WARNINGWithin 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.


OVER – 7,871
SUMMARY: With the house reaching completion, the Ryders invite the Tobins over, and a friendship begins between Emma and Evelyn.



The house looked even more amazing than anything Emma could have ever dreamt up. it was times like that, she marveled at her husband’s skills.

It was the third trip to the house, when Emma decided that enough of the things had to have been brought for her to go and supervise.

The house was a bit over an hour away from where they lived before. The kids would still be going to their school for the remaining of the year, if they could manage to all get up by six. It was not going to be fun, but since it was mid-January, it would only be less than six months left.

Most of the boxes were on the front lawn. Devon Lessing, Nate’s best friend, had been supervising from the house since the first truck’s arrival. He was currently getting Thad, Avery, Jack and a few of the movers to get certain things inside. Emma was grateful, especially since she knew certain things, like the china cabinet, were irreplaceable.

The drive way leading to the four car garage was huge. Emma grinned, knowing that that was one of the things Nate added for himself. With the kids growing and more and more cars heading to their home, it was insane that they were still living in that one car garage home.

She walked up the long drive, glad that she was almost always in sneaks. This new house would take a lot of walking to get used to.

Emma knew that the house had a lot of property around it. It was the main reason why Nate chose the place he did for it.

            “This is so great!” she smiled, reaching Devon. She was holding a large carry-on bag, filled with her and Gabe’s things for the next few nights. Nate had promised that the new laundry room was full and up and running. She was actually very excited to get into it.

And there was probably laundry that needed to be done still.

Devon glanced around him, looking back where the movers where getting on of the beds and a table into the house.

            “Yeah, this place is huge!” Devon raked a hand through is hair. “Nate gave me a copy of the floor plan-” he shook his head. “Still almost got lost.”

            “Floor plans?!” Emma felt her eyes go wide. “You have floor plans?”

Dev looked at her, scrutinizing her. Emma couldn’t help but bounce in her shoes. This was so exciting!

            “I’m not supposed to-

            “Dev, please!” she brought her hands together. “Oh come on, Dev! Look at that place! I’m going to need a compass to find the front door!”

            “Nate kind of wanted to show you himself.”

            “Trust me! I will be surprised with this place for the years to come. I’m still surprised we managed almost five years in that place.”

            “That’s true,” Devon smiled. “You guys have moved, what six times?”

Emma barely heard him, but she guessed he was about right. She was just too excited about this move, this house. This would be the last house she would ever move to. Ever.

            “Let me see that floor plan, and no one gets hurt.”

Avery and Jack rushed over to them, smiles on their faces.

            “Mom! Have you seen this place?”

            “How many rooms does it have?” Jack asked.

            “No, I haven’t seen this place,” Emma pouted. “Someone won’t let me at the plans.”

            “There’s plans? Can we see?” Avery asked.

            “We’ve just been telling those guys to put things anywhere!” Jack shrugged.

            “See Dev? We need that floor plan! The kids are going to be doing double the work, and the poor movers!” Emma emphasized, shaking her hand towards the front of the house. “My poor newborn baby of a house! It will never be the same.”

            “Compared to what, exactly?” Devon raised his eyebrow.

            “Compared to yesterday?” Jack offered.

            “If you’re scared of traumatizing a house, your brood should definitely not move in!”

Devon laughed and started to walk to the house again. He had a box under his arm, and soon enough Jack was right behind him.

            “What do you really think?” Emma asked her teenaged son.

Avery turned and gave the house a scrutinizing look. His hands went to his hips and his head tilted to the side a bit, his lip slightly held under his teeth. Emma smiled at the sight.

            “It’s certainly bigger!”

            “Big enough, you think?”

Avery, nodding, turned again to look at his mother. “Mom! The laundry room is like, the size of our living room!”

            “Our old living room, I hope!”

Avery again nodded. Then, he started to laugh. “Dad even had them put in the toilet you wanted!”

Emma was even more ridiculously excited. It was silly, but it just so happened that almost every time she started to do the laundry, Emma would have to pee. And there was only the half-bath downstairs, which was almost always being used. She was feeling extremely and utterly important now, having her own toilet in her laundry room.

            “I can’t believe it!” she clapped her hands. Reaching down for her bag once more, she took it and turned to her son. “Show me! Show me everything!”


By nine that night, the truck was finally departing the new Ryder residence. The house was stuffed with people. All of the Ryders were home, including Wesley and Nate’s best friends – Devon and Noah, and Devon’s boyfriend Jeremy – were over helping out. Had David not hurt his leg, he and Jenna would also be there, though whether they would be utterly helpful, Emma wasn’t certain.

The little kids, Gabe and Tony mostly, were looking ready to find a soft spot and drop out cold. Unfortunately, though they had done a lot that day, none of the bedrooms were ready.

Gabe curled up on Devon’s lap, almost completely asleep. Emma was frantically going room to room, trying to find the carry bag she had brought with her and Gabe’s things. She could have sworn it was in the kitchen.

            “Look,” Nate said, leaning over his friend as he tugged off the littlest Ryder’s shoes. “Not having pajamas on for one night won’t kill him.”

They were all sitting around the large living room. Almost all of the rooms downstairs were filled with boxes and bags and random stuff that made Emma’s mind cringe.

How were they ever going to get all of this stuff sorted through?

The trouble with having a large family, is that they each came with stuff.

            “Well, it’s my bag too you know!” she said as she looked through the large closet beneath the main grand staircase. Already, that was crammed with things too.

She sighed.

            “What’s it look like?” Avery asked.

The kids were still eating from the pizza boxes Noah had come over with, though they should have probably been in the kitchen eating. Nate figured they would have to wash out the carpets anyway.

            “A bag!” she yelled back from the closet.

            “So helpful,” scoffed Harris. Avery stood up, shaking his head as he went to help his mother.

            “I see plenty of those,” Jack added.

Tony slumped between Thad and Eli, leaning against Thad. His eyes were blinking closed and he was very much losing awareness of the others around him.

            “Where are we going to sleep?” Eli asked through the cheese, bread, and ham. “There’s no beds!”

            “Because you use those so often,” Nate rolled his eyes.

            “We grab the blankets from that box labeled blanket, and each pick a corner.” Wes reached for his fourth slice of pizza.

            “Do we sleep down here? Or upstairs?” asked Thad, grabbing more himself.

            “There’s practically nothing upstairs,” Wes added.

Nate nodded, tossing Gabe’s shoes and jeans over to the side. He just hoped he’d be able to find it come morning.

            “All the corners have boxes,” Jack pointed out.

            “Upstairs than,” Nate said, seating down again on the floor, leaning against the couch. It too had boxes, the most fragile ones from what they could tell, and they were all around the pizza covered coffee table, seating on the ground.

Beside him, Jeremy handed back his soda and continued drinking his own.

            “We should have brought the beds last,” stated Eli. “Already built. Why’d we have to unassembled them? This feels done all wrong!”

Before Nate could tell her to keep her opinions to herself (thought he kind of thought she was right), Emma and Avery reappeared.

Emma proudly clutching her carry-all. She looked them all over, her eyes soon settling on Gabe’s sleeping form. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

            “Seriously, Nathan?” she walked over to the little boy. “Like he’s not going to get cold like that!”

Gabe was peacefully in slumber, his shirt still holding remains of his pizza dinner and his little legs curled in. Just because his Mickey Mouse underwear was showing didn’t bother anyone but his mother.

Such was the regrets of being surrounded by males. It was a battle enough keeping everyone dressed throughout the day.

            “You have a tent or something?” Jeremy asked as Dev helped Emma get Gabe redressed.

            “Somewhere,” Nate shrugged. “Probably.”

            “In with the garage things,” Harris added, remembering when they had packed up the other day.

            “Could set that up,” Jeremy continued.

            “Inside?” Jack grinned. Jeremy shrugged.

            “Up to your parents,” he said. “At least for the kids.”

Nate looked from Jack’s excited face, took in Tony’s mostly asleep face and Eli’s smile.

            “If you guys find it,” he shrugged.

            “Yes!” and Jack was off.

            “Cool!” Eli smiled, headed in the opposite direction of her brother, Avery following after them.


The next morning, Nate was glad that they had already mostly set up the kitchen the day before. He couldn’t imagine trying to get through the day without some caffeine in him. And having to feed the hounds was always a task.

He came down the stairs, peeked into the living room. The tent was still intact, so at least the kids hadn’t wrestled it down this time.

Heading round the house, Nate was pleased, and surprised, to find Harris already awake and making breakfast.

            “This is different,” he said, walking over to the ready brew of coffee. He smiled, seeing the set of mugs already there. He grabbed his blue and green one, pouring the sweet scented relief.

            “Haha,” Harris shook his head. He was watching his pancakes, scrambling both frying pans of eggs and two others of bacon. “Very funny, Dad.”

Nate walked over to him, hugged his son around the shoulders and kissed his sleep tussled hair.

            “See, I knew there was still some sweet boy in you!”

Nate grinned at the glare he received. He walked over to the island, leaning against it in lieu of chairs that they had yet to unpack. He took a big sip and sighed.

            “You sleep okay, H?”

He watched the back of Harris’ shoulders. They were slumped over slightly, even though the new range was of plenty height that he shouldn’t need to be. But it could easily enough be from tiredness.

            “The house feels funny,” he shrugged.

            “Funny, huh. How’s that?”

Sometimes it was easy enough to get Harrison to talk. Other times, it was like that haystack saying.

            “It’s too new,” countered Harrison. “I’m afraid we’re going to mess it up. And that kind of sucks.”

            “It’s a new house, Harris.” Nate placed his mug on the counter and walked over to where he could get a better look at his son’s face and judge his emotions. “The whole place and things were set up by taken us all into account. Enjoy it.”

Harris shrugged and flipped the pancakes.

            “Emma’s getting all excited about everything. She’s ready to make a list about all of the things she wants to buy. She’s going to flip when they get broken.”

            “If they get broken,” Nate countered. Though, he didn’t need his son’s dubious look to tell him that was wishful thinking. “Alright, fine. But she’s aware of that too. It’s not like she’s going to wake up today and suddenly there are eight of you. She can have her fantasy dream house, and then reality will have things breaking every week, and she can go crazy trying to find something shatterproof to replace it.”

            “The whole house needs to be shatter proof.”

They turned and watched Wesley make his way over to the coffee mugs, grabbing his dark blue one with the Superman emblem.

            “Soon enough, it will be. Morning, Wes.”

Wes just nodded and sighed.

            “She’s going to want to paint,” Harris continued. “And recarpet or something.”

            “Paint, yet.” Nate said. “The walls are white, it’s totally okay for her to paint them. There will be no recarpeting. If she wants carpet in the dining room, which is just plain dumb, she can get herself a rug.”

            “You didn’t have a problem with an extra toilet, but carpeting upsets you?”

Nate thought about it for a second, but then he just had to nod. He couldn’t see how carpet, food, and their family was a good idea. Emma complained about cold wood floors. Too bad, she could put some socks on. He wasn’t about to rent out a carpet cleaner on a weekly basis. Again.

Slowly, the rest of the kids started arriving. The sounds and smells of breakfast had the closest kids, Avery, Jack, and Eli, in first. Noah came down, with Tony in arms and lastly, Emma and Gabe, neither looking particularly awake.

            “Do we get to pick rooms?” Eli asked as they began to gather around the picnic style table in the kitchen. Unlike the old house, this would be a breakfast table, with a separate table for the dining room.

Nick started to shrug, but seeing Emma going through her pockets made him start to cringe.

            “I would have said yes, but I’m guessing no,” said Nate.

            “No, I’ve got this!” Emma held up her hand, stopping any protests of groans.

            “Of course you do,” sighed Harris.

Nate glared in his son’s direction, and Harris shrugged. It was no secret that Emma liked to plan things. While Nate had been from a relatively small family of four, Emma was the third child out of five. Nate’s world had been calmer than Emma’s growing up, and he had had no younger siblings shifting the status and focus of the house around. Of course, then he reached twelve and his sister’s son entered the picture.

In all, people would wrongly assume that Emma would be used to the chaos of a large family, almost immune to it, and that it would be Nate to fret over all of the runarounds, but it wasn’t. Emma wanted order and liked to keep as many things as possible organized. It made her a great manager, and it helped the rest of them be able to keep tabs of their duties. Nate, however, was much more laid back. In part, he figured it was because he had eight kids. He had been dealing with kids since he was twelve and Wes had been born. While Emma had been dealing with younger kids since she was three and her younger brother was born, and again at five when the youngest of the Haywards was born; she hadn’t been responsible for them like Nate had been for Wes.

Being the middle child, Emma had responsibilities, but not as much as her older sister and brother. Her parents tried to also be aware of their children, and they weren’t above getting each kid to do their part. But since she only had two siblings younger than her, she wasn’t expected to do as much as Julie and Ike were above her. Emma appreciated her privacy and was available for her family when needed, but she wasn’t as responsible then as she was now.

            “Here it is!” Emma pulled out a triple folded piece of paper. It had many writings all over it, in different writing styles and colored pens.

            “Oh no,” Jack sighed. Thad tapped his head lightly, but the sentiment was felt by all. When Emma got an idea into her head, while not always good it was hard not to go along with it. Especially since Nate was willing to support his wife’s crazy antics full heartedly.

            “Hush! You haven’t even heard it yet!” Emma started to unwrap her paper, Nate leaned over to try and get a glance, but even if Emma hadn’t moved the paper away, he wouldn’t have been able to read it. None of them would have been. It was written in Emma’s own version of hieroglyphics.

            “Can we object?” Eli frowned.

            “Shh!” Emma said. “Ah, here it is. Room one, that’s us.” She motioned to Nate, “and only us. Gaby, you’re in room two now, with Tony. Room three is Eli’s. Room four-

            “Wait!” Jack interrupted. “She gets her own room?”

            “I thought you said everyone had to share?” Avery asked.

            “Why does she get her own room?” Jack retorted.

            “To get away from you,” scoffed Harris.

            “I wanna stay with Momma,” Gabe frowned, pouting at the ground.

            “Enough!” Nate intervened. The kids stopped talking, and Nate held his hand to his head. “I’m not even done my coffee, and I already want to kill you. That does not bode well for you kids.”

            “Eli gets her own room, because –

            “She’s a girl!” Jack finished off.

            “Don’t interrupt your mother!” Nate scolded. “News flash, yes. E is a girl. And she was going to end up with her own room eventually. I wouldn’t have done it yet, but if your mother already plotted this out, I have no problem with it. And if you do, keep it to yourself. Am I clear?”

Jack glared down at the table, and his hands resting on it. It was bad enough getting yelled at, but in front of everyone!

            “Jonathan Max-

            “Yes sir,” Jack quickly replied. He wasn’t having a good first morning in the new house at all. He had already finished badly in the old house, he did not want to continue in this bad streak. His backside needed the rest.

            “What if,” Eli said, frowning at her brother beside her. “I don’t want my own room?”

Nate groaned.

            “Honey,” Emma started.

            “Please,” Harris interrupted. “Don’t start with the whole sexist thing. You guys have been raising her like the rest of us. It doesn’t make any sense for you to change that now.”

            “She’s getting older.” Wes said, as if they all didn’t know it. “And I hate to be the one to say it but pube-

            “Then don’t!” Eli glared at him. “Who’s to say anything would ever happen anyway? Sometimes it doesn’t happen!”

            “Like with Harris,” Thad scoffed.

            “Maturity, and puberty are two different things,” Nate informed them. Of course, at the dreaded p-word most of the kids groaned. “Oh get over yourselves!”

            “Nature, science, every other person in the world.” Thad said. “Face it, Eli, you’re going to be a girl.”

Eli stood up, ready to go on the attack to her older brother, not that it would have much effect on him. She was quite a force though.

            “Eloise!” Nate said. He leaned down the table, glaring to where his only daughter was standing. “Sit your butt down.”

Eli glared back at him, but it only took a second for her to sit herself again.

            “We’re not starting this,” Nate addressed them all. Even Noah, who was just sitting there, eating his pancakes and coffee and hadn’t spoken a word. “I don’t care about opinions. There’s too many of you to make you all happy, so deal with it.”

            “You all barely spent time in your own beds, in your own rooms before. I don’t see what the problem is. This is where your things are going to go,” Emma stated, particularly looking at Jack. “This isn’t to say that you’re never going to see each over, for goodness sakes! It’s a whole house you have to share and fight over! This is just bedrooms.”

            “Can we just finish here?” Avery sighed. He hated being around the family when they got all like this. He was the least confrontational of the bunch, and it made him uncomfortable when too many people where arguing. He was glad that he wasn’t the actual oldest sibling, though he was the first from both of their parents. He wouldn’t have been able to do the kind of confrontations and rule setting like Wes could, or even enforce them like Harris and Thad did.

            “You all need to know your room assignments so that you know where to take your things.” Nate said.

            “I know,” Avery all but apologized. “I just want to go already.” He pushed his remaining eggs through his syrup and didn’t look up at anyone.

            “Yes,” Emma said. “You all have to finish up eating and get unpacking, or else we’re never going to get anything done! Now- Room four, is Jack and Avery. And room five, Harris and Thad.” Emma smiled, looking up from her list. Other than the fact that Eli had her own room, the kids didn’t really object to the room placements.

They all started getting up from the table, taking their plates to the sink.

            “Jackie,” Nate said, grabbing his mug and moving for a refill. “Bathrooms. Ave, take Tony and E, and get the boxes and bags sorted out for what’s whose. Thad and H, you’re helping me get the beds set up. Noah and Wesley, are you two staying?”

Running through the list of everything everyone was doing, Nate addressed his friend and first son. Noah shrugged and Wes nodded.

            “I’m free for the weekend,” Wes said, taking his plate, and tugging Gabe along to the sink and getting him cleaned up.

            “I’d love to think of somewhere else to be, but I’m blank,” Noah said, still sleepily eating through his breakfast.

Emma was at the sink, rinsing off the dishes before getting them into the dish washer. Any one meal could fill the thing up.

            “Mommy?” Tony came over to her side.

            “Yes, my little Ant?” she mussed over his hair with her elbow.

            “Which room’s which?”

Groaning, she turned to Nate who rolled his eyes. Things were never easy.


            “What was her name?” Emma asked. She was helping out in the garage, or at least pretending to help Nate and Noah as they were arranging some of the boxes they had stashed there the night before.

            “Evelyn,” Nate passed a box labeled Christmas to Noah, who was getting them close to the door that hid a stairwell that led to a garage attic. “Evie, she said. Jones-Tobin. Her husband was Augustus Tobin, and he recently passed.”          

            “Sucks,” frowned Noah.

            “Poor thing,” Emma sighed, sipping her tea. She had left Gabe napping on the couch, taking the time to relax and not have to yell at the boys to stop tossing things to each other.

            “She’s got four kids,” Nick said, twisting a box to see if it was labeled or not. Seeing nothing, he cut through the tap to open it up. Inside, he found mostly skulls and RIP signs. “Halloween,” he announced, passing the box over to Noah.

Emma moved forward, grabbing her tape, and got the box back in order before leaving it to Noah to get it into the right pile.

            “Name sounds familiar,” Noah frowned.

            “Four kids,” Emma leaned back against the mudroom door. “All by herself?” she shook her head.”

            “Makes you appreciate me some, huh?” Nate smirked, handing over another Christmas box.

Emma rolled her eyes. “I’ll find myself a witch and bring you back, take that! If anyone deserves to die first, it’s going to be me. I’ll need the rest more.”

Noah scoffed. “You’ll find a way to drive them all crazy over there,” he teased.

            “Yeah, in Hell.”

Emma set her tea aside and started to lunge after her husband, even as Noah burst into laughter.


It was just after lunch, Emma packed herself a simple three cheese casserole, and headed over to their new neighbors. Even though she had plenty left to do at home, and that she knew it was customary for the neighbors to greet the new comers, she felt she had to extend a hand over to the poor lady her husband had meet.

From what Nate had told her, Evie Jones-Tobin had two daughters followed by two sons. Her eldest wasn’t the picture of perfection, and Emma wasn’t dubious enough to think any teen would be. But she could lend the woman an ear if she could. It would be an odd way to meet her neighbor, but maybe start off a friendship.

Emma took the long walk, stood and knocked on the front door to the Tobin residence. No one answered. She wondered if maybe they had left, gone off to be around family. She should have thought of that before she ventured over there.

Just as she was turning around, the door opened.

            “I’m terribly sorry,” a woman, dressed in black, and her slippers, her hair slightly astray as if she had been leaning her head on something. “I didn’t hear the door. Can I help you?”

Emma could tell that the lady had been crying. If this was Evie, she could tell why her husband had stopped to talk with her.

            “Hi!” she smiled, trying to not convey any awkwardness or delve into the woman’s troubles. Not at a first greet anyhow. “I’m Emma Ryder, my husband mentioned meeting you the other day. We just moved in next door. I wanted to come by and properly introduce myself. Evelyn, right?”

Evie wiped at her eyes. She blinked and her eyes glistened with more tears. Still, she managed a smile, however, and Emma returned it.

            “Evie, please,” she reached her hand out, but noticed that Emma was holding a tray. “Oh sorry.”

            “Not at all,” Emma shook her head. She presented the casserole dish forward. “It’s for you and your family. A sort of welcome gift.”

Evie took the dish and smiled. “Thank you. But isn’t it I who should be welcoming you?”

            “Yes, but I’m sorry. Nate told me about your husband, and as a mother, I can only imagine you would rather not waste time trying to cook up a meal. I have to make three of these just to feed everyone. One more was no trouble.”

            “You need that many?” Evie’s eyes widened. “Have you many people over to help you? Normally, I would have gone over by now-

            “It’s no bother,” Emma interrupted, before the woman started to feel badly. “We’ve barely been here a whole weekend. And all of yesterday and today we’re just trying to recall what boxes should go where. We have plenty of help, all the kids and Nate’s friends. My sister is supposed to be coming over, not that I’d put my money on her but there are more than enough hands around that I feel no shame leaving in the middle of it to come over.”

Smiling her acceptance, Evie seemed to relax slightly.

            “This really is a lovely place,” Evie said. “My husband and I move in shortly after the birth of our youngest son, about six years ago. It’s been a great place to raise the children.”

            “We’ve heard great things about the place,” Emma nodded. “But mostly, I think my husband chose it for the space. We were in a three bedroom for far too long. We stayed in that last place for almost five years. I can’t believe we all left alive!”

            “I remember your husband said your eldest sons were teens. My oldest daughter is sixteen, I can’t think of having more than one of her.”

            “We have a thirteen year old, seventeen year old, and a nineteen year old. And then the others have moments of teenage angst. It certainly doesn’t get any easier.”           

Evie thought of Emma’s words and frowned.

            “How many children do you have, Emma?”

Emma could feel herself blush. It wasn’t that she was ashamed, it was that each time she mentioned it, she would get different reactions. Some people seemed appalled; others seemed to think that she was teasing, while others merely seemed amused. Very few times had she met someone with a large family themselves, or that came from a large family.

            “Between Nate and I, we have eight kids.”


Emma smiled and nodded. “That’s right!”

Evie shook her head, but she smiled.

            “I’m going to have to invite you over for coffee sometime,” she said. “If only to assure myself that you’re still alive!”


Before they knew it, it was Harrison’s twentieth birthday.

Emma had begun to either walk over or call Evie on an almost daily basis, and the two were fast friends. Evie liked that Emma was quick to speak her mind, and Emma appreciated finally having a woman amongst her vicinity. They had mostly met at the Tobin’s place, seeing as Emma wasn’t completely certain were everything was placed yet at home. In the almost two weeks since their arrival, they had all worked extremely hard to not only get the house in order, but to adjust to their new lives. They were just on the outskirts of their locale, and while the high school was still in the same vicinity, and some of the sports still coincided, the younger kids had new schools to attend.

For his birthday, the family was putting aside their unpacking and preparing Harris a small get together. Emma was bringing in food from her restaurant and the younger kids were trying to get some cards made. The best gift, according to Harris, however was when it was ten in the morning, and he had been allowed to awaken completely on his own.

Harris was the only one home, and the food a plate of waffles waiting for him on the breakfast table. A small note was attached:

            Happy Birthday, sleepy head. Don’t miss class! Love, Dad

Harris smiled. He couldn’t help but be thankful he had a noon class to get to, and now they lived a little closer to his classes, he didn’t have to leave a whole hour before they started, just half an hour.

Taking the plate to the microwave, he was almost not surprised to find another note on the inside of the little door.

            Take you out tonight, long as you don’t embarrass me. HB-D lil bro -Wes

Harris grinned. While he knew that he wasn’t turning twenty-one, and therefore he was certain Wes wouldn’t take him out drinking, the thought of just going out for the night with his brother was plenty pleasing. Even as they got older, and he really didn’t want to have to point it out, he still looked up to Wes. It was kind of hard not to, the guy made being the eldest, and a future lawyer, seem like cake.

It was the twenty-fifth of January, a Wednesday, and Harris had planned on skipping school to head out and just be. His friends would likely either be sleeping or in class themselves, but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t have his own fun.

However, he decided that for once, he would heed his father’s words and go to school. He should be getting more than a heavy dose of karma for that one.

As Harris headed out an hour later, he was startled to find Evelyn Jones-Tobin coming up the driveway.

            “Hi!” she greeted. Evie was still dressed all in black. Harris had no idea how long someone was supposed to wear the clothes for mourning, he just knew that it made him uncomfortable. He’d noticed plenty of people walking around in the neighbor’s house or backyard. Most of them wore black.

            “Hey,” Harris closed the door behind him. He walked down the front steps and headed over to the jeep, which had been left there for him to be able to go to his class that evening.

Evie walked over to him, handing him over a small, covered plate.

            “Harrison, right?”

            “Yeah,” Harris took the plate in his hands. It felt warm to the touch, so he figured she had just finished making them recently. “Thanks. Evelyn, right?”

            “Evie, or Mrs. Tobin. But everyone calls me Evie.” Evie stood in front of him, almost a whole foot shorter than Harris.

He held the plate in his hands, nodding as he looked back at her. Harris smiled at her, she smiled back, and it was plenty awkward.

“So-”He s Harrison started, trying to think of a polite way to get the heck out of there.

“It’s your birthday today, right?” she asked suddenly, frowning as if she had unveil some horrible mistake.

“Yeah,” Harris replied, surprised that she knew. Emma and Evie were starting to talk a lot, maybe every other day, but he hadn’t thought that he would have been the topic of choice for them.

“The big two-oh,” she smiled, looking away from him for a moment. She looked thoughtful, and Harris wondered if something was triggering for her about her dead husband. The way he figured it, just about anything could trigger a memory for a person if they’re all upset about things.

“Yep,” he nodded. It worked enough to get her to look back up at him.

Normally, Harrison wasn’t this bad at small talk. And it certainly wasn’t because she was a woman. In fact, they were probably easier to talk to – for Harrison – than talking to other guys that weren’t family. It was the reason that, every time that one of his girlfriends broke up with him, he was with someone new within the week. A fact that certainly didn’t make his stepmother too proud of him, but oh-well. As long as he didn’t get any pregnant, his dad was usually okay with it and that was mostly what Harris knew he had to worry about.

But he wasn’t used to talking with someone that was so clearly still in mourning.

Maybe that was why he said, what he said next. And maybe, in the years to come and for the rest of his life, he might think back to this moment and wonder if things would have ended up differently had he simply gone on with his day.

            “This was very kind of you,” he motioned to the plate in his hands. “Thank you. I’ll let Emma know you dropped them off.”

            “Oh, they were for you,” she shrugged. “I always try and make my children their favorite cookies for their birthdays.” Evie explained. “And since I had the time today,” again she shrugged. “They’re just regular sugar cookies. Nothing special. I figured, everyone looks sugar cookies, right?”

Harris smiled and nodded. He certainly had yet to meet a cookie he’d turn down.

            “Thanks a lot,” he smiled now, thinking of fresh baked cookies with his name on them. (Hopefully not literally.) Emma was a pretty decent baker, but he doubted she would ever be able to find the time to make each of them their own batch of cookies for all of their birthdays. “I can tell you, this will be gone in an instant in our house.”

            “You have quite the siblings, I’ve heard.”

Harris nodded. That was certainly one way to point out that they had enough kids to start their own sports team.

            “That we do,” he replied. “And there is always a mouth willing to eat.”

            “I hope you enjoy them,” Evie said. “They’re my Alex’s favorite.”

            “Can’t wait,” Harris said. He was running a bit too close to get to his class just in time, and he could see that Evelyn was readying to leave too. Prefect, he thought, won’t have to be rude at all.

And apparently, his mind took that to mean hey, let’s be overly friendly and invite her and her black-clad kinds over!

            “I have to get going now,” Harris motioned to the Jeep. “But, we’re having a bit of a get together later. I think my uncles are coming over, maybe my grandparents. There’s going to be a ton of food, and there’s always left overs. If you guys wanted to stop by, it wouldn’t be a bother.”

Evie seemed surprised by the invitation – and honestly, so was Harris. But, it was the polite thing to do, he thought. His Gram would be mega pleased with him. It was such the old lady thing to say.

Not that he would openly call her an old lady.

            “We wouldn’t want to intrude on your birthday,” she shook her head.

And he should have left it at that. But no!

            “Really, it’s no bother at all. I’m sure Emma wouldn’t mind. And the kids could all get to know each other. Besides, I’ll be heading out with my older brother after a while. I’ll hardly be there. It’s not much of a birthday party.”

Another two minutes, and she had nodded reluctantly at him. She would try, she said. And Harris would leave it at that. He got into the Jeep, secured the plate of cookies in the back seat, and was on his way before long.


When Harrison got home, he was instantly assaulted by the youngest members of his family. Somehow, Little Gabe climbed up his back and clung around his neck. Tony was firmly attached to his hips, the seven year old’s arms just coming to clasp together barely at his hip. Eli and Jack were at each of his arms, but at least they backed off a step after the initial assault.

            “Guys! Chill,” he sighed, trying to pluck a certain monkey off of his back.

            “Good luck with that,” scoffed Thad, coming into the kitchen from the study through the family room. “They’ve been waiting for you since they got home.”

            “You’d think I had money or something,” Harris teased, thankful when Thad grabbed Gabe off of him.

Harris leaned down and grabbed Tony into his arms, tossing the kid upside down and tickling him down his sides.

            “No fair!” Tony grasped between fits of laughter.

            “Hey, it’s my birthday,” Harris said, digging his fingers into the small stomach. “I can do as I please! There’s laws about these things, you know.”

Thad rolled his eyes.

            “Yet, somehow, that law only seems to be in effect on your birthday.”

Harris dropped his little brother to the ground, turning just enough to punch Thad’s shoulder and take Gabe from his arms.

            “Funny thing, laws.”

The kids had made him cards. It was tacky, but it was expected. What else were kids their ages supposed to do? Gabe’s letters were just starting to get legible, he noted, and Tony was probably in a poetry stage in school, because his was a bit forced rhymed. Jack’s was the funniest, and Avery’s was by far the most artistic. Kid had talent, and he told him as much, ruffling the thirteen year old’s hair with a smile.

            “And you?” he turned to Eli, frowning when his only sister didn’t present him with anything.

Eli looked up from a comic book she and Jack were leaning over and shrugged.

            “It can wait,” she said, turning back to her reading.

Jack looked over at her, frowning. And if Jack didn’t know, Harris doubted anyone would. Except maybe Wes, who wouldn’t tell him even if he begged. Eli was quite the secret keeper.


By the time that Wes, and Noah, showed up, Emma, Eli and Tony had already made two chocolate and three vanilla cakes. Harris doubted he’d see any of them come morning.

Noah came up behind Harris, who was sitting in the new family room off of the kitchen and playing video games with Thad and Jack. Avery and Gabe were watching them. Dropping a huge sombrero on top of Harris’ head, he grabbed the newly twenty year old in a headlock.

            “Hey Birthday Boy!”

            “Agh,” Harris groaned, trying to get free from both the huge hat and Noah. “Get off me! You stink!”

            “And the maturity level of our resident lawyer shines ever so brightly!” Thad teased.

            “Hey!” Noah frowned, pausing in his assault of Harris long enough for the birthday boy to get out from under him.

            “Jerk,” grinned Harris, tossing the sombrero towards Noah. “You made me lose!”

Wesley appeared next in the room, already munching on something. He walked over to Harris, grabbing him around his neck.

            “Birthday brat,” he said, tugging at Harrison’s taller frame and tugging at his hair before ruffling it.

            “Old ass punk!” retorted Harris, elbowing his brother lightly enough in the stomach.

Wes coughed slightly but laughed.

And of course, then they started wrestling.

            “Seriously!” groaned Jack.

            “Dude!” Thad whined, dropping his hands and remote on his lap. “We can’t see!”

Noah walked over to the kitchen, ruffled Tony’s hair and used Eli as an armrest, earning himself a jab to the gut.

            “Agh,” Noah grabbed a hand over his stomach. He took a few steps away from the girl and glared. “Tough room.”

            “We made cakes,” Tony smiled. He was kneeling up on a stool, getting a good height to work on the kitchen island. He was currently stirring up some frosting as Eli split the other cakes in half, getting them ready to be placed back together.

Noah eyed the five cakes in display.

            “You don’t say.”

            “Somehow,” Emma said, turning from where she was washing her hands at one of the sinks. “I don’t think it’s enough.”

Noah walked over to her and gave her a hug.

            “Em, you’re insane, alright?” he teased, getting her into a bear hug hold before releasing her. She shoved at his arm, but stayed beside him. She was too used to Noah’s antics to be any bothered by him by now. “There’s enough there to host a block party!”

            “Not with the way this crew eats,” she scoffed. “You included!”

Noah consented to that, shrugging and walking over to the island, where he dipped his finger into the chocolate frosting and got a glare out of Tony.

Gabe came rushing over, probably already bored with his oldest brothers’ fighting, and attached himself to Noah’s leg.

For his part, Noah reached down and plucked the little leech off of him, flipping him upside down and over his shoulder.

            “You didn’t say hi to me!” Gabe complained, taking a tight pull at Noah’s hair.

            “Aah!” he cringed. “Easy kid! I don’t need any bald spots! Where’s your old man, anyhow?”

            “Daddy’s working,” Tony replied, watching intently as Eli cut through the third cake perfectly in half.

            “He’s grabbing dinner,” Eli added, not looking up from her work.

            “Aw man,” Noah groaned. Eli rolled her eyes.

            “You don’t even know what he’s getting. You’re worse than us kids!”

            “What’s he getting then?” he asked, flipping Gabe back around and holding him in his arms.

            “Pizzas,” Tony said.

            “Like three lasagna trays from Giancarlo’s, and Chinese,” Eli added.

            “He’s getting buffalo wings!” Gabe added.

            “And some egg rolls,” Emma added. She went over to the other side of the counter and started putting the cakes together.

            “Jeesh,” Noah frowned. “Did you leave any for the rest of the denizens?”

            “Haha,” Emma said, tossing her practically brother-in-law a look.

            “The what?” frowned Tony.

            “The people,” Noah replied, leaning down to place Gabe on the stool beside his brother. Not that Gabe would be much help. But the four year old actually loved trying.

            “You’re going to have to wash your hands if you want to help,” Eli told him. Gabe turned, hopped off of the stool, and went over to one of the sinks. Noah moved to help him.

            “You know very well that the second we settle on one thing to buy, everyone else will decide that they don’t want that! This way, no one has anything to complain about, and we have leftovers for the next few days,” Emma pointed out.

            “You know all the kids are going to eat are those cakes, right?” Noah said, coming back to place Gabe once more on the stool.

Tony and Eli giggled. Emma glared at the three, really four when she counted Noah Graham into such things.

            “You better not, if you know what’s what!”

The doorbell propelled memory back into Harris’ mind.

            “Oh yeah!” he groaned, shoving Wes away and moving to get to his feet and away before his brother could retaliate.

Harris went over to the island. Like Noah, he dipped a quick finger into the frosting and sidestepped Tony’s shove.

            “That’s gross!” the seven year old cringed.

            “Emma,” he started to say, sucking at his finger. “I invited the neighbors over.”

            “Why?” Eli frowned, looking up from the cake.

            “Evie?” Emma frowned, looking at her stepson in wonder. “When did you talk with her?”

            “Saw her as I was leaving this morning. She made me some cookies, and I told her to stop by.”

Emma sighed.

            “And you wait until now-

            “I forgot,” shrugged Harris.

Finished washing her hands, Emma walked over to get the front door. Passing through the family room, she kicked Wes’ legs out of her way and glared at the room in general.

            “No, don’t get up,” she mocked, walking towards the foyer and the front door.

When she got there, she was surprised to instead see Devon, Jeremy, and her own Nathan standing there. Each with their arms plenty full with food.

            “A little help here,” Nate groaned, the five boxes of pizzas in his arms.

            “You scared me,” Emma said, opening the door to let Jeremy and the lasagnas, followed By Devon and the Chinese takeout and chicken buckets, and finally Nate in. “You live here! You know no one rings the bell!”

            “Jeremy could only move his elbow,” Nate explained.

            “Get over here and grab the grub!” Devon called out. He was trying to balance three chicken buckets and two bags of take out, and he didn’t think it would take long before it met the ground.

As Thad, Jack, Avery and Wes all appeared and started grabbing things to help them, Emma was surprised by the arrival of Evelyn Tobin-Jones at the still opened door.

            “Hi,” Evie said, stopping just on the outside of the door.

            “Evie!” Emma smiled, glad that at least she didn’t have to seem surprised. At least this time Harris had given her at least two minutes heads up, and it wasn’t a new girlfriend invited.

Beside Evie, Emma was surprised to see all four of the Tobin kids. While she had spent some time coming and going from the Tobin place, the only one of Evie’s kids that Emma had seen so far was Nikki, the twelve year old second daughter. But before her now stood both girls and both boys, though while the three younger kids looked uneasy, the oldest girl looked bothered.

            “Is it too early?” Evie frowned, seeing the others running around still getting the food towards the kitchen.

            “No,” Emma grinned, shaking her head. “The foods’ all here! You’re just in time!”