Author’s note: Just so y’all know, Berach’s gotten a bit of a makeover. I downloaded beard defaults, and his hair looked horrible with the new beard. So, new hair was in order!
… And, this evening, I downloaded a different set of beard defaults by FantasyRogue at GOS. So there will probably be many more makeovers in the days ahead.
“Neigh, neigh, neigh!”
The wooden horse banged and bumped its way across the floor as Leah attempted to make it gallop. But, given the fact that the horse was made of one carved wooden piece, that presented … difficulties.
She lifted the horse up, almost to her mouth, but stopped. She was a big girl now. She’d be four years old very soon. That was almost a whole hand! And she would do all sorts of big-girl things, like go to school, and eat at the big-person table, and have a big-girl bed, and go fishing at the pond with her papa. She couldn’t wait.
But being a big girl wasn’t just fun and games. Big girls had to do things, like make their beds and wash dishes and help in the garden, that little babies didn’t have to do. And one of those things was take care of their toys. Joyce had said so, and if there was any person whose word Leah trusted implicitly, almost as much as she trusted her papa’s, it was Joyce.
Leah hugged the horse close to her. It wasn’t as soft as the bunny Grammie had given to her when she was just born, but her papa hadn’t made the bunny. Papa had made the horse. She’d watched him make it; or at least, she’d watched him carve for a few moments here and there, then go back to her blocks or her xylophone or her bunny. He used to carve in the evenings, when dinner was over and there nothing else to do but stave off bedtime as long as possible. But it was only when he had started painting the horse that Leah had gotten really interested. So one night, her papa had gotten a little table and a jar of gray paint and brought it outside, and he had let Leah dump the horse into the jar — three times — and then they had gone for a swim in the pond to wash the paint off both of them while the horse dried in the sun. Her papa had held her high in the water and Leah hadn’t been afraid once.
Her papa had promised to teach her to swim, really swim, once the water got warm enough. It was another thing Leah couldn’t wait to have happen. Her papa really was the best papa in the whole wide world.
The thought made Leah hug the horse closer. Not because it made her sad that her papa was the best, because it would be silly to be sad about that. But it did make her sad that she couldn’t tell him. It made him sad when she said that, even though he said he wasn’t sad. But who cried when they weren’t sad?
Leah frowned and put the horse down. Maybe she would ask Joyce what she thought of the matter. Joyce was very smart about things like that. Leah rose and, with her still-wobbly gait, made her way to the door.
And Joyce would be in the living room tonight, because tonight was one of the nights she didn’t dance, and when she didn’t dance she was usually here in the evenings. Or she had been after that stinky Clarence man had left.
Leah frowned. Papa had acted very oddly that day; some moments he had seemed angry, but when he looked at Joyce he smiled like Leah would smile when she got cake for dinner. (Papa wasn’t supposed to do that, but he did sometimes when they had leftover cake and he was too tired to cook.) And then, after that day, Papa kept smiling around Joyce, and sometimes he would frown around Leah — yet only when he thought Leah wasn’t watching. When she started watching, he would smile again, but only little smiles that didn’t go all the way up his face.
Leah might have gotten angry at Joyce for that, because it wasn’t fair that Papa smiled for Joyce but not for her. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Papa had taken her on his knee and said he had an important, big-girl thing to talk about with her. Leah didn’t even have time to be excited, because Papa looked so sad and scared, so she thought it would be something bad.
Maybe it was something bad. Papa had wanted to talk about her mama.
Leah was surprised, because before she had asked Joyce she hadn’t thought she had a mama, and when Joyce had answered her, she had said that Leah’s mama was up in Heaven with the Lord Wright and the llamas. So Leah thought that didn’t mean there was much to talk about.
Papa had said, though, that Joyce had made a mistake when she said that.
It didn’t make much sense to Leah that anyone could make a mistake like that — either someone was in Heaven with the Lord Wright and the llamas, or they weren’t. But Papa had said that Joyce had made that mistake, so Papa must be right. Joyce was fun and Leah was happy when she was with Joyce, but not as happy as when she was with Papa.
And Papa had frowned and bit his lip and pulled on his hair, which Leah always did when she was scared, so then she got scared too. Papas weren’t supposed to get scared! That was for little girls, or even big girls. But not Papas.
Papa, though, had seen how she was getting scared, so he took a deep breath and told her that he and Leah’s Mama hadn’t been married, like Grampie and Grammie were, or Aunt Ailís and Uncle Neil were, or Uncle Grady and Auntie Toinette were, when Leah was born. That Leah’s mama had a job that meant she couldn’t get married. Leah knew what jobs were, since that was what her Papa had to do when he went to work. But she didn’t know that jobs could keep you from getting married. After all, Grammie and Auntie Toinette both had jobs, and they were married.
But maybe it wasn’t that hard. Because even if Grammie and Auntie Toinette had jobs, Grampie and Uncle Grady didn’t. Maybe only one person who was married could have a job, and that’s why Papa and Leah’s mama couldn’t get married.
She hadn’t asked Papa then, though, and she wasn’t going to ask him for a while, since he had seemed sad when he talked. He said there were lots of things about Leah’s mama’s job that he would have to explain to her when she got bigger. Normally Leah hated hearing that, because if she wanted to know something, she wanted to know it now. She already had a bunch of things she wanted to ask about again when she was four and a big girl.
She wasn’t going to ask about this, though, she decided — once again — as she plopped her rear down with a thump before where Joyce and her papa were sitting. She didn’t want to make Papa sad and scared again.
At the end of it, though, Papa had told her that, though other Sims might say bad things about her mama and her job, that Leah wasn’t to listen to them. What had happened between Papa and Leah’s mama, even though he was glad about it because it gave him Leah, didn’t have anything to do with Leah. (She was still trying to wrap her head around that one.) If anybody ever said anything to Leah, trying to make Leah feel bad about her mama or herself, because of her mama, she was to go right to Papa and Papa would fix it.
Before Leah could figure that one out, though, Papa had also said that if Leah had any more questions about her mama, she was supposed to go to him. Just him. Not Joyce, not anybody else. That pretty much meant she couldn’t ask Uncle Neil for an explanation, and Uncle Neil was the uncle she went to whenever the other grownups said that she was too little to understand something. But Papa had then asked if she had any questions.
Leah didn’t know where to start with questions. But she did know that her papa looked sad. So, thinking maybe it would make him happy — because Joyce said it would — she told him that she didn’t need a mama, because she already had the best papa in the whole wide world.
That was when he’d started to cry.
But then again … he wasn’t crying now, when he was with Joyce. Maybe now would be a good time to ask some questions about her mama.
Papa was always happy when and after he and Joyce were kissing. Leah couldn’t see the attraction, but she didn’t understand a lot of the things Papa and other grownups did. Kissing funny was the least of it. When Leah kissed, she gave little kisses, since she still only had a little mouth. And she didn’t think she would change when she was a big girl. Now, sometimes when grownups (particularly Grammie’s old-lady friends) kissed her, they kissed big kisses. Big, slobbery kisses, like Joyce’s dog Sable gave to her, only without a tongue.
But grownups never kissed Leah like Papa was kissing Joyce — or was Joyce kissing Papa? Grownups didn’t use their tongues with Leah, and Leah was pretty sure she saw Joyce’s tongue come out.
And grownups never kissed Leah like they were about to eat her face!
Maybe, she thought, she would ask Uncle Neil about this kind of kissing. He might explain. For now, though, she would wait for Papa and Joyce to be done for a minute and notice her.
So she waited.
Until her curiosity finally got the best of her and she had to ask, “Joyce, why’s your hand on Papa’s arse?”
Those were the only replies Leah got, at first. Then Papa and Joyce weren’t saying anything — Papa was trying to get off from on top of Joyce and Joyce was trying to get out from under Papa, all at the same time. It would have made much more sense if they had just taken turns, like Papa and Auntie Toinette always told Nora and Leah to do, but Leah knew better than to say that to grownups. They always got mad if you tried to tell them what they always told you.
And when they were finally detangled and had caught their breath, Joyce gasped, “An’ who taught ye that word, lass?”
And Leah said, as her Papa had taught her to say whenever someone asked, in that tone, where she had learned a particular word, “Grampie.”
“Oh, Wr–goodness,” Joyce murmured. “Why ain’t I surprised?”
Papa only smiled and slowly breathed out, like Leah did whenever Auntie Toinette blamed baby Sean for the mess she had just caused.
“An’ what are ye doin’ out here, angel?” Papa asked, getting up and lifting her from the floor. Joyce got up too. “I thought ye were playin’ in yer room, snug and sound.”
“I wanted to axe ye somethin’, Papa!”
“Probably about dinner,” Joyce murmured.
Papa turned his funny red color, the color that made his freckles hard to find. “Maybe. Is that what ye wanted to axe me, Leah?”
Leah frowned. That hadn’t been what she wanted to know, but Papa always said never to turn down a free dinner. And she was hungry, now that he mentioned it. But Papa also always said that you had to tell the truth …
“Well, no,” she admitted, “but dinner is good if ye want ter make me some!”
“Oh, not dinner?” Papa laughed. “Then what did ye really want ter ask? Other than why Joyce had her hand on my ar–bum.”
“Bum ain’t much better than — than what yer pa taught Leah to say!”
“Aw, Leah don’t mind — do ye, Leah?” Papa waved at her and Leah squealed.
“She will, once someone gets around ter teachin’ her manners,” Joyce answered, but her voice sounded like someone’s voice when they were smiling.
“Hey! My baby has manners.”
“Oops, sorry, my big girl has manners.” He held some of the loose strands of Leah’s hair between two of his fingers and smiled, but somehow his smile almost looked sad.
“Aye, an’ that’s the problem, Berach,” Joyce answered. Papa looked up, the sad smile dropping away. “She’s got your manners!”
“Oh, ho! Well, then, Joyce, why don’t ye,” he handed Leah over to Joyce, “try ter fix that, while I go fix dinner?”
“Her manners will be pretty as a princess’s when I give her back to ye!” Joyce promised, swinging Leah to her hip and then lightly to her lap as she sat down.
“But Papa! I wanted to axe ye somethin’!”
“Axe Joyce, if ye listen ter her, she’s smarter than me anyway!”
“That’s cause we girls is always smarter than them boys,” Joyce whispered into Leah’s hair, and Leah giggled.
“But Papa’s smart!”
“Oh, aye, for a boy. But lemme tell ye somethin’, Joyce, even a boy at his best ain’t smarter than a girl at her worst!”
Leah giggled. Then, since Joyce was laughing, Leah thought she would ask again. After all, Joyce would know this, since she could only ask Papa the other questions she had. “So why did ye have yer hand on Papa’s — Papa’s — somethin’?”
Joyce was quiet. But it wasn’t a mad quiet. It was more a thinking quiet.
“Well, Leah,” Joyce finally answered, “if a — if a man an’ a woman love each other very much, sometimes they’ll touch each other there. But only grown-up men an’ women, mind. Not children. If ever an adult touches ye there, ye run right away an’ get yer pa or me or your grandparents or one o’ yer aunts an’ uncles.”
“Even if it’s for a spanking?” Leah asked, sitting up with a grin.
“No, Leah — not for a spanking. This kind o’ touchin’s … different. Ye’ll know, ’cause ye’ll feel mighty uncomfortable if ever a grownup tries it.”
“Oh.” Spanking was uncomfortable, too, but Leah guessed this was a different kind of uncomfortable. “But Joyce, don’t Aunt Ailís love Papa?”
“‘Course she does!”
“Then why don’t she ever try ter touch Papa there?”
“Oh! Oh, it’s a — a different kind o’ love. Like the love mamas and papas have. Not brothers an’ sisters. Like — like yer Aunt Ailís an’ Uncle Neil love each other, or yer Auntie Toinette an’ Uncle Grady love each other.”
Leah mulled that over. Then she gasped. “But, Joyce! They’s all married!”
“Well — aye.” Joyce moved underneath Leah, like she was getting uncomfortable. But there wasn’t a bad grownup putting his hand on Joyce’s arse. Leah would have seen if there was.
“You an’ Da aren’t married! An’ ye — ye can’t get married!”
Joyce gasped and sat very still.
Then — her voice strange and thick, like Leah’s when she hurt her knee or her elbow and was trying not to cry, Joyce asked, “Who — why do ye say that, Leah?”
Leah swallowed, except it was only air in her mouth. “Because — because ye gots a job!”
“Because I have a job?”
“Aye!” Leah replied. “Only one person who’s married can have a job! My papa says!”
“Yer — yer papa said that?”
“Well, maybe he didn’t … say it. But that must be why he said what he said!”
“What did he say?”
“That he couldn’t marry my mama, because she had a job.”
“Oh, Leah,” she whispered. “Oh, Leah!” She ducked down and kissed Leah on the head. “It ain’t — it ain’t that she had a job. It’s the type of job she … has.”
“I don’t think,” Joyce whispered, “I can answer that fer ye, honey. But I can tell ye, I don’t have that job.”
“Why?” Leah started to whine, only to be cut off by her papa’s cheery, “Dinner’s on!”
“Come on,” Joyce whispered, swinging Leah to her hip. “Let’s eat. An’ don’t — don’t tell yer pa I talked about this with ye. Ye’ve got to axe him yer questions, not me.”
“But — but I was tryin‘!”
“I know, sweetheart, I know,” Joyce shushed as she put Leah into her seat. “Axe him some other time.”
Some other time. It was always some other time. But her papa set her dinner before her, and then Leah didn’t care so much about asking her questions.
But only for a minute.
Since, however, she couldn’t ask when Joyce was sitting there, she could at least think about what Joyce had said.
First of all, people who were married and were mamas and papas could both have jobs, but only if the mamas didn’t have the wrong job.
Joyce had a job that would let her get married.
Joyce and her papa were touching each other like married grownups would touch each other. And married people were mamas and papas.
So — even if Leah’s mama had the wrong job to marry her papa, Papa could marry someone else, who had the right job, to be Leah’s mama.
And that mama just might be Joyce.
And then Leah would be part of a whole, real family.