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Monday, October 31, 2016

Lucas’s First Halloween as an Okoro.

After their lessons, it was common for Mr. K to talk to Omari about Lucas's progress. Smiling after the happily retreating figure, the teacher waited for the taller man to come out of his office as usual and invite him in for a closed-door update.  He wasn't disappointed. As soon as he heard his son's happy cheer at being released from lessons for the day, Omari put aside what he was working on and promptly invited the man in.
"So, how were things today, Mr. K?"  Lucas’s Papa asked.
"Please, if it's alright with you, you can call me Charlie, or Klem,” Mr. K offered.
"Klem," Omari said, sounding surprised.  "Then Klem it is." he smiled. "And you must call me Omar."
"Thank you... Omar." Klem smiled.
"Have a seat, please," Omari said, gesturing to the seat next to his desk.
"Thank you."
"So, how is our boy doing today?"
"Well, I've run some tests on him during the past week, and the results are... interesting."
"Interesting?" Omari asked, not sure he liked the sound of that word.
"He's all over the board on his scores. Some things, like math and science, he scores high in, almost a third-grade level.  Things like English, reading, writing and comprehension, he scores about the same as a kindergartner.  I know you'd told me that he skipped school a lot before he came to you, but we have a lot of work to do to bring him up to speed.  I'd like you to try to foster a love of reading with him.  Read to him every night, ask him to read along with you."

"We've done that," Omari said with a sigh. "We can't seem to get him interested."

Mr. K stopped a moment, putting a finger to his lips in thought before smiling.  "I think I have an idea.  Do you have any pictures of him that you'd be willing to part with for a few days?"

Omari was confused but nodded and reached into his book shelf, bringing out a scrap book, the first three pages of which were filled with pictures of Lucas from the day he'd joined the Okoro family to the present. 

The teacher smiled again and thanked the man.  "I'll bring them back next week. I hope my plan will help.  In the meantime, please continue to read to him every night.  Thanks again.... Omar."
"You're welcome, Klem," Omari laughed as he shook the other man's hand goodbye.
That night Omari told Zhara about the teacher's strange request. She raised her eyebrows in an 'I don't know.' expression and decided to wait for the following Monday.

That weekend Omari and Zhara brought Lucas out shopping.

Lucas looked at the array of things in the stores. He hadn't really ever been allowed to pick out a Halloween costume.  When he was with his Mother he had been too little and his first foster family didn’t allow him to go out and last year he was just sent out in some old clothes. His brown eyes lit on a Cowboy costume, but he didn't think his new family would want to buy anything like that so he just tagged along with them.

Zhara smiled and picked up several different costumes.  "Look, Lucas! How would you like to be Darth Vader? A Storm Trooper?  Look! Here's a great Super Man costume... who would you like to be this Halloween?"

Lucas' eyes drifted toward the cowboy costume, but he shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno, it's up to ya."

Zhara didn't miss the direction in which her little boy's gaze kept moving.  With a little smile, she looked through the costumes until she came upon one that would fit him.  Pulling it out she said, "How about this, Lucas? Would you like to be a cowboy for this Halloween?  All we need to do is get you a few more things and you'll look like the real thing."

Lucas's eyes lit up and he said timidly, "That'll be good." Afraid to say more in case they changed their minds.

Glad to see the light in the boy's eyes, Zhara put the costume in the cart and they began to look for accessories. She wasn't a big proponent of guns, toy or otherwise and she struggled with the idea of whether to buy one for him or not.  ‘Maybe he'd settle for a lasso?’ she wondered.

Lucas watched as the costume was put into the cart. He smiled when he saw the toy six shooters. "They look like the ones they use in the western shows on TV Mama," he told her.

Knowing how Zhara felt about guns, Omari knelt down to look at his little boy and to be sure that he had the child's full attention.  "Guns can be dangerous, even toy ones.  There are rules you must agree to follow, Lucas, or there is no way we will buy a toy pistol for you. Are you listening?"

Lucas seeing and hearing his new Papa's sternness nodded.

"Never, not even in fun, do you ever point a gun, at people or animals.  If you feel the need to shoot, do it into the air, and outside.  Do I make myself clear?  Treat even a toy gun as though it were a real one.  Keep your finger off the trigger until you're actually ready to use it.  Keep it pointed in a safe direction, and when you fire, make sure you know what you're firing at, and what's behind it. Do you understand why?"
The boy nodded again at all Omari said. "Yeah, when the good guys shoot the bad ones they die."

Omari didn't remind the child that bad guys killed good guys too, or that toy guns had on occasion been mistaken for real ones and ended in injury.  "Follow the rules, and we'll be fine. If I see you pointing that gun where you’re not supposed to, you'll be in trouble.  And most importantly, if you ever see a real gun, do NOT touch it. Leave it where it is and tell an adult. Understand?"

Lucas looked at Omari and asked biting his lip, "What kinda trouble will I be in?"  he asked with trepidation, "Will you send me back to the juvenile place?

The man's features softened.  "No, child. I'll never send you back. I'm telling you this for your own safety, do you understand?  A gun is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands, inexperienced hands.  Children's hands especially. If I ever catch you touching a real gun, you'll be in more kinds of trouble than you know what to do with," Omari warned.

Lucas nodded. "'Kay Papa, it sounds like it will be somethin' really awful, worse than goin' to the juvenile place." 
Omari sighed and looked at Zhara for the final decision.  She bit the side of her lower lip, unconsciously mirroring Lucas and gave a slight nod. Omari then picked up the fanciest six-shooter there and showed Lucas how to hold it and where to point it.  "Remember to keep your finger off the trigger til you're ready to use it.  And what did I say about how to treat even a toy gun?" he questioned.
"To never point it at anybody or any animal."
"And what else?"

" treat a toy one like it was a real one," Lucas told his new Papa.
"That's my boy," Omari praised. Zhara looked relieved.

They bought everything that he would need to look like the best dressed cowboy in the neighborhood and headed home. The next day, after his lessons, he ran into his room and changed into his costume to show Mr. K.

"Lookin' good there, buckaroo!" Mr. K praised. "Hey, do you mind if I take a picture to show my kids?"

Omari looked at Lucas.  "It's your decision, Hon."

" 'Kay," the little boy blushed, pleased.

Mr. K took a few pictures of the little boy in different poses and smiled.  "They'll love these. I'm always telling them about you."


"Really." Mr. K said with a grin. "Alright then, it's time for me to go. My kids will be wanting to dress up soon too."

Lucas said, "Mr. K... wait a minute!"

The teacher looked back at the child, slightly surprised, and smiled. "Yes Lucas?"

Lucas ran into the kitchen and came back out with a package of candy bars. "Mama said to make sure you get these for ya and ya kids for Halloween. I almos forgot!"

"Why, thank you!" Mr. K said with a smile.  "I know they'll appreciate these.  Thank you, and thank your mama for me too, please? Omar, thank you."

Lucas smiled as the man left. "You said Uncle Coral and Uncle Ryan were comin' and Mutt and that other man who was with him...Mr. Jeff?" he asked. "When will they be here?"

Omari smiled down at his child, seeing that the little boy was so happy and excited.  "They'll be here," he looked at his watch, "in about a half hour, as will your cousins and Aunts and Uncles."


Ryan shifted in his seat. "How much longer Coral?" he asked. He was getting restless on the long drive.

"Not much longer, Angel." Coral reassured him. "Just a few more blocks, alright?"

Mutt leaned into Jeff and whispered exasperatedly, "I swear if he asks that one more time..."
"Hush," was all Jeff said as he pulled Mutt's head down onto his shoulder.

Ryan sighed and nodded. "'Kay Cor." He petted Castiel whom he had insisted on bringing with them despite all threats Coral had made. He wanted the kitten who was growing now to be with him.

"I can't wait to see Cas in his parrot costume," Jeff said. "Coral was telling me about it as he made it."

"Yeah, Cas didn't like it too much when we first tried it on him.  You had to see him chasing the tail feathers around. It was too funny," Coral said grinning.

Ryan wrinkled is nose. "It was, but he's used to it now."

"Hey, you wanted to bring Cas, and every good pirate should have a parrot companion." Coral joked.  He knew that Ryan hadn't been too happy with the idea at first, but he'd come around.

"Well, yeah and he does look kinda cute," Ryan admitted.
Castiel let out a loud, "Meow!"

Ryan grinned. "Well, you do Cas."
Everyone laughed, and Coral sighed in relief as they pulled into his parent's driveway.  By the looks of it, all of his sisters and their kids were there. He wondered if their husbands had come this time, and if they had dressed up as well.  He couldn't imagine Topie, at least, letting her husband Dono get away without a costume. Halloween was her favorite holiday, and she had decorated their house weeks in advance for the event.
As Coral pulled into the driveway Ryan carefully put Castiel in his carrier amidst plaintive meows.

Lucas, hearing a car pull into the driveway looked out. "Uncle Coral and Uncle Ryan are here...and Mutt and his guy Jeff,” he told his parents.

They were greeted with cheers and hugs when they walked into the house.

Coral was pleased to see that everyone was in costume. He laughed when he saw that Topie was Princess Leah and her husband, a tall man to begin with, was dressed as Chewbacca.
"Not one word," Chewbacca growled.

Coral, who still had two inches and a few pounds on the guy, put up his hands as though to say 'No arguments from me,’ and grinned.

Lucas bit his lip as he looked at Coral. He had thought Papa and Uncle Dono were tall, but Uncle Coral, who he'd only ever spoken to on Skype, was even taller. "You look more like a tree than a pirate," the little boy said in awe and rather shyly.

Coral just laughed and patted the boy on the shoulder.  "They were all out of tree costumes," he joked. "But that's a great idea for next year."

Ryan carried Castiel in with him and smiled at the Okoro clan, a little nervous with all the new people around him. 

Zhara walked up to Ryan and gave him a big hug and kiss.  "So good to see you boys!" she said, turning toward her son and giving him the same treatment.  Mutt made an exaggeratedly sad face until she laughed and gave him a bear hug as well.  "Ohhhh, my ribs!" Mutt joked.
The kids, seeing the carrier, converged on Ryan, trying to see what was inside.

Ryan blushed, but kissed Zhara on the cheek. As the kids gathered he said, "Stand back a little you don't wanna scare him. I have a cat here and his name is Castiel. He's big, but he's still a kitten and doesn't know everythin' yet. He's gonna be my parrot," he explained as he took the kitten, who immediately wound himself around Ryan's neck and shoulder, out of his carrier.
Lucas's eyes went wide at the sight of the pet.

"Everyone back off a little," Omari said quietly but with authority. "Now, behave."

"Yes, gran'pa!" the children chimed as they took a few steps back.

Lucas continued to look at the new comers.

Jeff noticed the little boy staring and smiled.  "I like your cowboy costume! Lookin' sharp," he said as he sat down on the couch.  Even then he was taller than the boy but he knew he wasn't as imposing sitting down as standing up. He was glad that Duke had chosen to stay home. Who knew how the kid would react to a man nearly seven feet tall on Halloween night.

"Would you like to see Castiel in his parrot costume?" Coral called.

Lucas nodded and then said, "Yes, Uncle Coral," before smiling at Jeff and tearing off to see the kitten in his costume.

Ryan proceeded to dress Castiel in his costume amid a few "Rah!" noises and attempts to bite or scratch the young man, which he avoided and scolded him for. When he was finished, he smiled and held him for all the children to see.
All the kids and adults ohhh'd and aahhhh'd over how cute the kitten looked, and laughed as Ryan put him back up on his shoulder.

As was their tradition, Omari and Zhara fed their crew with pizza from a favorite local restaurant, and when they were done, handed out large candy bars to all the children, as well as goodie bags full of stickers, and other small toys. That was the children's cue to begin their trick or treating.

That was until Topie gasped and grabbed at her stomach.

"Tope! Are you alright?" Dono asked, concerned.  "Did your water break?"

"No... at least... not yet.  I was hoping they were just Braxton Hicks contractions but they're getting closer and closer together. I'm sorry I didn't tell you hon."

"Oh sweetheart, don't worry about that. Let’s get you lying down. Omari, start timing the contractions as soon as the next one hits," Zhara ordered, leading her youngest to the couch.

"Dono, go on with the children..." Topie said, breathing deeply.

"I can't leave you!" he answered, disbelief in his tone that she would even suggest it.

"But the kids..."

"We're going with the others," Jeff said.  "There are enough of us to watch all the youngsters, we'll make sure they're safe, we promise."

"Should we keep the little ones home?" Dono asked his wife.

"No, honey... ahhhhhh!" she cried.

Omari set his timer and kept his eyes on his daughter.

"We'll take good care of them," Coral said. "Besides, if this is what we think it is, you won't want them underfoot.  Just lie still, now, baby sister." 

"What's goin' on?" Jonathan asked.

"Nothing to worry about honey, just go on out with your aunts and uncles and have a good time. We'll see you when you get home." Zhara said with a smile.

Seven-year-old Jonathan and five-year-old Austin, who were also dressed as cowboys by agreement, immediately paired up and joined Lucas with smiles on their faces.  "You ready to go?" Jon asked.

Lucas grinned. "Yeah...let's go!" He ran out the door with the other two after him.

Ry looked at Coral, "We better catch up!" He grinned at Mutt and said, "Last one out is a rotten egg!"

Coral laughed and waited for Ryan to get through the door way before calling "First one takes the last one's place! No take backs!"

He, Mutt and Jeff followed the others out the door and helped herd the excited children onto the sidewalk and off the street.

Ryan just laughed and shook his head at Coral and kept the children in sight as the others joined him.

Thirteen-year-old Caitlyn, twelve-year-old Kyle and twelve-year-old Bastien ran ahead and out of sight for a few moments, ignoring their parent's and uncle's orders to come back at once.

The group picked up their pace and ran after the three children who jumped out from behind a bush and yelled, "Boo!"  They'd put on frankly frightening masks and scared the youngest ones into hysterics.

It took several minutes to calm down 5-year-old Austin and 3-year-old Angela who had been badly scared by the masks and the sudden appearance of the monsters.  

Nine-year-old Noah and his cousin Tamara, who had been born one week apart, merely scowled at the others. They'd known that the oldest three had been planning something, but not what.  When they'd asked they'd been told to mind their own business.   

Ryan had to cling onto Castiel who had let out a yowl and had tried to jump off Ryan's shoulder. 

Lucas screamed loudly and turned to run as fast as he could...right into Coral.

Coral knelt and wrapped Lucas into a comforting embrace, much like Omari's, holding him and comforting him, assuring him that it was alright and just a mean prank.  Lucas clung to Coral, then once the older kids took off the masks, wanted down.

Coral’s sisters gave the older children a displeased look. “We shouldn’t even allow you to continue trick or treating if you’re going to scare the other kids like that,” Opal said sternly.
"Well, it is trick or treat," Caitlyn said, looking uncomfortable.  "We didn't think the little ones would get that upset."

"Please mom?" Kyle said, "There are lotsa kids out here wearin' stuff a lot scarier than us, and no one is screamin' about them."

Bastien didn't say a word but blushed and had the grace to look guilty.

"We'll discuss this at home," their mothers said in unison. 

"Can we still go trick or treating?" Bastien asked quietly.

"Do you think you deserve to?" Opal asked.

Bastien shook his head but shot a pleading look at the two angry women.

"Please, we're sorry, it was just a trick. We won't do it again. Promise," Caitlyn said.

"It's against my better judgement," Opal replied, looking at her sister for back up.

"Please?" the children pleaded.

Ame approached her older sister and whispered in her ear, "The situation at home might still be iffy, what with Topie perhaps going into labor. I know they shouldn't be allowed to continue, but if we bring them home..." she let her thought trail off.

Despite her own feelings, Opal reluctantly agreed.

"Fine, you can finish out the night, but you're going to bed as soon as we get home. And no treats until tomorrow."

"Thank you!" the children cried gratefully.

"Don't thank us just yet.  Get going. And give me those masks," Opal said, sternly.

The kids handed over the masks and scooted out of their mother's reach.  "Let's go guys!" Caitlyn shouted. Despite her ire over the prank, ten-year-old Sasha chose to go with the older kids while nine-year-old Tamara accompanied the pirates, who she thought would look too scary for anyone else to mess with.

Lucas, once he was let down went to Jon and Noah and whispered, "Let's try to get back before they do and I'll arrest 'em for playin' that mean prank!"

The two boys looked uncertain and Jonathan began to scuff the concrete sidewalk with the toe of his cowboy boot. They'd all agreed to dress as cowboys. Lucas was their sheriff and the other boys his deputies.

Lucas looked at the boy and then turned to Noah, "You comin'? I wanna get my candy."

Reluctantly, afraid that someone else would pull the same prank on them that their cousins and brother had done, the four began to walk away.

"Hang on," Coral ordered the boys before he leaned in toward his sister Ame and whispered, "We'll take Angela and Austin with us. They'll probably get tired way before the older kids. We'll meet you back at mom and dad's, ok?"

"Ok," his sister whispered back. She was still perturbed with her oldest child and her niece and nephew and was grateful to have someone look after the babies of the group.

"Please Uncle Coral? Uncle Ryan? Can you help us go faster? There's 'nough menfolks with the others, and we don't wanna trick an' treat with them no more. Please?" Tamara asked.
Ryan smiled and glanced at Coral. "Sure." Mutt and Jeff picked up the youngest of the crew, settling them on their hips, and off they went into the twilight.

As they went door to door the people exclaimed over the little ones and then their expressions turned to surprise as they realized the parrot on Ry's shoulder was actually a cat. "Oh clever!" The woman at the place they were at now exclaimed. Ryan grinned and reached up to pet the kitten. "He makes a good parrot except he can't talk."  

The woman laughed.

They continued and after a while Angela and Austin began to complain that they were getting tired. The other boys, seeing their chance to get back before the older children agreed to return with the pirates. Tamara wasn't too thrilled that her night had been cut short and sighed. She had, after all, decided to go with the young kids, but she'd been hoping that they would have lasted longer.

Lucas had enjoyed spending the time with Mutt as they had gone from house to house and talked. He got to know Jeff a bit better and liked him too. He also got a chance to know his new Uncles Coral and Ryan better. He had talked to them over the computer and Skype, but they were much cooler in real life.
When they got back to the house Angela and Austin ran to their grandparents to show them the goodies they'd gotten. 

With the adults' attention on the babies, Lucas took advantage of the opportunity and sneaked outside.

Ryan had taken off Castiel's parrot costume much to the kitten's relief and Cas groomed himself while he sat in Ryan's lap.

After the littlest ones got their costumes off and had their cuddles by their grandparents they went over to Ryan and he let them pet Cas who purred loudly the whole time.
Angela, who had been looking around for her parents finally tugged on Omari's pant leg and asked, "Where mamma?"
Omari smiled and scooped up the little girl.  "Well, you know mamma was going to have a new baby, right?"
The little girl nodded her head solemnly.
"Well, the baby decided that today was the day, so mamma and daddy went to get the baby from the hospital."
"Oh," Angela replied, not really understanding.  

Austin, confused asked a question that Omari finally understood as the word 'Stork.' He smiled and picked up the child to give him an extra hug.
"Don't worry darlings," Zhara said with a smile, "They're going to pick out the prettiest baby there and bring it home."
"Pwettier den me?" Angela asked shyly.
"Pretty, just like you, but in a different way, Ok?"

"O'tay," the little girl said, reaching out to her grandparents for a hug, which they returned with gusto.

As Lucas sneaked out, Noah and Jonathan followed stealthily and the three boys hid behind the bushes just outside the house. "Shhh," Lucas warned, "I'm not sure when they'll show up, but we wanna make sure we get 'em good."

The other little boys grinned at each other in the dark and waited for the older kids to come up the walk. They had forgotten though about the adults who had been with them. Hearing the voices coming closer Lucas tapped Jonathan and Noah. He whispered, "When they reach that big bush, we'll jump out and I'll tell them they're under arrest and shoot my gun in the air to warn them."

The three boys, who were walking ahead of their mothers and Sasha, who had stuck close to her own mother for protection began their approach to the house.

Lucas and the others, who were about to give up out of boredom, smiled at each other when the four oldest arrived first. Taking their chance while they had it, the three little boys jumped out, startling the others into inaction.
Lucas shot off his cap pistol into the air. "Put yar hands up! Yar under arrest and we're takin' all that candy for ev'dence!" He snatched the candy filled bags from the older children while they were frozen and ran into the house with them, the other two little boys at his heels.

The startled adults hesitated for only a moment before following all the children into the house. The older kids immediately ran to their grandparents and began to yell at the same time.

Omari let out a sharp whistle and everyone stopped in their tracks.  "Now what happened.  One. At. A. Time," he ordered, pointing at Caitlyn.

Lucas ran to Coral, the tallest man in the room. "Help me Uncle Coral, we need more deputies to capture the bad guys!"

Coral's eyes widened in surprise as the little body collided into him.  He swept the boy up instinctively and turned toward his father with a hundred questions in his eyes.

Lucas, never hearing Omari's voice so loud clung tightly to Coral.

"Once again. Tell me what is going on," Omari said, just this side of thunder.  "Caitlyn. Speak."
"He shot us! He stole our candy!" the little girl shouted.

Hearing Caitlyn saying Lucas shot them, the little boy cried, "Did not! I shot the air! 'Sides, ya scared the little ones when we started out so ya deserved it!" the youngster shouted loudly in anger now.

His protest went unheard as the other four continued the tirade.

"They were hiding and jumped out at us. Lucas shot at us and we got scared!" Sasha cried.

Bastien yelled, "I saw the sparks, I thought it was a real gun at first. I thought we were being attacked by bullies!"

"We ran in here as fast as we could. I was so scared!" Kyle said, near tears.

Omari's lips thinned into a grim expression.  "Let me get this straight.  He shot at you, or into the air?"

Lucas scowling cried, "I shot into the air! It's not my fault they're a bunch of babies!" Realizing no one was listening he began to struggle to get down from Coral's arms.

"Whoa!" Coral yelled as he nearly dropped the little boy. "Hold on there, Luc! All you had to do was tell me you wanted to get down," he said more calmly as he set the child on his feet.

Omari looked at Lucas, a grim expression on his face.  "Tell me what happened, Lucas.  Did you point that gun at those kids?"

Lucas said with a scowl, "No! I didn't. I pointed it into the air like ya tole me Papa! I promised!" Tears began to course down Lucas's face. "They scared the little ones and so we scared 'em back is all!"
The adults hadn't seen the whole thing so couldn't testify one way or the other. All they'd heard was the cap gun going off, and Lucas shouting that he was taking the candy. Then the other children had hurried off into the house yelling.

"Honestly Dad, I didn't see what actually happened," Opal said, concerned.  "All I heard was Lucas shouting and taking the candy bags."

Lucas turned away and began to walk out of the room.

"Stop right there, young man," Omari ordered.  "Tell me what happened. And don't fib to me. If there's one thing I can't tolerate, it's fibbing."

Coral put out a hand and put it on Lucas's shoulder, forcing the child to stop in his tracks. "Answer papa, Luc. What happened?"

Lucas scowled, "I done told ya and I ain't tellin' it again. 'Sides, I'm the bad kid and no one listens to me anyways."

Omari strode over to the little boy, picked him up and carried him into the nearest bedroom, closing the door.  He sat on the bed and put the child on his lap.  "Have you ever tried talking in a crowded room full of people all talking at the same time? It's difficult to pick out one voice among the many, and that's what happened in there. All I heard was you calling yourself a bad kid, and I won't put up with that.  You're not bad, understand me? I don't have any bad kids.”


"Well," Opal said, clearing her throat, "I think that's our cue to head on out."
"But mama! We want to stay, please?"

"You sank that boat when you scared the little ones," Opal said. "Now let's get going. 

Opal and Ame's children tried to protest a little more but the women stuck to their guns.

"It's not fair to us though," Sasha complained.  "We should be able to stay at gran'ma and gran'pa's house tonight.

Ryan watched as Ame and Opal gathered up their children with hugs and good byes to everyone before herding them out the door.  Zhara, as was her practice, walked out to the car with her daughters where they chatted a bit more before her daughters actually left with their bored offspring.

"What's gonna happen to the ones who didn't do anything wrong? Sasha and... jeez, I don't remember all their names, Cor. Sorry," Jeff said with a slight blush.  His family was relatively small compared to Coral's and he'd only just met them all in one room this evening.

"Tamara," Coral replied with a smile. "They'll be fine. The kids who didn't get into trouble will most likely get to watch TV and have a few of their treats before bed."
“That's good," Mutt said, still looking worriedly at the closed bedroom door.  Mutt looked at Coral and asked quietly, "What's he gonna do, Cor? Luc... well, he's not blameless but... well... he's not gonna... you know...?"

"No," Coral whispered back.  "Dad was never a big one for spanking little kids like Lucas.  Usually a talking to would suffice, and believe me you haven't had a real talking to til my dad has given you one," he joked.  "Don't worry, Luc is going to be just fine."

Ryan looked at Coral hearing his words and frowned slightly. "So that's where you got it from? The way you scold?"

Coral grinned. "I learned from the best," he said as he kissed Ryan on the nose.
Ryan smiled and stroked Castiel, still in his lap. He glanced at Mutt. "You really like the little guy, don't you?"  

"Yeah, I really do.  He's like me and a bunch of the other guys all rolled into one compact little ball. I'd hate for him to get in trouble, especially on a holiday.  Holidays are for fun, not getting your rump roasted."
Ryan nodded. "Yeah, I agree and I'm glad that's not goin' to happen to him."

"Me too." Mutt sighed as he leaned against Jeff's shoulder.
"Don't worry, Hon. No matter what happens, Lucas is in good hands," Jeff vouched for the couple, wrapping Mutt into a reassuring hug.
"Hey!" Coral said brightly to the two youngest children who, without their parents or their older cousins had begun to look as though they were going to cry.  "I hear that there's a Charlie Brown cartoon on tonight.  How about we watch that?" he asked.

Angela thought a moment and then smiled, her worries forgotten for the moment.  Austin, seeing his sister perk up, did the same, and they sat down with the four men and turned on the television. 
Ryan looked at Coral, then Jeff and Mutt. "Which one?"
"We're going to watch It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It's a Halloween tradition since I was a kid." Coral grinned.
"Tell me where the popcorn is and I'll make a bowl full," Jeff offered.
"I'll help. Mutt, Ry, keep an eye on the little ones while we're in the kitchen, ok?"
"Sure thing," Mutt agreed, turning to grin at the two small children. "Let's find out what channel it's on and we can start while we wait for the popcorn, alright?"

Angela and Austin smiled up at the men. The little girl made herself comfortable in Mutt's lap.
Ryan's green eyes widened. "Umm...okay." He had no idea what to do with two little kids.  He was relieved when Mutt seemed to take charge, but was surprised when the little boy climbed into his lap causing Castiel to jump to his usual perch on Ryan's shoulder.

Mutt leaned back with the little girl on his chest and picked up the remote which had been on the couch next to him. He began to flip through channels, looking for the TV Guide.
Austin looked up at Ryan and asked, "C'n we have some goodies, Unca Ry? Do the kitty like goodies?"

He looked down. "Umm...yeah, I guess you can have some goodies, but the kitty can't eat popcorn," he told the child.
"Kitty can' have popcorn? S'got budder on it! Budder's milk kinda, daddy said. C'n kitty have budder?" 
"No, Honey, kitty can't have popcorn, or butter, or candy. Those things aren't good for him. But we did bring cat treats, and maybe if you're good Uncle Ry will let you feed him some.  Uncle Ry?" Coral asked, coming out of the kitchen with glasses of milk and soda on a tray.

The smell of freshly popped corn wafted through the air making Mutt's mouth water.

Ryan held out his hand for the kitten treats and smiled. "Yes, if he'll take them from your hand. Sometimes he's kinda particular," he told the little boy. 
Cas cautiously sniffed at the treats in the little boy's hand and then nibbled a bit at them.

A happy grin split the boy's face and he giggled when the rough tongue licked his fingers.
Ryan grinned. "I think he likes you Austin."

The little boy beamed a smile at his uncle and hugged him around the neck. "I like him too. You got da bes' kitty, Unca Ry."

Ryan grinned. "Yes, I do, tell your Uncle Coral that."

"He don' t'ink so?" the child asked, astounded. He turned toward Coral with a stern expression. "Cassiel is da bes' kitty 'round, Unca Coral. I says so."

Coral put down the tray and scooped up the little boy.  "Ok, you win! Castiel is the best kitty ever." He then began to tickle his nephew who screeched in pleasure and tried to tickle his uncle back with minimal results.

Zhara, who had just come back in, smiled at the scene before her and then glanced at the still closed bedroom door. 


Omari said quietly, “All I need to know is what happened, and did you do as you were told and shoot the gun into the air? The others insist you were pointing it at them. It's difficult to know the truth when there are differing points of view."  He tried to keep his tone neutral and his features calm. Accusing the boy would only make him shut down.

Lucas gave Omari a sullen look. "Ya done asked me and I done tole ya. Ya ain’t gonna believe me, ya gonna believe 'em anyway, they're ya blood kin." He shrugged. "I shot it into the air like ya told me to. They scared the little ones when we started out and so they deserved to be scared too to see what it's like. I don' care if ya believe me or not."

"A man's word is the most important thing to him, Lucas.  If he breaks his word, his promises, then no one will believe him.  As far as blood goes, that makes no difference in this family. Whether mama gave birth to you or not, you are ours, entirely, and your word carries as much weight as anyone else's.  You told us the truth about the school and the stealing. You returned the stolen items and owned up to what you did to the principal. Unless you give me reason to doubt you, I will believe you.  But if I find you were lying, then there are consequences, same as there are for the other children if I find they lied.  Understand?"

"Now, just for your information, mama and her brothers and sisters were adopted, and they were treated and loved just like any other member of the family. The same goes here. Now tell me what happened."

Lucas said, "The older kids scared the little ones bad when we started out. I tole Noah and Jonathan we could get back at them, that we'd arrest 'em when they got back. When we came home we hid in the bushes and when the older kids came up the walk, we jumped out. I shot my cap gun three times in the air and took their bags of candy. I told 'em it was for ev'dence," Lucas said. "I shot the cap gun up in the air like ya told me to Papa." The little boy repeated sighing, not sure he'd be believed or not, but feeling a bit more hopeful.

Just as the child answered, there came a knock at the door and Zhara entered.

"Is everything alright in here?" she asked.
"As right as can be under the circumstances," Omari answered.
"Well, I finally got the story from the kids once they calmed down.  They don't remember if Lucas pointed the gun at them or not, they only heard the caps go off and him shouting.  It scared them and they ran.  It seems that they frightened the younger children earlier and they were only trying to get back at them."

"That's pretty much what Lucas was telling me.  While I'm not fond of retaliation, I can understand why you did it, Lucas.  It still doesn't make it right, but I understand, and I'm proud of you for following my directions where that gun is concerned. I'm still going to have to take it away for a few days. Do you understand why?"

Lucas gave him a look of relief at being believed and then scowled and shook his head. "No Papa...I did what ya told me and didn't point it at anyone!"

"And for that I'm proud of you, Lucas," Omari said.

Zhara added, "You did misuse that gun by using it to scare the other kids in retaliation.  And taking their candy was wrong as well.  The four who misbehaved are being punished by their parents. Instead of spending the night they're being taken home and put to bed immediately, no television or Halloween treats for the rest of the night. It's their parents job to discipline them, not yours.  Just as it's our job to discipline you when it's needed."

Lucas looked a bit confused. "I didn't spank 'em, only scared 'em and what's right is right," the little boy told the people that he was quickly coming to think of as his parents.

"Your retaliation was a form of punishment.  You felt you and the other children had been wronged and so you responded with a wrong of your own," Omari said. "It's not much different than what you did at school to that boy who picked on you."

"And if the story I heard is correct, and I'm sure it is," Zhara said, "Their parents had already told them that they were going to be punished when they got back home.  They had it under control."

Lucas said, "We didn't know that and why did they let 'em still go 'round and collect stuff... I 'member one time when I went to Sunday school the teacher talkin' 'bout an eye for an eye and stuff," he concluded. "So if someone does somethin' bad to ya, ya do it back to 'em. It gotta be the same thing though." He added, "The older kids scared the little ones sos it was only right they got scared like they did 'em."
"What the older kids did was wrong but it wasn't life threatening," Omari answered. "They didn't do physical harm to any of you, they only scared you, and their parents handled the situation in the way they thought best at the time.  And as far as the bible goes, there are many more verses about forgiveness."

Lucas scowled. "I didn't go to Sunday school very long and I never heard of them other things ‘bout forgiveness," Lucas told the older man. "Ya can just have my cap gun for the next three days and we'll be done with it," he told his Papa.

"Only if you can convince me that you understand, Hon. I don't want you to feel like you're being picked on. You're as much a member of the family as anyone who was born into it by blood, and your feelings are just as important as anyone else's," Omari told the child softly.

Lucas replied to Omari, "Ya said it weren't right to scare 'em back so yar takin' the cap gun." At the man’s words, Lucas then shrugged. "Maybe ya better just keep it...I ain't gonna need it again unless I dress up as a cowboy again and I ain't gonna do that 'til next year, or maybe never."  He said quietly, "Ya can give it all to the next little boy who wants to be a cowboy."
The child began to take off the hat, vest and chaps which were part of his costume.

Omari sighed and Zhara sat down on the bed next to them.  "Lucas," she said quietly, "you can still play dress up with that costume until either you wear it out or grow out of it. Your cousins will still want to play Sheriff and Deputies with you, I'm sure. And just because we're taking the gun away for a few days doesn't mean you'll never get it back or be able to play with it again. I think you'd be punishing yourself by doing that, more than Papa and I are.  We're only planning to take the gun away for a few days, you're talking about never having fun with it or your costume ever again, which doesn't make sense at all. Are you going to be sensible, little boy?"

Lucas sighed. "Ya sure it's okay to play with ‘em even after Halloween?"

Omari laughed.  "If you want to go into the attic with me, I still have old Halloween costumes from when the kids were growing up, and even some from when I was a kid.  It's always fun to play at being something or someone else for a little while."

"My favorite costume was a lion," Zhara said. "I played with that thing until the seams burst because I was too big for it." She laughed, "I had the biggest tantrum when that costume fell apart."

Lucas sighed. "Yeah, I guess so. Can I go now?"

Omari sighed again. "Lucas, tell me what's going on in your head right now. I know you're not happy, and I want to understand exactly what you're thinking."

Lucas looked at Omari. "I dunno, guess I just don' know how to fit in 'round here, everyone excited 'bout a stupid baby and then everyone talkin' 'bout me doin' somethin' I ain't done..." He shrugged. "Guess I'll just hang 'round here 'til ya get tired of me and move me along."

"Lucas," Zhara said, a bit of an edge to her voice, though she kept her expression calm, "we said we believed you that you didn't point the gun at anyone. Everyone here loves you, and the baby will too, once he or she is old enough to tell one face from another. Now I have a question for you.  Do you want to leave us?"

Lucas bit his lip and shook his head. "Naw, ya been the best place I ever been in."
"Then stop talking about us getting tired of you, or getting rid of you because you did something wrong.  We wouldn't get rid of you anymore than we would have sent away one of the other kids for doing something wrong. And if you don't stop with that as of this moment I'll do what I used to do to the others and give you a good sound smack on the backside. Understand me?" Zhara said firmly. "Is that what you need us to do to convince you that you are a part of this family?"

Lucas studied Zhara for a moment, then bit his lip. "If I deserve one?"

Omari and Zhara looked at each other and made a wordless decision.  Omari reached out and put the boy over his knee and delivered one, sharp, stinging swat to the child's backside before putting the youngster back upright on his lap and holding him close. "You are part of our family. We are not going to get rid of you. We are not going to give you up. We are not sending you anywhere except perhaps to go take a bath before bed time.  Now do you believe us?" he asked.

Lucas surprised to find himself suddenly looking at the floor and then an explosion of sting on his bottom let out a "Ow!" and then finding himself righted just as quickly in his Papa's lap reached back with one hand to try to rub out the sting before he wrapped the other around Omari's neck. He had a few tears in his eyes, but said, "Yes Papa..." Then he flung his arms around Omari and pressed his face into the man's chest. "I got a real Papa."

"And a real mama," Zhara said as she wrapped her arms around her husband and her little boy. "And don't you forget that." She kissed the child on the top of his head and hugged them more tightly.  "We love you, Lucas."

The little boy looked up and gave them a little grin. "Ya got a new baby tonight!"

"The best Halloween treat ever," Omari laughed, nearly squishing the boy in his muscular arms and kissing his forehead. "Now, my son, you go and take your bath. I'll be in to read to you when you're ready for bed."

Lucas scrambled off Omari's lap, gave his bottom a good rub to get out the lingering sting and said, "'Kay Papa." He headed for the bath.

Zhara and Omari watched the boy leave and then hugged each other. "We make good babies, don't we?" she laughed into his ear.

Omari responded with a lingering kiss and a twinkle in his eye. “Yes, we certainly do,” he whispered back in a suggestive tone.

 Lucas finished his bath and crawled into bed to await his Papa.

Omari walked into the room, smiling at his little boy, and carrying several books.  "Since it's Halloween, I thought a good story might be the perfect way to top it off.  Did you brush your teeth?"

Lucas bit his lip. "Umm I forgot Papa," he told him and looked at the stack of books Omari had brought in with him.

The man helped the little boy out of bed, steered him back to the bathroom and then supervised him brushing his teeth. When they went back to his room Omari settled Lucas in bed, propping him up. He indicated the stack of children’s books he had brought in with him. “Do any of these books look like anything you would like to read with me?”

Lucas examined each of the selections, several Dr. Seuss, Green eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, Berenstain Bears, and a book called Pigs in the House by Steven Kroll.  Lucas pulled out the book about the pigs and handed it to his Papa. “This one Papa,” he said.

Omari cuddled the little boy next to him, opened the book and said, “I’ll start and we’ll take turns alright?”

The little boy nodded. “’Kay Papa.”

Omari began to read… “In their pigpen, nice and wide, three cute pigs lived side by side …"

He continued with Lucas taking turns and him helping the child sound out words he didn’t know until the youngster’s eyes began to droop.

The man closed the book and smiling tucked the little boy in bed, kissed his forehead and turned out the light, leaving just the night light to glow. He closed the door softly behind him and returned to his wife who was in the kitchen sipping a cup of tea and reading a book of her own.

"Our new Halloween treat is sound asleep," he told her.  "Any news yet on Tope and the new arrival?"

"Don called. Her contractions are a minute apart; her water broke and the baby was just crowning. As soon as the doctor called him he hung up the phone and ran," she laughed.  "You'd think he'd never been a new daddy before. He promised to call as soon as the baby is born, which could be any minute now."

They went back out into the living room where they found Mutt and Ryan holding the little ones who were sound asleep. Coral turned off the television and he and Jeff helped put the youngest of the brood into the bed their parents would have shared that evening.

They were just about to pair off and go to their own rooms when the phone rang.  Zhara pounced on it like a leopard.  "Don?" she asked.

"Mama! It's a boy!" Don fairly yelled.  Zhara laughed when she heard the nurses in the background asking him to keep his voice down, please, and his rapid apologies before he returned to the call, his voice much quieter.

"Ten pounds and two ounces! He scored a nine on the Apgar!" he announced proudly. "Topie and the baby are doing fine.  They're both so beautiful," he said, sounding as though he were about to cry.

The others cheered quietly as Zhara relayed the news.

"Have you two finally agreed on a name?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.

"Tope wants to keep the kids names all beginning with A for some reason," he laughed. "We finally decided on Alexander, Xander for short."

"Xander Natal," Zhara said aloud for the others to hear.  "That's a wonderful name, Don. We'll be by in the morning to welcome him properly. Just let us know when Tope is awake and ready for visitors, alright? Now, you go and get some rest too. I'm willing to bet you're dead on your feet."

"Right now, mama, I think I can fly."

"Well, fly back to your wife and baby, sweetheart. Call us in the morning, promise?"

"Promise!" Don said, his happiness flowing through the phone and out into the kitchen where the others hung on every word.

"Good night, son. Give your wife and baby big kisses from us until we can do it ourselves,” Zhara told the young man.

"That I can do," he said.  "Good night, mama."

Zhara hung up the phone, looked at the others and said, "Alright everyone, off to bed! We have a big day tomorrow.  Shoo!" 

"Yes mama, good night," the others chorused as they hugged Omari and Zhara before pairing off to head to their rooms, all of them certain that they wouldn't be able to sleep after receiving the good news but somehow falling asleep quickly despite themselves.

Zhara smiled at her husband and kissed him as they readied for bed. Even though there was snow on the roof there was still fire in the furnace.

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