She wasn't hiding.
That's what she told herself when she plumped a pillow up against the headboard and leaned back with a book open across her lap.
She wasn't hiding. Besides, there were so many people in the house no one probably even noticed she wasn't around . . .
Her father's voice calling her name squashed the vague hope that her absence might go unmarked. Tempe glanced at the headphones lying on her desk, tempted to put them on and block out everything. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it . . .
"Figured you'd be hiding in here."
Her brother's appearance put an end to that plan. All too smug at having ferreted her out, David leaned in the doorway, grinning at her with that irresistibly charming smile he could produce at will. Usually as susceptible to that grin as anyone else, this time Tempe just glared at him.
"Whatever happened to knocking before you barged into someone's room?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. Is this better?" He put on an exaggerated expression of apology and rapped his knuckles three times against the frame. When she rolled her eyes, he laughed, swung the door closed and crossed over to stretch out beside her on the bed, nudging and pushing until she had no choice but to scoot over and make room for him.
The siblings couldn't have been more different. Their father Max was the only one of his brothers to inherit Petra's diminutive size, and he in turn married the statuesque Naomi, Nigerian-born and 6'2 in her bare feet. David matched her height at the age of 14 and now, four years later, towered over everyone in the family. He wore confidence like a well-tailored suit; with dark-skinned good looks and deep-set, almost black eyes in a handsome, rugged face, his appearance opened doors and his laid-back manner and easy geniality kept them open.
Tempe was a throwback to past generations. Delicate and fine-boned, she had her grandmother's changeable golden eyes and hide-and-seek dimples, set in a face made distinctive by a halo of thick, spiraling curls and a strong square jawline she saw again in photographs of the woman for whom she'd been named, Temperance Brennan. From this great-grandmother, she also inherited a quick intelligence and a penchant for pedantry, qualities that set her apart from her peers and landed her with a mostly-unearned prickly reputation. Unlike David, who collected friends as easily as he played every sport that involved a ball, she was shy and quiet and often ill at ease among strangers and large crowds.
"So, what'cha doing?" David shifted beside her, ostentatiously resettling his broad shoulders and wiggling the boat-size feet that hung over the end of her bed.
"Studying." Trying to get more room than the tiny sliver he'd left for her, Tempe jabbed an elbow into his side.
Mount Everest would have been easier to move. David merely lifted the flap of the book and peeked under it to read the spine.
"Uh huh. That's last year's biology textbook, which means you already have it memorized. Besides, it's term break. Do yourself a favor. Come on downstairs and have some fun."
Tempe shrugged and avoided his perceptively sharp gaze. "It's too crowded," she mumbled. "Everybody's here."
David laughed and rolled on his side to face her. "Well, of course everyone's here. That's sort of the point of having a birthday party, right? Right?" He poked at her hip, trying to get a rise out of her. "Isn't that right, birthday girl? Sweet sixteen, never been kissed . . ." His eyes narrowed on her with playful suspicion. "Wait a minute, is that still true? Do I need to put on my big brother hat and go do some ass kicking? Because I will. Just point me in the right direction."
She knew there was more than a kernel of truth in the offer. He'd always been her protector, her paladin, and this past year – his first away at college – had been an adjustment for both of them. Long weekly phone calls had only partially eased his worry and her loneliness. Now, as much to set his mind at rest as to stop any more awkward questions, Tempe frowned and tried to sound tough. "If anyone needs their ass kicked, I'll do it myself, thank you very much."
One raised eyebrow told her he didn't believe a word of it, but he followed her lead and dropped the subject.
"Well, either way, you're wanted downstairs," he said instead. "Dad sent me to find you a while ago, but I went to the tree house first and got kidnapped. I had to walk the plank before they'd let me get away."
Tempe's sigh told him further explanation wasn't necessary. Nothing their multitude of cousins did could surprise either of them anymore, especially when it came to their Uncle Henry's rambunctious twins. "I guess that explains why Victor and Edward were taking sheets out of the laundry room. I didn't even ask, I just came up here instead."
The sense of humour that was never far away resurfaced. David closed one eye in a squint and growled deep in his throat. "Arrrgh, matey. Ahoy be the dastardly villains of the lavender blossom sails."
As he'd hoped, the thick pirate's twang combined with the image of the pretty, feminine sheets fluttering over the sides of the tree house made her laugh . . . until their father's voice silenced it.
David gave her a look of sympathy. "Ouch, he called you Temperance. I think your time is up, kid."
Tempe thought so, too. Resigned, she closed the book still lying open on her lap and put it on the bedside table.
"I just don't know why it has to be such a big deal. Why can't Aunt Lisa just give it to me? I mean, it's not like I don't know. She's been telling me about it since I was born. Why does it have to a be a . . . thing . . . with everyone here?"
And therein lay the rub. David pushed himself to a seating position and watched her pluck aimlessly at the quilt, deliberately not looking at him. Hoping to lighten her mood a little, he gave her hand a pat.
"Yea, it must be tough being the only girl. The family princess. When you're old enough for Grandma's house, they'll probably throw a parade."
The look of horror on her face was almost comical. She threw a panicked glance at the closed door of her bedroom as if she expected someone to be standing there, taking notes. "Don't say that! It's not funny! They might hear you!"
David's face grew serious. The hand touching hers wrapped around her fingers and squeezed.
"You know I'd get you out of this if I could," he told her, his voice dropping to a low, reassuring burr. "But this isn't just about you, it's about family. All those people down there are here because they love you and they want to be part of this. So you're just going to have to tough it out this time." He leaned over and bumped her shoulder with his, and gave her a smile that was entirely too innocent not to mean trouble. "By the way, when you're ooh'ing and aah'ing opening all those presents, make it look good . . . Uncle Sebastian is recording everything. He said he's working on a book."
Groaning loudly, Tempe fell back on her pillow.
She popped back up. David got to his feet and bent low in a bow so extravagant, his fingertips brushed the floor.
"After you, Your Royal Boothiness . . ."
Tempe thwacked the top of his head as she passed by.
When they stepped out into the hallway, the sound of dozens of people talking and laughing at once hit their eardrums in a cacophony of sound. Tempe might have turned around right then but for her brother's reassuring presence behind her. He put his hands on her shoulders.
"I'll be right here."
With that comforting thought in mind, she headed for the stairs.
She was spotted after only a few steps. A hail of "There she is!" went up, followed by a round of applause and an impromptu – if slightly off-key – round of 'Happy Birthday To You,' as everyone gathered from elsewhere in the house to join in. By the time she made it to the bottom, her parents were waiting. She went gratefully into her father's arms and hid her flushed, hot cheeks against his shoulder as he hugged her tight.
"Happy birthday, sweetheart." His eyes, much like hers in color and shape, crinkled at the corners when Max smiled. He kissed her forehead and passed her to her mother, who embraced her with the same affection before handing her into another set of arms, and another hug.
She felt as if she'd been dropped into the middle of a very friendly United Nations event. Happy birthday wishes came in several languages, from family members of different nationalities and races ranging from Daniel's petite Japanese wife, to her cousin Paul's new Colombian bride, to Sam's wife Catherine, a patrician blonde whose family tree stretched back to the Mayflower. Her younger cousins, Henry's children and Sam's young son Tyler, added to the noise and mayhem by racing in and out of the group, playing with the first members of the next generation, grandchildren for Daniel and Lisa.
It was a madhouse, and by the time she reached her Aunt Lisa, Tempe was glad to be done with the gauntlet.
Sitting near the fireplace with a toddler on her lap, Lisa gave her a loving but apologetic smile when Tempe bent to kiss her cheek. A handsome women in her sixties, her eyes were still a clear shade of blue under hair kept a pretty shade of ash-blonde by regular salon visits.
"Happy birthday, honey. You're being such a good sport about this."
Tempe dragged an ottoman from its place in front of a chair and sat down beside her aunt. "It's not as bad as I thought it would be. Valeria said my Spanish is getting better!"
Lisa chuckled and gave Paul's wife a thumb's up of approval. "One good thing about having family from all over the world is you'll never lack for language tutors."
Around them, things began to settle down. Every seat was taken, and when those were full, chairs were pulled in from the dining room and from the kitchen, and when those were gone, pillows were tossed to the floor and used as cushions. Children and the occasional wife were pulled into laps and an expectant silence fell.
Lisa sighed nostalgically as she glanced around the room. "I always loved this house," she murmured. "You know," she said to Tempe, "your room was my mom's room when she was growing up. We spent a lot of time here."
Daniel nodded over the head of a baby sleeping against his shoulder. "A lot of time."
"A lot." Busy setting a camera into a tripod, Sebastian only briefly looked up from his attempt to get just the right angle for the recording he wanted.
"Turning sixteen is a big deal," Lisa continued. She smiled into Tempe's upturned face and traced the spiral of one dark curl with the tip of her finger before nodding toward the dining room. Heads turned to look at the table loaded with gifts stacked around an elaborately decorated cake. "I know you have candles to blow out and a lot of presents to open but I'm going to use the advantage of age and go first."
A whisper in the ear of the tow-headed little boy on her lap sent him scooting off and running for his mother. Lisa found her husband standing nearby and held out her hand.
He obligingly reached into the front pocket of his shirt and withdrew a small, black velvet box. At the back of the room, Sebastian crouched to look through the lens of the camera, adjusted it a fraction of an inch, then propped himself against the wall beside it with a grin of anticipation.
Lisa opened the box and for the span of a moment in which it seemed no one dared even breathe, stared inside. When she looked up again, her eyes shimmered as brightly as the small diamond chips on the twisted silver ring inside.
"I've waited a long time to give this ring away. I mean, who knew we'd have so many boys!" When she laughed, there were tears behind it but also enough humor that a rustle of more laughter swept through her audience. She reached for Tempe's right hand; the ring slid easily onto the middle finger, gleaming there as if it had been made specially for her.
Necks craned as everyone stretched to get a better view of the family heirloom being handed down to a new owner. Tempe obligingly held up her hand to display it for them, and blushed pink when applause broke out again.
Lisa held the teenager's hand in her own, nudging the ring with her thumb and sending sparks of light flashing off the tiny diamonds.
"My mother gave me this ring when I turned sixteen," she said softly. "Her mother gave it to her when she turned sixteen. And her mother . . ."
She paused for effect and looked around the room. Those who knew the story already smiled back, anticipating the reaction to come. Lisa focused on Tempe again.
"Well, her mother got it from her father when she was 31, because when she was sixteen, her parents were on the run from the law."
While she waited for the gasps and murmurs of surprise to fade away, Lisa glanced over her shoulder, at a framed picture sitting on the glass shelves: a young family, wearing matching Christmas pajamas, sprawled across the stadium seats that once again lined the hallway of the home where they belonged.
"This family has a history," she continued, when she turned back to look at the children who would carry it into the future. "And it all starts with a couple of bank robbers . . . "
So, here we are.
Thank you so much for being part of this story. Thanks for the reviews, alerts, and favorites. Thanks for the emails and for sharing your personal stories when something I wrote touched you. Thank you for just coming back to read for 206 chapters.
I'm proud of this story, and the characters, and the universe it lives in. And I'm proud to leave this behind as my contribution to the world of BONES fanfiction.
Thanks for reading along with me. :-)