Chapter 11

From my place cooking at the stove, I heard the doorbell ring. I glanced down at my pot of boiling substance, worriedly. "Brady! Get the door!" I screamed.

Moments later, a thin nine year old shuffled into the kitchen. "Mom," Brady grumbled, shooting me a glare. I couldn't help but stare at my son. When had he gotten so old? Where had my little ball of energy gone? "Do I have to?"

I leaned forward and swiped a navy blue hat off the boy's head, revealing some unruly, deep brown hair. "Go open that door, kid," I replied, after smacking him lightly with the hat and placing it back on its head.

"Oh, alright," Brady mumbled. He headed off in the direction of the door. I heard the door open and Brady let out an excited, "Hey!"

We were having a Superbowl party and everyone was coming over. It'd been a while since the whole gang was all together in one place.

"Hey, man!" a voice replied. I smiled thinking of how a few years ago the same voice would've said something like, 'Yo, homes.'

Brady re-entered the kitchen followed by Patton who had his arm wrapped around the shoulders of a tall, red-head. Yeah, it had finally happened after years of Kuki's pressuring. Fanny Fulbright was Fanny Drilovsky. Of course, this didn't happen without Patton dropping the whole 'gangsta' thing and getting a job or without Fanny being...well, nicer.

Fanny shook herself out of Patton's grasp and she walked over to my spot at the stove. "Need any help?" she asked.

At that moment, Hoagie came briskly walking into the kitchen. Patton put up his hand for a high-five, but my husband walked past him without a glance on the way to his target. Brady. Once he was standing in front of Brady, he held up a slim, black cord. Hoagie was wearing his best menacing glare (which didn't hold a candle to mine). Brady stared up at his father blankly.

"Your Playstation stuff is everywhere!" Hoagie explained, waving the cord around in the air. "So until you figure out where it belongs, I will be holding on to this!"

Brady's blank stare soon turned into one of exasperation. "Dad. If I want to play it, it's gonna have to be out."

Hoagie shook his head. "We're having a party. Go clean it." He turned around and started to leave the room, but he turned back to face us as if he had suddenly remembered something. "And, have either of you seen Cece?"

I spun around from the stove at the mention of my three-year-old daughter's name.

"I'm gonna go pick up my stuff now," Brady said, trying to make a hasty exit.

I grabbed the dark-haired boy by the back of his shirt. "What did you do, fool?" I asked him as he struggled against my grasp.

"OK, OK, I told her we were playing hide 'n seek and she was the hider!" Brady admitted. He smiled and he obviously wasn't at all upset about tricking his baby sister.

Patton snorted, but I silenced him with glare. "Go find her and then pick up all the game crap or your butt is seriously grounded," I warned.

Brady made an ashamed, shuffling exit to find his little sister as the doorbell rang again. I opened the door to find Nigel and his wife, Rachel. Rachel was the newest addition to our little 'family' of sorts. Nigel had met her about four years ago and she was exactly what our anal-retentive friend needed. The blonde fit in seamlessly with our tight knit group and it often felt like she had always been around.

I welcomed the two of them in with hugs and Nigel shot Rachel a nervous glance. "Do you want to sit? I think you should sit for a moment." His hands reached towards his wife's round belly.

Rachel slapped his hands away and placed hers on his shoulders. "I'm fine," she told him playfully. "Maybe you should go sit for a minute."

I smiled at the couple before remembering that Cece was missing. "OK, there's salsa and chips on the table. Abby will be right back," I called to them as I walked off to look for her.

I ended up finding her under bed. "C'mere, girl," I soothed. I pulled her into my arms as she cried.

"Brady is mean," Cece mumbled into my shoulder.

I nodded. "He is, isn't he? Mama thinks you should go give him a piece of your mind." I placed the curly-haired preschooler on the ground and she took off in search of her "mean" older brother.

I left the room slowly after her. Soon, I heard a loud squeal of "NIGEL!" Obviously she had gotten sidetracked from her little mission. It was kind of humorous how much Ash, Cece, and Ryan had all loved Nigel when they were little. I mean, he's a tall, bald guy.

When I finally got back to the dining room, Cece was being the little charmer she was. My daughter was situated on Nigel lap, both of her tiny palms pressed against Rachel's bump. I crossed my arms and leaned against the wall. Seconds later, Cece let out a string of giggles and a thrilled smile over took her face. "I felt it!"

Fanny sat to Rachel's other side; her vivid green eyes taking in the scene with something that might have been jealousy. She glanced over at Patton who was talking to Hoagie and ran her fingers through his hair. Patton turned and smiled at his wife, fitting his fingers between hers.

The doorbell rang yet again. "I'll get it!" Brady yelled. I heard his footsteps pound as he jogged towards the door.

The Spanish man who had been at the door followed my son into the dining room. Clutching onto Ace's hand was a little boy, around two years old, whose thumb was stuck in his mouth. As hard to believe as it may be, our friend Ace, the 'lady's man', had gotten married and had Kyle. And then, our group was thrown the hardest curveball yet. Ace's wife had breast cancer. Ace was still nowhere near recovered from her death and Kyle was very shy. He rarely spoke to anyone but Ace.

"Hey, man," Hoagie said getting up from the table to greet his friend.

Rachel turned around in her chair and smoothed Kyle's hair. "Hey, buddy," she murmured.

All of us girls were worried about Kyle growing up without a mother. We made sure not to be too in his face because he wasn't really used to having women around, but we hoped that he would be able to come to us for things later in life. Kuki and I felt especially strong about this because we were mothers. I could tell Rachel was going to be a great mom; she was naturally so maternal and caring.

"Hey, ma, can I go get my airsoft gun?" Brady asked after everyone was done greeting Ace and Kyle.

"Sure, whatever," I replied. I hadn't really been listening to the question because I was thinking about dinner.

A few minutes later, Cece came into the kitchen crying. "What's up?" I asked, lifting her to sit on the counter. I hoped it wasn't her brother again.

"Brady shot me!" she sobbed. Of course, it was her brother again.

"BRADY! PUT THAT GUN AWAY NOW!" I heard Hoagie scream. Brady was apparently in one of his 'trouble causing' moods today.

Hoagie entered the kitchen in a huff. He turned on the sink and ran a wet cloth over his arm. "He got me with a metal one. Who the hell bought him metal ones?"

I shrugged. "Abby don't know," I replied. "BRADY! GET IN HERE!"

"Um…no?" Brady replied from the other room. He was probably watching pre-game stuff with Patton and Nigel.

"Um…too bad?" Hoagie mocked. I slapped his arm lightly.

"I'll come over there then," I warned.

"OK." It didn't really sound like Brady was very worried about being punished. It was like he didn't get punished, he definitely did. I think he got the carefree attitude from Hoagie.

Hoagie ran out of the kitchen. "Guess who it sucks to be right now?" He said as he carried a kicking and screaming Brady over his shoulder into the kitchen. "Brady Pennywhistle Gilligan!" Hoagie answered his own question as he placed our son on the ground.

I leaned over onto my knees to meet Brady's gaze. "If you hit one more person with that gun, especially your sister, Mama is gonna send that thing straight to the junkyard," I told him.

Brady nodded reluctantly. "I promise," he mumbled.

The doorbell rang. "Will someone get that already?" Fanny screamed.

"We must not have heard it," Hoagie said as he went to let the last of our guests in. He opened the door to two identical blondes, a petite Asian, two dark haired little girls, and a baby. Otherwise known as the Beatles family.

"Hey mate! I'm pumped for some football, I'll tell you that!" Wally said patting Hoagie on the shoulder and smiling.

"Abby!" Kuki squealed, running over and wrapping me in a huge hug.

I smiled and returned the hug. "I saw you yesterday, girl," I reminded her.

"I know," Kuki replied, "but ever since we moved I feel so far away from you."

When Zak, the youngest of the Beatles clan, was born, Wally and Kuki had moved into a bigger house. It wasn't very far from ours, but we were no longer next door neighbors. "Abby," Ash asked, "where's Brady?"

"Causing trouble somewhere," I replied. "Go talk some sense into that boy."

Ash took off, followed by Ryan who said something about, "feeling Rachel's baby." Kuki smiled after her. "They are totally getting married you know," she giggled.

"They're nine and eight, Kuki. Abby don't wanna think about that for a while."

Kuki and I walked into the kitchen to finally finish dinner. Wally had taken Zak and gone off with Hoagie to watch the start of the game. Joey had gone too. Joey was seventeen and would be starting college the next fall. It was hard to believe the blonde teen was the same tiny kid that had slept on a futon in a crowded apartment only nine years ago.

It was hard to believe that any of us were the same people we had been nine years ago. We weren't really. We had all grown so much in such profound ways. Looking back, I saw how naïve we all were. Patton with his drinking, Hoagie and I with our visions of a perfect life, Kuki with her thoughts that she wouldn't be a good mother, Ace with his sleeping around. After all we had been through, it was apparent to me that we ended up so much better because of it. We could face anything life had to throw at us.

I walked out of the kitchen and into the family room, finding every single member of my 'family' present. Squished onto a few too small couches, just like the old days. There was Fanny cursing at the refs as Patton clutched a beer in the hand around her neck. There was Nigel doting over Rachel as she rolled her eyes. There was Ash poking Brady's side and giggling. There was Wally and Hoagie staring intently at the screen; Wally barely noticing Zak on his lap. There was Ace with his arms wrapped protectively around his little son. There was Joey grinning like I'd never seen him grin before. There was Ryan playing patiently on the floor with Cece. And of course, there was Kuki giggling next to me about who-knows-what.

"Food's ready," I smiled.

And the first people up were five men who I predicted would forever come to me for food.

There are some things I hoped would never change.

A/N: I'm not as sentimental about ending this story as I was about "Older" but it is kind of sad. I feel like this is a much better ending than if I had ended it with the last chapter because it brings everyone together again. Kind of full circle I guess. Anyway, if you want to still tell me your favorite part, go right ahead :D And, I'd also like to point out, I fainlly managed to sneak Rachel in there.