Home > Respect

Author: Susan Fanetti




Duncan Helm pinched the edge of the tape with one hand and pointed his index finger with the other. “You’re not gonna do it to me this time, right? We’re buds, and you wouldn’t hit a bud in the face twice, right?”

Ethan grinned up at him and said nothing. Like most two-month-olds, he mostly kept his thoughts to himself.

A couple hours ago, right after Kelsey and Dex left for some fancy veterinarian dinner thing—Dex was wearing a suit and tie!—Ethan had gifted his good ol’ UncaDunc with a blow-out diaper and then a surprise golden shower. That had never happened before, and Duncan meant it never to happen again. Not. Cool.

With a cloth diaper at the ready, Duncan released the last tape and opened the Huggie. He dropped the cloth over Ethan’s tiny package and did the move he’d learned when Tildy was this little, slipping a clean diaper under the dirty one. This time the dirty one was only wet, so the cleanup was much easier. A couple wipe-swipes, a couple dabs of cream on the little rashy spot on his tush, flip, tuck, tape, done.

Getting Ethan’s squirmy little feet back into the footie pajamas was the hard part. Ethan was way calmer than his big sister, but he did not like clothes. After a mini MMA bout, Duncan got the pajamas zipped and faced the irritated frown of his nephew.

“Okay, dude.” He picked Ethan up, and grinned when the baby did that cool stretch thing, like being gripped under his arms was the best thing ever. “Let’s get back out there before big sis sets fire to something.”

He settled Ethan on his shoulder and left the nursery, wending his way through three dogs. Kelsey and Dex had six dogs, but the pack must have convened a planning meeting, because they always broke into two groups when their children were separated. Charlie and Ripper, the biggest of the pack—Belgian Malinois and Doberman, respectively—always headed up the groups. It was eerie how that all worked out.

Rowdy, the Helm family dog, was a great dog—loyal friend, good protector, the works—but kind of a dork and not exactly a genius. Duncan couldn’t imagine him being as organized as Charlie or Ripper.

Maybe it was Charlie’s military training. He and Dex had been Marines together.

Ripper, Lenny, and George followed Duncan and Ethan back to the living room, where they found Tildy, a two-and-a-half-year-old wrecking ball, sitting quietly on her Minnie Mouse couch. Her chubby legs were propped on Mr. Darcy’s furry back, one hand clutched Charlie’s fur, and the other thumb was firmly planted in her mouth. They were all watching Frosty the Snowman for about the seven trillionth time.

It was a week into the new year and Christmas was done and packed away, but Tildy didn’t give a fuck.

When he came into the room, Tildy looked over and unplugged her mouth. “HAPPY BIRFDAY, UNCADUNC!”

Tildy’s parents were trying to teach her about ‘inside voice,’ but the lesson wasn’t sticking so far. If she was amped—which made up ninety percent of her waking hours—she was yelling. Duncan was supposed to try to get her to repeat things in a softer voice, but he thought she was hilarious, and he got to go home (or at least not be in charge anymore) before he was sick of her many antics.

So he laughed. “Well, thank you, angel. But it’s not my birthday.”


“Okay. Well, happy birthday, Tildy Wildy.” He sat on the sectional behind Tildy’s little pink couch and settled Ethan on his lap so he could see the TV, too. He liked to watch the colors and moving images.

Lizzie, their long-haired chihuahua, jumped up and settled against Duncan’s hip. The other dogs settled into their usual places.

Ninety seconds later, Tildy got up from her personal throne and came to him. When she set her hands on his knee and tried to climb up, Dex caught her with his free hand and pulled her onto his lap. She gave her little brother an ambivalent look—still not convinced he was a keeper—and settled into her spot on UncaDunc’s thigh.

It was a Friday night. Duncan was a twenty-five-year-old, single man. He was in good shape, and his looks weren’t bad. He made decent money. He was a member in good standing of the Brazen Bulls MC. He liked girls—a lot, in fact—and loved sex. Sure, he could have gone out tonight and found some action. Plenty of Friday nights he did exactly that. But on this Friday night he was happy where he was.

There was nothing in the world better than this right here.


“Again!” Tildy demanded at a fairly normal volume.

The one time the girl was quiet and pliable was bedtime. Baths really mellowed her out. Kelsey joked that they’d store her in lavender-scented warm water if they could figure out how to keep her from getting all pruney.

“Nope,” Duncan replied. “Four times is my limit on reading the same story over and over. UncaDunc is done.” He set This Story Is Not About a Kitten on top of Tildy’s bookcase. Three shelves crammed with books, and most of them had been loved to tatters.

“But I like it!”

“I know. I like it, too. And tomorrow you can read it again. But now, it’s time to tuck up all cozy in your little house and go to sleep. You can tell yourself the story again in your dreams.”

For her second birthday in August, Duncan and his father had built her a ‘toddler bed.’ Dad had found the plans online: a platform sized for a crib mattress, and then a frame above it like a little cabin. The plans had been pretty basic, just the frame, meant to be covered in fabric to make more of a tent than a cabin, but they’d customized it, giving it a roof with curved wood shingles and real plank walls, with a shuttered window and a little flower box filled with fabric flowers.

The roof was on hinges, as were two sides, for ease of making the bed, and so she couldn’t get trapped in it somehow (if anybody could figure out how, it was Tildy). It was badass, and she loved it.

Was she spoiled? No. She was loved.

Duncan got her tucked in with her chosen stuffies for the night. Her parents allowed her three and only three, otherwise she’d cram the house full and probably smother herself. Tonight she chose a lion she’d gotten for Christmas, a ratty bunny she’d had since before she was born, and a little purple alien-looking thing that probably came out of a fast-food kids’ meal.

“Okay,” he said as he smoothed her blankets over her. “Gimme smooches.” He wedged his shoulders in and got a round of sloppy kisses from his favorite girl. “Love you, Tildy Wildy. Good sleeps, okay?”

She nodded and rolled to her side.

On Duncan’s way to the door, he picked up some toys and put them away. This room had been Dex’s office, and before he’d been a husband and father he’d built the closet out to store whatever he’d needed to store in his office. The whole thing was shelves and cubbies. Dex said he was going to turn it back into a clothes closet eventually, but Duncan thought they could put it off for a while. Tildy’s clothes were tiny, and the cubbies worked great for toys.

“UncaDunc?” Tildy called, her voice already fuzzy with coming sleep, as Duncan reached the door.

He turned back. She was leaning out her little door, the ratty rabbit choked in her fist.

“Yeah, angel?”

“Efan go wif you, okay?”

The transition from only child to big sister wasn’t going so well yet. Tildy was used to being the center of attention, and babies took up most of the real estate there. She had some notes.

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