Jack could tell Sam's brain was working overtime as she used the garden hose on him to rid him of the jello and soap. He had hosed off all the kids while she'd bundled them up in clean, fluffy towels and sent them into the house where the others were waiting. Now it was his turn to get cleaned up. "What'cha doing?"
"You were miles away," he chuckled as she put the hose down and handed him a towel. "Something wrong?"
She shrugged, her gaze drifting to the deck where the two Roys were eating the last hotdogs and drinking Teresa's homemade iced tea. "The name is familiar but I can't place it."
"Ah," he nodded smugly. When she just glared at him he rolled his eyes in mock exasperation and relented. "The school-"
He wasn't even finished and he could see she had found the answer by the way her face lit up. "Of course! He's one of their major contributors, right? Some kind of business magnate?"
"Yeah, he's the Royston Charles who owns several businesses and real estate," Jack said. "Why else do you think Eleanor looked so shocked at seeing him?"
"I thought maybe she still wasn't over the concept of a hotdog."
"Cute," he said as she grinned and threw her arm around his waist. "Rumor has it Royston was from a well-off family but nothing too spectacular; they were merely tolerated in high society and didn't really enjoy any of the privileges. Until he fell in love with a girl from the family at the top of pyramid but of course they didn't think he was good enough. He set out to prove them wrong and within a year his family's fortune had doubled and it turned out young Royston had an eye for business. His father was a doctor… or a lawyer, I don't remember. Anyway, he had a practice and quickly got more clients as their reputation grew along with their fortune. Or patients. Whatever." Jack grimaced as he told the story. "It's all very cliché and you know how I feel about those."
Sam smiled at him and slowly dragged him towards the deck. "They were allowed to get married and lived happily ever after?"
"Not really. They were allowed to get married but he refused her family's fortune, insisting on making his own. Obviously he succeeded but they say he and his family were cursed."
"Oh come on, Jack!"
He smirked and pulled her closer. "Honestly! Well, if those nannies are to be believed anyway. But back to my story; they had twins but his wife died when the kids were ten-ish. Then his daughter got married at seventeen to her brother's best friend. She found out she was pregnant when both boys had already died. Roy was born a few months later, he eventually got married but his wife died in childbirth and he was left with baby Charlotte. He named her after his grandfather since the family name hadn't been passed on and now, here we are, about seven years later."
"You got all that from a bunch of nannies?"
"Yes… and remember General Ryan?" Jack knew she did, it was hard to forget the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Not to mention that after getting command of HWC – or Homeworld Security as it had been called at the time – and moving to DC he had been forced to play nice with the bigwigs and other idiots, which meant he had to attend all kinds of boring functions. More than once he had encountered the retired General Ryan there and so had Sam once she was reassigned as well. At the President's insistence he'd played a few games of golf with Ryan and other higher-ranking officers and even some politicians. "He's a friend of Royston Charles and was the one who recommended the school for Sage."
"Right, I remember," Sam nodded slowly. "He said he knew some people that were affiliated with the school and that it had the best reputation and education program in the area."
"Up until now I hadn't met Royston yet but I'd met Roy several times and knew they were related," he whispered, once they reached the deck.
She squeezed his hand as they ascended the steps and turned to the two Roys. "Gentlemen, shall we join the children for the opening of Sage's presents?"
"Of course, Samantha," Royston said.
Jack rolled his eyes and made his way inside, grabbing two bottles of water from the fridge and went back into the living room where Sage was already seated in front of the pile of presents. The room was crowded with all the children and adults so he leaned against the mantelpiece, where he had a good view of his daughter and waited for Sam to join him. She didn't disappoint and took one of the bottles from him as the two Roys each sat down in the only free seats, clearly a strategic move by the Vogels, he mused.
"Can I open the presents now, Daddy?" Sage asked after looking around the room.
"Yeah sure you betcha, kiddo!"
She didn't have to be told twice and grabbed the nearest yellow-wrapped box to tear the paper off. Jack could practically feel Sam wince at the ferocity of their daughter's attack and knew the effort it cost his wife not to say anything about gently peeling off the tape to keep the paper intact. Sam had always been a bit of a neat freak and the first time she'd gotten him a gift she'd looked horrified as he ripped the paper off without a second thought and tossed it over his shoulder. It was a trait Sage had inherited from him in spite of Sam's attempts at showing the girl how to carefully unwrap a present over the last seven years.
"A Barbie! Awesome!" Sage beamed, holding the box in front of her to show everyone. "Thank you!"
Jack wasn't too sure about the gold dress and weird headband the doll was wearing but maybe his experiences with Goa'uld had colored his judgments. He watched as Sage set the gift aside to grab a new present. It was always the same with birthdays and Christmases; he tore off everything as quickly as possible, Sage was even worse in that she balled up the paper none too gently and tossed it aside while Sam would take the time to slowly peel back every piece of tape and corner of paper. Sometimes he wondered if she only did it to test his patience and curiosity since he and Sage were usually the ones left at the edge of their seat as Sam would peek under the paper to see what she'd gotten and smile smugly.
"Oooh, look! It's Lego," she cried.
He wholeheartedly approved of the new Lego set, wondering when he could help her build it as he took a sip of water. To his surprise most of the kids were quiet, all seemingly enthralled by the presents Sage was unwrapping and the adults just watched fondly. Sam nudged him in the ribs when she got hold of their daughter's newest GI Joe-like action man doll and Jack had to admit there was an uncanny resemblance between the salt and pepper-haired doll in BDUs and himself from a few years ago. Then again, most of those dolls looked alike. Heck, half of Sage's male dolls had the exact same face just different outfits and gear and a few of them had actual hair on their heads.
Another male doll with brown hair joined a raven-haired and blonde Barbie, making Jack grimace at the picture forming in his mind about how he'd be probably spending much of Sage's summer vacation. He also wondered why she needed even more of these dolls to play with when she already had at least a dozen in her room. There were only so many scenarios they could play out, after all. He breathed a sigh of relief when her next gift was a baseball glove, followed by a coloring set, some paint and brushes and even a baseball bat.
It certainly looked like most of the kids' parents – or more like their nannies – had gone all out to ensure Sage got everything she'd ever wished for and Jack briefly wondered if there would be anything left she'd want for Christmas or her next birthday. There was even an RC car and plane among the presents and he secretly couldn't wait to try those out. By the looks of it neither could some of his daughter's friends. Jack wasn't sure whether he should be happy with the plastic skateboard look-a-like thing she'd gotten but he knew it had been on her wish list and that a bunch of her friends already had one.
It didn't surprise him though to see there weren't any real educational gifts since he'd bought quite a few birthday presents for Sage's classmates and friends this year too. He wasn't really worried about it, knowing Daniel, Jonas, Landry and a bunch of other folks of the SGC would make sure Sage got those kinds of things. Sam had already been looking at some science-y kid stuff too before they'd decided what to give their daughter for her birthday this year. Mitchell, Vala and Teal'c usually got some of the cool toys so there was a nice balance, even if it was slightly leaning towards the cool stuff. Most of the time he couldn't tell who had more fun in a toy store or when playing with the toys, the two aliens or his daughter. Jack couldn't really blame the hundred-and-fifty-year-old Teal'c considering the childhood Jaffa had and he figured Vala's hadn't been much different.
"Sage," Sam said. The kids had all been checking out the presents now that everything had been unwrapped but soon quieted at her voice and turned their attention to her. "I was asked to give you another present by someone."
Jack immediately recognized the look that was sent his way by his wife and dutifully went to get the package she'd placed in their home office. She had gotten it out of the car last night when Sage had been preoccupied with something else but he had no idea who had given it to her. Probably someone from the SGC but he wasn't sure who considering their old team usually weren't so mysterious about it. Once he'd retrieved the gift he went back to the living room, smiling when he saw the note. "It's from the Hayes, Sage," he called out from the corridor.
"Prez Henry?" She squealed and he could hear the sudden murmur of conversation under the adults. "Is it a pony?"
"No munchkin, it's not a pony," he said as he stepped into the living room and showed her the package.
Her shoulders sagged and she pouted. "Oh, but Prez Henry promised I could ride a pony."
"He didn't say that would be for your birthday, did he?" Jack asked, relieved when she shook her head. Henry Hayes and his wife had invited them over for dinner on several occasions when he'd still been in charge of HWC and even a few times after his retirement so they knew Sage pretty well.
"Former President Hayes?" Mrs Vogel questioned in a high-pitched voice. "You have met him?"
Royston Charles chuckled and shook his head at her. "Of course they have met the man, Eleanor. Jack and Samantha are both very high-ranking officers and were working at the Pentagon. My friend, General Michael Ryan, is a friend of them and Henry Hayes as well."
"Well, the former president must like you very much to send you a present for your birthday, Sage," William said.
"Former? Did Mommy fire him too?" She asked, frowning when all the adults started laughing. "What's funny, Daddy?"
Jack quickly walked over to her, zigzagging through the living room to avoid stepping on any of the kids, and sat down next to her on the floor. "Your mom can't fire the President, Sage. Presidents only serve for a few years, four or eight. Prez Henry's time was up so that's why he isn't the President anymore."
"But I like him, he gives me presents!"
He laughed and handed her the gift. "Well, he's still giving you presents even though he's not the president anymore so I don't think you have anything to worry about, munchkin."
"Okay," she nodded, her hands already looking for an opening in the package.
"You have to be really careful with opening it, sweetie," Sam said. "Maybe Daddy should help you. Nice and gentle."
Jack's eyebrows shot up in surprise because she had given up on such warnings a couple of years ago unless it was really necessary. Hmm, it looked like his lovely wife knew exactly what was in the box! "Sure, I'll help," he said, lending a helping hand and carefully opening the package. The actual gift was wrapped delicately in paper and rather heavy, so he held it. "Just peel back the paper," he encouraged his daughter.
"Very gentle," Sam added.
Sage's eyebrows knitted together in concentration and she was suddenly the image of her mother as she followed the instructions. "Oh," she gasped, "look Daddy!"
"Sweet!" He grinned, admiring the book. Opening it he wasn't surprised to see it was a first edition and quickly caught the knowing gaze of his wife. They shared a smile before he looked at the other expectant faces in the room and explained. "It's a first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from 1900. Sage and I collect all the Oz titles, don't we?"
"Yeah!" She bobbed her head enthusiastically. "This makes… fourteen, right Daddy?"
"It sure does. Now we have all Baum's books and only need the other twenty-six by other authors." Christ, it was an expensive gift, even for a former president! No wonder Sam had stored it in the office, where they had the other books as well to preserve them as best they could since there wasn't any direct sunlight there. No doubt she had been in cahoots with Hayes considering this was the only one by Baum he didn't have yet but he really couldn't be upset about it now that he finally had this book!
Royston cleared his throat and tapped his cane on the floor, clearly used to demanding attention from a room full of people. "I must say I think it's wonderful the two of you share such a hobby. Reading is very important, not just for everyday life but also to stimulate the imagination. I have a love of books myself and I wholeheartedly approve of the Oz stories! Children's stories and fairytales used to be much better than the modern tripe they produce or 'reinvent' these days," he muttered.
"I'm just going to put this away for now so we can move onto our present," Sam suggested, coming over and taking the book from Jack. "Why don't you all go outside in the meantime?"
"Yeah, go on," Jack urged Sage when she looked at him. "It's in the garage for safekeeping." He chuckled when all the kids dashed outside, the adults following more slowly and he sipped his water as he walked over to the sliding doors.
"You must be on very good terms with Hayes for him to gift your daughter such a collector's item," William said when he stepped onto the deck. "Not just because of the price but for him to know about your collection."
Jack shrugged, watching the children in the yard and inwardly trying to come up with a good reason to wait with cleaning up the mess until tomorrow for Sam. "Henry Hayes is a good man considering he's a politician and all. My late CO met him when they were young lieutenants and when Hayes was inaugurated they met again at the White House because of the work we did. They picked where they'd left off and became good friends," he paused, briefly thinking of George Hammond. "I was introduced to Hayes during one award ceremony or another and once Sam and I were reassigned to DC we saw even more of him."
"That sounds like you only know him on a professional level, yet he knew what kind of present to send."
"Not all the business meetings take place in the White House. Some were in more of a social setting, on the golf course, at a ceremony or dinners with our families. He sucks at golf though."
After putting the book away Sam made her way outside, smiling at the sight of her daughter and her friends lined up in the yard. It seemed they were all eager to see what her last present was going to be, or maybe they were simply too tired after all their activities and the food they'd eaten to play around. The neighbors were talking with Eleanor, Royston and his grandson in the sitting area on the deck and Jack and William were standing off to the side so she went down to the kids. When she caught her husband's eye he signaled for her to go ahead and retrieve the gift and that he'd be there in a minute.
"Okay, sweetie, you stay out here with your eyes closed while I'll get your present out of the garage, okay?" She asked Sage, who bobbed her head enthusiastically.
"Yeah sure you betcha, Mommy!" She immediately closed her eyes and dramatically covered half her face with her hands. "No peeking, see!"
Sam chuckled and opened the garage door, went inside and flipped the light switch. With a few steps she reached the present she and Jack had bought for their daughter and pulled the blanket covering it off. Squatting she looked through the chicken wire of the hutch's run and quickly spotted the white ball of fluff in the corner. "C'mere bunny," she called out, mimicking the sounds the woman who'd sold them the rabbit had made. There had been dozens of bunnies but this one had been the most curious and affectionate one of the bunch so the choice had been easily made.
It may not be the pony or puppy Sage wanted but this bunny was going to be her first pet. A bunny was pretty low maintenance in comparison. Sage was only turning seven this week so Jack and Sam had decided to start small for her, even though he'd mentioned getting a dog plenty of times. It just wasn't the right time. Maybe in a year or two, when their daughter was a bit older and could share dog-walking duties with him while she herself was keeping the SGC running. A pony was simply out of the question. But a small bunny would teach Sage a sense of responsibility and that pets weren't just there for fun but also required taking care of. Perhaps there was also a more selfish reason to it for Sam considering she had always wanted a pet – any kind – as a kid but was never allowed because they were always moving around for her Dad's career.
She smiled when the bunny hopped forward in the run, sticking its little nose through the chicken wire in curiosity. A few inches to the left there was a small door and she unhooked it to reach in and grab the bunny. It kicked its little paws for a moment while she hauled it up into the safety of her arms and cuddled it close. The small rabbit was almost three months old and had lots of hair but its body was actually pretty tiny and could just fit in the palm of her hand.
Making her way back Sam held the bunny close and carefully opened the garage door with her free hand, peeking outside to make sure Sage's eyes were still closed. Jack was standing next to her now, a big grin on his face in anticipation of their daughter's reaction to the pet no doubt. "Okay, I'm coming out. Are you ready, Sage?"
Sam couldn't suppress her own grin at the girl's eager tone of voice and the smiles and gasps from Sage's friends when they saw the little white ball of fluff in her arms as she stepped onto the grass. Within seconds she was standing in front of her daughter and sat down on her knees, to be on eye level with her. For a moment she thought about putting the bunny in Sage's arms but she wasn't sure what her reaction would be and didn't want the animal to get injured accidentally in Sage's enthusiasm so Sam held it herself. "Okay, open your eyes, sweetie."
"It's a bunny!" Sage squealed as she jumped up and down. "Look Daddy!" She cried, tugging on his arm.
"I know, munchkin," Jack said with a smile and ruffled her hair. "Do you want to hold it?"
"Can I? Can I, Mommy?"
Loosening her hold on the rabbit Sam held it on the palm of her hand. "Pet it first so you two can get used to each other," she instructed. "Gently."
"Like this?" Sage carefully laid her hand on the fluffy white fur, giggling when her hand sank through the hair until it reset on the pet's warm body.
"Just like that."
"I think she likes you," Jack said.
Sam smiled at the joy she could see on their daughter's face as she petted the bunny. "I think so too. Now, hold your hands like this so you can hold her."
"What's her name?" Sage asked as she followed the instructions and took the animal from her, holding it close to her chest.
Jack watched as she cuddled the bunny and grinned. "She's yours now so you have to name her and take care of her by feeding, petting, holding and brushing her."
"You will also have to clean her hutch every week and let her run around in the bunny-run every day or so," Sam added. For now they had a standard hutch with a closed area and a run built to it but Jack had promised to make a bigger bunny-run once they had decided where to place it in the yard.
"I'm naming her Miffy!" Sage said with a proud smile.
Miffy was the small rabbit in picture books they'd bought for her over the years and even though Sage was getting in the older age range for them she still watched the character's television show whenever it was on TV, so it really shouldn't have surprised Sam she would immediately think of the white rabbit to name her pet. Now that the other kids were crowding Sage to get a good look at the latest addition Sam kept an eye on them to make sure it wouldn't be stressful or anything for the animal. "I think she's happy with her present," she said when Jack came up to her side and slid his arm around her.
"I agree. Now let's just hope the novelty won't wear off too soon and we're saddled with a pet she doesn't want any more in a few years," he replied.
"Well, at least then we know it probably won't be such a good idea to get other pets, like a cat or a dog."
He frowned, probably not pleased at the prospect of never getting a dog but let it go. "Or a pony."
An hour and a half later Jack was collecting dirty towels all around the yard and inside the house now that the kids had all gotten dressed in their regular outfits again and their parents were picking them up. Despite the mess they were left with – fortunately most of it was outside – he considered it a very successful party. From the slightly amused looks from a few of the parents and nannies he figured they felt the same as they were confronted with sleepy and tired children, who were all chatting about the fun they'd had.
The Jenkins and Martinezes had already left with their kids about half an hour ago, determined to get some rest after all the help they'd provided today and Sam was talking to the parents and nannies. Most were in and out pretty fast, barely saying hello before saying their goodbyes but a few were sticking around to hear about the events and congratulate a sleepy Sage.
Miffy was back in her hutch in the garage where she would be staying for the moment until he had decided what the best place in the yard would be for the bunny. Couldn't be too exposed to the elements but he would prefer to be able to see the hutch from the deck instead of setting it in some dark, shaded corner of the backyard.
"I have to go, General Jack," Billy said. The boy's parents were standing behind him, William looking quite relaxed and Eleanor still appeared piqued yet slightly more composed and calmer than before Royston Charles had arrived and praised her for participating in the event.
"Well, I hope you had a good time, kid. We were glad you were able to make it and of course we're very grateful for your parents' help in supervising," Jack added, trying to play nice as his wife had suggested.
"It was awesome," Charlotte piped in. "I want a bunny too!"
"I'm afraid lots of children will be requesting a bunny or a pool filled with gelatin now," Royston Charles said from behind her. "I was just talking to my grandson, William here and your wife about the wonderful activities and involvement from today. Samantha told me you were the one who had organized everything."
Jack cleared his throat awkwardly and nodded slowly. "Um, yeah."
"I have also spoken to some of the parents, who all seemed very pleased with their children's stories about the party. Now, I suggested this to Roy earlier and I'll be more than happy to discuss this with the principal and school board and other parents at the school but I felt I should bring the idea to you first."
Roy Lancaster smirked and lifted his sleepy daughter before turning his attention on him. "My grandfather and I think it would be a great idea if you were to join the PTO. I try to get involved with Charlotte's school activities as much as I can but as a single father it's difficult to find the time. However, we both think another father might just be what the school needs. The children are all quite fond of you, Jack, and you managed to get all of them involved in your crazy games."
"Oh well, I don't know…" He trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck in discomfort. "The PT-what?"
"Parent Teacher Organization," Eleanor said haughtily. "We encourage parent, teacher and community involvement and facilitate this by providing the proper programs. Some of our yearly activities include bicycle safety, reading programs, science or math programs, pedestrian safety… even drug awareness and energy conservation."
Oy! She did not look like a happy camper but the three men were all looking at him with various degrees of curiosity. "Right, those programs. Uh, I'll think about it, okay?"
"It would be so cool if you'd go with us on field trips, General Jack!" Billy cried in excitement, positively beaming at him.
"We'll see, sport. I would have to look into it a bit more and see if I can manage it with all the other things I do. Sam and I'll discuss it and if she agrees I'll ask Sage if she'd be okay with me getting involved at her school."
"Oh nonsense," Royston made a dismissive gesture. "Your daughter clearly adores you."
"Right now maybe, but she might not be so happy with it in a few years."
Eleanor still looked upset with the whole thing but gave them all a tight smile. "Of course Mister O'Neill would have to be voted in."
"Don't worry about it, son. I'll be pleased to back you and I can think of a few more parents who'd be more than happy to see you get aboard the PTO if it means their children participate this actively more often," Royston said.
"Yes well, we'll see," Eleanor said curtly. "William, Billy, we have to leave now."
Jack took this as an opening and quickly said his goodbyes to them and the others, ushering them all out the door within twenty minutes. "Alone at last," he sighed, plopping down on the sofa next to Sage.
"You and William seemed to have hit it off," Sam commented as she joined them.
"We talked about golf, Henry Hayes and apparently Royston somehow knows about the cabin because he'd told him about our 'vacation home' in Minnesota."
"Interesting stuff," she mocked him.
He rolled his eyes and pulled a half-asleep Sage on his lap before sagging against his wife. "Royston and Charlotte's dad also think I should join the PTO at school," he made a face.
That seemed to get her attention as she pulled back slightly to look him in the face. "What did you say?"
"That I'd think about it… But not tonight. God, I'm exhausted."
"I feel all bruised and battered, like the old days," Jack whined.
Sam yawned and then grimaced as she automatically stretched her tall frame. "Ouch. Oh yeah, that's going to hurt in the morning."
"Maybe I shouldn't have used the slip 'n slide so many times. Or ducked and rolled all over the grass to evade the badly aimed water balloons coming my way."
"My hip hurts from hitting the pool's bottom a few times too many," Sam complained.
"I'm getting too old for this," he said. "But at least the party was a success."
"Sage has enough toys to last her a lifetime now."
Jack craned his neck to get a look at their daughter's face and smiled when he realized she was fast asleep. "Let's get her upstairs. Then we can take a long hot shower to ease the kinks in my back."
Sam nodded and slowly got up. Reaching out she grabbed his hand and pulled him, with a sleeping Sage on his other arm, up. "Maybe we can take a quick shower to clean up and then take a long hot bath together."
"Hmm… No sense in waking up the munchkin, she can get cleaned up in the morning and we'll just change her sheets."
"Great idea," she agreed. "Come, let's go upstairs."