Twelve Dates

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating: PG-13
Season: Beyond the Series - June 1-23, 2016
Spoilers: None
Written: August 27-28, September 1,12-13, 2017, December 29-30, 2020, January 1,3-6,9, 2021
Summary: Shortly after his latest near-death experience, Daniel goes one-on-one with each of his children, having new adventures, learning surprising information, and reinforcing family bonds.
Disclaimer: Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't. A gal can dream though!
Notes:
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically. Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s): “Echoes of the Past,” “Home at Last,” “Munchkin Racers,” “Transitions: Another Ten Months,” “Blowout,” “Mexican Adventure,” “Yesterday Once More,” and “Four Times the Charm”
4) Thanks to my readers who helped with this fic by letting me know what kind of special dates they'd like to see.

Twelve Dates
by Orrymain

====
--June 1
====

Daniel Jackson-O'Neill was excited and enthusiastic about the next few weeks, during which he would be spending one-on-one time with each of his children. Of course, he did that often anyway, but the last couple of months were filled with trauma and stress when brain tumors almost killed him. After a miraculous recovery, he believed that private time with the brood on an individual basis would help him and the entire family to heal and move forward with their lives.

The concept of these special days began the night after Daniel's recovery during a conversation with Brianna. It felt appropriate, therefore, to let her have the first outing with Daniel, and the event she chose was a doozy and one Jack wasn't so thrilled about.

“Jack, people do it every day.”

“Not my husband.”

Daniel chuckled and replied, “Babe, think of it like we were on vacation, doing something new.”

“But I won't be there.”

With a sweet smile, Daniel approached his husband, put his arms around his neck, and leaned in for a sweet kiss.

“No fair using physical distractions,” Jack whined playfully.

“Babe, it's as safe as anything else we've ever done, and Bri's reasoning is awesome.”

Jack nodded, vividly recalling Brianna's rationale for what she and her daddy would do together on their special day.

“Look, Dad, Daddy, we want to celebrate and fully recognize that we're alive. Trust me, Daddy, when you're going down that zip line, you'll know you're alive,” Brianna had explained.

“He knows he's alive,” Jack had returned.

“It's my day with Daddy, and that's what I want to do,” the young woman had insisted somewhat passively.

Jack had let out a groan, not unlike the sound he just made as he faced his lover.

“You *really* want to do this,” Jack surmised in a partial questioning tone.

“Okay, so, part of it is the adrenaline rush, and I think that's what Bri is thinking, that it would be good for me to feel that, that ... high; and it will be fun.”

“This from the man whose idea of fun is digging in the dirt.”

“You've expanded my mind.”

“Great! Now it's my fault.”

Daniel laughed out loud and kissed his soulmate again, after which he assured, “It'll be fine. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

The couple headed for the stairs and noticed Mittens stretched out on the top step.

“Sorry, Furball, ya gotta move,” Jack told the family's cat who was rescued years ago by Little Danny.

Downstairs, Brianna and several of the children were waiting. They began to giggle when Mittens refused to move.

“Listen, you, move it, or I'll stuff you in my telescope box, and you *know* how much you hate it in there.”

Mittens let out a small hiss without moving.

“Hey!”

“Jack,” Daniel interjected as he gently held his husband's upper arm. “Mittens, would you please move? Bri and I are going out.”

“Meeeeow,” Mittens responded as she slid down to the next step. She yawned and then, still on her side, used her front paws to slide down to the second step. “Meow,” she repeated as she maneuvered down yet one more step.

At the bottom of the stairs, Brianna was filming the cat while her siblings giggled and laughed. One stair at a time, the gray and white cat smoothly glided down.

“Drama queen,” Jack groused as he stepped over the cat and into the living room. “Have fun, Princess,” he said to Brianna as he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.

“You aren't mad at me anymore?” the fifteen-year-old asked.

“I was never mad at you. I was just ...”

“Worried?”

“Yeah. You know your old man: overprotective is my middle name.”

“Does that mean I should be called Overprotective instead of Ricky?” the Spitfire inquired, well aware that his given middle name was his father's middle name.

“Don't be cute.”

“Huh?”

“He's teasing,” Jonny assured his younger brother. “Little Danny will explain it to you.”

“Okay, we need to go,” Daniel announced as he picked up his backpack. “We'll call.”

“Thank you, Love,” Jack responded.

Finally, Daniel and Brianna were in the Silver Fox and headed for their ziplining adventure.

====

“Ready, Daddy?” Brianna asked as she unbuckled her seat belt.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Daniel responded nervously, causing his daughter to chuckle.

Daniel locked his sporty two-seater vehicle, leaving the backpacks inside the car as he was aware that the only personal items that were okay to bring to zip line area were car keys and wallets. He and Brianna looked around and quickly spotted the big blue tent where the modified tram would pick up the wannabe zipliners. They walked over and saw two young women smiling.

“Hello,” Daniel greeted.

“Hi,” a brunette whose hair was in a ponytail responded. “First time?”

Daniel looked around, feeling astounded, and answered, “Uh, well, yes.”

“You have the look,” the second girl, a blonde whose long hair was flitting a bit from a light wind, observed.

“I didn't know there was a ... look.”

“Oh, yeah,” the first girl responded. “I'm Kaitlyn and this is Joyce.”

“I'm Brianna,” the tomboy stated. “This is my dad, Daniel.”

“Hello again,” Daniel said with some amusement. “So, you've gone before.”

“Every couple of months, if we can. You want to start with the beginner's run.”

“Right.”

Suddenly, the women burst into laughter and Kaitlyn admitted, “We were just putting you on.”

“Yeah. We figured if we could sound confident, we'd be confident.”

“So, you're as nervous as I am,” the scientist surmised.

Both females nodded and then the four began to engage in small talk until the tram arrived. The driver welcomed them and then they headed up the trail.

====

A training session was held to acquaint the newbies with the equipment and how to use the zip line. They were taught how to put on the harness, latch it to the cable, and how to adjust their speed with the brake while going along the line. The expert instructed them on landing in the proper position by leaning back and lifting their legs.

Daniel and his daughter prudently opted to partake in the first offering that was best for first timers. It was called the PU PLNGE, two-hundred-thirty-seven-feet long and eighty feet above the canyon. The expert made sure their equipment was on securely and then showed them the jump off point, which was just a step down from where the cable was attached to the zip line. Once the zipliner stepped off the large stone, they were told to continue forward and enjoy the ride.

“Walk, run, crawl, or even step off,if you want,” the expert reminded Daniel, who smiled and nodded without giving a verbal reply. “Remember, though, not to drag your feet. That can be ugly.”

“You've got this, Daddy,” Brianna encouraged.

“Yeahsureyabetcha,” Daniel chimed in an unconvincing tone.

“How bad can it be?” Joyce mused.

“About as bad as parachuting out of a plane with no training,” Daniel replied.

“You didn't?” Brianna asked.

“I did.”

“Long story?”

“But a good one,” Daniel affirmed. “Okay.”

“Sir, your glasses.”

Daniel took off his glasses and started to put them in his pocket when Brianna piped up with a grin.

“No, you don't. I want you to see everything.”

“Actually, I was thinking a blur might be easier.” Seeing Brianna's insistent expression, Daniel took hold of the strap she handed him and secured his glasses to it before putting them back on. “Happy?”

“Yes, and you will be, too.”

“Anytime you're ready,” the expert interjected.

“Okay, okay, okay,” Daniel acknowledged rapidly. ~What's eighty feet compared to a parachute jump? Piece of cake.~ He grimaced as he asked himself, ~Why am I channeling Jack?~

“Go, Daddy!” Brianna called out.

“Right.”

With that, Daniel stepped off the stone and sprinted forward until he found himself in the air. He stayed vertical at first and looked down upon the greenery below him. It was a long drop, but in the seconds it took him to get to the halfway point, he felt calm from the view. He remembered he could slow the process of gliding along the cable, so he pressed the handle that let him take in the scene for a precious few seconds longer. It's not that the view of the canyon floor was more beautiful than anything else he'd seen in life, but he'd never actually had this view before.

~Trees, trees, and more trees. Okay, Babe, I'm bringing you here one of these days,~ the archaeologist determined about his husband.

Seeing the landing area ahead, Daniel followed instructions, leaning back and putting his legs out in front of him. He was greeted with a smile by the worker at the landing spot, who then disconnected the cable from the zip line.

~Okay, I made it. That was, uh, cool.~

Brianna was next and enjoyed the thrill of the ride.

“Wanna go on the foefie slide again, Daddy?” Seeing the shocked stare at her verbiage, Brianna replied, “Well, I thought you might appreciate the South African term for zip line; you know, the educational value. I looked it up especially for you.”

Daniel was still stunned, but he thought his daughter’s half-smile and half-smirk was adorable. He opted to simply answer her question.

“Uh, sure.”

Daniel and Brianna went for a second run on the zip line before having lunch together. They talked about lighthearted things and also covered more serious topics. Daniel even told Brianna about the parachuting incident, though he left out quite a few of the classified details.

The two took a walk around the area before returning home.

====

“Was it what you wanted, Love?” Jack asked his husband that night as they prepared for sleep.

“It was,” Daniel responded, unable to hide a pleased smile. “I hope the other dates go as well.”

“Danny, the kids are gonna love it, no matter what.”

“I know. It’s just …”

With a nod, Jack interjected, “You almost died and you want to reassure them you’re still alive and present.”

“I think maybe I want to convince myself of that.”

“You’re off to a good start.”

Continuing to ready himself for bed, Daniel thought, ~It was fun. I want that same fun to happen this weekend.~

====
--June 2
====

“Are you excited?” Daniel asked his namesake while checking the dash of the private aircraft he and Jack purchased in 2006.

“Very. I didn’t think you’d agree,” the nine-year-old admitted.

“I know I don’t talk about it much.”

“It’s okay, Daddy.”

“Having that much pain, Little Danny, is never good. That’s why I agreed. My life is so far removed from what it once was that it’s time for me to share.”

“I don’t want you to feel bad, though.”

“I won’t.”

The conversation shifted, but the Munchkin still was in disbelief that his daddy was taking him to New York to visit the Museum of Art, the place where as an eight-year-old child, Daniel witnessed the horrid deaths of his parents.

~I’m too curious,~ the boy thought in reproach, but he finally stopped thinking about when his father brought up potential gifts for Katie, their beagle who would be celebrating a birth in July.

====

Once Jo safely brought the father and son to the appropriate airport, the two headed for their hotel, where they checked in, phoned their family to let them know they arrived safely, and then went for a walk. Daniel explained about all the people who were walking as Little Danny couldn’t recall ever being in such crowds, with people bumping into one another with little regard and rushing about like ants. Daniel also took his son to ride the subway, an experience that was a little frightening to the youngster. He was safe, though, as Daniel kept a hand on his son at all times.

Later, the two ate dinner in the hotel’s fanciest restaurant. Little Danny was super impressed. The female servers treated the boy like a king and allowed him to sample a couple of foods he’d never heard of before. The meal was topped off, however, but the two Daniels’ favorite: chocolate ice cream.

After a solid sleep, Daniel and Little Danny had a more basic breakfast via room service, which was not something the Munchkin had a lot of experience with in his short lifetime. Daniel allowed his son to place the order, open the door, and tip the waiter. It was quite the thrill for Little Danny.

Then it was time for the big adventure.

“Wow,” Little Danny remarked upon entering the New York Museum of Art. “Wow,” he repeated in awe.

“There’s a lot here to see,” Daniel noted. “I’ve been here many times, and I don’t know that I really had time to truly see everything.”

For a few minutes, Little Danny went from display to display, soaking up the presentations with all of his genius.

Daniel decided to get the hard part of the visit over. He reached out and gently pulled his son towards him.

“I think now’s a good time to go see. What do you think?”

Little Danny simply nodded. This was the center of his request, to see the spot where his grandparents died. He didn’t know why it was important to him, but it was. He figured that someday when he was older, he would understand the desire to have his father bring him to this place.

“This is the room,” Daniel said softly, happy that no one else was around. He walked slowly around as memories flooded back. “You never forget.”

“Daddy, we can go, if you want.”

“It’s okay.”

“I don’t want you to feel sad.”

Daniel smiled and patted Little Danny’s back in reassurance as he stated, “Sadness and pain are always hard, Son, but time does heal. It’s okay.” After a nod, he went to a specific spot and looked up. “It was right here. Daddy and Mommy were trying to direct the person putting up the cover stone, but something went wrong.” He let out an ironic chuckle. “I … I still don’t really know why it fell, and I saw it. I saw it all, but it still feels a bit fuzzy. I think the stone fell on Daddy first and he, and it, fell back onto Mommy. I just remember her glasses.”

“Why?”

“I saw them, but she wasn’t there,” Daniel revealed. “Her glasses were knocked off her face.”

“Where were you, Daddy?”

Daniel looked back at the boy and the motioned to a spot behind and to the left of the Munchkin.

“Right there. I sat there, and sat, and sat.” Daniel walked to the spot and took the same position as when he was eight. “I saw the paramedics and museum personnel talking. They took my parents away, and I just sat here.”

“No one helped you?”

“Not for a long time, but someone came … eventually.”

“Daddy, why didn’t Nick adopt you?” the youth asked about Nicholas Ballard.

Little Danny remembered Nick from the family’s adventure in Mexico. They were on a dig for J-O Enterprises. Unfortunately, the dig was infiltrated by Nick who claimed to want to be a grandfather figure to the brood. The kids finally saw through him, and he was sent packing.

“I don’t know. I guess some people don’t really care about family. He, uh, loved his work and that was more important to him.”

“I love to learn, but I’d never let anything bad happen to you or Dad or my brothers and sisters just so I could keep learning.”

Smiling as he looked down at Little Danny, now seated next to him, Daniel nodded and put forth, “Neither could I.” He paused briefly. “I understand loving your work and needing to accomplish a goal, but … I don’t know. All Nick wanted to do was buy me waffles for breakfast and go on his way. That was Nick.”

“It wasn’t right, Daddy.”

Daniel put his arm around his namesake and pulled him close for a hug.

“Daddy, what did you and your daddy talk about?”

Daniel shrugged for a second and pursed his lips as he thought back and answered, “When we were in Egypt, we talked about the pyramids and camels, and we laughed at all the sand. We just … talked. Daddy would let me help him, even when I had no clue what I was doing. He explained what the dig was, why they were doing it there, and, well, he showed me the tools and how to use them …”

“Just like you and Dad have done with me and the brood, huh?”

“Yes,” Daniel affirmed with a bob of his head. “Daddy hoped I would love it, just like I hope you and maybe some of the others will, too.”

“What else did you talk about with your daddy?”

“Oh, I don’t … wait, I remember him telling me how much he loved Mommy.” Daniel leaned his head back as a new memory took shape. “He … it was here. I think they were waiting for the cover stone to be ready. Mommy was talking to someone, maybe the curator, but I’m not sure. He … gawd, he asked me if I’d like to have a little brother.”

“A little brother?”

“Oh gawd,” Daniel expressed in surprise. “He didn’t ask me if I wanted a little brother or little sister. He was very specific, and I remember, he was looking at Mommy in that way he did sometimes, when all he saw was her.”

Little Danny gasped and moved out in front of his father as he queried, “Daddy, was Grandma Claire going to have a baby?”

Daniel just stared at Little Danny until he sprang up, needing to walk around the room as he processed the renewed memory. He shook his head, not knowing what to think.

“I don’t know.”

“I wish we could find out. I’d like to know if I have another uncle.”

Daniel agreed with a soft, “So would I.” After standing in silence for a solid minute, the archaeologist mumbled, “I need to see the autopsy.” He blinked as he continued to think about the situation. Finally, he leaned over to be eye-level with the boy. “Little Danny, I know we’re supposed to spend the day here, but I’d like to find Mommy’s autopsy report. That could take all day, and I might have to call some contacts. It could ruin the trip for you.”

“No, Daddy, this is important. If we, the brood, have another uncle, we want to know.”

“He wouldn’t have been born. You do understand that?”

“Once a baby is in a mother’s womb, he or she is a baby and a baby is a life. That’s what I believe.”

“Me, too,” Daniel replied. “Are you sure?” Seeing his namesake nod, he suggested, “Let’s find a quiet spot so I can make a phone call.”

====

“Jason, it’s Daniel Jackson-O’Neill. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

Jason Perdue worked somewhere within the records section for New York City. Daniel couldn’t recall exactly what he did for a living, but he remembered Jason as being a friend of a contractor who called in J-O Enterprises to check out a location where a new shopping mall was planned to be built a couple of years ago. They’d kept in touch occasionally, mostly during the holidays.

“Nope. I’m just putting in my hours. How’s Jack?”

“He’s good.” Daniel drew a breath. “Jason, I’m in New York.”

“Gonna dig up Godzilla?” the man joked.

“No, I’m showing one of my sons the New York Museum of Art.”

“They have some cool stuff there.”

“They do,” Daniel agreed, “but that’s not why I’m calling. I need a favor.”

“Speak up.”

“I need a copy of an autopsy report.”

“Okay.”

“From 1973.”

The man whistled in surprise and returned, “That might take awhile.”

“It’s my mother. She and my father were killed trying to place a cover stone as part of an exhibit at the museum in 1973.”

“Are you thinking there’s liability?”

“No, we’re way past that,” Daniel responded. “I think she might have been pregnant. That’s the information I need to know.”

“It’s a tall order, Daniel, but I may know a guy who knows a guy,” Jason singsonged. “Give me your contact information and I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it.”

====

It was approaching five in the evening, but neither Daniel nor his son were hungry. While they’d eaten a small lunch around noon, hours had passed with no word from Jason. This resulted in the current loss of appetite for them.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the hotel door. Daniel hurried to the door and opened it.

“Sorry, it took so long,” Jason spoke as he held a manila envelope in his hands. “It took the guy I know a little longer than expected to get to the guy he knows.”

“It’s okay,” Daniel spoke. “Come in. Uh, this is my son, Little Danny. Little Danny, this is Mister Perdue.”

“Cut that out,” Jason objected. “I’m just Jason. I’m not staying, but I actually did want to meet your kid, and I thought you’d want to read this in private.” He handed over the envelope and nodded. “It was great seeing you. Tell Jack ‘hi’ for me.”

“I will.”

“Bye, Mis… I mean, bye, Jason.”

“Enjoy New York,” Jason responded to the boy as he departed, closing the door behind him.

“What does it say, Daddy?”

“I … I guess I’ll have to open it to find out.”

Cautiously, Daniel unsealed the envelope and pulled out the report. He skimmed it, looking for any words that might indicate a pregnancy. Then he saw it.
 
“Daddy?”

Daniel looked down at Little Danny and informed, “You have another uncle.”

The boy smiled brightly, but he turned off the smile as he observed his father.

“Are you happy about it, Daddy?”

“I was going to be a big brother. I wonder what that would have been like,” Daniel replied. He looked again at his son. “Yes, I’m happy about it. I mean, obviously Daddy was happy. I’m sure Mommy was, too.”

Father and son stayed the night and then they had to get home. Daniel wished they could stay so Little Danny could legitimately take in the museum, but he had obligations in Colorado Springs.

“We’ll come back again sometime, though, just you and me. I promise.”

“I’d like that,” Little Danny replied with understanding.

====

It was in the wee hours of the morning, the darkness still coloring the sky, when the airport in Colorado Springs came into view. Before landing the Meyers 200A plane, Daniel made a quick request of his son.

“I’d like to tell Dad about your,” Daniel felt funny saying the word, “uncle, so if you could wait until tomorrow to tell your siblings …”

“I get it. I’ll wait.”

====

Greetings of ‘welcome home’ felt awesome to Daniel and Little Danny. The kids were on lookout for the returning travelers, especially after getting the phone call that they wouldn’t be home as until much later than anticipated. Everyone was curious and wanted to know about the trip. Little Danny satisfied them by speaking about the flight to and fro and the things he’d initially seen at the museum.

“I’m really tired, but I have lots to tell you.”

There was a bit of a covert glance between the Munchkin and his younger father, something Jack immediately noticed.

As the kids flocked upstairs, following the storytelling Munchkin, Jack tugged on his lover’s arm and asked, “I’ve missed something.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Our son is deflecting and you have that look.”

“What look is that?”

“Daniel!”

The archaeologist chuckled lightly and then lowered his head as he confessed, “Yes, there’s something and I asked Little Danny to keep it to himself until I talked with you about it.” Very quickly, he assured, “I’m okay, Jack. It’s not bad. It was just … unexpected.”

“You’re okay?”

“I am. Uh, I’m thinking a six-pack of beer and the Aerie once the children are in bed and I have a chance to change clothes.”

“I’m in, but you’re okay?”

Daniel kissed his soulmate and affirmed, “I am. You’ll be surprised.”

“Should I start guessing?”

“I remembered something.”

“We have a date.”

“Ten minutes, if the children are back in their beds.”

“Meet you in ten.”

Jack was extremely curious, but he was satisfied the big news would be told him before the night was through. His internal Daniel alarm was not sounding, so he believed Daniel when he said he was okay.

~Okie dokie, Danny. Beer on the roof deck and then you’ll spill.~

The retired general had no clue of the special news he was about to hear, but once he heard it, he was thrilled, as were the brood when they found out later.

====
--June 6
====

Rested up from the surprising trip to New York City, Daniel was eager for his next dates and that meant one very busy day. While he would have preferred a full day with each child, he was in somewhat of a time crunch. The reason for this is because the brood convinced their parents to have another wedding ceremony. This would be the fourth time the couple exchanged vows. Afterward, the lovers planned to take a short honeymoon. Thus, Daniel was tripling up on his dates on this day.

The morning began with a breakfast at IHOP with Chenoa. She loved their smiley face pancakes as they made her giggle.

Afterwards, Daniel and daughter went horseback riding. The choice was a surprise to the archaeologist because his little dove was already an accomplished equestrian and frequently went riding. He understood when the Curly Top explained her request to him.

“I love riding, Daddy. It’s one of the most important things to me, and I know I go riding a lot,” Chenoa had begun. “But you and I have never gone riding together. There’s something special about being on a horse and seeing nature. I want to share that with you.”

The girl was right, so Daniel was granting her wish.

Father and daughter began at a slow pace, allowing their horses to warm up and then Chenoa called out, “Race you to the meadow,” and took off.

“Uh …” Daniel could only stutter momentarily and take off himself.

As the meadow approached, Daniel spurred ahead, just inching his way to the meadow before the young girl.

Giggling, Chenoa praised, “Daddy, you’re good.”

“I’ve done a little riding.”

“With SG-1?”

“It, uh, well, yes, every now and again.”

“Isn’t it great, Daddy? Riding, racing, being so connected to your horse. You have to be connected for Freda to respond that way and win.”

“Freda’s a good horse,” Daniel praised as he leaned forward and patted the horse’s neck. “Do you want try jumping?” he asked, motioning over to a small fence that outlined a section of the meadow.

Shaking her head, Chenoa responded, “No, I don’t like jumping that much. Oh, I can do it. So can Cupcake.”

“I thought being an equestrian meant you’d like horse jumping.”

“Too much risk and for nothing.”

“You aren’t scared?”

“No, Daddy, but why should I risk Cupcake getting hurt, just to jump over a silly fence? See, I know if I had to, if there was danger or some emergency, and I needed her to jump, Cupcake would and we’d make it; but, you know, if maybe her leg hit a post and she was hurt, I’d be very sad, but I’d know it was necessary. Just jumping to jump, that’s a silly risk, so I only do it sometimes when the horse needs the practice, but I still don’t do it much.”

“That’s why you don’t watch the equestrian jumping events on television. I wondered why, Noa.”

“Horses get hurt; it’s sad. I don’t want to watch that.”

“You know, I’m glad we came riding today, Sweetie. I’ve learned a lot about you this morning.”

“I’m glad, Daddy.”

The morning was still young, so Daniel and Chenoa walked their horses for a bit before heading back to the stable.

====

Daniel and Chenoa arrived home mid-lunchtime for their family. Chenoa happily served herself some tomato soup and retrieved the already-made turkey and bacon sandwich from the refrigerator.

“Are you going to join us, Danny?”

Looking at his watch, the scientist answered, “No. I have a couple of quick calls to make before my next date.” He looked at the Bijou and Katie, the mother and daughter beagles, and asked, “Do you want to go upstairs with me?”

The response was complete stillness and silence. There wasn’t a tail wag or tiny arf to be seen or heard.

“Okay, uh, I won’t be long,” Daniel said as he began to slowly go upstairs. He looked back at the canines. ~Something’s wrong.~

Unfortunately, Daniel had no time to think about the precious pups right now, but he vowed internally to figure it out later.

====

“I’m glad we’re doing this,” Jennifer sighed with content as Daniel drove in his silver sports car towards their destination.

“I really wanted to do it, to spend time with all of you, individually.”

“Because you almost died?”

“Yes.”

“This is going to be a hoot,” the excited young woman spoke.

“Why’d you choose this activity?” Daniel probed.

“At the family meeting when we talked about the twelve dates, you said to pick something new, maybe something we’ve thought about doing but never had.” With a glint in her eye, she supposed, “Maybe I just wanted to see what was so great about this kind of life.”

Daniel smiled and continued driving the Silver Fox towards this unusual destination. He wondered how much he would enjoy it. In fact, that was his inner fear, that it would be unpleasant. He promised himself to be open to the experience and not let the past get the best of him.

====

“There it is,” Jennifer pointed out about Battlefield Colorado, the only outdoor laser tag facility in Colorado.

“And we’re on time,” Daniel noted with a check on the clock. The two had an appointment for 1:30pm and it just a few minutes after one now. “You’re sure you want to do this?”

“Absolutely.”

Daniel had reason to believe the facility operated safely. There were glowing reviews about it online and for the last two years it received the Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor.

====

Daniel and Jennifer went to the appropriate area to sign in. Both wore the suggested attire which included a long sleeve shirt or blouse and sneakers. Since long pants were also recommended, both wore jeans. The two would be assigned on one of two teams, meeting other game players they didn’t know. Their group had sixteen people, so there would be eight people on a team.

“Let’s be on separate teams,” Jennifer suggested.

“Don’t you want to work together?”

“Heck, no, Daddy. I want to tag your butt,” the twenty-one-year-old admitted with a big grin on her face.

“Oh, well, okay.”

The participants, all of whom signed waivers of liability, began to assemble. There was one boy who looked to be about ten, a few teenagers, five young adults near Jennifer’s age, a couple who looked to be in their forties, and five senior citizens who said they loved laser tag and played regularly.

Daniel and Jennifer were not the only newcomers to the activity. The middle-aged couple dropped by on a whim and decided to play and two of the teenagers were brought there by a friend, who was a frequent player.

Everyone in this group chose the same option. There were three possible choices, but upon signing up, Jennifer couldn’t help but pick the adventure labeled as “Special Ops.”

The facility covered three acres with six buildings on site for the games. The most basic option was infantry, which was included in each of the offers. The Special Ops included an additional game as well.

After an orientation, the first game began. The weapons, known as respawns, came in a variety of choices. Everyone picked the weapon of their choice. Most all were automatics. The object of infantry was simply to ‘kill’ as many of your ‘enemy’ as possible without getting ‘killed’ yourself.

Daniel coughed lightly as he waited. Holding the weapon was stirring up the old days within him.

“Are you okay, Daddy?”

“I’m fine, Sweetie. You ready for this?”

“I am, but I’m not sure you are,” Jennifer confided. “It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing. A lot of the people we’re playing with have never even held a gun.” She looked around and whispered, “You used a pistol on …”

Seeing Jennifer pause but her hand circling as if he should know what she wanted to say, Daniel nodded and clarified, “A Beretta.”

“You’ll survive,” Jennifer teased. “Hey, let’s make a bet.”

“A bet?”

“You win and I’ll buy you a big stash of Twinkies and I’ll even help you hide them from Dad.”

“And if you win?”

“We visit a little dress shop on the way home and you buy me this dress I’ve been ogling for months.”

“In other words, you already tried it out on Dad, and he doesn’t like the dress.”

With a frown, the daughter complained, “You two talk too much.”

Daniel laughed slightly and then mentioned, “You know, Jen, my so-called addiction to Twinkies has been long exaggerated.”

“Do we have a bet?” Jennifer asked.

“What’s ‘wrong’ with the dress?”

“Cleavage, but only about an inch, Daddy, and I can fix that.”

“Okay. It’s a bet.”

The action began as the two teams moved out and began to search. Shots were fired in short order, but Daniel couldn’t see who it was or even which team suffered a loss. He was taking more of a wait and see approach to the action, feeling uncertain how much he wanted to let himself get involved in laser-tagging.

“Hey, Mister, do something!” one of the teenagers on his team told Daniel.

The comment was overheard by three of the teens who were on the other side. They cackled and spat challenges, claiming things like, “He can’t even hit that building over there.”

“Wanna bet?” Daniel heard himself say.

As the laser fire burst, the archaeologist surprised everyone by running for cover by a tree. He sensed a tag heading for him and without thinking, he hit the ground, rolling over and then rising to his knees and firing. Red dot scopes easily hit their marks.

“Wow!” the teammate exclaimed. “That was rad, dude.”

Jennifer’s eyes were wide. Her daddy had just taken out the three teenagers and the married middle-aged couple proclaimed as enemies. She stood out in the open in utter amazement and then she realized another truth.

“Daddy, how could you? You shot me!”

“Okay, I fudged the truth a little. I am addicted to Twinkies.”

Jennifer burst into laughter and headed for where the ‘dead’ combatants waited. She was not the least bit surprised when Daniel’s team won the overall event and they unofficially bestowed the honor of best marksman to the archaeologist.

The second game was an assault where some of the group with unlimited ammunition attempted to overtake a location being held by the other participants who had limited ammunition. This game was equally fun and Jennifer continued to be amazed by her father’s actions, especially when he called out strategy moves to his teammates.

“Are you sure you’re an archaeologist?” one of the young adults questioned.

“Yes.”

“Unbelievable,” was the response.

“Daddy.”

“What do you want me to tell them?”

Jennifer laughed, “I don’t know, but, geez, what are they thinking?”

“If they’re like us, they’re thinking it’s time to go home.”

“This was a blast, Daddy. I’m glad I was on your side for the assault.”

“Me, too.”

====

“You missed the turn,” Jennifer pointed out from the passenger seat.

“We’re making a stop.”

The young woman was surprised when she realized where her daddy was taking her.

“Daddy, you won the bet.”

“I want to get you the dress anyway.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I know and that’s why I am.”

====

Daniel and Jennifer bounded inside the front door a few minutes after seven.

“Danny, you’re late.”

“I know. I’m going to change right now.”

“Sorry, Dad. We made a couple of stops on the way home.”

“Did you have fun?” Jack asked.

“Yes. Dad, you can’t believe how good Daddy was with the rifle he used. He got most of the other team himself.”

“Luck,” Jack lied. He, of course, knew something Jennifer and the brood did not. Their younger father was a sharpshooter, something learned during the darkness of his foster days. It would be Daniel’s choice when and if to share that part of his past with the kids. ~That’s my Danny.~

====

The Air Force general bounded up the stairs and entered the master bedroom.

“Did you hear the thunder?” Jack questioned referring to the loud noise that filled the sky for roughly the last half hour.

“Couldn’t miss it. What’s the forecast?”

“Little bit of rain with the thunder for the next few minutes. It’s supposed to clear after that,” Jack advised.

“Jack …” a worried Daniel began.

“I called the neighbors before coming upstairs. They peeked over the fence for me and said everything was still in place. They heard the thunder, but the ground is dry, at least as of five minutes ago.”

“I hope it stays that way.”

“Danny, just move it inside if the rain comes.”

“It’s not the plan,” Daniel sighed.

“It’s Plan B.”

Daniel couldn’t help but grin at the remark and nod. There was always a backup plan and sometimes there was a backup for the backup.

“It’ll be fine, Angel.”

“Thanks, Babe.”

“I’ll go check on Li’l Bit,” Jack stated. “Let me know when you’re in position.”

“Yes, Sir,” Daniel mused, so often feeling like his husband would forever speak like he was still in the military.

====

 Jack tapped on the closed bedroom door and waited for the okay to enter. When he did, he let out a wallop of a whistle and grinned.

“Li’l Bit, you are beautiful,” the father proclaimed.

“Thank you,” the girl, now eleven, replied. “Is Daddy ready?”

“He’s working on it, Princess.”

“It’s my fault, Lulu, that we’re late, but, trust me, you’re going to have a marvelous time tonight.”

“I know I will.” Lulu looked at her smiling father and queried, “Do you like my dress?”

“Lulu, it’s a lulu,” Jack quipped. “You’re going to knock Daddy’s socks off.”

“Jen made it for me.”

“I helped, but it was mostly Mrs. Valissi.”

“It’s exactly what I asked her for; perfect,” Lulu opined as she twirled around in her new fancy dress.

The dress was black with shiny sequins on it everywhere that made the attire look more elegant. The neck had an upturned collar that was firm all around. The sleeves were encompassed by a thin lace and at the end of the sleeves was the same type of look as with the collar, only in reverse. To accentuate the dress, the teenager wore shiny black shoes.

“Lulu, I have something from Aunt Sam for you,” Chenoa stated. “Turn around.” When her sister was turned, Chenoa placed a small string of pearls around her neck and clasped it closed.

“These are the ones Uncle Pete gave her on her birthday.” Lulu gasped as her hands went up to touch the necklace. Nervously, she queried, “What if something happens? I can’t wear these. Maybe they’ll break.”

“No, they won’t,” Jennifer assured. “We’re talking Aunt Sam here.”

“Here’s your purse,” Aislinn said, handing the small clutch to her sister.

The clutch was a perfect size, just fitting nicely in the palm of Lulu’s hand. It was also black and had a tiny gold handle for easy carrying. Inside were just three items: a small handkerchief, a wallet photo of Calico the cat, and four quarters in case she needed to make an emergency phone call.

**Anytime, Babe. I’m downstairs.**

“Miss Lulu, may I escort you to your date for the evening?” Jack asked in a formal tone.

Lulu curtsied and replied, “Yes, you may,” as she put her hand through her dad’s arm.

“You know I’m jealous.”

“Then ask me out sometime,” Lulu giggled, earning her a kiss on the side of her forehead.

“I’ll do that,” Jack promised.

====

“Where are we going, Daddy?” Lulu inquired, happy to be going anywhere and yet still curious. ~I don’t think there are any real father-daughter dances going on tonight.~

“You’ll see, Sweetie,” Daniel responded. “Lulubelle, if I haven’t already said it, I’m going to say it again. You are stunning in that dress.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

Though a little tired, Daniel was determined to give his Curly Top the evening she deserved. Once again, the request for this activity was unanticipated.

“I’m not sure how to do that, Lulu,” Daniel had admitted to the girl. “Why this?”

“Jen told me about the time when Dad danced with her at the shelter where the Mouseketeers lived before you adopted them. It was very special and she’s never forgotten it. I’ve never gone to a dance with any of my parents before. I … well, I want to know what it feels like,” Lulu had explained.

Now, Daniel reached over to take Lulu’s hand in his for a few seconds while he promised, “We’re going to dance the night away.”

The grin was priceless and filled Daniel’s heart with joy.

====

Suddenly, Lulu recognized where they were and mumbled, “This is Aunt Sara’s house.”

“It sure is,” Daniel responded, holding up an object while adding, “And I have the key.”

Sara and her family were on vacation for a week, but before the Wilson family left town, they told Jack and Daniel to use their home for this special occasion.

The teen was a little confused as she entered the house, bu then her eyes widened and her mouth opened. It wasn’t the interior of the house that caused this reaction, but what she saw outside in the backyard.

“Daddy, it’s all decorated. Look, there’s a little dance floor, and the lighted bulbs, and some … tinsel.”

~Tinsel? Okay, I’ll take that,~ Daniel thought. “Check it out, Lulu. I have to get something.”

Lulu was taken aback by what she saw. The yard was totally made up, but it wasn’t tacky or too youthful. It simply looked like a respectable place for a father and daughter dance. There were lights, lanterns, a few balloons, and some streamers that bordered like a canopy over the dance floor.

“For when we’re ready,” Daniel stated as he joined Lulu outside while juggling a drinking picture and two plates.

“Punch?”

“Aunt Sara’s recipe, but I think Jen made it,” Daniel conceded. “Actually, I’m not sure who made it.”

The plates contained some finger sandwiches, celery snaps, and chocolate chip cookies.

Lulu was still taking in the surprise when Daniel turned on the CD, full of appropriate music for many dances, fast, slow, and everything in-between.

“May I have this dance?” Daniel asked.

“Yes, you may.”

Daniel and Lulu did as he promised and danced together for a few hours, taking breaks to enjoy the food and simply to sit and chat.

“Jen was right,” Lulu put forward as she danced a waltz. “Dancing with a parent is the best.” She looked up into her daddy’s eyes and confided, “I’ll never forget this, Daddy, not ever.”

“Neither will I.”

Finally, Daniel realized it was time to go. The leftover food was bagged and the punch secured in a container so they could take it home for the family to enjoy later.

“Daddy, how did you do all this?” Lulu asked as they locked up the Wilson residence.

“I didn’t.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, where were you this afternoon?”

Lulu quickly responded, “I was at Chloe’s house.”

“Where was everyone else?” Daniel queried.

“I’m not sure, but everyone had to be somewhere. Dad was chauffeuring.”

“He was, but he was bringing everyone here. Once Jen and I left for the laser thing and you met up with Chloe, he brought the brood here and they decorated.”

“Daddy?”

“Hmm?”

“We have the best family, don’t we?”

“We do.”

“Daddy?”

“What, Sweetie?”

“There’s no music, but could we have one more dance?”

“Right here in the front yard?” Daniel saw the sparkling eyes that were eager for one last dance and answered, “I’d be honored.”

With a few neighbors watching curiously out their windows, Daniel and Lulu enjoyed a final dance for the evening before heading home.

====
–June 7
====

After a full day with three daughters on Monday, the archaeologist was tired. He went to bed early that evening. In fact, Jack found him lying prone atop the bedding on their bed, with no pajama top and only his briefs on.

~Tempting; so tempting,~ Jack had thought.

Leaving his own savory ideas behind, the husband instead retrieved a blanket from the closet and gently placed it over Daniel, making sure it covered his broad shoulders. Then Jack carefully slipped under the covers to avoid waking his Love. Soon, he, too, was asleep.

With the digital clock on the nightstand just switching to 3:09a.m., Daniel startled, rising to a sitting position on the bed.

Jack woke and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve got it!” came the confusing response. Daniel got out of bed and grabbed his robe. As he did, he looked down and realized he’d never put on his pajamas. ~Gawd, I was tired.~ He looked back and noticed the blanket. “Thanks, Babe.”

“You’re welcome. Now what is it you’ve got?” Jack inquired, still in bed.

“Bijou and Katie: I know why they’re upset,” Daniel asserted as he headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” the older man called out.

“To fix it,” Daniel answered.

“You don’t know where they are,” Jack bellowed. “They could be anywhere, with one or more of the kids.”

“I know exactly where they are.”

“Of course, you do,” Jack groaned as he rose up from the bed and reached for his own robe. His waking mind began to think, something he wasn’t fond of at such an early hour. Still, the brain was at work and then, like magic, he mumbled, ~Yep, that’s it.~

At that point, Jack headed downstairs, but he did so calmly and not in any rush. Everything was under control.

~Daniel’s got this.~

====

The barefooted archaeologist approached the beagles in their new beanbag that was most often placed in the corner of the living room. It was near the patio door, but not so close that they would feel any drafts. The original beanbag finally reached its end a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a loss of interior beads, as those were replaceable, but the bag itself had been punctured and stretched. This new beanbag was well received by the dogs.

Daniel sat on his knees and watched the sleeping canines for a couple of minutes. They weren’t happy. He could tell. Both had frowns on their faces and they were close together, too close, as if clinging together for support.

Gently, Daniel reached out with both hands and made contact with the top of the dogs’ heads, rubbing them in caressing circles.

“Bijou, Katie, I’m sorry to wake you up, but I’m not sorry. I mean, of course I’m sorry to disturb your sleep, but I need to talk with you.”

Bijou let out a big yawn, almost as if bored, while Katie simply stared without moving an inch.

“You know we two-leggeds make a lot of mistakes in life. It’s the worst when we repeat our mistakes, and I’m afraid I’ve just done that.” Daniel sat back, stopping the petting so the girls could adjust themselves if they wanted. “See, I remember when the Munchkins were born and Jack and I were a little …”

“… crazy,” Jack completed with softness from the base of the stairs, where he sat down to listen.

“Yes, crazy,” Daniel agreed. “Thank you, Jack.” He looked at the dogs and admitted, “We told you then that we were wrong with our actions. You forgave us. I promised I’d never make that mistake again.”

The beagles focused on Daniel, but neither reacted to his words.

“In spite of my good intentions, I messed up again. You’ve been hearing about the dates with the children and you’ve seen me go out with some of them already, and I get it. I left you two out. I’m so sorry.” The archaeologist let out a little cough, something he sometimes did when nervous or remembering a point in his past. “You know, after my parents died when I was a little boy, I forgot what a home was. I didn’t know what it meant. I’m not sure I even believed in homes anymore. Then one day, Jack brought you two here and it was amazing, the way you changed our lives. I suddenly knew, like magic, what home was. Home was you,” he touched Bijou’s nose, “and, you,” he touched Katie’s nose, “and Jack … and me. We were a family and we were … home. You two gave me that. You gave me home.” Daniel sighed contentedly from the memory. “Again, I’m so sorry. That’s all I can say except you know what we’re going to do today after breakfast?”

Suddenly, Daniel noticed both dogs shift from a curled up position to one where they were lying down and looking up at him. Their eyes were beginning to shine.

“First, we’re going to the park, not one of the ones near here, but that big one on the other side of town that you love so much. Maybe you’ll get to meet new dogs and new people. We’ll … we’ll play tag and ‘where did I go?’ Afterwards, we’ll go to your favorite pet store, the little one with great stuff. Each of you can pick out one present, from me to you. Then, when we get home, we’ll go on a dig.”

Katie let out a pleased bark at that last statement. She loved going on digs in her special play yard, a sandbox where all kinds of things had been found over the years.

“I’ll bet we find new artifacts, three or four even,” Daniel proclaimed. “I hope you’ll forgive me, but we’re going to have a great morning, so get some sleep.”

Daniel was relieved when the two dogs jumped up on him and gave him a face-full of kisses. He laughed with joy.

“I love you, too.”

The dogs settled down on their beanbag and headed back to sleep. Daniel watched for a minute and smiled because smiles were now on their faces, too. He stood and went to the stairs.

Standing, Jack softly reminded, “Danny, you have that phone call with Gallagher in the morning.”

“You can handle it.”

“He likes you. He’s made it clear he prefers dealing with you.”

“It’s too bad he’s navy and can’t tolerate the Air Force,” Daniel remarked. “Jack, you’ll just have to tell him that a family emergency came up and my duty is here. I can call him in the afternoon, before General Hammond arrives for dinner.”

“He might pull his business.”

“Babe, remember our first client? Our best client: the man who continues to provide us with business, year after year.”

Jack sighed, nodded, and affirmed, “Abayomi.”

“We got his business, Jack, because I was honest and said my family came first.”

“Noa: she didn’t like you being in New York City.”

“It was traumatic for her, so I wasn’t about to stay. It could have cost us J-O.”

“He was angry,” Jack recalled from all he’d heard at the time.

“He was, but when he found out why I had to leave and cancel our meeting, he understood. Now he’s not only our best client, he’s our friend.”

“Okay, Danny, I’ll give it a whirl with Gallagher,” Jack agreed.

“Oh, and,” Daniel glanced over at the beagles, ensuring they were still asleep and not listening to the conversation. Still, he whispered, “You’ll have to take care of setting up the dig.”

“With what?” Jack asked with a shrug. “We don’t have any toys we haven’t given them already.”

“Be creative. See what we need; review what we have; and make it work,” Daniel replied with a smirk.

“Smart aleck.”

Daniel chuckled, “That’s what you always said in time of crisis. Time to put up or shut up, General.”

“I’ll make it happen, just for you.”

With a bright smile, Daniel leaned over and kissed his husband, after which he stated an enticing, “Thank you.”

The two headed upstairs where Daniel finally put on his pajamas, much to Jack’s regret, and returned to their slumber. There was no way Daniel was going be too tired to play full out with the beagles. Jack’s desires would have to be fulfilled on another day.

====

Bijou and Katie were thrilled when minutes after breakfast, they were called to the front door where they saw their harnesses in Daniel’s hand.

“Are you ready?”

Several happy and loud barks, along with some prancing around, was the response.

Daniel put on the harnesses and attached the leash. It had a connector so that only one leash was needed but both dogs were connected to it.

The archaeologist essentially followed the dogs to his 1999 Shelby-American, his much beloved vehicle that was originally a gift from his lover, even though Daniel actually paid for it himself.

The girls loved sticking their faces out the window and feeling the wind against them. It was the most fun when their ears would flop about from the airy contact. Knowing this, once out of the residential section, Daniel took the long way to their destination, even getting on the freeway for a few miles to allow the beagles to enjoy full wind, ear flop action.

“Here we are,” Daniel announced as he parked the car. “We’ll stay on leash while we check out who’s around.”

For a few minutes, human and dogs walked around the area. This was almost four times as large as the regular parks they went to and it did have an off-leash area for canines. Satisfied with what he saw of other dogs present, Daniel released the beagles from the leash and watched as they began to run and approach other dogs, big and small. They made a lot of friends as they ran around.

After a half hour, most of the other dogs were leaving, so Bijou and Katie approached Daniel with expectation in their eyes.

“You’re on!”

Bijou pushed on Daniel’s right leg and took off.

“I’m it? Already?” the archaeologist laughed. “Not for long!”

Daniel gave chase. It took him ten minutes to tag Katie, but he finally did before he took off with Katie on the charge. Fortunately, she tagged her mother instead of her human.

Daniel was taking a breather, leaning forward as he breathed in and out. All of a sudden, he realized a sad truth. He had a face of mama beagle at his nose. He felt the snout-to-nose touch and sighed.

“Very funny, Bij,” Daniel mused, but he honored the tag. ~Shoulda’ called a time out.~

The tag name ended a few minutes later when the three took a short break to enjoy coffee and biscuits. That is, Daniel drank coffee from the thermos he brought with him while giving the dogs two biscuits to enjoy. Since their game play wasn’t over yet, he didn’t want to give them any more snacks than the two he did.

Next, Daniel initiated their ‘where did I go’ game. This was one he played with caution whenever they weren’t at home. The beagles loved the game where one of their humans would suddenly disappear from their view and they had to find them. It was a fun concept, but not always fun if the animals thought the humans had really gone missing, something more likely to happen in strange places or ones less visited, such as this park.

Still, after talking to Bijou and Katie and assuring them it was game time, Daniel began to casually walk around. The girls knew how to play and were aware that they couldn’t keep staring at Daniel. They looked away, sniffing the grass. When they looked up, Daniel was gone.

“Let’s find him, Mama,” Katie communicated excitedly.

“Look behind that tree,” Bijou suggested. “I’ll check that fence.”

The dogs tracked down their owner and playfully attacked him with Daniel falling back on the grass and laughing as he felt the presence of paws on his chest. This was the best part of the game for everyone.

====

Daniel and the girls, back on their connected leash, walked through the pet store. This was a smaller, independently owned store. The Jackson-O’Neills more frequently shopped at PetSmart and were well known at the location they most often went to, but on special occasions, they loved bringing their canines to this local retailer.

“Okay, Bij. One item. Lead the way.”

The blue-eyed man was surprised when the dog bypassed all kinds of toys and treats and stopped at the clothing aisle. She led him to the section with dog sweaters. Standing on her back paws, Bijou pulled out the purple sweater and held it in her mouth.

“Are you sure?”

Bijou didn’t move and had a firm grip on the sweater.

“Are you cold?” Daniel sighed. “Okay, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get.” He gave Katie a nod and advised, “Your turn.”

Eagerly, Katie backtracked through the store to an aisle that included dog treats, but also some other items. As Bijou did, Katie stood on her back paws and pulled off an item from the shelf.

Daniel reached out for it, examining it upon Katie’s letting go of the object.

“This is one of those treat balls,” Daniel noted. “We’ve never tried those.” Chuckling lightly, he inquired, “How’d you find out about these? Did you see it advertised on TV?” He was shocked, but not all that much, when Katie let out a small woof that seemed to answer, ‘yes’, to the query. “Someone made a sell.”

Handing the food toy back to Katie, the three made their way to the checkout stand at the front of the store.

“It’s nice to see you again, Daniel,” the checker greeted. “Will this be all today?” she mused, not seeing anything in the human’s hands but spying the two items in the mouths of the dogs.

“Present time for the girls. They, uh, insisted on bringing them up themselves.”

The checker laughed as she gently retrieved the items from the beagles. She rang up the purchases and processed Daniel’s credit card payment.

“See you next time,” the woman stated as she waved goodbye to the shoppers.

====

Back at home, the beagles showed off their presents to the family while Daniel went upstairs to put on a more appropriate dig shirt. When playing in the sandbox, Daniel threw his body into it, meaning whatever he wore ended up doused with sand.

“Ready?” Daniel asked his husband when he returned to the living room.

“As ready as can be,” Jack responded. Picking up a bag on the kitchen nook counter, he followed Daniel and the beagles outside and took a seat on the wooden patio. ~Danny in the dirt: a site to behold at any time.~

As the dig began, four-year-old JD joined his dad, though he sat down on the deck steps, watching for bugs and pulling up blades of grass.

Bijou, who didn’t often go on the digs, but was participating today, was digging furiously, as was Katie. Daniel was lying on his abdomen, his legs sprawled out on the grass with his torso plopped on top of the sand. He dug with his hands, but only lightly. The goal was for the artifacts to be discovered by the dogs.

“Woof! Woof!” Katie declared as she pulled a six-inch antler bone from the box.

**Thank Little Danny for that one, Angel,** Jack communicated **He bought it last week for Katie’s birthday.**

Daniel nodded in acknowledgment and watched as Katie placed the bone in front of her mother.

“For you, Mama, because you’re the best mama ever.”

“Thank you, Dear.”

Bijou took the bone and ran over to relax in front of the doghouse where she chewed on the bone for a while before deciding to watch her human and her daughter continuing with the dig.

Katie was on a roll, her paws shoving sand everywhere.

“Woof!” the beagle announced as she pulled out a four-foot limb.

**A tree limb?** Daniel queried.

**Hey, I sanded the thing down. No twigs, nothing sticking out to hurt the girls.**

Indeed, Katie spent three minutes parading around the backyard as Jack, Daniel, and JD watched. She loved her new stick.

“Hey, you, come here,” Jack called out, waiting for the dog to run over to him. “This is for special playtime, when we’re here to supervise. That’s a big, big stick.”

Katie seemed to understand and handed the cut limb to Jack, after which she scrambled back to her play yard.

“I know there must be more here, Katie,” Daniel opined. “I’m having bad luck today. You can find another relic, though. I’m positive.”

The youngest beagle continued her dig in earnest and finally retrieved a third item.

Daniel frowned at the sight and starred in disbelief at his husband.

“What?” Jack questioned with an innocent look.

**A match car?**

**I took it out of the box.**

**What is Katie going to do with a tiny match car?** Daniel questioned.

**Who knows. You wanted four items, Danny. I had to be creative,** Jack explained about the toy that was purchased recently in anticipation of gifting it to either Ricky or JD at some point.

Katie held the toy in her mouth for a bit and then put it on the sand and glared at it in confusion.

“Mama, what is this?”

“It’s a pretend car, Dear. It’s for the children.”

“Oh, thank you, Mama.” Katie picked up the toy, took it over to JD, and placed it on his lap.

“Wow!” JD exclaimed. Looking up at his father, he spoke gleefully, “Look, Dad. Katie gave me her toy car.”

“Katie’s a peach,” a smiling Jack professed. ~And she solved my problem about who to give the dang car to and when. Next time, I’m buying two.~

“One more, Katie. I know there’s one more,” Daniel told the dog as the dig continued. “Put your nose into it, girl.”

Katie considered the comment. She’d been concentrating on digging up the artifacts with her paws. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to try to sniff out the final find.

~Wow!~ Katie thought when her nose took in an incredible smell. ~Can’t be, but it is. I know it is.~

Daniel could see Katie was onto something. He was curious what object would join the bone, big stick, and match car. His eyes widened when he saw it.

“Filet mignon?” Daniel observed in surprise.

“Bijou,” Jack called out. When the beagle sat in front of him, Jack opened the bag he’d brought outside with him and pulled out a baggie and a small bowl. He emptied the baggie, allowing the meat that was cut into small pieces to fall into the bowl. He put the bowl on the wood deck in front of him. “Eat it well.”

Daniel stood up and shook off the sand, or as much of it as he could. He walked over to where Jack and JD were, though he was still on the lawn. He was watching the beagles munching on extremely expensive food. It wasn’t that they didn’t deserve it, but to place the cooked meat in sand was curious to him.

“A little sand won’t hurt them,” Jack put forth, apparently having read his soulmate’s mind. “Like I said, I was desperate.”

Daniel laughed, shaking his head. It didn’t matter. He’d had the best morning with the beagles. He knew all was forgiven and life would go on with peace, love, and happiness.

“Katie, let me help you,” Jack called out, grabbing the knife and fork he had in his bag. He cut off the filet into pieces, as he had done for Bijou. “There you go.”

“Jack, what are we going to feed General Hammond tonight for dinner?” Daniel inquired. “I mean, Bij and Katie are eating the main course.”

“Hamburger,” Jack only half joked. “We’ll figure it out.”

As the couple headed inside a minute later, Daniel queried, “Did you speak with Mister Gallagher?”

“I told him the spot-on truth, that you had to spend time with the dogs, and I told him why.”

“You did?”

“Guess what?”

“What?”

“He’s an avid dog-lover. He has five of his own, treats them like his children, if you can imagine that.”

“Can’t imagine,” Daniel joked, knowing that was exactly how he and Jack treated the girls from the start.

“He’s waiting for your call and he even said if you were delayed and couldn’t call today, not to worry about it.”

“Honesty works.”

“It sure does,” Jack agreed.

Just then a starling sound roared.

“Thunder’s rolling,” Jack commented.

“Let it thunder,” Daniel replied. “Let it rain all day. I did what needed to be done today already.”

“Amen,” Jack teased, sensing the rain would arrive soon.

====

That night, the lovers were in bed, but Jack couldn’t sleep, something Daniel noticed.

“What’s wrong?”

“She picked a sweater,” Jack recalled about the mama dog.

“I thought it was odd, too,” Daniel responded.

“A purple sweater.”

“She had to work to get to that one, too. She could have taken a green one, or a blue one. She definitely wanted the purple one.”

“Danny, those dogs are not dog clothes dogs.”

“I know.”

“Then why the sweater,” Jack pondered.

“I don’t know.”

There was silence for a good ninety seconds when Jack suddenly sat up and exclaimed, “I’ve got it.”

“What?”

“She is cold,” Jack stated. “Danny, last year I noticed the insulation in the dog house might be off a little.”

“Off?”

“Maybe it’s shifted or come loose, but when I was doing my annual inspection, I noticed it was a little drafty inside where it shouldn’t be.”

“So, the insulation needs to be replaced and the girls are getting cold inside, so Bijou picked out a sweater to try and tell us about it,” Daniel surmised.

“Not any sweater, Love, but a purple sweater. Burgundy’s my color and purple is the closest she could get to it.”

“I’m sold,” Daniel replied. “I’m surprised the insulation hasn’t lasted longer, though.”

“Maybe there’s a leak.” Jack grew more concerned and stated, “Danny, this is a priority now. If the insulation got wet, that could lead to mold.”

“Maybe it’s just that an animal got to the insulation somehow.”

“Maybe, but we don’t play games where the girls are concerned, right?”

“Right.”

“Tomorrow morning, I’m doing a thorough inspection. Can you cover for me at J-O?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t want to mess around with this, Danny, even if it’s just an outside chance that it’s moldy.”

“No arguments from me, Babe.” After a blink, Daniel reminded, “Jack, the girls decided to stay outside tonight.”

Indeed, the rain came and went and now the darkened sky was full of clouds with a fairly decent temperature of sixty-three degrees. Inside their doghouse, Bijou and Katie could easily relax and enjoy the scent of a fresh rain and its aftermath.

“Oh, no, they’re not,” Jack refuted, getting up and putting on his robe and slipping on outdoor shoes.

“Where are you going?”

“To bring our precious pups into the house.”

“Don’t forget to close the dog doors.”

“Affirm.”

Daniel relaxed, confident Jack had everything under control. He felt happy, happy to have a home with a husband, a brood, and a zoo that included two awesome beagles.

====
–June 9
====

On Thursday, Daniel was again flying Jo, this time to the University of Cincinnati where Jeff was attending school. His son missed a lot of time earlier in the year when Daniel was sick and simply could not get away at this time, not even for a day, so Daniel was going to visit him.

The father took a rental car to the campus, where he met his son in one of the open grounds areas.

“Daddy!” Jeff exclaimed as he ran to him, eager for a familiar hug.

“Hello, Jeff. We’ve all missed you,” Daniel greeted.

“It sure is different here from home,” Jeff said as he and his father sat down on a bench. “I brought us sandwiches, chips, and something to drink.”

“That’ll be fine.”

“I don’t know very many fathers who would fly across the country just to have lunch with their son.”

“Well, you know at least two,” Daniel spoke in reference to himself and his husband.

Jeff smiled and passed out the food.

“How are classes?”

“Awesome, Daddy. I love this program; it really lets you learn and experiment,” Jeff replied about the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning in which he was participating. “Would you like to see some of my designs?”

“Very much.”

Chewing on his roast beef and ham sandwich, Jeff opened up his laptop and went to some of his design sketches.

“I prefer looking at them on paper, but having them on the computer is easier than hauling around my sketchbook.”

“I understand,” Daniel replied. Munching on a potato chip, he began to scroll through the images. “These are great, Son. Has Alex seen them?”

“I’ve sent him a couple, because he’s asked to see my work.”

“Alex believes in you, Jeff, and that says a lot,” Daniel put forward.

“Yeah, Alex is one of the best interior designers. His office is full of awards and plaques for this and that.” Jeff sighed as he confided, “I want that to be me one day, Daddy. I mean, I don’t need the rewards, but I want to be known as someone who can get the job done; you know, be respected for my skills.”

“Keep studying and it will happen.”

Still flipping though the designs, Daniel cocked his head and took in the current image on the screen.

“Something you don’t like?” Jeff inquired.

“No,” Daniel negated. “It’s … interesting.”

Jeff leaned over and realized what his daddy was looking at. He grew instantly nervous and embarrassed.

“I was just playing around.”

“Good playing.”

The remark set Jeff at ease a bit and he explained, “Alex sent me the blueprints to the house and asked what would I have done differently in the renovation.”

“Intriguing,” Daniel responded.

“I don’t think I could ever top what Alex did, Daddy,” Jeff admitted.

“Son, it’s not topping Alex, it’s about being yourself and using your own ideas to create a space. I really like what you did here in the entryway.”

“It wouldn’t work unless we brought the house forward, tearing out the front walls to give us more room,” Jeff advised, feeling a bit like his sketch was nothing more than a fantasy.

“Jeff, it’s a good concept,” Daniel maintained. “I’m not sure if Jack and I would have objected had Alex presented this to us. We needed more room everywhere. We do have a nice size front yard. Maybe we could have given up a few feet for an entryway and hallway with more room. You know we’re always jammed where the front closet is concerned.”

“And you only had eight kids when you did the renovation.”

“Exactly.”

Jeff finally admitted, “Alex told me the same thing when I sent him the sketches.”

“Time and place, Jeff. Don’t take either for granted and never assume, either. Dad and I made so many changes from what we began with, and you know about the pool.”

Jeff laughed, “And Alex’s dream of running you over with a bulldozer.”

“Something like that,” the father recalled with his own nervous smile. “Be proud of your work, Jeff. It’s good and it’s thoughtful,” Daniel observed as he continued to look at the images of what their home might have been.

It seemed like a mere minute, but the next thing father and son knew, two hours had gone by.

“I have to get to this class, Daddy. I wish I could miss it.”

“Me, too,” Daniel admitted as he hugged his son.

“I love you, Daddy,” Jeff declared while still in his father’s embrace.

“I love you, too. Go on,” Daniel urged.

Jeff gathered his things, gave his father one more wishful look, and then began to sprint for his class.

Daniel watched until Jeff was no longer in his sight and then started the journey home.

====
–June 14
====

The dates with Daniel’s children continued as scheduled until yesterday when an outdoor activity couldn’t be held due to thunder and rain. It was just too risky for amateurs, so arrangements were made to postpone the date until today.

Daniel was in the SUV and headed to the family’s large storage locker. He needed to retrieve two items, which also meant hooking up a trailer to the rear of the family vehicle. A third item was removed previously and taken to the ultimate destination since some alteration of it was required.

With the items in tow, Daniel returned home to pick up his next two dates. This was the only of his twelve dates that would include two of the brood at the same time. It just so happened that both requested the same special adventure.

“Jenny, how would you like us to spend our time together?” the father had asked, eager to hear her idea.

“I only want one thing, Daddy.”

“Which is?”

“To go racing,” the redhead had announced energetically.

“Racing?”

“Ash said I could use her Bandolero,” Jenny had advised. “I’ve never gone racing. Ricky and I were too young to race when the Munchkins were racing. I want my turn, Daddy.”

Not long thereafter, Daniel spoke with Ricky to find out his wishes. It was virtually the same conversation, only this time it was Little Danny who told his brother that he could use his winning Dirt Digger racing car. It seemed Ricky also felt a bit left out since the racing phase of the brood’s lives seemed to have ended sometime in 2015 when other priorities and hobbies took precedent. Now the Munchkins only raced a few times a year.

After consulting with his husband, Daniel drew together the Spitfires and told them they’d made the same request.

“We know,” had been the in-unison response from the twins.

Daniel had laughed, “So, you’re okay if our day together is the three of us?”

The response was in the affirmative and plans were made for this special day. Among the plans were some alteration of the third Bandolero racing car. Daniel was left to drive the General Jonny, but would require the seat to be pushed back and a different wheel put in to allow him to drive safely. After a fitting, an acquaintance at the local racetrack made the changes. A second fitting was conducted and it was determined Daniel could get in and out of the car safely and was able to work the controls. The General Jonny was at the track and ready to roll.

While several of the brood wanted to go and watch, Jack refused the request, saying this was special time for their siblings and daddy. Just as they were having their own adventures, this was the day for the twins to have theirs. The kids understood, but still wished they could root on the Spitfires.

Ricky and Jenny were all smiles in their racing uniforms. They even had sponsor patches on their outfits, including Team Munchkin (that was the name of the team owned by General Hammond for which the triplets raced); the family’s favorite grocery store (when Jack mentioned what was happening, it was the store manager who covered the cost of helmets for the twins, much to the general’s surprise, but the man wanted to do it, even knowing there would be no publicity for doing so), and, of course, J-O Enterprises which didn’t actually invest anything in the cost of the event, but which fully supported the activity. Besides, Jack thought it would be cool to have the company emblem on the uniforms.

To facilitate the experience, another contact at the Pike’s Peak International Raceway agreed to provide instruction to the Spitfires. He would decide if they grasped the concepts of the miniature stock car and could handle it safely. Without his okay, there would be no racing.

At the track, Ricky and Jenny listened intently to their instructor. Both did exactly as they were told and both children were confident in the cars’ controls.

“Are you sure they haven’t done this before?” the instructor asked Daniel at one point.

“No, they haven’t raced, but they’ve watched their siblings race many times. They’ve been the crew,” Daniel advised. “They know how the cars work. Jenny’s actually a pretty good little mechanic.”

“I believe it,” the man responded. “I want to watch them go around the track a few times before I clear them.”

Daniel nodded and watched. Ricky had one close spin on Turn 2, but Jenny’s laps were smooth. Both kept proper speed and both heeded the flags appropriately.

“Happy racing,” the instructor told the twins when they entered the pits. He gave Daniel a nod and said, “If you need me, I’ll be in there.” He pointed to a building. “I have some grown up racing cars to work on.”

“Thank you for your time.”

The instructor motioned to his colleague who was controlling the racing flags that signal a race’s status. He indicated the family was clear to race.

Three others who regularly worked as part of pit crews were there, one assigned per car. They agreed to assist the amateur drivers, ensuring their cars were ready for action and all were properly secured inside.

The track was rented for one hour of racing. Daniel brought his children together and reminded them that racing was all for fun today, to follow the rules, watch the flags, and for their first, to be extra cautious and not worry about speed. The twins promised to do as their daddy said and then all three entered their vehicles by climbing through the roof, which was the norm.

The cars made three laps around the track when the green flag waved. Daniel wasn’t the least bit wanting to win. He just didn’t want to end up on his head with an overturned car. He saw Ricky take the lead. The boy didn’t make the same mistake in Turn 2 that he had during his trial laps. Jenny remained in second place, being very deliberate in her moves. This first somewhat experimental race was only ten laps. Daniel thought of it as a ‘getting our feet wet’ race.

Lap ten ended as Lap one ended, with Ricky in the lead, Jenny in second, and Daniel safely in third.

The next few races were much the same. The finishes didn’t vary. A short break was taken before the final race which would be a longer thirty lap race with one required pit stop. Daniel sipped some coffee as he watched the conversing Spitfires.

~Gawd.~

Daniel’s eyelids closed and he let out a sigh. He just knew what was about to happen. The cautious racing was done. He could feel it in his bones.

~Just don’t flip over.~

Daniel wasn’t sure if his internal plea was for the kids or himself.

Back in their vehicles, the racers took off for the usual three pre-start laps. Daniel’s heart was being faster than it had previously. This was going to be for real and there was nothing he could do to stop it. In fact, he knew he shouldn’t stop it. The kids had earned the right to a complete and fair race. This time, Daniel couldn’t hold back. He had to give it his best effort or he’d be denying his kids the chance to succeed.

The green flag waved and this time, it was the archaeologist who jumped forward, the General Jonny edging its nose out in front of Ricky’s Dirt Digger.

“Noooooo!” Jenny shouted, finding herself in third place. “You’re going down, Daddy!”

Ricky almost spun out in Turn 2, but he managed to keep his Bandolero straight. However, Jenny barged ahead and was going forward.

Daniel continued to lead for seven laps until Jenny managed to get to his tail. She was right on his bumper, waiting for an opportunity to pass.

“Shibatwray!” Jenny swore in Abydonian as she took her pit stop, leaving the track in second place.

“I’m gonna beat you, Jenny,” Ricky laughed confidently as he continued to make laps. ~I’ll pit later and increase my lead now by staying on the track.~

Daniel just kept praying not to flip over. He almost forgot to pit, but decided to come in on the twelfth lap. This put a happy Ricky in the lead.

~My plan is working.~

The boy’s plan was a success for two more laps, but then his tires began to wear out, losing their traction.

~Ut oh.~

Ricky knew he was doomed and pitted on the fourteenth lap, allowing his father and sister to move ahead of him. While he had a nice lead at one point, it was his tires that did him in.

~Oh well. It’s fun. Goooooo Jenny!~ Ricky urged mentally.

Jenny began to increase her speed. She’d promised to be careful and didn’t want to let her daddy down by not being cautious. She also wanted to win. She went even faster until they were on the final lap.

Daniel saw Jenny’s “Ash the Flash” car getting closer in his rear view mirror. He wanted to slow down, to let her pass and win. She was going too fast, and he didn’t like it. Still, she was driving a steady race. There was no sign of her being out of control. He had to try to win.

Turn 4, the final turn, and Daniel entered it perfectly, only he felt himself drifting up the track too much.

“Crap!” Daniel complained aloud. He could sense it. Jenny was on his inside, trying to go by. “Not if I can help it, Sweetie.”

Jenny glanced over for a quick second and grinned, not that Daniel could tell with their helmets on.

The spirited youth stepped on the gas for one last time, the burst of speed allowing her to go by her father and take the checkered flag.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Jenny shouted as she immediately slowed her vehicle for a couple of cool down laps before hitting pit lane.

Daniel and Ricky were already parked and out of their vehicles when Jenny pulled in.

“Sweetie, you were fantastic,” Daniel praised while watching Jenny take off her helmet.

“That was so much fun, Daddy. Thank you!”

“You earned that victory.”

“I know.”

Jenny’s reply was joined by Ricky’s accusing, “Daddy, you weren’t trying until the last race.”

Daniel sighed, “I was trying not to flip the car.”

“But you really raced the last time,” Ricky stated pointedly.

Daniel nodded and confirmed, “Okay, I was being too cautious, but in the last race, I realized I was being unfair to you both. You wanted to race, and I needed to honor that.”

The flagman brought over the checkered flag and handed it to Jenny. That, too, was prearranged, that the winning racer would get the flag just like NASCAR racers did at the end of their races. All three of the Munchkins had multiple flags, so Jenny was super pleased to now have her own. Daniel spoke with Ricky privately to ensure he wasn’t disappointed at not getting a flag, but the boy was all smiles. He only wanted to race and have fun. The flag didn’t matter to him at all.

The cars were put in the hauler trailer and secured and then Daniel and the kids headed for home. The plan was for Jack to take the vehicles back to the storage unit the next day.

“She’s good, eh,” Jack remarked that evening as he and Daniel were doing the dinner meal cleanup.

“Totally under control the entire time,” Daniel replied. “I was scared to death, but she was a holy terror behind that wheel: steady, but a terror.”

The couple shared a laugh and went on with their night.

====
--June 15
====

Not long after being adopted by Jack and Daniel, David joined the Adventure Guides, a group similar to the Boy Scouts that unfortunately had objections to his parents and which led to his participating in the Adventure Guides. Frequently, Jack was the one who helped David progress within the organization. Daniel did as well, but Jack was simply more outdoorsy at this type of thing than the archaeologist.

This is what lead David to his request and the activity to take place on this Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m ready, Daddy.”

“Me, too,” Daniel replied.

The two didn’t take Daniel’s sporty car, but instead used Jack’s truck. This was a better choice since they headed for the mountains to do some hiking. Their backpacks contained all the required elements, from water and protein-filled snacks to emergency kits and their mobile phones in case of an emergency.

The drive only took about thirty-five minutes to reach the Seven Bridges Trail on Gold Camp Road. The hiking trail was not quite four miles and was very popular with hikers, joggers, walkers, and those who loved nature. Considered moderate in hiking difficulty, the one thing father and son knew about the trail right away was that it was hard to find.

“It must start around here somewhere,” David commented as he looked around.

“Let’s keep on the gravel road,” Daniel suggested.

As the two walked, they began to hear the water of North Cheyenne Creek. They made a right turn and followed the stream uphill.

“I think we’ve found it,” David chuckled as he nearly bumped into another hiker. They exchanged ‘sorries’ and then observed, “I didn’t know it would be so crowded here.”

“Do you want to try another trail?”

“No, let’s keep going.”

Daniel and David walked over the first bridge which was a very simple wooden bridge that crossed the creek that was maybe just a foot or two below them. A second bridge didn’t look to be in that good of condition, but it was solid, so they continued.

Father and son enjoyed seeing a lot of dogs on the trail. They said ‘hello’ to many of them, though they also noted that a good majority were off-leash, which was against the rules.

“It’s nicely shaded,” the fifteen-year-old observed. “Wow, the water is loud.”

“We picked a good day,” Daniel replied.

The third bridge looked the best of the three the two had seen. It had four wide steps upward to reach the bridge and a lot of people were observing the rock face since it looked like actual giant faces were staring down at the hikers.

After passing the third bridge, the traffic lessened and both Daniel and David were glad they hadn’t opted to change the path of their hike. They continued onward with the only disappointing thing they noticed being some trash on the side of the trail and way-too-many poop bags.

“Irresponsible people,” Daniel sighed at one point.

“We can’t just walk past all this, can we?”

“I’d like to say no, but we don’t have any gloves or protective gear, David.”

“I have some, plastic gloves, I mean.”

“Really?”

David opened his backpack and handed his father one pair while putting on the other.

“Dad always says to be prepared and when you’re in nature, you never know what you’ll find,” the teen stated.

Daniel nodded his agreement and the two began to pick up the area a bit. They couldn’t do it all, but David also revealed a large black trash bag. When it was full, they decided to deposit it in the next waste bin they came across. Meanwhile, passerbys stared in disbelief, but none stopped to help.

Eventually, the full black bag was placed next to the waste container Daniel and David came to in their hike. It wouldn’t fit inside; thus the placement beside it.

====

The steep trail grew cooler by the time the fourth bridge was crossed. They went forward until they reached the fifth bridge. The two continued to be amazed at the crystal clarity of the water. It was beautiful.

The climb after the fifth bridge was noticeable and gave father and son a nice workout.

“Are you doing okay, Daddy?”

“It’s like being on SG-1 again,” the scientist quipped, getting a chuckle from his son in return. “We’d do hikes like this all the time.”

“You’re exaggerating, Daddy.”

“Ask you dad,” Daniel challenged, hearing another laugh from the teenager. “There’s even trees, trees, and more trees.”

“Huh?”

“It’s, uh, a bad joke; something Dad used to say when we went … exploring.”

====

After a few minutes, David stated somewhat reverently, “I love hiking near the water.”

Throughout the hike, the two passed by streams and creeks. There were even designated spots where people could stop and access the water, dipping their feet into the water or splashing their faces to refresh themselves. At this point, that’s exactly what the Jackson-O’Neills decided to do.

“Steep climb, but nice,” Daniel noted as he sat down on a rock.

“Too much gravel, though. I’d rather hike in the mud,” David jested while following his father’s lead in sitting down.

“At least they have the bridges marked now.”

“Yeah, the trail isn’t that well marked, but even with its flaws, I’m liking it.”

“Me, too,” Daniel responded. He couldn’t help but look his son over and feel impressed with the change from the very first time he’d seen David as a child. “You’ve grown so much.”

“Like you, Daddy,” the teen asserted with a smile. “We’ve both buffed up.”

Daniel laughed and affirmed, “Yeah, I had to for … safety reasons. Actually, it made Dad feel better.”

“So you could protect yourself easier?”

“Something like that.”

“You saw yourself in me,” David stated, not needing to clarify that he was talking about their first meetings.

“Definitely. I was a scrawny boy and a scrawny teen and a scrawny young adult,” Daniel sighed. “I could take care of myself, but I suppose SG-1 was so active that it was smart to, uh, buff.” He took a breath and elaborated, “But it wasn’t that. You are a genius, David. You taught yourself to speak multiple languages, including some very difficult ones. You were teased and beat up just like I was, more times than I want to think about.”

“How’d you get through it, Daddy?”

“Books. Books were everything to me. I studied until I’d fall asleep and then I’d study some more. I learned not to care what anyone said. I decided to follow my convictions and take the teasing and whatever else bullies wanted to offer up. They could hurt me physically, maybe even mentally, but they couldn’t really get to me, because I was inside my books.”

“I understand,” David replied with some sadness. “I wonder what I would have done if you and Dad didn’t adopt us.”

“Well, we did, so it doesn’t do any good to wonder about it.”

David sparked a little as he put forth, “I’m even good at sports now.”

Daniel laughed, “Dad wanted you to know you could be whoever you wanted to be, and I agreed with him. It’s, uh, the opposite of what I thought I’d be.”

“You’re good at basketball,” David pointed out.

“You should have seen me the first time Dad taught me to play. It was, well, not pleasant, but I learned and I guess I do pretty well now.”

“And touch football and baseball.”

“I’ve gotten a few hits,” Daniel confirmed in his own modest way.

“I guess Dad’s changed both of us for the better,” David remarked.

“I have to agree with that.”

David’s attention was turned to the loud water as it ran along the stream. He started a discussion about it in Spanish, which Daniel responded to in kind. Then they switched to Arabic, followed by French and Italian. It became a game, just to see if they could keep up with the other on the language switches.

“What?” David questioned at the unknown words.

“Oh, sorry, that’s, uh … classified,” Daniel explained about the strange language, one of those from another planet.

The two laughed and after a half-hour passed decided they needed to return to their hike.

====

The sixth bridge had a bit of a decline, but that didn’t mean the climb was over by any means. Daniel and David continued their trek, walking over and on many rocks in their path. In fact, along with an abundance of trees, there were also an abundance of rocks to be negotiated on the hike.

The two approached the seventh bridge and walked up several steps to reach it. They didn’t know for sure, but it looked like it might have been the longest bridge and perhaps the highest one. It appeared to be well maintained as the third bridge did as well.

At last, the hikers reached the trail marker designated “622” and that was the official end of the trail. They considered going on, since that was allowable, but decided instead to walk leisurely back down the trail, pausing a bit more to enjoy the beauty of nature.

====

“How was it?” Jack asked as he massaged Daniel’s feet on the bed.

“Exhausting,” Daniel replied. “I think I’m too old for this.”

Jack busted out into a belly laugh.

“Stop laughing,” Daniel ordered.

“My Love, you may not be a spring chicken anymore, but you aren’t old. You’re beautiful and sexy.”

“Well, thank you, but tell that to my feet.”

“It was a good date?”

“Yes. I’m learning a lot about our children, Jack. I really think you should do this sometime.”

“Maybe I will.”

Jack pampered his weary lover for the remainder of the evening and smiled when once again the archaeologist fell asleep from the moment his head hit the pillow.

====
--June 21
====

Daniel let out a nervous chuckle as he shook his head and wondered how he got himself into his current situation.

~I asked for it, that’s how.~

The archaeologist made sure he had the needed equipment atop a table inside the tree house he was now standing in alone while waiting for his date to join him. He thought back to when the request was made and his conversation about it with Jack.

“Danny, you look … stuck,” Jack had observed.

“JD wants me to teach him how to make knots.”

“Cool.”

“Not cool, Jack,” Daniel had responded. “I know how to tie a basic knot, but I’m not a knotting expert.”

“It’s easy.”

“I suggested he should ask you, but he insisted we’d have fun together.”

“You will.”

“Jack, how can I teach him what I don’t know?” the worried father had put forth.

“Because I’m going to teach you first.”

The result of that conversation were several private ‘how to make knots’ sessions. Right now, the ‘how to’ parts were mixing through his mind and Daniel didn’t think he could teach JD how to tie a shoelace.

~Good thing he already knows how to do that.~

Daniel was also grateful that rain was not scheduled to fall until after lunch and hopefully that would mean he had plenty of time this morning to teach the lad all about knot tying. Of course, if bad weather did come, they could finish up inside, but Daniel couldn’t imagine spending more than the next few hours on the topic.

“Hi, Daddy,” JD called out as he entered the tree house. “I’m all ready to learn.”

“Good.” With a smile, the father directed, “Sit down and pick up one of the ropes I have placed here.”

“I like green,” JD spoke about the green object.

“The first type of knot we’re going to do is a square knot, and I think you’ll recognize it.

JD’s eyes went back and forth between his daddy and the alluring rope, but his ears were completely centered on Daniel’s words.

“Bring the ends of the rope forward and place one end over the end,” Daniel instructed as he did the action himself using a white rope.” He watched his son do as told. “Bring back one end like this.” Again, he watched. “Good, JD. Now pull the ends outward a bit and do it again, like this, right over left.” He waited patiently before finishing, “Then pull the outer ropes taut; tight.”

“Daddy, I’ve done this before.”

Smiling, Daniel affirmed, “Yes, you have. Squares knots are most often used in tying shoelaces, and you’ve been doing that for more than two years.”

“I’m an expert,” JD teased.

“People use square knots for tying belts, plastic bags, and bandages. Ask Aunt Janet to show you her square knot someday.”

“She has her own?”

“Square knots are frequently used in surgery,” Daniel explained. “She can tell you all about it, if you ask her.”

“This was easy, Daddy. What’s the next one?”

“We’re going to do a clove hitch.”

“Funny name.”

“Maybe,” Daniel responded. “This is a very controversial knot.”

“How come?”

“Well, a lot of people say it’s not reliable, that it can jam or come loose, especially if whatever the hitch is attached to moves.”

“Is it easy?”

“We’ll see,” Daniel answered. “Watch me once and then I’ll walk you through it.” After he completed the hitch with JD’s eyes glued to Daniel’s hands, the archaeologist said, “Your turn to try it. Make a loop with the end on top. Then make another loop, but don’t let go of the first one and this time keep the edge on the bottom of the loop.” He watched as his son successfully completed this first part of the knot. “Good. Now, take the second knot and put it atop the first one.”

JD licked his lips as he tried to do as instructed, but suddenly, he couldn’t hold on and the rope loosened.

“Bummer,” the boy whined.

“We’ll try it again,” Daniel stated. “Remember, a lot of things take a lot of practice. You couldn’t tie your shoelaces by yourself when you first learned, either, but you kept trying everyday and then one day, you did it, and you’ve done all the time since then, all by yourself. Think of knots the same way. Practice and more practice, like with your studies.”

“I’ll get it.” JD repeated the steps he’d been taught without his father having to remind him. “Got it. Now what?”

“Take this dog bone and ...”

The child laughed at the thought of using a dog bone to learn how to tie a knot. He laughed more when Daniel also chuckled.

“It’s the only thing I could find, JD, that would work, and I promised Bijou and Katie we’d have it back in the house in time for lunch.”

JD laughed more but calmed when his father continued the instruction.

“Just insert the dog bone and then pull the two edges or ends together. That’s a clove hitch. A lot of times, people keep adding knots so it becomes a line of sorts. They make a climbing rope out of it.”

“But you said it could fall apart, Daddy. That doesn’t sound safe,” JD put forth.

“Exactly, and that’s why you use the clove hitch with understanding and caution.”

The lesson continued with Daniel teaching JD other knot types, such as the Figure 8 knot and the taut line knot, also known as a taut-line hitch. In total, the boy learned how to make eight different knots. Instead of teaching more knots, Daniel opted to review and go over the eight JD learned. The father utilized his hometeaching skills to help the youngster learn.

====

“How’d it go?” Jack asked when his husband entered the study.

“Good,” Daniel responded. “He learned pretty well.”

“Did you get to the taut line?” Jack inquired. “Sure fire knot to know for camping and survival.”

“I did,” affirmed the scientist. After a moment, he added, “He said Jonny was supposed to teach him knot tying a few months ago, but claimed JD was too young.”

Jack let out a laugh.

“What?”

“Ah, just thinking back to when I taught Jonny some of those knots. He wasn’t more than four or five then, but he caught right on.”

“I wonder why he didn’t teach JD then,” Daniel pondered.

“Because when you’re five, Angel, you think you can learn and do anything you want. You don’t understand the concept of being too young. Now when you’re nine, you get that notion of not being old enough, only not in yourself, but of those little guys who came after you.”

“I see,” Daniel sighed. “Well, I did have a good time with JD this morning.”

“Another success.”

“Another success,” Daniel repeated. “Uh, time for lunch. Burgers?”

“Works for me. Let’s get cooking,” Jack suggested as he rose from his chair and joined his lover in heading towards the kitchen to prepare the midday meal.

====
–June 22
====

“Jonny, move it out!” Jack bellowed. “Daddy’s waiting in the car.”

“I’m coming! I’m coming!”

Seeing his nine-year-old son, Jack whistled. The boy was sharply dressed, wearing a black suit, complete with tie, though it was a little off center.

“Let me fix this,” Jack offered as he approached the boy. “Do you have the papers?”

“Right here,” Jonny noted as he lifted up the closed manila envelope.

“You do know this is a big responsibility,” Jack stated in total seriousness. “You mess this up, you lose, and if you lose, you also blow it for your brothers and sisters.”

“I’m going to do a good job, Dad. I promise,” Jonny assured. ~I can’t let Little Danny, Ash, and the Spitfires down … or JD … or the Curly Tops. Geez, why did I want to do this again?~

“Go on,” Jack encouraged now that his son’s tie was straightened. “Go forth and conquer, young man.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Jennifer walked over and stood behind her father, her position just allowing her to see Jonny get into the Silver Fox and her daddy drive away.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Jennifer questioned.

“Heck, no, but Daddy and I decided to give him a chance; let him be the test case. We’ll see how he does.”

“Well,” Jennifer put forward. “He’ll do well, Dad. He’s got the whole weight of the younger brood on his shoulders and he knows it.”

Jack shut the door and put his arm around his daughter’s waist, leading her back to the living room and whatever would come next in their lives.

====

“There it is,” Jonny said weakly as he spotted the building.

“It hasn’t moved,” Daniel teased. “It’s the same bank we’ve been going to for years.”

“But today is different.”

“Yes, it is,” Daniel agreed as he pulled into the parking lot. “Remember, be yourself and be honest about your goals. That’s how you convinced Dad and I to go along with this idea.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

With the car parked, Daniel and son entered the bank that was home not only to the personal accounts of the Jackson-O’Neills with financial dealings, but also to J-O Enterprises for which the institution was its bank of record. All of this meant that the bankers were very familiar with the family, which would make the process about to begin much easier.

“Hello, Daniel,” Chad Lifton, the branch manager called out as he walked towards the man. “What can I do for you today?”

“We have an appointment,” Jonny answered. He gulped and squeaked out, “To open a new account.”

Chad nodded and led the two over to the New Accounts Department and said, “I believe your appointment is with Susan.”

“Yes, it is,” Susan called out as she hung up the phone. “Doctor Jackson-O’Neill, hello.”

“Hi, Susan. This is my son, Jonny.”

“Hello, Miss … um …”

The woman laughed and requested, “It’s Olsen, but just call me Susan. Right this way.”

Father and son followed Susan to her desk and sat down, as did she.

“Susan, if you need anything, let me know,” Chad instructed before leaving the woman’s work area.

Of course, truth be told, Chad already knew why the Jackson-O’Neills were there. Both Jack and Daniel came into the bank previously to speak with Chad about their unusual request. They acknowledged the age issues and legalities, but they also made it clear that this was an opportunity to teach their brood financial responsibility, something both men had to admit they hadn’t really done a good job of over the years. In fact, the couple tended to shield their kids from money talk.

His clients being who they were and holding multiple substantial accounts with the bank, Chad agreed and directed Susan to make the process a smooth and easy one.

“So, you want to open a new account?” Susan surmised as she looked at Daniel.

“For me. I mean, I want to open a savings and a checking account,” Jonny told the woman, who smiled and who, again, already knew that.

“Very well,” Susan responded. She refocused on the father and stated the obvious, “Of course, I’m sure you know that minors are not allowed to open their own accounts without a parent being responsible. I believe what you’re after is a custodial account where you can oversee and monitor Jonny’s banking and create limits.”

“Limits?’ the boy questioned.

“Yes. For example, perhaps your father wants to limit withdrawals to only one a month and for no more than twenty-five dollars.”

“Oh, okay, we can do that,” Jonny agreed.

“I need some information,” Susan said as she pulled out the application. “Your full name.”

“Jonathan Charles Jackson-O’Neill.”

“Date of birth?”

“September twenty-fourth.”

“And the year?”

“Sorry, two-thousand six,” Jonny elaborated.

“So, you’re nine,” Susan commented. “That’s very young.”

“He’s very responsible,” Daniel interjected.

Susan had her doubts. In her mind, no child should be given a checking account. She doubted it would be accepted at any retail establishment, but with Chad watching from his office, she knew the decision was made to allow Jonny to open both accounts. She continued to fill out the paperwork.

“I need to see your birth certificate and your social security card.”

Jonny took both items out of the envelope and handed them to Susan. Normally, his parents kept both items in a locked security box in Daniel’s den. The box had all the papers for the entire brood, except for Jennifer and Jeff, who now had responsibility for themselves as legal adults. Earlier this morning, Daniel gave the papers to Jonny so that he could handle the transport himself.

“And how much do you wish your opening deposit to be for your savings account?”

Jonny gulped again as he reached into the envelope and pulled out five one-hundred dollar bills. Jack and Daniel didn’t want to pay any fees, so they agreed to give their son this amount with the strict rule that he was not to touch it in any way. In actuality, the money was Jonny’s. It was part of his earnings as a member of a the brood from owning a piece of J-O Enterprises. None of the children really knew how much money they had from the business, so they always accepted whatever their parents told them, as Jonny did this morning when his parents gave him the money.

“And how much do you want to go into your checking account?”

This topic was the subject of some debate between the parents and the oldest Munchkin, but they finally agreed on one-hundred dollars. Again, it was money Jonny earned from his allowance and working odd jobs for neighbors from time to time. It also included money he’d saved up from birthday and Christmas gifts, plus a bit of cash given to him by General Hammond, who wanted to be part of the big investment day.

“Limitations?”

“No more than twice a month with a cap of fifteen dollars per withdrawal,” Daniel advised.

“You do know this works well primarily if you regularly monitor Jonny’s activities.”

“I’m aware, yes.”

“You’re sure of those amounts?”

The doubts within Susan thundered in her questioning tone of voice and the pointed stare of her brown eyes.

Noticing the skepticism, Daniel felt the need and desire to explain, “Susan, Jonny is part of a very big family.”

“There’s twelve of us kids, plus Dad and Daddy, and our zoo, and ...”

“And a big extended family,” the father offered, cutting the Munchkin off before he listed half of Colorado Springs to the banker. “To be honest, Susan, two withdrawals a month of only fifteen dollars each won’t handle all the birthdays and holidays, let alone the ‘just because’ times.”

Susan nodded and felt Daniel’s reproachful stare intensely. It was really none of her business, especially considering the bank manager had already told her to open the accounts.

Finally, the accounts were processed. Jonny was given five blank checks until he received the printed version in the mail in a few weeks. His passbook for the savings account showed his initial deposit.

Chad reappeared and asked, “Jonny, as our newest account holder, would you like a tour of the bank and maybe see our treasure chests?”

“Treasure chests?” Jonny gasped with anticipation. “Sure!”

“Follow me.”

Chad walked around the interior of the bank, pointing out the obvious areas, including the location of the tellers and his office. Then he nodded at a nearby security guard, who opened the vault door.

“This is the place,” Chad announced enticingly. “These are our treasure chests, or as some people say, or security boxes. Many of our customers place their valuables here, but we never know what they put in their boxes. We simply keep them safe.”

“Do we have a treasure chest, Daddy?”

Daniel nodded and clarified, “We have a few, over here.”

Jonny followed his father, stopping at the spot where Daniel pointed to a group of boxes. The boy reached up to touch them, but wasn’t yet quite tall enough.

“Wow,” Jonny expressed in amazement.

“I understand you’ve used our coin-sorting machine already,” the bank manager spoke as the three exited the vault area.

“Lots of times,” Jonny affirmed. “We do lots of stuff to earn money and end up with lots of change. Dad and Daddy bring us here so we can get dollar bills, but sometimes we just put it in our piggy banks.

“Wise,” Chad responded. “Jonny, we know you are going to be an intelligent and smart client.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Even so, we like to leave our customers with a little something extra when they leave.” Chad reached over and retrieved a bowl at one of the teller’s windows. “Help yourself.”

“Oh, boy!” Jonny exclaimed, picking out two gummy bears, a cinnamon stick, and a lollipop from the bowl. “Oops,” he spoke softly. “Did I take too much?”

“Maybe,” Daniel confirmed gently.

“Nonsense. A boy needs sweets to grow on,” Chad put forth as he returned the bowl to its spot. “Daniel, Jonny, I look forward to a long and healthy financial partnership with you both. Thank you for trusting my bank to handle your business.”

“Thank you, Mister Lifton,” Jonny responded, smiling when Chad extended his hand to shake his.

Daniel bid farewell to Chad and looked over at Susan, who was watching rather than working. He politely thanked the woman for her time, and then he and Jonny, who was holding his head up higher, left the building.

“Susan?” Chad called out unhappily.

“Sir?”

“What did you do?” the bank manager asked. He had sensed the moment earlier when the transaction took a bad turn. When the answer didn’t come quickly, he demanded, “I asked what happened.”

Reluctantly, Susan admitted to questioning the opening deposits and the limitations applied.

“In my office,” Chad demanded, angry that Susan did not heed his advance caution. There was to have been no hesitation to opening the accounts for Jonny. ~Do I fire her or give her a warning?~

====

Daniel took Jonny to a store since the Munchkin was wanting a new shirt.

“Look at this one, Daddy. I like it a lot.”

“It’s very nice. How much?”

For the first time in his young life, Jonny noticed the cost of the shirt in a way he hadn’t before. He honestly wasn’t used to thinking much about money as his parents tended to control it all.

“Ouch,” the boy answered.

“That much,” Daniel replied. “It’s different when you’re paying for something and you have to consider the value as much as the price.”

“The value?”

“What’s it worth to you?” Daniel clarified. “Do you really need a new shirt? Is it worth using your monthly withdrawal limits? Do you want the shirt more or maybe new shoes, or if you buy it, can you still afford a gift for Katie for her birthday next month? Value, Jonny. What is something truly worth to you and how does it compare with your other needs and wants?”

Jonny became pensive as he considered his daddy’s words. Life was easier when all he had to do was say he needed something and then his parents handled it. Yes, there were frequent occasions when the children earned money for specific items and gifts for others, but for the most part, up to this point, it was their parents who ran the entire financial show.

Daniel queried, “Where are we?”

“Huh?”

“Where are we?”

“In the department store,” Jonny stated.

“What is the status of this store? By that I mean, how is this department store thought of in the community?”

“Well, it’s a good store, with lots of stuff.”
“And high prices,” Daniel added somewhat quietly. “What do you want the shirt for?”

“To kick around in,” Jonny answered. “I need a new shirt to play in,” he elaborated. “My green and white striped shirt has a hole in the pocket and when I raise my arms, the sleeves are so tight that I feel like it’s going to rip.”

“So, you need a basic shirt and not something fancy, right?”

“Right.”

Daniel held out the shirt Jonny favored and asked, “What is this shirt best suited for?”

Getting the message, the Munchkin responded, “To go to a party in, or wear to the bank for an important appointment, and stuff like that.”

“What would you say if we went to the other end of the mall to the discount store and look for a shirt there?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

====

At the other retailer, Jonny browsed the shirts and picked up a navy blue shirt with a few red and white stripes across the chest.

“Very patriotic,” Daniel opined.

“I like it, and look at the price, Daddy,” Jonny requested as he pointed at the price tag. “That’s only a third of what the one in the other store cost.”

“Value, Jonny,” Daniel reminded. “If you shop here, you can get a good shirt and not risk your monthly limit. You’ll have money left over for Katie’s gift or maybe even to put into your savings account. Always consider value.”

Daniel led his son to the checkout area and was impressed when Jonny took out one of his brand new checks, prepared to pay for the shirt.

“Son, this one’s on me.”

“I can pay.”

“I know you can, but you’re still a little boy and Dad and I are still responsible for the basics. You use your money for the extras; at least, for now.”

“Thanks, Daddy.

====

Daniel took Jonny to the food court that was located near Macy’s on the second level of the mall, but instead of leading him to one of the establishments, he put his right hand around the boy’s shoulder and made a simple request: “Observe.”

The father gently led his son through the food court, stopping and pointing out the menu boards and the prices. They paused at Smoothie Paradise and Pretzels to see what they could purchase at what price, reviewed the Chick-Fil-A options, considered the chicken fare at Wing It Plus, took in the offerings of Burrito Cocina, stopped at Jazzy’s to check out burger prices, and continued until they noted the menus and prices of all the dining possibilities.

Back at the food court entrance, Daniel spoke, “There are a lot of choices here. Again, think of value. Value isn’t just price, it’s what you get for that price and what it means to you. What are you craving for lunch?”

“A juicy burger,” was the immediate response.

“Okay, so do you remember how much those burgers cost?”

Jonny nodded, but didn’t respond verbally. He sensed where his daddy was headed, but he had a problem. He didn’t know how much a burger cost. He never thought about it before.

Daniel went to his haunches and explained, “I know you’re confused, and that’s okay, but what you need to start thinking about is how much does it cost to buy a burger at McDonald’s, or Burger King, or at O’Malley’s, or IHOP, or here? Are you willing to pay that price and maybe not get a candy bar or bag of chips? What would it cost if we went home and cooked our own burgers? Is the taste of the burger better when it’s homemade, bought at a casual restaurant, or at a fast food place?”

“Daddy, I have a headache.”

Daniel smiled and embraced his son in support while replying, “It’s not your fault. Dad and I have shielded you from economics. Uh, that’s really what we’re talking about.”

“I thought we were talking about money.”

“We are. Burgers?”

Jonny grinned and Daniel led the way to Jazzy’s. It would be the biggest burgers for father and son, with fries and sodas to complete the meal.

====

“What are your goals?” Daniel asked as he drove the Silver Fox towards home.

“Goals?”

“Financial goals,” the father clarified. “Is there something you want to buy yourself someday? Or is getting something for Katie’s birthday a goal? How about a car?”

“Daddy, I’m too young for a car.”

Daniel chuckled, “True, but some things are very expensive and people save money for years to get them: a college education, a house, a car, or maybe to go on a vacation; even buying a new wardrobe. How about redecorating your room? All of that cost money.”

“Daddy, I don’t even have a job yet.”

Again, the father laughed as he replied, “And you’re too young for that kind of job right now. Chores and occasional handiwork for family and neighbors is all Dad and I expect, but you should start thinking about it.”

“Can we stop for an ice cream cone?” Jonny asked.

“Sure.”

Daniel pulled into the parking lot of a Baskin-Robbins and he and Jonny ordered double decker cones. Jonny chose the fancy waffle cone with sprinkles, while his daddy stuck with the more traditional cake cone. The flavors of Jonny’s treat were chocolate chip cookie dough and rainbow sherbet, while Daniel stuck with chocolate and marbled chocolate.

The two sat at a table outside the ice cream parlor, licked on their cones, and talked.

“Did you look at the prices?”

“No,” Jonny admitted.

“One last lesson, okay, or if you are tired of me discussing money and value, we’ll wait for another day.”

“It’s okay,” the Munchkin permitted.

“Let’s say you only have fifteen dollars and with that money, you want to buy Katie a bone for her birthday. Let’s say that bone costs seven dollars. Now, you could buy her a bigger bone for more money, or you could get her a smaller one for less, but to be honest, to get a good bone, you have to be willing to spend probably half of that fifteen dollars or more. Let’s also say that you need to buy a new notebook, or some pencils. You’d need to price that out, to see what you can afford and how many you can buy with the money you have. Finally, let’s consider these cones.”

“Hmmm,” Jonny sighed with contentment as he delved into the lower scoop of ice cream in his cone.

“You decided to get the fancy waffle cone with sprinkles. That’s their most expensive cone. You could have chosen their regular waffle cone and saved fifty cents.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Daniel continued, “And instead of a double cone, you could have purchased a kid’s scoop. That would have saved you a dollar eighty.”

“That much?” Jonny gasped.

“Yes. If you’d selected a waffle cone and a kid’s scoop, you would have paid two-dollars and thirty cents less. Think about that and how it adds up. Say tomorrow you and Dad went out and stopped for ice cream. Think about if you only ordered a single scoop what you would pay, compared to the double. Over time, Son, it adds up, and it adds up to be more than you could imagine. Save up enough and you could buy Katie that monster bone we saw at PetSmart and then treat yourself once a month to a double scoop with the fancy waffle cone.”

“That’s a lot to think about, Daddy.”

“It is.”

“Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“Will thinking about money always give me a headache?”

With a reassuring smile, Daniel answered, “No, it won’t, Jonny. It will be a lot easier with time and as you learn. That doesn’t mean your choices and the decisions you make will be easy, but you’ll understand value. That will become second-nature to you.”

“I won’t get headaches?”

“Not often anyway, especially not if you decide to think about value all the time. If you do, your smart choices will save you money. Listen, we’ve done enough talking about money and economics for one day. Tell me about the miniature racing car you’ve been working on lately.”

Wide-eyed at the thought of his tiny motorized car, Jonny began, “I took it apart and I’m trying to put it back together, but I have three left over pieces. I don’t know where they go.”

“You’ll figure it out,” Daniel assured. “Do you want some help?”

“I can do it,” the youth insisted. He smiled. “Thank you, Daddy.”

“You’re welcome.”

====

Jack entered the den in time to see Daniel returning Jonny’s documents to the security box.

“How’d it go at the bank?”

“Jonny was a little intimidated at first, but he handled it very well.”

“So, our son has a checking and savings account,” Jack sighed thoughtfully.

“He does,” Daniel returned as he locked the security box and put it back in the closet where it was usually kept. “Uh, I should tell you there was a little tension with the account woman. Susan: that was her name.”

Daniel explained to his husband about the moment when Susan’s opinions threatened the process of opening the accounts.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal, Jack, but I felt like she was questioning our decision without really knowing us. I mean, she didn’t ask why we chose the limits; she just, well, it sounded like she was judging us.”

“No one likes being judged. I probably would have jerked her chain,” Jack stated. “What did Chad do?”

“He was watching from his office,” Daniel told his lover. “I, uh, wasn’t supposed to know that, but …”

“Covert,” Jack mused.

“I did glance back after we walked out and she was headed for his office.” Daniel sighed, “It wasn’t anything to fire her over.”

“Why don’t I go to the bank tomorrow to discuss that investment thing for J-O? I could drop by Chad’s office and casually mention what happened and what we think.”

“Works for me,” Daniel agreed.

The two shared a few kisses and a tender embrace, something they hadn’t had a lot of time for during the past few weeks since Daniel was dating his children, which often required research and/or preparation in advance of the activities. They were just days away from their fourth wedding, though, and time together on their honeymoon, and that was worth waiting for.

“One more to go,” Jack reminded.

“Ash,” Daniel sighed reluctantly. “Jack …”

“Danny, just go with it.”

“I’ll try.”

====
--June 23
====

This morning, Daniel was off right after breakfast, running a myriad of errands concocted by Jack at Aislinn’s request.

“You know, Ash, you’re asking me to conspire against Daddy,” Jack had told the Munchkin when the request was made.

“Dad, you hafta help. I need the family to do this for me, and I can’t explain it until it’s done. Please, Dad.”

Jack had released an audible sigh, pursed his lips for a moment, and then caved in to the request. He would devise enough errands to keep his lover out of the house for three hours, unless Daniel rebelled while handling the errands.

“Okay, guys, hurry,” Aislinn shouted to her family that was scattered throughout the bottom level of the home. “In the music room, please.”

When Jack and the children settled into their places in the music room, Aislinn handed out pages to them. Each page was numbered with certain notations written on them.

“Ash, what are we doing?” Little Danny asked, uncertain why they were in the music room, especially with their daddy gone.

“I’m going to record us singing some notes and doing some harmonies,” Aislinn explained. “I really, really need you to follow my instructions and do your best singing.” She looked at the silver-haired man and strongly stated, “And that means you, too, Dad. Don’t warble; sing, like we all know you can and do when you want to. I need you to want to now, okay?”

“Okay, Princess, I’ll do my best.”

The notes on the pages didn’t give the family any clue about what they were singing or why, but Aislinn directed them to a certain page, explained what she needed, let the group practice two or three times, and then she recorded her family, carefully making time notations on another piece of paper.

“This is the last one,” an anxious Aislinn stated. “Daddy could be home any minute.”

“Let’s just try one practice, Ash. I’ll bet we get right,” JD piped up positively.

The boy was right. On the first attempt, Jack and the kids did a perfect job. Aislinn hit the record button and the second go-through was even better.

“Thanks, everybody. I’m not sure when I can tell you what this is for, but as soon as I can, I will. Just remember not to tell Daddy anything about this. Okay? Please.”

Jack and the brood all swore not to say a word. They’d just exited the music room a minute before Daniel returned from completing his tasks.

====

After lunch, the rain and thunder returned, but it wouldn’t interfere with the special activity Daniel and Aislinn would be doing. Rain attire on, the two ran to Daniel’s car and headed for their destination.

“Ash …”

“Don’t argue, Daddy,” Aislinn interrupted. “You promised.”

“I know I did, but I can’t sing.”

“You have a lovely voice, Daddy, and I want you to sing with me.”

“I said I would.”

“It’s my wish.”

====

Father and daughter arrived a few minutes before their scheduled recording time. Aislinn was comfortable in the environment, but to Daniel, it was awkward and strange. He used the early arrival time to acquaint himself with the song he and Aislinn were to sing. It was new to him and to the world as it was an original composition written by the Munchkin.

As Daniel was nervously rehearsing, Aislinn casually went over to the sound editor who was overseeing the session.

“This is it,” Aislinn stated as she handed the CD to the man. “These are the time codes. Do your best, okay? I mean, I tried really hard to get it right, but I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Don’t worry,” the man responded. “We’ll make it work somehow.” He watched Aislinn walk away. “Pretty gutsy surprise she’s trying to set up. How old do you think she is, Carlos?”

Carlos guessed, “Maybe eight.”

“Kid, it’s time,” the engineer called out as the hands on the clock clicked forward.

“Come on, Daddy,” Aislinn spoke, taking her father’s hand and leading him into the recording area. “Put these on,” she directed, handing him headphones. “You’ll hear the music through these. Oh, you can sit on the stool, if you want.”

Daniel felt like a fish out of water and did everything his original miracle told him to do. He watched as she also put on earphones and did a soundcheck for the engineer. He had to do the same.

“Ready?” the engineer inquired over the microphone.

“One minute,” Aislinn replied. “Daddy, you can do this. Just listen to the music and let it lead you.”

“I’ll try, Sweetie.”

“We’re ready,” Aislinn called out.

It took eight takes, the last one taking up the last seconds of their paid-for hour, but Daniel and Aislinn finished the song to everyone’s satisfaction. As they headed out, the sound engineer called the little girl over with Daniel waiting several yards away at the exit.

“Kid, you were great. You have an incredible voice,” the engineer complimented. “You going to do this professionally? I can get you jobs.”

“Thank you,” Aislinn answered, not really interested in the offer since sang for pure joy. “I have to go now.”

“Kid,” the man said, stopping Aislinn from leaving. “I’m going to do my best with this CD. No promises, though.”

“Dad and Daddy say if you do your best, you’ve done it all,” Aislinn responded. “Bye!”

====

“Well, Angel, you did it,” Jack spoke late that night while the couple were securing the house at bedtime. “Twelve dates: all successes.”

“I’m so freakin’ exhausted,” Daniel replied, adding, “but it was worth every second of it.”

“You can relax now.”

“Good, I’m going to bed,” Daniel said amid three back-to-back yawns.

“Hey, couldn’t we …”

“Not tonight, Babe.”

“I demand a date,” Jack called out.

“Not until our next honeymoon,” Daniel responded as he headed up the stairs leaving a bewildered Jack to mumble to himself in the entryway.

The twelve dates were indeed all Daniel hoped. He was to spend quality time doing something different and unique with each of the children. It was time he would treasure for the rest of his life.

The joy wasn’t finished, though. It took a few weeks before Aislinn received a package from the sound engineer. There was a note inside that instantly caused the Munchkin to jump up and down excitedly in delight.

“Everyone, meet me in the rec room, please,” Aislinn called out over the whole-house intercom button. “You’re going to love it!”

The entire brood gathered, except for Jeff who was away most of the summer at college. This was Aislinn’s one regret. She wasn’t able to include her biggest brother on this special surprise.

“Listen, everyone. Listen.”

The CD began and music began to play. It was the song Aislinn recorded with Daniel, only then there were other familiar voices.

“Hey, that’s us!” David exclaimed.

“How’d you do that, Ash?” Daniel questioned feeling about as confused as he ever had in life.

“I recorded Dad and the brood when you weren’t here, and the sound engineer put it together with the song you and I recorded.”

The result was a beautiful three-minute and thirty-five second ballad about love, family, trust, and the feeling of being together forever. The family couldn’t believe how good they sounded.

“And he made a CD for all of us,” Aislinn announced, handing her parents and her siblings their own copies.

The joy of the ballad fit right in with the joy the Jackson-O’Neills felt in their hearts. Daniel was alive and able to do everything he desired to do, and maybe more. The terror of his brain tumors that threatened to destroy their family was now behind them. The kids were grateful for their dates and promised never to forget those golden moments. They all clapped when Jack promised he’d go on dates with his kids, too.

For the Jackson-O’Neills of Colorado Springs, life was only getting better.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~

Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author