Disclaimer: I don't own anything here (except for Al and TJ) and am just doing this for fun and to pass the long months until Season 4.

Fourth of July Weekend, 2037

Tim walked out on the front porch, leaned his shotgun against the corner railing and stretched his shoulder. The thunderstorm that had recently blown through had cleared the air but the accompanying low pressure aggravated his old football injury. He picked up the Irish wolfhound puppy that was dancing around his feet and settled into a comfortable wicker rocking chair.

The night air was still warm and Tim smiled, enjoying the sounds of crickets and katydids. He had recently decided that the front porch was his favorite place in the house and, quite possibly, in the entire the world. Nicky, Cody, Billy and he had built the porch a few years ago and there was no denying the satisfaction involved in creating exactly what you wanted.

The screen door squeaked open and Tino, Al's brindle Great Dane, lumbered out of the house and over to the space next to Tim's chair. The dog snuffled at Tim's hand before sinking onto the floor with a contented sigh. Al followed Tino out, pausing to make sure the screen door closed properly. Tim looked at his wife, her riot of blonde curls blowing in the breeze. She was wearing blue shorts and a yellow tank top, the thin strap sliding down her arm.

"How's it going, Mr. Riggins?" she asked, smiling at him as she walked over.

"Pretty damn good, now that you're here, Mrs. Riggins," he reached for her hand and pulled her close. She kissed the top of his head and then picked up his puppy, gently deposited him on a nearby chair and sat down in Tim's lap.

Tim opened his mouth to complain about his displaced dog when Al put a finger on his lips. "Play the long game here, Timmy. Who's going to be with you for the next 24 years?"

Tim grinned and gave her a quick kiss. "My wife is always right."

"Thank you. And happy anniversary."

"Is it past midnight already?" he asked, confused.

"No, it's still only about nine, but I wanted to say it anyway." She put her head on his shoulder and her hand on his chest. He could smell her coconut shampoo and a faint hint of her soap, which always reminded him of a rainy spring day.

"So, are you going to stay with me for another 24 years?" he asked with a smile, lightly rubbing her thigh.

"Well, the first 24 have been pretty good so I guess I'll stick around. How's your shoulder?" she asked, slipping her hand behind his back to gently massage it.

He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling for a moment before answering. "Bit sore, but it's starting to feel better now."

"I know you don't like to bother Donna when she's working, but you gotta let her help you lift the heavy stuff. You're not a teenager anymore," said Al.

Donna was TJ's girlfriend, a tall, dark-haired beauty from New Jersey whose worst habit was constantly cracking her chewing gum. She worked with Tim at his auto body shop, which Al had convinced him to open after the twins started school.

Tim liked the metal work, especially welding and hitting the dents out of panels, but he'd never been all that keen on the fussiness of touching up paint jobs and getting the finish exactly right. When TJ had mentioned off-handedly one night that his girlfriend was restoring an old Firebird, Tim had asked to see it and had offered her a job on the spot.

"I know," agreed Tim. "But I still hate having to ask her."

"Ask her. Or if she is really busy, call the garage and get TJ to come over. That'll get you through the summer at least." During the school year, TJ was the Automotive Arts teacher at the high school, but he picked up extra money on weekends and in the summer by working for Billy at the garage.

"I will. I promise," said Tim, pulling Al close to his chest and giving her a squeeze.

"Timmy, you had better tell me that gun is not loaded," said Al, pulling away from his chest to get a better look at the shotgun.

"Nah, it's not loaded. I just like to have it there for show. Give those guys who date our daughters something to think about."

Al laughed. "For Mindy's dates, I can actually agree with your plan. But for Maeve's boyfriend...you like Conor."

"I guess so. Or at least I like him as much as I'm ever going to like a guy who's dating my daughter. Plus, I've had plenty of time to get used to him," said Tim, referring to the fact that Maeve had started dating her boyfriend when they were both in seventh grade.

"Timmy, you have no idea what the girls do when they're away at college, so I don't know why you think you can supervise them when they come home for summer vacation."

Tim sighed. He knew his kids had to grow up and move away but he hated that his girls had gone so far away. Maeve had gotten an athletic scholarship for swimming at the University of Michigan. Mindy was at Western Oregon University, kicking for the football team and studying Fire Science, which always made Tim think of a pyromaniac in a white lab coat.

"I bet I can distract you," said Al, taking Tim's face in her hands. She put her lips on his, the kiss increasing in intensity as she moved her hands back through his hair, down his neck, across his shoulders and then down to his biceps, which she squeezed while rubbing her thumbs in small circles.

He kept his touches light and quick, never lingering too long anywhere. He brushed her hair aside and made a hot, soft trail of kisses away from her mouth, visiting all the best spots from her ear and to her neck before reaching her shoulder and collarbone. She unbuttoned his shirt and shifted in his lap so she could kiss his chest.

A sudden screech of wheels and blast of engine noise caused them to pull away from each other. Al straightened her tank top and hastily rebuttoned his shirt, then scrambled off his lap and sat in the other chair, remembering just in time to move the puppy.

The porch was dark but enough moonlight filtered in through the trees that they could see the car. Mindy got out, slammed the door and then kicked it before the car could start moving. As it pulled away, she managed to put a kick square into the tail light, shattering it easily.

"That's going to leave a dent," said Tim.

Mindy looked up, startled, then climbed the steps to the front porch. "Sorry, Daddy, I didn't realize you were sitting there."

"Want to sit down and tell us what happened?" asked Tim.

"Not much to tell, he's a jackass," she said with a shrug, flipping her hair off her shoulder. At first glance, Mindy and Maeve looked like replicas of their mother, with their short statures and blonde curls. It was only on closer examination that you could see their father in their startling green eyes and full mouths.

"He must have been a real jackass if you're home so early," said Al.

"He was, Mama, he was. We were at a party and I left to use the bathroom. When I got back, he had some girl in his lap, all nuzzling his neck and grinding against him. Then, he tries to tell me that it was an accident. That she just fell into his lap. Like the he was sitting under some sort of tree that dropped big-haired sluts instead of acorns."

Mindy's cheeks were flushed and Tim could practically see the anger radiating from her. Of their two girls, she was definitely the Collette. Her blood ran hot and furious most of the time and Tim hated arguing with her. She had a fast, smart mouth and the unnerving tendency to say hurtful things without even realizing it.

Still, Tim couldn't help but chuckle. "I coulda told ya that a boy from Arnett-Mead would be nothing but trouble."

Mindy rolled her eyes and stormed into the house, letting the screen door slam shut behind her.

"Timmy, was that really helpful?" asked Al as she stood up and deposited the puppy in his lap.

He caught her wrist and held it. "Wait a minute, you're leaving? But we were having fun."

"I have a feeling she wants to talk about it. We can have fun later," she said, putting her hands on his shoulders as she leaned down to seal the promise with a kiss.

He sighed and put his hands on top of hers, removed them from his shoulders and put a kiss on the back of each one before letting go. "Go on then....I love you."

"I love you too," she said with a wink before walking away. She held the door open for Tino and then disappeared into the house.

Tim ran his hand through his hair and exhaled slowly. "Looks like it's just you and me, Raffie."

The puppy nibbled Tim's finger, causing him to laugh. He knew Al would scold him if she could see it, but he firmly believed that the first week you had a puppy, you could let the rules go. Sort of like a grace period.

He debated getting up to grab a beer but found he was just too comfortable. Without a watch, it was easy to lose track of time, his thoughts wandering in no particular direction.

His musings were interrupted when Nicky pulled up in his car, a little red sports car that the boy had bought for nearly nothing because it had been in bad shape. Nicky and Al had fixed it up together, creating a respectable little car.

Nicky took the steps in two big bounds, gracefully landing on the porch.

"Nicky, would you be a pal and get your old dad a beer?" asked Tim.

"Only if you let me have one too."

Tim smiled. "It's fine with me, just don't let your mother see. If she asks, tell her they're both for me."

"You guys do realize that I'm going to be 21 in two months and it's not like I've never had a beer before anyway," said Nicky.

"Oh, we realize it. Your mother just feels better if she doesn't think about it, so don't do anything to make her think about it and we'll all be happy."

Nicky nodded and then went into the house. He returned moments later with two beers, the bottles immediately sweating in the warm night. He opened one and handed it to his father, then sat down in the chair.

Tim took a long pull from the bottle then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "So, you're home early."

"Yeah, Gracie has to babysit her nephews tomorrow so she wanted to make sure she's well-rested for it. Dakota and Denali could run anyone flat into the ground."

Tim heard about the boys from Coach all the time and from what he could gather, they made Hurricane Jack seem slow, Jack had calmed down a lot as he'd grown up.

But it hadn't surprised anyone when he decided to skip college and became a race car driver. Al had talked to him about it, telling him that he really didn't want to drive around in circles for the rest of his life. She wasn't trying to talk him out of his plan. She was merely steering him toward a more interesting form of racing: grand prix and Formula One.

"Did you end up going to the movies?" asked Tim, hoping to find out if the latest action-adventure sequel was worth the effort.

Nicky shook his head. "We went over to Julie and Ethan's for dinner."

"Oh," said Tim, trying to hide his grin behind this beer bottle.

He and Nicky looked at each other and said in unison "I chafe," then burst into nearly uncontrollable laughter.

"What does that even mean?" asked Tim, wiping away a tear.

"I have no idea," said Nick. "That guy is such a weenie. How the hell did Julie end up with him?"

It was a question that both Tim and Coach had asked themselves during many rounds of golf. On one hand, Coach was happy that Julie had gotten the job teaching English at Dillon Technical College, since it meant she and her boys were close by. On the other hand, Coach disliked Ethan and preferred it when they'd lived in Austin, since then he'd only had to see the guy at holidays and the occasional weekend visit.

Tim and Nicky drank their beers in companionable silence. When they were done, Nicky went into the house to grab round two. It was halfway through the second beer that Tim decided to speak.

"So....you and Gracie Belle, how's that working out?" he asked, keeping his voice casual.

Of all the improbable things Tim had seen happen in his life, his son dating Coach Taylor's daughter was the strangest. Julie had once told him that when she had started dating Matt Saracen and her mom had been freaking out about it, Coach had reassured her with the line "It's not like she's dating a serial killer or one of the Riggins boys."

But Nicky and Gracie Belle had gotten to talking at Denali's birthday party the past April. After graduating with a degree in Engineering and spending several years in the Peace Corps, she had returned to Texas to get a PhD from UT Austin. Tim didn't pretend to understand what she did and what she was studying, but she explained to him once that her dream was to invent a device that would bring clean, safe and reliable drinking water to remote villages.

"Good, Dad, really good. She's going to be my date for Amber and Noah's wedding."

Tim smiled. The long-anticipated wedding was finally drawing near. No one had doubted that they would one day get married, but Amber and Noah had taken their sweet time, preferring to wait until Noah had completed the joint PhD-MD program at Harvard.

Doctor Noah Street was happy because he'd just been informed that he had been accepted into the school's post-doc program and he could continue his research into using stem cells (Real human stem cells, Uncle Timmy, none of that shark bullshit) to treat spinal cord injuries. Amber was happy because she'd worked very hard to establish her interior design business in Boston and hadn't been looking forward to starting from scratch in a new city.

"Is Gracie spending the whole summer in Dillon?" asked Tim.

Nicky shook his head. He kept his blonde hair shorter than Tim's, but it was still longer than most guys', with bangs that flopped into his eyes and a hint of curls at the nape of his neck. "Nah, the PhD program is a year-round thing. She's back this weekend and then she'll come down for the wedding. And, you know, I'll be spending some time up there. Football camp starts in mid-August anyway."

"I'm glad you two are having fun together," said Tim, deliberately keeping his voice light.

"It's more than fun, Dad. I really like this girl. More than like her."

"I can see that, Nicky, but you know, the age difference and everything – I'd just be concerned that you're in different places in your lives."

"It's less than 10 years, only a couple more years than the age difference between you and Mom. And Mom told me that you were 19 when you met her, so it's kind of hypocritical for you to imply that I'm too young to know what I want or to be serious about a girl." Nick stated all this as calm fact. He wasn't looking for an argument, the way Mindy might have. He just wanted his father to understand what was going on.

Tim sighed. "That was a different situation. I'd just made the decision to drop out of college and come back to Dillon. Your mother had just made the decision to quit her job in Iraq and move to Dillon. See, we were both in the same places in our lives."

"So are Gracie and me. Well, kind of anyway. She's in school, I'm in school. We both have two more years to go."

"You're set on staying the full four years?" asked Tim. He rarely let himself finish that thought, the idea of what could happen next for Nicky, that he could actually play professional football. It wasn't that Tim didn't believe in Nicky and his ability. It was that he never wanted to think of his kids as anything other than normal, ordinary, regular.

The way JD McCoy's parents had treated him had creeped Tim out big-time. Even Six's parents had kind of lost their minds when the recruiters came around. Sometimes Tim wondered if Jay's accident would have been easier to accept if he'd been just a mediocre player. Getting paralyzed would always have been devastating, but there had been this sense that he'd lost so much more than his legs.

"Yeah, I think so. I don't know. I'd like to finish my degree." Nicky had inherited Tim's raw football talent and physical prowess along with his mother's work ethic and artistic skills. He was the only football player working on a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and Tim imagined he got a fair bit of ribbing for it.

"A college degree is a good thing to have."

"If Cody decides to go, then maybe I will too. It wouldn't be the same without Cody. But then what are the chances of us getting drafted to the same team?" Nicky pushed his bangs out of his eyes and looked at Tim. Cody and Nicky had played together their whole lives. They made a formidable QB and fullback pair since they were as close as brothers and could practically read each other's minds.

"Aunt Jackie called to say that Bo will be at their cook-out tomorrow, so you should ask him these questions. Who knows, he might have some insider information or something." Tim shrugged. After a successful professional football career, Bo had retired a couple of years earlier and gotten a job as the quarterback coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

"Yeah. And then, you know, there's Gracie and her future plans to consider. Her job's probably going to involve a lot of travel, maybe even living in a foreign country."

Tim looked down at his nearly empty beer bottle and started to peel off the label. "Well, you know, Gaughin did some great painting when he lived in the South Pacific."

Nicky nearly fell out of his chair from the shock of his father making that statement. "How the hell do you know about Gaughin?"

"Your mother dragged me to Boston once to see a special exhibition of his paintings that he'd done after he left France."

A ghost of a smile crossed Nicky's face. "Should have guessed Mama would have had something to do with that."

"Yes, your mother has done a fantastic job educating and civilizing me. It's been her life's work." Tim smiled.

"Dad, how long did you know Mama before you knew you wanted to marry her?"

"Three months. But I waited two years to ask her. There's no point in rushing into these things. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. Might take ten years, but even the twistiest road eventually brings you to the place you want to go."

"Wow, Dad. That's deep," said Nicky, flashing Tim a grin that reminded him of trips to the zoo and the circus.

Tim smiled and shook his head. Nicky's phone rang and he took the call, mumbled a few words and then popped the phone back in his pocket.

"That was Cody – I'm going to hang out with him for awhile. I might just stay over there tonight."

Tim nodded, trying to hide his disappointment that his son was leaving. He'd really been enjoying their talk. Ever since Nicky started college, Tim felt like they didn't get to spend nearly enough time together.

Nicky stood up and punched his father gently in the arm. "Love you, Dad."

"Love you too, Nicky," said Tim as he watched the boy trot down the stairs.

Tim leaned back in the rocker and rested his feet on the porch railing. The motion caused Raffie to become unsettled and tumble out of Tim's lap and onto his chest. The puppy looked up in surprise and confusion before making three careful circles. When he finally laid down, Raffie put his head on Tim's shoulder and curled the rest of his body into a tight circle.

Tim put his hand on the puppy, marvelling that he could nearly cover his entire body. He knew from past puppies, and his own children, that this baby phase didn't last very long and he had to enjoy it while he could. He smiled, since Raffie had been a surprise anniversary present from Al.

He knew that his present, which he'd give to her tomorrow in the form of a note inside a card, was also going to be a tremendous and welcome surprise – a three-week long vacation to Ireland in September. Billy already knew about it, since Tim'd had to check that the time off would be okay.

Tim heard the low-rumble of an engine and watched as Maeve's pickup truck came up the road and around the side of the house. He heard the soft-click of the door closing and then even footsteps on the gravel path. Instead of going up the steps, she took the ramp, which was at the side of the porch.

"Evening, Blue Gill," said Tim when she reached the top of the ramp. Maeve gave him a small smile and made to walk past him.

"Why don't you sit down and spend some time enjoyin' this lovely evening?" asked Tim, motioning to the chair next to him.

She opened her mouth, but then closed it, like she'd suddenly realized that she couldn't think of a single reason not to join her father on the porch. She sat down in another wicker rocking chair, scooting it forward so she could put her feet on the railing.

She was wearing sweatpants and a hoodie, even though Tim felt the evening was still warm. A competitive swimmer, Maeve had very low body fat and got cold quite easily. It was the reason she'd gotten her nickname, since Tim had watched her shivering through the waiting periods at her very first swim meet when she was just six years old, the cold causing her lips to take on a blue tinge.

"Work okay today?" asked Tim.

Maeve nodded. "Nice and boring. Didn't have to save anyone. Just had to yell at kids to stop running and cut out the horseplay."

Tim let the silence stretch between them as he looked up at the patch of sky he could see between the porch roof and the nearby trees. The moon had gone behind the clouds so the stars twinkled more brightly than they had earlier.

"Daddy, can I hold Raffie, please?" she asked in a small voice that reminded him of when she was very young, a time that paradoxically seemed ages ago but also felt like it was just yesterday.

"Of course you can, but you're going to have to come over here and get him because I don't think I can move right now."

She popped out of the chair quickly, came over to Tim and picked up the puppy. Back in her chair, she replaced her feet on the railing and put Raffie on her chest, giggling when he licked her face. Tim watched her absentmindedly rub the puppy's ears and had the unmistakable sense that something was troubling his daughter.

"What's on your mind, Blue Gill?" he asked, his voice soft and even, encouraging her to open up to him.

She sighed and pulled her hood up over her head, the edge of it slightly obscuring his view of her face. "I don't know....I broke up with Conor tonight."

Tim's mind went into scramble mode, trying to think of how Al or Tami Taylor would greet that news. He took a deep breath and gave it his best shot. "Wow, that's a big change for you. Want to talk about it?"

Maeve was quiet for several beats, the only sign of her potential agitation was the way her heel was bouncing on the railing. Without saying anything, she reached into her hoodie pocket and pulled out a folded up square of paper. Stretching, she held it out to Tim, who leaned forward and was able to pluck it out of her hands.

He leaned back in his seat and slowly unfolded the paper, trying to quiet his mind and not think of all the horrible things it could be. (Speeding ticket. Positive pregnancy test results. Court summons. Love letter from one of JD McCoy's sons.)

When the square was unfolded, he tipped the page in the light and squinted at it, immediately noticing that it was from the US Swimming Association. He found the right angle to get enough light on the paper to allow him to read its message: an invitation to move to their facilities in Colorado Springs and train for the upcoming national and world championship swim meets.

"Blue Gill!" he exclaimed, unable to keep the pride and excitement out of his voice. "This is fantastic news."

"I know, right?" she said, allowing herself to smile and join in her father's excitement.

"And you broke up with Conor so you could focus on this?" he asked, shaking the paper but knowing that by 'this' he meant more than just the training. He meant her long-held dream of competing in the Olympics. A dream that she'd come so close to achieving the year before.

"Three-tenths of a second," said Maeve, banging her head against the back of the chair to emphasize each word. "Three. Tenths. Of. A. Second."

She'd only missed making the 2036 Olympic Swim Team by that narrow margin. Tim knew that she'd taken it hard, but he'd hoped that the last year would have given her time to let it go, to gain a sense of perspective. Although she was committed to redoubling her efforts for next time, Tim worried that she might be too caught up on what might have been.

Tim knew how tiny little things could change someone's life. Losing a race by three-tenths of a second. Missing a touchdown by mere inches. Angling your head a few degrees in the wrong direction.

"You gotta let that go, you know that, right?"

"I know, Daddy, I know. And when I got that letter, I decided that it starts now. 2036 – gone. A bad dream. A distant memory."

"Good, I'm glad to hear it. Although, how's this going to work with school?"

"Yeah, about that," she said, fidgeting. "I've decided to dedicate my life to swimming, so breaking up with Conor was part of that. Leaving school, at least for now, is also part of that. Moving to Boulder. Training full-time. It's all part of the that."

Tim took a deep breath and let it out through puffed-out cheeks. He jammed his hands in his pocket and looked over at his little girl. "So, what part of this are you worried about?"

"What do you mean?" Maeve asked, turning to look at him , her furrowed brow cute enough to make him smile.

"You're worried you're making a mistake. I can hear it in you voice. So which part of it feels like a mistake? Dumping Conor? Dropping out of school? Deciding to focus only on a single goal for the next three years?"

She looked out over the porch rail, her hand frozen on Raffie's back. She was silent for long enough that Tim began to wonder if she was ignoring him.

"Sorry, Daddy, I'm thinking," she said, once again exhibiting her uncanny ability to nearly read his mind.

After what felt like a nearly interminable silence, she spoke. "Maybe the problem is that none of it feels like a mistake. Which is making me worry that I'm missing something and it's all one giant mistake that I'm too dumb or short-sighted to see."

Tim shook his head, looking down and chuckling softly to himself.

"Are you laughing at me?" she asked, her voice cracking once with indignation.

"This is just so like you, Moody Blue. You're not happy unless you're making things complicated."

She shrugged and Tim smiled. For looking so much like her mother, she thought and acted a lot like her father. Sensitive. Prone to living inside her own head. Wary of letting people get close. Tim was relieved and grateful that instead of seeking solace and release in the ways he had when he was a teenager, she had found it in competitive swimming.

Tim knew he wasn't supposed to have favorites and he didn't, exactly. He loved all of his children exactly the same – intensely, unconditionally, deeply. It was just that he felt an extra bond, a special connection with his youngest daughter.

"Blue Gill, look at me." He waited until she'd reluctantly turned her head and fixed her green eyes on his. "You're not even twenty years old. I know that usually when you hear that, it's because someone's going to tell you that you're too young to do something. In this case, time is on your side. Your age is your best asset."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Look, the best thing about being young is you got the rest of your life to fix what you break. You can make awful, horrible, huge mistakes and eventually undo them or make up for them. Trust me on this," he said, reflexively looking over at Jay's house.

He continued, his voice low and earnest. "I'd never tell your sister this because she acts like rules are invitations to do the exact opposite, but I know you feel better when you know where the lines are."

"I like to swim in my own lane," she said with a small smile.

"Yeah. And your sister likes to belly flop into the middle of the pool and splash around like a wild thing.

"Anyway, look, here are three rules to follow and as long as you follow them, I promise you that everything will work out in the end."

She looked at him expectantly and he felt the weight of those expectations. Tim had a moment of panic when he worried that his words wouldn't be enough, but then he shook it off and plowed on.

"The rules: Number One: Don't kill anyone. Number Two: Don't get pregnant. Number Three: Don't get a tattoo."

"It's too late for Mindy on Number Three. She has a tattoo of a wolf on her-"

Tim cut her off. "Stop! If it's some place that I can't see in the course of an ordinary day, then I damn sure don't have to hear about it."

"Sorry, Daddy, forget I said anything."

"Right, where was I – yeah, those things. Don't do those three things. Those things are unchangeable, unfixable. Everything else, any other mistake you might make, you can move on and learn from it and hopefully come out on the other side as a stronger, wiser person."

Maeve nodded, considering his advice.

"No regrets, Blue Gill."

"No regrets, Daddy," she turned to him and her smile, wide and brilliant, caused something to catch in his heart. He closed his eyes and tried to memorize the moment, to engrave it in his memory.

"There's just one thing," she said softly, causing Tim to open his eyes..

"What's that?"

She hunched her shoulders and looked at him sheepishly. "Will you break the news about school to Mama and Uncle Billy? I'm afraid they're going to be mad at me or disappointed or something."

Tim sighed. He knew he should tell her that part of growing up was learning to fight your own battles. But he could never resist that little sad face she was so good at making.

"Yes. I'll tell them tomorrow, before the picnic. What time are you training tomorrow morning?" By the time she was seven, Tim had already gotten sick of driving her to the swimming pool for practices, so they had put in a lap pool, which had more than paid for itself over the years in saved time and fees.

"Oh, Daddy. You don't have to get up. I'll be fine on my own."

"Safety first, Blue Gill. Besides, you need someone to time your sprints. And I'll have to get up early to let Raffie out anyway."

"A puppy may be a tiny creature, but it is a big responsibility. Do you understand that?" she said, hands on hips in a dead-on impression of her mother.

Tim laughed. "Nice one. Don't let your mother see you do that."

"I'm going to start swimming at 5 so I'll be done by 7."

"You have to work tomorrow?"

"Nope. I got the day off for Uncle Billy's big picnic," she said with a smile.

"Good – I gotta drive over to the airport tomorrow morning to get Tyra, Jean-Luc, and Remy. You want to come along?"

Maeve nodded. "Daddy, Remy's not like actually related to us, like by blood, is he?"

"No, but it don't matter – he's way too old for you, Bluey"

"It's not me. It's Mindy. I was trying to think of a reason to put her off and was going to try to convince her that we're cousins with him."

"Shit, just tell her that it would be great and would make everyone really happy if she got together with Remy. That should put her off."

Maeve giggled. "I don't think so, Daddy. She seemed seriously interested when they were here last Christmas."

"Are you sure she'd not just trying to wind you up?" asked Tim. Mindy's skills as a practical joker were legendary. Tim still remembered vividly how she came home from her first day at Dillon High and insisted she wanted to be a rally girl. Begged for days and drove Tim to distraction before he found out that she'd made a bet with Nicky (who'd said there was no way their father would ever agree to it) and she didn't actually want to be a rally girl at all.

"Could be, I guess. With Mindy, anything is possible." Maeve stood up and carefully placed Raffie in Tim's arms. He sat up so she could get past his chair on her way into the house. She stopped and thanked him, then leaned down and gave him a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. He messed up her hair.

"I love you, Blue Gill."

"I love you, too, Daddy," she said before she went inside.

Tim stood up, holding Raffie under his arm like a football. He picked up the shotgun, went into the garage and locked it up in the gun cabinet. Then he carried the puppy out by the boat dock. He set Raffie on the ground and watched him snuffle around.

Tim leaned against a tree, bending his knee to rest one foot up against the bark. He looked out over the dark water with its calm surface. All he'd ever wanted was here....wife, kids, extended family, solitude, comfort, love.

He knew the precious things in life could be taken from him at any moment and that knowledge and urgency gave him a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for what he had.

He'd been able to stay home, watch his kids grow up, guide them and watch over them. He knew they were approaching the point where he would have to let go, like when he'd taught them how to ride their two-wheelers. He would have to hold up his hands, step back and watch with his heart in his throat to see if they'd make it.

But he had faith. After all, he was living proof that you could mess up along the way and still manage to put things right All those experiences had made him who he was and had made his current happiness possible.

Whatever the next 24 years held, he would continue to be the best husband and father he could be. Because that's what mattered. That was his life's work and he had no regrets.



I can't believe I've finally managed to finish this story. It wasn't the story I thought I was going to write, but thanks to all your suggestions after my cry for help in Chapter 19, I think it's much better than my original intention.

Thank you for all the reviews, help and support. I would love to hear what you think of the final product, especially if I've not heard from you before. (Don't be shy – there's always private messages. :))

So, that's it. I have a hard time believing that one simple idea, two months ago has resulted in 160,000+ words and three full stories. I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them. I thought I would be relieved to be done with the story. While there's a certain satisfaction in having created a complete, whole trilogy with a definite (and, I hope, satisfying) ending, I am very sad to be leaving Al, Tim, Billy and TJ behind.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.