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TEAM PLAYERS: Chapter 11

Danna’s husbands are all out at work by the time I drag myself out of bed, so I get to eat a small breakfast with just Danna and Jackie. Saying goodbye to Danna is more emotional than I expected. She hugs me tight by the car as the morning breeze passes over us. It’s so tranquil out here and beautiful as the sun casts its morning light over the agricultural land. “It’s all going to work out okay,” Danna says. I’m not sure exactly what she’s referring to, but I’m happy to soak up her positivity and confidence.

As I’m sliding into the car, I think of a question I never got around to asking yesterday. “One more thing… it’s kinda personal.”

“That’s okay. We’re sisters from another mister, Maggie.”

“You know when you were getting together with the boys, did it happen all at once?”

Danna shakes her head. “It was kind of ad hoc. I bonded with them all over time and let what felt right happen. I think ten at one time would have been too much for me and too much for them. There can be a lot of pressure with sex and love. Just see how you feel, honey. Your heart will tell you the right path to follow.”

I nod, understanding a little more and feeling less daunted. But my heart has never seemed to have any sense of direction, and I wonder whether it really will find the right path if and when the time comes.

“Drive carefully,” Danna says. “And keep in touch. I want to know all of the gossip. Don’t leave anything out.”

“I will,” I say. “And good luck with the babies.”

“You’ll see me before then,” she says.

As I drive away, I glance back in the rearview mirror, finding my cousin waving.

The journey back feels longer, as I’m filled with nervous butterflies. The crazy idea that I overheard my foster brothers discussing no longer seems like a deviant fantasy but something that could be real and good. Danna’s life is a model to aspire to, and I never imagined I’d be thinking that after one visit.

Danna was in the same position as me, minus the pregnancy. She didn’t know the Jackson brothers, but she took a leap of faith, and it worked out. But Danna and I are so different. She’s bubbly, positive, and enthusiastic. She believed that she deserved all those men and that she was enough to make them happy. I certainly don’t have the same amount of self-confidence.

Danna is good for the Jackson brothers. She’s united them, and they are stronger together. I’ve never been able to keep one man in my life, not even my dad. What hope do I have for uniting eleven?

As I pull up in front of the house, I put my hand over my stomach, trying to squash down the butterflies that have created a fluttering ache in my belly. I don’t know what I’m doing when I get back in there.

Eleven men are waiting for me with unclear intentions. All I know is that they want to step in and care for my baby and me. Their motivations are less clear. Is it more about wanting to repay my dad’s kindness than a genuine wish to help me? I would hate them to feel any sense of obligation. Particularly as Dad felt so little obligation toward me.

They voted on whether to try to take things into the sphere of Danna’s reverse harem, and I still have no idea how that vote went. Even if the motion passed, it could have done so on the basis of six in favor, five against. That’s a lot of men who are potentially going to get dragged into doing something they don’t really want to do.

I’m certain that Danna is happy and that her men are content, but as she said, love isn’t shaped by cookie cutters. Twelve people can’t just fall into line at the behest of six. Even if they all voted in favor, I still wouldn’t know what is in their hearts. The word obligation pops back into my head.

We all do things because we feel obligated, but relationships shouldn’t fall into that category. Love should be free from any kind of coercion. The heart should be a floating balloon in a blue sky of love, not tethered like a buoy in a rough sea.

I rub my face with warm, dry hands, kneading around my eye sockets as though I can massage away all of my tangled and messy thoughts, but it isn’t that simple.

Once again, I tell myself that I just have to get through the next few days. Danna said she was sure of her feelings within a week. That sounds crazy to me, but maybe it’s all I’ll need. If I make a commitment to stay a week with my foster brothers, a week to get to know them and find out who they are, maybe I’ll know. It’ll be a week for them to have time to know me, warts, and all, and properly consider the implications of encouraging me to stay. After a week, things will definitely be clearer, and I’ll have had the time to do what Dad asked of me and go through his possessions.

I find the key to the house in my purse, retrieve my suitcase and lock up the car. As I make my way up the wooden stairs to the front door, I can already smell delicious roasting meat. For the first time in days, I’m actually feeling hungry for something that isn’t the consistency of cardboard. Before I can get my key in the door, it’s thrown open, almost as though someone was keeping a lookout for my arrival.

“Hey, Maggie,” Gordon says. “Here. Let me get that for you.” He reaches out with his huge hand and tugs my luggage into the house as though it weighs nothing. I’m so taken by surprise at the speed of his appearance and actions that I take a step back. “Are you okay?” He eyes me suspiciously. “Everything okay at Danna’s?”

“It was… good,” I stutter.

“Well, come on in then.” There’s such a briskness to his tone that I find myself moving faster than I normally would, just to comply. “Everyone’s in the den and the kitchen.” Gordon closes the door behind me and waits as I make my way to the back of the house. In the hallway, the trash bag John and I filled from Dad’s room rests against the wall.

I decide that heading to the kitchen will be the best idea because I’m better busy than I am idle. At least if there are things still to prepare, I can offer my help and blend into the background.

“Hey, Maggie,” John is the first to notice me, moving to sit straighter as I glance around. Sean’s here, and Reggie. Harley and Hunter are the ones cooking today, and I wonder if there is an official schedule or if they just volunteer for duties. It’s the first time I’ve seen John since our kiss, and a crackle of physical energy rests between us.

“Hey, I just came in to ask if I can help.”

Harley turns from where he’s straining something over the sink, steam rising all around him. “We’ve got this, so just take a seat. You must be tired after all that driving.”

The chair nearest to me is right next to John, putting me into an awkward position. “So, how was your cousin?” Sean asks, raising his eyebrows suggestively as I bite the bullet and sit within touching distance of the man I kissed with wolfish hunger borne of my churning emotions.

“She’s good. Fit to burst.”

There’s a rumble of laughter that I suspect is due to these men imagining Danna’s sex life. I guess the idea of her dealing with ten men at the same time is mind-boggling enough to be amusing. “Did you meet all the Jacksons?”

“Yeah… they’re all great.”

“Great?” Sean’s eyebrows are still raised, his eyes sparkling with mischief.

“Yeah… funny, smart, kind to Danna, family-oriented.”

“Good looking?” he asks.

I shrug, trying not to respond to his amusement. I know exactly what he’s getting at, but I’m not rising to it.

“I guess. But obviously the other things are more of a priority.”

“Are they? I think most girls would put looks and physique first.”

John scowls next to me. “Just because you’re pretty and some girls are stupid enough to fall at your feet doesn’t mean that looks are a priority for everyone.”

“They fall at my feet because of my charm too!” Sean grins, his straight white teeth so perfect they’re dazzling.

“Well, Danna wasn’t looking for a sex arrangement, was she? She was looking for men to settle down with.”

Sean nods, his head cocked to one side and full lips pursed in amusement. “Is that what you’d be looking for, Maggie?”

“Leave her alone,” John says. Beneath the table, his foot nudges mine, but I’m not sure if it’s accidental or an attempt to reassure me.

“I’m all about the sex, Sean. Men are good at that. It’s the other stuff they fall flat on, so I’m pretty used to having low expectations for anything else.” When I say it, I’m not looking for sympathy. I want to shock him out of prodding me anymore, but instead, I get a room full of men who seem like they’re feeling guilty for every douchebag move they’ve ever made, and I’m sure there have been plenty.

“You don’t need to have low expectations, Maggie,” Reggie says. “There are men out there who know how to treat a woman.”

“Oh yeah?” I rest my hands flat on the table, gazing around to see who’s going to add to this conversation. If they think I’m just going to stumble around this house, falling into beds as my cousin did, they’ve got another thing coming.

“Yeah,” Reggie says firmly.

I nod, pursing my lips as I consider them all. There’s an eruption of laughter in the den, which only makes the silence in here feel louder. We could sit here doing this strange dance. I could pretend that I didn’t overhear their conversation and that John didn’t kiss me. I could pretend that I haven’t considered what it would be like to believe that these men could be for me what the Jacksons are for Danna.

We could exist in the land of pretense, but I don’t think I can do that. Not when the reason I’m here is weighing inside me. Not when every day that goes by takes me closer to being a mom. I want the ground to be firm under my feet for once. I don’t want to dance around the truth, pretending that reality is something different from what it actually is.

“I heard you vote on the day I arrived,” I say.

The silence stretches as my foster brothers glance at each other, silently trying to work out what to say now that they’re exposed.

“What did you hear?” Gordon asks.

“Enough,” I say.

More looks are exchanged, and then Sean grins. “So that’s why you rushed up to Danna’s. You wanted to find out what it was like to have ten men at your beck and call.”

“I went to see my cousin,” I protest, but he smiles knowingly.

“What did she tell you? Did she show you their huge bed or tell you they never sleep apart?”


“Did she describe what it was like to have ten men working to please her?”

“No. She’s a married woman. A pregnant married woman.”

“She got pregnant the same way all women do.” He chuckles, looking down at my belly area and raising one eyebrow.

“She told me she fell in love with them.”

“Before or after she had sex with them?”

“Again with the sex.” I roll my eyes, exasperated. “And anyway, what has Danna got to do with this? I’m talking about what I heard, and you’re just proving to me exactly what I think this is all about for you.”

“And what is that?” John asks softly.

“Pity and sex.”

“Fuck.” Gordon shakes his head and stands, stomping out of the room like a bear with a sore head.

“He can’t deal with this kind of conversation,” John says. “And pity and sex aren’t where our heads are at.”

“So, where are they?”

As I speak, a rumble of footsteps sounds in the den and hallway. I turn and find all my missing foster brothers parading in, led by Gordon. I guess he didn’t stomp out because the conversation was getting difficult. He wanted all his brothers by his side for this conversation. Something about Gordon’s action thrills me. Like the Jackson brothers, these men do act like a unified group.

“Maggie thinks we pity her.”

“Nah, Maggie,” Daryl says. “You got that wrong.”

“No pity here,” Dwayne adds.

“You’re all good,” Donovan finishes. I guess the triplets all think with one mind, but what about the rest?

“We loved your dad,” Hunter says.

“More than our own families.” Trey shuffles his feet as though admitting that fact was hard.

“We have a connection with you, Maggie. We promised your dad we’ll take care of you. Now, there are two ways we can do that. You can be our sister. We can help you like real brothers would… step in like fun uncles for your kid…” Reggie trails off as though he’s happy considering that scenario and less happy considering the alternative.

“Or we can try what your cousin has,” Logan says with a wink. “We want to stay together in this house. It’s been the only home we’ve ever felt happy in. If we don’t find a way of doing that, there’s a danger we’re going to end up all over the country, with different priorities. Plus, you’re hot.”

Gordon clears his throat as though he’s disappointed with the way his brothers are articulating this important thing.

“We know you don’t know us very well,” John says.

“And this isn’t anything that we need to rush…” Harley adds. “But is it something you’d consider?”

Wow. They’ve seriously managed to outline their plan and put all of the pressure back on me. I thought they’d deny the vote. I thought that when push came to shove, they’d fumble their words and confuse their intentions and talk themselves out of it, but that hasn’t happened at all.

In a way, as they congregate together to tell me I have two options, they’ve shown how tight they are.

Brothers or lovers. Either way, they want to look out for me.

In a few days, I’ve gone from having no one to support me through this pregnancy to having eleven amazing men.

The question is, what do I do next?


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