The first story features the characters of Baby Steps. Marian is five, but she already has Joseph wrapped around her little finger...
Even though Marian is only five years old, she already picked up on how much her quivering voice and pink-lipped pout can affect Joseph. Not this time, he promises himself.
“There’s no ‘But Daddy’ this time, princess.” He crosses his arms and settles down a little deeper in the sofa cushions. “I’m not getting dressed up this year and that’s all there is to it. Your Mom is going with you, you don’t need me.”
Little arms cross over the green frills that decorate the front of Marian’s dress, mirroring his posture. Her eyes are starting to glimmer with tears. She won’t cry, not for this, but the wet eyes are one of her most dangerous weapons – even more so because she knows it.
“But you always come with me,” she protests, and now she comes to stand in front of Joseph and raises her arms, demanding to be picked up. Joseph obliges without a second thought and pulls her to sit on his lap, taking care not to damage her tulle wings. “You and mommy,” she pushes on. “So we can have a new picture!”
Even before she starts pointing at the fireplace mantel, Joseph’s gaze flickers toward it. With Ellie still fulfilling her official photographer duties, they have too many pictures of Marian to display around the house, and Sandra rotates the pictures in the frames lined up on the mantle every month or so. This month, they’re pictures of Marian dressed up for Halloween.
On the first one, she’s not even six months old and wearing a black kitten onesie, small pointed ears on top of her head, the tip of her tail clenched in her fist, three black lines on each cheek as whiskers. She’s in her mother’s arms, eyes wide open and staring straight at the camera. Sandra is dressed up too, a long, stern black dress and a pointy witch hat. A cape was part of her costume, but she convinced Joseph to wear it instead, making him a vampire. Her sense of humor leaves something to be desired, sometimes, or at least that’s what Joseph’s fondly exasperated expression infers.
On the second picture, a few weeks over a year old, Marian is wearing a black dress and a red cape with polka dots, and her ladybug antennae are swinging on their small coils as she claps her hands and laughs. Joseph is standing behind her, with the same cape as in the first picture, hands on either side of her and ready to catch her should she fall. Sandra is two feet in front of her, crouching with her back – and her butterfly wings – to the camera, arms outstretched and waiting for Marian to walk to her.
The third picture shows Marian at two, in Joseph’s arms, Sandra standing next to them with her cheek on Joseph’s shoulder. Marian’s princess dress was too long that year, and she couldn’t walk in it without tripping. Joseph – in his cape – carried her for her first round of trick or treating. She was asleep before they hit the third house.
On the fourth picture, she’s three, and a princess again. This time her dress is yellow rather than blue. She stands between Joseph and Sandra, holding their hands. That year, she walked all the way down the street and back, only letting go of their hands to run to the neighbors’ doors.
The last picture shows her as a flower. Privately, Joseph thought the tulip shape around her head was ridiculous, but it doesn’t show on his expression captured on film; his smile is just as wide as Sandra’s. Then again, it might be because of the blowjob Sandra promised him if he’d just wear that ridiculous cape one last time.
Not this year, though. Not again. Joseph had promised himself he’d stay home and hand out candy – sans cape. Why wearing a cape supposedly made him a more convincing vampire, he simply can’t understand.
But now that Marian is looking at him with those huge eyes as wide as the sky, her bottom lip trembling just so…
He sighs. He’s completely hopeless, that’s what he is. A defenseless in front of her as he is in front of her mother, if for entirely different reasons.
“All right,” he says, conceding defeat, and Marian claps. “I’ll find that cape and…”
Sandra’s laugh is as bright as sunshine. Joseph looks to where she’s been standing for a little while, leaning against the wall at the entrance to the room.
If Marian hadn’t been watching Peter Pan every couple of days for the past three months, he might have asked why Sandra is wearing a nightgown, but it’s not too hard to recognize that she’s dressed up as Wendy, to match Marian’s Tinkerbell outfit.
She didn’t say anything while Marian argued with him, but Joseph has a strong suspicion that she told their daughter to come ask him again. Maybe she won’t laugh so much later tonight, when Joseph holds her right on the edge of pleasure and stops her from coming as long as he can bear it. Yes, that will be a nice revenge…
“No cape for you,” she says, a wicked grin on her lips. “Marian picked a new costume at the store.”
She’s holding green clothes in her hand. Joseph’s eyes widen in horror. Suddenly, a cape doesn’t seem so bad any more – or at least, it seems better than tights.