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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

T’was The Night Before Thanksgiving

T’was The Night Before Thanksgiving
Written by Snarks and Rosemarie
Special thanks to PJ for her input and advice!

The days went by, and then weeks, and before they knew it Thanksgiving was upon them. Their little boy had grown more comfortable and was an exuberant, active child. He'd gained some weight and had actually grown a bit.  Zhara had exuberantly brought Lucas out to buy new clothes and shoes, exclaiming happily at the changes in the youngster.  Omari would make a big deal of trying to pick the boy up, grunting and groaning as though Lucas were an anvil, causing the child to laugh.

Zhara loved to hear their boy giggle, and he had the most infectious smile.

Lucas's brown eyes laughed as Omari had made funny noises each time he had lifted him up into his arms. He was filling out and was more sturdy. He liked Mr. K. He made his lessons interesting and fun. They didn't always have to stay inside. Sometimes he'd taken him to local landmarks and told the little boy about their history and they played games to learn other things like his numbers and letters.

"We've been taking a lot of pictures as well," Klem said with a smile.  "My kids are in love with Lucas and they haven't even met him in person yet," he laughed.  "I think my Kimmie, she's five, has a crush on him."

Omari laughed.  "He's a charmer that one.  I'd love to have you and your family over for dinner. Zhara and I have talked about it several times now. How is next weekend? Is that too soon?"

"I think we're available. I'll have to talk to my walking, talking social calendar though."

The two men laughed and the conversation led to discussion about the upcoming holiday.  This would be Lucas's first Thanksgiving with the whole family.  "He admitted that he was a little worried," Mr. K confided.  "He's been here for a while and he's still worried that he's going to say or do something that will make you give him up."

"He's never said a word." Omari said, concerned.  "Well, we'll just have to make sure he knows he's not going anywhere if it's up to Zhara and myself."

"Speaking of Thanksgiving, it's customary in the schools to have the Friday after Thanksgiving off, as well as the weekend, so I won't be back until the Monday afterward."

"That's fine." Omari smiled. "We'll see you on Monday.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family," he said, handing Klem a large box.  "This is for your kids, a little gift from Lucas."

"Thank you, Omar," Klem grinned.  "You're too kind."

"Not at all. Have a wonderful holiday."

"You as well." Klem replied, shaking Omari's hand. He shouted a goodbye to Lucas as he left and smiled when the child hollered, "Adios Señor K!"

After the teacher, had gone, Lucas came bounding out of his room then. "Did he tell you Papa? No lessons until Monday!"

Omari grinned down at his boy before picking him up and tossing him up into the air with a loud groan. He put the laughing child back down on the floor and said, "Yes, it's going to be a great holiday.  Did you get the beds made up the way you wanted?" he asked. As a surprise, he and Zhara had set up bunk beds to accommodate not only Lucas, but his cousins, Noah, Jonathan, and also Austin now that he'd turned six as well. They had allowed Lucas to pick out the bedding for each cousin so that he would feel included. 

Lucas squealed as he was tossed up and giggled and nodded. "Yes Papa! I got it all set up now."

The little boy asked, "When will they get here? You said Uncles Coral, Ry, Mutt and Jeff will be here too!"

"The whole crew," Omari agreed.  "Your cousins and their parents should be here within the hour, and your other uncles will be here in time for dinner. Mama will be home any minute now. She's just doing a little last minute shopping so we'll need all hands-on deck to help her bring the groceries in."

Lucas's eyes sparkled. "It's goin' to be lots of fun right Papa?"

"If I have my way, it'll be the best one yet, my little man." Omari said, leaning down to pick the boy up into a warm hug. Lucas's arms came around the man and Omari felt a rush of love for this little gift he and Zhara had been given.   The love he felt was all that mattered to the little boy who for the past two years had been shuffled from one household to another with no roots.

Lucas's arms encircled the man's neck. He didn't care if his Papa's skin color was dark and his light. He still worried if it was all going to last, but kept his concerns to himself.

Just then the phone rang. It was Zhara.  "I'm nearly home, be ready!' she'd said happily.

"Alright sweetheart," Omari said before hanging up the phone.  "Ok, Lucas! Get your jacket and boots on, Mama is nearly home and she'll need us big strong men to help her with the bags.  Ready?" he asked, placing his little boy gently back on the ground.

Lucas grinned. "Yeah, I'm ready!" He grabbed his jacket and pushed his feet into the new warm boots that his current foster parents had bought just for him.

They didn't have long to wait. Zhara honked the horn as she pulled up into the driveway, waving at her men through the window as she pulled up alongside the house.  "There you are! I knew I could count on you," she said, smiling at Lucas who looked as though he were ready to eat the bags, contents and all.

With little time to spare, at least in her opinion, Zhara got to work to put the finishing touches on their dinner.  "Omar, put the lasagnas in to warm, please? Lucas, I need you to do something very important for me.  I need you to break the head of lettuce apart, put the pieces in the colander and wash them thoroughly with cold water, ok?"

Lucas nodded and with his little fingers began to tear the lettuce into small pieces and place them in the colander so they could be washed.

"Excellent job Honey. Thank you," Zhara said as she began to peel and slice cucumbers.

 Omari picked up several tomatoes, and washed them before cutting them into wedges to be placed in the salad. "Do you prefer black or Spanish olives, Lucas?"  she asked as she picked up containers of each.

Lucas bit his lip and then shrugged. "I don't know."

Zhara smiled and opened a can of black olives, and a jar of the Spanish olives, pouring out the juice into small glasses before offering the boy one of each.  "Here sweetheart, try one and see what you like best."

Lucas took each olive as it was offered and then said, "I like 'em both, so some of each?"

Zhara's smile grew wider. "Excellent choice!" she laughed as she sprinkled them into the bowl.  "Would you like to mix the ingredients together?" she asked, picking up a bowled wooden spoon and matching fork. She put the utensils carefully into the bowl and showed Lucas how to do it.

Lucas watched biting his lip and then shook his head. "No, I'll make a mess."

Omari laughed and covered his eyes as a memory hit. "The first time we asked Opal to do this, Mama asked her to toss the salad instead of using the word 'mix'. Opal took Mama at her word and the next thing we knew it was snowing salad.   We were finding lettuce for a day afterward."

Zhara blushed and laughed along with her husband.  "Don't worry Honey, as long as you don't do what Opal did, you won't make too much of a mess."

Lucas looked dubious, but said, "'Kay...I'll try it." He began to attempt to mix the greens and frowned. "Mama...all the olives and other stuff want to stay at the bottom!"

Omari leaned in toward the boy and whispered, "You want to know my secret?"

"Omari, don't..." Zhara said, trying to contain another smile.

Lucas looked up at his Papa. "Yeah, what is it?"

Her husband winked at Lucas, went into the cabinet to take out another bowl and put the empty one on top of the full one.  Then he began to shake the bowls gently, turning them over and back several times.  He put the bowls back on the table, took the top one off and there was a perfectly mixed salad.  "It doesn't hurt to add more olives afterward either. The entire Okoro family are fiends for olives," Omari told the boy.

"This is true," Zhara laughed. "Which is why I always put out extra bowls of olives.  Just promise me one thing, Lucas... please don't do what Papa just did until you're older.  Coral thought he could do it when he was ten and... well, we had to hunt the olives down, they rolled all over the place."

Lucas's bright eyes sparkled and he grinned as he saw what his Papa had done and said, "That was cool Papa!" Then looking at Zhara promised, "'Kay, I'll just get Papa to do it then."

Omari covered the salad with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to keep cool while Zhara placed the bread on long pans to heat up.  She looked at the clock and set the oven timer.  "Lucas, would you please begin to set the table, Honey? Let's see, your aunties and uncles make ten, Papa and I make an even twelve.  So, set the dining room table for twelve please, after Papa and I put in some extra leaves. Then you can come into the kitchen and help us set the kitchen table for you older kids.  Angela and Xander will sit with their parents on their laps but we'll need an extra little plate for Angie, ok?"

Omari took down the necessary stoneware and helped Lucas carry them and the utensils into the dining room.  Zhara brought in a stack of napkins and the baby plate.
Lucas nodded. "'Kay Mama." He began to carefully place twelve dinner plates and made sure to count each one like Mr. K. had taught him.

"Great job, Honey," Omari said.  He folded and placed the first few napkins and utensils so that Lucas would know how the table should be set while Zhara brought out crystal glasses and placed them by the plates.  "When you're done in here, sweetie, come into the kitchen.”

Lucas said, "'Kay Mama."

The two adults left the boy to finish the job and went to check the food and to set the children's table.  "He's such a good boy," Zhara said proudly.

When he finished setting the table the way Omari had shown him the little boy went back into the kitchen.

Just as they put the finishing touches on the table the first of the family arrived. Topie rushed in first with a very stinky Alexander in her arms, quickly kissed her parents hello and excused herself to the living room where she spread out a towel and rapidly changed the crying baby's diaper.

Angela and Austin made a bee line for their grandparents who bent down and scooped them up, kissing and tickling them.

Ame and Opal followed close behind with their children and their husbands all bringing up the rear.

Lucas watched as people began to arrive. He was still a bit shy and a little overwhelmed by them all.

Dono rushed by with the baby bag over his shoulder.  He put it down and quickly took out a bottle to warm under the tap. Shaking and testing it several times until he was sure the temperature was right, he brought it into the living room and deftly handed it to his wife who carefully lifted their youngest and popped the nipple into his mouth.  The crying ceased and the two harried adults sighed in relief.

Austin, Jonathan and Noah all converged on Lucas, hugging him and clapping him on the back as they'd seen their parents doing with each other and their grandparents.

"Good to see you again, Lucas," Jonathan said. "It's been too long!"

Ame and Braden, his parents, exchanged a smile and shook their heads slightly in amusement at their son's words.

Lucas grinned at his cousins’ enthusiastic greetings and returned them in kind. "Yar gonna bunk in with me...Papa put bunk beds in my room!" he announced.

"Bunk beds! Cool!" Noah exclaimed.  "Can we see?" the other boys chimed in agreement and followed their cousin eagerly into the room. 

"Mommy! You gotta see this!" Austin called. "Lookit what Gran'ma and Gran'pa did!"
“Which bed is mine?" Jonathan asked, eyeing the top bunk with the Mario Brothers sheets and comforter.

Lucas grinned at Jonathan. "You can have the Mario brothers, that's cool."

"Thanks Luc! You're the best!" Jonathan said as he climbed up the short ladder to the upper bunk. He laid back and put his arms behind his head.  "This is so cool! You gotta be the luckiest kid in the world! I keep askin' Mom and Dad for bunk beds, but me an' Bastien both want the upper bunk so they said no."

Lucas said, "At least you'll have the upper bunk when you come here."

"That's right! I don't have to share a room with Bastien while we're here!" Jonathan grinned with delight.  "He snores something fierce." 

Lucas laughed at his cousin’s comment.

Noah saw the bed covered with a grey and black skeleton design and jumped on it. "I claim this one!" he said delightedly.

Lucas grinned at Noah. "Cool you can have that one then."

"Kin I have the one with the race cars?" Austin asked shyly.

Lucas grinned at the younger boy. "Uh huh."

"Yay!" the little boy cried happily, jumping onto one of the lower bunks and snuggling down into the pillow.  Austin had just turned six and was thrilled to be included in the circle of 'older' boys.

"The bunk beds are not an invitation to stay up talking and playing all night, gentlemen," Omari said.

"Yes sir." Jonathan grinned.  "Thanks Gran'pa! Gran'ma!"

The other boys chorused their thanks as well, all of them happy little boys. 

"Mamma, I wanna buk bed, mamma!" said Angela sadly.  She was feeling a little left out and tears stood in her eyes. 

"But who's going to be my comfy pillow tonight?" Dono asked, looking sad as well. "You know I can't sleep without my favorite pillow."

Angela didn't look entirely convinced by her father's plea so he picked her up and snuggled with her, chucking her under the chin with his finger. "And mamma's going to need you to help with Xander."

The little girl, who had fallen immediately in love with her baby brother, smiled and nodded, wrapping her arms around her father's neck.  She was always happy to help her mommy with the baby.

"Dad!" Opal called from the kitchen, "Cor and the guys are here!"

Zhara looked at the four boys and smiled.  "If you like you can stay here and play until dinner is ready... after you say hello to your uncles. Clear?"

"Yes, Gran'ma," the boys chorused, then laughed when they realized what they'd done.  They ran back out into the kitchen to greet the four newcomers.

Lucas grinned at his Papa and then hearing his uncles were here ran out to greet them. "Uncle Coral! Uncle Ryan!"

Coral picked the boy up and wrapped him in a hug, giving him a kiss on the cheek. "Lucas my man! Good to see you.  I heard you got your room done over?" He knelt down and hugged each boy in turn, smiling happily around at his family.

The man was glad that James had given all of them the time off for this visit and also knew that Ryan hadn't wanted to leave Castiel behind but he'd finally convinced his boy to leave the kitten with Shorty for the weekend.  "You don't want one of the kids to be running around and accidentally step on his tail, do you?" had been the winning argument.

Ryan followed Coral inside. He'd left Cas in Shorty's capable hands as he wasn't sure he'd be able to keep track of him like he had at Halloween.

Lucas also greeted, “Uncle Jeff, Uncle Mutt!”

When Coral had released the little boy, Mutt scooped him up and asked, “How’s my best boy?”

Lucas grinned. “Good.”

Jeff ruffled the little boy’s hair and smiled at him.

Mutt let Lucas down and he ran off with his cousins to go play in his newly made over room.

"You're all just in time, gentlemen!" Omari greeted them with a smile.  "Would you like to sit and relax before dinner? I can get you some coffee, tea, juice or soda, or even ice water if you like."

"I don't know about anyone else, but I think I'll stand for a bit," Mutt said, grinning. "It was a long day at the office and then a long ride here. I'm kind of stiff from all the sitting."

"I'll help, dad," Coral offered.  "Guys?" he questioned.

The men, including Dono, Brayden and Kevin all gave their drink requests then looked at Ryan to see what he wanted. The boy had been sitting quietly next to Jeff. 

The young man said softly, "Some ice water please."

Coral kissed the top of his partner's head and smiled at him. "Coming up." he said as he and his father went into the kitchen to gather up all the drinks. Omari smiled at his daughters who had made Zhara sit down and relax while they finished the preparations.  While they were out there, they provided the ladies with drinks as well before putting everything on trays to bring into the living room for the others.

"To family," Omari said happily, toasting the men with his root beer before taking a swig. 

The men raised their glasses and repeated Omari's words before taking sips of their own drinks.

Ryan looked to see how Coral handled this toast and then toasted Omari in return.

"Uncle Coral!" Bastien yelled from one of the upstairs bedrooms. "Come quick! We need you!"

Like a shot, Coral and the other men put down their drinks and ran upstairs, only to be greeted with a barrage of pillows.

Ryan glanced up at the youngster's call and bit his lip and moved a bit closer to Jeff.

Jeff didn't realize that the brat was nervous, caught up in the worry over whatever was happening upstairs with the kids. He jumped up and joined the others who ran pell mell up the stairs. He was rewarded for his valor with a mouth full of pillow and an earful of raucous children's laughter.

"Oh, that's it," Coral growled with a twinkle in his eyes.  "Gentlemen, I do believe these young ruffians have thrown down the gauntlet. We cannot withdraw without losing our honor.  To battle!"

Ryan's green eyes widened as Jeff ran up the stairs leaving him and having no clue what to do.

Coral and Jeff immediately picked up a few of the pillows that had hit them and began to stalk the screeching children.  Their fathers had a different reaction initially, but quickly caught on and picked up pillows as well, pouncing with great delight on their sons and daughters.

Ryan, finding himself all alone bit his lip as he looked up the stairs where the others had disappeared and screeches continued to come floating down to him. He debated if he should go or not, but having seen the group of men head up there, decided whatever it was they could handle it. After a while, the young man peeked into the kitchen and saw the women with the little ones drinking tea. He lurked in the doorway, not wanting to intrude, but not sure about what was happening upstairs either.

Zhara began to stand up and noticed a figure in the doorway.  Her face lit up in a smile.  "Ah, Ryan! Just the man I need. Can you please tell those wild animals up there that it's time for dinner?  I'd go up but I'm afraid I'd never make it back down alive," she joked.

The young man's green eyes went wide as he said, "I'll try Ma'am."

"Ma'am!" Zhara laughed.  "Call me Mama, like everyone else, please. Ma'am makes me feel so old." She hugged Ryan and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek before letting him go and aiming him toward the stairs.

"Yes Ma'am...I mean Mama." He headed up the stairs. The noise grew louder and louder as he neared the older children's room and he hesitantly peeked in. "It's time for dinner," he said.

The noise was overpowering and no one heard the young security officer's soft request. The children's shrieks of laughter and the men's battle cries continued as the pillow fight advanced unabated.

Ryan, annoyed a bit now used his loud, stern professional voice, "Knock it off! It's time for everyone to go down for dinner!"

Everyone, even Coral, froze in place. The men and children thawed quickly and looked at Ryan, some in disbelief that such a small guy could be that loud and tough sounding.  The men's eyebrows rose and they looked at the young man with mixed surprise and annoyance. Coral's mouth was slightly open from surprise. He'd never heard his partner speak like that before, unless it had been a security situation and he had been prepared for it and it startled him.

Coral smiled at Ryan, pride obvious on his features.  "Well," he said, "you heard the man. Dinner time, rug rats!"

Ryan gave all of them, including Coral and Jeff his stern security officer look and said, "Better." He turned on his heel, not seeing his lover’s smile of pride and headed back downstairs still a bit annoyed at having to have had to use his training to deal with the unruly family.

When Ryan made it back downstairs he told the women, "They're comin'."

The children and men all laughed and trooped down the stairs. The men helped to serve the children and get them drinks before taking their seats at the dining room table.
Everyone sat down to dinner. Once again, Omari raised his glass to the other adults in the room and said with a smile, "To the best family a man could ever ask for."

Ryan, now knowing what to do with the toast raised his glass with the others.

Coral put an arm around his boy and gave him a quick hug and kiss before passing the plates around to be filled.  Little Xander started to fuss again when his mother moved so she handed him over to his father who put the baby on his shoulder and gently patted his back.

Ryan was tense and looked up at Coral's actions and gave him a tentative smile.

After the main course came the salad, and then ice cream sundaes for dessert. Despite the fact that everyone was full and really didn't want to move, the adults all pitched in to help clean up and the house was spotless in no time.  The children went off to play again while the adults sat in the living room to have coffee and Danish until it was time to put the little ones down to sleep.

Lucas frowned when Omari said it was time for him and his cousins to head for bed. "Papa, I don't wanna go yet. We're havin' fun!"

Omari smiled, he'd been through this too many times before to get upset.  "I understand, Lucas," he said as he led the four boys into the bedroom, "but tomorrow is a big day and you all don't want to be too sleepy to enjoy it.   Now, all of you, into your pajamas, wash and brush your teeth and we'll have story time before lights out.  Each of you can pick out your favorite short story and we'll read them together."

Lucas sighed as he was herded with his cousins to his room, but had learned objecting too strongly could earn him a swat to his bottom and so he went along with the program. 

Ryan watched as the younger children were sent to bed and felt slightly relieved. He glanced at the others.

The older children trooped into the playroom to watch movies or play games.


As the little boy snuggled down into his bed he grinned and said, "I got the bestest cousins in the world Papa."

Omari, who had just finished reading the children their stories, laughed and hugged them each in turn.  "You sure do. Good night my little munchkins," he said, turning out the light and partially closing the door as he left.

Noah leaned up on his elbow and frowned into the semi darkness.  "You're not our cousin you know," he said.  "Mom and Dad said so."

Lucas sat up in shock. "Whatdya mean?" he asked, wide eyed.

"I heard Mom and Dad talking about it before we left home to come here," Noah said, "and they said you're not really our cousin.  Then Dad saw me and told me it was rude to eavesdrop and told me to go get ready to leave.  I didn't wanna get into trouble so I went."

Jonathan sat up in his bed, angry that his cousin could be so mean.  "He is so our cousin. That's a rotten thing to say."

"You sayin' that my mom and dad were lying?" Noah said, becoming defensive and angry.

Austin, becoming uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going, huddled into his blankets, prepared to run if his cousins began yelling.

"Well then what is he, if he isn't our cousin?"  Jonathan demanded.

"I dunno, but my mom and dad said..." 

Lucas crawled out of his bed and ran crying into where the adults were gathered.

"Lucas, Honey! What's wrong?" Zhara asked worriedly, holding out her arms to embrace the little boy.

Lucas flung himself into the woman's arms. "I-I d-don' belong!" he wailed.

"You don't... what do you mean you don't belong? To what?" Omari asked, confused, placing a gentle hand on his youngest son's arm. 

"What don't you belong to, sweetie?" Zhara prompted gently.

The little boy stuttered out through his sobs. "I-I a-ain't no c-cousin!" he ended in a loud wail.

Zhara rubbed the little boy's back and looked around at her children, looking to them for answers.  That was when she saw Ame and Brayden looking uncomfortable and a little guilty.

She narrowed her eyes and asked in a tight voice, "Do you two know anything about this?"

Lucas said, "Noah said he heard his parents say so," he sniffed.

"Well, Mama..." Ame began hesitantly, "Bray and I were talking earlier and we just pointed out that Lucas isn't really a cousin to the kids.  He's... well... since he's your foster son that makes him our brother, and the kids... well, that makes him their uncle, strictly speaking.  That's all we meant."

Zhara relaxed somewhat but was still angry with her daughter and son in law.  "And Noah heard this?  Why didn't you explain the situation to him?  Dad and I talked about this as well, did you know that?  Did you bother to talk to us first about it?"

Lucas looked at Zahra. "An uncle? Like Uncle Coral?"

Omari looked down at his youngest and nodded. "Yes Hon. You're technically an uncle to the other children, since you're considered our youngest son.  We didn't go into that in any detail with the other kids because we thought it would confuse some of them."

"But I expected some tact from their parents regarding the situation," Zhara said, looking pointedly at Ame.

"So, that's what Noah heard us talking about." Brayden said, half to himself.  "You're right Mama... I guess we should have explained the situation to Noah but... well... I didn't know what he'd heard. If he'd said something I could have cleared the matter up."

"As I recall, we sort of shooed him out of the room too quickly for him to ask any questions," Ame admitted guiltily.

Brayden gave Lucas an apologetic look. "I'm so sorry, Lucas.  Ame and I didn't mean to imply that you weren't a part of the family, not by any means... we were just hashing out the logic of the situation.  We certainly didn't mean to give Noah the impression that you're not family."

Lucas looked rather confused. "I don' understand Mama, Papa."

"Well," Zhara began, trying to figure out the easiest way to explain the situation to the child.  "You, Coral, Ame, Topie and Opal are all my children, understand?"

Lucas nodded. "Yeah...we all belong toya."

Omari got up to go to the playroom and came back with paper and a pencil. He began to draw stick figures.  "Here," he said, "maybe this will help you to understand a little better."

He drew two figures on top and labeled them Mama and Papa.
Beneath that he drew five more stick figures and gave them each a name as well.
"See," he explained, "if you look at this, this makes you a brother to Ame and the others, understand?"

Lucas frowned slightly. "Yeah, but they're all so much older than me!"

"That doesn't make any difference, Sweetheart.  One of my best friends has a twenty-year difference in age between him and his youngest brother... they're still brothers, regardless of the age difference.  The same applies here," Zhara explained.

"And just like Coral is uncle to all of the children," Omari said, drawing more stick figures, "because you are Coral's brother, that makes you uncle to the children, even though you're all close in age."

"We were worried that the idea would be too confusing," Zhara said. "Which is why we didn't try to explain it before."

Lucas stayed silent for a few minutes processing what he had just been told. "So Noah has'ta call me Uncle?"

The adults all laughed at that.  "Only if you insist on it, which I don't think would be a good idea at this point," Omari said with a smile.

"I'd take Papa's advice if I were you, little bro," Coral grinned.

"Just stay cousins then...ya think it'd be bestest then?"

"For the time being, until we have time to explain it to the other kids so that they can understand.  Uncle or cousin, you belong to this family, understood?" Omari asked, placing a gentle hand on the little boy's still tear streaked face.

Lucas nodded. "Yeah Papa...I understand now."

"That's my boy," Omari said softly, giving his youngest a kiss on the cheek.  "Do you think you're ready to go to bed now, my little man?"

Lucas snuggled into Omari. "Yeah Papa I think so."

Alright little man, let's go and wash your face, and I'll tuck you in," Omari said, smiling down at his youngest.

He picked up the little boy and brought him into the bathroom to wash, then tucked him in as promised, planting another gentle kiss on the boy's forehead.  "Good night, my son," he whispered.

Lucas said sleepily, "Night Papa."

Hearing a little ruckus coming from the playroom as he exited Lucas's room, and seeing Zhara getting up to deal with it, he smiled at her and sat back down, taking a grateful sip of his still hot coffee.

Zhara walked into the playroom and looked at the older children with a smile.  "You know the drill kiddos. You can either play quietly or watch TV, but you have to stay quiet so that you don't wake the other kids.  Any noise and it's straight to bed for all of you as well."

"Ok, Gran'ma," Caitlyn said, feeling that as the oldest she should act as spokeswoman for the rest of the kids.  Nine-year-old Tamara and Noah, only this year being included with the older kids, weren't going to make a fuss as long as they got to stay up longer, so they only nodded and quickly went into the TV room, followed closely by the others.
Settling on a movie, the older children sat down on the comfortable couch and chairs to watch and were quickly lost in the scenes playing across the screen.

Content that they were going to behave, Zhara returned to the group in the living room and sat beside her husband who offered her a fresh hot cup of coffee.

Ryan watched as the adults gathered and listened to their conversation, listening to a story that Coral was telling about Opal.

"So then Opal says..." Coral was saying as his mother walked back into the room.

"Don't you dare little brother, you're not too old for me to take you down like I used to," Opal joked.

Coral drew back in mock alarm at his 5'5", 130-pound sister's threat. "But it's an Okoro classic, like It's a Wonderful Life... it bears repeating every holiday!" he objected with a grin.

Ryan sat quietly next to Coral the conversation flowing around him, family inside jokes and such, not feeling much like a part of things.

Opal responded by throwing a pillow at her little brother which caught him smack on the face. Everyone laughed as he threw it back, catching her husband Kevin with enough force to set him off balance for a moment.

"Settle down, children," Zhara said with a grin, "Or I'll have to send you all to bed now."

Everyone chuckled at that and the pillow ended up behind Topie who was still cradling little Xander who had somehow managed to stay asleep during the exchange.
Ryan frowned to himself. "Cor... I’ll be back," he said to his lover. 

"Sure, Ry," Coral replied, giving his boy a quick glance and a smile before rejoining the conversation.

Ryan, receiving acknowledgement from Coral stood up and while everyone was occupied, put on his jacket. He thought he'd just take a little run to work off his anxiety. He didn't have Cas and running was the next best thing. He hadn't noticed his cell phone falling out of his jacket pocket and into Lucas's fleece lined boot making no sound to alert the young man as he slipped into the warm garment. Ry let himself out of the house and noted the address once more to make sure he'd be able to find his way back when he wanted to, planning to use the GPS on his phone. The young security man began to run. He usually wore his sneakers and it wasn't so cold that Coral had insisted he wear regular shoes or his boots as yet. He figured it was probably only in the low forties and wasn't worried. Running would keep him warm. 

The conversation at the Okoro's didn't subside until it was time to send the older kids to bed nearly an hour later. Coral looked for his boy to see if he were tired yet, and not seeing him in the kitchen or TV room went upstairs to their bedroom expecting to find him already there.  He became nervous when he didn't see Ry there.  He quietly walked the halls upstairs and down, checking rooms to see if his lover were in any of them. His stomach dropped as he realized that the young man apparently was nowhere in the house.

Coral ran as quietly as he could back into the living room where the others were still gathered.  "Mom, Dad, I can't find Ry anywhere. I thought he'd gone to bed but... I don't think he's in the house."

Jeff and Mutt immediately stood up, prepared to help search the house again if their friend asked.  "What can we do?" Jeff asked.

"I'm not sure," Coral replied looking to his father for an answer.  "I... I can't believe he left the house and I didn't notice," he said.  He took out his cell phone and dialed Ryan's number. His anxiety lessened somewhat as he heard the ringtone coming from the kitchen but it rose again when he followed it to a little boot. He bent down to pick up the device, gripping it nervously.


When Ry tired, he stopped and looking around at the streets, dark except for the street lights and a few porch lights decided he should make his way back. He reached into his jacket pocket for his phone, but found it empty. He searched all his pockets including his jeans, patting them and making sure it wasn't stuck somewhere, but couldn't find it. His heart began to pound. He was in a strange place; it was night and he had no idea where he was or how to get back to where he was supposed to be.


"Men," Omari said, taking charge, "Let's get our gear on and start looking around the neighborhood. I'm not sure how long he's been gone," he admitted guiltily, "but I'm sure he hasn't gone that far."

Zhara bit her lower lip nervously as she put up another pot of coffee and stayed by the phone in case Ryan was able to stop somewhere and called. It was going to be a long night.  She assured her daughters and their husbands that everything would be fine and to go to bed. "There's a lot of work to be done tomorrow and I'll need all of you on board." she said, trying to smile convincingly.

"But Mama..." the girls began to object.

"Don't make me get the wooden spoon." Zhara tried to joke.  The other adults began to argue, quietly but firmly.

"All of us don't need to be up all night. I promise that if I hear anything from Ryan I'll let you know.  In the meantime, you all have little ones to take care of, and you need your sleep.  Besides, I have the six of you in the house who I know will be more than happy to help if Dad and I are too tired tomorrow." she smiled. "Now please, head to bed. Go. It'll be alright."

The others reluctantly went to bed while Zhara made herself a nest by the phone.


Ryan took several deep breaths like Coral had taught him to do when he was nervous in a situation at work and tried to think. He walked to the end of the street, looked both ways and then saw what looked like it could be a store or something. He went toward it and was grateful to see the sign, "Riverside Diner" and walked into the warm place. It was small and he was able to feel fairly comfortable. There were a few older couples in the booths and he saw a young woman at the cash register.  He went up to her and asked, "Miss, I'm lost and I've lost my cell phone and can't call anyone, do you have one I can borrow?"

The woman looked a little nervous at first. "We're not allowed to let anyone use the diner phone, but..." she looked around to see where her boss was and seeing the coast clear put her hand into her pocket, "you can use mine. Unlimited talk, text and data, so you can call anywhere, ok? Just make it as quick as you can before my boss sees I let you use my phone too. Technically we're not allowed to do that either."

Ryan gave her one of his charming smiles. "Thank you," he said quietly and examined the device for a moment frowning slightly. He realized he didn't know any numbers to call and Coral recently obtained a new phone and number which he didn’t know by heart yet, but then realized he could call Duke at the resort because he knew the security office number by heart. Dialing he was relieved to hear Duke's familiar voice. 

"Montgomery here."

"Duke, it's Ry, I need a favor."

Duke surprise evident in his voice said, "Sure Ry, what is it?"

Ryan quickly explained he was lost and also had lost his phone. He asked him to call Coral for him and told him he was at a place called the Riverside Diner. He glanced at the girl. "Where is this place? Address?"

"2102 Riverside Boulevard," the waitress whispered, glancing back over her shoulder in case her boss showed up. 

The young security officer repeated the information to his boss who took it down and said, "Sit tight Ry, don't leave there. I'll give Coral a call and tell him where you are."

"Thanks Duke. I appreciate it."

 "Tell me that when you get back and your partner's done with you," the other man quipped.

Ryan made a face and said, "Talk to you when I get back. Stay out of trouble."

His boss laughed. "I'd say the same, but you're already in it up to your eyeballs. I'll call as soon as we hang up."

The young man said, "All right, thanks. Bye."

Duke said, "Bye Ryan." He disconnected the call and then called Coral's number.

Ryan handed the phone back to the young woman. "Thank you, I appreciate what you’ve done to help me out." He went over to one of the tables and the girl took his order for coffee and a piece of coconut cream pie.

 "You're welcome," she said with a grin. "Coming right up."

Coral jumped when his phone rang and he fumbled it in his nervousness to answer it in time.  He recognized the number immediately. "Duke?" he asked, unable to hide his anxiety and surprise.  "Have you heard from Ry? Where is he?"

Duke said, "Yeah, I heard from him a minute ago. He asked me to call you to tell you he was lost and had lost his phone. He's at a place called the Riverside Diner at 2102 Riverside Boulevard." He read off the address to Coral. "He sounded nervous."

"Ok. Got it. Thanks," Coral replied, "I have to go, I'll call you when I've got him."

 "All right, just don't kill him. I still need him for security here," Duke teased. "He did sound a bit scared though okay?"

"I won't kill him. I might maim him a little," Coral hung up hastily, prepared to apologize to his boss later. 

Duke smiled as he hung up the phone, He knew the man was worried and wasn't the least upset at the abrupt ending to the call.

Coral called his father, giving him the information. "I don't know where the place is."

"I'll get him, I know the place," Omari assured his son.  "Call the others and Mom, and get home. It's not that far away. Don't worry son, he's safe."


Ryan gave the girl a smile and ate his pie and drank the coffee while he waited, trying not to show how scared and nervous he truly was.

Omari arrived at the diner several minutes later and scanned the room for his missing family member.  Spotting him at a table he walked over and sat down. "So, young man, I'd ask why you're here and not at home but perhaps we should leave that story for when we get back. You know you scared us. Especially Coral."

Ryan jumped a bit seeing Omari instead of Coral slip into the booth across from him.
 "Oh!" he said startled. Then he flushed. "I didn't mean to scare anyone, Sir. I just wanted to go for a run...well then I lost my phone...I didn't know how to get back and then I saw this place here...and I called a friend to call Coral." Ryan cast his green eyes down. He took out his wallet, put money on the table enough to cover the bill and a nice tip and said, "Guess we'd better go."

The older man put an arm around the young man and led him to his car. "Buckle up, son. In the words of the immortal Desi Arnaz, you have a lot of 'splainin to do. I'm just glad you're safe," he said, giving Ryan a reassuring smile.

It only took a few minutes to drive back to the house where everyone greeted the missing family member with hugs.  They were so relieved that he was alright that they didn't point out that he'd nearly given them all heart failure.

Ryan bit his lip and was quiet on the short drive back to the Okoro's. He was surprised to be pulled into several hugs and made a fuss over.

Coral finally got a hold of his boy and hugged him tightly.  He couldn't bear to let Ryan go any time soon.  "You scared me, Ry," he whispered into the younger man's ear.
"Where did you go? Why did you leave without telling anyone?"

Ryan’s fair face flushed with color and was grateful when he was finally in Coral's arms. "I got anxious," he said in a whisper to his lover.

Coral sighed and hugged his boy even more tightly, kissing him on the cheek.

Zhara and Omari hadn't heard the whole conversation but knew that their son was still upset.  "Come into the living room," Zhara said. "I have fresh coffee made, and Ryan can tell us what happened."

Coral led his lover into the living room and sat down beside his boy, unwilling to give up the physical closeness for even a moment.

Zhara and Omari, after letting the other adults know Ryan had been found and was all right, brought coffee and Danishes into the room and sat down across from them.
"Normally we would head to bed ourselves," Omari admitted, "but we just need to understand what happened, Ryan. Why you would choose to run outside at night in a strange city and not bring your phone in case of an emergency.  We're concerned for you."

Coral looked Ryan in the eyes and waited for an explanation. The concern and sadness reflected in them spoke louder than his actual voice could have.

Ryan sat next to Coral and pressed close. He wouldn't look at anyone. His eyes skittered to the older man then away again. "I didn't forget my phone...I thought I had it," he said in a soft voice.

"Why did you leave, Honey?" Zhara prompted softly, "Did someone say something to upset you? You know you can talk to us if anyone hurt you."

The young man's green eyes filled with tears then and he shook his head. "It's just me," he choked out.

Coral pulled him closer and laid his chin on top of his boy's head.  "What's just you, Angel?" he asked softly.  "What's wrong? You know you can talk to me about anything. Any time."

"Would it help if Zhara and I left, Ryan?  Then you and Cor can talk in peace. We are worried about you, and would appreciate it if you would let us stay, but we'll go if it makes things easier for you."

Ryan shook his head. "Stay," he said and clung to Coral. "It was all too much...the noise...the people...too much...I wanted to just run a bit to get rid of the anxiousness...then...I was lost."

"And your phone... we found it in Lucas's boot. I'm just guessing that you didn't intend for us to find it there," Zhara asked with a gentle smile.

Ryan shook his head at Zhara's mention of his phone. "No, I was goin' to use it for the GPS to get back if I got a little lost. I panicked when I discovered I didn't have it.

Then I remembered Coral told me to take deep breaths in situations for work and I did that and found the diner. I don't understand why at work or in a work situation this kind of stuff don't bother's only in... well, family stuff. I called my boss and friend Duke to call Coral to let him know where I was.”

"That was good thinking, going into the diner to call him," Omari said.

Ryan glanced up at Omari at his words and said, "It was?" a bit surprised by the man's praise.

The older man nodded. “Yes, it was using your head.”

"Yes. At night, alone, cold, in a strange place and without a phone of your own, and most likely no public phones anywhere in sight, no idea what our number was or even our address," Zhara said.
Ryan said, "I knew the address...I made a note of it before I left because I'd knew I would need it to use my GPS to return if I got lost...I was just stupid for not double checking I had my phone in my jacket pocket instead of assuming it would be there just because it's where I always keep it.”

Coral snuggled his boy closer to himself and rubbed his cheek against Ryan's. He'd met the O'Donnell's and they were, in his opinion, unworthy of their son who in their opinion, could do nothing right.

Zhara said, “But now we need to know, Sweetheart, what made you need to run? Didn't you feel you could talk to Coral if not us if something was bothering you?" she continued doing her best not to sound accusing and put the young man on the defensive.  
Ryan tried to look away. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I didn't have Cas and I had to do somethin' and I didn't wanna spoil everyone's fun. You all were having such a good time... I just didn't fit in... I didn't mean to scare you or worry you Cor, really, I didn't. 

It was just me bein' stupid again," he said quietly.

"Ry... when I couldn't find you..." Coral broke off.  He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  "All you had to do was tell me how you were feeling. I'd have gone with you. And you are not stupid,” Coral chided gently, making Ryan look him in the eyes.  "I should have realized that something was wrong, you were so quiet."

"I take partial blame as well," Omari added, looking at the young man.  "We're so used to having a lot of people in the house. First it was our four, then their husbands, and then the kids... it's one of the reasons we moved into such a large house, so that there'd be room for everyone."

“It never occurred to us that you didn't feel like part of the family," Zhara said.  She looked at Coral and asked curiously, "Was there a reason that he had to leave the kitten at the resort?"

"It was for his own safety, Mom," her son explained.  "With a house full of active kids he could have gotten hurt, accidentally of course, or one of them might have left the door open and he could have gotten out.  A lost kitten is harder to find than a lost adult."

Ryan nodded. "Yeah and I wouldn't wannna lose Cas...that would be truly awful."

"No worse than losing you, Hon," Coral replied, wrapping his lover in his arms again.  His heart pained him at the thought of how badly Ryan had been treated by his own parents, and the fact that despite all of the love and attention, and acceptance he'd received at the hands of the Okoro clan, that his boy still didn't feel a part of the family.  He wracked his brains to figure out some way to convince Ry that he was as much family as any of them.

Omari leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and looked straight forwardly at Ryan.  "Young man, you belong to Coral, and as a result, you belong to us, the entire family as well. You are as much a part of this family as the rest of us, do you understand me?"

Zhara fixed her large, dark eyes on the boy and added, "We love you, Ryan."

Coral stood and led his lover over to the couch where his parents were sitting and plopped him unceremoniously between them. The elder Okoros took the opportunity to squish the boy between them in a warm hug.

Ryan, startled by his lover's move sat stiffly at first. He looked at Omari and then Zhara, having not had much opportunity to respond to the couple and said softly, "Yes Sir, Yes Ma'am."

Zhara, once she'd released him, looked squarely at him and said, "If any of my children had done this they'd have had a hard time sitting down afterward. You frightened the lot of us badly. I'm only glad that the children were asleep when it happened. They'd have been upset to know that their Uncle Ryan had gone missing. You mean a lot to us. All of us. Lucas especially was looking forward to spending time with you."

"You, young man, will not refer to me as sir," Omari said sternly, a twinkle in his eye and a slight upturn of his lips belying his tone. "You, like all of my children, will call me Dad. Understand me?"

"I applaud your courtesy as well," Zhara said, not trying to hide her smile, "but I've already asked you to call me Mama, or Mom if you're more comfortable with that. Ma'am is out from here on in. Got me?" she laughed.

Ryan squirmed at Zhara's mention of not sitting and then at Omari, but saw the smile as well as Zhara's. "Yes… Dad and yes...Mama."

He glanced over at Coral and said, "I'm sorry...everyone. I won't run again, it's just that sometimes when things get too overwhelmin' it's what I tend to do." He took a deep breath. "I'm no longer a child...I'm an adult and better start actin' like one. It won't happen again."

"That's our boy," Omari said with a smile.  "No matter what, you can always rely on us. Now, I think that you and Coral need to have some alone time to talk and get things straightened out.  Mama and I are going to head to bed. Don't stay up too late boys, we'll need every available hand to help tomorrow, understand?"

"Yes, Dad." Coral replied gratefully.  He hugged his parents goodnight.  Before Ryan could object, he found himself once again enfolded in the warm embrace of his lover's parents.  His parents if he would allow it. The young man shyly returned the hugs.

Once they were gone, Coral sat beside Ryan on the couch and looked lovingly into his boy's eyes.  "Do you promise, Ry? Not to run away again when you feel overwhelmed? Do you believe that I'm here for you? That Mom and Dad, Opal, Ame and Tope and their husbands are here for you? Do you believe that we love you, and that you have value here, just like everyone else?"

"I know you do and... your parents. I don't know the others well enough yet." Ryan confessed. It was hard for him to trust after all the years of emotional abuse. "My parents would have told me I was stupid for not checking before I left that I had my phone and yelled at me most of the night.  You've met them,” he sighed.

"I didn't exactly run away Coral, I intended to go for a run. I wanted air and it seemed to have just happened this way. I'm sorry," he told his partner once more.

The older man sat quietly and thought for a few moments.  Initially he'd been upset and angry and ready to give Ryan a good, solid reminder that he wasn't to worry them like that again, but yes, he had met the O’Donnell’s and hadn't been able to understand how anyone would treat their own child so badly.  He leaned back on the couch and pulled Ryan on top of him so that the young man's head was resting on his chest.  He held Ryan's head gently and pressed it close so that his lover could hear his heart beat.

Ryan relaxed and felt comforted by the familiar strong heartbeat in his ears.

"I lose you, I lose this," he said, tapping his chest. "If you feel overwhelmed again, tell me. We can go for a walk or run together. I know that a large family is new to you, and that the children," he laughed, "and even some of us adults can be a little loud at times. Promise you'll talk to me next time. And," he continued with a sheepish smile, "if I don't pay attention, as I'm guilty of doing today, you don't have to yell, but do tap me on the leg and whisper in my ear if you can't say it aloud."

Ryan couldn't help but chuckle. "You shoulda seen your face, Coral, when I got everyone's attention.  I'll make sure I find a good way to do it if I need to again." He reached up and kissed his lover.

"Mmmmm," Coral rumbled. "There's a nice rumpus room in the basement.  Why don't you get my attention down there?" he asked suggestively, pulling his lover up enough so that he could kiss his boy's beautiful lips.

Ryan grinned. "So long as rumpus is all we do." He was still worried that his partner would spank him for what had happened like his lover’s mother had suggested.

"Call this a reprieve," Coral said with a smile.  "I have your promise that it won't happen again, and I'm going to hold you to it. If you ever scare me like that again..." he let the sentence trail off as he set his lover into a seated position so that he could get up as well.  He pulled Ry up by the hand and led him down the stairs, shutting and locking the door behind them. Once there, the older man turned on a dim light next to the dry bar, swiped some toys off of the couch and pulled Ryan down beside him.  "Now, let the wild rumpus start," he grinned.


A/N  To the best of our knowledge the street names and the name of the diner are fictitious.

*Let the wild rumpus start is a line from the book, Where the Wild Things Are    
by Maurice Sendak

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