Nine Years Later
“No running in the house!” I shouted for the umpteenth time today. “If I catch you running again…”
“Sorry, mom!” Nathan called at the end of the hall. He did slow down—but only a little.
“Let them have their fun,” Chase said, putting a comforting arm around me. “It’s not hurting anything.”
“One of these days, he’s going to break his neck. Or Andrew or Charlie will. They follow him around like puppies.”
“Nathan’s the oldest. They just want to follow their big brother.”
It had been nine wonderful years since the four of us had inherited the entire Schreiber estate. Chase, Xander, and Brody moved in with me temporarily, at first. A free place to live for a while until we eventually sold the house. But one year turned into two, and two into five, and now it had been nearly a decade.
I couldn’t imagine moving out, now. Especially with the little ones.
“I ran around the house nine years ago and it was fine,” Chase insisted.
“That was different,” I argued. “Nathan is seven. You were an adult back then.”
Xander’s familiar chuckle rumbled behind us. “Calling Chase an adult is a stretch.”
Chase looked around to make sure the kids were out of sight, then flipped Xander off. “I was a real adult with a job back then. Two jobs, actually.”
“You were running around the house searching for ghosts,” I said.
“Adults do that too!”
Xander patted him on the back. “Keep telling yourself that, buddy.”
“You’ll definitely be an adult tonight!” I said, hugging Chase. “Thirty-eight years old. Wow.”
“Please don’t remind me.”
“You’re pretty much in your forties now,” I said.
“Hey! Why are we rounding up?”
There was a stampede of footsteps at the end of the hall, and then the kids came running around the corner. Nathan led the way, his chestnut brown hair bouncing like a mop. Andrew, who had darker features like Xander, was close on his heels, with Charlie, the blond, struggling to keep up with his older brothers.
“No running!” I insisted as they came toward us. “How many times do I have to…”
I trailed off as Brody rounded the corner, following them with a Nerf rifle held across his chest. “I got you, Nathan!” he shouted.
“Nuh uh!” Nathan replied without slowing.
I watched as the kids went sprinting past me and then down the stairs to the first floor. Brody skidded to a stop at the landing, feet sliding on the hardwood floor, and then fired a barrage of Nerf darts at the fleeing boys.
“Got you again!”
“Missed me!” Nathan yelled at the bottom of the steps.
“Me too!” Charlie piped up before they disappeared out of sight.
Brody shot a few more darts in their direction until they were out of sight, then lowered his colorful toy gun. “We’re raising a bunch of cheaters.”
“Who could they have learned that from?” Chase wondered out loud.
Brody flashed him a frown. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I hit you in the neck with a dart yesterday, and you said it missed,” Chase accused. “You can’t be trusted.”
“That wasn’t a dart!” Brody replied. “It was a really big mosquito that tried biting me in the neck.”
Chase looked at me. “And he wonders where the boys got it from.”
“You’re getting grumpy in your old age.” Brody grinned widely. “What are you turning? Forty?”
“Why is everyone rounding up!” Chase complained, which made the rest of us chuckle.
“Dad!” one of the boys called from downstairs. “You haven’t gotten us, yet!”
Brody stood up a little straighter. “Duty calls. Need to put these pipsqueaks in their place. Have you told the birthday boy about his surprise?”
“My surprise?” Chase asked.
I gave Brody a look. “I was saving it until tonight. After the cake.”
“Tell him now. So he can be excited all day.” Brody ran down the stairs, cheering and shouting taunts at the kids as he disappeared in the direction of the library.
“What’s my surprise?” Chase asked.
I leaned up and kissed him. “You’ll find out tonight.”
“You heard Brody: you should tell me now! So I can be excited about it all day.”
“A minute ago, you were saying Brody couldn’t be trusted,” I pointed out.
“A lot has changed in the last minute. For example, I now know that I have a surprise.”
Xander leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “He’s going to be insufferable if we make him wait until tonight.”
“So the same as every other day?”
“Hey!” Chase protested. “For someone whose birthday is today, I’m getting a whole lot of insults.”
“That’s a very astute observation,” Xander replied.
“You’re getting wise in your old age,” Xander finished, a grin cracking his face.
Chase made an annoyed noise.
There was another stampede of footsteps as the boys rounded the corner downstairs and came sprinting up the steps. As they tried to pass me, I put an arm in front of Nathan and dragged him to a stop.
“What did I say about running in the house?” I demanded.
Nathan’s eyes got big. “Dad said it was okay.”
“Why aren’t you running!” Brody asked while hurrying up the steps. “I’m totally going to get you if you just stand…” He trailed off when he saw the expression on my face. “He started it.”
“Dad said we could run if we’re playing a game,” Charlie added, his voice high-pitched and innocent.
“Is this true?” I asked.
Brody glared at the boy. “You’re old enough to learn a valuable life lesson: snitches get stitches. Your great-great-grandfather Alistair Schreiber said that, once.”
“I’ve already gotten stitches before.” Andrew lifted up the leg of his shorts to show the scar on his knee. Even though it had healed and the stitches were long since removed, the skin was pink and new.
“You got those stitches,” I reminded him, “by running in the house. Which we’re not going to do.” I looked at Brody. “Right?”
He slumped his shoulders. “Right.”
“You’ve got a huge backyard to play in. Shoot your Nerf guns there.”
“But the darts get lost outside!” Nathan began to argue. When I gave him my best motherly glare, he sighed. “Fine.”
“Good.” I turned to Chase. “Today’s Dad’s birthday. And we have a surprise for him. Actually, it’s a surprise for everyone.”
“Is it a little sister?” Nathan asked.
“I want a sister!” Andrew chimed in.
Charlie, the baby of the family, suddenly looked terrified. “I don’t want another brother or sister.”
“It’s not that,” I said with a laugh. “Next month, the seven of us are going… to Scotland!”
“Sockland?” Charlie asked, a confused look on his childish face.
“Scotland, dummy,” Nathan said.
“Hey,” Xander said. “Do not call your brother a dummy.”
“Apologize to your brother,” Xander said.
“Scotland?” Chase asked. “Really?”
“We haven’t had a good vacation since Nathan was born,” I said. “It might be fun to go overseas. Eat fish and chips, visit some castles… What as the other thing we had planned?”
“Something to do with a lake,” Xander said casually. “Although they called them lochs over there.”
Chase’s eyes went wide. “No.”
I bit my lip and nodded. “Yes.”
“We’re going to Loch Ness?” Chase looked from me, to Xander, to Brody. “We might see the Loch Ness Monster?!?!”
“Woah!” Nathan said.
“We’re visiting Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Fort William,” Xander explained. “With a day trip into the highlands that ends at Fort Augustus, the town at the base of Loch Ness.”
“And we’re doing a boat tour of the lake!” Brody said excitedly. “That was my idea.”
“That was indeed Brody’s contribution to the planning,” Xander admitted.
Chase suddenly embraced Brody happily, then did the same to Xander. “Best birthday ever.”
“You haven’t even opened your presents yet!” Charlie said. “I wrapped mine myself.”
“He did a very good job,” I agreed.
“We’ll talk about the trip at dinner,” Brody said. “In the meantime… I bet you guys can’t get me!” He fired a dart at Nathan, hitting him dead in the chest. Then he retreated down the stairs, the three boys scrambling to follow.
Chase turned and hugged me. “It’s been my dream to visit Loch Ness,” he said. “When we had the boys, I didn’t think we would get the chance…”
“You’ve been working hard at the NRDC,” I said. “I called your manager to make sure you could take the time off.”
“They ought to give you the time off regardless,” Xander muttered. “You’re an unpaid volunteer responsible for their entire database system.”
“What can I say? It’s my dream job,” he replied. “I don’t care if I get paid or not.”
That was the real beauty of Alistair’s inheritance. It wasn’t the big house, or the millions we had in stocks and bonds. It wasn’t even the amazing collection down in the wine cellar. No, the real beauty was the freedom it gave us in our lives, the freedom to pursue our dreams without worrying about a paycheck. It’s the reason I was able to focus on home remodeling for nearly a decade. It was the impetus for Xander quitting his job and starting his own law firm to take on pro-bono cases entirely. And it was the reason Chase had quit his programming job the moment a position opened at the National Resources Defense Council—even one that was unpaid.
“Our first family trip,” I said. “Real trip, I mean. On an airplane.”
“I can’t wait.” Chase took me in his arms. “And maybe we can work on giving the boys a little sister.”
I blinked at him in surprise. “But you said you were happy with three.”
“I’m realizing that there’s room in my heart for more. If everyone else agrees.”
“I could be talked into one more,” Xander said, scratching his jaw. “A little girl would be awfully cute…”
“We all know Brody will be happy about it,” Chase said. “If he had his way, this house would be filled with kid.”
I stared at them in shock. I had wanted a fourth child for a few years now, but the guys had convinced me to give it some time. To let out weird household settle. Enough time had passed since Charlie was born that I thought we were done.
Yet here they were, suggesting…
“Who gets to be the biological father?” I asked. “You each have one child right now, but if we have a fourth…”
“I guess we’ll leave it up to random chance,” Chase said, grinning slightly. “We’ll all… how should I put this?”
“Blow your loads in me at the same time?” I finished for him.
Xander kissed me on the cheek. “You have such a way with words.”
“If it happens, it happens,” Chase said. “And if not? It’ll be a lot of fun practicing.”
The three of us smiled.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Nathan suddenly came running up the steps. When he saw me, he slowed down. “Daddy, what happens when we find the Loch Ness Monster?”
“I like how he said when, not if,” Xander pointed out.
“What do you mean, buddy?” Chase asked.
“We’ll let him go, right?” Nathan insisted. “I don’t want to take him away from his home.”
Chase chuckled and took a knee. “First of all, of course we won’t. We’ll let Nessy stay in the Loch. And second of all, Nessy is a girl.”
“She is?” Nathan scrunched his face up. “How do you know?”
“Good question,” Xander said, hiding a smile.
Chase beamed at me, then turned back to his son. “Well, there are a lot of experts in cryptozoology who think Nessy might be a boy. But all the evidence we have suggests the opposite. I found a woman on the internet who makes a compelling argument for Nessy being a girl, capable of giving birth to more monsters…”
Xander put his arm around me and we shared a smile while listening to Chase, the birthday boy, explain to his son about Nessy.