"Because she's afraid you'll get mad," he volunteered, though he had tried to convince her otherwise. If anything, their parents might be a little disappointed, but he didn't think they'd ever force them to do anything unpleasant. "Papa, is not eating your peas being reb-yelly-us? The ladies at school make us eat all our peas, or else we have to wash the tables."
Liv was already frowning before Alex offered the reason for Maria's fear. Anger flared inside her, but she was very good these days at suppressing that feeling within an instant. Living with a telepath and an empath taught you astonishing control over your own emotions. She drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
"Then it really is just as well that you won't be going to that school next year," she said carefully. "I'll talk to the school, though. I don't ever want either of you to be afraid to tell us anything."
"They what?!" Johnny wasn't quite as good as controlling his emotions as Liv, as evidenced by the expression on his face and the tone in his voice, but he wasn't angry at his children - only at what his children had had to endure because of a few ignorant people. "That's it. You're not going back there. Ever. It's almost summer break anyway. We'll home school you, if we have to. I'm not subjecting my children to that kind of treatment from anyone!"
For a moment, Liv thought about arguing with Johnny on that one, but then had a change of heart. "You know what? You're right," she agreed. "It's only two months, and we homeschooled Fliss for longer. What about your friends? Would any of them like to learn from home for a little while with you?" This, she addressed to the children, but Johnny knew his wife well enough to guess what she had in mind.
"Damn straight we did," Johnny said, only just realizing he shouldn't be cussing in front of the kids. "Oh, sorry." He drew a deep breath in an attempt to calm down before he went to flame right there on the couch.
"We don't have to go to school anymore?" Alex asked, eyes widening in shock.
"Darling, school is supposed to be a safe place where you learn what you need to know as you get older," Liv explained to him as gently as she could manage. "You should never be afraid at school, and the people who look after you there should never make you afraid to talk to your parents about anything." She drew in a deep breath. "We'll keep you home for a week, and I'll talk to the principal, and to the other parents, and if the school doesn't react the way that they should, you won't have to go back. Okay?"
Maria was staring at both her parents, wide-eyed. "Just because of peas?"
"No, not because of peas. Because school should be a safe place, not a place where you have to worry what will happen if you don't do as you're told. It's not the same thing as not cleaning your room or not doing your homework. And no one has the right to punish you or make you afraid, especially not for something as stupid as not eating your peas," Johnny said, obviously agitated.
"What about LiLi and Martin?" Maria asked, little fingers flashing. She was starting to wriggle, Johnny's agitation making the little girl restless as she frowned, knowing this wasn't her upset but unable to stop herself from feeling it.
"LiLi and Martin, too," Johnny said, not yet realizing how his agitation was affecting their young daughter.
"Papa," Alex said, leaning over to lay a hand against his father's arm. "Try not to be too angry. Nothing bad happened. We are okay," the boy urged, noticing the way his father's agitation was affecting Maria.
As Alex drew her attention to Maria's agitation, Liv glanced across the room.
"Bella," she called to their dog, who was never anything but happy and loving.
Bella heaved herself up onto her feet, tail wagging, and contentedly dumped the weight of her entire head into Maria's lap, looking up at the little girl with big eyes. Maria giggled, laying her hands on Bella's head, slowly calming down herself as Bella's more primal emotional state overwhelmed Johnny's in her mind.
Johnny frowned, sometimes forgetting how his own moods affected their empathic daughter. "I'm sorry, Mo. It just makes me angry to think anyone might hurt you," he told her, leaning close to kiss the top of her head and give Bella a rub behind her ears. "We want you both to know that you can tell us anything, okay?" he asked, looking from one child to the other.
Maria nodded solemnly, leaning into Johnny, though her hands stayed firm on Bella's fur. Liv smiled regretfully, wishing she'd known before this the worst of the experiences they were having at school.
"Most of the people at school are nice," Alex was quick to point out, though there were apparently those who were not as nice. "Is Uncle Steve really going to start a school at Maple Grove?" he asked, hopefully. Maple Grove was home; Maple Grove was their safe place, and though both children seemed to be have settled in well in Rhy'Din, there was no denying they had endured more than any child should have to endure.
"Tell you what ... Why don't we drop by in the morning and ask him?" Johnny suggested.
"You know, I think that is very good idea," Liv agreed. She was going to need to talk to Lucy and Steve about what some of the staff at that school were up to, and she knew if she and Lucy went to talk to the principal, they could make a very intimidating pair.
Not as intimidating as a man whose temper made him catch fire, but maybe it was better if Johnny left that to Liv and Lucy. "In the meantime, you're taking at least the day off," Johnny told his children. "But that doesn't mean you should shirk on your lessons," he was quick to add.
Maria raised her hand. "Can Zach come and do the magic stuff with us?" she asked hopefully.
Liv's smile deepened as she met Johnny's eyes. "We can ask him."
Johnny nodded, smiling as he met Liv's gaze before turning back to Maria. "I don't see why not, but we'll ask him first. Don't ever be afraid to tell us about anything that's bothering you, okay?" he asked her, gently.
Blinking, Maria nodded again, cuddling close into Johnny's chest. It said a lot for how much she trusted her parents, and how well she understood their emotions, that she didn't feel the need to apologize again.