Diego's injury gives him time to reflect on his relationships and he reaches out to repair the damage he's caused. A conversation with Lance creates a new dynamic between them and Diego makes a horrifying discovery.
Friday, June 8th
"Hey Audrey," Diego asked her cheekily, and Audrey raised an eyebrow at him before she sat down. "Seeing as you're already on your feet, would you mind getting me another glass?"
"You're cheeky. You know that?" Audrey smirked at him, placing down the tray of strawberries on the side of the coffee table without Diego's foot resting on it.
"But I'm injured!" Diego whined, drawing attention to the brace he was wearing on his left knee. "I can't get up. You understand, right?"
"You'd have me believe they were seconds from cutting it off, wouldn't you?" Audrey laughed at him. "You sprained your MCL, that doesn't mean you're helpless. Should you be having more, though? Aren't you worried one your abs might go missing if you have too much alcohol?"
It was Diego's turn to laugh happily this time while Audrey returned to the kitchen area. His injury wasn't a serious one, but he was going to be out for between four and six weeks, depending on how quickly he healed, and he was enjoying the time off. It was Friday night and he still had Nina with him. He'd succeeded in tempting Audrey to spend a few nights with him and their daughter, and he was relishing his time with them, especially in the wake of some serious problems with some of his friendships. He would have liked to keep Jilly and Julian for longer as well, but Zoey would threaten to take him to court for even floating the idea. He'd even secured Father's Day off work last year so he could spend it with his twins, but Zoey had refused. Every time Jilly went off the rails, he knew precisely who taught her how.
"Can I have some wine?" Nina asked, her mouth and chin already coated in red juice. How did I seed such rabid animals? At what age do they learn how to eat like basic human beings?
"When you're fourteen and you've had a disappointing first date with a boy I told you to avoid, I'll let you have half a glass," Diego smiled at her and beckoned to her. He was feeling affectionate. "Can I have a kiss?"
"No! Ew!" Nina protested, and he shrugged. It was worth a shot.
"Can I have a strawberry?" He asked her. She didn't hesitate in picking up the tray and handing it to him, and he was ecstatic that she had the manners to do so and not to shove her sticky, wet hands in the pile. Sticky, wet hands were a part of parenting, but he'd long passed the phase of thinking it was cute.
"Thank you, marshmallow!" He smiled and bit into the fruit. Nina was still looking at him and he was wondering why. "What's up?"
"You didn't try to kiss me!" She almost threw it at him like an accusation.
"You said you didn't want one!" He couldn't help but laugh. "No means no, Nina. I won't give you a kiss unless you tell me it's okay."
"Can I have a cuddle instead?" She hopped up next to him, and he wasted no time in hooking his arm around her and squeezing her close. She hit at him with her little fists, but he didn't mind. Better she playfought with him than punching some kid's tooth out every time she tried to emulate her father at the playground.
"I decided I'm tired of being your maid," Audrey announced her return, flashing an adoring smile at the sight of her ex-boyfriend and their little girl snuggling on the couch. "So I've just brought the bottle with me."
"Works for me," Diego laughed. "Why do you have that second bottle?"
"Don't you get any ideas, this one's for me! If we're going to watch three hours of wrestling, I'm going to need some help," she grinned and took the seat on the other side of Nina. "I suppose it's the least I can do after you watched my soaps with me."
"Yeah, don't mention it," Diego and Audrey clinked their glasses together. "Those four hours of elaborate but still boring plots and dramatic overacting just flew by."
It was weird to be watching the show from home. It was a typical Friday night live show, but with the mid-year Pay Per View approaching, storylines were intensifying and building towards the final showdowns. Diego knew it was unlikely that he would be able to perform at the Pay Per View at the end of the month, which really sucked, but because he was only out for a short while he still had the championship belt. More than likely there would be a major match at the June Pay Per View to determine who Diego would face soon afterwards. He hoped it would be Sean, but it would likely be Jimmy Vause again after the sloppy finish to their last match. Michelle was mortified by the injury and the weak ending to her show, but she'd been very complimentary of the boys' quick thinking rather than letting the match go to pieces.
"It's Rachel!" Nina squealed with delight when Auntie Rach's music hit the arena and the camera panned to her. Rachel looked stunning as she glared down the crowd, but she always did. She was one of the most attractive women in the whole KADA locker room, and he was blown away by her beauty every time he saw her.
"Does Rachel know I'm staying here, by the way?" Audrey asked suddenly, and Diego looked at her. He didn't even think about that.
"No, she doesn't," he said, uncomfortably shifting and causing a frustrated grunt from his daughter.
"You should probably tell her," Audrey suggested coolly, sipping wine from her glass. She didn't like Rachel and Rachel didn't like her.
"Should I?" He looked at her, and she grinned and shook her head.
"I'm just saying, she's probably going to find out anyway," she subtly pointed with her eyes and gave a slight nod down at Nina, and Diego understood what she was saying. Nina had a mouth so freaking big it was impossible to comprehend how she always seemed to miss it while she was eating. Rachel and anyone else who would listen would be caught up with the wrestling show, the fact she and Audrey were staying over, what they ate, the filthy word Daddy let slip when he spilt his coffee on his lap and how many bowel movements she'd had.
Rachel wasn't the best technician on the roster, nor was she all that powerful. What she did though was ooze charisma. She was a terrific heel, and the crowd always reacted to her. A lot of the men cheered because she was sexy as hell, but a lot of people also booed her because, to be frank, if Rachel was anything like the character she portrayed on television he would have killed her. She was basically Zoey when she wrestled, a thought that made him grin to himself. Rachel, Pearl and Gloria, the three bad girls, teamed up against Irina, Batty Betty and Samaira in a six-woman tag team match. Watching Gloria and her new blue hair streaks was disheartening. It wasn't the fact that she still wasn't talking to him, it was that she was so obviously holding back against these new girls.
There had been a huge women's roster shift in a short time between 2013 and 2015 and most of the original girls left. Gloria was the one who stayed on, but she was forced to adapt to the less experienced and more fragile girls who took their places. She was a complete monster, Diego knew, but these days she had to take everything much slower and dull it down. It was a waste. She should be wrestling with the men while the new group of girls caught up to her. Eventually, Rachel defeated the champion with her finishing move, a particularly savage DDT move in which she grabbed Irina in a headlock and threw herself backwards, planting Irina on the top of her head - at least, that's the way the cameras sold it. It was nice to see Rachel getting a chance to shine because for several months she'd be lucky to get any screen time at all.
"What's Lance going to get up to now that you're home with a bad knee?" Audrey asked him, and Diego shrugged.
"I have no idea. I know as much about what's going on this week as you do," Diego explained. "Michelle gave me a call to ask how I was, but she hasn't said much else."
There was a lacklustre match between Giorgio and Jye next. They were both relatively new, and Diego hadn't expected much, but it was a pretty sad affair even with reduced expectations. Next, it was that music he'd only recently been able to get out of his head. Terrific. Catchy and repetitive, and Lance Lovecraft strutted his way down the ramp wearing new shamrock-green ring gear. Oh, no way. Are they putting him in a match? An actual match? Way to shoot yourself in the foot, Michelle. Lance's reaction was milder than usual. It seemed as though the crowd forgot whose music that was since he'd been entering to Diego's for so long, but they perked up when they remembered it was Lance. The opponent, coming out to the sweet, poignant lyrics, was none other than Sean himself. Hahaha! Sean was going to be so pissed. He should text him afterwards to make sure he was okay.
"Lance looks like Poison Ivy," Audrey giggled, and Diego laughed in agreement. He did, in those skimpy green clothes with the red hair.
"He always looks like someone who broke out of Arkham Asylum. I've been saying that since day one. It used to be a lot worse," he told her, glad to have someone who would listen to him complain about Lovecraft
"I think he's pretty!" Nina declared. Ugh. You are not my daughter.
"He is, darling," Audrey tweaked her cheek. "Very pretty. Daddy and I are just having a bit of a laugh."
It became apparent that Lance and Sean were not out there to wrestle. Rather than getting physical in a match, a tune he hadn't heard in a very long time played. Oh, it's him, Diego thought in despair. Ollie freaking Vickery came out to some considerable support from the crowd, bouncing around and having fun in his fluorescent blue pants and jacket. He was looking good after nearly nine full months off the roster. Diego felt a massive wave of relief when Ollie reintroduced himself to the audience, and as a welcome back gift, he was going to host a dance-off between Sean and Lance. Hey, that's not such a bad idea, Diego thought. Lance is a good dancer, and Sean isn't shabby either. Despite his ill opinion of Lance, he always did enjoy watching the kid dance his heart out. It was graceful, innovative and beautiful. Why he didn't pursue that career was miles beyond Diego's understanding.
"Isn't this a wrestling show?" Audrey pointed out the obvious.
"Yeah, but trust me - Lance will win, Sean will be pis--angry," he corrected himself before Nina could catch on to another dirty word. "Then they'll fight and bam, you have a storyline."
"That is the weakest storyline I have ever heard in my life," Audrey remarked, and Diego reached over to poke her in the shoulder.
"Thanks for your input, Miss I Love Watching Married Couples Find Out They Are Brother And Sister," he teased, and she admitted that maybe he did have a point.
He liked Sean a lot. He thought about him every day. Every hour. He loved speaking to him, being with him, ...kissing him. But as good as he was at dancing, Lance was just better. Everything was cleaner, crisper and faster, but Sean wasn't a professional. He only danced for fun to the music he liked. Lance probably knew how to breakdance before he knew how to walk, so he was crowned the winner, and precisely as Diego predicted, Sean attacked him from behind and had to be pulled off by Ollie. Get your hands off him, Ollie! Diego was more upset than he should have been at the way Oliver touched Sean to pry him off Lance, whose hair never moved a millimetre since the segment began.
"How is Waya, by the way?" Audrey asked him nonchalantly, the wine glass at her pink lips. He knew she'd eventually say something.
"Sean? Pretty terrific. One of the strongest workers and best people in the world, it's a shame he's being reduced to dancing with limp Lance instead of challenging me for the championship," Diego answered it as honestly as he could, and Audrey gave a derisive giggle.
"At least he got on TV," she pointed out the silver lining.
"And Ollie there is his boyfriend," Diego felt himself redden as those words came out of his mouth. What would Ollie do if he knew what Diego had been doing in secret with his lover? Would Sean now tell Diego to hit the bricks with his tall, dark and handsome boyfriend back on the road with him?
"Ahhhh, the plot thickens," Audrey remarked. "It's a good thing you have Rachel, hey."
"Why don't you tell me what you're trying to say, Audrey? I'm a bit drunk and you're doing my head in," Diego challenged her, and she accepted.
"I'm just wondering about the relationship between someone with a girlfriend and someone with a boyfriend," she was trying to be difficult to understand so that Nina, queen bigmouth, would struggle to repeat what she was talking about to any interested parties. "I always see the hetero's eyes gloss over and his mouth do that twitch when he looks at the homo, and the hetero has never been good at hiding his feelings."
"Yeah..." Diego admitted to her, too embarrassed and scared to look at her, deciding to watch the television again. It was an ad break, but he pretended to be interested. Audrey put her hand on his shoulder and gently squeezed.
"Well, the hetero can always talk to the ex-paramour about anything. I'm sure he knows that," she added. Her words were very comforting. Maybe I should do that sometime, he thought. Audrey was an open-minded and progressive person. That was one of the things they struggled with. What the hell is wrong with me? How could I have a problem with someone wanting to accept people for who they are?
"What are talking about?" Nina was tired of being left out of the conversation, and both of her parents smiled.
"Never mind marshmallow. What do you want to talk about?" Diego hoisted her up onto his lap and she laughed. Audrey scooched closer, and the two of them listened to Nina's rant about marrying Lance Lovecraft.
Monday, June 19th
"Alright!" Gloria glared at him through the camera on her phone. She looked as though she were walking down the street, baking to a crisp in the summer heat. "What do you want, little starling?"
"Hey Glo," Diego was a little shocked that she actually picked up the phone today. He'd been after her for weeks, but she was so angry at him. "I... ahh... can you come and visit me soon?"
"Oof, the nerve on you!" Gloria did smile at him. "I see you've let yourself go while you've been on the mend." Diego instinctively put a hand upon his face. So he'd let his facial hair grow a bit. Let himself go? That was a horrible thing to say. He still hadn't eaten sugar in... wow. A long time.
"You look terrific, at least," he flattered her, but she wasn't buying it.
"I always look terrific, it's my complexion," she answered frankly. "Why do you want me to visit? Did you forget we're fighting? Have I been too passive?"
"You're my oldest friend and you not talking to me is starting to upset me, so well done," Diego decided to be completely honest with her. "So will you come and see me?"
"We're all working flat out," she said after a pause. "Plus, I don't remember you ever apologising for what you said."
"I haven't, because I want to do it in person and not over the phone. Will you let me?" He pleaded, even going as far as to make the saddest face he could.
"Erghhh I've missed you too, you giant, square-faced asshole," she admitted, and Diego grinned at the looks of the passersby when she said that so loudly on the street. "When do you need a visit? Is this where I get to kick your ass?"
"I was wondering if you and a few others would like to come next week when you're not working. You can meet my kids if you like," he smiled at her, and her expression softened. "The twins will probably run from you because you're this big scary lady on TV, but Nina's a big fan. What do you say, Glo? Come and stay a night or two next week or the week after, and I'll give you a big apology, and you can even adopt the child of your choice."
"Alright, you've earned an adjective off your name, and now you're just square-faced asshole," Gloria grinned at him. "I'd love that, Diego. If your apology's good, then--"
"I'll just be asshole?" Diego laughed, and Gloria shrugged.
"Or square-face, but you get to decide which one you like better," she poked her tongue out playfully. "I hate fighting with you, by the way. But you did hurt my feelings."
"I know, I was a giant square-faced asshole," Diego admitted. "Would you mind if I invited Sean, Ollie, Rach and Lance?"
"Of course not, but don't be surprised if the boys don't come," Gloria warned him. "Sean and Ollie have commitments at home and Lance hates your guts. For a good reason, I might add!"
"I know," Diego said sadly. "I have a whole bouquet of apologies to give to him. I feel like this stupid injury was divine intervention or something because all I've done with all this free time is think about how horrible I've been to him - and to you."
"It's weird hearing such introspective crap from you," Gloria laughed, ducking into a shop. "I don't know if I like it yet. But yes Diego, I'll fly in and see you next week. We'll work out schedules when I'm not busy."
"Busy? You're in a bakery, aren't you?" Diego looked closer. He knew he saw pastries and cake. He knew he did!
"A bakery? On my schedule and diet? Of course not," Gloria retorted.
"Glo, I can literally see the word bakery on the window behind you," he started laughing, and she realised she'd been found out.
"This never happened," Gloria giggled. "It's just between us. I better go before you judge me any harder. Bye, love. I'll get in touch with you soon."
He took a few moments steeling himself for this next call. He didn't expect it to go well at all, but maybe it would. Just maybe. Perhaps. It won't. Lance didn't pick up for the first six rings, but eventually, he did.
"Diego. Are you missing me already?" Lance replied in perhaps the bitchiest tone Diego had ever heard in his life. Already he was regretting this. The hatred inside him for this maggot was near boiling point and it had only been three seconds. He took a second to reply. Lance was caked in makeup today, most of it green to match his eyes and nails. Poison Ivy, he thought again. Hah.
"Can we not fight?" Diego asked nervously, keeping a lid on the animosity he still had for Lance. "Just for now?"
"That depends on you," Lance's voice was so cold that Diego swore he felt a chilly gust of wind blow by him. "What's going on? Is everything okay?"
"No, it's not," Diego sighed. Come on. You've come this far. Do it. Finish it. "So I've had a lot of time to myself after I got hurt, and I spent a lot of it thinking about you."
"Okayyy," Lance's eyes were full of suspicion. Fair enough. He had a pleasant voice, though. It wasn't quite baritone, but it was far deeper than he would have expected from someone so... Lovecraft.
"Look, I don't like you very much, okay?" Diego didn't know if this was the right approach, but he needed everything to be out there. "And I think it's very fair to say that you feel the same way about me. And that's my fault." Lance's green lips parted slightly in surprise. "I owe you the world's biggest apology for the way I've been treating you since you got here," Diego added after he realised Lance wasn't going to reply to him. "I'd like to do it in person if that's alright. I've got Gloria coming to visit me next week, and I'm hoping to score Sean, Ollie and Rachel too. I'm wondering if you'll accept my invitation to come to my home as well and let me tell you how sorry I am face to face. I don't want to wait until I get back to work, whenever that might be."
"Ahh..." Lance hesitated, and like Gloria before him, his face softened. "That's... actually really sweet of you, but I don't know if I'm comfortable doing that."
"I understand," Diego nodded solemnly. "It's just an offer, okay? Our friends will be here, and you can even bring Pearl if you like. Nina will be happy to see you. She's pretty obsessed. We watched the show last week and she has her heart set on being Mrs Lovecraft."
"Aww!" Lance cooed, a big smile melting the ice on his face. "But that's not what's important, Diego. Do you really want me there?"
"I do," Diego was honest. "Maybe we don't get along, but we have a lot of friends in common and I'm serious about this. I want to make things better between us because I've been such a twat, prat, pillock, berk, wanker, ponce, bellend or whichever of your nonsense made-up pommy words is most appropriate." He spoke the list of Lance's favourite words with a terrible British accent, and in spite of their ill will to each other, Lance laughed.
"Tsk, okay," Lance agreed reluctantly after a short pause. "If you're not taking the piss, then yeah, I'll be a part of that. I just hope it's a damn good apology. And by the way Diego, I didn't know you could grow hair on your face. It's hot, you should keep it."
"Ahh--oh!" Diego returned his hand to the whiskers he'd grown all around his jaw and mouth. "I'll consider it. By the way Lance, the green is nice, but I think red is your colour."
"Hah, I'll consider it," he cited back to Diego, before blowing him a kiss that made his skin crawl. "Thank you for giving me a bell. It means a lot to me. Let me know when you're planning this big public apology and I'll see if I can squeeze it in. Ciao."
The call ended and Diego shuddered. It wasn't a shudder of disgust or contempt, but that call was so thick with tension that he wanted it off him. He didn't care for Lance, but it was becoming clear to him that his behaviour towards the stupid Brit just wasn't good enough. Hell, I'm nearly thirty-five, he thought suddenly. What kind of example am I setting for the kids?
It wasn't more than twenty minutes later that Diego heard Zoey honking the horn as she crawled up the driveway in the beautiful red Audi A7 she'd bought with his money. When is it appropriate to cut off the mother of my children? Why do I pay a fortune in child support and still manage to be the only one who supports the children while she's spending my money on a new widescreen television? The thought quickly vanished. He couldn't be bothered with more lawyers and courts with that woman. It was just easier to pay for her complicity than it was to try salting the leech. She'd go through anything to take his kids away from him the same way Marisol did, and he couldn't go through that again. He just couldn't. Jilly and Julian weren't perfect, but they were both a part of him. He lost Troy, but he'd hire a hitman to take Zoey out before he ever let any of his children down again.
His knee was healing nicely from the sprain, but it was still braced, and he still hobbled with a crutch to the back door to see the devil woman unstrapping his two beautiful babies from their seats. The second he was free, Julian slipped out and darted through Zoey's legs, sprinting his way on his tiny feet across the garden path and jumping at Diego, who happily but awkwardly picked up his little boy and cuddled him close.
"How's my favourite little man?" Diego kissed Julian on the forehead, but Julian didn't feel like replying. He hid his face in his father's neck. The twins must have been fighting again. Goddamn it Julian. Did your sister steal your balls or something? Jilly wasn't as much of a Daddy's girl, letting Zoey hold her hand as they walked much more slowly to meet Diego. "Hey, Jillybean!" Diego couldn't kneel down to greet her like he usually would, but she didn't seem to notice or care.
"Hello, Daddy!" She beamed up at him and he reached down to take her little hand in his own. "I missed you!"
"I missed you too!" He leaned down to hug her, then lifted Julian's face to have a look at him, before gasping. Julian had more bruises this time, a small lump on his forehead and a contusion on his eye socket.
"What is this?" He asked Zoey, who came in for a closer look. "How did this happen? Juli?" Julian didn't speak, trying to hide his face back in his father's body.
"I don't know," Zoey answered. "I'm pretty sure it's his sister, but he won't say anything."
"Jilly?" Diego was becoming increasingly concerned. "She couldn't do this, could she?"
"All they do is fight!" Zoey snapped at him. "Maybe watching their father fight for a living isn't a good thing for them!"
"Well, it seems to be working out just fine for you," Diego hissed back at her, annoyed that she took every comment of his as a personal attack. "Thanks for dropping them off, Zo."
"Yeah," Zoey calmed down somewhat and knelt down to kiss her daughter goodbye. Jilly gave her a cheerful hug. She then went to kiss Julian goodbye, but Julian squealed and dug his nails into Diego's shoulders and neck, making him grunt in pain and gently pry the tiny fingers out of his skin.
"See you in a few days, and be good! Don't beat up your brother!" She pointed at Jilly, then she turned away and got back into her car. He knew Jilly was a vicious little girl sometimes and liked to bully her brother, but this was the third week in a row Julian was coming to him with fresh bruises. It had to stop.
"Julian," Diego whispered to his son, carrying him inside while Jilly ran on ahead as though she'd been taking expired Ritalin. "Does your sister hurt you when you're at Mommy's house?"
"Yes," Julian replied shakily. Well, that's no surprise.
"Jilly!" He summoned his daughter, who came running back to him, a happy smile on her face. She was already holding one of her favourite toy trucks. Why did I get these girls? Neither one of them wants to play house or have tea parties or Barbie dolls. Fiercely independent tomboys, the both of him. Julian, on the other hand, was getting clingier by the day and cried more than the others combined.
"Jillybean, do you hit your brother sometimes?" Diego asked, and Jilly shook her head. She's lying; he knew that. "Daddy's not going to be angry, okay? He wants to know what's going on at Mommy's house. Do you hit your brother sometimes?"
"Yes but he starts it!" Jilly pointed at him, and Diego fought the urge to roll his eyes.
"Did you give him the black eye and the bump on his head?" Diego asked calmly. Jilly looked at him and shook her head.
"That wasn't me," she protested. "I didn't do that!"
Monday, June 25th
There was an enthusiastic rapping on the front door, followed by Gloria audibly laughing. Diego was thrilled to hear his friends finally arriving. With Julian clinging onto him for dear life, Jilly only interested in playing with her legos and Nina bouncing off the walls in her excitement to meet some of her favourite wrestlers, he opened the door.
"Aww!" Lance's camp voice was the first thing he heard. He must have seen Julian's shy, dark eyes poking out from under his long mop of black curls.
"You all came at once!" Diego grinned and stepped to the side, holding the door open. "That's good. We won't lose too much cold air if we only do this once." Gloria kissed him on the cheek on the way past and Rachel on his lips, but Sean settled for a quick hug and Lance didn't touch him at all. Good.
Sean was so cute today. He was wearing a cerulean collared shirt and had a few pretty red feathers woven into his long ponytail. Lance was immensely tall in the black strappy stilettos he was wearing with his skin-tight white jeans. Diego wondered if he was wearing stripper shoes today to see if his nemesis would bite, but he wasn't going to do that. No, Lance can wear whatever the hell he wants. If anything, Lance might actually teach Nina or Jilly how to act like a girl. Diego couldn't help but grin at his private thoughts. Rachel was in a very revealing tangerine dress, but he didn't mind the view at all. It was the ugly colour that was the problem, not how much of her breasts and thighs were showing. Gloria looked as casual as she ever did, long black jeans and a floral blue tank top that went well with her new blue highlights.
"So welcome to Diego's Den," Diego shut the door, leaving that summer heat outside where it belonged. "Most of you already know my girl Nina," he gestured with his hand to the girl who was already starting to gush and make a beeline right for Lance. "This incredibly handsome boy here is Julian," he used his other hand to ruffle Julian's thick hair, but the boy hid his face again, causing some more adoring noises from the adults. "Jillian is probably..." he nudged her bedroom door further open with his foot, and sure enough, Jilly looked up from her activity. "Yeah, here she is."
"She's so cute!" Sean gushed, and Gloria agreed with him.
"You say that now," Rachel warned them, and everybody laughed.
"Jilly, Juli," Diego didn't imagine it would be hard for them to remember. Julian was the spitting image of Diego when he was that age and Jilly favoured Zoey, with a lighter skin tone and brown hair, and thin red lips. "This is Gloria," he introduced Gloria to the twins, who gave a shy wave. "This is Sean," he brought Sean into the doorway so Jilly could stare him down. "And this is Lance," he brought Lance to the middle.
"Are you a girl?" Jilly asked immediately, and Diego rolled his eyes.
"No, Jilly," Lance seemed to think it was funny. "She's definitely your daughter," Lance then remarked, moving on to meet and greet Julian, who seemed to know that Lance was Daddy's friend, seeing them together on television and made an effort to talk to the funny red man. He would have been a lot more at ease if he could do anything without his son attached to him, but he was even starting to get used to being in the shower or on the toilet with Julian at the very least in the room with him. If he didn't agree, then the little guy would cry at the door and it broke Diego's heart.
After he directed his friends to their rooms - Rachel would sleep in Diego's bed, as usual, and Gloria, Lance and Sean would work out sleeping arrangements in the spare room's double bed and the extra mattress. Ollie had his own plans with his family during the week and stayed home. Had this meant Sean and Diego would spend time alone he'd have been thrilled, but he was a little sad Ollie wasn't with them. He didn't know what he thought about Ollie. He liked the man a lot, but he was the one that held Sean's heart. Dinner was thankfully uneventful.
Seafood Caesar salad was on the menu, with a chicken alternative for Nina's seafood allergy and a vegetarian substitute for Gloria, who praised Diego's thoughtfulness. Julian managed to sit on his own for most of the meal before eventually slinking over and sitting on his dad's lap. Jilly was messy with her food, but she failed to throw a tantrum. Nina was too busy alternating between her undying love for Lance and her attraction to Sean to get into any trouble. Diego had thought about getting a babysitter to keep the kids occupied for the night, but they turned out to be a big hit. Gloria, Lance and Sean were so enamoured with them that Diego almost began to feel ignored in comparison.
"Now, I don't know about everyone else," Gloria started giggling, and Diego wasn't sure why. "But I'm thinking pool party."
"That is an excellent idea!" Lance agreed, and Nina repeated his comment, mimicking his accent.
"Oh, a pool? Awesome!" Sean beamed, and Diego's eyes rotated between the three of them, who were all grinning.
"Ahh--" Diego chuckled, not sure what was happening. "If you brought your swim gear, then sure."
"I told them you have a pool," Rachel rolled her eyes, eliciting laughs. "That's all they've been talking about since Saturday. Pool party at Diego's house."
"Hey, if you've all packed your bathing suits and stuff, then I'm cool with that," Diego shrugged. "I just don't know why I'm the last person to find out about a pool party in my pool!"
"I swear I texted you," Rachel replied, and Diego chuckled.
"No, you did not." She was always on that stupid phone, so Diego didn't understand why she didn't take ten seconds to let him be ready for it. "It's fine, though. What about you kids? Do you want to come for a night swim?"
"Yes!" Nina shot away in the direction of her room without bothering to clear her bowl, but he didn't bother to reprimand her.
"Okay," Julian was up for it, but Diego knew that even if the boy didn't want to, he would if it meant he'd be close to Daddy.
"No!" Jilly scowled, and Diego sighed internally. He couldn't just leave her alone in the house unsupervised. Maybe he should have sprung for a babysitter after all, but he hadn't been expecting this.
"Why don't we get changed?" Gloria suggested, and with the go-ahead from Diego, the three of them excitedly vanished in the direction of the spare room with all the hyperactive energy his daughter had. Rachel followed a little less enthusiastically. He at least hoped Gloria would wear something that suitably covered some of the more risqué tattoos on her bottom and her feet. There were a few questions Nina might ask that he wasn't quite ready to answer yet.
"Diego, can I ask you something?" Lance returned quickly and gave a tut of disapproval as he saw him trying to clear the table with one injured knee and one arm holding up his kid.
"Yeah, sure," Diego replied, watching Lance do the job for him ten times faster, stacking the empty bowls and walking them over to the sink.
"Can I talk to Daddy alone just for a minute, Julian?" Lance asked with a sweet, warm smile.
"Okay," Julian let Diego put him down and sat back at the table, watching intently. What is it with that kid lately? Every week he seemed to be more and more desperate and needy.
"What's with all those bruises?" Lance stood close to Diego and asked him quietly. He'd swapped his green contacts for the red ones again since Diego spoke to him on the phone, and his lips and nails were red as well. Did Lance listen to his advice about switching back to his best colour?
"On Julian?" Diego asked, and Lance nodded. He looked angry. "I know this sounds awful, but I don't know. I'm pretty sure it's his sister. Jilly bullies him a lot."
"Well, I don't know what it's like here," Lance turned to look at Julian, who was trying his best to eavesdrop from where he was sitting. "You're not hitting him, are you?"
"Excuse me?" Diego hissed at him, but Lance stood his ground. "I would never hurt my kids. Never. How could you even say that?"
"I'm sorry Diego," Lance answered softly, spinning and leaning next to his nemesis on the counter. "I didn't think it was you, but I had to ask, you know? Look, I noticed it the moment I saw him. Those bruises, I mean."
"What? You're a bruise expert?" Diego asked him sarcastically.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, you can call me a bruise expert," Lance replied, ignoring the nastiness in Diego's tone. "I've had hundreds of them from people hitting me. I know exactly what they look like, and Julian has them."
"Did your parents beat you, Lance?" Diego asked uncomfortably.
"No," Lance surprised him with the answer. "My parents love me, actually, so much that my dad used to have a lot of sleepovers in the slammer because he bashed up anyone who bashed me. I wish you'd stop thinking you know anything about me or my life, Diego. I'm just saying I've had more than my share of beatings and I know that someone is beating your kid, but I don't think it's Jillian. From what I can see, I'm sure she's not strong enough to leave welts like that."
"I don't know, unfortunately. Apparently, Jilly lays into him while they're at their mother's... house..." Diego felt his blood go cold, then raging hot when the light bulb finally clicked in his head. "Zoey!" It made sense all of a sudden, why Julian would so desperately try to cling to his father when she came to pick him up, why he would escape her the second he could. Julian obviously loved Diego more than his mother, and to rub salt in the wounds, he also looked exactly like his father. She was taking that out on him. You bitch!
"Zoey is their mother?" Lance asked, putting a hand on Diego's shoulder. "I don't want to tell you how to run your life and your kids, but if she's the one who is hurting him, you need to stop her."
"I have the kids until Thursday afternoon," Diego replied, feeling numb. "Can you please keep this between us? I'll make the call tomorrow morning so I don't ruin this stupid pool party. I haven't seen Julian enjoying himself in a while; I don't want to ruin it for him just yet."
"Yeah, sure," Lance nodded, walking towards the spare room, his shoes clacking loud on the hardwood floor. He gave Julian an affectionate pat on the shoulder on his way past. Julian, oh my god, kid. I am so sorry I didn't notice so long ago. Jilly, I'm so sorry I didn't believe you. Oh my god. I let you both down big time. I'm going to make it up to you both.
"Come here," Diego fought tears back, and Julian shot towards him like a lightning bolt. "Let's go for a swim, okay?" On his way to the twins' room to get his son changed into his swimming trunks, he passed Rachel. "Babe, I'm just gonna get the kids sorted, can you get the pool lights on and make sure nobody drowns before I get there? I won't be long," he pleaded, and she looked at him funny.
"Yeah, no sweat, are you alright?" Rachel furrowed her brow, but Diego brushed her off.
"It's cool," Diego nodded. They were going to talk in the morning.
When he stripped off Julian's t-shirt and shorts, he saw the different colours on his little boy's skin. Yellow, brown, purple, orange, blue. Some were old and some were new.
"Mommy's been hurting you, hasn't she?" Diego asked him.
"Yes," Julian admitted, beginning to cry. He never seemed to speak more than one word at a time these days.
"Are you sore right now?" Diego sniffed, tears welling in his eyes.
"No," Julian shook his head.
"Okay," Diego gently hugged him so as not to put any pressure on any of the bruises on his son's body. Maybe he should have called the doctor right away, but his son seemed to be enjoying himself with the funny people from tv - even speaking with them. After weeks of seeing Julian mope and mute and cry, he didn't want a doctor's appointment or investigation to put him through a whole new wave of trauma just yet. In the morning, he promised silently. First thing, we're going to get you sorted out. For now, try to have fun, little man.
"Jilly, come outside please," he spoke while he put on Julian's swimming vest and trunks. He didn't want more questions.
"No! I don't want to swim!" Jilly complained.
"Then don't swim. Bring as many toys as you like, but I want you outside," Diego wasn't feeling patient with her today. Whether or not Zoey was the one who was beating Julian, he still knew that Jilly was an aggressive, angry girl. Perhaps that was why Diego didn't think of it for so long.
"I can bring my blocks?" Jilly asked. It would be a bitch to clean up afterwards, but this was as close to a compromise as he would get from her without a tantrum, so he gave her his blessing and brought her swimsuit with him just in case she changed her mind.
Jilly ran ahead and Julian was comfortable enough to walk a few steps in front. The three of them arrived in time to see Sean run up and do a somersault dive into the deep end of the pool to applause from Gloria, who was in the water, and Lance, who was sitting on the edge with his legs and feet submerged. Nina was with them, splashing and playing on the inflatable alligator. Rachel was lying on a poolside recliner, texting on her phone. He had no idea who she was texting because most of her good friends were already here. Maybe she was lying about not having an affair. Who knows? It's not like I'm one to judge her for that, Diego thought. Every week he and Sean had been covertly having a make-out session until one of them started to feel guilty and stopped.
Rachel had the iPod dock with her and was playing a selection of her favourite songs for the group to enjoy, and she'd also had the foresight to fill the cooler with ice and a range of beers and wine coolers. Jilly was happy to play near Rachel, who was useless at supervising, but after he closed and secured the gate behind him, he wasn't worried about her. Julian didn't appreciate the inflatable armbands, but Diego was firm with him - without them, the kid sank like a damn brick. Wow, the pool was gorgeous at night with the underwater lights turned on. Rachel chose to put the red ones on, probably to make Lance happy. It almost looked though they were swimming in a vat of blood.
"Play nice with your brother," Diego warned Nina as Julian nervously slid himself into the water next to her.
"Diego! Can I visit every week?" Sean giggled, his head bobbing on the other side of the pool, covered in his long, wet hair.
"You look like the grudge!" Lance yelled, and he and Sean both laughed.
"Hey Gloria," Diego succeeded in removing his knee brace and tore off his shirt before sliding into the water. He still needed to keep weight off his knee, but there was no harm in getting in the pool unless he got carried away. "Can you come over and have a chat with me?"
"Ooh, a secret? Gossip? A plot?" Gloria cackled before using one hand to propel herself around the circular edge, getting over to Diego.
"An apology," Diego smiled shyly, taking a sip from the beer in his hand.
"My little starling," she pecked him on the cheek and hugged him.
"You know, you were right about what you said to me that day," Diego started, and Gloria chugged on her wine cooler like it was water and she'd spent the last week in the desert. "When my daughters get older, they are so freaking screwed. I have no idea what the hell I'm going to say to them when they get old enough to date and buy tampons and wow, I'm already blushing just thinking about that."
"I think you should tell them that it's okay to punch a guy if he doesn't take no for an answer," Gloria laughed. "You might not be good with everything, but I'm sure there are things will be good with. Teach them never to try and date a guy like you."
"Yeah, well, that's a start," Diego giggled. "I think back to me as a teenager, and I tell you Glo, if Nina brings home someone like me, I'll throw him through the kitchen table. I need to tell you how sorry I am for what I said about... you not having kids. That was probably the worst thing I've ever said to you."
"It was," Gloria looked over to Lance, who was now having fun with Sean, Nina and Julian. "Lance was so sweet to me, though. He and I bonded over our hatred of you that day, and we worked twice as hard and made a lot of progress, I think. So it wasn't for nothing. Still, you don't ever play that card with me, Diego. People say that to me, of course, but I never thought I'd hear it from you."
"I'm sorry. I really am," Diego turned to her, and she looked back at him and smiled.
"I already forgave you, love! When you called me and told me you wanted to say sorry in person, that was good enough for me. I just wanted to hear the rest out of curiosity and narcissism," she kissed him on the cheek.
"Oh, you had me stewing all week!" Diego laughed and splashed at her. Gloria gasped and splashed him right back, and the two frolicked for a short while until Gloria got Diego in a headlock and threatened to drown him. He was the stronger of the two - but not by a significant margin, and his crook knee meant she could easily carry out her threat. On the other side of the pool, he heard Lance crying out for mercy. At some point, Sean had picked the bigger guy up and was carrying him towards the water. Diego laughed as Sean leapt into the water, creating a huge splash and a shriek of terror from Lance.
"You're a twat!" Lance was laughing and the two started to play fight together. They were kids. Lance was twenty-two, and Sean was twenty-four. Wow, I'm robbing the cradle on that one.
"One more thing Glo," he tapped her on the shoulder before she swam away. "How would you feel about maybe being more involved with my kids?"
"What do you mean?" She asked, all flippancy and cheek gone. She was solemn and almost shocked.
"Well, I don't want to talk much about it tonight, but the spit's about the hit the fan with Zoey, and I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I might need some help with the twins soon," he admitted, and she moved closer.
"If you need help with anything, you only ever need to ask," she looked over to where Julian was paddling in circles, and over to Jilly, who was having fun building towers and kicking them over. "They're beautiful kids, Diego. I don't know why you haven't let me visit them before. I'd be honoured to see more of them, especially if there's trouble. Anything for you."
The merriment and fun continued. Rachel and Jilly never showed any interest in getting in, but everybody else had a terrific time. There were several entertaining chicken fights. With Sean and Nina on the shoulders of Lance and Gloria respectively, the girls won all three times, and Diego wasn't even sure if Sean was intentionally letting Nina win or if Gloria and Nina were genuinely a dynamite duo. Gloria also let Julian have a turn on her shoulders and Sean put his incredible selling talent to good use, comically throwing himself off Lance's shoulders as though he'd been hit by a wrecking ball when Julian's little arms gave him a push. Diego would have enjoyed participating, but his knee kept him from anything physical.
Eventually, Diego wound up the courage to have his second deep conversation to the night and followed Lance, who was having a peaceful float around on the colossal inflatable swan while Sean and Gloria played with the kids.
"Thank you for inviting me," Lance was the first to speak, cautiously turning on his side without either spilling his glass of shiraz or falling off the toy. "I'm glad you did. I've really enjoyed myself for... probably the first time this year. It's been a pretty lonely time."
"I feel like I had a little something to do with that," Diego sighed guiltily. He had his arms on the toy next to Lance's chest, drifting around in the deep end. "I have no idea how to make up all of that to you. I'm so sorry for everything I said and everything I did. You were right. I am an egocentric, homophobic bellend."
"Hah!" Lance laughed at that. "Yeah, you are, but you're making an effort."
"Can you forgive me?" Diego asked, the words still tasting like poison.
"I don't know," Lance shook his head. "I'm grateful for the apology and I'm so happy to hear you ask for my forgiveness... but I'm not ready yet. I need some time."
"Yeah, I can't fault you for that," Diego was bitterly disappointed that he hadn't managed to bury the hatchet. He tries his goddamn best.
"Hey, you can consider yourself off the hook if you like," Lance added, perhaps sensing that the apology was going sour. "All I ever really wanted was for you to treat me like I matter. We don't have to be friends. I just... some mutual respect, you know? I want you to respect me as a person."
Lance sniffed and Diego sighed. He didn't want tears. Lance looked a little odd. The dunk in the pool had helped him wash most of his makeup off. There were some pink lips under all that lip gloss. He wondered what he'd find under the hair dye and the contact lenses.
"My kids are the most important things in the world to me," Diego broke the silence after a short while.
"I noticed," Lance wiped his eyes.
"I believed Zoey when she told me Jilly was the one beating up Julian," Diego mumbled, looking over at his youngest daughter. She was starting to throw her blocks through the gaps in the fence around the pool. Terrific. The gardener wasn't going to be happy next time he popped by to mow the lawn and went over some lego pieces that Diego failed to find on his scavenger hunt. "Off the record, Jillian is a complete cow. I don't think there's been a day in the last year or so she hasn't beaten up her brother. It wasn't a bad assumption to think it was her, was it?"
"No, don't beat yourself up," Lance reassured him and put his hand on his arm. "You know now, and you can do something about it."
"But I probably wouldn't know if you didn't come and talk to me earlier," Diego replied. "I would have just sent both kids right back to her on Thursday and wondered why Julian was coming back with a fresh bruise next Monday. I'm not sure how to thank you, Lance. You said you only ever wanted me to treat you like you matter, well... right now, you're probably the person I'm most grateful to have in my life. I don't even know the words to tell you how much I appreciate what you did for my boy and me."
Lance put his red nails to his no longer red lips, and he looked so touched.
"You're... welcome," Lance said uncomfortably, sipping from his glass. "Okay... we're not friends and we probably never will be, but I'm happy I came tonight. Seeing you with your kids has been... eye-opening, I guess. I hated you before today, but when you're with Jillian, Julian and Nina, you're such an amazing dad. So you don't have to worry about this vendetta between us. I know that even if we don't like each other, you're still a good person."
"That's pretty much what I'm feeling too," Diego managed to smile. A smile, in a conversation with Lovecraft? Before tonight, he never would have entertained the idea. "I'll never forget what you did for Julian. If you ever decide to forgive me for the way I treated you for so long, I'll buy you a drink some time. You still owe me that pint if I remember."
"Right, because you made me cry," Lance remembered, a poignant tone in his voice. "I almost miss those days, you know? It was a lot easier to know where I stood with you. Still, this is nice, too. I hope you'll invite me back again, even if I'm the last person you want to hang out with."
"Will you still let me teach you how to wrestle?" Diego asked after a short while. Lance looked incredulous. "Only if you want me to!" Diego added.
"I... you don't have to do that," Lance said, making efforts to sit up and letting his feet back in the water. He painted his toenails red too. Ew.
"It's your call, okay?" Diego shifted backwards. "If you can forgive me for the things I said last time, I'll be happy to teach you everything I know. It's the least I can do for you."
"Thanks," Lance hopped off the giant swan and submerged himself completely, but managed to keep his glass above water. Freaking weirdo, Diego thought as the two waded back over to Sean, Gloria, Julian and Nina. A weirdo he may be, but if Lance didn't talk to him about what he thought was going on with Julian, then he didn't want to think about what might happen. He was going to make that call tomorrow. But for now, he just wanted everyone to be happy.
Thanks to everyone who reads To The Stars! You guys rock!