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: As Nick sets about building his dream house, they meet their new neighbors, the Tobins.


Dad. At the beginning and end of every day, Nathaniel Ryder was still a dad. Some days, he was happier about that then others. On Tuesdays, at 6:30 AM, he was not a happy man.

Nate groaned as he twisted and slapped his alarm shut. Make that 6:32 AM, he’d managed to sleep through that annoying buzz for two minutes. Somehow, it didn’t make him any less grumpy.

Nate rubbed at his eyes, trying to remember what it was that had kept him awake until almost one in the morning. Normally, it would be waiting up on one of the kids, but last night was all his fault. He had to finish up his sketch for a meeting that evening, and he’d had to put it off until the last minute. Wasn’t he telling the kids day in and day out not to procrastinate? Well, he was paying the price for it now.

Sitting up, he reached over his shoulder and poked the still snoring body beside him. Nothing.

            “Babe,” he yawned. “Time to get up.”

Stretching, Nate got up and looked back at the two beautiful blonds he was sleeping with, cuddling up together. He groaned.

            “Emma,” he called out to his wife. “Emma, it’s morning.”

            “Go away,” she whispered back. “S’not morning yet.”

Nate smiled and leaned down, kissing her sleep warm cheek.

            “It’s morning now. Come on, I’m not getting them all up by myself.”

            “I’ll get them tomorrow,” she tried to wave him away.

Nate stood up and headed to the master bathroom. “You say that every morning. We both know you don’t mean it.”

            “I do, I mean it,” she said with a groan.

Nate paused at the bathroom door. From there he could see Emma, eyes closed tightly against the news of morning, arms entangled around a much smaller little blond. Further down the room, in the small toddler bed where said blond was supposed to be sleeping was instead a slightly larger blond, fast asleep. Neither boy was woken by the buzzing alarm.

            “You’ve got Tony and Gaby, I’ll get the others.”


Nate walked out of his room, ten minutes later and half dressed. By half it meant his shoes were probably still downstairs, and his shirt was in the laundry downstairs. His pants, however, were on and that had to stand for something.

He knocked on the first door, but since he didn’t expect anyone to actually be up, he just walked right in. As he suspected, all the kids in there were fast asleep. There was soft music playing from Eli’s headphones, since Jack preferred the quiet to sleep and Eli couldn’t stand it. Nate walked over to her bed, but instead of finding Eli, he found his eldest son, Wes. Frowning, he knelt down and looked under the bed, sure enough, Batman blanket and robot pajamas signified Eli was once again sleeping under her bed.

With a grown, Nate reached under and pulled his daughter out by her foot. She moaned and tried to kick him off.

            “You better cut that out,” he warned, getting her out in the open.

            “Daddy,” she sighed, sitting up and rubbing at her eyes. “I was sleeping.”

            “Yeah. Under the perfectly good bed your mama bought you,” he reached for her hands and pulled her to standing. “Which you better start using if you know what’s good for you!”

Nate stood up, pleased to see that at least Wes was rustling awake.

            “And you,” he reached out and smacked his son’s leg. “Don’t you have your own bed, in your own apartment? Why do you keep stealing your sister’s bed?”

Wes opened his eyes but remained laying down.

            “She said I could,” he shrugged. Yawning he blinked and looked around the room. “She doesn’t like sleeping in the bed.”

            “You could have taken Tony’s,” Nate pointed to the third, still made bed. “Or you could have,” he turned back to Eli. “He never seems to use it.”

            “Tony doesn’t like beds either,” Eli said, crawling into her bed now to cuddle up with Wes.

            “Yeah well,” Nate reached around her waist and picked her up and placed her back on her feet. “Your mother didn’t insist on each of you having your own beds so that you’d end up sleeping on the floor. Or sneaking in here when you’ve already moved out. Two years ago.”

Wes pushed himself onto his elbows. “You have better breakfast.”

            “It’s General Mills, try it out,” Nate said, swiping the side of Wes’ sleep tussled hair.

            “I brought donuts,” Wes said, scratching at his head.

            “What kind?” Eli asked, one eye partially open enough to see her brother.

            “What time did you get in?” Nate asked instead.

Wes looked up at the ceiling as if in thought.

            “What time is it now?”

Nate sighed and shook his head. “You really shouldn’t be driving so late.”

            “Relax,” Wes pulled his legs up and leaned against his knees. “I drove extra slow and everything.”

            “Did you buy one of those big boxes? How’d you fit that on?” Eli asked, moving to sit on the edge of her bed.

            “It better not be one of those big boxes,” Nate crossed his arms. “You need both hands to steer.”

            “Dad, I’m not going to get into an accident over some donuts, okay? Relax, they have bags you know.”

            “Did you bring enough for everyone?” Eli frowned. “Did you get chocolate? I want a chocolate one.”

Eli stood up, moving with some speed for the first time, but was stopped before she could get to the door by Nate.

            “You need to get your butt into some clothes and brush your teeth.”

            “Brushed them last night!” she frowned. Wes scoffed.

            “Eloise Ryder, get your butt in gear, now.” Nate released her with a quick swat to her pajama clad behind. “And you!” Wes held his hands up in surrender.

            “I got in like midnight, it wasn’t that late. You guys are just getting old and can’t stay up. Thad and Har were still up and let me in.”

            “What happened to your keys?”

Wes sighed and rolled his eyes. “Don’t you have kids to wake up?”

            “Wesley,” Nate said, his voice taking a firmer tone that he normally didn’t do anymore with his eldest.

            “They were up, so they let me in,” Wes twisted in the bed enough to get his feet on the ground. “I have my keys, on my key chain. Which I had with me, because the bike doesn’t move without keys. And don’t you think that if I was trying to hide something, I would have gone to my own place, Dad?”

Nate frowned back at his son, but dropped his arms. It was too early to pick a fight with anyone.

            “Fine. You’re probably right. I need to wake up your brothers.” Nate turned then, heading back towards the hall, passing Eli who was rummaging through the dresser for clothes. “Half of that stuff looks dirty.”

            “Probably stained,” she shrugged, still looking for a shirt.

Nate sighed and shook his head again.

            “Oh, and Jack!” he turned, looking back at the third bed that hide the form he’d been ignoring since he entered. “I know you’re awake. Get your butt up and moving, you don’t want me to tell you again.”

Jack pushed his blankets away from his face and glared in Nate’s direction, but said nothing.

Nate waited for a second, but when Jack didn’t move, he crossed his arms again and glared in his direction.

            “Jonathan Maxwell Ryder.”

            “Ooo,” Wes said, standing and stretching his arms up high. “Full name. Jackie, you’re in trouble.”

Jack turned his head enough to level his glare to his brother.

            “Get. Dressed.” Nate said, leaving the trio and heading to the third bedroom. Where he would likely have to actually dragged the boys out of bed. Literally.

Walking past the bathroom, Nate was surprised to actually hear some movement in it. Turning the doorknob, he was surprised to see Avery already dressed and brushing his teeth.

Avery looked up, grinning in Nate’s direction.

            “Hi Dad!”

            “You,” Nate said, pointing at teen. “Are my favorite today. Now, if you tell me you managed to get your brothers up too, I’ll buy you a car!”

Avery rolled his eyes.

            “No such luck,” Avery shrugged. “Those two are glued to their beds. There’s no prying them.”

            “Well, it was worth a shot,” Nate shrugged. “You sleep okay? You’re not usually up this early.”

Avery nodded and turned to swish his mouth out with water. “Heard your alarm, couldn’t go back to sleep.”

Nate scoffed and shook his head. “Yeah, you were the only one, then. Your mom and brothers all sleep right through it.”

            “I was probably waking up anyway. The body follows routine, you know.”

            “Not if you’re a Ryder,” Nate smiled. “Well, good for you, Ace. This going to be a daily thing or?

            “Dad,” Avery placed the towel down beside the sink. “One day at a time!”

            “Okay, okay!” Nate held his hands up. “Your brother says he brought donuts for breakfast. Save E some chocolates if you don’t want her to kill you.”

            “Got it,” Avery nodded very seriously, mirroring his father’s earlier pose of crossing his arms.

            “I’m heading in,” Nate added, nudging his head to the remaining room.

            “Godspeed,” Avery shrugged.

Nate pushed himself off of the door edge and didn’t comment on his son’s joke. Honestly, waking his last two sons was quite the chore on its own.

The last room in the hall, and the third and final bedroom in the overly crowded house had its door closed as Nate approached. He didn’t bother knocking on it, instead pushing the door open and grimacing at the mess. The room was still called the teens’ room, though Harrison was now almost twenty and in college. With Thad and Avery still in their teens, the room resembled the aftermath effects of a tornado slash earthquake situation known only in the Ryder household. It was not a pretty sight.

And he could have sworn that he had had them clean it out just that weekend.

Nate walked straight over to the windows. He stepped on a few questionable things, kicked away some clothes and books and empty cans, but he finally made it to the window to open the shades and let in some much needed light.

            “Don’t,” he heard a groan.

            “Get up, showered, dressed, I don’t care. Thaddeus, you’re out of here in less than twenty, dressed or not. Harry, you’ve got class too, get your ass up.”

As one boy groaned, the other buried further into his sheets.

            “Harrison Marcus!” Nate said, calling a full name for the third time that morning. His kids really didn’t know how lucky they were that he was just too lazy to strangle them all.

Harris pushed the sheets away from him, and like his little brother Jack, glared in Nate’s direction.

            “S’not til nine!”

            “That doesn’t mean you get to sleep until 8:30. Or skip it to sleep in again.”

            “One time,” Harris groaned, turning to bury his face into his pillow.

Nate walked over to him and pulled the pillow from under his head. Harris groaned and mumbled, but knew better than to curse out or retaliate. He didn’t want to test Nate that early, or have to point out that at twenty, he should be more than old enough to be left to do his own thing.

            “One time too many,” Nate said, tossing the pillow to the foot of the bed. “Do you need a curfew, or a bedtime?”

In the other bed, Thad laughed into his blankets and Harris turned his head enough to glare in his brother’s direction.

Nate too turned towards his son.

            “I wouldn’t be laughing, T. You’re butt isn’t in any safer position.”

            “I know, I know,” Thad said, turning to smile in Nate’s direction. “I’m awake, Dad. Thanks.”

Knowing that at least Thad would remain awake, Nate instead turned to Harris who was closing his eyes and using his arms as pillows. He reached for his arm and tugged him up until he started to sit up and moan, annoyed.

            “Two minutes, and you better be getting ready, or its –

            “I know,” Harris interrupted, using his free arm to catch himself and get his balance. “Or it’s my ass. Thanks Dad, I think I got it.”

            “Two minutes, smart ass.”

Walking back to his room, Nate heard Jack and Wes in the bathroom, sidestepped Tony rushing back towards his room, where Eli was trying to find her shoes. Inside, he found Emma and Gabriel, the baby of the family, sitting on the middle of the big bed, and brushing their hair.

            “He needs a cut,” Nate said, leaning over to kiss the little boy’s soft, crazy blond hair.

            “No, it’s fine.”

            “It’s getting too long. We still want to give the illusion of being aware of the kids, right? I think my mom would say hair counts. Or would you rather prove your mother right, that we can’t handle eight?”

Emma stopped long enough to look over her shoulder at him and give him her ‘who are you kidding’ look.

            “She could barely keep track of the five of us, I don’t think she has anything to say to me about that.”

Nate scoffed. “My mother had two kids, and she still criticizes and complains. It’s a parent-thing.”

Emma groaned and dropped her hands on her lap. “Ugh! If I ever turn into a nag, shot me.”

            “I’m about ten years too late for that,” Nate teased.

She turned around and smacked him with the brush, before turning back to continued brushing.

            “Gabe, you’re what twelve?”

            “Yep,” Gabe replied, pulling the comb through his hair.

            “And you’ve had like what, three haircuts?  Em, this kid needs a cut.”

            “Nooo,” Gabe frowned, holding his hands over his hair. “Daddy, its fine. Don’t have to cut it. I like it.”

            “See, he’s fine.”

            “It’s past his shoulders,” Nate frowned, tugging at the hair strands.

            “But it looks fine,” Gabe insisted. “See, I’m fixing it.” Gabe brought the comb up again and started brushing his bangs.

            “Tony needs a trim too,” Nate sighed. “I could take them after work.”

            “I thought you had to look at the house today?”

Nate groaned. That was true, while he spent most of his days drawing up or inspecting through houses with planners and engineers, he often put their own so-called ‘dream house’ off of his mind. But the contractor had called him a few days earlier saying that after a year, it was almost all set.

They were going to have to start packing up the house soon.

            “That’s right, I’m heading there after work. Tomorrow then, I’ll take the boys to get haircuts.”

            “Which boys?” Emma frowned.

            “Well, Harry can go himself, probably take Thad with him. Ace needs a trim if he’s supposed to see for the next few weeks. Jack’s hair is pretty short, Eli might want to cut hers, but it might be better to let hers start to grow out, Tony needs a trim, and Gaby here, definitely.”

            “Daddy, I don’t need a haircut.” Gabe insisted. Nate just rustled his hair.

            “Avery, Ant and Gaby. So Jack and Eli stay with?”

            “Wes, maybe?” Nate frowned. “Or I’ll check with my parents.”

            “Because they’re always so happy to have the resident trouble makers at home.” Emma gave him a look.

            “Is Jack and Eli in trouble?”

            “Not as of yet,” Nate replied. “And I’ll see what Dev is up to. Or Noah, he’s more than willing to tie them up for a few hours.”

Emma smiled and scoffed. “Well, they are forewarned. Thad and Harris?”

            “H should be in class, or I’ll kill him, and Thad has practice pretty late.”

            “What a fun day, then!” Emma said. “I’ll jot it down in a second.”

            “I’ll go look for my shirt,” Nate said, taking Gabe in arms and leaving the room. “Anything else for today?” he asked, stopping at the door.

            “I’ll check the book. We’ll reconvene at breakfast!”

Nate smiled and nodded, saluting before he left, which Gabe copied with a laugh. Emma had a planner/notebook that she wrote out the whole weeks’ worth of things that everyone was doing. All of their practices and lessons, suspensions and groundings, parties and curfews, everything was written in it. Almost for a decade now, Emma had been keeping the family on track through that notebook, and it had so much in it now, that it was almost its’ own language. Nate wouldn’t even dream of trying to decipher it, and he doubted that Emma could explain it to him if she tried, but somehow it all worked out.


The current house that they lived in had three bedrooms, and two and a half bathrooms. Upstairs, there was the master bathroom, and the kids’ bathroom in the hall. On most mornings, it didn’t seem like nearly enough. Downstairs, beside the laundry room and through the kitchen, there was a smaller half bath that got plenty of use throughout the day. The bathtub was the one appliance in the house that they had to fight the boys to use. They never seemed to want to take a bath, but when they were in there, it was even harder to get them out.

Walking downstairs, Nate passed through the living room, which had the TV on and playing some cartoon, but no one was watching. Groaning, he reached for the remote and hoped that the boys hadn’t left the thing on all night. Passing into the dining room, he passed Thad and Avery eating their breakfasts of toast and donuts, and cereal and donuts respectively.

Through the kitchen, he stepped into the laundry room that doubled as the hall towards the garage. Placing Gabe on the floor, Nate knelt down to reach into the dryer, rummaging through it until he found a clean shirt for himself, and clothes for Gabe. Handing the clothes over to the four year old, he sent him off to get dressed and looked on the shelves for the iron. His shirt didn’t need that many wrinkles this early in the day.


By the time it was ten to seven, most of the kids were downstairs and Emma was getting to the bottom of the steps. She had her heels in one hand and with the other was holding her earrings.

            “Okay, Avery, you have a club meeting, and then you have band. Eli and Jack, hockey practice today, and let your teammates leave with some dignity and less bruises. Thad, practice or clubs, your schedule drives me insane. Tony, you have a playdate with Molly, so you’re going home with her mom today and Nate, you’re picking up Gabe after you check out the house.”

            “Avery is upstairs, and Gabe is in the bathroom,” Wes said, stuffing his mouth with a whole jelly donut.

            “That is disgusting,” Emma frowned, looking at him and tossing her shoes onto the floor, putting her earrings on. “You’re setting a bad example.”

Wes frowned and gave Emma a look that said he wasn’t going to be setting any example that the boys hadn’t already seen.

Nate came closer to them, finishing his own bagel and frowning at his son’s full mouth.

            “So, it’s raining out there,” Nate said, leaning against the edge of the kitchen peninsula.

Wes sighed and rolled his eyes. “Dad,” he said through the donuts pieces still in his mouth.

            “You’re not riding that thing in the rain.”

            “I’m twenty-five, I think I can judge for myself if-

Nate shook his head and glared at his son.

            “I know how old you are, and I don’t care.”

            “Dad, I know how to ride in the rain.”

            “You really shouldn’t, though” Emma added, reaching down to put her heels on.

            “I have before, and I’m in no rush, so I’ll be fine.”

            “I saw this video online once,” Harris started to say, finishing up his juice. He eyed the younger kids around him, preparing himself and them for what would likely not be a PG story. “Where this guy rode straight through this huge puddle, lost control of his bike, and rode right into these wires and –

            “Harrison!” Nate yelled over his shoulder. “Finish that story, and I’ll finish you!”

            “Nothing’s going to happen,” Wes said, glaring in what Nate presumed was his brother’s direction over Nate’s shoulder.

            “But what happened?” Tony asked as Gabe returned to the table.

            “Did his head come off?” Eli asked. “I think his head came off.”

            “Whose head came off?” Gabe asked, gripping his juice cup with both hands.

            “No one’s head came off,” Nate gritted out. He glared at the whole table of kids before turning back to Wes. “And nothing’s going to happen, because you’re not riding that death trap in the pouring rain.”

            “I thought no one’s head came off?”

            “Harrison Marcus Ryder!”

            “Nice,” Thad whispered at his older brother. “That’s the second time he full name’d you today.”

Thad stood up and grabbed for his backpack underneath the picnic style table.

            “I better get going,” he said aloud. “Bus sometimes comes earlier when it’s pouring out.”

            “Grab an umbrella!” Emma said, walking over to the bathroom.

            “I can ride just fine,” Wes insisted.

            “And I can lock you in the basement, call you in sick.”

            “Geesh, just let the guy drive you and be glad you don’t have to foot it there,” Harris said, taking his dishes over to the dish washer.

            “You’re going to foot it, thirty miles?” Wes asked back.

            “No! I’m taking the Jeep,” Harris said, looking at his older brother like he was insane.

            “You’re leaving now? I thought your class wasn’t until nine?” Nate questioned him.

Harris shrugged. “Figured I’ll head to the library and finish off some work I need to turn in.”

            “Still procrastinating,” Thad said, coming back with his jacket on and an umbrella on hand. “What a great example you lead us with.”

            “Haha,” Harris replied, raising a finger to his brother that his father instantly smacked down.

            “Really, Harry?” Nate glared back.

            “That’s Gabe’s umbrella,” Eli pointed out, grabbing her own plates and taking it to the dish washer.

            “So?” Thad frowned, glancing down at the green umbrella.

            “So,” Jack continued, taking his own plates up. “It’s Bob the Builder.”

            “And I need a new umbrella,” Thad said, turning back around and going to change the umbrella he had on hand.

            “Okay,” Emma said, coming back out of the bathroom, ready for the day, and heading straight for the coffee pot. “Who’s going where? And why does no one leave me enough coffee?” she groaned, seeing barely half a cup left.

            “Because, you got down here last,” Wes replied. “You have to move faster than that, Emma.”

Emma gripped her coffee mug and glared in Wes’s direction, shaking the mug at him.

            “So, Em’s going to kill you in a caffeine deprived rage, and I’m going to lock you in the basement, your day’s not off to a good start, buddy.”

            “Ugh,” Wes finally stopped arguing. “Fine, you want to take the extra time to get me to work, that’s on you!”

            “We work in the same building, smarta-mouth.” Nate turned and looked at the rest of his kids. Five minutes to seven.

            “Alright, Thad, you’re going to miss your bus! Hurry your butt up! Jackie, E, and Ace head over to Mrs. Lawrence until your bus gets here. Behave yourselves, because if she gives me a call today, I will not be happy. Hone, you’re taking Tony and Gabe, right?”

            “If I can see straight enough, sure,” Emma replied, taking the coffee mug and shaking every last drop into her travel mug.

            “Great,” Nate turned back around. “Harris, if you get another speeding ticket, I’m running you over with the Jeep. Am I clear?”

            “Fine,” Harris grabbed the last slices of toast off of the table and stuffed them with a napkin into his pocket. “See you all tonight!” he headed out towards the door, ruffling his siblings hair as he passed them.

            “Drop me off at the stop?” Thad said, coming back with a bright red umbrella.

            “Fine,” Harris rolled his eyes.

            “Kids! Rain boots and jackets! Let’s go!” Emma said as she searched through the fridge for some French Vanilla creamer.

            “Is she talking to the cheese?” Wes frowned.

Nate smacked his son’s forehead. But Wes just grinned.

Harris and Thad headed out the back door, heading to the Jeep that Harris would drive over to the college. In total, the Ryders had three vehicles: A black Jeep, a blue Chevy truck, and a dark red SUV. The SUV was for whoever was driving the youngest kids to school, mostly Gabe and Tony, and sometimes to the middle school if necessary. Today, Emma would be taking the SUV, which left Nate with the Chevy.

            “Alright, we’re heading out!” Jack called out, him and Eli in their boots and jacket, though the jackets weren’t zipped up and pointless in that way.

            “Where’s Avery?” Nate asked, looking over his kids.

            “Zip up your jackets, dummies,” Wes said, pointing at the trouble two by the door.

            “Fine,” Eli sighed, making a big production of getting the zipper up and elbowing her brother to do the same.

            “Avery’s still upstairs, I think,” Jack replied, following suit.

            “Avery Nicholas Ryder, let’s go!” Nate called out, grabbing his briefcase from the counter space next to the fridge and heading over to his jacket by the front door. Why they kept them there when the whole family almost exclusively used the back door, Nate wasn’t sure.

Grabbing his, Avery and Wes’ jackets, he headed back to the kitchen. Avery dashing in behind him.

            “Hey! Slow down,” Nate said, grabbing the young teen by the back of his hoodie. “Here, put it on.” Tossing Wes his jacket, Nate pulled his own on. “You guys are headed over to Mrs. Lawrence. Don’t be jerks over there, Jackie, E, listen to Ave and behave yourself. Ace, you’re in charge over there, okay? You guys be good.” Nate leaned down and kissed Avery on his forehead, ruffling the messy hair and wondering if it was that way for style or his son just didn’t care either way. “Alright?”

            “Sure, Dad,” Avery gave him a quick hug before going to grab his bag and umbrella. “We’ll be fine!”

            “Scout’s honor,” Jack said, sly smile on his face.

            “She’ll barely know we’re there,” Eli added, angelic grin on her face. It was scary how slick that girl could look.

            “You two were never scouts.” Wes pointed out.

Nate hugged Jack and Eli goodbye, just as Avery came rushing back. The trio set out, heading down two houses to where Mrs. Lawrence lived, a lady in her eighties that was more than slick enough to give as good as she got.

            “And you two!” Nate turned to his two youngest sons, who were still eating breakfast, waiting for whenever Emma declared herself ready to go. “You be good, okay?”

            “Promise!” Tony said through a mouthful of apple jacks.

            “That’s disgusting,” Wes retorted, grimacing at his brother.

            “Really,” Emma smirked, coming over to the table as Nate leaned down to kiss the boys goodbye. “I hadn’t noticed that. Funny, how nasty talking with your mouth full can look. Hmm?”

            “Fine, point made.” Wes held his hands up.

            “For about half a day,” Nate added, straightening up. “I’ll call you when I’m at the house later?” He turned to Emma.

            “That’s around five? Five thirty?” Nate nodded. “I should be getting ready for the dinner rush, but leave me a message with Tammy if I don’t pick up, and I’ll get back to you.”

            “You sound like a recording,” Wes pointed out, stealing some of Gabe mini donuts.

            “Hey,” the four year old frowned, looking up and trying his best ‘glare’, which just caused Wes to smile and ruffle his hair.

            “Hey there, partner,” he replied.

            “Tammy,” Nate nodded, leaning over to kiss his wife goodbye. “Got it.”

Wes hugged and kissed the boys goodbye, faking a cringe as Emma kissed his cheek.

            “See you guys! Behave yourself and play nice with others,” Wes said, following Nate out the door. “And you boys too!”

            “Funny,” Emma rolled her eyes. “You’ve got a funny guy for a brother, you know that?” she turned to her sons.


The day progressed as well as Nate imagined it would. His first meeting in the day was long, but everything was still going to schedule. His presentation well better than he expected, especially since he had just finished it the night before. By lunch time, Nate was more than prepared to head over to the legal division of the firm he worked out of and have a less eventful meal with his best friend and his son, who worked with Noah Graham, attorney at law. Instead, he was called into a meeting with a developer and a contractor over an emerging piece. By the time it was almost five, Nate was more than ready to head home.

            “…and Travis Mooreland is already at the house, looking over the work. He said he’ll wait for you there.”

Nate sighed as he pulled his jacket on. It hadn’t rained for a few hours, but the sky looked like it had plans to head that way again. Besides, if he forgot his jacket at work again, Emma would surely remind him he was no better than the kids. Again.

            “Right, the nightmare house,” Nate said. “Thanks for reminding me, Sara.”

            “Your dream house,” she stressed, heading back towards her desk outside Nate’s office. “Unless you like having your boys all stacked up like sardines? Three bedrooms and nine people?”

            “Ten,” Nate clarified. “Wesley spends more time there than at his place. I think five out of seven days, he’s over there.”    

            “He loves his family,” Sara shrugged. “You’re all not that hard to love.”

            “Yeah, sure,” smiled Nate. “In small doses?”

            “No more than three kids at a time!”


As Nate pulled into the street that would soon be his family’s address, he was surprised to see so many cars parked on the street. It was normally a quiet street, the houses well-spaced apart. It was one of the things that Nate had looked for, since he knew his kids certainly weren’t getting any quieter and the added space for them to run around was a plus.

The new house would have five bedrooms, Emma insisted that each kid did not get their own room. She was the middle child of five and figured that sharing space and bedrooms was a part of growing up. Nate had been the younger of two kids, his older sister Tabitha was four years his senior, and he had had his own room for twelve and a half years. Until Tabitha had Wesley and the crib took a permanent place in Nate’s room.

More than just the bedrooms, the new house had larger rooms, a separate dining room, even a large enough basement and attic to store all the ‘treasures’ that came along with having eight kids and a wife that thought everything said kids did was a work of art.

Nate pulled up slowly to the house, trying to squeeze through two cars that had been parked in front of his future, long, driveway.

He was going less than five miles per hour, but he was still surprised when a teenage girl came up and talked to him through the window.

            “Are you here about Augustus Tobin?”

Nate frowned at the unfamiliar name. He could tell that the girl didn’t look happy about something. She was dressed up all in black, but he couldn’t tell if she was going for the ‘Gothic’ look, or if the event next door was a funeral reception.

            “No, I’m sorry. I have no idea who that man is,” he replied truthfully.

            “Thank god,” she sighed. “I so don’t need another person telling me how freaking wonderful he was.”

There was something about her, maybe her tone, maybe her movements, that told Nate this girl wasn’t completely there. Drunk or drugged, he sighed.

            “So, why are you here?” she crossed her arms, trying to give him an intimidating look. At least, that’s what he thought she was doing.

 “I’m heading to see if my house is finished being built.” Nate pointed at the large house a quarter of an acre up the driveway.

“Your house huh? You married?”

The odd question surprised him but Nate held up his right hand, where his wedding band was shining as brightly as it had the day Emma had placed it there. (Well, the day she had placed the original one there, which he had lost about six years ago and had gotten a replacement, but still.)

            “Almost fifteen years,” he replied.

            “Wow,” she said, giving him a look of interest (which was kind of creepy) and surprise. “You look kind of young.”

            “Thanks, I think,” Nate frowned. “I should probably head in. Make sure my contractor doesn’t run off on me.”

Nate started moving his car again, delicately slow.

            “Hey! Have any sons?” she called out.

He smiled, shaking his head. He was glad he didn’t have a teenage daughter.

            “I’ll see you around then!” he called back instead, hoping like crazy that when they did move in, none of his boys started liking that girl. Maybe it was an unkind thing to say. Maybe she was missing this Augustus Tobin fellow, or maybe he should make a mental note of this girl and keep vigil.


Nate walked in a state of awe through the house that would soon be his home. He had seen hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times as one of his drawings and sketches, as his plans took form and wood and framework and steel to become something more than fibers and granite scrapings. But to know that this would be his kitchen, his children would grace those halls and sleep in those rooms and fight over the television remote in that living room. It was a completely surreal feeling.

            “I’ll take it by your silence that so far so good?” Travis Mooreland said with a grin.

Nate spun slightly in what was shaping up to be his master bathroom. One that Emma and he had told each other would not be shared with the kids. He wondered how long that would last.

The tiles were laid by the soaking tub, not yet up on the walls. And the space for the double sinks were already cut out from the stone work, but the sinks weren’t going to be delivered for a few more days. Nate had yet to see the basement, but everything was going along extremely well.

            “I’d say,” Nate sighed, smiling. “All things seem to point to about a month’s worth left?”

Travis nodded and glanced around, taking in his crew’s work too. “Probably less,” he stated. “Parts are coming in right on time, or early. Your contacts are better than most, I’d say. You’ve been holding out on me!” Travis teased.

            “My wife’s been pressing for a grand finale all year,” Nate said, smirking. He didn’t want to pass all the blame on Emma, but as soon as he had told her that he had plans to build them a house, had even thought he had found the perfect place, she had been insistent on its completion.

            “I can imagine. I can barely keep tract of three kids in a three bedroom,” Travis scoffed. “How you can get your crew all set up in that, is a miracle.”

            “No, the miracle isn’t in the bedrooms,” Nate said, leading the way back out of the bathroom and towards the hall. “It’s that they share one bathroom.”

            “No girls,” Travis said, shaking his clipboard at Nate. “That’s the ticket.”

            “Well, there’s Eli, but she’s almost ten.”

            “And I don’t think Eli is going to be shoving any of the boys over to fix up her hair for an hour. My Hannah, is another story.”

Nate smiled and shook his head. It was true. His daughter wasn’t like other girls, and how could she be, with seven brothers. It wasn’t only that Eli would probably not even know what to do with a tea set or dress up clothes, but it was that even if she had such things, she would likely end up thrashing the poor things in the middle of a wrestling match. Or use them as a means to blow something up. Or find a way to prank one of the others relentlessly.

His little girl was a sweet kid, but there wasn’t a lot of the sugar and spice going around in the Ryder household.

            “I don’t think Eli’s going to be that kind of girl,” Nate shrugged. He wasn’t sure what kind of kids he was raising, but he knew for certain that his daughter would more than likely strike out against a person than try to conform to their expectations. She wasn’t going to be a frail, quail lady if she had any say about it.

            “She can still beat my Toby’s team down flat. I wouldn’t bet against that girl, football or not.”

Nate just smiled and nodded.


As the two headed back to the cars, Nate was pleased about how his new home was coming about. He would have to go home today and tell the kids to start packing. Maybe, in a month, they would have all their things together and would be able to move out pronto. They certainly did need the space.

            “We can check the basement in a few days,” Travis was telling him. “As soon as the guys get all the wires and pipes in right.”

Nate nodded and stood by Mooreland’s vehicle as the man got in.

            “Sounds great. I can’t wait to tell the family.”

Once Travis pulled away, Nate walked over to his own vehicle. The blue truck looked out of place in the pale dust of the un-seeded land. In the months to come, Nate planned to get the place up with grass, plants, flowers and trees that his children would likely climb and cause countless of bruises and hopefully no breaks. Until then, the front yard was marred with dark red and browns of dirt, detailing the comings and goings of all of the cars and trucks, wood and steels and wires, all that would take to build them their home.

He hopped up into the front seat, quickly getting the car to turn around in the large drive space. He was as careful leaving the driveway as he was entering it. The cars still piled the street. It didn’t sound like a happy occasion, Nate thought, and it would be sad to meet neighbors after such an occasion, but he couldn’t stop building and planning because of another’s misfortune.

When he was almost out of the drive and into the street, Nate was surprised to spot a figured crouched low behind the fence line. Stilling the truck, he got out and headed towards her. He could hear the sobbing as he neared.

            “Excuse me? Miss?”

When she looked up, it was like he had seen the young, teenaged girl from earlier all over again. They had the same dark brown hair, the same oval shape to their eyes. And if the woman’s hadn’t been bloodshot read from the tears, he imagined that they had the same green-brown irises.

            “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she stammered out, trying to get her tears together and come up for air.

Nate checked his pockets for a tissue. He wasn’t as bad as Emma, keeping gum and tissues and things like that for the kids, but it seemed almost inevitable that having kids you ended up with things like tissues in your pockets. Sure enough, in his jacket he still had two napkins from lunch.

            “Here you go,” he said, handing them over.

She was sitting on a small bench, he could now see. It had been there for some time, at least the plant growth on it seemed to deem it as such. She was dressed all in black, and he could tell this wasn’t a personal style of choice. So it had to be a funeral.

She nodded her thanks.

            “Are you alright?” Nate crouched down beside her.

She nodded again, even as fresh tears started to flow down.

            “I just, I needed a moment,” she explained. “Didn’t think anyone would be over here.”

            “Sorry,” Nate offered her a sympathetic smile. He wondered if he should leave.

She shook her head.

            “It’s okay. I’m just a mess these days,” she smiled sadly. Looking up at him again, she frowned. “Are you one of Augustus’ co-workers?”

            “No, sorry,” he said for the second time that evening. “I’m actually new here.” Nate pointed behind them to the house. “It’s going to be finished in a month, and then we’ll be moving in.”

            “Oh,” she said, glancing at the house. “You’re the new neighbors!”

Nate nodded.

            “And I’ve probably made the worse first impression –

            “Not at all,” Nate shook his head. “I can see I caught you at a bad time. I’m sure that we’ll have plenty of time later for a worse impression. Wait until you meet my kids!” he joked.

That brought a small smile to her face.

            “Nonsense,” she smiled. “I’m sure they’re great. You’re married then?”

Nate nodded. “Yes, very married.”

            “That’s wonderful.”

            “I’m sorry to ask. Was Augustus your husband, then?”

She looked back down to her hands, still tightened against the napkins he’d given her.

            “He was,” she nodded. “I loved him very much.”

            “I’m very sorry for your loss Mrs. Tobin,” Nate said.

She looked up and frowned at him.

            “I met a young girl as I arrived,” Nate explained. “About fifteen, sixteen. She asked me if I was here about Augustus Tobin.”

            “My daughter,” she replied, looking once again at her hands. She reached up to wipe at her eyes again, though the tears were less. “Maisie. She’s been wandering around.” She looked all over the place. “I came out here to look for her, to see if she was okay. But we just keep arguing and arguing.”

            “She’s likely upset about this too,” Nate said, trying to help as he saw her ears start to well up again. “Kids don’t always know how to express themselves.”

            “No,” she shook her head. “Maisie’s been like this for years now.”

            “Teenagers then,” Nate smiled, trying to take the sting out of the woman’s voice. “They have even less of a clue as to what’s going on, inside of them and out. Don’t take it too personally.”

She sat silent for a second, breathing deeply to regain her composure. She wiped at her eyes, blotches of makeup coming off.

            “Have a few of your own?”

Nate nodded. “Seventeen and thirteen, at the moment. One’s turning twenty, but I can say he’s pretty much still sixteen up there,” Nate pointed to his head. “Except, now its college instead of high school.”

            “Twenty? You certainly don’t look old enough,” she frowned.

            “Had him when I was eighteen, and then twenty. Before I met my wife.”

She smiled and shook her head. “And now they’re –

            “Not going to follow in their father’s footsteps,” Nate finished for her.

She laughed slightly, soft and quiet, almost like she didn’t want to.

            “We can only hope they don’t follow in our mistakes.”

Nate looked away and nodded. He had plenty of mistakes, and he wasn’t shy about warning his boys about them. It was hard to think of any of his kids as mistakes, he had certainly felt older than the mere eighteen he now saw Thad at. Maybe it was because he had been raising Wes already for years. Maybe he was just impulsive and Angela had been temptingly beautiful. Regardless, he had three kids by the time he finished college, and he couldn’t ever saw he regretted it. It hadn’t been easy, but most things worth fighting for weren’t.

            “There’s plenty I hope they learn from me. I hope they manage to find a woman as amazing as my Emma, and I hope that they love their kids and care for their families as much as I do mine. I’d kill them if they got any girl pregnant, but I’d be there for them too. I can’t imagine not being there for them. It’s our burden as parents, I suppose.”

She looked at him in longing, and he wondered if she was remembering her husband. Maybe her own parents.

            “I think I’m going to enjoy being your neighbor.”

Nate smiled and looked away at the simple compliment.

            “I think so too,” Nate replied. Even if in the back of his mind, he reminded himself about her daughter.

But hadn’t he just made the case for teenagers and their less than desirable traits? He’d have to give this Maisie girl another chance. At least, her mother didn’t seem like a bad person.

            “Nathaniel Ryder, you can call me Nate,” he said, presenting his hand.

She smiled, tucking the tissues into her left hand and softly took his hand in hers.

            “Evelyn Jones-Tobin, pleased to meet you Nate.”

            “Pleased to meet you Evelyn.”

            “Evie, please,” she said, releasing his hand. “Evelyn makes me feel like I’m back in Sister Mary Susan’s classroom again. Ms. Evelyn, she’d say.”

            “Evie than,” he stood up, helping Evie Jones-Tobin to her feet. “Catholic school?”

            “High school, two years,” she mocked a shudder. “Then I was off to college. I think my parents wanted to install values into me before I was off on my own.”

            “Not a bad plan.”

            “For a few months, maybe. And I definitely want better for my girls.”

Girls? Nate thought with an internal cringe. Two Maisie’s. He reminded himself that he wasn’t going to judge a girl on the day of her father’s funeral, even if she was drunk or drugged up. He wouldn’t want people to think badly about his own kids for just a seconds glance at them.

            “Girls? Two?”

Evie nodded. “Margaret and Nicolette. We call them Maisie and Nikki. Sixteen and twelve. You?”

            “Just the one,” Nate said, internally and eternally grateful for that fact. (Not that he ever said that when Emma was pregnant, even if the boys had. He really had wanted them born healthy, regardless of gender.) “Eloise, nine. We call her Eli.”

            “That’s a strange nickname for a girl,” Evie said as they started walking away from the bushes and the bench.

            “She’s more boy than girl, I guess,” Nate shrugged. “Her brothers picked it out, and it suits her. Maybe she’ll grow out of it.”

            “Boys have that way of changing things up,” Evie cringed.

            “You have a few?”

Evie nodded. She glanced back at the crowded house next door. Her house, filled with people she had probably heard of only in passing as her husband recalled his day for her. People he hadn’t seen in a long time, come by to provide the family with tales of a man they didn’t know and a life they weren’t subject to, even if it was just work related.

            “Two boys, younger. Ten and eight. They’re, well they are so much like their father.”

            “I can imagine,” Nate said, remembering how his own kids grew up, imitating him and his friends, little boys acting like men.

            “This is going to change them,” Evie said, her voice sad as she took a long look at her house. “All of them. Things are going to be so different.”