“’Cause I do.”

“How does he know that?”

“’Cause I don’t keep it hidden. Two things a man should have: this”— here, he cupped his crotch in his hand and shoved it in Rosie’s general direction—“and this”—at which he pulled back his flannel shirt to reveal a gun in a holster behind his right hip.

“Did you threaten him?” said Penn.



“Ain’t a him, friend.”

“Did you threaten our child?” Rosie did not want to get diverted into semantics and pronoun battles. There was something more at stake here.

“I told him we don’t play with faggots, we don’t play with girls, we don’t play with boys dressed as girls, and he was no longer welcome in our home or anywhere near my kid—not at the park, not at school, not on the playground, nowhere.”

Penn felt his brain flood with one desire only: to beat the shit out of this guy. That Penn was a lover not a fighter, a writer not a wrestler, seemed not to matter. Nor that he’d never been in a fistfight in his life. Nor that it was probably a bad idea to punch in the face a man whose face he couldn’t quite reach, its being several inches over his head, a face surrounded by forty extra pounds that Penn had not, a face backed up—as he’d been pointedly shown—by an actual gun. He tried to replace the vision of Nick’s bloody face with his own, Rosie looking down at it. He made himself imagine what Rosie would look like looking at him bleeding from a stomach wound in front of this asshole’s house.

In contrast, Rosie had seen men with guns before. She’d cleaned up their messes in the ER. She’d treated them around the handcuffs with which they were locked to their gurneys. She’d saved their lives so they could be transferred from hospital to jail, patient to prisoner. She was afraid of men with guns. But she was not cowed by them.

She dropped to a knee and peeked behind Nick Calcutti to his son. “Nicky, sweetie, are you okay?”


“When’s your mom getting home?”

“She said eleven thirty, but she doesn’t like to drive when her nails are wet.”

“Jesus Christ.” Nick Sr. was on to other complaints now. Forget his son’s transgender playmate, his wife’s manicure habit could not be more annoying. Then he came back to Penn, who remained an uncomfortably small number of inches from his chest. “I’ll thank you to get the hell off my property.”

Penn opened his mouth to reply, but Rosie beat him to it. “We’d like nothing more. But we’ll stay with Nicky until Cindy gets home.”

“You think I can’t take care of my own son?” Nick cut the few inches between his chest and Penn’s in half. “Coming from you, I take that as a compliment.”

“As you wish,” said Rosie.

“If you don’t get the fuck off my lawn,” Nick replied, “I’m calling the cops.”

“Please,” said Penn. “Please call the cops.”

Nick reached out with both hands and shoved Penn hard enough to knock him down. Maybe not hard enough. Maybe Penn was just surprised. Maybe Penn was just incredulous to find himself in a low-budget action film all of a sudden. Nick closed the gap he’d made between them by stepping up between Penn’s legs and standing over him. Rosie had taken out her phone and dialed the nine and the one in which tiny, tiny blink of time, Cindy pulled up, got out of her car, and came to understand what had transpired in an instant. It was not, unfortunately, her first time.

“Cindy, he has a gun,” said Rosie.

“I know.” Cindy’s eyes were on her husband, something more than rueful but nowhere close to fear. That’s when Rosie became angry. Cindy knew her husband had a gun, but she’d left Rosie’s child with him anyway. Cindy knew her husband was a sexist, bigoted asshole, and yet she’d gone to get her nails done. Cindy’s desire to play nicely in order to convince a judge to give her more time with her own child had put Rosie’s in significant danger. Rosie briefly wondered which was stronger: Nick Sr.’s loyalty to the mother of his son or Nick Sr.’s anger toward the mother of his son and how he might feel about Rosie borrowing his gun and shooting off one of Cindy’s newly lavender toes.

Penn stood and brushed himself off. Rosie could think of not a single thing more to say. She turned, taking Penn’s hand as she did so, and headed back toward the van. She’d have to come back later for her car, but she could not imagine getting into it alone right now nor operating it, hard as she was shaking, nor watching her family head home without her. Cindy ushered her own family into her house.

“Why do you let our son play with faggots and assholes?” Rosie heard Nick say just before the door closed.

In the van, her phone buzzed almost instantly with an email from Cindy. The subject line said “Sorry:(”

Rosie deleted it without reading.


On the way home from the Calcuttis’, they stopped for ice cream. Much as Rosie and Penn both felt as unhungry, at least for food, as they ever had in their lives, Penn’s offer to get soft serve was greeted from the backseat with the relief of refugees. If Dad wants ice cream, it must not have been the big deal it looked like it was through the windows. If Mom is willing to stop for treats on the way home, what happened to Poppy can’t have been that terrible. If they’re hungry—and for sugar—the kids had been worrying over nothing.