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TEAM PLAYERS: Chapter 21

I wake alone in Gordon’s bed, feeling unsettled. If there are repercussions from their coach for yesterday, Gordon will no doubt find them out today. The guilt I feel sits heavy in my chest. In the bathroom, I freshen up, splashing my face with water and swallowing down the unsettled feeling in my stomach. When I open the door, Gordon is waiting outside, showered, and dressed, and looking sexy as hell and kind of uncomfortable.

“Sorry,” he says, “for waiting out here like a stalker.”

“It’s okay.” I raise my eyebrows, wondering what on earth he’s going to say next and hoping it isn’t going to be regret about last night. I don’t think he’ll feel bad about what we did together. It was intense and beautiful despite his raged state.

“We’re waiting for you downstairs,” he says, hooking his fingers into his belt loops.

They’re waiting for me. What on earth for? It’s only then that my brain finally engages in remembering that it’s the twins’ birthday today, and here I am, delaying everything like a disheveled loser!

“Of course. Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“You needed your sleep. I think me and Reggie kept you up too much last night,” Gordon says sheepishly. Following Gordon down the stairs, I run my hands through my hair, trying to smooth out the tangles. From the kitchen, the now-familiar rumble of conversation spills into the hallway. I let Gordon enter first and follow, hiding in the wake of his bulky frame.

“There they are,” Logan says. He rises from his chair and then puts a foot onto the wooden seat, stepping up, so he’s looming over all of his gathered brothers and me. “Today is a big day. It’s a double birthday. Now, the job of summing up the year would usually have fallen to Dad, God rest his soul, but I’m picking up the challenge this year. What can I say about the terrible twins? They’ve played ball to make us all proud, managed to keep their grade point average high, and…” Logan trails off, glancing at me. “…and achieved some other things that should remain unmentioned.” He bows in my direction with all the flamboyance of the Greatest Showman. “They’ve helped a whole hoard of struggling kids to get to grips with math and even tackled the garden surrounding this house, building the new rear deck with the help of our resident landscaping duo, Sean and Trey. We’re all so close to coming to the end of our college years… it feels like a turning point in all of our lives, but with Maggie here, I know that we won’t be turning away from family but sticking close, which is what Dad always finished off the birthday speech by saying. Happy birthday, Harley and Hunter. May your twenty-second year be filled with happiness, and may you always keep family in your heart.”

There is a ripple of applause and a rumble of Happy Birthday, and as I find Harley and Hunter among the crowd, I catch sight of a large, framed picture of Dad.

“Birthday photo,” Logan says, jumping off the chair and pulling a fold-up tripod out of a kitchen drawer. He pushes his phone into the tripod and sets it up, facing his brothers. Chairs scrape over the linoleum as everyone gathers together. “Come on, Maggie.” Logan ushers me forward as he sets the phone onto timer mode.

It feels awkward to be shuffling into the frame of this family photo and even more awkward when Gordon shoves the image of Dad into my arms. It should be Dad who’s here for this moment when his twin foster sons mark their birthday, not me, but as Logan dashes into the frame and throws his arm around my shoulder, and Hunter finds my hand and envelopes it with his, I’m firmly pulled into the moment.

“Cheese!” Logan shouts as the light begins, the countdown flashes, and all my foster brothers fix beaming grins on their faces. I smile too because no one wants a miserable face in a celebration picture.

“Right, we need to get to eat pancakes and cake and get to practice,” Reggie says. All eyes seem to search for Gordon, who is going to have to face the music today. Harley begins to cut the cake into twelve pieces, and although it looks like a chocolate dream, my stomach just can’t take it. Reggie serves up the pancakes with bacon and blueberries. As they devour everything, washing it down with coffee, I have to smile at how cute this tradition is. I bet they used to love it when they were younger. To be honest, they still look like they’re living the best day ever.

When they’re done, they all start to rise.

“Have a great day,” I say, feeling like a mom sending her gaggle of kids off to school.

Logan grabs my hand and tugs me toward him, planting a kiss on my lips. “I will now,” he says as heat rises up my cheeks.

“Bye, Maggie,” Hunter says, pulling me into an embrace and kissing my lips softly.

“See ya, Maggie, “Harley says, mirroring his brother.

And all the brothers seem to wait in line for their opportunity to kiss me before they leave. Each kiss is intense in its own way, some bringing back memories of nights shared, others making me flush with their newness and intensity.

“We’ll be back in the afternoon to set up for the party,” Reggie says. “Will you be okay?”

“Of course. I think I’m going to finish Dad’s room.”

Reggie’s brows furrow, but I smile quickly, wanting to reassure him. “John helped me so much. There really isn’t that much more to be done.”

“Okay, well, take it easy. We’ve got a game on Friday. Will you come and watch it? Cheer us on?”

“Sure,” I say. “That’ll be great.”

Reggie’s face brightens with a smile, his eyes a soft, watery blue in the morning light. “See you later.”

They leave the house in a rumble of deep voices and thundering feet, and when the front door is closed, this home feels so empty, as though a vacuum has swept out all of the life from its heart.

I get ready quickly and head immediately to Dad’s room before I start to worry that it’s too hard. There’s still so much to do, but after John’s help, it isn’t overwhelming.

I lug bags of clothes down to the front door with labels for Goodwill. The boxes of keepsakes are still resting by the wall and on top sits the folders about the boys. As I clear the last of the trash into bags, my eyes keep drifting over. To read these private documents would be such an invasion of privacy, but how long will it take the boys to open up to me about their history? Too long. I need to be able to feel more confident about making a decision on what to do here, and the only way I’ll be able to do that is to get to know them properly.

I take the last trash bag down, still at war with myself about what to do. As I trudge back up the stairs feeling dead on my feet, I decide I’m going to do it.

Reggie told me that I need to get better at listening to my gut. My gut is telling me that I need to read these documents.

I place the folder onto the desk and settle into Dad’s chair. Inside there are separate envelopes filled with information and some photos. The first envelope is Gordon’s. My chest aches at the pictures of him, awkward in his too-short jeans and shirt, his arms almost too long for his body. His hair hadn’t been cut for a long time and hung awkwardly around his face. I skim the page, finding that he was taken into care after his momma took her own life. He didn’t find her, thankfully. He was spared that trauma. He came to Dad’s as a very scared and introverted child, a child that is hard to link to the strong, confident adult that he’s become.

Harley and Hunter’s parents were addicts who ended up in jail. Logan’s mom was killed in a hit-and-run. Reggie lost his family to drug overdoses, and Sean was taken into care for neglect. The triplets were abandoned as babies, adopted, and then ended up back in the care system when their momma developed a degenerative condition. Trey’s momma died giving birth to him, and his father was an alcoholic. John, whose folder is last, was left at a train station when he was six and was in and out of different foster homes until he settled with my dad.

By the time I’ve finished discovering their histories, I’m wrecked from crying and broken-hearted. I had always thought that my childhood was difficult. I looked at the other kids in my class who had parents who were married and cute siblings and houses with white picket fences as the norm. It felt dysfunctional to be different, but I had a momma who loved me and put me first and a set of circumstances that meant there wasn’t a threat to my welfare. I had stability, and what did these boys have? Trauma and devastation, loss, and abandonment. With my whole heart, I wish that I could erase all of the hardship from their lives, but I can’t. Nobody can.

I can see why my dad ended up helping so many of them. He must have become addicted to making a difference, and for that, I am so proud of him.

These boys should be proud too. They have all had good reasons to follow the wrong path. Any one of them could have found consolation in the bottom of a bottle of alcohol or pills. Any one of them could have resorted to numbing their pain with a syringe. But they didn’t. They’ve chosen to fight for futures that are better than that. They’ve decided to cling to each other, providing a familial bond for now and into the future.

I admire them so much for what they are trying to do.

Gone is the feeling that their desire for this arrangement is wrong in any way. Living in a polyamorous unit might not be the norm, but it’s right for these boys, and I want it to be right for me.

Beneath everything, there has to be complete trust, though, and I’m still not sure why they haven’t told me about Tristan.


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