic,” Calvin growled, stomping past Dex who just chuckled. Ethan stepped inside, and Dex patted his chest.
“Hey, big guy.” Dex grinned wide, and Ethan groaned. He put his hands together in prayer. Dex gasped in mock hurt. “I’m appalled you think I would cause trouble for my dear, sweet friend. Especially while at his mom’s house for dinner. With her new boyfriend. Did I mention Calvin’s mom has a boyfriend? Who’s here. At dinner. With all of us.”
Ethan covered his face with his hands. Oh, God. Why? Why me? He perked up. Sloane. Sloane was here. Someone sane who could help Ethan contain the crazy. He headed for the dining room when his phone buzzed. It was a text.
Ethan quickly shot off a text in reply. #Band-AidsDon’tWorkOnBulletHoles
Dex cackled as he walked past Ethan and into the dining room where Darla was hugging Calvin. She kissed Calvin’s temple. “Hi, baby. I’m so happy you and Ethan could make it.”
“Of course, Mom.”
Darla squeezed him again, before holding her arms open for Ethan. With a big smile, Ethan walked into her embrace. He wrapped his arms around her, mindful not to squeeze too hard. She was a tiny thing compared to him, even smaller than Ethan’s mom.
“Hi, honey.” She pulled back, and he leaned in to give her cheek a kiss.
“It’s good to see you, Ethan.”
Ethan turned to Armel who came to stand beside Darla. He held his hand out to Ethan who shook it. Ethan had to give Armel credit. When he’d first met Ethan, he treated Ethan just like he did everyone else, and never asked Ethan about his Selective Mutism. Ethan was sure Darla had spoken to him about it, but Ethan appreciated that Armel didn’t once look at him any different. As a bear Therian, he was huge, beefy, quiet, and looked pretty intimidating, but he had kind eyes, and when he was around Darla, he looked at her like she was the most amazing woman he’d ever known. It was sweet. Which was why Ethan really hoped Calvin would give the poor guy a chance. For Darla’s sake.
Armel turned to Calvin, his expression softening. “Hi, Cal.”
Calvin nodded. “Hi.”
This wasn’t the first dinner Calvin and Ethan were having with Darla and Armel, but things were still awkward. Ethan wished there was something he could do, but Calvin was quiet and reserved, and Armel was clearly letting Calvin set the pace.
“Well,” Darla said, clearing her throat. “Why don’t we all sit down before dinner gets cold?”
Ethan looked at Dex and wrinkled his nose. Where’s Sloane?
Dex mouthed the word bathroom and Ethan nodded.
Sloane returned just then and waved to Ethan and Calvin. “Hey, guys.” He gave Calvin an apologetic smile before tilting his head in Dex’s direction.
Calvin narrowed his eyes at Dex as he took a seat across from him at the table. Ethan sat across Sloane, and Armel pulled out the chair next to Calvin’s so Darla could sit beside her son. She thanked him, her cheeks going rosy. Armel sat next to her at the head of the table, and Calvin stiffened beside Ethan. It was the first time Armel had sat there, but then when it had just been the four of them, Armel and Darla had sat across from them. Ethan understood Calvin’s reaction. No one had sat in that chair in a very long time, and Calvin had grown up around Ethan’s family where Ethan’s dad always sat at the head of the table. Ethan looked to Dex.
You have to do something.
Calvin opened his mouth to speak when Dex jumped in.
“My Gosh, Darla, this all looks so amazing,” Dex said excitedly, his grin stretching from ear to ear. Calvin’s narrowed gaze locked on Dex.
“Thank you, sweetheart. There’s plenty more in the kitchen. I even made you a pecan pie to take home.”
Dex gasped. He held a hand to his heart. “You’re just the best.”
Armel brought Darla’s hand to his lips for a kiss. “Isn’t she?”
Darla giggled, and Ethan bit down on his bottom lip. They were adorable. Calvin elbowed Ethan, and Ethan cleared his throat.
“We should eat,” Calvin said. “Ethan and I have an early shift tomorrow.”
Ethan frowned. No, we don’t. Calvin elbowed him again, and Ethan turned to him. What? Stop elbowing me. Calvin arched an eyebrow at him. Oh! Ethan looked at Darla and nodded. Yes, we have an early shift.
“Do we?” Dex turned to Sloane. “I can’t remember. If only we had someone who… I don’t know, posted our schedules. Like, a Team Leader of some sort.” Dex put a finger to his lips. “Hm.” His eyes widened. “Oh, wait! We have a Team Leader right here. Well, I’ll be damned, it’s our Team Leader.” Dex grinned wide at Sloane. “Hey, agent Brodie. Do we have an early shift tomorrow?”
Ethan gaped at Dex. The guy had a death wish. It was the only thing that could explain what the holy hell Dex was doing.
“Um….” Sloane looked from Dex to Calvin, cringed, then turned his attention back to Dex, his expression pained. “No, we don’t have an early shift tomorrow.”
Dex beamed at Calvin, ignoring the murderous laser beam stare Calvin was pointing in his direction. “Looks like we’re good, Cal.” Dex handed Calvin one of the dishes. “Sweet potato casserole?”
“Thanks,” Calvin replied through a toothy grin, taking the dish from him.
Dex turned to a puzzled looking Armel. “Hey, coach. Mind passing the smothered pork chops? They look mouthwatering.”
Calvin kicked at Dex under the table, and Sloane jumped with a curse.
“Honey, you okay?” Darla asked Sloane, concerned.
“Yeah, sorry. I um, bit the inside of my cheek.”
Dex chuckled, his knowing gaze on Calvin. “Don’t you just hate it when that happens?”
Oh, God. Sloane was peering at Calvin, Calvin was glaring at Dex, Dex was playing Jenga with his food judging by the amount he was stacking on his plate, Armel was staring wide-eyed at Dex, and Darla was cheerfully oblivious as she served Calvin.
“Dex loves his food,” Darla told Armel. “I had that same look on my face the first time he came over for dinner.”
“That’s a Therian-sized portion you got there, son.”
Dex winked at Armel. “Got me a Therian-sized appetite.”
Everyone filled up on Darla’s delicious food. She really was the best cook. Dex, Sloane, Darla, and Armel talked as they ate, while Calvin remained grumpy, and Ethan tried to get him to lighten up to no avail.
“The secret to Cal here, Armel,” Dex began, and Ethan braced himself, “is this. He’s like a Tootsie Roll Pop. You need to get past all the hard candy to get to the gooey center.”
Ethan almost choked on his food. He quickly swallowed, and guzzled down nearly an entire glass of water. Had Dex lost his ever-loving mind?
“Dex,” Calvin warned through his teeth.
“See. That’s the hard candy shell talking.” Dex took a big bite of biscuit, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief. “Just don’t play ZZ Top around him. He gets all weird about it.”
Calvin jumped from his chair. “Can I speak with you in private for a moment?”
“Of course. I always have time for you, buddy.” Dex patted Sloane’s shoulder, and followed Calvin out of the dining room. Ethan quickly followed, hearing Sloane tell Armel not to pay any attention to them, that they were always like that.
Calvin marched into his old bedroom, and Dex followed, with Ethan right behind, the door closed, and Calvin rounded on Dex, but Dex was quicker.
“You’re being an asshat.”
Calvin gaped at him. “I’m being an asshat. You—”
“You need to stop being a selfish dick and think about your mom.”
“I am thinking about her.” Calvin narrowed his eyes at Dex. “How exactly does my looking out for her translate to being a dick?”
“Have you thought that maybe your mom is lonely? That maybe she wants someone to love her?”
Calvin was indignant. “Lonely? Love her? She has a whole family that loves her!”
“Come on, Cal. She’s a beautiful woman. Maybe she wants someone to hold her close, someone who’ll make her feel cherished. You’ve talked about how she’s never had any luck with guys. How they’ve all been assholes. Maybe this time, she’s found the guy for her. You’ve seen how happy she looks.” Dex took a seat on the edge of Calvin’s old bed.
“It’s not easy, you know? After what my dad put us through? Put her through?”
“I get it. I do.”
“Do you?” Calvin folded his arms over his chest. “Because from what I hear, John was the perfect dad, and the Sarge? Come on. The guy would walk through fucking fire for you and Cael. My father? He beat the shit out of me and my mom. He didn’t give a fuck about us. After he was gone, it was one asshole after another. They always started out like they were nice guys. Telling her they were different, pretending like we were all going to be this happy family, and in the end, they were just as bad as my dad. They’d get her hopes up, and then treat her like garbage.” Calvin sniffed, and wrinkled his nose. Ethan knew it was to keep his emotions at bay. He wrapped an arm around Calvin’s shoulders. “She deserves better.”
“You’re right. About everything. I’m lucky. I know that. But it’s different now. You’re not a scared little kid anymore, Cal. You’re a fucking sniper for the THIRDS. You really think some asshole is going to dare lay a finger on your mom to hurt her knowing you and your whole damn family of trained agents will be on him so fast he’ll get whiplash? It’s not just you and your mom anymore. You’ve got us, the entire Hobbs clan, Destructive Delta, and everyone who knows you. We all have your back.” Dex walked over to Calvin, and put his hand on Calvin’s shoulder.
“I’ve been in the same room with the guy for one evening, and I can see how badly he wants this to work. Give him a chance. For your mom. I know trust doesn’t come easy for you, and our jobs doesn’t make that any easier, but you gotta try, man.”
Calvin seemed to think about it. After several heartbeats where Ethan realized he was holding his breath, Calvin let out a heavy sigh.
“You’re right. I’m being a dick. She obviously really likes Armel. I should be more supportive.”
Dex patted Calvin on the back as he led him from the room. “And if you need anything at all. You just say the word.”
“Thanks,” Calvin replied, smiling for the first time that evening. “By the way….”
“What?” Dex asked before Calvin punched him in the balls. Ethan cringed as Dex went down onto his knees cupping himself. “What the hell?” Dex wheezed.
“That’s for bringing up ZZ Top at the dinner table.”
Ethan went to help Dex up, but Dex waved a hand, his eyes shut tight. “I’m okay,” he whispered hoarsely. “The boys just ran for cover, but they’ll be back. Sweet baby Jesus.” He groaned. “I’m okay. Just, give me a minute.”
Ethan nodded. He followed Calvin into the dining room.
“Sorry about that,” Calvin said, smiling brightly. He kissed his mom’s cheek. “Thanks for dinner, mom. It’s fantastic.” He turned his attention to Armel. “Thanks for coming, Armel.”
Armel blinked in surprise then quickly recovered. His smile was huge. “My pleasure, cal.”
Sloane looked from Calvin to Ethan and back. “Where’s Dex?”
“Oh, you might want to check on him,” Calvin said, looking concerned. “He had to go to the bathroom, and then he said something about having…” Calvin motioned to his groin and whispered loudly, “a burning sensation in his nether region.”
Sloane quickly got up, and left the dining room. Ethan shook his head, and tried his best not to laugh. He almost felt sorry for Dex. Almost. Ooh! Ethan pulled out his phone, and sent off a text.
Ethan snickered. His phone buzzed, and he checked the text, clamping a hand over his mouth to stifle his gasp.
“You okay?” Calvin asked Ethan. Ethan nodded, and Calvin went back to talking to Darla and Armel. Dex was insane. Ethan glanced down at the text again. Well, at least no one could say family dinners were boring.
Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.