Pumpkin Shell, Part 2

 

(This takes place a couple of years after the original “Pumpkin Shell” story.)

Two shots. Two shots ripped through the fabric of the night, tearing Jamie
from his sleep. He sat up as if his spine were spring-loaded. He had no time
to wonder what was going on before --

"Eeeeeee! Daddy Jamieeeeee! Daddy Deriiiiiiiian!"

Father's instinct gave his feet wings, wings that took him straight to Marshmallow's
room. He found her sitting up in bed, too, sobbing in fear. She had never heard
something so loud and terrifying before.

Jamie scooped her up into his arms and laid low behind her mattress. She felt like a tiny, fluttering heart wrapped in flannel. Something tickled the back of Jamie’s neck, and he gasped before he realized it was only Fuf, the stuffed marshmallow that one of the Stars’ wives had made, held tightly in Marshmallow’s little fingers.

"Loud," Marshmallow whimpered, clinging hard to his neck.

"I know, sweet Marshmallow."

"Where's Daddy Derian?"

The question piled shock upon shock. Where was Daddy Derian? Whenever Marshmallow was scared, it was Daddy Derian she called for.

Jamie couldn't remember if he saw Derian in bed when the shots rang out. He could have woken for a late-night snack, and be calling 9-1-1 right now. Or...he could be lying in a pool of his own blood.

Jamie bit his lip. He could leave this room and look for Derian. Or stay here and protect Marshmallow. He couldn't do both.

Footsteps came down hard in the hallway. Jamie crouched down even lower.

"Jamie. Jamie!"

Jamie's breath caught in his throat. Oh God, that voice never sounded so beautiful.

A silhouette appeared in the frame of Marshmallow's door. Jamie lifted his head carefully, his hand still enclosed over Marshmallow.

"I'm sorry about that, Jamie. I thought I heard an intruder, but it was only a ... antelope -- " Derian's voice stopped.

Jamie stood up fully now, his eyes no longer looking at Derian's face, but at the object in Derian's hand, an object Jamie had not known about until this second. That object was enough to turn fear and concern into anger.

"Daddy Derian," called Marshmallow.

"Yes, Daddy Derian's okay." Jamie cloaked his anger with tenderness, for Marshmallow's sake. "It's all going to be okay."

But not between you and me, Derian.

* * *

Derian returned the gun to the locked storage box only he knew the location of. Then, he stood silently in the hallway, listening to Jamie comforting Marshmallow and wrestling with his own conscience.

Damn, he'd broken one of the stone-engraved rules of responsible gun ownership: never
fire unless you know your target. My God, what if the creature making the grass crunch outside had been Jamie?

He'd scared Marshmallow, too, and for no good reason. He felt a guilty pleasure about

being the daddy she turned to whenever she was scared. Daddy Jamie provided food and play...but Daddy Derian provided safety.

And isn't that why you applied for the license, bought the gun and learned how to shoot -- so you could protect Marshmallow from the kooks who hated her daddies?

The quiet closing of Marshmallow's door interrupted Derian's thoughts. Jamie was in the hallway with him now. He looked into Derian's eyes...then turned and headed for the living room.

Derian let his head dip. They had made a pact never to argue in the bedroom. The upcoming conversation was not going to be pleasant at all.

* * *

When Derian entered the living room, he found Jamie standing with his arms crossed

across his bare chest. His thick brown hair seemed to be bristling from his scalp.

Derian's chin dipped in shame, anticipating the tirade to come. Jamie may have the face of an angel. But if you cross him, on or off the ice...you'll come face-to-face with a man of steel.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Derian?" Each word shot from Jamie's mouth like a bullet. "You bring a gun into a home with a small child? Are you out of your mind? I thought you had more sense and responsibility than that."

Derian had no honest reply to that, except to say, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have fired so recklessly.”

“The reckless thing is to have it here in the first place.” Jamie shuddered. “I don’t even want to think of what would happen if Marshmallow found that thing.”

“She’s not going to ‘find’ it. It’s in a locked box hidden deep inside the house.”

“But what if you forget to put it away?”

“I won’t forget, Jamie. Not ever. And besides, a two-year-old isn’t strong enough to pull the trigger of a .45.”

“A two-year old, maybe. But what about when she turns four? Six? Eight? What if one of her friends comes over and finds it? Derian, there are ominous vibes that come with a deadly weapon. I won’t going to have my baby live in the same house with a gun, I just won’t."

Derian didn't know what was more galling...Jamie's saying "my baby", or his belief in “ominous vibes”. That was nearly as bad as the belief that a gun could crawl out of its storage box by itself and start firing.

"Well, I'll be goddamned if I let some nutjob harm my baby," he shouted back.

"Remember the time I showed you the letters from people who, to put it nicely, didn't like us too well? What do you think would happen if one of them found out where we lived?”

“People who write letters like that are just letting off steam, Der. You can't take them too seriously.”

“Oh, really?” Jamie's innocence, normally charming to Derian, was now becoming very dangerous. “Tell me...what would you do if someone broke into the house?"

"What I did tonight...I'll take Marshmallow and hide in a safe place."

"See those front doors, Jamie? They're made of wood. All the doors in the house are made of wood. A bullet can cut through wood like a hot knife through butter. A door is no protection against someone with a gun and an itch to kill. That is why you have to fight fire with fire."

"But he can fire first."

"I won't make that mistake," replied Derian, forgetting the one he made that night.

"I'd rather see us run from danger."

"Running is chickenshit. What's true on the ice is true in real life."

"But there are no guns in hockey!" Jamie's cheeks flushed red with outrage. "Derian, the Wild West has come and gone. This isn't a fucking macho contest, especially when our child's life is at stake!"

"I AM thinking about our child's life!" roared Derian. "And I'm going to protect her, with or without your permission!"

"Daddies?"

The third voice in the living room silenced Jamie and Derian cold.

Marshmallow looked up at them with her curious turquoise eyes, a small white letter “i” in the darkness of the living room. She held on to Fuf, whose two appliqued eyes seemed to reproach the two men.

"Daddies loud," she added. "Marshmallow can’t sleep. Fuf can‘t sleep, either."

Jamie and Derian simply looked at each other. What could they say?

"Daddies angry?"

"No...” said Derian. “Not really."

Derian kneeled down so that he was close to Marshmallow's level. Jamie covered his mouth to hide a giggle. It was so achingly cute to see giant Derian next to tiny Marshmallow...he was her hero, and he worshipped her.

"Daddy Jamie and I don't always see things the same way. We get really excited, and when we're excited...we're loud." His cheeks flushed at the double meaning. "But we're sorry for waking you."

He scooped Marshmallow into his arms, and she smiled, her problems forgotten.

"Daddy Derian put Marshmallow and Fuf in bed now?" she asked.

"Yes, Daddy Derian put Marshmallow and Fuf in bed."

Jamie kissed her forehead.

"Good night, sweet Marshmallow Fluff."

“Good night, Daddy Jamie.” She kissed him back on the nose.

Jamie watched them go down the hallway, Marshmallow's small head notched atop
Derian's shoulder. A lump grew in his throat.

That was why Derian bought the gun. It had nothing to do with macho...and everything
to do with that small bundle of fluff who needed her daddies to stand between her and the evil of the world.

And I called him irresponsible...am I full of it, or what?

* * *

After Derian tucked Marshmallow into bed, he let out a sigh of gratitude that she wasn't afraid of him, that she didn’t associate him with gunfire. Then, he returned to the living room to continue his discussion with Jamie...in a much softer voice.

Jamie wasn't there.

Derian snapped his head around. Did Jamie go into the bathroom? He looked down the darkened hallway and found light shining under a door...the master bedroom door.

Derian hesitated. Did this mean the argument was over? Or had Jamie simply gone back to bed, intending to pick it up at dawn's early light?

He turned the door handle.

Jamie was seated at the edge of the bed, in a “waiting” pose. Derian braced himself for re-engagement...until he saw that the righteous anger of before had disappeared, leaving nothing but remorse.

"I don't know if I'll ever be able to handle a gun," he said in a soft, slow voice. "But I don't mind if you do, Der." He looked up at him with those devastating Oreo eyes. "It's all about Marshmallow.”

“It sure is, Jamie.” Derian quietly shut the door. “You know...maybe we both did the right thing tonight. Only one of us can go out and investigate. Only one of us can hide Marshmallow. We need to work together, Jamie...not fight it out.”

“It’s much more fun to be lovers than fighters.”

Jamie grasped Derian’s hand and pulled him into bed next to him. Derian laughed in shock at this unusual bold gesture, until Jamie silenced him with a kiss.

“On the ice and off, you’re a true protector, Der. And I love you for it.”

“I love you, too, Jamie. And I’m going to keep you and Marshmallow safe. I promise.”

Jamie felt warm all over, as if he’d just tasted chicken noodle soup. It was all going to turn out all right. He knew that evil didn’t stand a chance if it ever brushed up against Big D.