The boy straightened quickly, wiping furiously at his eyes. "I've run away and I don't have anywhere to go! My family hates me!"
Dirk frowned. How easily family could turn on each other, he thought sadly. "Well, you've come to the right place! The Grotto is a place to live freely - without restrictions and family expectations! Here - a royal is the same as a peasant!"
Irving Fischer's mouth dropped open.
"Come on, let me show you around," Dirk said.
Edrick glanced down at Eliza, his baby cousin, and rocked her in his arms. "Oh, and I suppose you don't want any practice for children of our own?" he teased Velma.
"Hold your tongue!" Velma snapped. "I have no desire to have a child of my own!"
"I would say that it's a little too late for that!" he snapped.
"Well then, maybe I just came back to see the children!" she snapped back.
Dirk folded his own arms imposingly, as though he would physically restrain her from stepping near the children. Widening his stance, he growled, "The children do not need to see you."
"That's it then?" she asked. "You would keep me from my children? Even though Eliza is not your child?"
"I didn't see you fight very hard for them, And it's your word against mine," Dirk said with a shrug. "If you want to paint yourself a whore, that's your own business."
Dirk was unmoved by her tears. "I can and I will," he said.
And hopefully he had put Suzie far from their lives...
Suzie hugged her son to her chest and swallowed a lump in her throat. "I'm working on finding a good place to stay and then I can have you and your sister come stay with me. How would you like that?"
Eddie pulled back. "What about papa?" he asked warily. Why did mama want him to leave his home?
Eddie looked between his mama and papa in confusion. He thought papa would be happy she came back. He'd been so sad when she'd left...
"...can't keep them from me!" he heard his mama shout.
"I already told you that I can and I will!" his papa shouted back at her. "What kind of life could you provide them?"
Eddie didn't want to hear anymore. He blindly ran away from their raised voices.
Dirk didn't answer, he just hung his head. "You'll understand better when you're older, son," he said softly.
"I won't! I'll never understand!"
Dirk blew out a breath. "I loved your mother very much..."
"Then you can love her again!" Eddie cried out. "You just have to give her a chance!"
"You just don't want to try!" Eddie interrupted his father again. "This is your fault!" Eddie turned to run away from his father again.
"She was not faithful," Dirk found himself saying quietly. "She broke my heart..."
Eddie slowly turned around, a million thoughts running through his mind. But, he could tell by the set of his papa's jaw that he wasn't going to get any answers. "If she comes back, may I see her?" he asked carefully.
Dirk's chin dropped to his chest. Amazing how his growing son could make him feel ashamed of himself. "Yes," he said.
Now this was the life! he thought happily. A harem of pretty girls waiting to see to his every need! Irving could feel the tension building as the girls fought for his attention.
Well two could play this game, she thought wickedly as she leaned down to whisper something in Gaius' ear.
Gaius looked a little nervous. "Just having fun, chum. You claimed Cathy, I figured Gena was fair game!"
Gena arched her brow at Irving. "I am free game. After all, we'd only fooled around a little bit when we were children!" she snapped as she flounced away.
Gaius looked over his shoulder and smirked. "I'll send her home," he smiled.
Gaius crossed his arms. "You don't own her, Irving! She's free to show her affection where she wishes!" He grinned widely, "And she chose to show me great affection!"
Irving pulled his hand back to punch his cocky friend when Eddie elbowed his way between them.
"What do you think he wants?" Velma asked Edrick. Having so many younger siblings had made Edrick a wonderful papa. He seemed to know what the baby had needed before Felipe even cried.
"Good morning," Dirk said, stepping out of his tent.
Edrick glanced back at his uncle. "I'm sorry, did Felipe wake up?"
Edrick laughed. "To be young again!"
Dirk glanced back and smiled at his daughter-of-the-heart. "How about I get breakfast started. Edrick, have you and Velma eaten yet?"
She knew that Eddie was her only brother, but she secretly thought of Irving and Gaius as her big brothers, too. She'd asked her papa one day if Irving and Gaius could be her brothers, too. He had looked at her with a sad smile and said that family is not always by blood - but sometimes by heart.
And this looked like just the spot to do it!
Dirk wished he'd never promised Eddie that he could have a relationship with his mother if she returned. But, he'd waited expectantly for her to return. For years. But, she'd never returned. And how he prayed that she never would...
Suzie glared. "Not them. Just Eliza."
Dirk scoffed, "As if I would let you take her!"
"You're not her father, Dirk!" Suzie shouted over his tirade.
Suzie felt the blood drain from her face as she watched her daughter dart past sobbing. Oh, but he was right! She had wanted to hurt him as much as he had hurt her! She didn't even have a place for Eliza to stay! If Suzie managed to convince the Lairds to let Eliza stay - she would be required too cook and clean, as well. At least here she was free...
"I'll go," she said shakily. She had never meant to hurt her children...
"What's wrong?" Eddie asked, crouching down next to her. "What happened?"
Eliza just sobbed louder. "She said he wasn't my papa!"
"Who said that? Velma?" Eddie asked, confused and trying to understand. "Why would she say that?"