WARNING: Within the entirety of the story, there will be violence, language, abuse, sex, bullying, and discipline. (A/N: And because I don’t care to fixate too much on my mistakes, let it be known that Wes/Nate’s ages regarding Wes/Harris/Thad’s birth doesn’t add up really. But oh freaken well! That’s what happens when 80% of a story comes from a dream. Dreams don’t do math well! And muses don’t feel like fixing it! <<call it ‘Soap Opera Magic’ or whatever>>)

NOTES: I often write original characters into already established fandoms, or I write personal pieces that I am still plotting and planning and hoping to someday finish. There are even a few ideas I would try to publish. This story, however, is for completion. I want to write something to test the length of this idea (it’s a big one), but also my ability to create a realistic enough world. I hope not to bore, and above all I hope to entertain. Proceed with caution and honesty, please. I would love to know what you think.

SUMMARY: Mooreland calls to announce that the house is complete, and the Ryders have to finish packing.



He was almost late to getting Gabe. Emma would never let him hear the end of it if he did. It was almost 6:30 by the time Nate pulled into the parking lot of the preschool. He was glad that they picked up Tony for them, kept him with the older kids and busy until him or Emma were able to get him. Or he had one of his older sons available to get the little ones.

It was hard sometimes, keeping track of so many kids. It wasn’t just Emma’s notes that had to keep them going, the kids were plenty vocal. It scared Nate, forgetting where one of them was supposed to be, if he was supposed to be with them.

The boys sat in the backseat of the truck. Gabe was in the middle seat, buckle across his waist. His booster seat was still in the SUV, and they rarely took it out.

            “Can we get pizza for dinner?” Tony asked, looking up from his Gameboy.

            “No,” Nate sighed, waiting behind a particularly slow sedan at a stop sign.

            “I want pizza too!” Gabe added.

            “No,” Nate repeated.

            “But I want pizza!” Tony repeated, his voice taking that whiny tone that was an instant screech against Nate’s ears. Funny, each of his kids seemed to find that tone so quickly.

            “It’s Harrison’s day to cook,” Nate stressed, not feeling like he should have to explain himself, but doing it anyway. “And I’m not about to bring pizza and upset him about it, would you?”

            “What if we call home first?” Tony asked, leaning in his seat to try and get a better look at Nate’s face.

Nate didn’t know why, he was more than happy to let the boy in on what was going through his mind.

            “I already said no, Anthony. You boys ask again, and you can go straight to bed after an early dinner!”

It was a bit harsh, but that was how things were coming about at the moment. The past two weeks had seen the Ryders gathering more crap into boxes than Nate thought was humanly possible to contain in such a small space.

The new house was three times the size of the one they would soon be leaving, but somehow, Nate was wondering where everything was going to go! The new house would have five bedrooms, Emma refused to even think about the kids each having their own bedroom. Nate wasn’t about to press for that issue. Or the fact that Emma wanted a toilet in the laundry room.

The new house was also running about a week ahead of schedule, and while that was normally a thing to be thankful for, it meant that while the contractors would soon be heading out, the Ryders were not yet ready to start moving in!

Behind him, Nate now had two very unhappy little boys. Tony settled back into his seat, but Gabe, at four, didn’t seem to understand the benefits of keeping quiet when Dad was not in the mood for their antics.

            “But I want pizza!” he insisted. “I don’t want Harris’ food!”

Nate gripped the steering wheel tightly. It wasn’t his son’s fault that he was having a bad day. Or month really.

            “Gabriel Robin Ryder, I already said no,” he said as calmly as possible. Finally, traffic started moving again. At the pace they were going, they wouldn’t be home for another twenty minutes.

            “But I want-


            “Gabriel, do you want to make Daddy mad?” Not that he wasn’t already there.

Dejected, Gabe looked down at his lap and remained quiet. Tony tried to counsel his little brother, but in all honesty Nate preferred it this way. He already felt like ramming his truck into the stupid driver in front of him, the last thing he needed to do was flip out on his youngest sons.

The rest of the drive was mostly quiet from the boys, and Nate was more than happy to pull in front of their overly crammed, soon to be old house. It had taken them fifteen minutes to get home, on a normally ten minute drive.

Tony was quick to undo his seatbelt, grabbed his backpack and started to pull his door open.

            “Other door,” Nate said, since that door would take the boy into the street. He got out of the car, opening the back door, and helping the seven year old leap out of the truck. “Take your shoes off as soon as you get in,” Nate added, as they always had to say and remind the kids. It would be insane trying to clean up the floors of the house after so many people if they all ran around with their shoes on.

            “I know!” Tony yelled as he raced up the driveway and to the front door.

Looking back into the truck, Nate found Gabe still staring at his lap. Sighing, he reached over and unbuckled his baby boy. Tugging him out, he took his son into his arms, then reached into the front again, grabbed his briefcase, before he closed the truck up.

Another thing he was looking forward to in the new house, four car garage, instead of the one car garage that they had now. Emma was always the one to take that space, since she usually took the SUV out. At least it wasn’t raining out today.

            “Come on, little man,” he said, rubbing Gabe’s back as he headed to the house. “I’m not mad at you. Daddy’s had a long day. I’m sorry I yelled at you.” He was mostly sorry, he hated to see his kids upset, but it was almost impossible to have everyone happy at the same time. Even at Christmas.

Gabe nestled his face into Nate’s neck, his arms loose over his shoulders. Nate kissed his head and headed inside.

            “What happened?” Emma asked, looking up with worry as she was helping Tony take off his jacket, bag, and shoes. “Is he sick?”

            “No,” Nate sighed, leaning down to place Gabe on reluctant feet.

            “Daddy yelled at Gabe,” Tony provided.

Emma frowned over at Nate, who sighed again and nodded.

            “It’s been a long day.”

            “We wanted pizza,” Tony continued. “But Daddy said no, and Gabe kept pestering.”

            “Well, Harris made lasagna and casserole,” Emma said, helping Tony to stand up again.

Nate got Gabe’s jacket off, then wrapped his arm around his waist to get his shoes off. The little boy remained pouty and silent.

            “Is it ready?” Tony asked.

            “Just about,” Emma replied. “Go up and do your homework.” She handed his backpack over and watched him dash towards the stairs. “And wash your hands! Oh who am I kidding, he’s not going to hear me over that racket.” She frowned, indicating whichever one of the kids had decided to blast music as they did their schoolwork.

            “Alright buddy,” Nate got Gabe back on his bare feet. Turning him around, he faced the sad face and tried to cheer it up, poking his belly and smiling at him, but the little boy just pushed his hand away. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, Gaby. But you also have to learn, when I say no it means no. Otherwise, you’re going to get in trouble.”

            “Sorry,” Gabe finally said, though he said it at his feet.

Nate sighed and shared a look with Emma. She didn’t look like she had had a better day either.

            “Alright,” Nate kissed his forehead. “How about you go upstairs and color or something?”

Gabe nodded and headed to the stairs at a pace much slower than his brother’s.

            “You broke the happiest kid in the world,” Emma teased him, taking him into her arms.

            “I know,” he sighed, holding her tightly. “I feel evil. You’re home on time for once.”

Emma nodded against his chest. “Yes, thankfully. There was a private party schedule tonight. Owner’s niece’s birthday or something. Once everything was set up, I took my leave. His grandmother stressing the importance of family certainly didn’t hurt.”

            “Well, I’ll take what I can get,” he said, leaning down to kiss her.

She smiled into the kiss, but it was short lived. He needed out of the dreaded suit, and she planned on helping Harris finish up with the dinner. It wasn’t every day that he offered to do so, but since he had broken up with his latest girlfriend the night before, he was spending the evening at home.

            “I better go get changed,” Nate said, pulling off his jacket and going to the closet to put it away.

            “Mooreland called,” Emma said as he closed the closet door.

            “And?” Nate cringed.

            “He said it’s all set,” she smiled softly. “They’re scheduling the inspection in two days, if you wanted to be there.”

Emma was excited, and she couldn’t even contain her smile over her husband’s misery.


            “Oh stop,” she giggled at his misery. “It’s going to be fine. We’ve yet to sell this house. We don’t have to move in the second you get the keys.”

            “You’ve been packed up for a week,” he reminded her. “We might need an extra month to pack, but we both know you are going to be in that house the hour after Travis gives me the key.”

            “Think I can get one of the boys to help me load up? Should I rent a truck?”

Nate just rolled his eyes and headed towards the stairs.

            “Nathan!” he turned at looked at her, wondering what other message she would give him. Instead, she pointed down at his feet, where he still had his own shoes on.



That night, dinner was stupendous, as it usually was when Harris cooked. It wasn’t that Emma couldn’tcook, it was just that she certainly wasn’t the best one in the household. Nate was a good hand in the baking department, but Harrison was good all around.

It was as the kids started to clear up the table and Emma went up to their bedroom to review certain files for the next day that he called his gang together.

            “Hey! Guys, hey!” Nate called out a few times. It wasn’t easy to get the seven of them to shut up at the same time.

Thad, Avery, and Jack were doing the dishes; Eli was helping Gabe to wash his hands, and simultaneously threatening Tony to back off from trying to be a nuisance. Harrison was still sitting at the table, drinking a soda and surfing through his laptop, having no post-dinner chores to do since he’d cooked.

They all stilled and looked over to him.

            “Turn the water off and come over here, would you.”

Gabe was the first back at the table. Then, Jack, Eli, Tony, Avery and finally Thad sat down.

            “What happened?” Harris asked.

            “It’s not your anniversary,” Thad said, frowning as he took a seat.

            “No, it’s not any special date. It is however, a deadline announcement for all of you,” Nate said, frowning at each kid in turn, except Gabe, who had settled in his lap.

            “Deadline?” Jack frowned.

            “Is this for school?” Eli asked.

            “No, it’s for home. Mom got a call from Travis Mooreland who said-

            “Mooreland, that’s the house guy?” Harris interrupted.

            “Did they break the house?” Tony asked.

            “They can’t break the house, stupid!” Jack fired back, getting his head smacked by Harris and his arm punched by Thad.

            “Guys!” Thad said, calling them all to a still. “Knock it off already!”

            “Thank you for that,” Nate said. “Yes, Mooreland is the contractor. And no the house isn’tbroken. It is, however, finished. Wait!” Nate held his hands up before the kids came to any kind of reaction. “Before you guys all get excited, I have to remind you that we’re nowhere near prepared to leave here yet.”

            “We’re almost done,” Harris shrugged.

            “You are the least one done, Harrison,” Nate frowned over at him. “And the rest of you are no better! You’re setting a bad example for Gabe!”

            “Mom’s packing up all of Gabe’s things,” Eli pointed out.

            “Why can’t she pack all of our things?” Jack added.

            “Because your baby brother is four,” Nate turned to glare at the troublesome two. “You want to be treated like a four year old?”

Jack shook his head, but Eli seemed deep in thought.

            “That wasn’t a suggestion, E,” their father sighed. “You are each responsible for your things. The rest of the house, we will divide you up to do. I’ll tell you who goes where tomorrow, after I talk with Mom.”

            “So we have to do our room, and another room. That sucks!” Jack complained.

            “How else is everything going to get pack, you lazy bum?” Thad shook his head.

            “Make Jack do the bathroom,” Harris offered.

            “Guys, enough!” Nate held up his hands, glaring at Harris and Jack, who had been raising his hand to (most likely) do an obscene gesture. “I’m not asking you. I’m letting you know how it’s going to be.And you have the next four days to do it.”

With that, every kid started to complain. Even Gabe, who really didn’t understand the concept of four days, was right in on complaining right along with the others.

Nate sighed and shook his head. Standing up, he placed Gabe back on the seat. Whistling loudly, he got the kids to quiet down, but there was many a displeased face.

            “You leave yourselves with three days change of clothes and your school books. The rest better be packed up, in boxes, bags, I don’t care, but it better be ready to go once the moving van gets here.”

            “And if it’s not ready?” Avery asked, worry on his face.

            “Yeah, I’ve got classes the next two days!” Harris added. “I don’t have the time to pack!”

            “Everyone has classes for the next three days. You’re not getting out of school to pack! You go to school, do your homework, and unless you absolutely can’t miss it, you’ll come home right after school. No one-

            “Wait,” frowned Eli. “You mean, no practice? No clubs?”

            “No practice or clubs if you don’t need to be there.”

            “But Dad!” Avery started to complain.

It wasn’t a secret that every one of the Ryder kids had a full schedule of activities to keep them busy (and out of trouble) after school. Most of the time, it was enough that everyone was at home by 6PM. Other nights, like on one of the kids games, everyone would head out and get to the games.

Unlike the other kids, Avery had taken to a more introspective activity, journalism. The boy really enjoyed getting his stories together and getting them to the school paper once a month. They rest of the kids were mostly in active sports, like football, karate, swimming, and hockey. Not that Avery wasn’t, but he took journalism much more seriously.

            “No. I told you boys weeks ago, and you’ve known about the house being built for a year now. Your grandmother’s birthday is in two weeks, and you know she’s going to want to see you guys, God knows why, but she seems to still think you boys are cute. And there is no way we’re going over there, so we have to at least be in the other house by then. No excuses.”

            “You expect us to be packed, moved, and unpacked, in two weeks?” Harris looked at him like he had lost his mind.

            “No, I-

            “Why do we have to move now?” Eli whined. “Why can’t we wait until summer or something? Then, no school, no sports, no one will be doing anything!”

            “I’m not waiting six months, just so you can lounge about! By summer, we’re going to be all moved. And, the new house has a pool, so if we’re moving in the summer, there’s no way in Hell I’m filling that thing up until we’re all unpacked.”

            “It’s freezing out,” Jack retorted. “Who cares about pools now?”

            “I want a pool!” Tony piped in.

            “Not now! Bozo!” Eli elbowed Jack, causing him to grunt and Harris to kick her under the table.

            “Guys!” Nate called out before they all started fighting again. “Finish cleaning up and get started sorting your rooms. That’s finale.”

Nate started to turn around to leave, but of course, his kids couldn’t stop talking. Jack, Avery, and Thad stood up, likely to continue cleaning up from dinner. Eli, on the other hand, turned around on the bench and faced her retreating father.

            “What if we don’t?” she probably didn’t mean to sound like she was challenging him or being disrespectful, it was almost second nature to Eli, though. So it grated on nerves Nate oh too well.

            “If you don’t, little girl,” Nate turned around, crossing his arms and addressing the room as a whole. “I can guarantee you’ll be sleeping on your stomach until it’s done.”

Eli sighed. “That’s not what I meant,” she pouted at the threat. “I meant, if everyone’s ready to move-

            “Just worry about getting yourself packed, and everyone worries about themselves. Clear?”

The affirmatives came mostly low, but he was pretty certain he counted at least five of them. Majority rules, Nate thought, finally turning around and heading for the stairs. Behind him he could hear the other kids, ragging on Eli for having had him bring up the dreaded spanking threat. His kids could be so predictable.


Jennifer Ryder was more commonly called Jenna, and she was the devoted wife to David Ryder, parents to Nate and Tabitha Ryder. It was no small secret that their eldest child, Tabitha, was a disappointment in her parents’ eyes, and so while Nate did a lot of things that his parents frowned and fretting about, he was the only other child left for them, and consequently their favorite.

Granted, this status quo had been as such since Nate was at least ten. Tabitha was four years older than him, and even before she had Wes at sixteen, she had been flunking and causing her parents all kinds of grief. Nowadays, it was a miracle to hear from her around the holidays.

All in all, it meant that whenever there was a reason to celebrate, like the grandparents’ birthdays, Jenna and David Ryder would inevitably find their way to Nate’s house.

The kids generally loved their grandparents. Jenna doted on them, bringing them bags of candies or books, and if they’d just been on vacation she was always trying to bring them something new and exciting. Eli, however, wasn’t too fond of her grandparents. They insisted on calling everyone by their full names, had for as long as Nate could remember. But Eli hated being called Eloise, and the only time she would answer to it was if she was in big, big trouble. Jenna also had a knack for calling everyone by their first and middle names. As if being called Eloise wasn’t bad enough!

This year, however, as the days whittled closer to their current’s house expiration date – coming closer and closer to the Friday that would bring with it not a lazy weekend, but the moving vans and towards the new house – grandma Ryder called and said that they couldn’t make it that year.

            “What’s wrong, Mom?” Nate asked, he was tired, having been packing up the garage with Wes and Harris, and it certainly had been some time since that room had been cleaned up.

            “It’s your idiot father,” Jenna Ryder groaned into the phone. Nate rolled his eyes, imagining her glaring at the man in question.

            “What’d Dad do now?” he asked, trying to not think about how often he asked that question about his own kids, at an almost daily basis.

            “He thought it’d be a good idea to get the blasted lights down, himself, from the roof. Lights that have been up there for the past three years for a good reason, David! I mean we pay the Henderson boys to put them in for a reason. He thinks he’s still in his thirties, I don’t even know!”

Nate shook his head at his mother’s rambling. His father had a tendency to try to ‘reenact his youth’, according to his mother. David and Jenna Ryder weren’t as young as they used to be, of course, and Nate found it funny that a man that had spent Nate’s youth mostly in his recliner with a beer bottle than doing anything around the house had suddenly found himself wanting to do everything in the last few years. Normally, Jenna would be able to give Nate a heads up, and if Nate couldn’t be there himself, then he would send one of his older boys to give the old guy a hand. Apparently he had managed to get this one feat pass her.

            “Is he okay?”

            “Well, no Nathaniel! Would I be calling you to tell you that he had managed to yank those blasted things off if he was okay?”

            “Probably not.”

            “No!” Jenna agreed. “He sprained his wrist and broke his leg!”

Nate cringed. It would certainly make sense as to why she kept snapping out.


He looked down to see Eli, who was cleaning out the kitchen with Avery, Tony, and Emma, was also holding onto something that Nate didn’t even want to know what it used to be.

            “Is it dead?”

            “Was it alive?” she frowned at the thing in her hands.

            “Trash it,” Nate frowned, ignoring his mother in his ear. “And put some damn gloves on! Where’s Mom?”

            “Upstairs. Supervising Thad and Jack.” She turned around and headed to the big trash bin in the dining room, where the table once was. “Man, this is gross!”

            “Don’t play with it!” Nate warned, cringing at the idea.

            “Don’t play with what?” Jenna asked on the phone.

            “I was talking to Eli, Mom. We’re all kind of pulling ourselves together and getting everything packed up now.”

            “Did you hire the movers? When Sally Morris moved, she hired some movers and everything turned out great for her. I can get you the number –

            “Mom! I’ve got eight kids. What am I going to hire someone to do what I get free labor for?”

            “Oh, Nathaniel David! That’s no way to treat those kids!”

            “Aren’t you the one that’s always complaining about how the kids aren’t doing enough? Dad’s always saying that we have them doing too much and you want them doing more! How you two ever managed to raise anyone, is insane.”

            “Honey, raising kids and seeing your grandkids get raised are two different things! You don’t see all that you’re doing wrong like I do!”

Nate sighed and rolled his eyes. Now he felt like one of his kids.

            “Mom, they’re not going to die over packing their things up! Or unpacking them. Man, if they heard you, we’d never get them to do anything!”

            “Why don’t you send them here and you guys get yourselves some movers? That way, the kids won’t get in the way and everything can be done right and be done for when they go home.”

            “I’m not sending them two hours away, paying some guys to haul off crap I don’t even know what it is, and then have you calling me every hour about how many things Gabe got into or what Jack is refusing to do or how rude Eli’s being.”

            “Nathaniel David! You make me sound so horrible! I love those children.”

            “So do I, and even I’ll admit they’re little devils. Look, Mom, I’m sorry we won’t get to see you guys, tell Dad to take it easy and I’ll call you on your birthday, let all the kids say hi and everything. I’ve got to get back now, I left Wes and Harry alone in the garage, and I’m not completely sure one of them won’t use the hedge clippers on the other.”



The Thursday night before the Friday that would bring the movers and start them off towards their new house, all of the kids were exhausted and ready without prompt to get to bed. All except a certain soon to be birthday boy.

            “What are you doing?” Thad asked, coming into his bedroom for the last time. Well, he doubted he wouldn’t be coming in and out the next day, getting things for the van, but this would be the last night he would spend there.

He walked over to his bed, just under the only window in the room. He had loved having the sun creep up on him in the morning. Thad wondered where the sun would be located for him in the new house.

            “And where are you going?” Thad frowned, sitting on his bed, showered and dressed for bed. Over by his own bed, Harris was tugging on a long-sleeved dress shirt. “It’s ten o’clock.”

Harris looked up, giving Thad a grin that he knew meant he was going to be mad fun of.

            “Sorry, Sleeping Beauty. Am I cutting into your slumber?”

            “Look,” Thad sighed, leaning back against his pillows and staring at his older brother in wonder. “We have to get up early enough as it is in the morning. You know what Dad said about not having things ready for tomorrow! And we’ve all been packing and cleaning all day, you’ve got to be tired!”

            “I’m fine,” Harris replied, he walked over to the closet, which was mostly bare, except for where Harris hadn’t packed up a lot of his things yet. Like the jacket he grabbed and tugged on. “And I’ll be fine in the morning. If you’re so tired, hit the sack!”

            “I’m going to sleep,” Thad reassured him. “But if Dad catches you leaving, hitting the sack is going to be the least of your worries.”

Thad stretched out in his bed, closing his eyes and missing the hand gesture his brother produced. Still, he knew he wasn’t lying. When Nate Ryder warned his kids about something, he didn’t like not being taken seriously. And with eight kids, their father had certainly gotten to the habit of coming through with all of his threats and promises.

            “I’m twenty years old, Thaddeus.” Harris said, going over to his shoes. “I’m old enough to head out if I want to.”

            “You’re not twenty yet,” Thad kept his eyes closed.

            “Ten days!”

            “Thirteen,” Thad corrected. “And that won’t make a lick of difference to Dad.”

            “I’m still over eighteen!” Harris stressed. “I don’t have to ask him permission!”

Thad was about to make a point about they both knew he was wrong there, especially where their father was concerned, but instead Avery entered the room.

            “I think E’s finally going to kill him,” he commented, heading over to his bed, which was just on the other side of the now empty dresser beside the door.

Avery laid down, and Thad could now make out the increasing yells between his two younger siblings. While they were frick and frack when it came to getting into trouble, Jack and Eli had a knack for getting under each other’s skin like no one else.

            “Dad’s gonna come up soon, then,” Thad pointed out, though he was more stressing it to Harris.

Sure enough, Harris wasn’t even done putting on his shoes, when Nate was pounding up the stairs.

            “Great,” Avery sighed. “Now how are we going to sleep?” he twisted around and pulled a pillow over his head.


It had been the same story ever since Eli had learned to walk. If Jack and she were left to their own devices, alone, for too long, they were bound to get at each other’s throats.

It was just three times worse when they were tired.

Nate got to the top of the stairs, and could spot Tony at the doorframe to the bathroom, where he could hear Jack threatening to bit off Eli’s fingers.

            “I’ll break your arm first!” Eli retorted, her hands fisting as Nate entered the bathroom.    

“What part of get ready for bed included the Civil War reenactment?”

Eli turned around from giving her brother a death glare.

            “He started it!”

            “Liar!” Jack retorted from the other side of the sink, where he had wedged himself between the cabinet and the toilet. “I didn’t do anything!”

            “Yes you did!” Eli turned back to glare at him. “Tony saw you!”

Nate looked at his second-youngest son. The seven year old looked up, his eyes looking larger and slightly pleading. He certainly couldn’t blame the little boy. World War Ryder wasn’t a pretty sight.

            “Tony, why don’t you go get ready in our bathroom?” Nate said, taking the younger boy out of the equation.

Tony nodded and headed over to the sink, grabbing his blue Spiderman toothbrush and headed back to the main bedroom and a much calmer master bath.

            “He did see him,” Eli said. “He said it when I came in. Avery heard him!”

            “Tony said what?” Nate frowned at them both. Between Eli and Jack, there was never any formulaic way to know which one was telling the truth.

            “Nothing!” Jack quickly added. He seemed a bit fidgety, so Nate was starting to lean towards the more than probable fact that Jack was the guiltier of the two parties this time.

            “Quiet,” he pointed at his son. “Talk,” he instructed the little girl.

            “Tony said, Jack was holding my toothbrush when he came in.”

Nate groaned. This was one of the stupidest fights Nate had been an unwilling participant of. It even topped when Emma and her sister didn’t talk for two days after a comment Emma had made about her sister’s weight.

            “For Pete’s sake, Eloise! Brush your teeth, and go to bed!”

            “But he did something to it!” she insisted.

            “Jack,” Nate turned to the ten year old, glaring at him and trying to convey a serious tone. Really, he just wanted to knock both of their heads together and call it a night. “Did you do something to Eli’s toothbrush?”

Jack looked from his sister to his father. It was the pause that had him, and without a word, Nate already knew the boy was lying.

            “No,” Jack said.

            “Jonathan Maxwell Ryder,” he kept his voice low, remembering that Gabe had already fallen asleep downstairs. He was going to wait for the rest of the kids to be in bed before he risked taking the boy up to bed. “What did you do?”

Jack sighed, leaning back in defeat against the wall behind him. Eli turned back to her brother, crossing her arms expectantly.

            “I’m not in a patient mood,” Nate said after a few seconds.

            “iscrubbedatthewindow,” he muttered.

            “What?!” Eli exclaimed, probably understanding more than Nate had.

            “Jonathan,” Nate gritted. “Repeat yourself right.”

            “I said,” Jack lowered his tone at his father’s glare and step forward. “I said that I scrubbed at the window.”

Nate glanced over at the bathroom window. It was on the other side of the wall that held the tub. Which meant that his son got the brush, went into the tub, probably stood on the ledge to be able to get close enough to the window and then proceeded to scrub at a window that Nate didn’t think anyone had opened since October, four months ago.

            “You goddamn jerk!” Eli lurched at him, launching over the sink to shove Jack against the wall.

            “Ow,” Jack groaned, his head smacking back against the wall. He reached over and grabbed one of Eli’s hands, twisting it around.

            “Ow,” Eli growled.

Nate stepped forward, grabbing Jack’s hands and tugging Eli out of his grip.

            “Hey!” He pulled Eli free, and then pulled Jack out of the corner he had secured himself into. “That’s enough!”

Both of the kids glared at each other, and Nate felt like in addition to knocking heads, he should toss them out the window, end his misery. Emma would probably miss them, what with the combined twenty three hours of labor she had endured to have them.

            “You!” he shook Eli. “Do not get to talk like that! I hear you again, I’m soaping your mouth!”

            “Ah, Dad!”

            “And you,” he tugged Jack by the arm closer to him. “Are an unbelievably rude and disgusting boy. Go wait on my bed.”

Jack’s eyes left his sister then, and became even bigger than Tony’s as he turned them on Nate.

            “That’s not fair! She’s the one who started it! She threw that thing down my shirt!”

            “What?” Nate frowned over to Eli. She rolled her eyes.

            “It was just an old sock! It didn’t do anything to you!”

            “I didn’t know it was a sock!” Jack turned from Nate and shoved at Eli. She shoved him back.

            “Stop it!” Nate shook them both. “What did you do?”

            “Found an old sock under the dryer,” Eli confessed. “It’s not my fault he freaked out about a stupid sock!”

            “Why’d you put it in Jack’s shirt?”

Eli shrugged. That was the main problem with the both of them. For no apparent reason, they would turn on each other.

Nate frowned, thinking back a few hours ago.

            “Wait, is that the thing I told you to toss?”

Eli’s silence, aided by her eyes instantly finding interest in the linoleum under her bare feet, told him more than enough.

Releasing Jack’s arm, Nate got Eli under his arm, twisting her around to where he could place a dozen heavy smacks to the stripped pajama bottom. Eli twisted in his hold, but the nine year old couldn’t get out of the much stronger hold.

            “Dad! Stop,” her lip wobbled. She could feel the tears in her eyes and it wasn’t fair that she get smacked in front of Jack! HE had started it. She had only played a harmless joke.

Placing the twelve swats, Nate released his daughter and turned her back around, looking directly into accusing blue eyes.

            “That was a mean thing you did. I told you to toss that thing, not to hold it for a couple hours and then use it against your brother. Apologize, and go get another toothbrush downstairs from Mom.”

Eli rubbed at her eyes, her one hand coming back to rub at her burning bum, but Nate quickly pulled it away.

            “Sorry Jack,” she said, glaring now at the floor.

            “And you?” Nate glared at his son.

Jack knew he was next. There was no way that the earlier threat wasn’t still standing. It would likely be worse than the few smacks his dad gave his sister either. Over ten, and it meant the belt. He cringed, biting his lip at the thought.

            “I’m sorry I messed with your toothbrush, Eli,” he fidgeted. “That was mean.”

Nate pulled Eli out, swatting her once more and then pointed her to the stairs. Tony stood on the other side of the stairs, at the door to the master bedroom.

            “Go to bed,” he nudged his head towards the left, where the younger kids’ bedroom was.

Tony moved slowly over to Nate, probably having heard the impromptu spanking and weary of the situation. He handed Nate over his toothbrush.

            “Night, Daddy.”

Nate leaned down, kissing the soft, long, blond strands of little boy, baby shampoo smelling head. He hugged him close for a second before releasing him.

            “Night Tony.”

And with that, Tony was back to his room and for all points and purposes a perfect child in his father’s eyes at the moment.

            “And you,” Nate added, turning towards where Jack was staring at the floor. At the attention, Jack slowly started to look up. “I can’t believe you would do something like that!” Nate sighed and shook his head. Actually, he could believe it. It would be the kind of thing that Harrison would do, to get back at someone. Harris wouldn’t have gotten caught, unfortunately, and he would have spent a few days of silent pleasure before announcing what he had done, to the utter disgust of everyone around him.

Maybe Harris had been sharing too many stories again.

            “You like cleaning bathrooms so much? You can take that brush, and tomorrow this bathroom, downstairs, and Mom and mine?  You can have a day at it. And for the next month, new house, you’re on bathroom duty. And there’s five in the new house.”

Jack started to complain, his face already in utter disbelief. But Nate didn’t finish letting him talk. Instead, he moved around, taking Jack with him, until he was sitting on the toilet seat and had Jack over his left leg. He tugged Jack’s flannel pajama bottoms and his Captain America underwear down to his knees.

Already, Jack could feel the tears forming. He hated spankings more than anything in the world! But it seemed that he always ended up getting one no matter what. It was barely a week since he had last been in that position. Then it had been for goofing off too much in school. But Jack was always goofing off, it was what he did!

Nate wasn’t about to lecture now any more than he had for Eli. Both kids were more than smart enough to know exactly what they had done wrong.

Jack should count himself lucky, Nate thought. He had planned on taking at least two strips with the belt to the boy. He just couldn’t believe that Jack would do something like that, and try to be sneaky about it.

Nate followed his father’s seldom followed (lucky for him) rule about getting the belt to a bare behind after the age of ten. He had often thought that the age was a tad too young. Until, of course, Wes had been all of ten and three weeks, and had proven his grandfather more than right when he had snuck out of school for the evening to go skateboarding at the park over five miles away from the school. Nate had been terrified after that phone call, and Wes had come home, right on time, without seeming to realize he’d been caught.

Nowadays, all of the kids knew that rule. Over ten, and he would have no second thoughts about getting the leather against the pale, bareness of their backsides. And while Emma still thought it a bit extreme, each one of the kids had felt the business end of that rule.

Now, however, Nate concentrated on creating enough of a red hue to merit the situation. Jack hadn’t been completely alone in the pranks, but his had been worse than Eli’s.

            “Dad!” Jack shrieked after the tenth smack. He had his hands forward, holding himself against the edge of the bathtub. Perfect, he would always remember this room as where he got his last spanking. At least, in the old house. “Daddy, please!”

Nate, as usual, ignored the pleas and the promises that the kids made in that position. He couldn’t blame them, it was meant to inspire better behavior. However, Nate wasn’t out of his mind to think that any one trip over his knee would turn any kid into an angel. It would kind of freak him out, honestly, but he certainly didn’t want a repeat of this particular incident.

As the cheeks turned pink, Nate lowered his attention to Jack’s thighs and the under curve of his bottom.

Jack held onto the tub ledge tightly, trying not to cry out too much, but it was inevitable. And it was more than absolute that everyone else had heard him too. He hated that more than anything. He knew that his older brothers had to live with the same rules, but it was so rare for any one of them to get into trouble. It felt like it was only ever Jack that Nate had over his lap these days.

After more than ten swats per spot, Nate stopped. He righted his son’s clothing and stood him up. Jack instantly went in for the hug, Nate more than willing to return it. Yes, his kids were probably the biggest brats he knew, but they were his brats and he loved them more than anything in the world.

            “Easy, Jackie,” he hushed the boy. “Come on, kiddo. I know for a fact you’ve had worse,” he teased.

Jack looked up at his dad long enough to send the message that he didn’t find humor in that. Nate still smiled and hugged him close.

            “You are a rotten kiddo, little boy,” Nate said, tweaking Jack’s nose. “That is one of the nastiest things I’ve heard one Ryder do to another, and Harry tried to feed Avery dragonflies.”

            “I bet you spanked him too,” pouted Jack.

            “Yep,” Nate nodded, not allowing for Jack to start feeling sorry for himself. “His lesson was the same as yours, I don’t take these little jokes as funny. You do something, anything, against any one of your brothers, you’re going to find yourself over my lap. Each time. Now, finish getting ready for bed, and you’re not to leave that bed until I get you in the morning. Got it?”

Jack nodded, rubbing at his eyes. Often enough, Nate felt like Eli and Jack were twins separated by a year. It would be just like Eli to not get moving until she felt like it, even as a simple zygote.

Nate leaned forward and kissed Jack’s cheek. He tugged the boy’s hands off from rubbing at his butt, and stood up.

            “Five minutes. Then bed.”

            “Okay,” Jack replied, his earlier defiance and attitude a distant setting for the boy at the moment. He moved over to the sink, grabbed his plain green brush, and tried not to fidget as he began to get settled.


            “You should go now,” Thad said, leaning on his elbow to look over at Harris. “If you’re still going.”

            “I’m going,” Harris glared over at him. He stayed sitting on his bed, however, listening to their father’s deep voice and then the much higher pitched voices of their younger brother and only sister arguing back.


            “I just don’t want to walk by that, okay? I don’t have to answer to you.”

Thad shook his head and laid back down.

            “You do have to answer to Dad. And now he’s going to be in a bad mood. He’s not going to let you go anywhere.”

            “Go?” Avery looked up from where he had tried to drown out the sounds that hadn’t started to happen yet. “You’re going out?”

            “If you must know,” Harris crossed his arms. “I have a date!”

            “This late?”

            “It’s only this late when you’re a little kid.”

 Avery glared at the response, and Thad, taking some pity on his younger brother, responded.

            “It’s late because it’s late, doesn’t matter how old you are. You know Mom and Dad would be in bed right now if they could. You calling them little kids?”

            “Fuck, Thad! Why do you have to make everything into something else?” Harrison rolled his eyes.

            “Because you know I’m right!”

They couldn’t hear what was being said in the bathroom next door, but it was unmistakable when Nate applied some serious hand to butt action.

            “Aw, great!” Avery cringed. Turning on his bed, he grabbed his pillow and buried his head underneath it.

            “Great,” Thad added. “Now he’s mad, and in spanking mode. You still want-

            “Shut up,” Harris took his pillow and tossed it as hard as a pillow could go to Thad’s head. “Jerk!”

Thad shrugged. He knew that his older brothers kept trying to prove that they were older and maybe even that they were above the rules, but Thad had been in the family for all of his almost eighteen years. He knew better, but apparently Harrison was trying to live in a world of denial.

They could hear one of the kids leaving, but when two kids were involved, it was very rare that only one of them got their butts roasted.

            “All I’m saying is that you should know better by now. You’re going to try and get out, but if Dad’s busy now, Emma is still downstairs. And since you keep insisting that you’re old enough to not have to ask them, I’m guessing you’re not going to be hopping out the window this time either.”

Thad was rather pleased with himself, seeing the pissed but thoughtful look on his brother’s face.

            “You know what-

And then the smacking sounds started again.

In his bed, Avery cringed and groaned. Thad looked over at their closed door. It would be just on the other side of the wall where Avery slept that the bathroom was located. And of course, the thirteen year old was probably hearing more of it then they were, but the sounds were still unmistakable. It was certainly strange to hear it from the un-receiving end of things, but still unmistakable.

Harris for his part, took the momentum and bravado he had recently found, and sat back down.

            “This sucks,” Harris frowned. He was all ready and dressed to go, but he really didn’t want to have to walk by the bathroom and be confronted either by the image of their little brother getting his tail tarnished, or worse yet, confronted by a very unhappy father and then have to explain his plans.

He was (almost) twenty damnit!

            “I’d just find my pajamas if I were you,” Thad oh so helpfully offered.


Nate made his way over to his bedroom, just as his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He took it out, saw that it was a call from one of his clients. He sighed. As if he was some lawyer, or a doctor, to be getting calls from people at all hours of the day. But the one client, Gomez Chang, was a bit of a worry wart. Chang called Nate any time he thought of something, and it really grated on his nerves, but he tried so very hard to keep a positive relationship with all of his clients. They would be the ones to either be future clients, or refer clients to him.

            “Mr. Chang!” Nate smiled, trying to portray something other than the utmost bother he was feeling. “I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon!”

He listened as the man told him about how he had taken the floor plans of his latest building over to his grandmother, and then proceeded to make a list of all of her comments. Nate leaned back against the wall by his room. He lowered his face into the palm of his free hand and sighed.

There was no such thing as an easy day.


Harris exited his room, his jacket now in hand. They hadn’t heard anything from the hallway or the bathroom for a good five minutes. If he was going to make his move, it was going to have to be now.

He walked as quietly as possible, thinking maybe his dad was still in the bathroom talking to Jack or something. Harris really didn’t want any attention on himself.

Of course, once he was in the hall, he can spot Nate on the other end of it, leaning against the wall and effectively blocking the stairs.

Internally, Harris cursed his luck and his younger brother.

Nate, of course, looked up at the movement. Spotting Harris, he nodded, but then frowned when he recognized what his son was wearing. His head tilted in question. Harris, wisely, stayed where he was and stayed quiet.

In reality, Harrison was trying to think up a way pass the man. Maybe he should have changed his clothes, like Thad had said. Though, the thought of technically having to sneak out, well cripes he wasn’t some teenager anymore.

And yet, what Thad had also said, about how their dad didn’t care one way or another about what their ages were, merely their actions, that made sense too. Harris knew his father enough to know that this was true. He knew that the man took being their dad more seriously than anything else. While, he would be honored to have such a devoted parent, at the moment he wished the guy would take a break once in a while. Preferably in the next ten seconds.


As if his day needed more incentive to go bad, Nate spotted Harris coming out of his room, where he had assumed all three of his sons were settling down to sleep. Of course, assuming had never gone well for him when it came to Harris.

Instead, his second son appeared fully dressed and clearly intent on going out. Normally, Nate wouldn’t think too much about it. However, it was Thursday night, and while he shouldn’t be trying to run every second of his son(s)’s life, he couldn’t help it. It was a school night. Harris had class at nine the next morning. He also had a Saturday class at twelve. There was no way that he would let his son leave when he was such a terror for getting out of bed in the morning.

But the worst part was, Nate was well aware that out of all of the kids, Harris had done the least packing.

Correction, Harris had been wonderful help packing.  He had done the downstairs bathroom and laundry with Eli, supervised the living room with Tony and Jack, and had even helped him and Wes out in the garage. But how much had he done in his own room? Well, Nate had tried to avoid asking, had tried to give the kid the benefit of the doubt, but he had eyes; and they were telling him that Harris was not going to meet the Friday deadline.

            “Mr. Chang?” Nate said, staring as his son, who alternated between looking back at him, and looking anywhere else. “I think your grandmother has some terrific ideas there. Why don’t you call Sara in the morning, and schedule an appointment for next week, when you can bring your grandmother over and we can all talk this over the plans?...Well, whenever is convenient for her. We have a couple of months before the plans have to be greenlit…Yes, no problem…Goodnight, Mr. Chang.”

Nate turned to look at his son, arms coming automatically across his chest.

            “Tell me your feeling particularly fancy for a glass of water.”

Harris crossed his own arms, though his were more to try and show he wasn’t bothered, and proving just the opposite.

            “Dad. Seriously?”

            “You’re asking me if I’m serious?” Nate stuffed his cell back into his pocket. He started walking closer to the boy, telling himself all the while to keep his voice and tone in check. He was, after all, trying to get his kids to sleep at the moment. “Are you seriously about to go out right now?”

            “Dad, don’t make this a big thing,” Harris walked over to the stair railing, still a good four feet from where Nate was standing and cautious of keeping his distance.

Nate’s eyes widened, and quickly narrowed in thought.

            “Fine, you don’t want to make a big deal out of this? Good. You’re old enough now that you should know to budget your time wisely. So I’m sure you’ve thought about how you’re supposed to be finishing your packing in the morning, before your nine o’clock class. Not to mention that you have one other class in the afternoon to attend, before coming home to help get all of these things into the van. I’m sure you’ve thought of some way that you’re going to manage to stay alert, active, and responsive throughout all of tomorrow with what is looking to be an increasingly short amount of sleep time.”

Harris rolled his eyes at the not-lecture, lecture. His dad was making a great point, but that didn’t mean that he really had to listen to it all. After all, wasn’t Emma always complaining about how kids his age didn’t seem to have to sleep as much as other adults to manage? Well, he could manage for a day with little sleep. Especially if it meant that he would be spending the night with Carol McClure.

            “Thanks for the concern, but I’ll sleep just fine.” Judging by the look on Nate’s face, he hadn’t said the right thing.

            “Where do you have to go so late?” frowned Nate.

            “It’s not that late!” Harris heard himself repeating. Thad and their father certainly thought along the same strings.

            “You were one of the first to complain that you were tired, and you still haven’t gotten all of your things packed yet!”

Harris started to shrug, but thought better of it.

            “It’s going to get finished! Besides, we’re not going to be able to get everything in one trip!”

            “You rent the trucks by the hour, so it’s going to be coming and going until everything’s gone. I’m not going to stop so that you’ll be able to finish packing up your things, when even Tony was able to get his things together.”

There was no way that being compared to a seven year old was supposed to make him feel anything but pissed. If he thought back later, he would probably say that that was where things took a turn for the worse for him.

            “Come on! Man, you’re taking this totally out of proportion!”

            “Me? You’re shrinking responsibility, and I’m the one that’s wrong here?”

            “Shrinking responsibilities?” Harris kept a groan in. “Dad, I’m just going out for a bit! This is insane. I’m wasting more time here than I would leaving.”

Nate all but glared at his son. Keep calm, he reminded himself. Can’t commit homicide.

            “Harry,” he said, his voice coming out much lower and calmer than he was feeling, but it was only through years and years of parenting practice that he wasn’t losing his cool. “Son, do us both a favor, and just go back to bed.”

And maybe that had been the wrong thing to say. Maybe he should have hauled the kid to his room and just ran his voice haggard yelling at him. Or maybe he should have just let him go to begin with, not make a big deal of it like the kid said.

Plenty of maybes, but it was certain that none of those things happened. Instead, the seemingly gentle offer was met with hostility and more aggression than the situation called for.

            “God Dad,” Harris did groan that time. He stood straight and glared right back, and maybe that should have been a clue as to what was about to come out of the kid’s mouth –as in not pretty. “What the hell do you think I’m planning to do? I’m not you, you know!”

The implication of the words hit Nate a second before they did his son. He couldn’t believe the kid would stoop so lowly, and think so little of him as well.

It was no secret that Nate had had Harris when he was eighteen, and Thad soon after when he was twenty. He told the kids those stories, not to highlight his youthful impetuousness, but to highlight how difficult those circumstances were. At twenty, he had had a full college course load and three kids to care for.

Nate had met Angela Madison a few days into his new college life. He had gone out with Noah, his roommate, and had let Wes go to a sleepover birthday with one of his new school friends. It was probably a dumb thing to do, letting a six year old stay over at a house that he didn’t know much about with a kid his son had only just met a month before, but he himself was seventeen he did plenty of stupid things.

Angie was different. She was loud and showy and she busted out dancing at random moments. She was fun, and in the hectic life that he had created for himself, she was a great outlet. Two months after meeting each other, and not actually officially dating, they slept together. Angie was great with Wes, probably because she was so childish and carefree herself. Since she was an only child, her dad had taught her a lot of ‘guy’ things, so Wes really enjoyed talking sports and comics with her. They started dating about a month after they had sex, and not long after that, Angie realized she was pregnant.

She had been terrified, but Nate knew that they could handle it. He remembered how much his mother had fought against Tabitha not to have an abortion. He couldn’t think of his life without Wes, and to have a child of his own wasn’t in his thoughts at all, but he couldn’t phantom getting rid of it.

Now, twenty years later, and the little brat had the nerve to throw that back in his face?

            “Excuse me?” he asked, his voice low in a growl almost.

At the same time, Harris’ arms dropped to his side and he said, “I’m sorry.”

            “You want to repeat that?” Nate took a step toward his son.

Of course, Eli chose that moment to come back up the stairs, finally all ready for bed. She slowed down at the top, staring over to where Nate and Harris were having some kind of stare down. She didn’t know whether to stand there silent, or to rush over to her room.

            “I shouldn’t have said that,” Harris said, feeling his heart clatter against his chest. Wasn’t he just saying that he wasn’t a kid? He felt like a bratty little stupid kid right now. Had any of the others said what he’d just said, he would have more than smacked them himself.

Eli bit her lip, taking the final steps onto the landing.

Both Nate and Harris looked up and over at her. Eli’s eyes went a bit wide at the attention. It was clear that they were not happy with each other, and while she hadn’t heard a lot, she had heard enough to know that Dad was mad at Harris, and Harris seemed to think that he was definitely in the wrong.

            “I think that I’m just going to leave now,” Eli started to turn back down the steps, figuring that would be safer that whatever was going on with those two.

            “Go to bed!” Nate said instead.

Holding her hands up, Eli made her way s l o w l y to her bedroom, much to her father’s annoyance.


Eli entered her room, Tony already in his bed. He glanced up from where he had already laid his head and closed his eyes.

Eli closed the door behind her and walked over to his bed, kneeling down beside it.

            “Did you hear them out there?” Tony nodded. “What’s it about?”

            “Harris wants to go out, I think. But then they started whispering and then he said something that got Daddy mad.”

Eli bit her lip. Well, that wasn’t something she couldn’t have deciphered herself just from having looked at them.

            “Alright then,” she said, standing up. She reached out and ruffled Tony’s long, soft blond hair. Eli, Tony, and Gabe were the only remaining kids that were blond. Harrison had been blond, until his teen years when it started to darken. Now, Harris’ hair was as brown as the others. “Night Ton.”

            “Night Eli,” And the little boy closed his eyes.

Eli walked over to her bed. She could hear them mumbling through the door. She was almost tempted to walk over to the door, maybe open it a crack. However, the sting on her backside wasn’t completely gone yet. Eli realized it would be safer to just head to bed.

Sure enough, had she been at the door, a few seconds later, Jack entered the room and she would have been caught.


Nate watched as Jack followed Eli into the bedroom. He was so utterly pissed at his first born that maybe the two kids had saved their brother’s life without knowing it. It wouldn’t save him completely, but it had been enough to lessen his anger some. Now, all he needed was for Harris not to say another word.

Nate rubbed a hand over his face. It was such a long week, and he couldn’t believe it was only Thursday.

            “Go wait in my room,” he said, sighing.

Harris frowned and shook his head. There were such few things that were likely to have any one of the kids being sent to the parents’ bedroom. Harris wasn’t sick or looking for anything, so it could only mean he was in trouble. And damnit he should be too old for this shit!

The thought that he should also be mature enough to not have said what he said also flashed through his mind.


            “Go,” Nate said in the same low tone. He was certainly looking forward to getting into the new house. The fact that it was extremely probably that the rest of the kids could hear him arguing with Harris was more often annoying than not. He didn’t often feel like discussing things about one kid with the others, especially arguments and punishments. Not unless it was something he felt the others would learn from. He pointed over to his room and looked his son in the eyes until he finally managed to do as he was told.


Shaking his head, Harris sidestepped his father and headed to the master bedroom. While it was on the opposite side of the house, it was still only separated by a six foot hallway.

He didn’t want to get yelled at, but he was used to it. What he most feared, and what he figured he would soon be facing, was his father’s belief (or rather, his grandfather’s belief. Blast the old man for that too!) that after the age of ten (and forever after, since apparently, there was no limit in Nathaniel Ryder’s mindset) a kid could and would be presented against the dreaded belt. And Harris was less than thrilled to say that not long after turning 10, up until a few months after turning nineteen, he had felt said belt. It was not his friend.

He had almost gone a full year without angering his father enough to go beyond threatening him.

Crap, he just had to open his stupid mouth.


Wesley Ryder entered the mostly silent house at almost twenty past ten at night. It being a Thursday, he didn’t expect any of the little kids to be up, but he was surprised that Harris and Thad weren’t. Then again, they had spent quite a few days going insane with the packing. Their father had taken it upon himself to give them a four day limit after having given them two weeks advance. Granted, they had all thought that the house would take at least a month to be finished.

Wes entered from the seldom used front of the house, having parked his motorcycle in the street, and took off his jacket. He could hear movement in the kitchen, and glancing up the stairwell, he saw the hall lights were still on. He headed to the kitchen, passing the living room and smiling as he spotted a sleeping figure curled beneath a blanket. By the small size, he figured it was the baby of the family, Gabe.

            “Hey,” he smiled, reaching the kitchen and Emma.

            “Wesley!” she hopped off of the peninsula stool and enveloped him in a hug. “Hey hun, didn’t expect to see you before tomorrow!”

Wes returned the hug. “Geesh, Lady! I haven’t been here in like two days, not two years!”

Smacking his arm, Emma released her stepson and went back to her stool, and the bills she was flipping through.

            “You were here for breakfast yesterday! And that’s the last time I hug you!”

Wes laughed and headed for the fridge. It was maybe a bad habit, but the way he saw it, a guy thought through his stomach. If he was hungry, he couldn’t think right. And his family’s fridge was always much better packed and restocked than his own apartment’s.

“Everyone asleep?” he asked, grabbing a Jello cup, a juice box, and a cheese stick.

            “All the basic food groups,” Emma teased. “I don’t think they’re all asleep, but they should be headed to bed. Eli was just down here. Something happened to her toothbrush and she needed another one.”

            “Something happened to her toothbrush?” he frowned, getting the little straw into the box.

            “Jack,” the mother sighed and rolled her eyes.

Wes scoffed. He really should have known. There was something about those two, they were always trying to garner each other’s still beating hearts.

            “So everyone’s headed to bed?” Emma nodded. “And you are?”

            “Enjoying the silence. Well, half silence,” she sighed. “Nate went up when Jack and Eli were threatening to rip off each other’s limbs.”    

“I’ll bet the odds at someone having to sleep on their stomachs,” he shook his head. While the kids were predictable, their father was the most obvious. And he wasn’t one to mess around if it wasn’t time to mess around. “I don’t even want to know what Jack did.”

“Same,” Emma agreed, raising her mug of tea. “I’m looking over our finances. Your father’s a wiz for this crap, but I figure since we’re moving and all, I should know where we stand.”

Wes moved around the peninsula and glanced over her shoulder.

            “What do we know?” he frowned, trying to decipher her notes, Dad’s spreadsheet and the bills in front of him. His Dad pretty much helped him getting his own budget managed.

            “That Nathan should have been an accountant,” Emma said, shaking her head. “And that I have noidea where we stand.”

“Yep,” Wes nodded his head, taking a bit out of his cheese. “That concurs with my conclusion.”

Emma laughed slightly. “I should be able to do this. I can manage a restaurant, and a very nice, four-star one might I add, but I can’t make heads or tails about running this house.”

            “Hey now! Don’t count yourself short!” Wes stuffed the remaining half of the cheese in his mouth. “I bet you ask Dad what any one of the kids is doing any given day, he’ll be completely lost. You each do your own thing.”

            “Thanks, Wes,” she sighed. “Maybe I’m just too tired to make any sense of this.”

            “You all set for tomorrow?”

Emma groaned but nodded. “I’m more worried about your little brothers.”

            “Dad’s deadline,” Wes cringed. “Yeah, some of them probably won’t be getting happy reviews.”

            “I doubt Harris has packed,” she whispered, shuffling the papers together. “Do you think he doesn’t want to move with us?”

Wes nudged Emma with his now open Jello cup. “I think my little brother is as lazy as they come. And come tomorrow, Dad will either threaten to tan his ass, or actually tan his ass. And come tomorrow night, somehow, everything is going to be in that big ol’ new house and you’re going to have to worry about where to put everything. You and Dad worry too much.”

            “Nathan’s going to kill him.”

            “Probably,” Wes shrugged. “Want me to take the littlest little guy up to bed?”

Emma smiled and nodded. Nate had said he would get the baby, but there was no harm in Wes doing it. Besides, if Emma tried it, she would likely collapse into bed with him, and she still had a few things to get together in the kitchen.


Upstairs, Wes was a bit surprised to hear voices coming from the master bedroom. Balancing the toddler on one arm, he opened the door. The sight before him caused him to frown.

Nate was sitting on the bed, belt in hand, glaring at Harris. For his part, the still-nineteen, soon-to-be-twenty year old looked completely mortified.

            “Well, I’m certainly interrupting something,” Wes said, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him.

            “Can’t you take Gabe back down?” Nate addressed the eldest of his kids. He was trying to be reasonable, but he was currently bothered more than he wanted to admit. However, Wes knew him enough to know with one quick glance how angered the man was.

            “It’s getting late, and I can say from experience, not the most comfortable couch in the world. Seriously with this bunch bouncing and frolicking, fighting and stomping, and doing who knows what, it’s a miracle the thing still stands.”

Wes moved over to the toddler bed in the room. It was a simple white bed frame, with some old Scooby-doo sheets, that Wes believed were bought when Thad was little. Most of the boys lived in hand-me downs, even Wes sometimes would take things from Harris, who was actually a whole inch taller than him. He outweighed his brother though, so he still managed to kick the crap out of him when the need arose.

Once Gabe was tucked in, Wes turned and glanced at his father and brother. Some mediation was in order.

            “What did you do?” Wes frowned at his brother. He knew Harris had done something, the kid was rarely not guilty.

Harris sighed and shifted feet. Yep, totally guilty.

            “Wesley,” Nate started, but Wes held up a hand.

            “You’re tired, both of you. I can see the exhaustion and irritability on you. And Emma said that you’ve already pummeled on El and Jackie, so you’re clearly already in the mindset. We all know Harris is the most likely to do something stupid without thinking, with Jack a closing in second. So, what you both need is a second opinion.”

            “Go have dinner, Wesley. Leave it alone.”

            “Dad, that’s just not in my nature.”

            “I said something I really shouldn’t have,” Harris finally spoke. He was leaning back against the wall, clearly not wanting to get any closer to Nate. He didn’t want to risk getting hauled over the man’s lap, not that it would be any better than having to place himself there. Crap, but tonight sucked.

            “You cursed?” Wes frowned. Turning to Nate, he placed his hands on his hips. “All this over cursing? Dad, you know he doesn’t think anything through – especially if he’s talking. Wash his mouth out or something, but I mean-” Wes gestured at the (dreaded) belt in the man’s hand. “Is that really necessary?”

Harris cringed at Wes’ suggestion. He hated the taste of soap, and it had been a few years since he had tested those particular buttons with his father (since at his age, if none of the little ones were around, Nate would only really get on his case over the F-word), but it would be a loads better that having to submit to that thing.

            “You finished?” Nate frowned at Wes.

            “Okay? Not a curse? What did you say?”

Harris looked at his brother like he was insane. “I’m not about to repeat myself, dumbass!”

Wes rolled his eyes, but conceded. In the state Nate was in, it was likely better not to repeat whatever was said.

It was then that Wes really noticed his brother, rather what he was wearing. He frowned further.

            “Are you going out?”

Harris sighed again. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked away from Wes. That said more than enough, but Nate of course wasn’t about to leave it at that.

            “Your brother has the brilliant idea of heading out for the night. He seems to think that he’ll be able to go out for a few hours, still manage some sleep, and get in enough time for packing and his classes tomorrow.”

Wes looked from one to the other. He could tell this was really bothering Nate, and while the man let a lot of things slip by, this wasn’t going to be one of them. He walked over and sat himself next to Nate.

            “So let him,” he shrugged.

            “Wesley,” groaned Nate. “Don’t help!”

            “Hear me out!” Wes placated, holding his hands up. “He thinks he could do all of that, then let him try. He said something stupid, soap it out. If he can’t keep up tomorrow, then take out your fine leather friend and have at it.”

            “Don’t help so much,” Harris gritted out.

            “Hey, I am helping! You’re both tired, and you’re not thinking. Which is probably why you said what you said, and Dad, you’re taking this a bit too seriously. Warn him, and let him be. He has to make his own mistakes. He’s an idiot, and honestly, H, I don’t think you can either. That said, let him try. Okay, I don’t know what he said, but we know he’s an idiot. He’s always going to say stupid shit. Besides, he hates that soap stuff.”

It took Nate a moment to consider it, but slowly, he realized that Wes’ suggestion made more sense. He really wanted to take the belt to his kids disrespectful behind, but that could be mostly his tiresome talking.

            “And I suppose you enjoyed the soap?” Nate teased, coming to his own conclusion.

Wes, smiling, shrugged. “It was a bit of an acquired taste for me. I preferred the bars better than the liquids, but I guess your reasoning behind that is different than mine.” Looking at Nate, he studied the man for a moment. “You okay?”

Nate nodded and lightly elbowed his son. This kid was really coming into his own, thinking on his feet and recognizing situations better all the time. Noah was right, kid would make a great lawyer.

            “Well then, I’ll be taking my leave,” Wes stood up. He walked over to Harris and punched his brother in the shoulder. “Whatever you said? Grovel!” he advised the younger.

            “Been doing that for the last twenty,” Harris said, raising his eyes from the ground. Normally overly confident, his father had the great power of making him feel childish and completely at a loss.

            “Well, do better.” Wes punched his shoulder again. “And I suggest you get back home no later than, 1230. One at the latest.”

            “Now a curfew?” Harris rolled his eyes.

            “I’ll be here,” Wes frowned at his brother. “And if you’re not back, I don’t want to be you if I have to go look for you.”

Harris sighed and rolled his eyes at the added threat.

            “Wesley,” Nate said, tossing the belt down where Wes had been sitting beside him. “Leave already.”

Wes nodded and was soon out of the door.


Harris turned back to his father and grimaced. Did all of that mean that his father was taking Wes’ suggestion seriously? If anyone could talk Nate into changing his mind, it was mostly Wes. Noah, Devon, and Emma took a close second; with Angie and the grandparents at third.

            “You’re lucky your brother loves you,” Nate stood up, hands on his hips. “And you’re lucky he brought up Gabe too.”

            “Yessir,” Harris said, waiting to hear his sentencing.

            “You get home by 1, like your brother said.” Nate started. “You damn well better not drink or do any of that shit. And if you give me any kind of trouble come morning, I will kick your ass. Got all that?”

Harris nodded, noticing the leniency and freedom he was being offered.

            “Good,” Nat pointed to the bathroom. “Now get in there.”

Harris groaned, but he headed where he was told. Nate headed for Emma’s hand soap, which was a honey, lavender mixture thing that smelt great, but came in a thick liquid form and seemed to cling to the tongue and teeth.

He also really hated that he knew all of that.