Summer and Fall 2030
Jeff shifted his gaze over his gathered children and gave them a soft smile. Kathryn looked up from where she was sitting and saw the proud look in his eyes. She returned his smile before returning her attention to Gordon. The family had decided to take a few days break in Miami before Kathryn had to head to Fort Carson in Colorado. There was little point travelling half way around the world and then go and do it again two days later. As of yet, the man hadn't approached his eldest son about the decision Scott had made to join the Air Force. Obviously, the eighteen-year-old had discussed his options with Kathryn at some point seeing as she actually knew about the decision.
"You okay, Dad?" Kathryn asked.
Jeff blinked slightly. For a moment, he thought that he was looking at his late wife. He gave her a slight smile. "Yeah. I can't believe that Scott talked to you about joining the Air Force over talking to me about it."
His daughter returned his smile tentatively. "Well, I don't think he really remembers much from when you were in the Air Force. Seeing as he knew that I was in the army and that I made a similar decision at eighteen, he asked me for my advice."
"And what was that?"
"I asked him where he saw himself in ten years' time. He told me that he was looking at options for working for you. So I said to him enlist as an Air Force Reserve, not as a full service cadet. Yale offers, like most universities, a chance to do a few papers within the Air Force." Jeff raised his eyebrow at Kathryn's thinking. When he'd first heard that Scott was heading into the Air Force at the end of the summer when the young man started attending Yale full time, the billionaire had just assumed that it would be as an active member of the Air Force. Kathryn cleared her throat and brought the man's attention back to her. "Dad, Scott realises that whatever his decision is, you're going to support him. He just wanted to come to me first because I've been there and I could help him out a bit more."
Scott appeared beside his sister. "Katie's more approachable when it comes to decision making Dad. Well, for me she is. I don't know about the others."
"We're all different," John put in, also coming to stand between Jeff and Kathryn. Soon the rest of the boys had joined in the family circle.
Kathryn grinned suddenly and ruffled Virgil's hair. "I can't believe I made such an impression on you guys." When her brothers all looked at her with confused looks on their faces, the young woman giggled slightly. "Dad told me that you're all doing something that I used to do. Come on, even I've heard the stories from each of you. Who became the mother-hen once I left?" With that comment, she grinned cheekily at Scott.
Scott groaned. "You don't!" he shot at the younger brothers.
Gordon pointed his finger at Virgil with a grin that matched Kathryn's. "He started that whole mother hen thing!"
Jeff laughed slightly at the banter between his children. It had been a long time since he'd heard them laugh and joke around with one another like they were doing and seeing Kathryn initiated the banter lifted something within his father's heart. He hadn't seen her do something like that since before Lucy died. And then, he remembered vaguely that Kathryn said she'd started seeing someone to talk about all the emotional baggage that had been building up since the day Lucy had died.
"Hey Dad," two voices called out, bringing him back to the present. His two ginger-haired children were grinning like the Cheshire cat and instantly felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
"Whatever it is you two are up to, I'm not going to have any part of it!" he growled.
Alan snorted slightly. Jeff turned his attention on his youngest son and cocked an eyebrow. The nearly ten-year-old burst into laughter followed closely by Gordon and then the rest of his offspring. Kathryn was the last holdout before she joined in the laughter of her siblings.
"What did we do, Dad?" she inquired innocently.
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It was hard for Kathryn to settle into her new environment at Fort Carson. When she had told Sophia that she was leaving Fort Sam Houston, the fourteen-year-old (the teen's birthday had been in May) had begged and pleaded for the sergeant to stay in Texas. For the first time in her life, Kathryn was grateful for the help and support of a male outside her family. Jude had taken his sister aside and had informed Sophia that when it came to the army, people didn't question orders. Kathryn was one of those people who always followed orders.
Looking back on her parting with Jude and Sophia, Kathryn realised that the man hadn't wanted her to leave either. But orders were orders. And she wasn't one to break them, no matter what was tying her to Sam Houston. As far as the Army was concerned, Kathryn was a young, single woman with no obligations so it was with little difficulties that they kept on reassigning her to different posts.
Kathryn only hoped that she wouldn't get another order to move the following year after she completed her ISPA course. The hardest thing she found at Fort Carson was learning the new environment as well as working on her extra responsibilities. That did not mean she couldn't rise to the challenge. But boy, she was really starting to miss both Jude and Sophia after her first full month at Fort Carson. She could only admit it to herself that she missed them almost as much as she missed her brothers and father.
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Scott looked around the Yale University campus and audibly swallowed. He was the first to go off to university in his family and that was a little daunting for him to live up to. On top of that, he knew that with the Tracy name, people would expect a whole lot more from him. After all, it wasn't every day that a university had the offspring of the great Jefferson Tracy walking their halls.
It was almost surreal to him being off on his own for the first time, and he wondered how Kathryn had managed on her own since she had graduated high school. But then, he remembered the times when Jeff had taken him and his brothers out to see Kathryn at the different places she had been stationed. Kathryn probably had gotten by on her own without the same level of pressure as what he was now facing because it wasn't just Jeff's name she carried: Scott had forgotten that she also carried their mother's maiden name too. It wasn't until she was in the Army that she'd really begun to use her hyphenated name to get by on her own merits.
Now that he was facing the same situation, Scott was wishing he had the same choice. But he wasn't so sure he would've taken the same opportunity as Kathryn did. He was a Tracy, and the eldest son of Jeff Tracy. Scott was proud of that, and he wanted to show the world what made a Tracy. And he couldn't if he had been able to choose and use a hyphenated name like Kathryn had done.
Scott turned to face the person who had called out his name. "Yes?"
"Welcome to Yale. We are very pleased that you've chosen us to pursue your higher education with us."
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Virgil sat on his bed, looking around his dorm room. It felt very weird for him to be back at school without Scott around. It was hard enough for him to see Kathryn leave home to make her way in the world, but now with Scott gone, things were getting weirder. He sighed. It wasn't weirder in a sense; it wasn't like he wanted everything to stay the same, but sharing a dorm room with someone who wasn't Scott was going to take a bit of getting used to.
With Scott off at Yale and John entering his senior year at High School, it meant that reality was catching up to Virgil. Life was moving on.
A knock came at the door and the nearly sixteen-year-old looked up from his bed. "Who is it?"
"Virg, it's me."
The young artist recognised the voice of his next oldest brother and when to open the door. "John, it's going to be very strange this year without Scott here," Virgil admitted.
"I know. I just wanted to make sure you're okay. It's going to be weird for me too. You realise that Scott could've had his own room last year?"
"Yeah, the deans came to me at the end of last year and pretty much told me that they were putting me in my own room and getting Gordon to share with one of his year mates. They noticed how the four of us, well, six if you include Alan and Fermat, never really socialised much within our own year group so they want us to make new friends." John flopped down on Virgil's bed. "Man, I wish Scott was still here."
"Me too." Virgil smiled at his blond brother and shrugged his shoulders. "It's like it's only just sinking in now that he's gone off to Yale. And joined the Air Force. Can you believe he didn't tell Dad?"
John snorted. "The way that Gordon tells it, that little blighter, was that Katie was the one to drop that bombshell. How would he even know? He wasn't there."
The person in question poked their head round the door with a cheeky grin and both older boys groaned. There was never a moment peace when Gordon was wearing that particular grin. "I so happen to know what happened because I was told. My sources are impeccable!"
John frowned at the big word issuing out of the fourteen-year-old's ('15 in two weeks') mouth. "Do you even know what that means?"
Gordon grunted. "I do pay attention in class. Unlike some other people I can name."
Virgil shook his head just as his new roommate walked in. There was no need for him to introduce his brothers – most of the school knew of the Tracys (and of the sergeant they knew who'd become a school wide hero at the end of the previous school year). "Hey John, Virgil and Gordon. Will I be expecting to see you guys around in this dorm room a lot?"
"As much as we can," shot back the copper-haired Tracy cheekily.
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When Jeff heard that Gordon was competing in the Florida State High School Championship, he made sure that he could make it. The competition was in late December, just a week out from the winter holidays and the man decided to surprise Gordon by also bringing Scott with him to cheer on the fifteen-year-old.
What made the three day event even more special was that even Andrew and Susan made it down to Florida (courtesy of Jeff flying them there himself.) Gordon hadn't been able to see his family beforehand (other than the brothers that he saw at school) so he wasn't aware that Jeff, Scott, Andrew and Susan had made it to see him compete at the State level. But when he walked out of the changing room for his first heat, he heard his name being cheered from the bleaches behind him.
Turning, he looked up and saw his father leaning over the edge of the railing with a huge smile on his face. Gordon found himself grinning back. The look of pride directed his way from his father even before he swam his first race was far more important to him than winning without his father even seeing.
And having his father there gave Gordon the much needed incentive to do his best – and that was what he did. In the six events he was in (100 meter breaststroke, 100 meter free style, 50 meter back stroke, 50 meter butterfly, the team relay and the medley), he won three of them and got his team close to winning the relay. The other two races, he also came in second or third. Overall, he did very well. With the last win he had – which was in the medley – he found his father and family again, and felt warmth and support rush over him.
But the biggest surprise of them all came when he scanned the crowd again and his eyes landed on a woman in uniform he recognised. Kathryn had made it for the last day. And that made his final win all the more special to him. Beside her, with her left hand held securely in his right, stood a man that Gordon didn't recognise but was sure Kathryn would introduce later.
He made his way out of the changing room in quick time so he could meet up with his family. None of them mentioned seeing Kathryn and the man there and it was Scott's comment about wishing Kathryn could've seen Gordon's last race that gave him an indication that they hadn't seen her like he had.
Gordon grinned and decided not to say anything about Kathryn being there. It was nice for a change that he knew something his brothers didn't. "So, where are we going to celebrate?" the fifteen-year-old asked.
"Well, where would you like to go?" Jeff asked.
"Please don't say McDonald's," Kathryn said from behind the majority of the group. Gordon grinned at his sister as the rest of the group jumped and turned.
There were many surprised voices coming from each and every one of the eight people surprised to see Kathryn there. (Fermat had come with the Tracys.)
Kathryn returned Gordon's grin. She whistled to get everyone's attention. "That's better!" she said when everyone had quietened down again. "I can hear myself think now. Hello everyone. Now," she looked directly at Gordon, "I think congratulations are in order for the brother who shares my fabulous hair colour." Alan and Fermat giggled at that before nodding in agreement.
"Thanks, Katie!" Gordon returned. "I didn't think you could make it."
"It so happens that I pulled some strings to get here today. The only thing is, I need to head back tomorrow. The Army could only give me three days."
"I'm glad you could make it for today then."
Kathryn smiled and gave her brother a hug. She then turned around to talk to her other family and catch up with them.
It was during this time that Jude made his presence known. He'd hung back while Kathryn had made her way over to her family and caught up with them. Clearing his throat, he bought Kathryn's attention back to him, along with the rest of her family. Oh help, was that really Jefferson Tracy?
"Oh, sorry Jude," Kathryn apologised.
"Sarge, I totally get it – family's important to you. Otherwise you wouldn't have had me fly you all the way down here to see…" he paused for a bit, trying to remember the nickname one of the other boys had called Gordon and he smiled when he remembered. He finished his train of thought with: "Copper-top compete."
"You didn't have to," the sergeant shot back. She then looked back at her family with a guilty expression on her face and saw two of her brothers grinning at the banter between their sister and the man they remembered as Jude. "Okay, I think introductions are in order."
"I should say so, young lady," Jeff put in, crossing his arms across his chest.
Kathryn rolled her eyes. "I am twenty-three, Dad." She took a deep breath and moved to stand by Jude's side. Swallowing hard, she looked up at her father and wasn't going to back down from losing her temper. "Everyone, this is Jude Paxton, a friend and a college of mine. Jude, this is my family. On the end are Uncle Andy and Aunt Su. Beside them are Alan, Fermat and Virgil. Fermat's father works for Dad so he's like an extra little brother for my brothers. I'm sure you remember me introducing you to Gordon and John. Scott's on the end closest to us. And then there's my dad…"
"…Jefferson Tracy," Jude interrupted, holding his hand out for a handshake. At Kathryn's confused look, the twenty-sx-year-old looked down at her with a frown on his own face. "What? You didn't think I would work out who your father was on my own."
Kathryn got a hard look in her eyes before she turned her back on her family. In one swift move, she forced Jude to take a few steps backward from her family and she hissed in his ear, "Never mention my father again."
Jeff realised what must have set his daughter off and moved to stand behind her. He placed his hand on her shoulder to offer her his support. Looking up at the young man (who must have been the one that Kathryn had mentioned to him the year before), he stared hard into the boy's eyes. Kathryn calmed enough for Jeff to mention that they had some celebrating to do. She nodded and went to drape her arm across Gordon's shoulders. Jeff and Jude watched as she moved away out of earshot before the billionaire turned his attention back to the young paediatrician.
"If you've known Kathryn for a while, you must realise that there is a difference between 'father' and 'dad' for her," Jeff said quietly. "I don't know if she's tried to get in touch with Tony again, or with his wife or daughter."
Jude winced and remembered what Kathryn had told him during the summer the previous year. He'd assumed she'd grown up with a younger sister, instead of the five brothers he just met. And that those brothers were half-brothers, not full-brothers. Just like her half-sister. He never once stopped to think what Kathryn's relationship was like with her biological father, or the man's family. He took a deep breath and looked Jeff in the eye. "I'm guessing you're her…"
"Legally, I'm her step-father. But in my heart, and in hers, I'm her dad."
Jude watched Jeff move away to join the rest of the Tracys and saw the man wrap his arms around Kathryn in comfort. The young doctor smiled wistfully and wondered how on earth he was going to get up the courage to ask Jeff if he could date Kathryn. From what he could see, the family was far closer than what he'd given them credit for at the end of the previous year. He noticed Kathryn looking back over her shoulder at him, beckoning him to join her, and he moved to comply. The next year was definitely going to be a challenge. Especially when Sophia kept asking when he'd be making Kathryn a part of their family for real.