liliaeth and I present an interlude taking place several months after Will’s birthday. Charlotte and Hugh have grown much closer. Will finds himself fascinated with something at the zoo – is he more than meets the eye? Please, as always, read and comment! The muse seems to be very pleased and well fed with your praise.
To read Beloved from the beginning, go Here.
Full-sized banner by liliaeth beneath the cut
Beloved – Interlude 8-9 – Sunday in the Zoo with William
Several Months Later
Charlotte couldn’t believe her good fortune. A wonderful Sunday spent traipsing about the Los Angeles Zoo with two of her favorite guys. Did it matter that the day was overcast? Rain threatening to fall at any moment? Not in the least. Her love for William and Hugh’s finally professed feelings provided her with a personal sunshine umbrella.
Watching the man she cared deeply for pushing a green plastic alligator stroller while juggling a giant tub of popcorn gave her a severe case of the warm fuzzies. Charlotte always knew she’d want a family some day… way in the future. Like after law school. After her first appointment. But… but… look at them! Hugh was actually showing Paddington the grizzly bears, much to Will’s delight. The tick-tock-tick of her biological clock had become deafening.
“Lotte, come on!” Will called out as they started for the next exhibit.
She caught up with them at the elephant enclosure. Hugh hauled the boy out of the stroller and onto his shoulders so he could view the massive animals. Charlotte pulled a bag of peanuts from her backpack and tossed a handful at several elephants nearest to them.
Will giggled as they picked up the nuts with their trunks. “Me feed ‘phants too,” he begged, dangerously leaning away from Hugh’s shoulders.
Charlotte moved closer, allowing the boy to reach into the bag. In his enthusiasm, Will grabbed the whole bag, dumping it on Hugh’s head.
“I suppose I should be grateful he hadn’t asked for a drink,” he muttered, moving the boy from his shoulders back to the ground.
Unable to speak for fear of totally cracking up in the face of her boyfriend’s embarrassment, Charlotte wrapped her arms around his waist for a quick squeeze and kissed him, gently brushing several peanuts from his hair and clothing. A sharp pull on her trouser leg broke up the smooch-fest.
“Silly kissy-face. Want to see the seals,” Will admonished, pulling the couple apart. “Go now, kissy-face later.”
Will clapped and laughed with delight as the large walrus and his harem of seals barked for the zookeeper throwing fish into the pool for one of their daily feedings. They didn’t hold his attention long, and he started to walk away from the exhibit, slightly ahead of his caretakers.
“Oh no you don’t, my little chickadee.” Charlotte stepped forward quickly, knowing all too well how fast the boy could be when he wanted to. She grabbed his hand, slowing his flight. A loud spate of frenetic barking from the seals stopped the boy cold in his tracks, nearly causing Charlotte to topple over his small form.
“What’s the matter, Will? Did the seals scare you?”
He held onto her legs, first peering to the right and then to the left… searching for something.
Figuring the animals had spooked the child, they quickly headed after Hugh on the gravel path. Charlotte was determined not to let Will’s fears get the better of him. “How about we pay a visit to the lions, sweetie? Think old Paddy would be too scared to see an animal that roars really loud?”
She could tell his curiosity had been piqued. They’d read all about Simba and the Lion King for weeks now. Charlotte nodded with a smile, picking up her pace as Will took off at a trot.
Hugh continued pushing the stroller, which now held the popcorn, Charlotte’s backpack, and two soda’s now stowed in the drink caddy near the handle. If he felt a little foolish, he kept it to himself.
Will climbed the two rung fence in front of the lions cage, flanked by Charlotte and Hugh.
“Don’t you let go of the fence, boy, or it’s back in the stroller for you,” Hugh warned. “Lions are fun to look at, but they are dangerous to little boys who get too close.” He mimed fangs and claws, garnering yet another giggle from Will.
It was obvious the child was no longer listening. His hands had an iron grip on the bars as he stared at the regal predators pacing perimeter of their enclosure. Charlotte was so focused on keeping an eagle eye on the boy that she failed to notice the caretakers enter the den through a back door.
Large chunks of raw, bloodied meat were tossed to the animals. A large male lion with a huge mane, obviously the head of the pride, threw his head back and roared, warning off the other beasts. He lowered his muzzle into the pile of bloodied meat and tore into it, sending gobbets of flesh and bone flying.
Charlotte thought about hiding Will’s eyes. This was a little too visceral for her tastes, and she worried the boy would be frightened.
Will, on the other hand, was fascinated. His eyes were wide open – slightly glassy – as he stared intently at the scene before him. Unconsciously mimicking the lion, Will’s tongue flicked out to lick his lips, as if tasting the animal’s meal, himself.
When he failed to respond to her voice, Charlotte pulled the boy off the fence, walking swiftly away from the area. For the briefest of moments, she was frightened. Not for him, but of him.
Just how human was this child, she wondered for the first time. Did he still have his demon from his earlier ‘life’? Was this sense memory from his vampire days? Charlotte couldn’t repress the shiver that juddered through her body.
What had Will been like as a vampire? She knew Angel was one, and understood he was different in that he had his soul. There’d been the madwoman vampire from last year. Scary as hell, but she wasn’t around long enough to study, thank goodness. Would the boy have been a dangerous lunatic like that?
She wondered if he even remembered his adult life. God willing, he was blissfully unaware.
Will came back to himself, throwing back his head and roaring along with the lion – making claw hands as Hugh had done earlier. Nearly giving both adults simultaneous heart attacks. His full bellied laugh broke the tension.
“You make funny faces, Lotte,” he laughed, patting both her cheeks.
Hugh showed his concern for Will by looking deeply into his eyes.
Will complained. “Stoppit, You. No like fingers in eyes.”
“You… uh, Hugh was just worried you had an eyelash stuck, sweetie,” Charlotte murmured. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Me fine, Lotte.”
Once again, he squirmed in her arms, looking all around the area for some unknown something. Charlotte, however, had had enough. Once again she could feel Angel spying on them from under the trees. She hoped to God that Hugh wouldn’t notice him there. Bless them all, the poor boy probably wouldn’t notice the vampire if he came up to them wearing a giant purple fedora.
“Why don’t you take Will to the monkey house, hon?” A little distraction was a good thing as Charlotte wanted to head off the inevitable confrontation she felt building. “I need to make a pit stop before we get too far away from the rest rooms.” She fully intended to confront the child’s father before things got even more out of hand.
Hugh nodded. “How about you, tiger? Need to go to the loo?”
Will shook his head. “All dry, You.”
“Good lad. Now, hop on your alligator and we two men will get some fairy floss before we see the monkeys, yes?” At the boy’s consent, Hugh cleared out the stroller seat and they headed off towards the concession stand near the exhibit.
As soon as her two guys were out of sight, Charlotte strode over to the tree-lined concourse on the other side of the lions cage.
“Just who do you think you’re fooling, Angel? Covered up like my old Aunt Matilda at a beach outing? You told me you were fine with me taking Will to the zoo!”
Angel’s body language screamed snagged, as he slumped against one of the trees. His large, droopy hat slouched forward, hiding even more of his face. “I was… I am,” he murmured, obviously embarrassed at being caught out.
“Really?” Sarcasm dripping from her lips, Charlotte tapped her foot, silently demanding an explanation for his stalkerish behavior.
“You didn’t tell me he would be going with you,” Angel whined, toeing the ground with his foot like a little boy.
“I didn’t think it would be necessary to tell you that I would take the man I love to the zoo with me on my day off!”
“But…” Angel shrugged his shoulders. There really wasn’t anything else he could say.
Charlotte glared at him. “You know he’s a good man, Angel. I thought you were more comfortable around him since Will’s party. And I know you promised Nina you’d give Hugh a break. Do I have to tell her you were lying through your fangs?”
“I wasn’t lying… exactly,” Angel reluctantly admitted as he sat down on one of the stone benches underneath the shady tree, pulling his coat closer around him.
Watching her boss… her friend… squirm about, uncomfortable in being out during the day even though there was no threat of sunshine breaking through, Charlotte almost felt sorry for him. He loved his son, and worried about him out in the big world, but there was such a thing as being over protective, and she wasn’t going to let this continue.
“What did Hugh ever do to you, Angel? I was there when he first showed up. He’d never seen you before, yet you treated him like the worst evil known to man. He’s never harmed you since. Never harmed Will. In fact, he’s been working tirelessly without any encouragement from you to find a solution to the woman in the statue. Again, what did he ever do to you?
Angel had the good grace to look guilty as he hung his head.
“He’s not even a watcher, or whatever it is you’re always muttering about.”
“I’m sorry,” Angel murmured. “I didn’t want him here. He was forced on me by Giles. And then he shows up looking all tweedy, and with those… with those damned glasses.”
“You hate him because he looked like a nerd?” She couldn’t believe what she heard. Hugh had been judged and condemned on his looks alone?
“He looked like someone I knew. Someone who… who’s no longer here.”
Well, get over it! she almost shouted at him, but managed to hold her tongue at the very last moment.
“Do you know anything about the kind of person Hugh is? That he cries over Disney movies? That he’ll willingly play pack-mule for me when we go out to a mall? That he doesn’t look at Will as a pain in the ass foisted on his girlfriend in her off hours, but as a delightful child to spend some time with?”
Angel’s silence infuriated Charlotte, and she continued with her rant. “Do you know that he spends time playing with Will when I get busy with clients or homework? Who do you think watches Shrek for the thousandth time with him just because he asked?”
Charlotte stopped herself when she noticed people stopping and staring at the two of them. “Go home, Angel. Will is having a marvelous time. He’s safe and well cared for… and probably missing me by now. And please, for all our sakes, get over this thing with Hugh. He’s not your enemy… or your friend – whomever it is you’re comparing him to.”
She walked off in the direction of the monkey house without another word.