One Year Later

On a polished table made of red wood sat two birthday cakes. One was large, made to feed fifteen of the eighteen people who sat around the table. Thirty-two carefully placed candles glowed around its perimeter. The other cake was rather small, obviously made for one or two, and it had no candles, only a 1 stamped on with light blue frosting.

A collection of voices sang. Some high, some low, some "cha-cha-cha"-ing, some exactly on key, some way out of tune. "Happy birthday dear Raine and Nigel." The small flames of the candles bounced off Nigel's glasses. He grinned embarrassedly at his friends and family. The bald man had never figured out what exactly one was supposed to do with himself while this song was being sung. In a high chair at his side, a baby with tan skin and dark ringlets giggled and clapped her hands.

When the song was finished, Nigel puffed out his cheeks and blew out the 32 candles. He pulled Rachel close to his side and kissed the top of her golden-haired head. She laughed, pleased with how the night had panned out (so much better than last year). The smile that had inhabited her face the whole night only grew larger. Raine, too, became visibly happier as the smaller cake was placed before her. Such a thing was tradition, Hoagie had convinced Abby.

"How old are you, Dad?" asked a quiet, yet undeniably present, voice from Nigel's side. The man glanced down at his towheaded son. The desire to praise Palmer after every spoken word still lingered sometimes.

Nigel smiled as he remembered the look on Rachel's face and the fact that their son's speech had in turn rendered his wife speechless the first time. It hadn't been the specialists that did it. Palmer had been alone downstairs one day and he needed help. That was all it took. A full-fledged sentence left his mouth. Palmer came from a family with talkative parents and a highly talkative big sister. The little boy had never truly needed to speak until that moment.

"32, Palm," Nigel replied, ruffling his son's hair.

Taking a glance around the full table, he realized that most everyone's attention had been diverted from the cake. Olivia, Augie, and Emi were being oddly secretive again. Their three heads, one golden, one deep brown, and one ebony, bent together as they whispered. Kaida and Violet sat on the outskirts, pouting. They obviously had not been invited to the strange little powwow.

Patton sat at the farthest end of the table from Nigel, making funny faces at a red haired baby. The baby was small against his large arms as he fed her from a bottle. Fanny stood next to him, looking slightly peeved, but surprisingly she did not open her usually large mouth to tell her husband exactly what was bothering her. This little girl, who had her mother's hair and possibly temper, but her father's eyes, was named Kate. And she excelled at bringing out the best in both her parents.

Meanwhile, the 1 year old who shared a birthday with Nigel was covering herself in a layer of cake. Hoagie looked at Raine with a look of amusement and a laugh ready on his lips. Abby, on the other hand, looked uncomfortable. She wanted so badly to sweep the baby into her arms and give her a good bath. But she couldn't. It's a rite of passage, Hoagie had insisted. What type of rite happens before you can remember anyway?

The young Asian woman stood a ways away from the table, singing a song to the 7 month old in her arms. The words left her lips readily as she jostled the baby. "Kooks, let me take Syd. Have some cake." The Australian man stuck out his arms for the child.

"Syd-NEY, Wallabee. I will not let you murder another name!" Kuki cried, handing over the restless boy to his father. Quickly, like an expert, she grabbed Max off the table. The almost two year old, who had been dangerously close to a knife, only needed about half a minute to get himself into some sort of trouble.

"That's old," Palmer stated, breaking his father's reverie.

Rachel let out another string of beautiful sounding giggles. "No," Nigel corrected, "just older."

A/N: And that is that. This fic is officially completa, chicas y chicos! I never would've dreamed of hitting over 50 reviews. You are all amazing! And the sequel will be here as soon as I find out how to start it...hehe. Anyway, your little preview is that the name of the sequel is "Wild".