THEY'RE GREAT KIDS

Twenty minutes later the CATs pulled up in the O'Neill front yard. Sam heard the roar of the engines and tried her best not to show how anxious she was.

"Good ride?" she asked, as father and son walked in the front door, stomping their feet on the doormat to remove some of the snow.

"Yeah, Mom," Jake answered. "Dad's a little out of practice, but yeah, good ride."

Jack playfully swatted his wise cracking son upside the head, smirking as he did so.

Sam smiled with more than a little relief that the two were back and apparently on good terms.

"I'll get those keys, Dad. Be down in a minute," Jake said.

As Jake hightailed it upstairs to his room, Sam shot Jack a puzzled look.

"What keys?" she asked.

"His car keys," he answered simply. "They're mine for the next month."

"Really?"

"Really, Sam," he replied as he stripped off his soaked snow gear. "I'm not too old to remember my own youthful indiscretions, but one thing Jake has to learn is to never drink or smoke any of that stuff when he's driving. I may or may not be able to convince him to stay away from it completely, but if being without the car for awhile helps impress the driving lesson, it'll be one of the better things I've done as a father."

"I'm so glad you're back!" Jon called unexpectedly, running down the stairs. "I'm starving. Mom said we couldn't even start dinner until you two were home."

"You're always starving, Jon," Jack quipped, ruffling his younger son's hair. "Must be a sign you're ready to put on a few more inches and shoot past that brother of yours."

"That'll be the day!" the younger boy said wistfully, discouraged by what he considered his short, five-foot, four-inch stature. The fact that his parents kept assuring him he'd hit a growth spurt soon had never been very reassuring.

"Where's Beth?" Jack inquired, missing his quieter, intuitive nine-year-old daughter.

Sam looked a bit surprised by Jack's question, quick realization dawning. "You know, I've been so busy with the work they e-mailed from the SGC, I haven't even noticed Beth for the past couple of hours." With that statement, Sam thought once more how easy it was to lose track of her naturally introverted little girl. She was so different from her older siblings; Sam needed to remind herself everyday that Beth needed her attention as much as the other children who loudly clamored for it on a regular basis.

"She's upstairs pouting, Mom," Jon interrupted her thoughts. "She's been in there since Dad and Jake took the CATS out."

"Pouting?" Jack asked.

"Yeah, you know, what artist types do when no one's paying attention to them," Jon clarified. Jon had long ago realized that Beth was temperamentally more subdued and sensitive than her siblings. In his own mind, he'd taken on the role of his little sister's protector and advocate. But even he could only take so much of the infamous pout.

"So you think your sister's an artist, do you?" Sam asked

"She paints really well, Mom," Jon answered, a tone of pride in his voice. "As for drawing, she's drawing all the time. If I were doing it, it would be doodling, but she's drawing. You should see the sketches she'd been doing lately."

Jack and Sam knew their youngest was fascinated by paints and watercolors and spent a great deal of time alone in her room after her homework was completed, usually sketching. Actually, they were starting to get a bit concerned. They'd gotten her an easel and a good set of paints, but they had to admit, everything had been so busy the past few weeks, a quiet, self-directed daughter was the least of their worries. It had been awhile since they'd seriously examined her art work or, probably, given her some of the attention she craved. Well that would have to change.

With that, Jake bounded down the stairs, sadly but willingly surrendering the car keys into his father's waiting hand. With a barely perceptible nod, Jack motioned both the boys towards the kitchen where he hoped they'd help Grace start some dinner.

"You and I, Mrs. O'Neill," he said, "we need to see what Beth's been up to these days."

All was quiet upstairs as Jack and Sam approached the darkened upstairs hallway. The sun had gone down about twenty minutes earlier just after Jake and his father had returned from their excursion. Apparently, Beth hadn't turned any lights on upstairs, even in her bedroom.

Knocking gently at the door, now posted with the ubiquitous middle school slogan, "Keep Out, Private", Sam called softly, "Beth, it's Mom and Dad; we'd like to talk with you". A moment later Beth opened the door, not pouting but smiling widely.

"Hi," she greeted them, walking back into the room and directing her gaze to the completed canvas now bathed in gentle moonlight.

It was stunning. Hard to believe the gentle winter wonderland that graced the easel had been painted by a young child. With light graceful strokes, Beth had depicted the awesome winter landscape silhouetted against a crystal clear blue sky. And now as the moon shown upon it, Jack and Sam understood why their youngest was mesmerized by her own work.

Beth turned slowly to take in her parents' reactions to her work and she was not disappointed. Jack's arm was around Sam's shoulder and there were those familiar silly looking tears in her mother's eyes.

"Those are happy tears, aren't they, Mom?" Beth queried.

"Of course, sweetheart," Sam said, "very happy." Sam went over to the budding artist and wrapped her arms around the little girl. "I am so proud of you. It's amazing."

Jack was at a loss for words. It had been quite a day. And now to find out his baby girl had such an amazing talent.

"Beautiful, Beth; it's beautiful, honey, and so are you," he said, kissing the little girl gently on her forehead.

Beth beamed. The youngest of four talented siblings, she'd struggled in her own mind to find a place for herself in this fairly extraordinary family. Maybe it wouldn't be so hard after all.

OoOoOo

Once her work had been appreciated, Beth had easily been coaxed downstairs for supper. She'd brought with her a sketchbook filled with drawings she'd completed over the past few weeks. Once dinner was finished and clean-up was complete, everyone was treated to the debut of her sketches, portraying some fairly insightful glimpses of friends and family members.

"Dad," Grace said, shortly after everyone had congratulated Beth on her work, "it's almost time for 'The Andersons'. It's been awhile since we all watched the show together. I'll make some popcorn, okay?"

"Good idea, Grace. You do that," Jack replied, turning to Sam with a smile. "The Andersons" had premiered shortly after the cancellation of "the Simpsons", Jack's favorite show of all time, three sad seasons ago. "See snowstorms are good for something," he added. "Got us to spend a day together and now I get to watch my favorite show with my favorite people."

Sam gave him that look of utter adoration she still saved only for him, the one that made him willing to do absolutely anything she asked. And the request was hardly difficult; she simply wanted to cuddle while the kids were otherwise occupied.

In fact, he was so preoccupied with fulfilling his wife's simple request, Jack never heard the kids reenter the living room with hot popcorn and drinks. Instead, he heard the sound of his middle child's embarrassed disapproval.

"Yuk! Mom, Dad, not in front of your kids!" Jon berated them, much to the amusement of his older siblings.

His parents ended their relatively chaste kiss and turned to their smiling, giggling quartet.

"What?" Jack asked.

"It's nothing, Dad. I've got the mushiest parents on the face of the earth, that's all," Jon quipped.

"Yeah, but you haven't seen parents on P3X-299. Trust me, this is nothing!" his father came back at him.

"Very funny, Dad," Jake supplied, never one to miss his dad's humor.

With that everyone was rescued from further embarrassment as the musical theme of "The Andersons" began. It had been a long day and as they watched the comic exploits of the newest fictional cartoon family, the O'Neills were grateful once more for the very real family of which they were a part.

The years would come and go; youth would give way to adulthood, yet the abiding care and concern with which this family held each other would abide. And in the years of transition from childhood to maturity, when everything was changing, inside of them and in their world, Beth, Jon, Jake and Grace would be strengthened and supported by family bonds and memories of days like this.

The End.


A/N: Thanks once more for reading and reviewing. All of your feedback and suggestions have been most appreciated.

One disclaimer: this piece tells the story of how I'd hope parents could guide children, albeit in a somewhat idealized situation. And I admit I don't have any first hand experience. The closest I've come is with my two beautiful nieces, now young adults. My sister frequently teases me and I agree with her, that I got the best part of the bargain. I get to be the adoring aunt, while she does most of the hard work! I am in awe of parents who manage to do it all, my sister included.

Perfect Light, the final piece of the Alone series, will hopefully start soon, taking us several years into the family's future.