Cya said it like she expected it to be nothing, just another day, but her eyes were on Carew and he had no doubt she was gauging his reaction.
She did that, said things without any tone and waited to see what he made of them. Carew still wasn’t sure what he made of that.
“So…” He tried for casual. He almost made it. Leo was still angry at him for the face-punching thing, at least as far as he knew, and, truth be told, he couldn’t blame the guy. It had seemed like a good idea at the time… “Extra lasagna for dinner, then? And I’ll sleep in the guest room — or do you want me to go hang out with Dev?”
Dev was Magnolia’s — not Kept, but might-as-well-be, he called himself her pleasant-revenge lover — and he was just about Carew’s age. They weren’t exactly friends, but they’d been in Addergoole together, the women they lived with were sometimes perplexing, sometimes terrifying, and sometimes wonderful, and they liked the same beers.
“I didn’t say I was kicking you out. It’s a big bed, hon.”
It was. Four of them would probably fill it comfortably. He’d always wondered why she had such a big bed — now, he supposed, he knew. He worked around a lump in his throat and tried to show nothing. “All right, sure. So lasagna?”
“Lasagna’s a good idea. I’ll start on the filling if you start on the noodles.”
He let the companionable working-peace fill the room for a few minutes before coughing. “So, uh, why’s Leo coming over? Over night, I mean. Is that why he’s bringing his Kept?”
“He’s… having a bad week, and I don’t want him left alone.”
Lots of stupid things went through Carew’s mind, like Isn’t that what HE has a Kept for? and Is that where you were last night? and If you’re just going to sleep with him — with THEM — what do you need me for? He focused on the noodles and said none of them. It wasn’t his first rodeo.
“What is it?” she asked. Carew swore internally. He didn’t think he’d been showing anything at all.
He cleared his throat and looked away.
Her hand on his shoulder almost made him jump. “It’s okay, Carew. I’d rather know than not know, all right?”
“It’s just… your whole world seems to revolve around him,” he muttered.
“Well… To some degree, yeah. It’s like this, here.”
Here wasn’t an order, but he looked anyway. Her left hand was held out flat at chest-height, marking a level.
“So,” she brought her right hand up, marking a line a little above the left. “There’s my kids. Then crew.” Her right fingers touched her left. “Then Kept—” a little lower on the right, and Carew’s heart did something weird up in his throat “-and then my project, which right now is school,” her hand moved down, “and city,” her hand moved down a bit more. “Except right now, I don’t have any kids in the nest, so,” her left hand moved up a notch, “and Leo’s the only crew in the city with me… So, yeah, my life kind of revolves around him. What?” she asked gently, although Carew had no idea at all what his face was doing. “Haven’t you ever had someone you loved? Or a crew you’d kill for?”
“Yeah…” He worked his throat, fighting with emotions he really, really didn’t want to deal with right now. “Both. But, uh. They were older, and they didn’t come back for me.”
“Well.” She patted his shoulder. “Did you tell them you wanted them to?”
“No, but…” He frowned. “Why wouldn’t they?”
“See, that’s the thing about assumptions. Maybe they assumed you’d come find them. Maybe they got there a few days late.”
“Wouldn’t the school have told them where I was?” He turned back to the lasagne just to have something to do with his hands.
“Well, depends on who they asked, and what mood they were in.” She turned to the food, too, but her eyes were still on him. He could feel them, feel their pressure. “Luke knows, because he’s still not entirely convinced I’m not locking Kept up in a dungeon… non-consensually. But if he told them would depend on if they asked, and if he approves of them, and any number of other factors.”
“Wait.” He put his hands on the counter to steady himself. “You lock Kept up in a dungeon consensually?”
“Well, some of my Kept have been pretty kinky, and so am I and—”
“You never said anything!” He slapped his hands over his mouth, but he’d already said it, and he’d already interrupted her.
Her eyebrows went up. “Now, remember what I was saying about assumptions? And then I went and assumed you weren’t the type. Well.” She patted his ass affectionately. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow night, mm? And this coming weekend, maybe we can talk about Finding your friends and crew.”
Carew swallowed. “Yes, ma’am… thank you, ma’am.” Both of his hands went to his collar. “Thank you, ma’am.”
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