SP's ANs: Alexis Maille Hauser, Riley Conrad Hauser, and Caitlin Shana Hauser belong to Storm O. References made to her fics, "Sense of Duty" and "My Last Name", are done with her permission.
Storm O, I don't think I can thank you enough for allowing me to use your characters and refer to your wonderful fics, without which, this story would probably not exist, at least not in this form. Also, thank you for beta-reading this for me!
The twins, AJ and Macayle Hauser, are mine. I wanted Duke and Scarlett to have a set of twins, since I wasn't blessed with them myself.
The following takes place roughly 21 years after Conrad's proposal in "Journey through Life".
Outside, the sky was colored in shades of gray, ranging from very dark to almost white. It had been raining steadily all day as forecasted. Conrad and Shana decided the family would skip church that Sunday morning so that they could spend the day with Alexis, who would be driving back to her college dormitory later that evening. After lunch was finished, Shana and Alexis loaded the dishwasher, both staring quietly out the big window over the sink, watching the rain.
"Hmm. It's quiet in there," Conrad muttered softly as he went to find out what two of his four favorite ladies were up to. Silently, he snuck up behind his wife and wrapped his arms around her waist. In the process, he lifted Shana off the ground and spun her around. He planted a long, passionate kiss on her lips before placing her feet firmly back on the floor.
"Uhem... I see some things never change," Alexis moaned, staring back out the window at the dreary, gray outdoors.
"Would you rather that we yell at each other?" Shana replied sarcastically and kissed Conrad again just to irritate their firstborn.
A couple of blurred streaks ran right past the three of them. "See what happens when you do stuff like that," Alexis said, referring to AJ and Macayle, the seven-year-old miracle twins, named after their paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother, respectively. Concerned about Shana's age and the complications she faced while delivering Caitlin, her doctor strongly suggested that she abort the pregnancy. Shana and Conrad adamantly refused to do that and Shana ended up switching doctors. After a few suggestions by friends and family and several hours of research, she found a wonderful obstetrician, who specialized in older aged, high-risk pregnancies.
Riley, the seventeen-year-old high school senior, peeked his head around the corner and asked, "What's all the commotion in here?" Standing next to him with her hands on her hips was Caitlin, their fifteen-year-old.
"It's nothing," Alexis grumbled. "Mom and Dad were at it again."
"That does it! Mom, Dad, I'm bringing something home from school for you to see. The nurse says she will answer any questions about the film's content," Caitlin said.
"Aren't you two getting a bit old for that mushy stuff, anyways?" Riley laughed.
"Hush for a moment everyone," Shana said in her concerned motherly voice.
Conrad raised his brow and asked, "What's wrong, love? All's quiet except this room."
"That's exactly it, dear. The twins are being too quiet. Someone needs to check on them," Shana answered, making her way back to the family room. Conrad and their older children followed closely behind her.
The group stopped before entering the room. "Aaah, aren't they sweet?" Riley broke the silence, right before he and Alexis ran up to their baby sister and brother, who were lying peacefully on the floor watching TV. Riley and Alexis each picked up one of the twins and started tickling them.
"Ri, Exi, stop, please," AJ and Macayle begged through their laughter. When AJ was just learning how to speak, he could not say "Riley" and "Alexis" and simply called them "Ri" and "Exi". By the time AJ learned the correct pronunciations, the nicknames had already stuck and were used mainly by family and close friends.
Conrad and Shana stood back and watched all five of their children interact. "Aren't you glad I convinced you to take a chance to go out with me back then?" Conrad whispered seductively in his wife's ear.
"You convinced me..." Shana started to retort but was interrupted when a set of very familiar lips pressed against hers.
"Don't you two ever stop?" Riley sighed, resurrecting the conversation that they had in the kitchen moments earlier.
"Yeah, there's already five of us kids, and I think Cat's still hurt that she's not the baby anymore," Alexis added, leering at her parents, who were still embraced tightly in each other's arms.
"Mom, Dad, you do realize that after Riley moves out this August, I'll be the only one around to babysit, and I refuse to do it all the time. I have a social life," Caitlin said immediately after her older sister's comment.
Riley put his arm over Caitlin's shoulder in a brotherly attempt to comfort her, saying, "We thought they'd stop after you, brat, but who would want more children after having AJ and Macayle? Anyways, they've gotta be way too old to have another baby now."
Conrad and Shana looked into each other's blue eyes, then at their children, back at each other, and laughed. Speaking into his wife's ear in a voice loud enough for Alexis, Riley, and Caitlin to hear, Conrad said seductively, "You know, now that they mention it. Exi is out of the house, and Ri will soon be out also... which means we'll have plenty of room in the van for another child." Placing a hand on Shana's stomach and gently rubbing it in a circular motion, he continued, "So, what do you think, Hon?"
Shana slapped her husband's hand. "Don't even think about it. Don't you remember our conversation when we found out I was pregnant with the twins? I was 40 back then, and you were 51. I seem to recall you griping about having to work way past retirement age to support them, and you're talking about starting over with a new baby now!"
Conrad gave her his best puppy dog face. Shana added, "You've got to take more lessons from the kids. That look ain't gonna get you anywhere. Besides, I'm getting tired of having to drive a van. When Ri leaves, that will just leave Cat and the twins, and Cat will be getting her driver license next month." Shana wrapped her arms around Conrad's neck and said suggestively, "It would be nice to have a little sportscar or two again, don't you think, dear? Admit it, Conrad, you miss your Mustang."
Conrad flashed a small grin at his wife, which showed her that she nailed it right on the head. He responded by giving her another kiss.
"Ok... Ok... Stop already," Alexis whined, disgustedly.
"Parents," Riley huffed as he plopped down on a pillow and watched television with AJ and Macayle. After watching one and a half hours of the seven-hour Spongebob Squarepants marathon, Riley confiscated the remote from Macayle. "If I hear 'Who lives in a pineapple under the sea' one more time, I'll go bananas." As he flipped through the channels, he griped, "There's nothing good on TV anymore."
"Why don't you kids put in a movie?" Conrad suggested as he and Shana sat down on the couch and cuddled next to each other.
Riley started going through the titles of their DVDs, commenting out loud on each one, "boring, no blood and guts, hated it, just saw it, chick flick, nah,... Hey dad, where's our good 'men' movies at?"
"Your mother and sisters have been 'spring cleaning'. They've probably moved them to the bottom back corner. Hopefully, they didn't sell them on Ebay," Conrad answered, grunting as he felt a sharp jab to his side.
"Dad! Don't give them any ideas. It's bad enough we're outnumbered. We don't need to be forced into watching their mushy chick flicks all the time. I swear if I have to sit through Titanic or Armageddon one more time, I'm moving out even sooner and I'm taking little AJ here with me." Riley grabbed his baby brother and tossed him in the air and laughed, "I'm not letting you girls corrupt this poor guy. Dad, if you don't control them, AJ's gonna have issues."
Shana glared at her oldest son and then at her husband. Conrad responded, "Now son, first of all, you will not swear in this house. Secondly, I know better than to go against the wishes of a woman who has been through childbirth four times, with and without an epidural. And thirdly, you grew up with all these women, and you turned out just fine." He paused for a moment before adding, "Or is there something you need to tell us, son?"
All eyes focused on Riley who, shocked that his father would say such a thing, yelled out, "Dad?"
"Mom, what's this?" Caitlin asked, holding up an unmarked videotape.
"Put it in Cat and let's see," Shana answered. "I thought we labeled everything, dear."
Conrad shrugged his shoulders. "I thought so too. Unless you became lazy while I was away protecting our country." Conrad gasped as Shana threw another quick, sharp jab to his side. Immediately, Conrad grabbed his wife's sides just under her rib cage. He tickled her until she couldn't take it any longer and was pleading with him to stop, tears streaming down both of her cheeks. Suddenly, they both stopped their horsing-around and became silent when they realized what was on the tape.
Shana gasped, "That was recorded?"
"Yes," Conrad stated matter-of-factly, thinking she should have known.
A cold shiver ran down Shana's spine as Josh Groban's "My Confession" played through the surround sound speakers. "I haven't heard that song in ages," she said as she reflected on the events of the day Conrad proposed to her.
Hawk had sent her on a series of 'missions' that day, most of which didn't make any sense. She had caught herself wondering if their beloved leader had finally went insane as a result of the years he spent dealing with a large, dysfunctional family known as the GI Joe team. Shana recalled having to personally hand-deliver 'paperwork' to several high-ranking officers stationed in the Pentagon, none of whom were where she was told they would be. She was also ordered not to return to base until she had completed all of her tasks, regardless of how long it took or what the circumstances were.
Shana let out a small chuckle when the last 'mission' popped into her mind. She had thought Hawk had seen one too many late night showings of MASH reruns. She was given a clerk's name at a small store in the mall where she was supposed to pick up a dress. "What the hell does Hawk need with a new dress? Heck, I don't want to know. What the general does on his own time is his own business," Shana remembered thinking as she was cursing the clerk for not having the dress ready. Shana covered her mouth with her right hand, realizing she never called the sales clerk back to apologize. She intended to do that after she found out the poor creature was merely a pawn in Hawk's plan to keep her off base that day.
"Hey, you guys were pretty good looking back then," Alexis said sincerely then added playfully, "In shape and no white hairs!"
Conrad glared at his firstborn and growled, "I'm still in shape."
"Shhh... Daddy's 'big' speech about how much I mean to him is coming up," Shana laughed, hugging the man whom she had been happily married to for the past twenty years.
Conrad, fighting to break away from her embrace, said loudly and forcibly, "Give me the remote, Ri!" Conrad did not want his kids finding out about his temporary speech problem or more appropriately, his lack of speech. They would never, ever let him live it down. It was bad enough his former teammates still joked about their fearless leader's sudden lack of words; he didn't need to hear it from his own flesh and blood. Conrad had kept this little secret from his children all these years. Why should they be enlightened now?
"Why?" Riley asked, waving the remote in the air, wanting to see how far he could push his father on this particular issue. "Is this one of those do as I say and not as I did moments?"
"Don't worry about the why. Just do as your told, if you treasure your freedom," Conrad warned, trying to appear as serious as he could. He knew his older son was testing his limits.
Riley hid the remote between his stomach and the floor. "Get it if you can," he teased. Pretty soon, Riley and his dad were in an all out wrestling match. The prize was control over the remote.
In the midst of the fighting, Alexis crawled up on the couch next to her mom. "Ma, what's the big deal?" She asked.
Shana grinned her famous evil grin. "Exi, bring me the other remote from on top of the TV." Alexis went to the television as requested and picked up the other remote. Having halfway raised three children before having the twins, Conrad and Shana learned it was necessary to keep at least two or three universal remotes around at all times. Remotes had a funny way of mysteriously vanishing and reappearing. Shana claimed they not only had the dreaded sock gremlin stalking their home, but an entire family of monsters: the remote imp, the battery vampire, the silverware clepto, and the keeper of the keys.
After sitting back down on the couch, Alexis rewound the tape and turned up the TV's volume. Conrad stopped wrestling with Riley and sat up. He never noticed the lyrics that were playing right before he asked Shana to marry him. Seeing how it all worked out made him appreciate, for the first time, his sudden lack of speech that afternoon.
"Shana, I... I... uh" Conrad started. A lengthy, anticipating pause followed with only the song playing in the background. In a barely audible voice, Conrad finished, "Marry me?".
Tears streamed down Shana's face as she held out her hand for Conrad to place the ring on. After placing the diamond ring on her finger, Conrad stood up and kissed his fiancée.
"What type of proposal was that?" Riley asked, laughing at his father. "I'm so disappointed in you, Dad. I thought you always knew what to say."
"In case you didn't notice, the entire base was in on it; and, your mother, who had a knack for knowing everything we did, and still does, had no clue," Conrad pointed out.
"Well, in that case, you could have had someone help you write a speech," Riley replied, clutching his side from the pain of his laughter.
Without thinking, Conrad blurted, "I did ask someone to help me write a speech. I told her how I felt about your mother and our relationship, and that damn writer couldn't come up with anything I liked. I wasn't about to wait any longer than I already had to propose to your mother, so I had to wing it. Then when I saw your mother all dressed up that afternoon, my voicebox decided to go on strike."
"Ahem... What writer?" Shana glared at her husband.
Without missing a beat, Conrad answered, "Uh... The same one who helped write my wedding speech... and yours too, I believe."
No! He couldn't have known that I had help with that. Shana tried to convince herself.
"Dad, I want the church to look like that for my wedding," Alexis sighed as she watched the video of her parent's wedding.
Conrad sulked and wondered how their parents afforded such an elaborate wedding. "Why are you thinking about a wedding when you're not even dating anyone?" He asked.
"Aren't you glad I'm giving you plenty of time to prepare financially?" Alexis responded without missing a beat.
Shana giggled when she noticed the love-smitten expressions exchanged by Wayne and Hector as Courtney walked down the aisle. "Aha, so that's what you meant when you told me that I should have seen them at the church. Guess I picked the right man for her."
"Don't you mean 'picked the right lady' for Wayne? Who'd have thought our Wayne would put up with anyone for this long and of his own free will," Conrad laughed. "Or for that matter, that Courtney would put up with Wayne's crap this long."
Alexis cut in, "I've heard several of the others say the same thing about you two." She covered her mouth and whispered, "Oops..."
"Who?" Conrad asked, bluntly.
"Uh... others," Alexis responded, not wanting to divulge any names. "Hey, I didn't know Uncle Sneeden and Uncle Delgado fought at your wedding," she said, trying to change the subject.
"They didn't. You're going to have to try better than that. Shana, didn't these kids inherit anything besides their good looks from us?" Conrad looked sternly at his daughter, "Names, now!"
Shana, seeing that this would get out of hand if she didn't step in, offered, "You should know: Brad, Hector, Wayne, Brian, Lance. Shall I go on? They all said we wouldn't make it. Twenty years and five children later, I'd say they were wrong."
"That they were, love," Conrad said as he pushed his daughter out of the way so he could sit next to his wife. "Wanna try for twenty more?"
"Think you'll survive that long. You are what... more than a decade older than me," Shana smirked and took off running. Conrad chased after her all over the house with a mischievous grin plastered on his face.
Caitlin joined in the ruckus by yelling, "Mom, Dad, didn't you tell us not to run in the house just a few hours ago?"
"A fine example you're setting for your children," Riley yelled at his parents as they ran by. His comment was met with laughs from both of his parents. "Hey, dad, who's the chick?"
"Chick! Where are your manners, son?" Conrad reprimanded as he ran down the stairs. "Oh, you mean Aunt Courtney."
"That's Auntie Sneeden!" Riley's draw dropped. "She was gorgeous. I'm mean she's still gorgeous, but man, she was hot back then."
"Scoot over, pig," Alexis said as she shoved Riley's legs off the loveseat.
"Yeah, scoot over, pigs," Caitlin echoed as she jumped on the loveseat and sandwiched herself between her older brother and sister.
Conrad and Shana lay down on the floor next to the twins, who, for a change, were the best behaved members of the Hauser family that day. Conrad choked back his tears as he watched Hector and Polly seat his mother next to his stepfather. God rest their souls, he prayed silently.
Shana's composure changed immediately when she saw her father escorting her down the aisle. The O'Hara patriarch had passed away peacefully a few months earlier at the age of eighty-nine, and Shana was still having trouble dealing with it. Not wanting her children to see her upset, Shana got up and ran upstairs to their bedroom.
"Exi, Ri, watch the kids," Conrad stated and headed upstairs after her; his concern for his wife was very apparent. The three older children looked at their father, wondering about their mother. They knew their mother took their grandfather's death hard, much harder than anyone else, even their uncles. Conrad looked back and assured his children, "She'll be ok."
Conrad opened the door and walked into their bedroom. He found Shana lying on the bed, face down, drenched in tears. Conrad moved her waist-length hair off to the side and caressed her back, sitting down on the bed next to her. "Hon, you ok?" He asked softly, "Miss him?"
Shana sobbed, "Yeah... miss him... the kids?"
"They're fine. Alexis and Riley are watching the younger ones. I'm sorry... I didn't realize he'd..." Conrad tried to console his wife. It was our wedding, of course, he would have been there, he cursed himself silently. He stayed at Shana's side, placing soft, gentle kisses on her forehead until she cried herself to sleep.
Meanwhile, back downstairs, the Hauser children continued to watch their parent's wedding video. Riley saw the sadness displayed on his sisters' faces and asked, "You okay?"
Caitlin nodded her head as to say yes, while Alexis explained, "Yeah. It's just that I miss Grandpa O'Hara. I also miss Grandma and Grandpa Falcone."
"I miss them also," Riley replied and then asked, "Should we turn this off?"
"Nah, let's keep watching," Caitlin said, clutching the pillow nearest her.
"Remember Polly, Sis?" Riley asked, in an attempt to change the mood.
"Yeah, Uncle Hector was always either threatening her or chasing her around," Alexis laughed.
The three older kids gasped almost simultaneously, "Mom's beautiful."
"I wonder if she still has that dress," Alexis thought aloud.
"Me too!" Caitlin echoed and said mockingly, "I'd look better in it than you. Anyways, you don't even have a boyfriend."
"Girls! Keep it quiet, would you? Dad's up there with Mom, and you know he'll be majorly upset if he has to come down to straighten you two out," Riley warned.
"Hey, check out Macayle and AJ," Caitlin said, pointing at the twins lying on the floor.
"Some entertainment we are. We've put them to sleep," Alexis said as she got up off the couch and walked over to them. "Should we leave them here or put them in bed?"
Riley smiled at his baby brother and sister, "Let's leave them there. They look so peaceful."
"Only in their sleep, Bro... only in their sleep." Alexis shook her head, and they both giggled. She left and returned with an armful of pillows and blankets. "Didn't Mom and Dad teach you any manners, Ri? Give a lady a hand, would ya?"
Riley and Caitlin rushed to grab some of the items from Alexis, and together, they tucked in the twins and then finished watching the video.
"That was good. Now what?" Caitlin asked. It was still dreary outside, and she didn't want the boredom they faced earlier that morning to return.
Alexis, wanting to do something to help her mother, said, "Let's go start dinner."
"Dang women's work," Riley growled as the two girls dragged him into the kitchen.
"Just be glad we don't put you in an apron and fuzzy pink houseshoes like we did Dad," Caitlin laughed.
After waiting until he was convinced that Shana was sleeping soundly, Conrad went downstairs to check on the kids. His face glowed when he found AJ and Macayle sleeping on the family room floor, covered in blankets. Conrad heard noises coming from the direction of their kitchen. Better go make sure they're not killing each other, he thought. Conrad breathed a sigh of relief and smiled as he peered around the corner and saw Alexis, Riley, and Caitlin fixing dinner. Whoever said teenagers are a pain in the rear must not have had them? He grinned, almost allowing a lone tear to leave his eye.