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A Properly Raised Child
Lucy’s family boards the boat at sunset. She claps to see the water lit up all golden. Her two dads laugh and herd her along to their cabin, lugging suitcases and baggage. Lucy runs ahead, her backpack bouncing on her back. Her dads call out directions as they turn from corridor to corridor. Lucy finds herself at the top of a grand, red-carpeted staircase. She prances and twirls her way down it, calling to her dads, “I’m a princess now!”
“You’re always our princess,” Daddy tells her.
She laughs and almost careens into a large man with a ruddy, sun-burnt face.
The man chuckles. “Startle ya’, did I?”
“No,” she says defiantly.
“Oh, a brave little girl, are ya’?
Lucy snorts. She is not a little girl. She is a big girl.
“Come on and stop pestering the poor thing,” a woman standing behind the man says. “Don’t mind my husband, dear. He comes off worse than he is.”
The man grins at his wife and moves away.
Lucy and her family finally find their way to their cabin. Lucy dumps her bag on the ground and flops onto the white beds.
“You can’t be tired yet, Lucy,” Papa grins. “We’ve just arrived.”
Lucy groans and dramatically flings her arm over her eyes.
“We could explore the ship.” The bed sinks as Daddy sits next to her.
“We could go swimming.” The bed shifts again as Papa climbs onto it.
“Or we could find out where the food is. I bet they have chocolate around here somewhere.”
Lucy sits up at that. “Chocolate?”
The dining hall is very big. They don’t find any chocolate and Lucy has to make due with an apple.
A loud horn sounds. Lucy drops her half-eaten apple.
“That’s the boat shoving off,” Papa says. “Let’s go watch.”
On deck, the air is brisk and the wind blows her hair into her face.
“Goodbye,” she whispers to the receding buildings and houses of her city. The boat cuts through the sea, so shiny and flat she wants to reach out and touch it. The sun runs like fire over the surface of the waves. So this is what it would be like to be a fish!
“You traveling alone, girlie?” a man beside her asks.
She drags her eyes away from the ocean. It’s the man from the staircase. “Oh no. My Daddy is…” she glances around. Where is he? She saw Papa go below a little while ago, but where did her Daddy go? “He’s around here somewhere. Papa is--”
“So, ye’re travelin’ with your Dad and who else?” He interrupts.
“I know that, who’s the other person.”
“My Papa.” She wonders if she should speak slowly to him like a person does with a baby. Why did he ask her such stupid questions?
“Oh,” he says.
She looks around again for her Daddy. Oh! There he is, sitting on that bench with a book. She runs over and jumps up beside him. When she looks up, the man is still looking at her. His eyes feel hot.
She tugs her Daddy’s sleeve. “Daddy, I’m cold. Let’s go inside,” she says.
She sees the man again in the pool the next day. He smiles and waves at her, but she just swims away. She comes across him again a little while later, talking with his wife.
“Daddy and Papa she called ‘em,” Lucy hears the man say.
Curious, she swims closer, careful not to make a sound.
The woman snorts. “How they live is their own affair, but I can’t think it’s good for those sorts to be given children,” says the woman.
“And to think of two such men, raisin’ a young girl!” He says.
“That’s right. How will the poor thing know how to be a woman if she’s never known a mother’s touch? I can’t even imagine what her home life is like.”
“It’s a cryin’ shame seeing a sweet young thing like her in the hands of,” he lowers his voice, “fags.”
Lucy swims quietly away.
“It is that. If we see her again, I think we should ask her if they’re good to her and what it’s like, you know, living with them,” she hears from behind her.
Lucy dives to the bottom of the pool. She doesn’t want to hear any more.
Dinner is fancy that night. Lucy puts on her favorite white, puffy dress with a big red bow on the back. She’s excited when she walks into the hall with her dads. She’s less excited when they get to their assigned table. The man and his wife, dressed up and elegant, are sitting there. The woman looks away as they approach. Lucy and her family sit down. Lucy ends up next to the woman.
A warm hand covers hers. “You alright?” Papa asks her.
She glances at the man, then the woman. “I need to go to the bathroom,” she says.
“They’re about to serve our drinks, can ya wait?” the man says.
“No,” she says, though really she could.
“Well, let’s go then,” Papa says.
Lucy scoots her chair out and grabs Papa’s hand.
As they make their way to the bathroom, Lucy asks, “Papa, why do we have to sit with other people? Can’t we have a table by ourselves?”
“It’s part of the cruise’s way of getting everyone to meet each other. Don’t you like meeting new and interesting people?”
“No,” she says, scowling at the floor.
“This isn’t like you, Lucy. What’s the matter?”
“I don’t like them. That man and his wife.”
He looks at her, concerned. She feels bad for worrying him. “It’s nothing, Papa,” she says. It’s only one dinner, she tells herself.
When they get back to the table, the waiter is there to take their order.
“Just in time,” Daddy says, smiling at them over his glass of wine.
Lucy orders her favorite buttered pasta. The thought of noodles covered in butter and parmesan cheese cheers her up.
As she’s slurping the last few noodles into her mouth, Daddy leaves to go to the bathroom. The waiter presents the bill soon after that.
“Hmm, I guess the wine wasn’t included in our meal plan,” Papa says. “I have to go get my wallet. I’ll be back in a moment.” He rushes off.
Lucy looks up, feeling cold. She looks from the man to the woman and back.
“My dear, we were wondering, how do you manage your home life?” the woman says.
Manage? Home life? Lucy frowns. “What do you mean?”
“Put it this way, how do your fathers act around you?”
How did they act around her? They told her stories and helped her with her homework and put her drawings on the wall and drove her to school in the morning and made her chocolate chip pancakes on Saturday.
“Look, you do know your family is different from other families?”
“Yes,” Lucy says, feeling like she is being made to confess something.
“Doesn’t that ever worry you?”
She doesn’t meet the woman’s searching gaze.
“Don’t you miss having a mother?” The woman puts a hand on Lucy’s knee.
Why did she need a mother? She has her dads. She wishes they would leave her alone.
“What she’s tryin’ to say is, do ya think you can stand havin’ a pair of gays for parents?” the man says.
She looks up at him, then away. She doesn’t understand, but she senses that it is a bad question. As if he was asking something dirty or mean. The woman takes her hand off Lucy’s knee.
“You know what that means, don’t ya? Gays?”
She doesn’t. She feels stupid.
“Haven’t yer dads’ taught ya that?”
Tears prick at her eyes. Lucy looks up and sees her Daddy coming back from the bathroom. That gives her a rush of courage.
“Leave me alone!” She screams at the man.
Everyone stares. Daddy starts running towards her. The woman sits back in her seat.
“Now, just calm down,” the man says, “I was only askin’.”
“All these questions. I don’t like them. I don’t like them. I don’t. I don’t. Making fun of my family. YES I HAVE TWO DADS, OKAY? OKAY?” She yells.
A man from another table turns around, “Who are these people? Imagine, talking like that to a child, and in 2014!”
The man pleads with her to stop. The woman reaches over.
“DON’T TOUCH ME!”
Her Daddy gets to the table and says, “Lucy, why don’t we go back to the cabin?” He glares at the man and woman, then smiles at her. “We can color in your princess book together.”
Lucy nods happily. She feels better already. She slithers out of her chair and runs over to her Daddy, never once looking back at the man and woman.
As Lucy and her father walk away, she hears the woman tell the man, “God, talk about overreacting. Just goes to show the gays have corrupted her. A properly raised child would never be so touchy.”