Four years at Brayshaw High, learning who we were, all we were meant for, and discovering so much more along the way... and we didn’t even get to walk the stage.
We didn’t get to breathe that air of accomplishment, or to salute the shit goodbye as we went from jeans to slacks, from t-shirts to button-ups.
From boys to men.
But we’re here today, and in our best black-on-black suits, stepping up on the stage built dead center in the middle of the football field.
When we were told the ceremony would be on the field, we had a fit, demanded it be on the courts instead, but in the end, the stadium made the most sense, and we’re not completely impossible—anymore.
So here we fucking are, waiting.
Name after name is called and finally, it’s our turn.
Her name is spoken into the mic and up the steps she walks, white pawprint painted on her cheek, ponytail high on her head with a big-ass bow in the middle.
The one and only Brayshaw princess.
Zoey steps up with a grin, and all our bullshit washes away.
She holds her hand out for her dad, and Captain doesn’t hesitate to take it. Her other comes out and I cut in front of Maddoc to grab it first, his low chuckle not missed—neither is the wink Zoey slips him.
Together, we walk her across the stage while the announcer shares her dreams with the crowd.
We stop where we’re instructed hearing the low laughs of our wives in the first row of the bleachers.
We’re aware Zoey is the only one escorted by three people, let alone three men.
We also don’t give a shit.
And this is how she wanted it.
Well, sort of.
It was us or an entirely different pack of wolves, all louder, younger, far more obnoxious and twenty times more territorial—didn’t even think that shit was possible.
Yet there they are, leaning over the gate with dark smirks and heavy warning in their eyes, all familiar shades of green, brown, and blues—the eyes of their fathers’.
The eyes of Brayshaws.
The future of this place.
Zoey sighs, speaking through her smile. “Uncle D, I thought you said you’d lock them in the basement for the night?”
Maddoc sighs. “I did. What do you think those smirks are for?”
I laugh and she sneakily nudges her elbow into my gut.
A box is brought to the podium then, and then Zoey’s arms tighten around ours when the announcer girl calls out the winner of the homecoming king.
I meet Cap’s eyes over Zoey’s head and we both look back to the kid who steps forward.
Tall, dark hair, punk boy smirk, and eyes that wander right this way, landing on my niece.
Zoey’s leg begins to bounce, and she leans her head on her dad as they ready to call the homecoming queen’s name.
Our girl’s name is called and loud shouts fill the air, the loudest coming from the wild ones she pretends she was angry to see, but that’s the first place her eyes go, where her smile falls—on her family.
A smile that begins to fade as she steps up to the paper labeled king.
Zoey’s handed a candy lei.
I can sense her nerves, we all can and find ourselves holding our breaths as she slips closer.
The little fucker, he doesn’t help her out, doesn’t tip his head or bend down.
He forces her to push onto her toes, staring at her head-on as she puts the thing over his, ignoring his eyes all the way.
As she steps back where they tell her to, the boy turns to grab a bouquet of pink roses and as he does, the air shifts.
Zoey’s chest inflates, her lips pinching together.
I look to the fence, and as I thought, Phoenix noticed too and has already scaled the thing. He’s now standing before the stage.
Tall and broad, head tipped back like the cocky little fucker he is.
Like his pops.
I grin, but when Brielle catches my eyes in the stands, I wipe it away.
The boy turns back and holds the flowers out for Zoey, but as she reaches for it, his hand opens, purposefully allowing them to fall.
But those babies never hit the floor.
Phoenix is already there, catching them and with a grin that he’s put on just for her when we all know he wants to rip dude’s head off.
He passes them to his cousin.
Her smile is grateful, and then smug as she faces the asshole beside her, three more Brayshaws somehow already at her back.
The guy knows he doesn’t stand a chance, but I recognize the look in her eye.
And I want to kill him for it.
Cap must too, ‘cause he steps forward, but Victoria shoots to her feet in the stands and he freezes.
Maddoc and I fight laughs, and Captain shoots us quick glares.
“It’s happening, isn’t it?” Captain grumbles.
“Look at those boys.” I grin. “Not a damn thing is happening if they have a say.”
Maddoc scoffs. “Yeah, but look at the kid.”
We do and simultaneously, our muscles grow stiff.
The brave little fucker grins at the crew facing off with him.
Zoey shoves the flowers back in his hands and turns toward us.
Captain smiles softly at his only baby.
She runs over, hugging him tight, and behind her back, someone else steps up.
Captain grows rigid, and Zoey’s confused eyes lift to his.
Cap looks to us, to our boys who look ready to kill four feet back... the kid with a death wish behind her.
Zoey looks over her shoulder, slowly letting her dad go and spins around.
Her cheeks grow pink, her hands folding in front of her as the kid pulls a fresh dozen roses from behind his back.
My niece’s favorite color.
She smiles, but then her eyes lift over his shoulder, meeting the first asshole, one with the plastic king crown tipped sideways on his head.
He watches Zoey with a blank expression, waiting to see what she does next.
But if he knew her, he’d know, and maybe that’s the problem, he does, so he knows what’s about to follow.
Zoey’s smile, bright and infectious and reaching her kind and caring eyes.
She gently takes the flowers, a soft ‘thank you’ following.
The guy, he grins, nods... and then he’s tackled to the ground but not by our boys.
By the first one.
What the fuck?
We’re all pacing the damn gym, waiting for our demon spawns... and princess… to get their little asses in here.
“Okay, let’s not lead with what the fucks.” Victoria lifts her palms, and then all eyes fly to mine.
“What, me?” I throw my arms up. “Talk to your husband, he’s the one ripping his hair out over there!”
Cap whips around, smooths his hair out, and points at Brielle. “This is your fault!”
“My fault?” She laughs, doing her best to hide her grin.
“Yes! You taught her how to do makeup.”
“That was a year ago and it was makeup that your wife bought her.” She smiles.
Victoria gasps, whipping around to flip off Brielle. “Bitch!”
My baby only laughs harder, slipping her hand around my middle.
“Do I really have to pretend I’m pissed at the boys?” Raven throws out then, a wide grin on her face.
“‘Cause I’m not. Did you see Phoenix? He was over that fence with one leap, our protective little alpha.”
“Yeah, it only took seconds for the other three to join him.”
“Four alphas with mad hops.” I grin. “That’s a fucker’s nightmare.”
We chuckle, but then the wolf pack bursts through the door, making more noise than the six of us ever could.
“You’re going back out there!” Phoenix shouts.
“No way in hell!” she snaps back, and then she’s crowded, her shoulders falling.
“Yes, you are,” he tells her firmly.
Tears fill her eyes and the boys look away, unable to handle the sight.
Zoey shakes her head. “I’m too embarrassed.”
“Fuck them, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
Champ steps up then. “What I want to know is what the fuck that was.”
Yeah, our kids, they got fucked-up mouths.
But their hearts are strong, their minds sharp, and their morals... I mean, they have some.
Zoey takes a deep breath, turning to Champ. “Don’t start.”
“What was King’s problem?” he pushes.
Zoey eyes him, unable to tell a lie.
“Come on, Zo. Talk.”
“I don’t know he... he’s—”
“He’s always watching you,” Phoenix offers. “I’m talking always. Why you think I wanted to walk you? And what about—”
“Purple flower guy?” Captain adds, and finally, they remember we’re the ones who called them in here,
My sons, they grin and walk over, kissing their mama on the temple, both sharing my height and towering over her. They nod their chins at me, like they’re too grown to hug their pops.
They’re not and they hug me goodnight every fucking night, their aunts and uncles too.
“You know that boy,” Cap continues once Zoey’s in front of him. “He bought you your favorite color.”
Zoey nods a small smile on her face. “He’s in my sparring class.”
“King’s in your sparring class,” Maddoc’s youngest adds.
She whips around. “I know.”
“This King boy, he likes you?” Victoria asks with a smile. “He’s gorgeous.”
“Mom!” Zoey hisses knowing her cousins are watching her closely.
“I say purple flowers got him beat.” Raven nods.
“Oh my god.” Zoey runs a hand over her face.
Victoria laughs. “What? We’re just saying. Don’t pretend you didn’t notice.”
“You’re not helping.” Cap glares at his wife.
Zoey’s cheeks burn and her cousins gape at her.
“Are you for real?” a couple of them shout at the same time.
“That guy?” Champ shakes his head.
“It ain’t like Knight’s any better!” Phoenix shouts.
“A king and a knight, sounds like a hell of a royal match-up.” Raven smirks.
A low laugh bursts from Zoey but she shakes her head.
“Yeah, there’s no match-up happening,” Champ says. “Never. Ever.”
Zoey’s head pulls back and she glares at her cousin. “Not that I’m saying it is, but if there was, you’d have no say!”
He laughs loudly, and I look to Maddoc.
Was I such a shit?
His raised brow means yes.
“Let’s just, park this.” Phoenix walks up to his cousin, and his shoulders loosen a bit. “King showed his ass out there, and we’ll deal with him.” When she tries to interpret, he shakes his head and she holds back.
“We have to, and you know it, but this ain’t about him. You won that crown, you rehearsed with your squad for weeks and there’s a halftime dance happening in less than five minutes that you will be a part of. Gramps is outside waiting to see you do your thing. You’re going out there, and you’re gonna kill it.
And when you’re done, we’ll be right there waiting. You want to go? We’ll go.”
“You’ll miss the end of the game?” She smiles softly.
“Fuck football.” He grins. “We come for you. Always.”
She laughs, and when Champ steps up to wrap his arms around her, she lets him lead her out, the others at their sides.
All for one and one for all, like my baby used to tease.
We see it more than ever with our kids.
We’re forgotten in the gym.
Our kids, growing the fuck up.
“So they realize, her getting on that field, shaking and popping and all that is only gonna make those boys even crazier, right?” Raven asks as they disappear.
Me and my brothers glare at her, and her and the girls laugh.
“Come on, let’s go. We don’t want to miss what happens next.”
We sure as fuck don’t.