We're skipping ahead slightly in the timeline here, about a month or so. Needed to do it to get us closer to some of the bigger upcoming stories. There's not a whole lot of Angela and Eric in this chapter. I figured it was time to catch up with some of the others.

Thanks so much for your feedback and endless patience during the waits between chapters. It's very much appreciated. :-)


"Oh, crap."

Those were the first words Shawn heard upon waking up. He rolled over and pulled the sheet over his head. If history has taught him anything the best thing to do would be to stay in bed and wait for the storm to pass.

"Don't even try to pull the fake sleeping garbage with me, Shawn Patrick Hunter, because I am not in the mood."

Uh-oh, his full name. Serious shit was about to go down. He lowered the sheet to just below his eyes and saw his fiancée glaring at him. "How did you know?"

"You were silent and perfectly still. I've told you that you do those weird, yipping snores and your legs move so much you may as well be riding a bicycle." She was constantly waking up with random little bruises on her legs from his over-active sleeping.

"Right, gotta remember that," he said to himself before reluctantly sitting up. "Why did you wake up angry?"

"Four weeks."

"Huh?"

"Four weeks."

"You can repeat that all you want, but I'm not going to know what you mean."

"We are getting married four weeks from today."

That woke him up a little. "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

"I don't know how that happened. We just had months! Like…a lot of them!"

"Calm down for a second."

Naomi paced around the room. "I was looking at our to-do list and there are still a million things on it. It dwarfs our done list."

Shawn came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, instead of relaxing, however, she only tensed up more. "What needs to be done?"

"Everything."

"Can you narrow that down a little? Tell me one thing."

"Music."

"But I thought we decided our first dance song- Feels Like Home by Chantal Kreviazuk, right? Did you change your mind?"

"No, I love that song. You chose it. It's perfect. It's us. I mean the rest of the music. What do I walk down the aisle to? What do you enter the ceremony to? What do we enter the reception area to? And what about exiting the ceremony?"

"The venue doesn't pick something?"

"Please tell me you're kidding."

"All you have to say is no. No need to get sarcastic."

"No. We pick the music, all the music."

"What do you want?"

She fell backwards onto the bed, her lists scattering beside her. "In all my crazy planning this part skipped my mind. I haven't even thought about it."

"I have a suggestion…if you don't mind."

"Sure. It's your wedding, too."

"I haven't had a lot of normal, traditional things in my life. You know that. It's part of the reason it took me so long to propose. I didn't think I would ever get to have normal." He lay beside her and took her hand. "I kind of like the idea of you walking down the aisle to whatever is the traditional, bride walking down the aisle song we hear at most of the weddings you drag me to."

"Shawn-"

"It's okay if you don't want to. I just…it would be a nice way to know that it's my turn now. I get to be a part of something normal and traditional and no one can ever take it away from me."

Naomi squeezed his hand and leaned her forehead against his shoulder, tears threatening to fall from her eyes. Wagner's Bridal Chorus, though traditional, wasn't a song she really liked and before today never considered walking down the aisle to it at her own wedding. Shawn's reasoning for wanting it, however, far outshone any reason she had to dislike it. "I'd love that."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Can we walk out of the ceremony to Mendelssohn's Wedding March?"

"How do you know the name of the Wedding March but not the Bridal Chorus? And how do you know Mendelssohn?"

"I know things." Now didn't seem to be the time to mention that Angela introduced him to classical music, along with poetry and creative writing, when they were together. They were all good friends, but he'd save that for when Nomi wasn't having a meltdown. "I like it for the same reason- it's traditional. And it's my way of kicking all of the crappy past behind me and now I get to walk towards my future with you by my side."

"You know you're sounding more like Cory the closer we get to the altar, don't you?"

"Boy, if that isn't enough ammo to make one rush for a Vegas wedding chapel with Elvis as the minister I don't know what is."

She rolled over and kissed his cheek, feeling slightly less stressed than before. "Be nice."

"What else is on your…our to-do list?" He ran his hand down her side until it was resting on her hip. "Dress rehearsal for the honeymoon," he asked hopefully. "Or undress rehearsal? It's one way I know to get you to relax."

"Swing and a miss."

"It was worth a shot." He exhaled before sitting up. "So what else needs to be done?"

"I don't suppose you have any suggestions for the seating chart for the reception, do you? The planner at the venue is breathing down my neck about that."

"We do what Ben and Ashley did at their wedding," he said, referencing friends of theirs. "We get one of those signs saying that there are no sides since we're all family. Everyone picks their damn own seat. And yes, I say we phrase it just like that- pick your own damn seat."

Imagining her mother's and grandmother's reactions to having profanities in writing at her wedding was highly amusing, but not worth the headache that would follow. "But that's taking the lazy way out."

"So? You've been putting so much stress on yourself. You made your dress and Nina's, you're making your veil or headpiece or whatever the hell you're calling it. You picked colors, table linens…although let's be honest, I've never been to a wedding…or any place with a table really…and had my experience ruined because the tablecloth was ivory or alabaster when it should've been seashell." He was almost expecting attitude for that last comment, maybe a light hit on his shoulder. Instead Naomi was gawking at him, eyes wide and jaw practically in her lap. "What?" Instead of a verbal explanation, she threw her arms around him, a move that nearly knocked him off balance and almost sent him off of the bed. "What the hell, Nomi?!" He was even more confused when she kissed him. "Okay, you're scaring me."

"Ivory, alabaster, and seashell? Are you kidding? You really remembered?"

"Is this some sort of bridal break with reality, a pre-marital meltdown? Is there a number I can call? This seems like something that should be under warranty with the venue wedding planner. My bride shouldn't break before the walk down the aisle. It's marriage that should wear you down. Not the planning." There, a marriage joke should put things back in proper cosmic order. It didn't work, however. Naomi continued to sit there, beaming at him. "You're really freaking me out right now. I think I'll go call Hana," he said, referring to her sister. "She's good with this stuff. She's a pharmacist. Maybe she can bring you a nice, big, happy pill. How does that sound," he asked in an upbeat, almost patronizing tone. "Or forget pills. We can get a tranquilizer gun and wake you up five minutes before the ceremony. Is that good for you?"

"Are you done yet?"

"That depends. Are you okay?"

"Of course I am, you weirdo!"

"How can you be calling me a weirdo right now? You're the one who just had a happy fit over ivory and alabaster and I'm terrified to ask why."

She slid closer to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. "You listen to me when I talk. That's all."

"Huh?"

"Two weeks ago I was ranting about the color choices for the tablecloths. They only sent me samples in the shades of white I flat out refused: ivory and alabaster, and forgot the one I wanted: seashell. You remembered."

"Not on purpose," he admitted. "To be honest when you get that obsessive about little things like that that don't matter it's kind of scary."

"God, I've turned into a real Bridezilla, haven't I?"

"Most of the time, no, most of the time you're a rational person. You just pick the weirdest crap to get hung up on. Like last month's meltdown over napkin rings at the reception? We don't even use napkins here at home! We grab a paper towel like the rest of the world."

"That's not good for the environment. We really should-"

"The point is: napkin rings, who gives a flying fu-"

"Shawn, I get it. Okay?"

"I just don't understand. Why napkin rings and tablecloths? Music makes a little more sense to me because there's so much of it and it's such a huge part of life, but that other stuff? Why? You don't care about that crap."

"I suppose it gave me something to focus on. We've been so worried about Mr. Feeny and I know he's doing better, but sometimes I think I have it worse than the rest of you."

"What do you mean?"

"I know everything that can go wrong. I'm a nurse. I've seen it all, good and bad. I've personally witnessed families one minute excited about improvements and getting their hopes up and then have to be the one consoling them a few hours later when things took a turn for the worst."

He could never do what Nomi did. He wasn't strong enough. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Please," she scoffed. "You couldn't bring yourself to set foot in the hospital and you can't get beyond the waiting area of the rehab facility. How could I tell you?"

"Because we're supposed to be spending the rest of our lives together. I think you owe me the chance to get over myself and my insecurities to at least listen to what's bothering you."

"You're right. I'm sorry." She wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder.

He hugged her tight in return. "It's okay. Even you're allowed to mess up now and then."

"Gee, thanks. But it's not just Mr. Feeny. It's my grandmother constantly calling with more suggestions on Japanese traditions to add to the ceremony and-"

"You've told her we're doing the San san kudo, right?"

"Countless times, doesn't stop the calls, however. She still demands measurements for your wedding kimono."

Shawn's eyebrows went up. A kimono was a bit much for someone who wasn't even wearing a tie for his own wedding. "What about the cranes? You've still got your 1001 cranes."

"I hope so. As of this morning we are at 704. We have a month left. Everyone is supposed to be pitching in but this time of year is so hectic and I don't know how they're going to get done. I mean it's doable, but we might be cutting it close." She shook her head. "That's another thing on my list- finding the time to make them."

"What if I told you that we didn't have to worry about the cranes?"

"What are you talking about? The cranes are non-negotiable. I told you from the beginning it's the one thing I really want. I'll lose sleep if I have to."

He got up from the bed and went over to the closet. After moving a few things around he returned with a box. "I know how important the cranes are to you and how nervous you were that they wouldn't get done. And I needed something to do with all the guilt I felt about not being able to get my ass up to see Mr. Feeny." He placed the box in her lap and removed the lid.

Naomi was speechless, staring out onto a multitude of origami cranes in every color imaginable. "Shawn…I can't…how did you…"

"I don't know the exact number I have, but I know it's at least 350. I stopped keeping track after that."

"But how? I tried to show you. Hana tried. You were all thumbs and kept screwing up."

"What can I say? You two just don't have the patience of your father."

She was halfway between laughing and crying. "You asked my dad to teach you?"

"Don't get me wrong, we definitely have more fun when we go fishing, but it wasn't terrible." His future father-in-law seemed proud to pass on his knowledge. "He said if I was doing it properly it would be therapeutic, almost like meditation. I thought it was bull at first, but it turns out he's right." He saw that she was crying and wiped away her tears. "This is happiness-related, right? I didn't do something wrong, did I?"

"No…no...you did everything right." Naomi stared at Shawn and all of the wedding deadlines, all health issues, and family dramas melted away. That stuff didn't matter. All that mattered was four weeks from today she was marrying the man she loved surrounded by family, friends, and 1001 paper cranes. "I'm sorry I went a little psycho on you."

"That's okay. You've put up with me and my moods for five years and are pledging to do so for the rest of your life. The least I can do is embrace whatever occasional bit of psycho you bring to the table." He frowned. "That sounded more romantic in my head."

"You're good. I still can't believe you did this for me."

"I'd do anything for you, Nomi. I love you."

"I love you, too. Could you put the box away?"

It was an odd way to finish a declaration of love, but she was still stressed. "Right. It would suck for all my hard work to go to waste and break or spill something on them." He muttered under his breath, trying to get the box back into the closet. "Come on, it just fit in here." Something soft hit the back of his head and his vision was partially obstructed by flimsy green fabric. "What the-" Shawn brought his hand to his face and was stunned to be holding Nomi's nightgown in his hand. He slowly turned around and found her now laying in their bed wearing nothing but her engagement ring and a smile- his smile, the one only he got to see. "If you were aiming for the hamper you missed."

"Funny."

"I try."

"If I remember correctly, honeymoon dress rehearsal was something to knock off of your to-do list, right?"

"Uh-huh."

"And you're still standing over there because…"

The box fell from his hands and landed at his feet. He nearly tripped over it as he made his way to the bed. "I should've learned origami years ago."

/

/

"…and it's just making me question everything I thought I knew about life and the universe and how things work. I always believed in karma- be a good person and put good out into the world and good will come back to you. That's how it's supposed to work."

"It is a nice way for people to live their lives whether or not they get a reward," Dr. Kelly remarked as she listened to Topanga. They were waiting for Cory to arrive for the session and chatting to catch up. The Matthews' had missed a few appointments lately due to the couple wanting to be in Philadelphia as much as possible.

"I'm starting to think it's all a crock." Topanga crossed her arms and stared straight ahead, a blank expression on her face. "No one has put more good out there than Mr. Feeny. He devoted his life to educating children and helping them to lead better lives. He's not just a good person. He's had a hand in creating countless good people. And what does he get for his life's work? He's in a hospital bed relearning how to walk, talk, and eat. It's not fair."

"I agree. It's not fair. In fact it sucks. But life isn't always fair and bad things do happen to good people sometimes. The best we can do is be there for each other in those times of crisis and create a bubble of good around the person in need."

She eyed the doctor cautiously. "Your parents were hippies, too?"

Dr. Kelly laughed. "No."

"I haven't felt this betrayed by life since my parents' divorce."

"Have you talked about your feelings with Cory?"

"A little bit, but he owns the out of control, panic card in the relationship. He always has. But he feels the exact same way I do. Heck, he's even phrased it the same way."

"And what do you say to him?"

"The same crap you just fed me- life isn't fair. That's how our relationship works. He freaks out and I be the grown up and talk him off the ledge."

"You know there's room on that ledge for both of us."

Topanga turned around and saw Cory standing by the door. "So we should both take the plunge into fear and worry?"

"It's better than burying those feelings aside." He walked further into the room and sat beside his wife on the couch. "I know I can get overdramatic sometimes…okay all the time," he added at her look of disbelief, "but that's because I'd rather get out what I'm feeling and be honest about it. No good comes from keeping things bottled up. The one time I bottled things up it nearly ruined us."

"That wasn't all you."

"I know, but being more vocal would've helped."

"I hate feeling helpless and that's all I feel when I think about Mr. Feeny right now. There are certain things I've always been able to depend on in my life and Mr. Feeny is one of those things. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and Mr. Feeny will always be Mr. Feeny."

"It's the same for me."

"You probably feel worse than I do because you grew up next to him!"

"It's not a competition, honey. We're all worried, but he's a lot better."

"How is he doing," Dr. Kelly questioned.

"He's improving every day. He was moved into the rehab facility almost two weeks ago for all the physical therapy stuff. His speech though…that's not going so well."

"Granted, I may not have experience with stroke patients, but all of those mechanics take time to relearn. It sounds like he's doing remarkably well."

"I know, that's what the doctors say. I still feel bad for him. He spent his life getting up there and talking to students and now he can barely string three basic words together," Cory lamented. "To be honest right now he kind of reminds me of Georgia."

"How so?"

"His brain knows what it wants to do but it's getting his body to cooperate that's the issue. Like here, watch this." He took out his phone and handed it to the therapist. "Eric sent me this video of Georgia this morning. He's asking her questions and it seems like she's responding. She's got the sounds down. And when he repeats a question the exact same babbles come out of her mouth with emphasis on the same…well, not words, but in the same places. Her brain knows the words, but the rest of her hasn't caught up yet."

She smiled. It was hard to believe when he first stepped foot into her office Cory acted as though he resented his niece's existence. Now, however, it seemed little Georgia had no bigger fan than her Uncle Cory. "She is adorable."

"Adorable? The kid's a genius! Which, to be honest, considering Eric's her father it could've gone either way. Score one for Angela's genes."

"Cory," Topanga exclaimed, hitting his arm. "Be nice. There's nothing wrong with Eric."

"Sure, maybe not now. Maybe not when we were kids, but there were a few years there…tell me, Dr. Kelly, do you do that regressive therapy where you can figure out what was going on with someone in the past? Because when he was in college my brother was off the charts crazy. I mean sure it was fun crazy most of the time, but he still scared people."

He wasn't wrong, but that's not why they were here. "Cory, stop."

"What? Like you weren't curious about what was going on in his head? I kinda want to know." His expression changed suddenly, becoming more serious. "Then again maybe I don't. Inside Eric's brain could be the scariest place on earth. Plus, oh, no, what if taking him back there caused some sort of systemic reset and he reverted back to that crazy place permanently? That would be bad."

"You're acting a little crazy yourself at the moment so I wouldn't keep talking."

"Don't call me crazy in front of the head shrink! What if she believes you?"

"It's okay, Topanga. It's not uncommon for people to seek out a distraction during times like this. For some reason, this is what Cory is latching onto."

"That I can understand, but this? Shawn's wedding is less than a month away. I figured he would obsess with that."

"I can't obsess over that because they won't let me do the seating chart!"

Topanga stared up at the ceiling and muttered, "I'm being punished for something, clearly. I did something bad in a previous life." She took a deep breath before turning her attention back to her husband. "Cory, your mom and Naomi's mom are handling the seating. They are the best, most rational people to handle that."

"I'm not rational?"

"Shawn and Naomi offered to let you pick some music. But you-"

"There was nothing wrong with my choices."

"You said they should enter the reception to Welcome to the Jungle."

"What's wrong with it? It's a fun song that everyone knows. Besides, I gave them alternate suggestions."

"Yeah, That's Amore and MMMBop."

"Again, fun songs that people know!"

"MMMBop, Cory! MMMBop!"

"Don't act like you didn't have the CD in high school." He leaned in close and whispered loudly to the doctor, "She had the CD."

/

/

"Daddy, what's mommy's favorite color?"

"Pink," Jack answered Nina as he continued to wipe down Milo. Mother's day was almost here and he decided to take advantage of the rainy afternoon and have the kids make cards and pictures for Rachel. It was going fine until Milo decided the finger paints didn't just belong on the paper. "She loves pink but doesn't wear it a lot because she hates how it looks with her hair."

"That's silly."

"I know. Where's Evan? He's supposed to be making something for mom, too."

"I dunno. Daddy, look! Now I'm Rudolph like the Christmas song."

He looked up and saw that she had placed a glob of red finger paint on the tip of her nose. "Don't put finger paint on your face."

"But I'm being Christmassy."

"Nina, it's May, not December. It's not time for Christmassy. It's time for Mother's day."

"I can paint my face in Dismember?"

"Wha-no, December. The month is December, not dismember." He shook his head. Kids said weird, creepy things sometimes. "Where's Evan?"

"I said I dunno."

"Evan," Jack called out. A few second later the boy appeared, beloved Gameboy clutched in his hands. "I thought you were going to make something for mom for Mother's day."

"No."

"No? Mother's day is Sunday."

"I know."

There was a hint of attitude in his voice, something Jack wasn't used to. "Come on, we're all doing a little something. Just sit down and make a card. I'll even make one with you. This way she has stuff from the whole family." He struggled to keep ahold on Milo, who was reaching for the finger paints again. "Milo, knock it off."

"I don't want to."

Evan's teacher, knowing the complicated circumstances of the boy's family life, emailed Jack today to tell him that he'd opted not to make anything for Rachel during art class either. "Why not?"

"Because it's dumb. It's baby work."

"Okay, so what do you want to do that's not baby work? I think we have enough popsicle sticks if you wanted to make something out of them."

"I don't want to make Rachel anything."

It had been a while since he'd used their names. Lately they'd just been mom and dad. It was jarring to hear him revert back. "I think that's too bad. Rachel loves you and has done a lot for you and your brothers and sister. It's a shame that you can't show her a little appreciation for everything she does for our family." He stared at Evan, hoping his words would have an impact, but a blank expression remained on his face. "Are you going to make a card?"

"No."

"Then go to your room."

"Fine."

"Leave the Gameboy here," Jack said at the last minute.

"But-"

"When you're ready to take part in the family activity you can have it back."

"Whatever." He tossed it on the table before walking away.

Jack wasn't convinced he'd handled that the right way, but before he could put real thought into it Milo succeeded in getting his hands on a container of blue finger paint and spilled it all over the table. "Milo, damn-darn it…"

"Bad word, daddy."

He sighed. "Thank you, Nina."

/

/

"Is this sweet or creepy?" Eric just picked up part of his Mother's day present for Angela and was showing it off at work. "At first I was thinking sweet, but now I'm leaning towards creepy, right?"

"A little," Max agreed. "Why didn't you just do hand or footprints on pieces of paper or flowerpots or towels like the rest of the world?"

"Angela said once that she regretted not getting a cast done of her belly when she was ginormously pregnant. So I thought it would be sweet to get her something to make a cast of Georgia's hand or foot. Or maybe Georgia holding her hand so she could remember how small the baby was her first Mother's day." He stared at the gift now in his hands. "Of course now I'm just a weirdo who's going to display random body parts in his house. I feel like Hannibal Lecter."

"I can see that."

"You're not helping me. What did you get Gina?"

"The kids' preschool sent them home with the painted flower pots with their handprints on them and a cheesy poem inside. And I'm getting her this purse I know she really wants. She's been sending me links to the damn thing since March."

"So no surprise gift?"

"Not this year. That purse is not cheap. In fact she gave me permission to combine both her birthday and Mother's day gift into one with the purse. But I'm going to take the kids to the store and let them pick out one or two little things. Knowing my kids that means her purse will be full of Hot Wheels, glitter pencils, and stickers."

"Cute."

"What about you? What else did you get Angela?"

"I got whatever I could find to help her relax. You know how Georgia's been such a whining, teething diva lately."

"All babies are at that age."

"Right, well I still want to help her relax. I got her a gift card for a massage and to get her nails done. It's silly to me, but sometimes having her nails done can make all the difference in her mood." He shrugged. "I also bought the softest robe I could find, bubble bath, and this tray for the Jacuzzi where she can put magazines or food or coffee and wine…whatever she wants."

"Sounds good to me."

"I don't know. It still feels like something is missing."

"Nope, you did good. In fact you probably did too much. You don't want to set the bar too high the first year. Then you have to constantly live up to that."

"Angela takes care of Georgia all day, every day. She deserves whatever she wants."

"Do you know what most moms want?"

"What?"

"Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. If they want anything else it's stuff that will help them sleep."

"That's why all my gifts will help her relax."

"Yeah, and then she'll fall asleep and dream about being chased by Georgia's hand." He took the cast kit and put it in Eric's face.

"Shut up."

/

/

"Aah, daddy, that's cold!"

"Next time listen when I tell you not to get the paint all over." Jack turned the hose back on Milo, who was still a variety of colors from the finger paints. They were faded, but they were there.

"Wow, what happened here," Rachel called out as she exited the garage. Coming home to the kids in the backyard in their bathing suits when she got home from work wasn't uncommon. It was May in Texas after all. But usually they were in their kiddie pool or running through the sprinklers. Jack wasn't spraying the hose on them. "And why is Milo…every color ever created?"

"We make you presents for your day, mommy," Nina said, jumping up and down.

She feigned shock. "You did?"

"Uh-huh. I make you a present at school then I come home and make one. So I make you two."

"Wow, I'm going to be so spoiled on Sunday."

"And Milo make one, too, and daddy help Calum make one 'cause he's just a baby."

"I'm sure I will love all my presents."

"Evan did not make you one," Nina continued. "Daddy told him to go to his room and took the Gameboy."

"Nina, let us handle-"

She turned around and looked at her husband. "You what?"

"It's not a big deal. Don't worry about it. I'll get him to make you something before Sunday."

"I don't want you to force him into it. Why did you-" She stopped, remembering that Nina and Milo were standing right there. "Nina, honey, can you do me a favor?"

"What?"

"Can you take Milo over there and help him practice rolling the ball back and forth."

"Are you and daddy gonna fight?"

"No, we're not going to fight. Why do you think that?"

"'Cause that's the only time you want me to go away."

Kids were too observant. "We're not fighting. We're going to discuss something."

"Come on, Milo." She grabbed his hand and yanked him in the direction she wanted him to go. "No, this way."

"Nina, let him walk. Don't pull him. We don't need you to dislocate his shoulder."

"What does that mean? Dis-dislo-what was the word again?"

"Just go play, all right?"

Once the kids were a safe distance away Rachel took a seat on the back steps and Jack followed suit. "You didn't actually punish Evan because he doesn't want to make a Mother's day gift, did you?"

"Well, I don't know if I'd call it a punishment, but-"

"Jack, no. You can't do that."

"You don't want him to make you something?"

"Of course I do, but not because he was strong-armed into it. I want it to come from his heart."

"I don't see why he doesn't want to make you one. You're a great mom."

"Something tells me that this aversion to Mother's day has very little to do with me, or at least it's not just me."

"Then who? Kara?"

"It's always going to be her. It doesn't matter how old he gets or how long it will be since she's had custody or even seen the kids. She was their mother first and gave them a warped view on who a mother is supposed to be."

"Then I'd think he would want to celebrate you even more."

"As strange as it sounds he might feel like getting me something is a betrayal to her."

"After everything she did," he scoffed. "Are you kidding?"

"No matter what Kara did she is still his mother. It's always going to be complicated for him; Mother's day, Father's day, Thanksgiving, Christmas…all the holidays. You have to think of him like Shawn when it comes to this stuff. Except be even more sensitive to it because he's still a child."

"So taking the Gameboy and isolating him from the rest of the family by sending him to his room was the worst possible call I could make. Way to go, Jack," he muttered before he leaned back and rested his head on the stairs. "I just didn't see why he wouldn't want to make you something. You're great. Between Mother's day and adoption day coming next week I figured for once he'd want to pull a Nina and go big with a gift."

She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "That's sweet, but he's never going to be as outgoing as Nina. You know the adoption is probably part of it, too."

"How do you mean?"

"I've worked in the system for a long time and I've seen kids like Evan. Trust me. Right now he's not thinking that's there's only one week left until he's officially adopted. In his mind there's still a week left for something to go wrong and for it to all fall apart."

"Even after everything we've been through?"

"I'm afraid so. I know it feels like longer, but we've only had them for sixteen months. That's not a lot of time. Frankly, it's a miracle they're as comfortable with us as they are all things considered. Issues are going to keep coming up. We just have to be patient when they do."

"I wasn't very patient today," he said with a sigh.

"Don't be too hard on yourself. It's a learning process for all of us. You're good dad."

"Can you remember that when you see the mess in the kitchen?"

She smiled. "Sure. How about you get those two dry and start to clean the kitchen and I'll talk to Evan and then I'll run out and pick something up for dinner?"

"Are you sure I shouldn't be the one talking to him?"

"You can later, but I want to first. Is that okay?"

"If you think that's best. Oh," he called out right before she reached the door. "I put the Gameboy in the cabinet above the fridge. Even I need the step ladder for that one so I knew he wouldn't be able to sneak it."

/

"Evan," Rachel called out as she knocked on the door. "Can I come in?" She waited several seconds before knocking again. "Evan?" There was no response. "I'm going to knock one more time and if you don't answer I'm coming in to make sure you're okay." Seconds later the door opened just enough for her to see him. "Hi." His eyes were puffy, as if he'd been crying.

"Hi."

"Can I come in?"

"You're going to anyway so I don't know why you're asking."

"If you don't want me to come in then I won't. I just wanted to give you back your Gameboy," she said, holding it out to him.

"Really?"

"Really."

"You're not going to yell at me or try to make me feel bad?" He took his game back before walking away to sit on his bed.

She pushed the door open a little more and came into the room. "Why would I want to make you feel bad?"

"Because I didn't make you anything for Mother's day and everybody else did."

"Evan, I don't care about Mother's day presents."

"You don't?"

"No. Don't get me wrong, presents are nice, but they aren't the most important thing to me. What's important is spending time with you kids and Jack. That's what matters. It's okay if you can't make me a present. Just like it's okay if Nina wants to make me one. It won't change how much I love you guys."

"I don't like making presents for anybody because they are a waste. Nobody needs it and you just throw it away."

Rachel frowned. That was an odd way for a kid to phrase something. He had to be repeating someone. "Where did you hear that?"

"I don't know."

"Did Kara say that to you when you made her a present?"

"I don't remember if it was her or someone at one of the other houses we stayed at before you and dad."

"Whoever told you that is wrong. It's never a bad thing to make something to show someone that you love them. And I promise you that person would cherish the gift and keep it, not throw it away."

"You would keep it?"

She took a seat beside him on the bed. "Yes, I would. But it's okay if still don't want to make me something," she added at his silence.

"Maybe not this year."

"Okay."

"Can I buy you something? I have some money from my allowance and grammy gave us money for Easter even though I don't understand why."

She chuckled and ran her hand through his hair. "She likes to spoil you. But that's okay. I don't need an expensive present that will take up all of your money."

"But what about if we just get candy or dessert?"

"You want to buy me dessert?" Rachel wasn't sure how his brain made this leap, but she was going with it.

"Yeah, but just us…nobody else."

That did sound nice. "Tell you what, I told dad if he cleaned up the mess in the kitchen that I would pick up dinner. How about you come with me and we can get a milkshake or an ice cream cone before we pick it up?"

"Dessert before dinner?"

"Yes, before dinner." She smiled at the way his eyes lit up. "What do you say?"

"Can we go to a real ice cream place and sit inside and not get something at the drive thru we have to eat in the car?"

It would be more expensive, but it seemed so important to him. "Sure."

"And it's okay that we're going Friday and not Sunday?"

"I think so. You're kind of giving me an early Mother's day, almost a second day to celebrate."

"Then maybe we can do this every year."

"Really?"

"Yeah, this way you always get two Mother's days."

Rachel fought back tears that threatened to cloud her vision. "I think that would be a very nice tradition to start."

/

/

"Come on, Georgia, work with me." Eric got down on the floor and sat in front of the baby. "What should we make mama for breakfast: pancakes, waffles, or French toast? Or she does love omelets. And don't even try to say that you can't work a spatula yet. You were trying to crawl at four months and mastered it by five. You figured out standing a few weeks ago, but since then…nothing! No reason you can't try cooking. You're almost nine months old, young lady. You are starting to slack off a little with the milestones." She let loose a string of babbles. "Oh, yeah, well give me some help here. Mama's waking up soon. We let her sleep late because it's Mother's day and she needs a break from you and your demanding ways. Honestly, Georgia, I don't know where you get it." He'd swear she just gave him the side eye, but it happened so fast. "Let's hurry up and decide." Georgia crawled over to him, grabbed onto his arm, and used it to pull herself to her feet. She was wobbly and holding on as tight as she could manage. "Now what, smart butt?" He caught her when she tumbled forward. "Whoops, you okay?" Eric held her up and looked her over. "Yeah, you're good. That was a good catch though, right? I know!

"Daddy's always going to catch you, so don't worry about that. I won't let you fall." Her next jabbers had a whiny tone to them, a sign she was getting sleepy. He looked at the clock and saw that naptime wasn't far off. "Let's go see if mama's awake, huh? Yeah, let's see if she's awake and we can give her our presents and then you can take a nap and daddy can make her breakfast. Well, at this point it will be brunch, but who cares? Mama deserves her sleep." Her tiny hands were now patting his face- another sign she was sleepy. She loved to pat his stubble when she was tired. It was weird but she'd been doing it since she was a newborn. "Come on, we can decide breakfast on our way up the stairs."

When they reached the bedroom Angela was vacating the bathroom. "Hey, you're awake. I was getting worried that you were going to sleep through your whole day."

"There are worse ways to spend a day. But thanks, I really needed that."

"You're welcome. Now get back into bed. It's present time."

"Presents? You didn't go overboard, did you," she asked as she reluctantly climbed back into bed. "Because sleep would've been enough."

"I think I went just board enough, not over or under."

"What?"

He shook his head. "Never mind. We'll do the present that has to do with Georgia first because she is getting to be Miss Cranky Pants since it's almost naptime." He went over to the dresser and took a box out of his top drawer. "I wasn't sure what to do with it so that's why it's not wrapped."

"What do you mean, 'what to do with it?'" She studied the box. "Plaster?"

"Yeah. First I was going to make a mold of Georgia's hand and foot, but then I remembered you saying how you wished you would've made a cast of your belly when you were pregnant so I thought that you'd want to have a cast made of you and Georgia. Maybe she can be holding your finger like the baby on the back of the box."

Angela turned the box over and studied the image he was referring to. The idea of having a moment with Georgia frozen in time was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes. "This is perfect. I love it. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Would you mind if I waited a little bit before using it?"

"It's your gift. You can use it whenever you want."

"I just thought it might be a great way to commemorate her first birthday."

"That sounds pretty cool to me. What do you think, Georgia?" She continued to squirm and fuss in his arms. "She agrees, she's just in diva mode right now."

"Hey, Little Miss. No crankiness today. It's mama's day. Yeah, it's mama's day. Be crabby on your own time."

"Ma-ma."

Angela froze. Did she really just hear that? Did she imagine it? "Did you hear…did she just say…did she?"

"I think she did."

"Georgia, Georgia, hi," she called out softly, smiling at her daughter as she grabbed onto her foot. "Did you say mama? Can you say mama? Mama. Say mama."

"Ma-ma. Ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma, ma-ma."

"That's my girl!" She held out her hands and the baby practically flung herself out of Eric's arms to get to her. "Oh, you did say mama." Angela held her close and rocked back and forth, not even bothering to stop her happy tears. "It's so funny. I used to think the best thing I ever heard was her first cries. Then it was her first laugh. But now…" She shook her head. "This is the best."

Eric grinned and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Man, I could give you the damn Hope Diamond and not compete with this, huh?"

"Sorry."

"That's okay. I can deal with being overshadowed by her. I'd like to say we planned it, but that would be a lie." He ran his hand along the baby's back. "Way to set the bar high, Georgia."

"I wonder if she'll say anything else." She turned the baby around so she was facing out. "Georgia, who's that?" She pointed at Eric. "Can you say dada? Da-da."

"Ma-ma."

"No, dada."

"Ma-ma."

"Sorry," Angela said, though she was not. She finally got one of Georgia's firsts. Eric had her first smile and her dad the first laugh. It was mama's turn.

"That's okay. Father's day is a month away. You've got time to plan something big."

"How big?"

"I'm thinking first steps. Ooh, no, I got it. Have her run to me while saying dada."

She laughed. "Yeah, we'll see what we can do. Right, Georgia?"

"Ma-ma."

"Okay, kid, it's going to be less special if you say it for everything." Just then Thor jumped up on the bed and moved back and forth between his humans. "Let's try a little experiment," Angela said. "Georgia, who's that? Is that Thor? Can you say Thor? Thor."

"Door."

"Seriously," Eric exclaimed. "You say Thor but not 'dada'?" He didn't know whether to laugh or be hurt.

"Eric-"

"No, she's just screwing with me now."

"She's nine months old."

"She's crafty. Look at that smirk. She knows what she's doing."

Angela scooted closer to him and laid her hand on his chest. "Georgia, who is this? It's da-da. Say da-da." The baby tilted her head to the side and appeared to be giving it some thought. "Da-da," Angela whispered again. "You can do it. Da-da."

"Door."

Eric pouted. "Now you're just rubbing it in."

"Ma-ma."

"Smart ass."

"Eric!"

"Running to me and saying da-da by Father's day," he reminded her. It was difficult to not take this personally.

She nodded. "I'll do my best."


Georgia saying mama was inspired by a friend's kid, who also said mama and the cats' names the same day but wouldn't say dada until later. It drove my friend's husband nuts, too, lol.