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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmas with the Okoros

Christmas with the Okoros

Written by Rosemarie and Snarks with assistance in editing from PJ

The Thursday before Christmas Mr. K arrived with a bag full of presents and surprises for Lucas.  "Since the holiday is coming up I thought that just sitting back and relaxing would be a great idea. I brought you one of my kid's favorite movies. Have you ever seen Santa Claus is Coming to Town?"

He put down his case and pulled out the DVD in question, showing Lucas the cover.  "This is supposed to be Santa Claus when he was younger and was still called Kris Kringle. This is the Winter Wizard, and this is Topper, Kris's faithful sidekick," he said, pointing to the red haired young man, the somewhat sinister looking wizard and the cute little penguin on the cover.

Lucas looked at Mr. K. "Um...I don' think so...maybe when I was with my mom and dad...but I don' 'member."
"Well my young friend, we're going to watch it today, what do you think? Have a little fun? Some popcorn and juice? We'll just sit back and relax, and the best part is that you earn an automatic A for the day," Mr. K said, grinning down at the little boy, his heart twisting a bit in his chest at the thought of the lost years and memories this child had suffered through.
Lucas nodded vigorously. "I'd like that Mr. K and an A for the day!"
"An A+ for the rhyme, " Mr. K said as he opened his laptop and slid the DVD into the player.  He reached into his bag and brought out popcorn and several juice boxes in different flavors.  "An A++ if you can tell me what you thought the movie was about when we're finished watching it. Deal?"
Lucas grinned. " Mr. K."
"Atta boy!" Mr. K praised as he hit the play button. One of the things he liked about Lucas was that when they played any sort of movie or documentary, he became so absorbed that he rarely asked questions during.  The two sat back and munched on the popcorn until the movie ended.
"So, what did you think, Lucas?"

Lucas bit his lip and said quietly, "Well I guess Santa won't be visitin' me."

"Why would you think that, Luc?" Mr. K asked, trying not to show his concern. He smiled gently at the boy and encouraged him to continue.

Lucas shrugged. "He only brings stuff to good kids and I ain't no good."

"Of course, you're good. What would make you think you're not?" 

Lucas shrugged again. "I done lots of bad stuff."

"Such as?"
"Well if I hadn'ta gone and stole and lied then I wouldn'ta got kicked outta school and have you come to teach me and I had that lighter at Thanksgivin' and... well I'm just a bad kid...I stole a lot and got kicked outta the other foster homes and got the police to take me goes back a whole year don' it?"

He added, "And I didn't go ta school either...I went with the big boys and stole stuff from people like Uncle Mutt.  I ain't done nothin' good."
"I only know parts of your story, Luc, but I do know that what happened wasn't your fault. It's a lot to go into right now, maybe your papa or mama can explain things better if you talk to them, but I know, just from the short time I've known you, that you are not a bad kid, and you've been doing wonderfully in lessons with me. You've made great strides in achieving your goals... of working hard and learning what you need to know. Understand?"

Lucas nodded and sighed. "Guess so."
"Luc, you're a polite, sweet kid and a very good student. Your mama tells me all the time what a great help you are around the house. About the chores, you do without even having to be asked. Helping her to bring in the groceries and put them away.  Those are all good things," Mr. K said with a little smile to put the boy at ease.  "And... I know that you make your mama and papa extremely happy, and that's a wonderful thing."

Lucas listened and asked, "All those things make me a good kid?"
"Yes, they do," came Omari's deep voice from the doorway. "There's one more thing you should remember this year, Luc. This year, you are making our Christmas even better, just by being here." The man's smile was full of love and pride for his little boy.

Mr. K stood up and smiled at the older man. "Your timing is impeccable, as usual, Omar."
Lucas looked up as his papa entered the room. "Ya sure 'bout that Papa?"
"I'm sure about that," Omari promised, walking over to his youngest son and wrapping him in a special Okoro bear hug.

Lucas snuggled into Omari despite himself. He always felt safe in the big man's arms. 
"Well, Lucas, Omar, it's actually time for me to be leaving, but I wanted to give you these before I go," Mr. K said, pulling several items from the bag.  One was a tall slender decorative box which he handed to Omari.  "For you and Zhara," he smiled.  Then he turned to Lucas, "And these," he continued, pulling out two more boxes, "are for you. From the Klemeshevski family to you. To be opened on Christmas day. Ok?" 

Lucas's brown eyes widened at the sight of the packages. "For me?" he asked. "But...have I been good 'nough for 'em?"

"I don't give presents to bad boys and girls, believe me," Mr. K said with conviction. "Somewhat like Santa Claus," he joked.

Lucas smiled then and said, "Thank ya Mr. K."
"You're very welcome, Lucas. Omar. Please give Zhara my best. I'll see you all on January 2nd."
Lucas smiled. "'Kay Mr. K."

The tutor was just about to head out the door when the little boy called to him.

"Mr. K!" he gave himself a little head slap and said, "Papa! You let me forget! Mr. K, don't go anywhere yet, I have somethin' for ya too."
Omari put a hand to his forehead and grimaced, "Yes, I did, Lucas. Why don't you run into the other room and get them."
Lucas did as his Papa instructed coming back with a stack of packages precariously balanced. "Here ya go Mr. K!"
The teacher's eyes widened in surprise and he smiled widely.  "Well Lucas, this is really kind of you! Thank you so much. I know the kids will be thrilled," he said as he helped unload the packages and put them on the table to sort into a more stable pile. 
Lucas pointed out one that was wrapped in Birthday paper. "That one's for Kimmy she should get another extra special one 'cause her birthday is so close to Christmas, even if she got one on her birthday," he explained, having had fun at the little girl's birthday party which had been just the weekend before.
Mr. K grinned, "Funny, that's exactly what she says every year too." He laughed. "I know she'll love it, Lucas. Thank you," he said as he opened his bag once again to place as many of the presents as he could in to make them easier to carry.  "Well, Merry Christmas everyone!" the man exclaimed happily as he tucked the larger of the presents under his arm.
"Merry Christmas Mr. K!"
Omari clapped the man on the back as he opened the kitchen door to let the tutor out.  "Merry Christmas," he said.

"I think I've had more fun in the past few months than I ever did in my whole life!" Lucas exclaimed. "Trick or treating with a real costume, Turkey Day and all the fun we had, Kimmie's birthday party, going to New York to see the Nutcracker play an' stayin' overnight in a hotel. That was fun... oh!" he exclaimed, "An' Doug an' Mike're suppose ta call today!" he continued happily, referring to two of the friends he'd made during the trip.

"That sounds wonderful, Lucas." Omari smiled, his heart welling with love and happiness that his little boy was so contented.

"An' our tree is the bestest!" Lucas said excitedly. "D'ya think that it's gonna grow during the night an' the toys're gonna get up an' dance like they did in the play?"

"I wouldn't be surprised." Omari grinned.  "Come on then, my little man, let's see what we can get done in the house before your friends call."

"Ok Papa!" the little boy replied cheerfully.


 About two hours later, Zhara walked in, smiling and happy. "I'm home for the weekend!" she announced excitedly. "And with a Christmas bonus that outdid last years. Frank threw a great office party too, or I'd have been home sooner."

"He's always been very good to all of you," Omari agreed, hugging his wife as he helped her take her coat off.
Lucas said, "Mr. K has been and gone already Mama and he left presents! We almost forgot to give him theirs."
"He brought presents! How nice! And I knew you wouldn't forget, Lucas, you were so excited. Maybe next year we can ask them to join us for Christmas if they don't have standing plans," she suggested. "In the meantime, my wonderful gentlemen, we have to get things ready for Saturday. The other kids will be arriving and we have to make sure the rooms are clean and dusted.  Then we have traditional Christmas movies we can watch," she said with a special smile just for Lucas, 

"We got it all done while we were waiting for you, Mama!" Lucas announced proudly.

"Well thank you!" she exclaimed, giving her two men hugs. "You've just earned yourself an extra cherry on your sundae."

Lucas cheered. He'd never had maraschino cherries before and found that he couldn't get enough of them.

Omari pulled out a chair for his wife while Lucas placed bowls and spoons on the table.

"Papa made soup so you could get all nice and warm when you got home."

"That was very thoughtful, Omar, thank you." She smiled up at her husband.

"It was the least we could do. You deserve a rest." 

"When will we watch the movie, Mama?"
"As soon as we finish lunch, sweetheart," Zhara replied with a smile. She loved that her little boy was so happy. "We'll have plenty of movies to watch so we’ll still have some when your cousins arrive."   Zhara, Omari and their children had all agreed that because he was so close in age to the kids that they would continue to refer to him as their cousin, which had made things much easier on the younger kids who were having a hard time understanding how Lucas could have been their uncle, being so young.

"I'm so glad that the kids are bringing all the food this year," Omari said with a smile. "It's nice that you won’t' be stuck doing all the cooking."  While Zhara loved to cook for the family, and it was her choice to have the men out from underfoot while she cooked, it was a lot of work for her, and Omari knew she needed the break.

Lucas grinned and asked, "Will it be like turkey day was Papa?" he asked.

"An all you can eat buffet," Omari replied with a wide grin, as he cleared the table. "And presents. I don't know about you but that's my favorite part. I love to watch everyone open their gifts."

Lucas bit his lip. "I guess," he said quietly.

"What's the matter honey?" Zhara asked, concerned. She took Lucas gently by the hand and pulled him over to sit on her lap. She looked into his eyes and saw that he was troubled.

Lucas shrugged. "At least this year I get to open mor'n one present and I'm hopin' it ain't gonna be a pair of mittens or somethin' like that. That's what we got at the shelter last year," he shared.

Omari's expression became pensive. This child, like so many others, had found so little joy in their short lives. He wished he could foster more but he and Zhara had agreed that they had to focus on their little boy and get him to a good place before even thinking of taking in more.  "I'm sorry last year was so disappointing, Lucas," he said quietly, "but things will be different this year."
Lucas looked up at Omari. "I know's gonna be the bestest ever, and it's all 'cause of ya and Mama!" He reached out for a hug.
Omari knelt down beside his wife and embraced his little one, burrowing his face into the child's soft hair before planting a kiss on the top of his head. "You're very special to us Lucas, and we're grateful to have you."
"Like an extra Christmas present?"

"Like the best Christmas present." The man smiled, hugging the child close.

Luckily for Omari, who felt tears pressing against his eyes, Zhara chose that time announce that it was time for their dessert. He could tell from her expression that she too, had been close to tears.  She quickly and efficiently made three sundaes and made sure to put extra cherries on top.

After they ate they sat down to watch a couple of Christmas classics while sipping cups of hot cocoa.

"Which movie do you want to watch first, Lucas?" Zhara asked, picking up several and showing the covers to him so that he could get an idea of what they were about.

Lucas looked at the movies and said, "Rudolph. It sounds interestin'."
Zhara smiled at the boy then turned to place the DVD into the player. She leaned against her husband and Lucas leaned against her as they all curled comfortably on the sofa to watch.

When it finished playing, Zhara looked at her watch and hit the stop button on the remote. "Did you like the movie, Lucas?" 

Lucas nodded. "Yeah...I just wish I coulda been like Rudolph and done somethin' to make everyone like me 'cause I saved the day...or saved Christmas. He got picked on for bein' different, but then his havin' a red nose helped Santa to do his work."

"You don't have to save the day for people to love you, honey," Zhara said, wrapping an arm around her little one. "And who knows what you'll grow up to be, and do. I see a bright future ahead of you." 

Lucas looked up at Zhara. "Ya do? What kinda future?" 

"Whatever you dream of. Whatever you want. If you work hard at it, you can be anything you like.  I can see you as an Olympic swimmer, myself," she smiled.
"Or an investment banker...." Omari hinted with a grin to let the boy know he was joking. "Sweetheart, you can be anything, remember that." He reluctantly extricated himself from the huddle on the couch and stretched. His yawn sounded so much like Chewbacca the Wookie that Zhara laughed.

"You can't be a Wookie though. I insist," she said. "One of those in the house is more than enough."
Lucas smiled and cuddled with his mama and then asked, "What's a Wookie?"

"He's like a Bigfoot, all covered with hair, and when he talks he sounds just like Papa when he yawns." Zhara teased. "We have the Star Wars movies somewhere in our collection, maybe you and the other kids can watch it on Christmas Eve after the little ones go to bed. Would you like that? The older kids love it." 

"I like the original trilogy the best, but then I'm old fashioned," Omari joked. "I think you'll like it, full of adventure and action."
"Well my darlings, I think we should get ready for bed. Will you help me wash the cups, Lucas?" Zhara asked.

Lucas grinned at his Papa being referred to as a Star Wars creature and nodded. "I'll help and yeah, I wanna see the movie with the Wookie in it." He stopped for a moment, a thoughtful expression on his face as he looked through the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.

"What's on your mind, honey?" Omari asked.

"Lights," the boy replied distractedly.

"Lights? Are some of the lights out on the tree?" Zhara asked, craning her neck a little to look.

"No, it's not that. I just 'membered somethin'."

"About lights?"  Omari prompted.

"Yeah, kinda... it's kinda fuzzy, but I 'member bein' in a car and drivin' with my mommy and daddy, an' there was all sorts'a lights everywhere. An' music."

Zhara and Omari looked at each other in confusion for a moment before the meaning of what their little boy was saying sunk in.

"That's a great idea, Lucas," Omari said.

"Huh?" the boy asked, coming out of his thoughts to look at his papa.

"It's been so long I forgot about it."

"Forgot what?" the little boy asked, puzzled.

"Driving around and looking at people's Christmas decorations.  There are even places that are open to the public where we can go and enjoy light and music displays."

"That's a wonderful idea," Zhara agreed with a grin. "Let's plan that for Christmas Eve as well."

"Thank you, Lucas." Omari smiled.

"For what? I didn't do nothin'."

"For reminding us of a lost holiday tradition," he said, reaching down to hug his boy again. "We're going to have a great weekend."


 The next day, Friday, Lucas woke to find his windowsill covered in snow.  He ran to the window and exclaimed happily at the sight before running into his mama and papa's bedroom to wake them.

"Mama! Papa! There's snow out there! Look!"
Omari opened his eyes and sighed. Leave it to any child to wake at the crack of dawn during the holidays but try to get them up for school on a regular morning and it was like pulling teeth.  He grinned and shook his head in amusement before rousing his wife to join the boy at their window.
"Isn't that lovely," Zhara said, watching the flakes swirl down.  "You know what this means, don't you, Lucas?" 

Lucas shook his head. "No Mama, what?"

"Snowmen! Snow forts and snowball fights! Snow angels!" Omari replied with a grin.  "After breakfast, we can go out and start our own troop of snowmen."

Lucas jumped up and down. "Right many?"
"As many as we want... or until the snow runs out." Omari laughed.

"Come on my winter warriors," Zhara said, smiling, "Let's figure out what to have for breakfast and then we'll bundle up and get started."
Lucas looked at Zhara, "Ya gonna help Mama?"

"Apple cinnamon oatmeal?" Omari suggested. Zhara made it fresh rather than prepackaged. It took a little longer but the taste was worth the wait.

"Oh yes! I love to build snow forts," she admitted. "Growing up with so many older brothers I learned to make them to last."

Lucas nodded to the oatmeal. "Sounds good Mama...will we have 'nough snow to make a fort and snowmen?"

The adults looked out the window. There appeared to be at least five or six inches already on the ground and the snow was still falling.  "We have a big back yard, honey," Zhara grinned, "I'm sure we'll have plenty of snow."

"Well, those things aren't going to build themselves," Omari prompted cheerfully. "Let's go help mama get that oatmeal on and then we can head outside."

Lucas nodded vigorously, "Yeah Papa...let's get stuff started!"
With her two men helping her, Zhara had the preparations done in no time.  "You two go and get dressed while this simmers," she suggested as she lowered the heat and stirred the mixture carefully.

Lucas grinned and ran to his room to get dressed. "Hurry Papa!" he called as he raced off to his room.

"Two pairs of socks, Lucas!" Omari called from the kitchen.

“’Kay Papa!” the little boy replied.

Omari dressed in record time and brought out clothes for his wife when he returned.  He took the wooden spoon she'd been using and kissed her before sending her into the bathroom off the kitchen to change out of her night clothes.
"You're too good to me."
"I know," he answered simply.
Zhara grinned and went to change while Omari took over stirring the contents of the pot, leaning over occasionally to breathe in the scent of the apples and spices.

"Zhar!  It smells done!  Even if it's not done I'm hungry enough to eat it as is," he joked.
The woman walked out of the bathroom decked out in socks, jeans and a thick sweater. Her hair was free of its usual businesslike bun and fanned around her head like a halo.  She blushed happily when her husband stopped what he was doing to take in the sight of her, as though he'd never seen her before. 

"Beautiful," he whispered into her ear as she took over the cooking once again.
"Fresh," she whispered back, feeling as giddy as the proverbial school girl that she could still have that kind of effect on her husband after thirty plus years of marriage.
Lucas raced back into the kitchen and skidded to a halt. "Ya look real pretty Mama!"
"Thank you darling!" she replied, leaning down to give her little boy a big kiss on top of his head.  "Would you and Papa please get the bowls and spoons? It's nearly ready. Omar, I’d appreciate it if you would bring out the milk and glasses as well.”

"Your wish is my command, my lady," Omari said, taking his wife's hand and kissing the back of it before turning to do as she'd asked. He pulled three bowls out of the cabinet and handed them to Lucas to put on the table along with the utensils before taking the glasses for the milk out. 

Zhara placed the sugar bowl next to the gallon of milk and the three sat down to breakfast. Omari had to remind Lucas three times to slow down.  "Easy there, sweet heart. The snow isn't going anywhere, I promise," he said with a grin. He loved to see Lucas so happy and excited. 
Lucas, shoveling oatmeal into his mouth, asked, "Ya sure it won't all melt?"
Zhara looked outside at the still falling snow.  "Not yet. If we're lucky we'll have a white Christmas and you'll be able to make more snowmen with your cousins."

"Snowmen. Snow forts. Snow trees!  We'll have our own Christmas display in the back yard if we manage to build half of what we're planning." Omari laughed.

Lucas grinned happily. "Good! We can have lots of 'em."

Zhara clicked her fingers as a thought struck. She grinned and went down into the basement, coming up with a box of old clothes.
"Hey!" Omari grinned, "there's that old beat up hat of mine! I wondered where that had gotten to," he said, putting the stretched out, misshapen thing on his head.

"That will be perfect on one of the snowmen," Zhara jokingly scolded as she swiped it off of his head. "If I see this thing on you after the snow melts you'll be in trouble!"

Lucas giggled and said, "That hat's awful, Papa!"
"It's a classic!" Omari protested, playing at trying to get the hat back from his wife.
"It's the Edsel of hats, darling. Time to let it go." Zhara laughed.

Omari caught his wife up in a hug and kissed her soundly as he reached again for the hat which Zhara tossed to Lucas.
Lucas wrinkled his nose at them kissing and caught the hat. "It's for the snowman, Papa!"

"Well that's going to be one classy looking snowman then.  What do you say, hon? Ready to go outside?"

"I'll see to the dishes and I'll join you in just a few minutes," Zhara promised her little boy.

"Alright then, Lucas, it's you and me for now.  Get your snow gear on and let's head out."

Lucas got into his new snowsuit and boots and ran out to Omari, the pockets filled with mittens. "I got mittens for the snowman too!" he announced.

Omari adjusted the snow suit over the little boy's boots to keep snow out, and then did the same with the sleeves of the jacket over his new, warm gloves.  "Perfect!" he said. "You and the mittens."   He then leaned down and whispered something into Lucas's ear with a sly glance over his shoulder at his wife.
Lucas grinned at his Papa. "'Kay Papa. Let's go!" He turned to run outside.
Zhara watched her men through the kitchen window as they ran around the yard, packing and stacking snowballs. She sighed in contentment. It had just been too long since they'd had a little one of their own in the yard, and she loved to see her husband with Lucas. The little boy seemed to rejuvenate everyone around him. Omari was acting like a twenty-year-old again, laughing, smiling and tossing the occasional snowball at the little one who either dodged them or caught one and threw it back.

She was done in no time and swiftly got into her snow gear, then left the house through the front door, making an armload of snowballs which she brought into the back yard.  The perfect opportunity arose when Omar bent over to make another snowball. Her aim was true and Omari jumped upright with a yelp of astonishment, first looking at Lucas and then back at the source of the laughter behind him.
"Oh, you're gonna get it now, missy!" he said with a feral grin.  He picked up a snowball and was preparing to launch it when another one hit his shoulder, and yet another one skimmed the top of his hat, nearly knocking it off.

Lucas laughed at his papa's yelp and expression as his mama's snowball found it's target. He then threw one at Zhara.

Zhara shouted a war cry and began lobbing snowballs. Omari, his eyes wide with admiration and surprise, ran and hid behind Lucas.

"You wouldn't throw snowballs at an innocent child, would you?" he teased.

"Nope, but I will certainly throw them at a guilty old man!" his wife rejoined, smacking him in the forehead with another snowball.

"Lucas! Duck!" Zhara yelled.

Lucas ducked and then launched another snowball at Zhara

The snowball just narrowly missed her head and she gave Lucas a challenging look.  "Innocent little boy my Aunt Fannie! Prepare to be snow bombed!" she said as she gathered up a large amount of snow and rolled it into a ball. She lobbed it into the air but it was slow and the two men were able to dodge it effortlessly. They were laughing at the feeble attempt when they were each rewarded with a snowball to the head.  With another war whoop, Omari began launching their own stacked snowballs at her. 
Lucas laughed, giggled, ran and threw snowballs until he was breathless, getting Omari and Zhara each with one at last.

"I call a cease fire!" Omari laughed.  "Let's take some of this snow and start creating our army. What do you say?" 

Lucas nodded vigorously. "Yeah Papa...Mama can help too!" 
The three spent the better part of the next couple of hours making and dressing as many snowmen as they could, and Zhara taught Lucas how to build a wall out of snow.  "We'll make one on this side and one on the other.  Then later we can have another snowball fight. I'm hoping that the snow lasts the weekend, to be honest."

When the walls were finished, they conducted a test to see how sturdy the walls were.  As promised, they held up very well to another snowball fight.
"I don't know about you two," Omari said, laughing, "but I'm hungry!  What say we stop and have lunch? Maybe we can do something... a little less strenuous with our afternoon," he continued, grimacing theatrically as he moved supposedly sore muscles.
"I'm game," Zhara agreed, swiping snow out of the hood of her jacket. "A nice warm lunch sounds good."

Lucas smiled. He glanced over at the first snowman they had created with his mittens hanging off the ends of the sticks and his Papa's hat on top. "We should name our snowmen, I vote the first one is Papa!" he said, grinning at Omari.

Then he asked, "Don' we need a flag for the fort?"

"Ah, excellent idea, young soldier!" Zhara said.  She took her keys out of her pocket and opened the door to the shed, taking out a couple of old shammy cloths and gardening sticks.  Tying the corners of the stained and faded cloths to the sticks, Zhara then carefully stuck them into the tops of the walls, patting and reinforcing the spots that came loose.  "There we go!" she said with a flourish of her hands.

"Now, I for one am ready for lunch, and maybe a nap. I'm wiped out," Omari said, taking the hands of his wife and little one to lead them into the house.
Lucas smiled at the flags and went inside with his parents.
Zhara was glad that the house had a mud room so that they could take off their snow caked outerwear without worrying about tracking everything into the kitchen. Sighing with relief at the warmth and freedom from the heavy coat and boots, she walked into the kitchen and began to rummage around for lunch ideas.
Lucas struggled out of his snowsuit and boots and went into the kitchen.
"How do grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup sound?" Zhara finally asked, looking at her men for their input. 
"With mozzarella cheese?" Omari asked hopefully.

Zhara laughed, "Yes, we have fresh mozzarella... and American or pepper jack."

Lucas nodded. "Yeah, with that gooey white cheese stuff!"
"Sounds more than good to me then," Omari said with a grin. "I'll get the pans and the soup out."
"You got it, sweetheart," she said with a grin.
"Lucas, would you set out the bowls, plates and spoons please?" Zhara asked as she took the cheese out of the refrigerator and then pulled the loaf of Italian bread out of the cabinet above it. 
As usual, with the three of them working together, lunch was soon ready and they all sat down with identical sighs of contentment to eat.

Clean up was quick and the three of them sat around the table, sipping hot cocoa and talking about their plans for the rest of the day. "It's going to be noisy and busy for the next couple of days so we're going to enjoy the relative quiet for as long as we can," Zhara said.

"I wasn't kidding about needing a nap," Omari said, stretching kinks out of his shoulders and letting out his Chewbacca yawn.
"I wouldn't mind one either, to be honest," Zhara admitted. "What do you say, Lucas. We'll take a short siesta and then maybe we can do something in the playroom for a while."
"Or watch some movies. Some of the classics are on today. I'd love for you to see them, Lucas, if you're in the mood to watch old black and white films," Omari said with a smile at his youngest.

Lucas rubbed his eyes and nodded. "Yeah, bein' out in the snow and cold makes ya tired."
Omari picked the boy up, bypassed the boy's room and brought him into his and Zhara's room.  He pulled down the covers and tucked Lucas in the center. Soon he was comfortably sandwiched between his mama and papa and the three of them fell deeply asleep.

When they'd woken from their nap, Omari and Zhara played Christmas tunes on their stereo, teaching Lucas the lyrics while dancing with him to the music.  He seemed to especially like the song Dominick the Donkey and asked Zhara to play it several times in a row.
"That's enough for now, sweetie," she laughed. "It's time to start dinner. If you and Papa help we can get it done in no time."

"We're your willing servants, Madame," Omari joked, "What are your wishes?"

Lucas pouted a bit because he had been having fun, but went along with his Mama.

Dinner was a simple meal, ready and eaten in an hour’s time, and clean up was a breeze.  Afterward Zhara asked, "Lucas, honey, would you like to watch some of the classic movies, or would you rather do something in the playroom?"
"Let's do somethin' in the playroom," he decided.

The three headed toward the playroom and Omari asked Lucas to pick out a game they could all play. "Lord knows we have enough games to build a small house," he joked.

Lucas grinned and then pulled out Candyland. "This one Papa, 'cause it's Christmas and we get lotsa candy!"

Omari and Zhara both laughed and let their little one set up the board.  "You get first pick of figures, hon," Omari said.
Lucas picked a red one. "You go Mama, then Papa."
Omari took the green and Zhara chose yellow, then they put their pieces on the start square to begin the game.  After several games, all of which Lucas managed somehow to win, Zhara invited him to pick another one.  "How about Monopoly?" she suggested with a grin. "I might actually have a chance of winning that one."

"You forget, my dear, I work in finance. You'll never win against me," he said with an evil laugh. 

Lucas went over and pulled out the Old Maid cards. "How 'bout this Mama?"
"Oh, I like that one!" Zhara said happily.

"Good choice, hon," Omari agreed. "Go ahead and shuffle.  Do you want first deal?"
Lucas bit his lip. "Umm...I can't shuffle real good Papa, you do it and I’ll put 'em out."

The older man expertly shuffled the cards and handed the deck back to his little one, who dealt the cards like a pro.
Omari raised his eyebrows and looked at Zhara with a grin, "I think this boy is going to fleece us again, Zhar."

"If it means I'm gonna win then yep," the little boy responded looking at his cards, then smiling.
"Ok, Lucas, as the youngest you get first pick," Omari said, holding out his fanned cards to the boy.
Lucas grinned and picked a card. "Got it!" he cried, picking the Old Maid and showing it to his Papa.

Omari smiled gently and explained the rules to Lucas, a little upset that at the age of six this little boy had never had anyone stop and play simple card games with him.  "So, you don't want the Old Maid, ok, honey?" he finished. "Do you want me to shuffle the deck again and we can start over, or do you want to take your chances and keep going?"
"In a regular game, you'd just shuffle your cards to keep anyone from knowing where the card is, and hope they pick it. Understand?" Zhara asked. 
Lucas's face fell when he realized he hadn't won the game. "'Kay Papa...we can shuffle and do it again."
"No problem Lucas," Omari said, patting the little boy on the shoulder. "It's my fault, I just thought you knew how to play the game. You didn't lose. The only way to lose is if you get stuck with the Old Maid at the end of the game, alright?" he asked as he took the cards and reshuffled them.
Lucas nodded then and smiled. "So, if I pick it maybe you or Mama might pick it out of my hand then?" he asked.

"Exactly. So now that we've had our practice run we can play the game for real. Don't forget to put aside any matching cards, ok?"
Lucas grinned then and nodded. "'Kay Papa!"
During the series of hands, Omari won once, Lucas won three times and Zhara sighed in mock frustration as she ended up with the Old Maid once again.  "Well, I'm out," she said, laughing.

Lucas smiled at his mama. "Yar a good sport Mama."

"Nothing worse than a sore loser. Unless it's a sore winner," Zhara joked.  "Who's up for a movie before bedtime?"

Lucas smiled. "Me Mama!"
Omari led his wife and little one to the couch and said, "Lucas, this is one of the kid's favorites. It's called The Polar Express. Have you ever seen it before?"
Lucas shook his head. "I don't think so Papa."

"Well, you're in for a treat," Zhara said brightly. "Have a seat. I'll get the movie set up.  Would either of you like popcorn?" 

"I would!" Omari said.
"Good, then you can go out and get it started," Zhara laughed.

"That was mean," Omari replied with a grin as he got up to make the treat. 
Lucas was going to say he wanted some too, but seeing his Mama making his Papa pop the corn he closed his mouth. He didn't know how to do it and didn't want to be the one to have to.
"Omar? Nearly done, honey?" Zhara called to the kitchen.

"Just finishing up now, my love," Omari replied.

The little boy could smell the popcorn now and smiled at his mama and waited for his papa to return. 

The older man brought a large, very full bowl of freshly popped corn into the room and sat on Lucas's right.  "Here you go, sweetheart. You hold the bowl."
Zhara sat on the little boy's left and started the movie.  As usual, Lucas was so fascinated by it that he didn't say a word. It wasn't until she heard her little boy snoring softly that she realized he'd fallen asleep.  She nudged her husband gently and gestured toward the child.
Lucas had eaten some popcorn and had become absorbed in the movie. His eyes grew tired and his lids drifted closed and before long he found himself sound asleep.
Omari took the precariously balanced bowl from the boy's hands and lifted him gently to bring him to his room.  He didn't bother putting the youngster's pajamas on but tucked him neatly into his bed and planted a soft kiss on the child's forehead.  "Good night, Lucas," he said quietly.

Zhara looked up at her husband with a smile when he reentered the room. "It's going to be a madhouse tomorrow, hon, I think Lucas has the right idea," she said, turning off the movie and television. 
"I agree, my love," Omari said, "But... I'd like to take him out for a special breakfast at Denny’s tomorrow... what do you think of that?"

"Wonderful," she replied, taking Omari's hand and letting him lead her to their bedroom where they fell asleep in no time.


As soon as Ryan clocked out from his shift at seven o'clock on Christmas Eve morning, he fairly ran home.  He and Coral had a lot to do before they could leave for Omari and Zhara's house and he was very excited at the thought of giving his lover the special present he'd had Mutt make.

Coral greeted his boy at the door with a smile and a bear hug. "Welcome home, Angel." he said, leaning down to give him a tender kiss. "Merry Christmas Eve, sweetheart."  
The young man gave his lover a kiss and hugged him tight. "Merry Christmas Eve Coral!"

"Come on in, love, I have breakfast ready, then we can open gifts and you can go and take your shower and then we can head out. Sound good?" Coral asked, leading his boy into the bungalow so he could get warm. 
"Sounds real good. It's cold to there and I want to warm up."

Coral led Ryan into the kitchen where he helped his boy remove his jacket before wrapping him in a warm blanket and settling him down at the table. "I made your favorite breakfast, Angel." he smiled as he set the bowl and a cup of coffee in front of him.

Ry grinned. "Baked Oatmeal! With raisins, even!"

When they were done, Coral led Ry to the tree where presents were laid out in piles for each of them.  "Here," Coral said, "Why don't you open this one first?"

Ryan opened the package his lover gave him, tearing off the ribbon and paper like a child at his first Christmas. His green eyes widened and grinned. "Wow... a green shirt and a cool pair of jeans! Thanks Coral!" Ryan flung himself at the older man and wrapped his arms around his neck and kissed him.

"You're welcome, Angel." Coral smiled, happy that Ryan liked his presents so far. "I thought you might like to wear them to Mom and Dad's today."

Ry smiled and said, “Good idea.” He handed Coral a package. Castiel was batting at one of the Christmas ornaments that hung within his reach and the young man scolded, "No Cas. Don't do that!" The kitten stopped and came over to Ry and sniffed at the shirt and jeans he had unwrapped and laid down on top of them.

Coral opened the box and smiled widely. "This is beautiful, Ry!" he exclaimed as he lifted the heart shaped, frosted glass ornament up to admire. It had obviously been special ordered and engraved with the words 'Our First Christmas, Coral and Ryan.' Beneath that were two frosted and polished linked hearts.  Coral leaned toward Ryan and gave him a kiss. "Thank you, Angel." 
Ryan blushed and smiled. "You're welcome Cor." He then said, placing a good-sized box between them. "Want to help me open one of Cas's presents?"

"Sure!" Coral replied with a grin, wondering what on earth you got for a kitten that had everything already.  He picked Castiel up and held him while Ryan opened the package.
"Look, Cas," he said, petting the furry little thing behind the ears, "this is for you."

Ryan picked the plant up out of the box carefully. He held it so the kitten could sniff it. With a loud, "Meow!" he pawed at one of the leaves and began to chew on it.
Coral jumped in surprise and then laughed. "What on earth..."

Ryan laughed and in a little bit the kitten squirmed away from Coral and began to run in circles, jump and roll on the floor waving his feet in the air and then did it all over again.
Ryan laughed and grinned. "He likes it!"
"I'll say. I feel sorry for Shorty." Coral laughed. "He's going to have his hands full today if Cas is going to be like this."
"Oh, that reminds me," he said, clicking his fingers, "don't let me forget to drop the Secret Santa presents off to Shorty when we drop Cas off."
He watched Castiel run around for a few moments longer, shaking his head in amusement before picking up another of Ryan's gifts to give him.
Ryan grinned. "Kay Coral, but we better put this cat nip plant up right now or he'll be higher than a kite when we take him to Shorty. Guess like Papa, like son." The young man teased his older partner.
Coral gave Ry the same look he'd just given the kitten, feeling his heart fill with love for this young man he'd been fortunate enough to win.  "Here," he said, handing his lover a small, red, glittery box with a red bow on the lid.

Ryan took the package and opened this one a bit more slowly than he did the first. When he lifted the lid, he looked at the egg-shaped thing inside. "An egg? It ain't Easter Cor... it’s Christmas!"

Coral laughed and put his hand beneath Ryan's and touched the blue onyx stone with a finger.  "This is called a worry stone. You use it whenever you're feeling stressed or anxious. Every time you rub it, think of me, and know that no matter where I am, I'm always close." 

Ryan took the stone out of the box and experimentally held it in his hand. It was small enough to fit in his palm and not so heavy he couldn't carry it in his pocket. He rubbed it experimentally and smiled as it grew warmer and warmer. "It's neat. I never had anythin' like this before Cor. Thank you!"

The kitten came over and sniffed at it curiously, but then flicked his ears, shook his head and went off to roll and run once more. Ryan put the stone in his pocket then and hugged Coral and kissed him hard. "I like havin' somethin' that will remind me of you all the time."
Ryan grabbed another package and handed it to Coral. "This is from me," he said softly with a smile.

Coral unwrapped the rectangular item carefully and laughed aloud when he saw a picture of the two of them on camel back which had been taken during their mini vacation. He ran a finger lovingly down Ryan's cheek.  "This is... I love it, Ry. It's going on my desk at work."

The young man smiled as his lover stroked his cheek and said, "I'm glad you liked it, it was one of the highlights of our vacation besides the butterflies."

Coral smiled fondly at his lover. He had a picture of Ryan surrounded by the butterflies in his wallet.  It was a memory he would always cherish.

Ryan picked up another package grinning at Coral and said, "This is Castiel's." He tried to get the kitten to help him unwrap the package, but he just meowed at him. The young man laughed and took off the paper and opened up a variety pack of cat toys. He tossed out a plastic ball with a bell and the kitten pounced on it, then a cellophane one which the kitten promptly batted around and made Ry laugh. Then he grinned at Coral holding up a green fluff ball. He tossed it up in the air and the kitten jumped up and pounced on it, batted it around, picked it up in his mouth, tossed it back on the floor and chased it as it rolled away making the young man giggle with boyish glee.

Coral felt his heart swell once again. He loved to see his boy smile and his laughter was like fresh air to him. Intoxicating, he thought.

"Here you go, Ry," he said, handing his lover an envelope.

Ryan took the envelope curiously and then when he opened it he grinned, seeing it was a coupon book for free activities and video games at Carter’s indoor race track and arcade in Masonville. "Cor! Thank you! How cool! I can take my friends with me and we can race carts, play video games and have a great time!" He flung his arms around the older man and hugged him tight.

"I was hoping you'd like it," Coral laughed as he returned the hug. "I went there with Jeff and Mutt once before you and I started going together, and I remember what a great time we had. I know you and your friends will have a blast."

The young man grinned. “I’m sure we will and thanks again Cor.” He then bit his lip and handed his lover the last larger package he had at his side. "This is for you and I really hope you like it."

Coral opened the box and removed something hard, wrapped in layers of glittery red and blue tissue paper. His eyes opened wide when he saw the large wooden sculpture. Two angels facing each other, looking into each other's faces as they held hands, the outer edges of their wings touching and slightly overlapping. It looked as though it had been carved out of part of a tree trunk and the natural swirls in the wood accentuated the beauty of the piece.

"Ry... this is... I'm..." Coral stammered, touched beyond words. He ran his fingers over the sculpture, marveling at the smoothness of the wood, the detail in the wings.  "I've never gotten anything this beautiful in my life.  Thank you Sweetheart," he said softly, pulling Ryan into a hug and kissing him deeply.

Tears escaped from the green eyes. "I wanted somethin' special and Mutt helped," he told his lover.
"Mutt made this?" Coral asked in surprise. "Ryan... this is..." he shook his head, unable to form the words his heart wanted to say. Instead he pulled Ryan in once again for a warm, all-encompassing hug, using his thumbs to gently wipe the tears away as he leaned down to kiss him again.
"I came up with the idea and Mutt made it come to life for me," he told his lover, cuddling in close.
Coral felt tears pressing up against the backs of his eyes and burrowed his face in Ryan's thick, fair hair. "I love you so much, Ry," he whispered. "Thank you."
Ryan hugged Coral for all he was worth. "Me too."
The young man was content to snuggle in the strong arms.
Castiel meowed at them because he couldn't get to Ryan's shoulder.

Ryan hearing the kitten smiled. "He's got one more present, then we're finished and can get him ready and get over to Shorty's and don't forget to bring the presents," he reminded Coral, easing himself out of his arms and opening up a tube of fluff balls and adding them to the ones he had in the variety pack earlier, knowing they were his kitten's favorite toy and tossed each one up in the air to see him jump up and then pounce on it, giggling and laughing the whole time.

"Well, there's one more thing for you," Coral admitted. "Then we can get going, ok?"

Ryan looked puzzled. "One more thing?"

"Something I saw online and just had to get for you. I hope you like it," Coral replied, getting up off the couch to reach beneath it. He pulled out a long box wrapped in emerald green paper.
Ryan took the box curiously. It had a bit of weight to it and he unwrapped it slowly. When he opened the box, he stared in wonder. "Oh, wow Coral!" he breathed. "An 1892 Winchester Banded Lever Action Rifle!"

Coral reached underneath the couch again and brought out a smaller box which rattled somewhat. He handed that to Ryan as well with a smile of pleasure on his features. He was thrilled that Ryan seemed so happy with the gift. "Part two," he said quietly.

Ryan took the box Coral handed him and recognized the rattle, but opened it to confirm what he suspected. "Cool...ammunition for it too...can we go shoot it before we go? We can stop by the range.... there won't be anyone there because we closed for the day," he told the older man excitedly.
Coral sighed. He'd been afraid of this. "Not right now, Ry. We have to drop off the gifts and Cas to Shorty and then head out to Mom and Dad's, otherwise we won't get there til late. But," he continued, seeing the disappointed look on his boy's face, "We have Monday off as well. If we start out from the house early enough we can get back and have the range to ourselves until your ammo runs out."

Ry listened, disappointed, but then with a sigh nodded. "All right...I really don't want to wait, but you're right...we have things to do."

Coral nearly sighed in relief. "I'm proud of you, Ry. I know you want to try it out now and I appreciate how mature you're being about it.  Now, I've got the gifts for the Secret Santa and everyone’s at the house packed up and in the truck. Get Cas settled into his carrier and we can get going."
Ryan smiled at the praise and then attempted to corral his kitten. Cas was having nothing to do with it. He sensed what was going to happen and every time Ry got close, scampered off to another place. The young man frowned. "Come on Cas...we gotta go and you're not makin' it easy!"
Coral picked up one of the fluff balls and threw it into the open carrier. Once he had Castiel's attention he threw another one in. The kitten chased the fluff ball inside and he deftly closed the door.

Ryan grinned. "You're sneaky Coral."
Coral laughed and wrapped his arm around Ryan's shoulder, pulling him into a brief hug. "Just remember that, little boy," he teased. "Come on, Angel. Let's get going."

Ry laughed and went with Coral, while his lover carried the carrier outside so they could deliver everything to Shorty and get going. 


Christmas Eve morning Omari woke Lucas early. "Come on my little man," he coaxed. "Mama and I have a surprise for you but we have to head out soon."
The little boy rubbed his eyes and looked up at his papa blearily. "Where we goin' Papa?"
The man smiled down at his little one and replied, "If I tell you then it won't be a surprise, will it?  I think you'll enjoy where we're going. So, get dressed and we'll head out. Don't take too long, sweetheart, Mama is waiting for us in the car. Alright?"

As soon as they were ready to go Omari buckled Lucas into the booster seat and headed out.  Before long they arrived at his and Zhara's favorite restaurant.  They pulled into the Denny's parking lot and their eyes went wide.  Denny's was open 24 hours a day and the parking lot was nearly full, even at this early hour.  He pulled into a space and helped his wife and Lucas out. He counted himself lucky that there was no waiting list and they were seated sooner than expected.

Lucas's eyes went wide as he gazed around the restaurant. He hadn't been in one before and sat very still, a bit anxious.
Zhara noticed her child freeze up and leaned down to whisper in his ear, "There's nothing to be worried about sweetheart, just behave yourself and order whatever you like. Ok?"
He looked at the menu and where Zhara had pointed and bit his lip. "Mama...should I just pick a picture?" he asked a bit nervously.
"If you want more of a description I'll be happy to help you, love. Otherwise, yes, that's what the pictures are for, I think."
The youngster bit his lip and studied the pictures, then pointed to the one with the strawberries. "That one looks good Mama."

"Pancakes filled with white chocolate chips, topped with vanilla cream and fresh strawberries. Served with one bacon strip, one sausage link and one egg," she read.  "Why Lucas, that's almost the same as what I'm going to get." She smiled happily. "Omar? Any idea yet?"
Lucas grinned. "Bacon and sausage both?"
"Yep!" Omari said with a smile. "What would you like to drink with your breakfast, hon?" he asked.
"I think a smoothie sounds good Papa...strawberry?"

"Ok, since it's a special occasion, then strawberry smoothie it is," Omari replied with a wide smile, pleased to see his little one so happy.

Lucas grinned. "What are ya gonna eat, Papa?"
"The Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast," he replied. "My mouth is watering just thinking about it."
The youngster grinned. "Bananas are good too, Papa.
No sooner had he said the words than the waitress arrived at their table. They gave their order and talked about their plans for the day while they waited for their food to arrive.  When it finally did, Lucas's eyes nearly grew as round as the pancakes. The waitress smiled. "He's a real cutie. Cunnin' as a fox a-runnin'," she teased. 

Placing their plates down in front of them she said, "Now, you make sure to call me if you need anything else." With another brilliant smile, she left them to their breakfasts.
Lucas looked at Omari and Zhara curiously. "Wha'd she mean by that?
Omari shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I'm not sure," he laughed. "Cunning as a fox means smart, but I'm not sure how cunning a fox is while it's running."
"Probably smarter, since it has to decide quickly where to go," Zhara offered.
The little boy grinned. "Mr. K says I'm smart."
"That you are, kiddo," Omari agreed, putting a gentle hand on the boy's cheek. "Now, dig in, I'm dying to taste my pancakes."
Lucas smiled happily at his Papa and dug into his breakfast.

The little boy smiled broadly as they left for home after eating. "That was really good Mama, Papa...When are my cousins comin'? I wanna see if we can build some stuff with the Legos like we did with Uncle Mutt at Thanksgivin'," he told them. "Maybe we can have a snowball fight outside with the fort 'n stuff??"
"That all sounds wonderful, honey," Zhara said with a matching smile. "You're all going to have such fun today."
"You might have to reinforce those walls," Omari said. "I'll bet you can improve them.  They're great for straight on attacks but they're open to the sides," he winked at Zhara.

"If you aim well enough, no one gets close enough to hit from the sides," Zhara said. "The aim is to... aim." She laughed.
Lucas asked, "When we get home will ya help me to do that, Papa?"

"We can both help, if you like, since your aunts and uncles are bringing all the food and doing all the cooking. Then we can really show those kids a thing or two," his papa replied.

Lucas grinned happily. "Even the older ones, Papa?"
"Oh yeah, especially the older ones," he said with a laugh.  As they drove up into their driveway they saw the first of the cars arriving just behind them.  "Speak of the devils." he added delightedly.

Omari used the remote to open the garage door and pulled the car inside before going around to the back to unbuckle Lucas.

Seeing the little boy Jonathan jumped out of his parent's car as soon as it stopped and ran to his cousin.  "Lucas!" he greeted happily as he threw his arms around him in a typical Okoro bear cub hug.
The younger boy grinned and returned the hug in kind. "We went to Denny's for breakfast and I ate cool pancakes!"

"Mommy made French toast this morning... but when I asked her what made it French she laughed and said she didn't know. But it was good anyway," he said as though finally coming to a decision.
The youngster smiled at his cousin. "Maybe Mama or Papa know...ya gotta ask 'em."
"I'll do that," Jonathan replied sagely, then he grinned and said, "Do ya wanna play?"
Tamara and Bastien ran to the other boys and began to throw snowballs.  "C'mon!  Let's have a snowball fight!" Bastien suggested.

Lucas smiled. "'Kay, they know lots." The little boy grinned. "'Kay, we gotta fort...Jon ya wanna be with me?"
"Yeah! Let's go!" Jonathan exclaimed happily, chasing his cousin into the back yard.

Tamara and Bastien looked at each other and grinned, thinking that there were easy pickin's, then ran around the back as well.  Their eyes grew wide when they saw the forts, army of snowmen, and stacks of pre-made snowballs. "Cool!" Bastien exclaimed.
Lucas showed Jonathan the pile of snowballs he had already stored there. "We already got ammunition!"
Jonathan picked up a snowball, winked at Lucas and then fired the first shot, smacking Bastien on the shoulder.

"Oh, you're gonna regret that!" the older boy grinned, reaching down to pick up a snowball.
Lucas threw one at Tamara.
Tamara dodged, put a glove covered finger to her lips and picked one up as well, which she then threw at Bastien's backside where it splattered all over the back of his snow suit.

Bastien jumped as though he'd been shot. "Hey! You're supposed to be on my side!" he complained.

"I am, that was payback for hogging the back seat on the drive up here.  Let's get 'em!" she said picking up two snowballs and throwing them simultaneously. 
Lucas grinned at Jon and began to lob snowballs at the older boy.

The snowballs hit Bastien square in the chest. The bigger boy looked up with a grin and said, "Oh, boy, you're gonna regret that! It's on! If you're done with your friendly fire Tam, let's show 'em a thing or two!"

"You got it Tenny!  Fire!" the girl shouted as she made more snowballs to replenish what they'd used and piling them up for her brother.
Lucas laid down behind the fort walls to get some protection and lobbed snowballs without looking hoping they'd hit their mark.

Bastien groaned, seeing the enemy fire falling far short of the mark.  He turned, winked at his sister and gathered up several snowballs, sneaked around the side so that he had a good view of the two boys and began to pepper them with his little arsenal.  One snowball hit Jonathan on the forehead and one hit Lucas in the face, leaving him sputtering and wiping snow off as though it were something worse.

The next thing they knew, Austin and Angela joined them in the back yard, watching the action.
"C'mon guys! We need extra troops!" Jon said, grabbing his cousin's hands and pulling them back behind the wall while Lucas covered them by throwing snowballs with deadly aim at his older cousin who, out of ammunition, ran back toward his sister.
Lucas grinned as Jon brought the younger two into the fort. "Now all we need is Noah and we'll have 'em licked!"

As if on cue, Noah and Sasha walked into the back yard.

"Sash! c'mere! Quick!" Bastien and Tamara called excitedly. 
"Come on Noah, Sasha, ya with us we're gonna get them older ones good!"
Sasha looked between the two groups and ran toward Bastien's side while Noah took up position behind Lucas's wall.
Jon saw Caitlyn and Kyle poke their heads around the corner to see what was going on and grinned at each other before quickly making up snowballs and throwing them indiscriminately at everyone they could reach.
"Hey, no fair! Pick a side!" Noah yelled.
"We did pick a side!" Caitlyn called back. "Ours!" she laughed as she and Kyle packed more snowballs to throw.
"Free for all!" Noah cried with a grin.  At that he began to throw snowballs at everyone, especially Cait and Kyle who had no fort.

The children laughed and continued the snowball fight, hiding behind the many snowmen in the yard and the fort. 

None of them had any idea what time it was or how long they'd been playing outside when Zhara opened the kitchen window to call them in for lunch.
"Ok, Gran'ma!" Sasha called back with a smile.  It seemed to her as though they'd only just had breakfast until her stomach growled, making Bastien and Tamara laugh.

"Cease fire!" Bastien yelled. "Truce! At least til after lunch, ok?"

Lucas grinned at his other cousins and they trooped inside to eat.

The family was in the middle of their lunch when Coral and Ryan arrived.  "Oh, that looks good!" Coral said, eyeing the food on the table. "Now aren't you glad we waited til we got here to eat?" he asked the younger man with a grin.  "Oh, by the way, hi all!" he said with what could only be called an impish grin.

Everyone called a greeting to the two men who took off their jackets and boots before entering the kitchen.
Ryan laughed. "Yes, it does all look good," he told Coral.
"Uncle Ry!" Jonathan called, "C'mon, there's a seat between me an' Luc!"

Coral grinned at the younger man and nodded as he took a seat next to his mother, giving her a kiss on the cheek before reaching for a roll.
Ryan got himself a plate of food and said, "The best seat in the house!" He sat between the two boys.

"You made this poor child come all this way without stopping to feed him? No wonder he's so thin!" Zhara scolded her son.

"It was a choice between soggy, overpriced food, or waiting til we got here for a decent meal.  We did stop for coffee and bagels, if that helps," Coral grinned at his mother.
Zhara gave Coral a look and hummed in thought. "You have a point there," she finally admitted.

Ryan grinned. "Yes Mama, but it only filled the little hole. This is great!"
Coral made himself a BLT and put some roast beef and mayo on the roll before taking a huge bite.
"Eat like a human being," Omari said, shaking his head in disbelief. "People would think we didn't raise you better than that."
Ryan glanced over at Cor and chuckled to hear his Papa scolding him. "He thinks he's a cave man Papa," Ryan contributed.
Coral swallowed the bite he'd taken and grinned.  "You heard the boy!  A bagel only goes so far, especially since it has a hole in it," he joked. Then hearing Ryan's comment, he stood up, scowled and growled at Ryan.
"Me caveman!" he growled. "Need meat! Need mayo! Arrrrrrrr!"

"Caveman better sit down and behave himself, or else," Zhara said, smacking her son one on the backside, causing him to jump a little in surprise and everyone else to laugh.  Coral leaned down, kissed his mother again and sat down to finish his sandwich.

Ryan's green eyes widened at Zhara smacking Coral's bottom, but grinned. "Well at least there's someone around who can tame the caveman!"

Coral shook his head fondly at his lover.

"You should have seen him when he was younger, Ry," Ame grinned. "No table manners at all."
"Hush, you!" Coral grinned at his sister. "Don't give him any more information."

"I'll tell you more later," Ame whispered loudly with a smile for Ryan.
The younger man laughed.
Coral sat straight and looked at his second oldest sister.  "Ry, did I ever tell you about the high school play where Ame..."
"Don't you dare!" his sister laughed. "That's totally different!"

"Or when she decided she wanted to go to a concert..."
"Ok! I give!" Ame laughed along with the rest of them.

Ryan just grinned and shook his head at the banter between Coral and his sister.

Kyle pushed his empty plate away and asked, "Can I go into the playroom now, Gran'pa? I'm done."
"You know the drill, hon," Omari said with a smile.

Kyle sighed, rolled his eyes and said, "May I please be excused to the playroom?"
"Yes, you may," his father answered. "But don't roll your eyes again or you can roll 'em at the wall. Got me?"
"Yes sir," Kyle said a little sheepishly, taking his plate to empty the remains in the trash before putting it in the sink.
"I have to put Xander down for a nap," Topie announced as she got up. "I'll be right back."

"Why don't you go and sleep too, hon, while he's asleep. I'll keep an eye on the kids."
Topie smiled gratefully and took their youngest upstairs.

"Ry, you didn't get much sleep either. Let's get our luggage and you can take a little nap too," Coral said as he excused himself from the table as well, taking his plate to the sink.
Ryan protested, "I'm all right. I slept a bit in the truck on the way here."
"Key words," Coral replied. "A bit... between the bumps in the road waking you every few minutes and then stopping for the bagels you only got about 45 minutes’ worth, tops. Let's go. Now," he said the words quietly but it was clear that he wasn't making a request.
The younger man sighed, placing his dish in the sink and went with his lover.

Coral put an arm around Ryan's shoulders and led him upstairs to their room. "That's my boy," he said fondly. "I'll bring in the luggage afterward."  When they arrived at their room, Coral pulled down the blankets, tucked Ryan in and laid down beside him until the younger man fell asleep.
He decided to close his eyes for a moment and before he realized what had happened, he fell asleep as well.


Coral awakened by himself sometime later. He was disoriented at first until he remembered where he was and then looked at the clock. He looked over at his still sleeping lover and tried to gently and quietly get out of the bed but he found that he'd somehow covered himself with a blanket at some point and, still a little groggy, managed to trip over the end of it.

Ry was awake and up like a shot. "What...?" He was a bit disoriented and not quite sure what had awakened him standing at the side of the bed still not quite awake.

"Sorry, Hon, I woke up with two left feet for some reason. I'm sorry I woke you.  How do you feel?" Coral asked, walking around the bed to put his arms around Ryan.

"Umm...'kay I guess." His nerves were zinging from being awakened so abruptly. He snuggled into the hug though.

Just a few moments later a quiet knock sounded at their door.  Still holding Ryan Coral invited the person in.
Zhara opened the door and smiled at her two men. "I'm glad you finally woke up. I came here earlier but you were both out like lights and I couldn't bear to wake you.  We're getting ready to have dinner, then go out to see the light displays.  Are you hungry?"
"We slept all day?!" Coral exclaimed. "I thought the clock was wrong," he laughed.

Ryan blinked. "What time is it?"
"It's five o'clock darlings. You didn't sleep the whole day but you did put a dent in it," Zhara joked. "Dinner is ready. I know you must be hungry, so freshen up and come on down.  Dad put your luggage against the wall here," she said, turning the dimmer switch up a bit so that it was just light enough to see but not so light that it would hurt the men's eyes.
"Thanks mom," Coral replied with a smile. "We'll be right down."
"Ok guys, don't be long or there won't be anything left," she joked.
Ryan rubbed his eyes and then went to his bag, pulled out his toiletries and then went into the bathroom down the hall to wash up and get ready for dinner.
Coral picked up his things and went to the second-floor bathroom to wash up. He'd been tempted to follow Ryan but he knew that if he had they'd have missed dinner entirely.  He finished quickly and smiled as he saw his lover coming down the hall as he descended the stairs looking much more awake and happier.  He pulled his boy into another hug and then led him to where the rest of the family were gathered. The scents of the food made his mouth water and his stomach growl in anticipation.
Ryan went up on tiptoe and gave Coral a kiss. "Well, it smells good and I'm hungry," he told his man.
Lucas grinned up at his big brother and his brother-in-law and said, "So am I!"
"Where did you come from, Squirt?" Coral teased, leaning down to pick up the little boy. The three went into the kitchen where the counters were covered with pans of food which were still steaming.

"We're eating buffet style tonight," Omari explained. "Instead of trying to put all of this on the tables." He laughed.
Lucas put his arms around Coral. "From my room. Mama made us all get changed and washed up after playin' in the snow outside all afternoon," he told his big brother.

Ry ruffled the little boy's hair and smiled. "Sounds like you've been havin' fun while the bears were hibernatin' for the winter," he teased, winking at Coral.

"You obviously needed it," Opal said with a smile. "I went up to wake you around four and neither of you budged."

"You put that blanket over me?" Coral asked.

"Yes, and you're welcome," she teased.
Coral shook his head at his sister’s teasing and responded to his father’s comment about everyone eating buffet style.

"Great idea, Dad," he said and smiled down at his little brother, just before he and Ryan were swarmed with children and adults alike hugging and kissing them hello as if they hadn't already seen them earlier.  Zhara took Lucas and put him in his chair and told the other kids to sit down while the adults served them.
Ryan went over and began to help out with serving all the children first. He put a plate in front of Angie and asked, "How's my little angel?"
The little girl looked up adoringly at her Uncle Ryan and smiled. "I good Unka Wy. Tank you," she replied, trying to remember her manners. "You ok too?"
Ryan chuckled and bussed her cheek. "Sure am. Christmas is gonna be fun and this time the poppin' chestnuts won't scare me like last time," he told her.
Angela giggled. At the time she'd been upset but after her parents had explained everything to her she'd found it very funny. "We gonna make popcawn too, Unka Wy," she warned him.

"Don't worry, sweetie," Topie said, "Uncle Ry knows what popping corn sounds like."
Ryan laughed. "Thanks for the heads up, popcorn I can handle." He patted her head and went on to continue helping out.

"Yeah, he eats so much of it at home I tell him he's going to look like popcorn if he doesn't stop," Coral teased as he helped pass out filled plates.

The children all giggled at the thought of their uncle looking like that. "Would you taste like popcorn too?" Kyle asked, a frown of concentration on his features.

"Nah," Caitlyn replied, "Dad is always tellin' me that if I keep eating french fries I'm gonna end up looking like one... I still don't look like a fry and I sure don't taste like one either."  To prove her point she licked the tip of her finger and said, "Nope, just tastes like me."

Coral finished handing out the last plate and walked around the table to his lover to whisper in his ear, "Kettle corn. Definitely kettle corn."
Ryan chuckled at his lover’s comment.

"Well, let's the rest of us head into the dining room," Omari announced. "I'm not sure about the rest of you but I'm starving!"
"I'm with you dad!" Kevin replied as he followed his father in law with his filled plate.

"You just want to finish up so that you can watch the game," Opal teased.
"You got it little mama!" he agreed enthusiastically.

"Clean up first, then we're going to go out and see the light shows and the carolers," Zhara reminded him.
"But... but... the game..." Brayden stammered.
"I set the machine to record," Dono admitted with a grin. "We won't miss a play."

"It's not the same," Kevin groused.
 "Coral, come on," Kevin tried one last time, "football, man!"

Coral shrugged. "I'm as good watching it afterward. No kids to worry about. Sorry Kev," he grinned.

"You can all watch that in the rumpus room when we get back," Omari said with finality.
Kevin, Brayden and Dono made wry faces but gave in. No one disrespected Omari, especially when he put his foot down.
Ryan filled a plate and sat near Coral and then shook his head at the other men and said, "I'd rather play video games anyway."

Just then Kyle, Bastien, Caitlyn and Lucas who had finished their dinners, walked into the dining room to be with their parents. "What video games do you like, Uncle Ry?" Kyle asked. He was a die-hard gamer and had nearly every game, except for the ones his parents refused to buy because of the age restriction. 

“World of Warcraft...Minecraft and the Fallout series...that's just some," Ryan told the boy. 

"I play Warcraft! I'm alliance, level 109 right now. My guy's name is Badnews. I'm a rogue!"
"I play too," Caitlyn said, "My name is Farandahl. I'm an alliance mage, level 105. I'd be higher if Ky wasn't always hogging the computer," she hinted none too mildly. 

"I'm level 110 alliance prot warrior," Ryan replied. "Name's Killerrabbit," he laughed, "And I know you guys! We were in a few parties together! Your DPS was awesome."

"You're him?! You're the best warrior online! At least as far as I'm concerned," Kyle said excitedly. "I'm always hoping that when I join a group you're gonna be in it! That's so cool!" The youngster exclaimed happily. "But you're on a different server than us... you wouldn't consider transferring to ours, would you?" he asked hopefully.
"Sure, tell me what realm you're on. Are you guys in a guild? Think I could join? I usually just play alone until I need to do a dungeon."
Kyle told him the names of the realm and the guild name which Coral wrote down for Ry in the notebook he always carried around in his back pocket.
"This is gonna be so much fun!" Kyle exclaimed. "Wait'll I tell my guild leader I recruited Killerrabbit!"
Bastien looked beseechingly at his parents. "See? I told you I wasn't too young to play. Can I please play Warcraft now?"
"We'll see," his father answered automatically.

"Daaaaaaad!" Bastien said.

Brayden gave his son a look and said, "I said we'll see."
"Ummm, Uncle Bray?" Caitlyn said hesitantly. "Even Sasha and Noah play sometimes. They don't get as much online time as me and Tenny, but they do play."
Opal and Kevin turned toward their daughter with disapproving expressions. "If they don't want Bastien to play that's up to them, and you won't say another word about it, clear?" Kevin said.

"I'm sorry," Caitlyn said sincerely.

Lucas asked, "What are they talkin' 'bout Papa?"

Ryan, hearing the little boy’s question to Omari leaned over toward Lucas and said quietly, "I'll explain it later, ok?"
Lucas nodded at Ryan. "'Kay big bro," he whispered with a grin.

Ryan chuckled and ruffled the little boy's hair.

"Well, let's clean everything up and get going to see the lights, what do you all say?" Zhara said, changing the subject.
The young man grinned. "That sounds like it would be lots of fun. I've never done somethin’ like that before.”

Lucas grinned. "Neither have I and I was lookin' forward to it all day when Mama and Papa said we would."
Everyone got up and began to clear away the left overs and dirty dishes to bring them back to the kitchen. As usual they set up a production line which made everything go a lot faster and easier and before anyone knew it they were done.
"Let's put on jackets and boots, guys!" Dono said. "We'll be in the van for the light shows so you don't need to bundle up as much."
"Don, I think I'll stay here with Xander, if that's alright with everyone," Topie said with an apologetic expression. "I'm not sure how long he'd be content to sit in the car seat, and I don't want him to sleep the whole time we're out and not sleep tonight."
"Of course, it's alright," Zhara replied understandingly. "We'll take video for you."

"Thanks, mom," the youngest Okoro girl said gratefully.

Lucas got ready quickly and exclaimed, "I'm ready Mama!"

Ry grinned at Coral, "So am I!"
"We're going to have to call you Flash One and Flash Two!" Omari laughed, as he shrugged his jacket on. Patting his pockets to make sure he had his keys and wallet, they all headed out to the 15-passenger van that Omari had bought years ago for just this purpose, piling as many people as they could into the vehicle. A couple of the younger kids ended up on someone's lap but no one complained. 

The light shows were beautiful. Some places let them in for free and others charged between 1 and 5 dollars per car but they went to as many as they could before the kids began to get restless.  Even Zhara admitted that Xander wouldn't have lasted long if he'd gone with them. They had sung Christmas songs and carols as they drove around looking at the lights people had placed on their homes between the public displays.

Lucas and Ryan both were excited about seeing one display to the next and sang loudly in between them stopping at the different displays. 
After their fifth rendition of Jingle Bells Coral nudged Ryan with a smile, shook his head and made a slicing motion across his throat. Then realizing that his boy might take that as a threat he whispered, "That's enough for now, Hon. Ok?"
Ryan got quiet very quickly at Coral's gesture, then relaxed as he whispered in his ear.

Lucas, with his brother-in-law no longer joining him in the song also quieted.

When they arrived back home, Ame and Opal made fresh hot chocolate for everyone and they went into the living room to sing more Christmas carols.  Dono began to sing the Redneck 12 Days of Christmas, earning him mixed looks of amusement and frustration. He called himself a dime store cowboy because he loved country music, although Topie absolutely forbade him from wearing cowboy hats in public. 
One by one the guys sneaked down into the finished basement to watch the game with a few cold brews and several bags of chips. As much as Coral wanted to see the game he stayed upstairs with Ryan and the others. He had also set the game to record so he knew he wasn't going to miss anything.

Ryan sat back observing the interaction among everyone. It was so very different from his own experience. He was a little anxious with all the extra activity but he was overall enjoying himself.

Lucas was playing and singing and doing things with the other children and when the movie was put in sat quietly to watch as he always did.

Topie and Dono turned in relatively early with their two youngest, making Austin promise that he would go to bed with the other kids when it was time. "No fussing," Dono said in a strict tone.

"Ok, Dad. I promise," the boy had replied, happy that he wasn't going to have to go to bed early too.  Unfortunately, Austin liked to ask questions during movies and once again he ended up annoying his other cousins as well as some of the adults.  Zhara finally told him that if he didn't hush up he was going to be sent to bed immediately, which stopped his constant questions almost until the movie ended.

As soon as the movie ended he began to ask questions again. His cousin Noah turned to him and asked, perturbed, "Did you even watch the movie, Aus? Every question you asked was answered, some even before you asked them."

"No need to be rude," Caitlyn said.

"But if he'd just be quiet we could... forget him... we could hear every word and not have to keep rewinding the movie to hear what we missed with him talking all the time."

"Ok guys, I think it's time for bed," Opal said.

"Why Mom? Because Aus won't stop talking? That's not fair!"

"No," she replied, "it's because it's eleven o'clock at night and you should have all been in bed a half hour ago." 
Lucas began to look uncomfortable with the bickering among the other children and went to Omari.

His papa picked him up and called to Austin, Jonathan and Noah. "Come on guys, it's time to hit the hay. Wash, brush and get into your sleep clothes, and we'll have a story or two before it's lights out," he said jovially, as though the little drama wasn't taking place at all. 

Lucas clung tightly to Omari, burying his face in the man's chest. He went with his Papa to do as he had wanted the other children to do.

"Alright my little darlings," Omari said to the youngsters once they'd been tucked into their beds, "I have two wonderful stories for you tonight."

He picked up the first of the books and began to read, the story Mr. Willoughby's Christmas Tree, turning the book toward the children so that they could see the pictures.  They laughed as each bit of the tree that Mr. Willoughby had tossed out was used, and ended up back in his house as his mouse’s tree.

Two of the children were nearly asleep but the other two were still mostly awake, so he picked up the classic Night Before Christmas and read until all the children were soundly asleep. He shut off the light and quietly made his way back to the adults.  "Well, they're asleep finally.  What shall we do now my love?" he flirted with Zhara causing his children to laugh at her blush.

"Ry and I will bring in all the presents we left out in the car," Coral said.  "I'll help anyone else who has stuff as well while Santa puts those presents under the tree."

"Ready Angel?" he smiled at Ryan.

Ryan nodded. He was more than willing to help with the task and got on his outerwear.

Soon the floor under the tree was filled to capacity. Coral and Ry put their gifts to everyone far behind the tree against the wall. "Well honey, let's hit the hay as well. If I know these kids half as well as I think, they'll be up before dawn."

Ryan frowned. "I'm not sleepy Coral...I'd be workin' right now on my shift."

Coral leaned down to whisper in Ryan's ear, "Well, I didn't say we had to sleep just yet, did I?"
The green eyes widened and he gave his head a little shake.

"So, let's go upstairs. I have a surprise for you."

Ryan went with Coral willingly at that point.
Opal and Zhara yawned widely.  "Well, I'm ready to go to sleep," said Opal.

"Do you want me to call the guys?" Ame asked, then made a face as she realized what she'd just suggested.  "Never mind," she laughed. "But they're getting up early with us no matter what time they finally come to bed."

When they got to their room Ryan asked, "What's the surprise Cor?"

Coral closed the door and gave his boy a kiss before opening a box and pulling out Ryan's gaming system and several of his favorite games.  "Just play them low so that they don't keep me awake, and you have two hours, max. Understand?" he said with a grin, loving the expression on his brat's face.

The young man's expression of surprise lit up his face and he hugged Coral tight. "You brought this just for me?" he asked, amazed, ignoring the two-hour game limit.

"Yep, I knew you'd be missing your games and that you'd like something familiar around you, besides me," he joked, pulling Ryan into a deeper hug.  "Now remember. Two hours. I'm going to set my alarm, and then you come to bed tired or not and I'll help you fall asleep," he grinned suggestively.

The younger man, hearing the promise in his lover's voice nodded. "'Kay Cor and thanks." He smiled and kissed him hard.
Coral returned the kiss and then pulled out his sleep pants and tee shirt. Stripping down and putting them on, he wasn't aware of Ryan's appreciative glances.  He finally stretched and yawned widely, sounding much like his father as he did so, and slid into his side of the bed, before falling quickly asleep.

Ryan saw his man sleeping and quietly played his games for the two-hour time limit, then stripped down and got into his sleep pants and shirt and crawled into bed and smiled as he kissed Coral to awaken him like sleeping beauty.

As Coral opened his eyes he smiled at his beautiful boy.

"Hello Sleepin Beauty," Ry said with a grin.

Coral responded, "Hello my Prince Charming." Then he pulled his young lover down for a much more passionate kiss and before long the two were entangled and deeply sated from their lovemaking and slept like that.


Ryan woke on Christmas morning. It was still dark outside and the clock on the nightstand read seven o'clock. He wasn't all that sleepy and had the need to use the bathroom. Seeing his man sound asleep he eased out of the bed, slipped on his slippers, put on his robe and made his way down the hall to the bathroom.

When he came out, he ran into Bastien.

Bastien, seeing an adult up and about went up to him. "Uncle Ry, can you come downstairs so we can look at our presents?"

The young man looked at the boy and said, "Tell you what, let me make us some breakfast and then we can open gifts afterward ‘kay? I'll make some pancakes if I can find some mix."

The youngster smiled. "Sure, and Grandma always has pancake mix in the kitchen."

Ryan smiled and headed downstairs to perform cooking duties.

Once the young man walked into the kitchen he checked the cupboards and found a box of blueberry pancake mix. It didn't look too hard to make up and so he mixed the batter. Then he found a frying pan and tried to decide what to use to cook the pancakes in. He settled on some butter and cut off a piece and put it in the pan.

He melted it and dropped some of the batter into the now hot pan.

Bastien used the bathroom and then went to go wake up his cousins and siblings as quietly as he could, telling them the plan. He lifted little Angela up and put her on his shoulder. She was so small and weighed practically nothing compared to his little brother and sister who he frequently gave horseback rides to, that he had no problem.  He woke her gently when they got downstairs into the living room.

Angela opened her eyes, confused at first, then she smiled. "Christmas mawning!" she exclaimed excitedly.

"Uncle Ry is up and making breakfast," Bastien explained to the kids. "And since there's an adult up we can open our presents!" He went to wake up the other boys.

Lucas hearing his cousin’s call grinned at Austin and said, "Bastien said Uncle Ry was makin' breakfast and we all can go to eat and open presents!"

"Sounds ok to me," Jonathan agreed with a grin.

"Ummm," Noah said hesitantly, "Aren't we suppose to wait for our parents, and Gran'ma and Gran'pa?"
Lucas looked at Noah and then Jon. "They're sleepin' and Uncle Ry ain't." He used his childlike logic.
The other boys nodded and went to join the other kids in the living room.

Lucas came into the kitchen and seeing Ryan making pancakes asked, "Uncle Ry, are ya gonna make bacon with ‘em?"

The young man smiled and looked at the child. "Umm, sure, and maybe some sausage too?"

Lucas nodded. “Yeah.”

"How about eggs too? I could sure go for a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich!" Kyle suggested as he looked in the refrigerator and began taking things out, placing them every which way as he searched.
Ryan turned to Kyle and began to help him when he began to smell something.... burning… He turned and the pan he had dropped the pancake batter into was smoking. He rushed to take it off the heat. He moved it to a cool burner and slapped a cover over it. Seconds later a loud screeching started.

Ryan didn't know what to do with the hot pan as the smoke still curled out from under the lid. He also didn’t know how to get the horrible screeching noise to stop.

Caitlyn turned on the stove exhaust while Kyle and Bastien picked up the newspaper from the day before to fan the area near the smoke alarm.

The other children were talking and peeking at the presents under the tree. Just as one of them finished speaking the kitchen smoke alarm went off and smoke began to billow throughout the lower level.  The kids panicked and ran upstairs to their parent's rooms to wake them but they were already awake, having been startled by the shrill noise.  They all ran down the stairs to see what had happened.

The next thing Ryan and his helpers knew, sleepy and groggy adults ran into the kitchen to see what had happened.

Angela ran to her mother, frightened and crying.

Coral ran to Ryan to see if he was alright. The poor boy looked uncertain and still had the smoking pan by the handle. 

Coral gently took the pan from Ryan's hand and then checked him for burns. Seeing none he pulled his boy into a hug and asked what had happened.

It was hard to hear through the babble of children's excited voices.

Ryan shook his head. "Don' know Cor... I had put the batter in the pan, then the little ones wanted some bacon and sausage and then Kyle wanted eggs and stuff so I was helpin' him and then...I smelled somethin' burnin' and then that awful screechin' started up..." His green eyes were still wide.

Even though it was cold outside, Zhara and Omari cracked open a few windows to help get the smoke out of the kitchen.

"That's just the smoke alarm, Hon," Coral reassured him. "Everything is alright. That was quick thinking, taking the pan off the heat, turning the gas off and covering the pan."

Ryan hung his head. "Sorry about the mess...I only wanted to help," he apologized miserably.
Lucas looking at Austin went up to Ryan. "Ya done all right Uncle Ry, ya tried."

Ryan looked down at the little boy. "That I did."

"Yes, you did, Ryan. You just used too much butter and then put a little too much batter into the pan.  It could happen to anyone," Opal said, looking at the mess.  "Why don't you guys all go and get dressed, I'll take care of breakfast."

"I'll help too," Ame and Topie added at the same time.

"I'll get the coffee started," Dono offered.

"Oh, no you don't," his wife said with a smile, "I don't think anyone is ready for that diesel fuel you call coffee."

 "Hey, I like it strong," Dono protested.

 "I like my coffee strong too, “Omari said, grinning. "I just hate it when my spoon dissolves when I try to stir it."

 "That's gratitude for you," Don said with a scowl.

"I'll take care of that," Kevin replied.  "You set the tables, ok?"

Ryan, seeing everything being taken care of said to Coral, "I'd better go upstairs and get dressed."

"I'll go with you, Hon." Coral smiled. "I need to shave. I must look like a grizzly bear right about now."
Ryan hugged Coral tight, "But you're my grizzly bear."

Coral growled low in his throat and nipped Ryan's earlobe as they walked up the stairs back to their room.

"Oh, no you don't, Mom. Sit and relax. Ame, Tope and I have it under control," Opal commanded her mother who had been about to help clean the mess.

After they finished helping in the kitchen, Dono, Keith and Brayden took control of the kids and got them into the playroom and out of the kitchen where the three women were cleaning and starting breakfast fresh.

Omari led Zhara into the living room to relax by the fire while they waited for everything to be ready.
Despite Coral's efforts to cheer Ryan up, the younger man was still upset about the ruckus he'd caused by burning breakfast.

 Ryan shook his head. "Your family is going to chew me up and spit me out and then empty the trash," he told his lover. "When will I ever do anythin' right?" he bemoaned.

Coral shook his head slightly and pulled his boy in close. He leaned down slightly and before Ryan knew it he had a stinging rear end, but was still caught in the bear hug.

"No one," whispered Coral, "was upset about it. We all know things like that happen and can happen to anyone. It's happened to me, and it'll happen to you again in the future no doubt.  So, get over it," he finished gently. "Everyone else has." He tilted his head to give Ryan a reassuring kiss before pulling his boy's sleep shirt off and then began working on the sweat pants. 

Ryan had snuggled into the bear hug and then jumped and yelped at the sting being applied to his bottom, but with the kiss and reassuring words as well as the sting to ground him gave himself up to his lover's ministrations.

They showered together, ostensibly to save time, and Coral shaved as quickly as he could without having to go to breakfast wearing dots of paper on his face, and they dressed just in time to hear that breakfast was ready.  "Come on, Angel, let's fly." Coral smiled.

Ryan gave Coral an impish look and said, "'Kay," and began to climb up on the banister to slide down.

With a quick look, around to see if the coast was clear, Coral put his leg over the banister as well and began to slide down the polished Cherrywood.  He heard Ryan yelp and worried that he'd landed wrong, until he reached the end and was greeted with a solid whack from his father's hand.

"Dad! I lo... I mean..."

Ryan was shocked at being swatted by Omari, he hadn't expected it and it had hurt to boot.

"That's what I like about this house," Omari said conversationally, "lots of nooks and crannies to hide in. Lots of corners to hide behind. You get to see a lot around here, and you learn even more.  Now, I remember you and your sisters trying that same stunt at the old house.  And do you remember how I dealt with that back then?"

Coral's eyes went wide and he couldn't help but to lick his lips a little nervously.  "You wouldn't... would you?"

"Try me," Omari said simply.

"No sir. I remember, and I'm good."

"Then you two can go back up the stairs and walk down like adult human beings."

 "Now,” he said when they didn't move immediately.

 Coral took Ryan by the hand and walked sedately back up the stairs and then back down. 
Ryan had looked a little confused at Omari's order, but went with his lover.

Coral had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing as he mounted the stairs as told. He was sorely tempted to walk back down the stairs backwards, but he was sure his father wouldn't appreciate the humor.

"Breakfast," Omari said, pointing toward the kitchen as his boys arrived back down the stairs.

Coral and Ryan went to join the family when Omari gave Coral an extra whack for good measure.

"Dad!" Coral cried, a little confused and a lot annoyed at the second swat.

"That's for the smart ass thought. I could see it in your face."

Ryan was a bit shocked when Omari gave his lover another good swat.

Coral scowled a little and then laughed at the absurdity of it all.  "You win, as usual Dad. Come on Ry, let's get some of that food before the bottomless pits eat it all." 

Breakfast was a happy event, everyone talking and laughing between bites. The family couldn't stop laughing at the story about the time Coral and Ryan had gone shopping for a bed and what had happened.

When the children were asked to help clean up before they could open their gifts they were a little upset at being made to wait even longer but did as they were told as quickly as they could, nearly tripping over each other in their haste.

When the children were given leave to return to the living room, Lucas ran back to the tree. "I can't believe all this stuff under here!"

"Christmas at Gran'ma's and Gran'pa's is the best. I always wonder how Santa knows we're here but he always finds us!" Jonathan exclaimed happily.

Some of the older children rolled their eyes and grinned at each other but didn't say anything aloud.
"Here Luc! This one's for you!" Austin said, handing one of the packages over.

The little boy took it and ran up to Omari. " you think Santa knows that I moved 'round so much and he finally caught up to me?"

"Yep, I'm pretty sure he knows where you live now." Omari smiled down at his little boy.

The child looked to Omari to see if he should open the package his cousin had handed him.

"Go ahead, Lucas," the older man smiled.

The youngster began to carefully tear off the paper, wanting the opening of the gift to last as long as possible. When he finally got it unwrapped he smiled. "Warm sleep pants and shirt!" He showed them to Omari and Zhara.

"Those will definitely keep you cozy at night, honey." Zhara smiled.  "Ok, Angela next?"

Ryan found a package that had the little girl's name on it. "Well our little angel, this is for you from your Aunt Opal." He handed it to the child with a smile.

Angela tore the wrapping off the package, opening it and looked at the new nightgown and then into the oversized box.  She moved the paper around and squealed when she found a doll that looked a lot like her, wearing an identical nightgown.  "Tank you... I mean... thank you, Auntie Opal. We're gonna be bestest of friends I know it," she grinned, hugging the doll to her.
Each child took a turn opening presents.  Some were gifts of clothing which was met with polite and even sometimes interested reactions, but the toys were the best. A lot of the older kids received electronic toys, and Bastien screeched and jumped up into the air and then onto his parents as he unwrapped the World of Warcraft games.  "Thank youuuuuuu!" he laughed.

Luc opened the present from Mr. K and grinned. "Look Papa! Gears, Gears, Gears!"

Ryan began of his own accord to pass out presents to all the children and then to the adults.

Jonathan, who had been smiling up until that point, couldn't help it and his mother could see the green-eyed monster in him coming out.

Soon Noah and even Austin were looking at Lucas's pile of presents with ever growing jealousy.  It seemed to them as though he'd gotten a lot more cool toys than they had.

Lucas, not recognizing the looks from some of the other boys said happily, "Jon, Noah, Aus.. look at all them there cool stuff! We can make all kinda things!"

"You mean it?" Jonathan asked, thawing a little. "You'll share?"

The youngster looked at Jon. "Course I'll share, it's borin' ta play by yaself when ya got all kinda cousins to play with. Holidays make it even more fun 'cuz I don't get ta see ya all the time."

Ryan said, "You're right Lucas, ain't no fun to play all by yourself, it's more fun to have someone to share your toys with and play." He handed the youngster his next package to open and watched him unwrap it.

The little boy's eyes went wide when he opened it. "Oooh! Magformers Standard Set 3D! Santa musta known I got lotsa real cool cousins ta help me. Wonder if we can build the moon?! Ya gonna help me aintcha?" he asked his closest cousins.

Austin finally grinned.  Sometimes his older cousins got great gifts and refused to share with him. He was glad that Lucas wasn't like that. 

Jonathan laughed, “Yeah, I'm gonna help! Can we go now?" he asked his parents.

"Not just yet, Jonnie," his mother said gently, understanding. "There are still other presents to be opened. Just be patient."

Lucas looked up and said to Ryan, "You can play too Uncle Ry. Uncle Coral can too if he behaves and stops bein' naughty so Papa has to swat him," he said innocently.

Ryan's green eyes danced at the little boy's statement as he grinned at Coral.

Coral choked on a sip of coffee and Ryan had to pound him on the back to get him breathing again.

"Dad did what, Luc?" Opal asked with interest.

"Nothing!" Coral choked.

Luc looked at his aunt. "Swatted his bottom for bein' naughty."

The little boy then opened the original Stomp Rocket Ultra. He looked at it a bit puzzled and handed it to Omari. "Whadya do with it Papa?"

Omari sent a grin out to his son and then focused on his little one.  "First, you go outside with your cousins... later," he stressed when he saw the looks in the other boy's eyes, "Then you put the rocket on the launcher, stomp your foot down on this here, and watch the rocket zoom into the sky."

Ame, Opal and Topie laughed, "Go dad!" they cheered, unwilling to let go of Lucas's innocent confession.  "Luc, what'd he do?" Opal asked between gasps of laughter.

"Nothing!" Coral repeated. "Luc!"

Lucas, interested in his present shrugged. “Not sure, ya better ask Papa.”

The little boy grinned when his Papa ignored his daughters and told him about his new toy. "Wow! How far will it go Papa?" the youngster asked.

"The box says it can go up to twenty feet... just be careful not to do it too near the house or it could land on the roof."

Lucas asked, "It can go taller than the house? That's pretty far up." He smiled. "'Kay Papa we don want it on the roof." He opened the next present his brown eyes going wide again. "Look guys...this is really cool! He held up the Click-a-Brick Army Defenders set. "We can make real Army stuff now!"

"Luc, you got the best stuff!" Noah crowed, looking forward to playing with all of the new toys.  He was happy with what he'd gotten and was looking forward to sharing those as well.  He couldn't wait to get home to show his friends and compare presents.

"It's just weird shaped Legos," Sasha said a little rudely. "It's not like you can make armor or anything out of it."

"If Uncle Mutt can make a dragon outta Legos then I bet Luc can make anything he wants outta these," Noah said stoutly defending his cousin.

"Sasha... Thumper," was all her mother said.  Sasha blushed, mumbled an apology and opened her next present.

Lucas smiled at his cousins. "We all got cool stuff! No mittens!” he cried. "'Cept for the cool squirrel ones I got in my stockin' but they don' count!"

The pile of gifts under the tree was dwindling now and the piles of things were growing by each man, woman and child. When Lucas was given another package to open he grinned. Once he had unwrapped it he held it up to show that he had received Marky Sparky Doinkit Magnetic darts. He looked at Omari once more for an explanation.

Ryan saw some of the other young men eyeing Lucas and the other children's toys and wondered at it.

"This," Omari explained, taking out a round black and red disk and some oddly shaped items his papa called darts.  "See," he said, bringing the dart board across the room.  "You put the board on a wall, and throw one of these, at the board. The magnets in the darts will attract the magnets in the board and you can keep score... its mathematics, which you're very good at according to Mr. K."

Lucas grinned at his Papa. "I am and that sounds like it will be lots of fun!"

Ry saw Dono, Brandon and Kevin eyeing the dart board and looked at them curiously.

"So, Ryan my son, what's next in the pile?" Omari prompted with a smile.

The young man smiled and said, "Not too many more to hand out, but I'll give out what's left." He handed out all the wrapped presents under the tree placing a fairly good sized package into Lucas's hands. When the youngster opened it he looked up at his parents in surprise..."It's a book...'bout me!" He held it up for everyone to see and then handed it to Omari and Zhara to look at first.

Ryan smiled at the little boy's exuberance and excitement.

"That's from Mr. K, Lucas. He made it specially for you. That's why he wanted all of those pictures." Zhara smiled, taking the book and gently flipping through the pages.  "He wrote a whole story about you. We can read it tonight at bedtime if you like," she suggested as she handed it back.

Lucas's brown eyes grew wide. "He did that? Just for me?" He didn't know what to say. No one had done anything so special for the little boy before.

"Yep," Omari grinned, reaching out to hug the little boy. "Now, everyone open your last gifts. I'd like to see what else you got."

The rest of the family opened their last gifts and Ryan said, "Looks like we're all finished more presents." The young man asked, "Where do you keep the trash bags? I'll start the cleanup."

"Well," Omari said with a barely concealed grin, "there is one more present for you, Lucas."

"It comes in two parts," Zhara added, smiling in an almost shy manner, which was unusual for her.

Lucas looked at his parents, then looked around, but didn't see anything. "It does?" he asked puzzled.

Zhara reached around behind her back and brought out another box about the same size as the book he'd just gotten. Inside were two framed photographs. One of his birth parents, and one of the two of them holding him.  They were copies of the ones he had in his treasure chest, except that they'd been enlarged and the details were clearer.

"For you, love, so that you never forget the people who loved you," Zhara said quietly.

Engraved on the bottom of the frame were the names of his mother and father, as well as his.

"That's part one, hon," Zhara said softly as she watched Lucas with the pictures in his hands.

Lucas had tears running down his face and then hugged Zhara and then his papa hard.

"Are you ready for part two, Lucas?" Omari asked gently. His children noticed the way he swallowed a little nervously and wondered what their parents could possibly be up to.

Lucas swiped his sleeve over his eyes and sniffed, then nodded. "Yeah Papa...but this was ' one done anythin' this nice for me 'fore."

Looking a little nervously at one another, Omari stood up and took a large, flat manila envelope out from under the couch cushion he'd been sitting on and handed it to Lucas.  "Look inside."

The adults saw the return address on the envelope and gasped in surprise.

Lucas carefully opened the envelope and looked puzzled as he pulled out a sheaf of papers and looked at them. "I don' understand Papa? I can't read them really big words." He studied them and then asked, "What's 'dop...?"

"Adoption, Lucas. Mama and I... would consider it a great gift if you would allow us to adopt you. To make you our own, real son.  Your name would be Lucas Caden McCleary Okoro.  Would you like that?"

Lucas's brown eyes widened. "I'd be yours forever? No more goin' from home to home?” he asked in amazement. "If it's what all them big words mean then...Yeah!" He hugged Zhara and then Omari as tight as the little boy could. "This is the bestest Christmas ever! Santa brought me the family I wanted...I did put you and Mama on my list to Santa ya know," he told Omari.

The others cheered, including the children, even little Angela who really had no idea what was going on but she didn't want to be left out.

Omari and Zhara pulled their little boy onto their laps. "You were on ours too. Merry Christmas... Lucas Okoro.


  1. Just when I thought Christmas was over, I find this charming story. Lucas is enchanting, so pleased he's finally getting what he deserves!

  2. Hi Sue! We're so happy that you liked the story, and Rosemarie, who writes Lucas, was so pleased and happy to know you are so fond of him. He is a sweetie. :D
    Thanks for the feedback and hope to hear from you again soon.


  3. I have just finished reading all the TLR stories to date and love the series. I particularly love the Okoro family stories and hope there is more to come for them as well as all the rest of the TLR family.

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