Some weeks later, Lenny and Kylie took Kendall for a swim through the reef that ended at the Billboard that said, "Welcome to Clearwater Reef! Where fish and sharks reside together in perfect harmony." It was longer than their usual swim and typically they never stopped at one place, but there was a reason why they had to stop. They knew today would be the day Lino and Kathleen would be arriving and they wanted to welcome them to their new home. The family stood there patiently staring at the horizon. Kendall, like most three-year-olds, had grown bored and didn't exactly know what was going on, so he let his wondering eye keep him entertained while he held Kylie's fin.
Lenny, though aware that Lino was not coming with an army, was still nervous. He was about to see his father for the first time in seven years and the last time he saw him they had gotten into the mother of all fights. Reconciliation didn't sound like the easiest thing in the world right now. Lino wasn't the most emotional shark, and that only made this situation seem more difficult. But Lenny knew they both had to learn to embrace each other.
Kylie glanced at him and saw how nervous he was. She got his attention by tapping him on the fin and smiled to assure him everything would be fine. Lenny couldn't help but wonder why it seemed so easy for her to be anxious. She would be meeting Lino for the first time and he (Lenny) had been raised by Lino. Then again, it made sense because Kylie was always eager to meet new people.
Pretty soon, Lenny let his own wondering eye get the best of him. He looked up at the large billboard and read the message written on it. Part of him hoped Lino would see it and not have a hard time adapting to his new vegetarian surroundings. The other part was reminded of the first time Lenny had seen that billboard and how much his life had changed since that day. He smiled at the memories. That was also the first day he'd met his wife and the first day he'd become an employee in the lost and found organization. To think the first time he saw that billboard he was a lonely, wandering outcast. And now here he was: a husband, father, co-president, and only twenty-six. In retrospect, being kicked out was the best thing that ever happened to him.
"Lenny," Kylie said, tapping him again. "Look."
Lenny returned his gaze to the horizon and saw two figures approaching them about a quarter mile away. Both appeared to be sharks and both were carrying suitcases. And one of them was a heck of a lot bigger than the other one. Lenny and Kylie didn't need a close look to know that the big shark was Lino and the other was Kathleen. Lenny nervously pressed his lips together as his parents came closer.
"Go on," Kylie said to him.
"Go on what?" Lenny asked.
"Go on and make up with your father, silly."
Lenny still wasn't sure about the idea. "But I don't know what to say to him."
"Then don't say anything," Kylie said with a smile. "Just hug him and let him know you forgive him. Let your heart do the talking."
Lenny nodded slowly and said, "Okay." He took a deep breath and swam off towards his approaching parents.
Kylie watched him, hoping he wouldn't blow his big chance. She looked down at Kendall, who was still a little confused about what was going on, and said, "Wish Daddy luck, Kendall. He's gonna need it."
Lenny nervously kept his eyes on Lino until he stopped a few feet in front of his parents. He hadn't been able to see it when he was standing with Kylie but up close he could tell that Lino was nervous to see him too. For several seconds they only stared blankly at each other to see how much they'd both changed since they last spoken. Lenny was rather surprised that Lino hadn't changed much. His face hadn't aged a lot, even though he was no sixty, and he still had the same powerful physique.
It must've been about twenty seconds when Kathleen put her fin on Lino's back and said, "Go on."
Lino inhaled deeply and sluggishly approached his long lost son. He reached his fin out onto Lenny's shoulder. "Lenny?"
Lenny winced and said, "Hi, Pop."
The last time he said that, Lino nearly bit his head off for dressing like a dolphin in front of his peers. This time he'd said it with the same amount of nerves but in a less miserable tone. That was all he could say at the moment. The two remained silent and motionless for about another minute. They seemed to be waiting for each other to make the first move… whatever that first move was.
At last, Lino's lower lip began to shake. "Lenny," he repeated in a shaky voice.
That was the final straw. Lenny couldn't hold it back anymore. In that one moment, all the fear and distain he once had for Lino was replaced by all the love a son could ever have for his father. He let out a small sniff and tears began flowing from his eyes like there was no tomorrow. "Dad!" He threw his fins tightly around Lino's neck and wept hysterically on his shoulder.
Lino dropped his suitcase to the ground and held his son as close to him as he could. "It's alright," he said gently. "Papa's here. Papa's gotcha."
After a few moments they pulled away just by a few inches.
"I thought I'd never see your face again," said Lino.
Lenny shut his eyes as he felt his father kiss him on the forehead. They embraced each other again; this time Lenny had his fins around Lino's toned belly. "Please don't let me go again," Lenny pleaded.
"I promise I won't," Lino replied. "I thought about you and your brother, may he rest in peace, everyday and about what I'd give to have you both back in my life."
"And all this time I thought you hated me," Lenny admitted.
"I didn't mean a word of that stuff I said," said Lino. "I was upset, and confused, and… I never thought about the consequences. I had to learn this the hard way, but there's not a thing about you that I'd change. You're my boy, nothing will ever change that."
"Really. I've been waiting all these years to tell you that. Now I finally get a second chance and Lord knows I don't deserve it."
Lenny remembered what Kylie had told him only weeks ago when he was reluctant to give Lino a second chance. "Everyone deserves a second chance," he said in a comforting tone.
He felt so bittersweet at the moment. He felt safe and warm in his father's strong fins but the pain his chest that had begun during his meeting with Kathleen remained there. He realized now that what he was feeling truly was guilt. For so long he thought Lino was nothing more than a ruthless, power-hungry bad guy. But now it was clear to him that Kylie had been right. Lino only appeared harsh and rough around the edges, but inside of him was a big, loving heart. After all, all the seemingly terrible things he'd done in the past, he'd done to protect his loved ones. Maybe, Lenny thought, the real bad guy was himself, for thinking such horrible things about his father and for practically rejoicing when a rumor started that he was dead. Lino truly had loved him all these years and the last thing he'd felt in return was love. Perhaps this was a scenario where the old saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder" had proven true. Lenny's absence had made Lino's heart grow fonder. Now they'd been reunited and both hearts were mending.
"I love you, Papa," Lenny said as he let his tears fall onto his father's shoulder.
"I love you too, Son," Lino replied. "Don't ever doubt that."
"I never will."
After a few minutes, Lenny had officially cried himself dry. Either that or it finally occurred to him that seeing his dad for the first time in years was no time for sorrow. Whichever it was, both sharks were endlessly happy as they held each other.
The joyful moment was suddenly interrupted when Lenny felt someone very small tugging on his fin. Lenny and Lino looked down at the intruder. It turned out to be Kendall, who was probably curious about the strange shark his dad was hugging. Lenny picked him up and prepared to make the introduction he once vowed never to make. But he wasn't introducing his innocent son to the killer who disowned him, he was introducing him to his grandfather.
Lenny smiled at his son and said, "Kendall, this is your grandpa."
Lino rubbed Kendall's head as if he was ruffling a human child's hair. "Hey there, little fella."
Kendall, go fig, was a little shy and slow to respond. Thankfully his dad was there to help him come out of his shell.
"Can you say hi to Grandpa?" Lenny encouraged.
Kendall smiled at Lino and said, "Hi, Grandpa."
Kylie was a few feet away chuckling at the sight. In her head, she was remembering Lenny screaming to her that he'd never introduce Kendall to Lino and now here he was doing just that. And to her, that spelled out funny.
"Good lookin' kid," Lino said to Lenny as he examined Kendall. "Looks just like you did at his age."
"I've heard," said Lenny.
"Just not the eyes," Lino pointed out.
"Yeah, those he got from his mom."
Lino held his fins out. "Let me see him."
Lenny carefully held Kendall out and Lino took him in his fins. The proud grandfather and curious grandson took just a moment to look over each other. Kendall, who was starting to feel less shy, reached his fin out to Lino's face and rubbed his snout. Lino chuckled at the guesture and nuzzled Kendall affectionately, causing him to smile at the attention. It was safe to say that they loved each other already.
Kylie swam up to Lenny, who was partially distracted by the adorable sight, and quietly said, "And I thought you said you had nothing in common."
Lenny gave her a confused look. "What do you mean?"
"It looks to me like he loves kids as much as you do," Kylie replied.
Lenny looked back at Lino, who had placed Kendall on his shoulder and was now tickling him under the chin.
"Maybe you're right," Lenny said with a smile.
"Maybe?" Kylie repeated.
Lenny sighed. "Okay, you are right. You've been right this whole time. I'll give you your props."
Kylie smiled. "Now that I can see him up close, I can finally see where you get your good looks from," she said to Lenny.
Lenny blushed. "Guess that makes two things we have in common, huh?"
"Two in a row, you're on fire," Kylie teased.
Lenny smiled at her and then turned his attention back to Lino, who was still playing with Kendall. "Pop?"
Lino looked at him.
Lenny put his fin on Kylie's back and said, "This is Kylie."
Kylie approached her father-in-law with a smile on her face.
"So you're the lucky gal, eh?" Lino asked, reaching his fins out onto Kylie's shoulders.
"I couldn't wait to meet you," said Kylie.
"I hope that boy of mine's been treatin' you right," said Lino.
Kylie nodded. "Rest assured, he's a perfect husband."
"Good," said Lino. "A lass as fair as yourself only deserves the best."
Kylie kissed him on the cheek and said, "I had a feeling I'd like you."
The kiss had left Lino both speechless and smiling in a goofy fashion, which Kathleen noticed. "Hey, have you forgotten you're married?" she teased Lino.
"Yeah, so are you," Lenny said to Kylie.
Kylie scoffed. "Well forgive me for liking him a lot more than you thought I would."
"Yeah, take it easy, Son," said Lino throwing his fin around Lenny's shoulders. "I'd never try to steal her from you."
Lenny smiled and placed his fin on his father's back.
"Okay then," said Kylie. "Let's get you both settled in your new home and tonight Lino can meet my family."
Lino picked up his suitcase, being careful not to let Kendall slip off his shoulder, and said, "Sounds good to me."
As the group made their way back to the ship, Lenny said to Kylie, "Maybe we should wait about a week or two for my dad to meet your family."
"Why?" Lino asked. "Don't ya think I wanna meet my in-laws?"
"It's a joke," said Kylie. "He thinks my family's weird but it only seems that way because it's a kinda big family."
"Yeah?" said Lino. "How big we talkin'?"
"Me, Mom, Dad, and six sisters," Kylie replied.
"Six?" Lino scoffed. "That's nothin'."
Kylie's jaw dropped. "You are the first person who's ever said that."
"Well get this, my old man had eleven brothers," Lino explained. "All born on the same day."
Kylie looked dumbstruck. "Uh, how is that even possible?"
"I dunno, but you can bet their ma's picture was on the front page," Lino joked.
"Family reunions were pretty confusing when I was a kid," Lenny said to Kylie. "My brother and I would think we were saying hi to our grandpa and then he'd say, 'what's the matter with ya, Sonnies? Don't ya recognize your great uncle Alan?'"
"And you had to hope that you didn't accidentally say hi to my uncle Reggie," Lino continued. "'Cause then he'd start rambling about when he was a teenager and no girlfriend he ever had could tell him and his brothers apart."
"He never married," said Lenny.
"Wow," Kendall said to Lino. "You must know a lot of stories, Grandpa."
Lino laughed. "How'd ya like to hear one about your ol' man?"
Lenny didn't like the sound of that. "No! No, I don't think he does. I'm not listening, la la la, not listening."
"Ah c'mon, Kiddo," Lino teased. "Ya don't want me to let the little guy down, do ya? Besides, I'm pretty sure Kylie wants to hear it too."
"You bet I do," Kylie interrupted. "We've been married four years and he never talks about his childhood. Please, Lenny?" she asked with puppy dog eyes that she knew Lenny couldn't refuse.
Lenny rolled his eyes. "Okay, Pop. Go ahead."
Lino chuckled at his son's humor. "So this one time when Lenny was seven and his brother, Frankie, was twelve…"
The rest of the story is too embarrassing so here's where we'll end the chapter.