I remember watching Tobias attempt to straighten his dark blue bow-tie. He had let Zeke tie it so, of course, it was all wrong. I after I retied it, I set it straight. Zeke had whined all the while that there was nothing wrong with it. However, after seeing Tobias' correctly tied bow-tie, Zeke requested that I retie his as well. And then Uriah's…
Once everybody was dressed in gowns and perfected bow-ties, flowers were pinned and pictures were taken. Our group ended up consisting of ten people. Lynn had met a girl, Samantha, at the Pit who she had taken quite a liking to. Samantha lived in Springfield at the time, but she traveled up to Chicago frequently to visit family, so it was easy for her to go with Lynn to Prom on one of her weekends.
All ten of us piled into a rented limousine and it took us to Senior Prom. The theme for the Erudite High School Senior Prom was different every year, but each year it was 'faction themed' of course. Our year happened to be Amity. The theme mostly pertained to the decorations; girls did not match their gowns with the colors associated with the Amity. I wore a blue dress, Christina wore gold, Shauna wore purple – the theme was irrelevant. The Amity décor that night was beautiful though. The venue, hosted at a country club on the outskirts of the city – where the old Amity faction would have been - was decorated with flowers of many kinds and colors. There was a peaceful, yet elegant ambiance to the entire event.
We all danced all night. High heels came off and perfect bow-ties were loosed and removed. The music that night was great for dancing fast and slow. Tobias and I shared dances even when we probably should have rested our feet.
The slow dances were my favorite. I remember the feeling of his arms wrapped tightly around me, his face buried into the hollow of my neck, successful tousling that side of my fancy up-do. I couldn't have cared less about my hair, because all I could think about was him and me – and that's all that mattered to me anyways.
Turning The Page
Just a couple of weeks after Prom came graduation. After a year of more exploration and more leisure than what was probably healthy, we all managed to graduate. Marlene and Uriah included.
Our graduation was both a relief and a sad occasion. It was a hello to a new chapter of life, and a longing goodbye to an old one. It was a goodbye to everybody we knew, because it's impossible to stay in touch with everybody. Some people, we are all more than happy to say goodbye to, but others are not so easy.
See You Soon
Our last hurrah was our graduation parties. The daytime and evening events coordinated between the nine of us to fall on different days. Tobias, Uriah, and Zeke's joint graduation party was the Saturday after school ended, mine was the Sunday, Lynn and Shauna's joint party was the next Friday, Marlene's was on that Saturday, Christina's was on Sunday, and Will's was the next Saturday. We all wanted to be able to attend each other's parties, so we did what worked.
After our celebrations, the nine of us really had to start our goodbyes. Truly. We were almost all headed in separate directions and there was no way around it. Will was off to the east coast, Uriah, Marlene, and their baby girl off to the west, Shauna went southeast, Lynn and Christina went north, Zeke stayed in Chicago and went to culinary school, Tobias enrolled in the Chicago Police Academy, and I stayed in the city as well. We were all apart, all flung around the country and it was hard. It was hard but we made it work.
We tried to get together whenever we could – which wasn't often and usually all of us couldn't be there. It was just unrealistic for us all to be able to meet up. But, once every summer, we did everything in our powers to meet back at Lake Michigan. There was one year that we all had to chip in on a plane ticket for Will, but we managed to get him here and it all worked out. Out of all the years, Uriah and Marlene only managed to get back home once. They couldn't find a way to leave their baby, and they couldn't afford a plane ticket anyways.
The Future Is Now
Zeke graduated from culinary school at the top of his class. His food became extremely popular in the city, and he was able to open up his own restaurant, which he named after his niece. Amelia's is one of the most popular restaurants in the state. It attracts hundreds of tourists and locals everyday – and for good reason; the food is incredible, just amazing. On one side it's a family restaurant, and on the other side it's a sports bar; the two sides are joined by Zeke's huge kitchen. Tobias and I are proudly his best - non-paying - customers. Tobias is half of the reason Zeke was able to open Amelia's, so after Zeke paid Tobias back, he granted the two of us free food for life. Thanks to the restaurant, Zeke does extremely well for himself. He bought Hana a house on the outskirts of the city where it's a bit quieter. She is able to have a big, beautiful garden where she spends a lot of her time.
Zeke has yet to marry because he is yet to find a woman that his daughter approves of. His one night stand three years ago gave him his daughter, Elena. She's a beautiful little girl, who is usually oddly calm – considering who her father is. Zeke has a really nice apartment at the top of the Dauntless Apartment building. It's a bachelor pad transformed to accommodate a little girl; toys, children's books, crumbs, and pink things are scattered about the apartment. Zeke loves Elena more than anything in the world, and every time she goes back to her mother's he buries himself in his kitchen until he's gained the strength to realize that that is how it must be. Elena loves him just as much, and her mother, Rachael, often has a difficult time separating them every other week. It's a sweet, yet excruciatingly sad scene to watch.
Shauna never came home, but we have managed to stay in touch. She and Zeke weren't able to make the distance work, even with Zeke's travels to South Carolina every few months during college. With school and limited time and money, they had a mutual ending. It was a sad time for everybody, but we all understood.
Shauna built a life down there in South Carolina. She's now a very successful chiropractor and is engaged to a man who she met her Senior year of college. George is a very kind man, a huge guy, but soft as a teddy bear. The two of them are living a good life down there with a large house on the beach. Her salary as a chiropractor and his as a radiologist have provided well for them. I've asked her how she feels about children, and her answer is always the same: 'If it happens, it happens.' I've yet to decide what that means, but she always says it with a positive voice, so I take it as a good sign.
Lynn went to school in South Dakota, but she didn't find what she was looking for there. She hated being away from Valarie - a native Chicago girl she met at a bar on one of her visits back home - who attended college in Indiana, so they met back in the middle: Chicago. Ten months later, they were married. They bought a small apartment in the Candor Apartment building. It's just a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment, but it's a beautiful place. Valarie decorated it in a modern, yet homey way. I just love it. Lynn is working full time as a dental hygienist and Valarie is a social worker. They have been discussing adoption for a few months now, and recently put themselves on a waiting list.
Christina went to school in Wisconsin, but after she got her degree in Law, she 'got the hell out of that place,' and she took Will up on his offer to move to Washington D.C. Will became a scientist with a specialty in the history of national science. He does a lot of work at the Smithsonian and he travels all over the world for his work quite frequently. Almost everywhere he goes, he brings Christina – so she gets to live out another dream of traveling. Will began leaving Christina at home when they conceived their daughter, Charlotte. The girl is a perfect mix of her mother and father. She's got slightly tan skin with dark blonde hair and beautiful green eyes. She's just gorgeous, and her parents are very proud of her. She's a very smart girl, yet she also inherited her mother's 'sassy' attitude. We don't get to see her too often, and it's hard to believe she is already two years old.
Uriah and Marlene never had it easy. From the last few weeks of our Junior year of high school to the last day of college, it was always difficult for them. Marlene first dreamt of being an OBGYN, but after she got pregnant, she decided she'd rather be a pediatrician. She worked extremely hard Senior year to make it into Stanford. She worked her body more than she should have, but Uriah forbade her from hurting their baby. I remember one night, I was at the Pedrad Eaton apartment and Uriah and Marlene were screaming at each other. Tobias, Zeke, and I ran into their room to see what was wrong and we found Uriah ripping a textbook from Marlene's hands. Apparently, she'd been awake for thirty-six hours straight, studying for a test. Uriah locked her in Hana's room until she fell asleep for almost seventeen hours. After all of that, they had an appointment with Marlene's doctor and she was officially warned not to work herself that way or she could hurt her baby. After that, Marlene relaxed slightly, but she never stopped working hard. Her hard work, and careful exertion, granted her scholarships and a healthy baby girl.
Amelia, Marlene, and Uriah moved to California so Marlene could go to Stanford. Uriah went to school out there and got his generals done at a local community college. He was more interested in being Amelia's father than he was in a career. Unbelievably, Amelia is almost ten years old. Time flew by, and the girl is growing up more and more each day. Uriah and Marlene moved back as soon as Marlene finished school. Zeke helped them get started at a two bedroom Dauntless Apartment. A few years after Marlene started working, they were able to move into a house – just in time for her to have baby number two: Adam. The little charmer has stolen the hearts of each and every one of us. Uriah falls to the will of both of his children without much tilting on their part. His kids are his world and he's very protective of them – I never would have thought of him as a father, but he's one of the best I've ever seen. His already vibrant personality just lights aflame when his kids are near. It's a beautiful thing to witness, and it's apparent in Marlene's face that she sees and loves it too.
Our Senior year flew past. Tobias and I had a bit too much fun that year, and our school work may have suffered just a tad. We did graduate though, and moved on to more school. Tobias enrolled in the Police Academy and graduated at the top of his class. He's been promoted at the CPD and is now on his way to detective work – if he wants. He hasn't decided how he feels about it yet and if it's the right move. I graduated here in Chicago with a teaching degree. I love my job at the elementary school, teaching reading and writing.
Before college and right after high school graduation, Tobias moved out of his home with Zeke and Hana. He bought a one bedroom apartment on the first floor of the Dauntless Apartments which he paid for with money that he'd gotten from his fighting days. He had originally been saving that money for school, but he didn't end up needing it. A CPD recruit saw him working out at the gym and talked to him. Tobias ended up with a free ride, much to my pride and jealousy. But, we were able to have our first home together because of it so I can't really be upset about it.
I sit on the couch in my parent's house opening up cards from my Graduation Party earlier this evening. I open a card that I recognize is from Uriah, and I laugh at his small note recalling a party Zeke threw almost a year ago. Tobias sits down next to me as I open another card. I read each one and write down any gifts I receive – so I can write thank you cards later. I see in my peripheral vision Tobias takes a small card out of his pocket and sets it on my stack to be the next one I open. I smirk at him as pick it up. I'm a bit puzzled when I pick up the oddly weighted card. I don't know what Tobias would possibly give me. I give him a confused look, but he doesn't say anything. I open up the card and read what he wrote: simple congratulations on my graduation and 'I love you,' because we both already know how great the year has been and how much we love each other. I turn the card over and my eyes widen at what is taped to the back.
"What is this for?" I ask, holding up the lone silver key.
"That is yours, if you want it," he tells me.
I look from Tobias to the key and back. "What does it go to?"
"A Dauntless Apartment I bought."
My eyes widen more and my jaw falls slack in shock. "You bought an apartment?" He simply nods. "And you want to give me this key?" He nods again. "You want me to keep it as a spare?"
He sighs. "Tris, I'm asking you if you want to move in together."
I bite my lip to try to hold back the grin that wants to cover my face. "You want to live together?" Tobias nods and smiles. I wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him hard.
"Is that a yes?" he chuckles.
I kiss him again softly. "Yes, it's a yes."
End of Flashback
Once I had moved all of my things in to Tobias' new apartment, we sat on our new couch and stared at our new apartment filled with boxes and things to do. We had tons of boxes to unpack and put away and every inch of the place needed to be cleaned.
We started our work out in the bedroom.
And then the next morning, we began unpacking.
My main goal was for Tris' future students to call her Mrs. Eaton rather than Ms. Prior. On Saturday, September eighth, I brought Tris to Millennium Park for a walk. I reminded her about the day four years ago that we opened up to each other. We sat on the same bench in the park and watched the people walk by on the unseasonably hot day. She became distracted watching a couple and their daughter on roller-blades, and so while she was looking to the side, I got down on one knee.
She looked back and found me kneeling in front of her holding a small back box in my hand. I told her how much I loved her, how much she means to me. I told her how she's the only person who has been able to tear down all of my walls. I told her that I don't want to spend a day without her. I asked her to be my wife.
And she said yes.
On Saturday, August tenth, I married the love of my life. We had small wedding with our closest friends and our family. As a surprise, I flew in her brother, his wife Susan, and their daughter Sophie. Tris hadn't even met her niece yet, so it was all a wonderful surprise for everybody. Our wedding day was the second happiest day of my life.
The happiest day of my life is a tie between the day my son was born, the day my second son was born, and the day my daughter was born.
My first baby boy came into the world as a clone of his handsome father. Dark brown hair, a spare upper lip and a plump bottom lip, eyelashes that reach out and compliment his beautiful dark blue eyes. His eyes are an exact replica of his father's. Within his features, searching hard will discover that I am his mother, but his eyes are entirely his father's. There is no gray in his eyes, no light blue to contrast the dark – just the wondrous deep blue eyes of his father.
The story of how we ended up naming our first born son after Tobias is for another day, but much to my husband's displeasure, my oldest child was given the name Tobias Benjamin Eaton Junior. I don't think Tobias has gotten over the feeling of calling his son Tobias, but everybody calls him TJ or T anyways. TJ knows his father or I are upset if we call him by his full first name. It causes quite a bit of confusion actually because I will yell 'Tobias' and my husband will come running, only to discover that I am scolding our son.
Tobias and our son gave me more happiness and more love than any one person should ever be allowed to receive. Clones of each other young and old, their similar faces show anyone who glances at them that they are father and son. Not a soul could doubt it. They are so much alike, sometimes it strikes me. My son has picked up habits from my husband and my husband has picked up habits from his son. It's quite an amusing circle of tendencies and quirks that entertain myself and our family and friends to no end.
About a year later, my loving husband blessed our small family of three with a fourth. Our second baby boy came to us the same way our first did: a replica of their father. Theodore Blake Eaton has hints of me in him. His light blue eyes and longer nose are mine, but his hair and lips are his father's. He copies everything his older brother does – even when we wish he wouldn't.
My boys are brave and they are strong, just like their father. My husband loves our children and I more than anything on earth. All of his doubts and fears seem almost silly now. He would rather cut off his own arm than lay a hand that was anything but affectionate on any of us. The last month of my first pregnancy was hard. Tobias doubted himself more than ever. He lived in fear of what was coming. But once our baby boy was placed in his arms, it all melted away. That baby had his daddy wrapped around his little finger before he sounded his first cry. Tobias is a wonderful husband and an even better father.
He proved this point further when he blessed us with a baby girl. My blonde little Bethany Talia Eaton has her father's brilliant eyes and his plump lips. She shares my temperament, according to Tobias. She is the most stubborn of our children, and that was proved when she put up quite the fight during my long labor – despite her smaller size compared to her brothers. TJ was ten pounds, four ounces, Theo was nine pounds, eight ounces, and Beth was just five pounds, seven ounces. But she was easily worth every second of pain. According to Tobias, she might be the only person in the world who is more stubborn than me.
Her brothers are four and three years her senior, and they watch over her like any sister would want her big brothers to. With my three boys as her guards, not a single non-approved hand touches her pretty head. She is the princess of the house. She'll be like that as long as her daddy continues looking at her like he does.
Tobias is not very good at saying 'no' to our children. He thinks that denying them of things they want will frighten them. So, I end up with the 'bad-cop' reputation.
I feel Tobias arm tighten for a quick second around my middle right before I feel his lips behind my ear. "Good morning," I say quietly.
"Mm." He burrows into my neck. "Good morning, love."
I turn in his arms and smile at him. "Would you like to wake the boys while I feed our daughter?"
He kisses my lips. "I'd love to." His hand slowly grazes down my side and over my hip. "You know what I think we should do first?"
My breath catches in my throat. "What?"
"Make some coffee," he smirks.
I scoff. "Tobias Eaton, you tease."
His hand moves lower and to my inner thigh. "We can have desert after the kids are asleep tonight."
I close my eyes and savor the feeling of his hand so close my sleep-shorts covered area. "O-Okay."
He slowly removes his hand and sighs. "Coffee."
I chuckle and untangle myself from his arms. Just as I sit up, our bedroom door opens. "Daddy?"
Our three year-old stumbles into the room and to our bed. Theo lifts his arms up, asking to be lifted onto our bed. Tobias leans down and scoops him up with one strong arm. "What's wrong, baby?"
"I not baby!" I try not to laugh at my son. Tough, strong, stubborn – just like his father.
"Of course not. I'm very sorry, Theo," Tobias says seriously.
"Baby cryin'." With the door open, I hear my son's information validated by the sounds of my girl down the hall.
"I'll help her," I tell Theo, who looks worried over the well being of his sister. "Go with daddy to wake up TJ."
His bright blue eyes light up and he leaps from his father's arms. "Let's go, daddy!" Tobias chuckles and kisses me on the lips. "Yucky!"
Tobias and I turn back to our son and his disgusted expression. I have a theory that my boys picked up that little remark from their uncles. "Is it yucky when I kiss mommy?" Tobias asks.
I stand up from the bed and put on my robe before leaving our bedroom and going down the hall to Bethany's nursery. On my way out, Theo says, "Cooties, daddy." I wonder how and where my three year-old son learned about 'cooties.'
I pad down the hall and straight to Bethany's crib. Her cries let up when she sees me and they cease when I pick her up and cradle her close to my chest. "Good morning, baby girl. Are you hungry?"
After a few minutes into feeding Beth, I hear footsteps and then I see my tall husband in the doorway. He holds a mug in each hand and has two boys practically attached to his ankles.
"For me?" I ask, pointing with my eyes to the mug in his hand.
Tobias nods and walks over to me. He sets the coffee on the small table next to the rocking chair where I sit with our daughter and he kisses my forehead and then our baby girl's. I smile up at him and then he turns back to the boys. "Breakfast!"
The boys immediately dart from the room to race their father to the kitchen. I smile down at my girl. "Our family is wild."
The day kicks off with clean children, full bellies of scrambled eggs and milk, and six mugs of coffee between Tobias and I. Today is the first Sunday of the month that Zeke has Elena, which is the designated day that we meet our friends and their kids at the playground. It's November, but this fall has been unseasonably warm – so warm that the meteorologists are making a big fuss about it, but we'll just enjoy it.
Tobias and I load our children and some snacks into our minivan. Tobias was near tears when I suggested we get a minivan. I failed to first mention that we should indeed keep his truck. With that news, his watery eyes dried up and he was more than happy to go minivan shopping. His truck is well equipped, but we just didn't feel safe having three car seats in a truck that was not made for them. Our minivan holds everybody and all of our things comfortably and safely.
I watch our house fade away in the side mirror. Tobias cut the green grass yesterday, so it looks nicely trimmed. Our one story, two bedroom, two bathroom house feels smaller and smaller every day. We've talked about moving into a larger home, but it's hard to think about saying goodbye to the place where almost all of our best memories were made.
"DON'T!" I hear TJ scream. I look back to find Theo poking his brother's sides through the gaps in his booster seat. I hear Bethany coo happily in her seat watching her brothers. "Stop it, Theo!" Theo snickers as he pokes his brother again. "Mom! Make him stop!"
I sigh. "Theo, leave your brother alone."
"We was jus playin," Theo says, smiling innocently.
I shake my head. "He doesn't like it, Theo." Theo huffs and cross his arms, but he doesn't touch his brother again.
I look over at Tobias and see him trying to hold back a laugh. I gently smack his arm, trying to contain the smile he's bringing to me. "Gee, Tris, I wonder where they learned that," he laughs.
"Hey!" I say, offended. "You're not innocent either, you know. You, Zeke, and Uriah fight a lot more than I ever have."
He laughs again. "Yeah, right. It's all my bad." I roll my eyes at him, but our boys definitely did learn from both of us – I won't admit it out loud though.
Tobias pulls the van into the parking lot of the playground and we begin the unloading process. I spot Zeke's car in the lot, but I don't see Uriah and Marlene's van, Lynn and Valarie's car, or Hana's car yet.
Tobias gets Beth's stroller out of the trunk and unfolds it. I strap her seat in while Tobias unbuckles the boys. Tobias comes back around holding each of the boy's hands in one of his and the sight makes my heart swell. The boys swing their father's arms as they walk towards the playground, spotting their cousin and uncle a few feet away, they let go of their father's hands and run towards them.
"They like the playground more than me," Tobias says sadly.
I laugh and kiss his cheek. "They do not."
Tobias looks down at our girl in her stroller. "I want to carry her." I stop pushing the stroller so that he can take her out and hold her against his shoulder. Her curious, dark blue eyes look around at the scene. Zeke sits at the picnic table with Elena in his lap, but she jumps up when she see Tobias and I. She charges at me and I scoop her up just before she collides with my legs.
"Hi, Auntie Tris!" she grins.
"Hello, Elena! How are you today?"
"Daddy bring us to the park so we can play wiv TJ and Teo and Bev and Amy and Adam!"
I grin at her. "I know! So why aren't you playing with them?"
"I want to say 'hi' to you!" I kiss her cheek and she giggles. "I go play now."
"Okay," I say. I set her back down on her feet and she runs happily towards the slide where TJ and Theo are.
"I gave her a little too much sugar," Zeke laughs as we sit down on the picnic bench next to him.
"I don't think I've ever seen her run around so much," Tobias says. "I think 'a little' sugar is an understatement."
Zeke shrugs. "She's going back with her mom today, so I guess I don't care if she's wired." Tobias nods and shrugs.
"Where's Uri?" I ask as we watch TJ push Theo down the slide.
"They're on their way," Zeke says. "Apparently Amy didn't feel like waking up."
"Nine years old going on sixteen?" I chuckle, raising an eyebrow.
Zeke laughs. "Yeah, seems that way." A few minutes of silence pass while we watch our kids. "We're almost thirty," Zeke sighs.
"Only three years left," Tobias sighs.
"Then we'll be old," Zeke says. "And we'll all get wrinkly and our hips will start cracking."
I laugh. "Maybe you, Zeke. But most thirty year-olds don't have cracking hips."
"Mom is fifty-four and you don't see her limping around," Tobias says. I watch as TJ goes down the slide and lands at the bottom right on his butt.
"Ow!" he cries out. Tobias tenses, but he calms down when TJ gets up and runs back to the top of the slide like it never happened.
"She's almost fifty-four," Zeke warns. "Don't tell her she's fifty-four before she is."
I hear a car door slam and I look over to the lot to find Lynn and Valarie walking towards us. "Hey!" Lynn says as they approach. Zeke and Tobias turn their heads and smile at the two.
"Where's Uri and Marlene?" Valarie asks.
"Coaxing an almost ten year-old out of bed," Zeke says. Lynn and Valarie sit across from us at the picnic table
"Marlene said Amy asked if she could start wearing bras, and that pissed Uriah off," Lynn says.
I watch both Tobias and Zeke's eyes widen and they instinctively look at their daughters. Lynn scoffs. "Men. Puberty hits eventually, you know."
"Not my baby," Zeke says. "She's going to be this way forever. No puberty for her."
"That's right," Tobias says. "I won't allow it."
Valarie chuckles. "You won't have much choice," Lynn says. "Someday your daughter will get, gasp, a period."
Tobias and Zeke begin shaking their heads and Tobias snuggles Bethany closer to his chest. "Not happening." I laugh at the whole scene, but I admit that I can wait for that day. I want all of my kids to stay tiny forever. I'm scared of the day they grow old enough to walk out of the house and away from me.
"Stop torturing us," Zeke says. "When are you two going to have a kid?"
Valarie sighs and Lynn looks down at her hands on the table. "I don't know," Lynn mumbles.
"We haven't gotten any calls or anything yet," Valarie says.
I feel sad for them. They both want a baby badly, but this is a predicament that they've been facing for a while now. "What if we don't ever get a baby?" Lynn asks. "We've been on that stupid wait list for months."
"It can take time," Valarie says, wrapping her arm around Lynn. I look away from the scene and look down at my girl snuggled against her father's chest. "It'll happen someday. There are millions of children waiting to be adopted, Lynn." I hear Lynn sigh just as I hear a car door slam and a girl grunt in frustration.
"You don't get it, dad!" We all turn our heads to see Amelia glaring at her father with her hands in fists. "You're not my age, so you don't get it!"
"You're too young!" Uriah says back. I watch Marlene rub her face with her hand as she walks over with Adam on her hip.
"Hey, guys," she says, sitting down next to Lynn.
"Hi!" Adam says to us all. We all smile widely at him.
"Hey, buddy," Zeke says.
"Amy and daddy are anwy," Adam says. "They yewwin."
"I can hear that," Lynn chuckles.
Amelia storms past us and goes towards the swings. Her cousins run up to her when they see her approaching and she stops to greet them. Uriah sits down with a thud next to me on the bench. "She is impossible!"
Marlene sighs. "You know, it's not that big of a deal."
"It's just a bra," Lynn says with a scoff.
Uriah frowns in confusion. "What? No, we're past that. She's wearing a stupid bra right now."
"Then what are you fighting about?" Lynn asks.
"She wants a cell phone," Marlene says.
"So she can talk to boys. And then next thing we know, she'll be coming home fucking pregnant."
All of our eyes widen. "Uriah!" Marlene scolds, sneaking a glance at Adam. He doesn't seem to be listening though; he's too preoccupied with Zeke's shiny watch.
"Sorry," Uriah mumbles.
"You know that's not where babies come from," I say quietly, laughing.
Everybody chuckles but Uriah's frown remains – the topic must upset him more than I thought. "I'm just saying that a phone is the gateway drug."
"She'll talk to boys either way," Marlene says. "So it doesn't matter."
"She'll talk more with a phone," Uriah says.
Marlene sighs in frustration. "Can we just drop this, please?"
Uriah grunts. "Happily."
We watch Amelia push Elena on a swing while TJ and Theo chase each other, flinging up wood-chips under their shoes. "Did you talk to mom?" Uriah asks.
Zeke nods. "She'll be here soon."
"Are your parents coming today, Tris?" Marlene asks.
I shake my head. "My dad isn't feeling well."
"Is he alright?"
"Yeah, he's fine. Maybe the flu, but nothing incredibly serious."
Marlene nods. "Yeah, that's going around. You'd better be careful at school because it spreads through the kids like wildfire." I sigh internally; Marlene tells me this every season.
"I know. I make them wash their hands pretty frequently."
"Good," Marlene says. "This time of year is the time I have the most patients, unfortunately."
"Mommy," Adam says, gently tapping Marlene's cheek. She sets him down and he runs towards his sister and his cousins.
"El's birthday is in a few weeks," Zeke sighs.
"Three, right?" Lynn asks.
Zeke nods. "It's crazy. I feel like she's growing twice as fast as normal kids."
A smile appears on Marlene's face. "Yeah, it always feels that way."
"No kidding," Uriah mumbles.
"Are you having a party for her?" Valarie asks.
"Rachael wants to have one big party instead of two separate ones," Zeke sighs. "But I don't know. I'm not a fan of spending excess time with Rachael or her family and friends."
"They're a bit… different," Tobias nods.
"So don't do it then," Lynn says.
Zeke rubs his face with his hand. "Her birthday is on a Saturday this year and it's on Rachael's week. What am I supposed to do?"
"You don't have to have her birthday party on the date," I remind him.
"I know, but a Saturday birthday only happens once every seven years. I wanted to throw her a real party," Zeke says. "She's got friends from daycare that she talks about, plus all of us."
"So do the one big party," Marlene says. "Do what makes Elena happy, not what makes you happy."
Zeke sighs again. "You're right. I'll ask Elena about it later. Either way, you guys will all still come, right?"
"Of course," Marlene says and we all nod.
"Only if there's cake," Tobias says. Zeke goes to punch his shoulder, but stops when he realizes there is an infant in his arms.
I turn my head back to the playground just in time to see TJ shove Theo down to the ground. TJ looks up, making sure he wasn't seen – but he was. Theo starts crying and I sigh and make a move to stand up. Tobias stands instead and hands me Beth. I silently thank him for being the bad-cop today before he turns and goes over to our boys. "They're rough," Zeke says.
We all watch Tobias pick up Theo and scold TJ. "I know," I sigh. "They are their father's sons." Tobias carries Theo with one arm while he guides TJ to the car with his free hand. I use the remote control button on the key to unlock the van just in time for Tobias to open the door and deposit TJ. He comes back to the table and sits down with a tear stained Theo on his leg.
"Tell mom what happened," Tobias says.
Theo's lip quivers as he looks up at me. "TJ say I dumb and he push me on the gwond!" I sneak a glance at Tobias and he nods. "TJ mean!"
"Are you hurt?" I ask Theo.
"My leg hut," he whines. I look down at his denim and dirt covered legs.
"Jus little," he says with a shrug. He wipes his eyes with the back of his hands and his tears begin to dry up.
"Do you need to go to the doctor? Can you move it?"
He quickly shakes his head. "I okay." He bends his leg at the knee and I look for signs of discomfort on his face, but he seems fine. I lift up his jean and see he has a scraped knee, but it isn't even bleeding.
I nod. "Okay." I kiss the top of his head. "Do you want to go home or do you want to keep playing?"
He looks from me to the playground and back. "I want play more." I think his brother hurt his feelings more than he hurt his leg.
Tobias absent-mindedly runs his hand over Theo's slightly curly hair – Tobias' hair. "Okay." Theo hops off of his father's lap and walks back to the swings where his cousins are.
"Wow," Zeke says. "Am I happy that I don't have son?"
I sigh and Tobias shakes his head. "They like to fight."
"That sounds familiar," a voice says from behind us. We turn to see Hana standing there, smirking.
"Hey, mom," Uriah says, standing. He hugs her and gives her his seat next to me and then goes to sit down next to Marlene on the other side.
I wrap my free arm around her in a hug. "Hi, Hana."
She hugs me back and smiles. "Hello, Tris. How's my granddaughter?" I hand a smiling Bethany over to her grandmother and watch wide smiles spread across both of their faces. "Hello, little one." Beth coos in response, reaching out to touch Hana.
"How long is TJ in the car for?" I ask Tobias.
He shrugs. "I told him ten minutes."
"Did you crack a window?"
"Well, I left one cracked when we got out of the car earlier."
"This is too common," I sigh, running my hand through my hair. "Is it normal for them to fight so much?"
Hana laughs next to me. "Yes. Especially considering who their family is. Zeke and Uriah fought like it was the only thing they knew how to do. When Tobias starting hanging around with them and their brotherly bond formed, it only made the fighting more common."
"It was never me!" Tobias defends.
"Bullshit!" Uriah says. "You started forty percent of the fights."
"Yeah, and the other sixty was all Zeke," Uriah says.
Hana shakes her head. "No, no, no. You and Zeke started forty each. Tobias maybe started twenty."
"We didn't always fight at home, mom," Uriah says.
"I'm well aware," she says. "I'm also aware that both you and Zeke are impatient and irritable."
"So is Four!" Zeke complains. "I agree with Uri, Four started forty percent."
"Anyways," Lynn sighs loudly. "How about dinner Tuesday?"
"Yes," I agree. "Let's do dinner.
We watch the kids play for a few more minutes before I go over to our van to relieve TJ. I slide the door open and see him sitting in his seat with his arms crossed and a deep frown on his face.
"TJ," I say, but he doesn't look up. "TJ, do you want to tell me what happened?"
"Theo was being dumb."
"TJ, your brother is not dumb, and that's not nice to say."
"He can't talk right!"
"He's only three."
"Well, he should learn how to talk better."
I sigh and sit down in the seat next to him, closing the door behind me. "You were the same way when you were his age. It doesn't mean either of you is dumb."
"I didn't even push him that hard," TJ says. "He's just a big baby."
A rub my face with my hand. "What are you so angry about?"
TJ's eyes glare into mine. They look just like his father's, but TJ's are a little rounder like mine. "Theo was using the slide too much."
"How many times have I told you boys that you need to share?" TJ shrugs. "If you two can't learn to share the playground, we don't need to come here anymore."
TJ's eyes widen and he looks at me in shock. "I'm sorry."
"You need to tell Theo that, not me."
He nods his little head. I notice that he's probably due for a haircut soon. His hair is the color of Tobias' but it's straight like mine, and it's nearly to his eyebrows. "Can we get out?" I nod and open the door back up and climb out. He hops out of the van behind me and I take his hand after closing the van door again.
We walk up to the picnic table where Theo is back and he and Tobias are talking about something with Zeke. "Theo," I say. He turns around and frowns when he sees his brother. "TJ has something to say to you."
Theo looks expectedly at his brother. "Sorry I pushed you, Theo," TJ says.
"Sorry I hog the slide," Theo says quietly, kicking the grass under his feet.
"Mom said if we can't share then we can't come here no more."
Theo's eyes widen the same way TJ's did and he looks up at me. I nod and he frowns. "Kay. We share."
"Okay, go play. We're leaving soon," I tell the boys. They run off towards the slide and I watch, gratefully, as they take turns.
"Threatening, huh?" Tobias asks, raising an eyebrow. I sit down and lean my head on his shoulders with a sigh.
"We're going to take off," Lynn says. "Val's got a doctor's appointment."
Marlene's eyebrows peak in concern. "Everything okay?"
Valarie chuckles. "I'm fine, just a check-up." The tone of her voice seems reassuring, but the look in her eyes makes me think that isn't the full story.
"Okay," Marlene says, though she doesn't seem convinced either.
Lynn and Valarie stand up from the table and Lynn takes their car keys out of Valarie purse. "We'll see you all Tuesday," she says with a small smile. Everybody says goodbye and then they walk towards their car.
"So, what's the latest issue with my grand-girl?" Hana asks, smirking knowingly.
Uriah and Marlene both sigh. "She wants a cell phone."
"Ah," Hana says, nodding. "I remember when you boys asked for phones."
"I didn't get a phone until Freshman year," Zeke scoffs.
"That's right, because what fourteen year old boy needs a phone."
"Uriah got a phone when he was fourteen."
"Well, he had basketball practice and I needed to know when to pick him up."
"Not fair," Zeke mumbles to himself.
Hana either doesn't hear him or ignores him. "Why does little Amy need a phone?"
"She doesn't," Uriah says angrily.
"You know, I might feel safer if she has one," Marlene says. "Just so she can contact us in case there's an emergency."
"They make phones that are programmed so the kid can only call selected people," I suggest.
Uriah shakes his head. "I tried that. She said that we might as well not get her anything at all then." I'm beginning to understand their frustration. "Then she stormed off to her room and said I was treating her like a child. She is a child!"
"She doesn't see herself that way," Hana says. "Especially being around the little ones all the time. In her mind, she's probably nearly seventeen."
"She's not even ten!"
Hana nods. "I know that, but she doesn't see it that way. Kids always think they are older than they are." Uriah just shrugs. "It's okay for her to grow up, son. Just keep in mind that it will happen and you can't stop it."
I look over at my boys being pushed with one hand each by Amelia. They're all laughing loudly, even Amelia. "I know," Uriah mutters.
"I don't want to yell at her, but it seems like that's the only way I can get a response from her."
"How often did I raise my voice at you boys?" Uriah and Zeke both frown. "Mhm, and you turned out alright."
"Hey," Uriah says defensively. "I let her wear a bra."
Hana shakes her head. "That's not your choice, son. Bras are a necessity for females. You can't restrict her from that; that's just silly."
Uriah sighs. "Whatever. Should she have a phone or not then?"
Hana shrugs. "Well, that's up to you and Marlene."
Uriah quietly groans in frustration. I hear little footsteps running our way and I turn to see Theo running towards us. He jumps up onto Tobias' lap and whispers something in his hear. If I had to guess, I'd say he whispered one word: potty.
Tobias sets Theo down and walks hand-in-hand with him towards the small brick bathroom building off to the side of the park.
"How's the potty training?" Hana asks.
I smile and nod. "He's good. He's pretty well off now, but when we're anywhere but home, he prefers that Four goes with him."
"That's good," Hana says. "Zeke took forever to potty train. I swear he didn't get it down until he was five."
"Hey!" Zeke says, offended. "That's because dad gave me mixed messages."
"Oh, hush," Hana laughs. "Your father did fine, you were the one who couldn't tell up from down." I have no idea what that means, but Hana and Uriah burst into fits of laughter.
"Yeah, yeah. Tease, make fun, Uri. Just wait until you have to start training Adam." I watch Elena walk across the park and climb into Zeke's lap. "What's up, buttercup?"
She giggles, "My name is Elena!"
"Oh!" he says dramatically. "I'm sorry. What's up, Elena?"
"Do I had to go wiv mommy today?" she asks quietly, her eyes wide.
I watch Zeke's face fall and he sighs. "Yes, honey, you do."
Her bottom lip sticks out. "But I wanna stay wiv you."
Zeke pushes pieces of her hair back and shakes his head. "That would make your mommy very sad." Elena shrugs and Zeke frowns just as Tobias sits down next to me and I watch Theo run towards his brother. "Why don't you want to go to mommy's?"
I watch my boys play, but I listen to Elena and Zeke. "I don like Bobby."
"Who is Bobby?" Zeke asks, I can hear anger boiling under the surface of his apparently calm voice.
"Mommy friend. He not nice, daddy."
"Why isn't he nice?
"He say mean thins to me an he spank me."
This makes me turn and look. Zeke looks a mix of angry, appalled, and disgusted. "When?" Elena just shrugs and Zeke takes a deep breath and nods.
He stands up with Elena in his arms and turns to the rest of us. "We'll see you guys later." We all nod in understanding and then Zeke and Elena go to Zeke's car.
I look over at Tobias and his frown is deep. I haven't seen him look so troubled in a long time. I look at the others and they all look about the same. "I swear to God, if this Bobby hurts my niece…" Uriah says.
"Let's not make assumptions," Marlene says. "It could be nothing."
"Or it could be everything," Tobias says. "Didn't you hear her? She sounded terrified." I sigh and wrap my arms around one of Tobias' and rest my head on his shoulder. "If something is going on, I'll help you Uriah."
Uriah nods. "Something better not be going on or I'll show Bobby my fist."
"I'll show him my foot too."
"Boys," Hana scolds.
Uriah scoffs. "You want us to just sit here and do nothing?"
"I want you to calm down. None of us knows the whole story, and Elena isn't even three, she might be wording something minimal into something terrible."
"Your mom is right," Marlene says. "You don't know anything yet."
We all fall silent after that, thinking. Tobias' hands are in fists, and that's understandable. The fact that he is getting so worked up about this just proves he is nothing like his father. Marcus doesn't even know he has grandchildren, and it is out intent to keep it that way. He'll be in jail for a lot longer, so we've still got time.
"Mom," I hear. We all jump at the noise and turn to see Amelia.
"What, honey?" Marlene asks, looking up at her daughter.
"Can we go now?"
Uriah sighs and rubs his face with his hand. "Don't you want to spend time with your cousins?"
"Well, yeah, but I'm going to Jackie's today. Remember?"
Marlene nods. "Alright, go get your brother."
"Yes!" Amelia says to herself as she turns and goes back towards the playground.
Marlene gathers her purse and she stands up with Uriah. "We'll see you guys on Tuesday," she says to us all.
"Bye, mom," Uriah says.
"I'm probably going to take off too," Hana says. She hands me Beth with her drooping eyes.
I look at Tobias and he nods. He stands up and rolls Beth's stroller over. I secure her inside of it just as all four kids come back to us. "We leavin?" Theo asks.
"Yes. Say goodbye to your grandma," Tobias says. Both boys give Hana a big hug and then they run towards the van.
Hana hugs Tobias and says, "Drive safe."
"You too. Love you, mom." Hana smiles warmly back and then quickly waves goodbye to all of us as she walk to her car.
Marlene picks Adam up and places a big kiss on his cheek. "Ready to go, little man?" He nods his head.
"See you guys," Uriah says as we go our separate ways to our cars.
I take Beth's carrier out of the stroller and put it into the car seat while Tobias folds up the stroller and puts it back in the trunk. I check Theo's seat belt while Tobias checks TJ's and then we're off.
I look over at Tobias and smile and he looks at me before putting the van in reverse. I close my eyes and lean back against my seat. This is our life. There are good times and bad, but it's all imperfectly perfect. Our kids outnumber us, but so does our family – so it evens itself out. I'm the happiest and luckiest woman in the world.
"Daddy, I gotta go potty again." I sigh and look over at Tobias as he pulls the van into a convenience store parking lot.
Never ending cycle.
Author's Note: Good God, this was long. I'm very sorry it took so long to get it written, but a ton of real life shit happened literally the day after I posted the last chapter. It's been crazy, and I am very sorry. I've been writing when I can, but I've been so stressed that it caused writer's block and I couldn't get anything down half the time. Yay.
Anyways, I won't bore you with my reasons.
I hope you enjoyed all the fluff. I enjoy fluff.
Thank you, to all of you who did, for sticking this entire EHS story out and listening to all my fluff and shit. :) Look out for future one-shots for any time period in the EHS world. Tell me any requests you have as well.
-Update: I posted a one-shot already, oh my gosh. It's on my page: The Little White Stick: An Erudite High School One-Shot
You guys are the most wonderful people in the world! :) I'm going to miss hearing from you everyday.