Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever. ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Mike Logan was nervous as he wiped the steam off the mirror in the main bathroom at the Goren's Ozone Park home. He'd finished shaving and was half dressed. After combing his hair, he pulled on his shirt, deciding to ditch the tie. This was Carolyn they were having dinner with, not the Queen of England.
He walked down the upstairs hall to Tommy's bedroom. Alex told him he could keep some clothes in the extra dresser in Tommy's room, and they'd set up a twin-sized bed for him beside the window, opposite the little boy's toddler bed. Although Harry's room was a little bigger, the timid child would never sleep with Mike in the room. Tom, on the other hand, adored him, and he often found the little boy curled up with him in the bed when he woke in the morning. His presence in Tom's room only helped solidify the idea in the little guy's head that Uncle Mike was his.
He ended up in Tom's room because Alex got tired of seeing him on the couch, and Bobby refused to make him leave. They argued about it and, hearing part of the argument, he felt bad about causing any trouble between them, so he decided to find another place to crash. It was a difficult decision because Carolyn could make things difficult for him regarding visitation. While he was staying with Bobby and Alex, she had no argument. But he'd figure something out. It wasn't worth causing a problem between Bobby and his wife.
When he brought the matter up to Bobby, he was surprised to find it had been worked out. Bobby had a contractor friend who offered to put on an addition over the garage for cost, and they took him up on the offer. Alex wanted a guest room anyway, and the addition would add two rooms to the upstairs. One of those rooms, Bobby told him, was his for as long as he needed, or wanted, it. Mike had done the only honorable thing: he insisted on helping to pay for it. Bobby assured him that he'd planned to add the extra rooms anyway, though he'd wanted it to be a surprise for his wife, not a bargaining chip to end an argument.
Mike had tried talking things over with Carolyn a few weeks earlier, but the discussion fell apart when Sean started getting fussy. Carolyn left without resolving anything. Mike was willing to give it one more try. He honestly cared about Carolyn and he loved his son. If they could work through their problems, he was all for it.
He had been trying to get Sean for visitation for weeks, but Carolyn stubbornly insisted he "come home" to see his son, refusing to allow him to take Sean anywhere without her. It was getting very old. Tonight, though, they were going to have it out once and for all. The children—all of them—were going to stay with Reggie and Aaron for the evening, and Bobby and Alex would referee, if necessary.
Carolyn had never left Sean alone with anyone before, not even with him—not for an entire evening, and part of him resented her for trusting Alex's sister with their son more than she trusted him. Another part of him, though, hoped it was a sign that she wanted to work things out. At the end of the evening, he had a feeling he would either be going back to the apartment he'd called home for the last decade or he would be moving his things out.
He went downstairs, surprised by how quiet it was. Bobby was on the couch, alone. "Where are the troops?" Mike asked.
"Outside playing with Zeus. Alex is getting Molly dressed."
"She really has fun dressing up that kid."
Bobby nodded. "Things were so chaotic for her when Maggie was a baby, she didn't really have as much of a chance to enjoy everything that's supposed to come with having a baby girl. She blames us because Maggie can be such a tomboy, and she wants Molly to be more of a girly-girl."
"Humpf," Mike grunted as he sat beside Bobby. "Do you see that happening?"
Bobby shrugged. "Honestly? I see Molly being able to take any kid in the neighborhood, whether she's wearing a dress or not."
Mike nodded. "Me, too. That kid is more like her mother than any of 'em. She's gonna come home with more black eyes than both of her brothers combined." He was quiet for a moment, then he said, "Thanks for doing this for me, Bobby."
"Coming along to referee. Alex is on Carolyn's side, I'm sure, and I really don't feel like being ganged up on."
Bobby smiled. "Don't be so sure about Alex. She's furious with Carolyn for what she's been doing, and even more angry that Carolyn won't listen to her."
That revelation caught Mike by surprise. "Really? She's not blaming this all on me?"
"Why would she? You haven't done anything wrong. This isn't a war between the sexes, Mike. Carolyn is not being fair to you. Sean is your son, too. Alex gives you a lot of credit for being willing to try to work it out and not tossing in the towel."
"Does she really think I'd give up on my son?"
"I didn't get too deep in the conversation with her. It was enough for me that she saw your side of it. But I don't think she ever thought you would give up on Sean. I think she's impressed that you aren't giving up on your relationship with Carolyn."
Mike sighed heavily. "I've done everything I could think to do to make her happy, and it hasn't worked. She's been seeing a therapist for two months now, and it hasn't done any good. She still won't let Sean out of her sight. I want to know how you managed to get her to agree to let Sean stay with Reggie for an entire evening when she doesn't like to leave him alone in the next room with me."
"That was Alex's doing. I have no idea how she did it."
"You didn't ask?"
Bobby grinned. "She won't tell me, and I let it go. I'm learning."
Mike laughed. "It's about time."
They both turned as Alex came into the room with Molly. Bobby's face lit up as she placed the baby in his lap and gave him a kiss. She looked at Mike with a critical eye. "No tie?"
"Why? She's seen me in less."
Alex rolled her eyes, then looked at her husband. "Talk to him. I'm going to take the kids over to Reggie's and then I'll be back to pick you up."
Bobby bounced the baby lightly on his knee and watched Alex open the back door to call the children inside. "Tell Daddy and Uncle Mike goodbye and get in the car," she said.
Maggie and Tom ran across the room into arms that were always ready for them. Harry scrambled along behind them until he realized where they were going and he skidded to an abrupt halt. After a few seconds of hesitation, he continued forward more sedately.
Bobby knew not to push the boy to exceed his comfort level. He was coming along. His therapist was excited with his progress. Bobby was more reserved, but he continued to offer consistent affection without being overbearing, and Harry was beginning to respond to him.
The boy had already overcome his uncertainty with Alex, but his experience with his mother had been mostly positive. The negative experiences of his life revolved almost exclusively around men, and he kept Bobby and Mike at arms' length. His hesitation was decreasing, though, and his fear was almost gone. Mostly, he called Bobby 'sir,' but sometimes, at the end of the day, he got caught up in the excitement of the other children and called him 'Daddy.' Bobby never made a big deal of it. He took things in stride and continued to treat Harry the same way he did the other children. Harry felt like a member of the family and he was slowly warming to the idea of having a father who loved him.
Maggie climbed up onto her father's lap beside Molly as Tommy launched himself at Mike. Pushing herself up to reach her father's cheek, Maggie kissed him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Always, Bobby felt infinitely better receiving any form of affection from his oldest child, the one to whom he had the closest bond.
In imitation of her big sister, eight-month-old Molly grabbed Bobby's shirt and pulled herself up to place a wet, open-mouthed baby kiss on his other cheek. Bobby kissed both daughters. As Alex took Molly from his lap, she gently ran her fingers around his ear. He smiled and placed a hand on her hip.
Maggie smiled at the gesture of affection that passed between her parents, leaning up once more to whisper in his ear, "I love you, Daddy."
He patted her back gently. "I love you, too, mouse," he answered.
She climbed down and trotted over to Mike, hugging him and kissing his cheek, too. Uncle Mike had always been special to her simply because he was so close to her father. He had always been a vital part of her life, well-loved and cherished.
"C'mon, Zeus," she called to the shepherd puppy who had jumped up onto the couch between the two men.
The puppy clumsily launched himself off the couch, scrambling after her. They had been inseparable all summer long. Tommy bounced across the couch to his father, hugging his neck. "Bye, dada!"
"Have fun, buddy," Bobby answered, kissing his son's cheek.
Tom scrambled down to the floor and ran after his sister. Harry stayed on the far side of the coffee table for a minute before he approached the two men. Stopping near Bobby's knee, he raised his hand and stretched up to touch his cheek.
Bobby smiled at the timid boy. "Before you go, Harry," he said gently. "I have a question for you."
Harry looked at him with interest. Whenever Bobby had something to say just to him, it was special and sometimes wonderful. He waited patiently. Bobby held out his hand, waiting until Harry placed his small hand on his palm. "What day is today?" Bobby asked.
Harry thought for a moment. "Sattaday," he answered. "Tomorrow is church with Grampa."
Bobby nodded. "That's right. Do you know what today's date is?"
Harry scrunched his face in concentration before he shook his head. A brief flash of fear hit Harry's eyes for not knowing the answer, and his hand trembled just a little against Bobby's palm, but he didn't pull away. "That's okay," Bobby reassured him. "How about the month?"
Another moment of thinking and Harry's face brightened. "Augus!"
"Very good, Harry." Bobby smiled at the pride on the little boy's face when he praised him for knowing the answer. "Today is the third," Bobby informed him. "Next Saturday is the tenth. Do you know what that is?"
Harry shook his head again, a little less unsure about not knowing the answer. Maggie's daddy had never once struck him, so maybe it really was okay that he didn't know the answers. He still thought of the big man as Maggie's daddy, although he had come to fully accept that Maggie's mommy was his new mommy, so he called her Mommy, too.
Bobby slowly closed his fingers around Harry's hand, holding it loosely so that Harry could pull away if he wanted to. He didn't. "August tenth is your birthday, and we're going to have a party for you, just like we did for Maggie when it was her birthday."
Harry's eyes widened. "Really?"
"With cake, too?"
"Of course. Uncle Mike has a special job to find you the best birthday cake."
Harry looked at Mike, who nodded and winked at him. "The best one," he affirmed.
Harry looked thoughtful for a moment, then, hesitantly, he asked, "And a present?"
Bobby nodded. "Maybe even more than one."
Harry couldn't imagine it. He had an idea of what a birthday was from Maggie's celebration, but he could not fathom such a thing for himself. Just for him. Softly, he whispered, "Maybe I can get a ball, so we can play kick outside in the backyard?"
The little guy seemed to be afraid he was asking for too much. Bobby smiled at him. "I think maybe we can manage that. We might even find a green one."
Harry's face lit up. From the front door, Alex called, "Harry? Come on. We have to get going."
Harry slid his hand from Bobby's, hesitated, then gave him an awkward hug. Quickly, he scrambled away, uncertain of the reaction he would receive for the unsolicited gesture.
"Nice job," Mike said softly as the front door banged closed. "For having such a fuck-up for a father, you turned out pretty damn well."
"So have you. Now go put on a tie."
When Mike opened his mouth to argue, Bobby shook his head. "It will go better for both of us if you just do it."
With a sigh, he conceded defeat. "Why do we let her rule our lives like she does?"
"Because giving in to her is a much better alternative and you know it."
Mike got up and started for the stairs, grumbling, "Just once, I'd really like to call her on it."
"Well, give me a heads' up when you decide to do it," Bobby replied. "I'll make arrangements to be somewhere else that night. But I promise I'll be at the funeral."
"I appreciate the back up."
"If it were anyone else, man, I'd be there, but I have to sleep with her."
Mike stopped on the stairs. "Good point. You're a braver man than I am."
"Not braver. Just smarter."
Bobby laughed and went into the kitchen. He poured himself a drink and leaned against the counter. His bad knee had begun to ache again, and he chose to self-medicate rather than risk being taken off the job again. If Alex knew, which he was fairly certain she did, she didn't say anything. She was a smart woman, but more than that, she loved him. Of that, he had no doubt, and he was a lucky man because of her.