Jeff looked up from the book he was reading as the sounds of laughter filled the air. He was lounging comfortably in his backyard, enjoying the company of his boys as they played a questionably friendly game of volleyball. Despite the walking cast on Alan's foot, the Alan was managing to hold his own on his team against Virgil and John.

Since being rescued from Biggs, Alan had been unusually clingy, unwilling to be apart from any of his brothers for very long. Biggs hadn't done anything more than lock Alan up and break his leg, but it had been enough to haunt the boy. He spent every waking moment in the company of at least one brother, and was watched fiercely during slumber each night by a now protective Gordon.

Jeff smiled as Alan set the ball up for Scott to spike. Alan hadn't been the only one guilty of clinging to his brothers. Each of his brothers, too, were nearing the point of smothering Alan, and Jeff was wondering how much longer it would be before Alan's natural exuberance began to fight against them.

"What are you doing, john, wake up!" Virgil yelled at his teammate. "We're getting beaten by a stiff, a wimp, and a gimp!"

"Wonder which one's which," Gordon joked.

"Well, if you would quit grandstanding like some sort of Olympic volleyball champ or something, we'd actually score some points!" John shot back.

"Me grandstand?" Virgil echoed in disbelief. "I'm actually hitting the ball! Even Alan scored more points this game, and he hasn't even moved from his spot!"

"Are we going to play, or do we have to listen to you too bicker like little old ladies?" Gordon demanded.

"Shut up, Gordon!" John and Virgil barked simultaneously.

Jeff set his book down and stood. Crossing over to the net, he popped the ball out of John's hand, earning five quizzical stares in the process.

"I think a little back-up is in order," he stated.

"You're going to play?" Alan asked, his voice half-
filled with disbelief.

"No fair!" Gordon cried. "You'll beat us!"

"All right, then," Jeff said. "You, me, and Alan against Scott, John, and Virgil. Sound fair?"

"Oh yeah," Scott said, grinning in anticipation.

"Bring it on," Virgil added.

"You guys are going down," John chimed in.

Jeff popped the ball into the air and hit a perfect serve directly in the middle of his older sons. All three, anxious to defeat their father, dove for it at the same time. Heads and hands collided, and the boys lay on the ground in a heap, the ball rolling on the ground nearby. Alan and Gordon burst into laughter.

"We'll see about that," Jeff replied to John's comment.

The sound of laughter filled the backyard once more.

The End