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Here we are in the year 2020, Chapter Seventeen of What Dreams May Bring. Willa turns sixteen years old, the twins and Will are eleven, the quads are seven and Kiana is five. This chapter they do what all children do... grow up. Hope you enjoy. As usual, I need to thank just_sue and celesteavonne for their mad beta skillz, and Willa for her constant encouragement, and a shout out to gillo, whose input I miss more than I can say.


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January 2020 – Party Planning

Xander has a headache. Nothing to do with his eyes, no worry about the tumor recurring… just the planning of a Sweet Sixteen party. A joint party with Willa. He’s getting those déjà vu tremors harking back to wedding planning with Anya. The catalogues are out in full force, and it looks like an old fashioned Scooby research party minus the monster of the week.

He can’t back out of it. He’s the only parent Treena has, and this is of the utmost importance to her. Ultimately, he’s rather pleased that she wants him to be a part of it.

~*~

Tonight finds Xander at Spike and Buffy’s home. Spike sits with a pad and pen, Buffy and the girls sit on the floor amidst the spread out party catalogues, discussing the merits of one theme or another.

“How about princesses?” Xander suggests.

“Da-ad,” Treena responds. “We’re gonna be sixteen years old. We’re not little girls anymore.”

“Oooh, look,” says Buffy. “How about an Under the Sea theme? There can be sequins, and bubbles, shells and mermaids.”

Willa shakes her head. “I don’t think so, Mama.”

“How about a candy theme,” Xander tries again. “Take the sweet in Sweet Sixteen literally?”

~*~

This goes on for hours, until everyone is literally red-eyed and cranky.

“Oh my god, are we ever stupid!” Buffy exclaims.

“Oi! Speak for yourself, pet,” Spike chimes in, having put down the pad an hour ago.

“It’s so simple. How about a Valentine’s Day theme, girls?” she asks, practically bouncing on her knees.

Willa gets excited. “Ooooh! It’s so close to my birthday, too!” Looking at her friend, she asks: “What do you think, Treena? We could do a whole Queen of Hearts thing.”

“We could either wear matching gowns, or opposite colors,” Treena says, warming to the idea.

~*~

“Hail, hallelujah,” both men say in stereo. Buffy throws a catalogue at them, laughing at their antics.

“All right, you guys,” she says, dismissing them with a wave of her hand. “Most of the rest of this can be done by the girls, alone.”

As the men leave the living room, Spike turns to Xander. “I need your help, mate. It’s nearing Buffy’s fortieth. I want to do something special for her. She’s been avoiding the subject, but I know it’s been weighing on her mind.”

“You’re gonna have to sneak up on her,” Xander says. “Or risk her wrath.”

~*~

“Don’t I know it,” Spike groans, running his fingers through his hair. “I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t… but I’d rather err on the side of do.”

Xander laughs, nodding his head in agreement. “Damned you are, my friend. Give me a couple of days to think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”

“Don’t take too long, in case we have to order things,” Spike warns. “Don’t want to be caught short.”

They may be friends, but Xander still has to bite his tongue to keep the retort inside. After all, he’s still Xander.

~*~

February 2020 – Sweet Sixteen

They rent out the gym at the local rec center and spend a week decorating it. There are pink, white, and red balloon bunches everywhere. Tables have been set with red tablecloths and white linens. At the entrance, there’s a balloon arch, where pictures will be taken of the birthday girls and their friends.

The DJ is busy, pumping out dance music. The kids are bumping and turning in couples and alone on the dance floor.

The younger children dart about, sporting glow-in-the-dark necklaces and heart shaped glasses. The parents stand to the side, watching the action with misty eyes.

~*~

Willa and Treena enter the room, resplendent in their fancy dresses. Willa’s dress is a strapless white taffeta number with a sheer tulle overlaying the skirt. The empire bodice is liberally sprinkled with large red sequins. Treena’s dress is a strapless red taffeta affair, also with a tulle overlay. The empire bodice is fully sequined and the skirt is sprinkled with sequins, as well.

The only way their fathers allowed them to wear these dresses was the promise they’d use double-sided tape for security.

“Not niblets anymore,” Spike whispers to his wife, awe cracking his voice. “All grown up.”

~*~

Buffy kisses her husband, wrapping her arms around his waist. She has a sudden pang, realizing this is what her mother went through every time she went through a new phase; big hair, the short skirts, her stylish yet affordable boots… all meant Mom’s little girl was growing up. And now the feeling has come home to roost. Her daughter is already older than she was at her Calling. Buffy has a feeling if she mentions that to Spike, he’ll burst into manly tears.

Treena’s turning into a lovely young woman, too.” Buffy wishes Molly were alive to see her.

~*~

Spike is lounging against the ice-cream bar when Xander approaches. “So, Spike, are you as ready for the old folks’ home as I am?” he asks his friend, staring wistfully at the young crowd on the dance floor. “I remember lusting after girls this age not so long ago. Now? Now I’d end up in jail.”

“Buffy thinks I don’t remember,” Spike says, watching his daughter dancing and laughing with her friends. “I met her in back of the Bronze at Willa’s age. Time flies by.” He sighs, wondering how he lived through so many changes during his vampire years.

~*~

“Is everything set for…?” Spike asks, chewing nervously on a fingernail.

“No worries, pal-o-mine,” Xander replies. “Bags are packed, hiding in the coat check room. After the party, a car will pick up you and the Mrs. and head off to the municipal airport. After that, it’s about a two hour flight to Arcata airport, where a rental will be available to get you to Eureka.”

“A wine-tasting tour… and a tipsy Buffy. Should be interesting,” Spike muses. “At least it should change her focus.”

“And Uncle Xander to the rescue. I’ll be moving in until you guys get back.”

~*~

“What’s with you and Xander and all the sneakiness,” Buffy asks, finally cornering Spike alone. “And don’t use that innocent look on me, buster. You weren’t good with it as a vampire and you still suck at it now.”

“Just talkin’ to my mate, love,” Spike answers, mischief twinkling in his eyes. “What? Are you jealous?”

Buffy scoffs. “Yeah, right. Pull the other one, Spike.”

“I’d like to pull something right now, petal. If you can hold off for a couple of hours, I can promise you’ll be much happier.”

A moment later, Buffy is surrounded by her children.

“Surprise!”

~*~

Willa, Tyler and Tara shower their Mama with red heart glitter, then encompass her in a hug.

“What’s up, my doves?” Mama asks, slightly flummoxed by the display.

“Happy Birthday, Mama,” they chorus.

“Happy Birthday, my love,” adds Spike, crooking his elbow for Buffy to place her arm in his. “Time to spirit the woman I adore away from the madding crowds for a bit.”

“But… but…” she sputters. “It’s not my birthday yet.”

“Wouldn’t be half the surprise if it were, now would it?” Spike purrs.

“Where are we going?”

“Let me worry about it, pet. Spike’s got you.”

~*~

March 2020 - Lovebugs

Willow sits in her yard, enjoying the late morning sunshine and watching her daughter play. Kiana has a love for all kinds of bugs and is continually digging in the dirt and overturning rocks to see what scurries away.

It must be because Becky is away on an extended layover, but Willow’s thoughts drift to Tara, her Tara, and what life might have been like if they’d adopted a child of their own.

“Mommy Willow, look!” Kiana’s happy yell breaks Willow from her reverie. The excited five year old holds up a cup with several silver/brown balls at the bottom.

~*~

“What do you have there, sweetheart,” she asks, peering into the cup.

“Ball bugs!” she enthuses. Sure enough, after a moment the balls unfurl and begin to crawl.

Willow smiles. There’s nothing like a child to see the wonder in the smallest things. That’s a magic that passes as kids grow up, but for the moment, her little one is full of it.

Kiana pulls on her mother’s sleeve. “Can we keep some in a jar?” she asks.

“No, baby,” Willow replies. “They’re living creatures and belong in the earth. You have to let them go back to their lives.”

~*~

“I promise, Mommy Willow,” the little girl somberly replies. “They can go back to their family, Maybe they have a little girl like me waiting for them.”

“Maybe they do, lovebug. Anything is possible.” Willow beams at her sweet girl.

Looking up from her seat on the grass, Kiana says: “I miss Mommy Becky. She’d like my ball bugs, too.”

“I miss her, too, Kiki. Mommy Becky will be home in a couple of days. What can we do to make a special surprise for her?”

“Ooooh!” Kiana scrambles up, spilling the bugs as she runs. “Can we make cookies?”

~*~

When Becky opens the door several days later, she’s greeted by the two most important women in the world – her wife and her daughter.

“Missed you, Mommy Becky,” Kiana burbles, hugging her around the knees. “Don’t go away anymore.”

Becky tousles her hair, smiling indulgently. “You know I have to go away for work, sweet girl. But not for awhile. You have me home.”

She turns her face upwards, for a welcome home kiss from Willow, who doesn’t disappoint.

“Welcome back, lover,” Willow coos.

“Later for you, missy,” Becky laughs.

“Promises, promises,” Willow responds.

“I always keep my promises, Willow.”

~*~

April 2020 – April Showers

Wesley watches the rain cascade down from the skies into the little garden off the Hyperion’s lobby, and wonders how his life has come to this. Outside of the experimentation of youth, and a public school system, he’s always been drawn to the fairer sex.

Oz is… something else, entirely. For a smaller man, he’s definitely all male. Something about the wolf helps to keep his body in fighting trim. And it’s not just the physical. There’s an air of peace about the younger man. It draws Wesley like a moth to a flame.

Falling in love is a bonus.

~*~

Back in their room, he continues to watch the rain fall. It’s a continuous patter that soothes him and reminds him of home. Occasionally, California can be entirely too sunny for his taste.

Wesley smiles at the little rhyme that pops into his head: “April showers bring May flowers.” He doesn’t have to wait for May… his life has already blossomed. After more than fifty years, he has a warm, loving relationship that he wouldn’t change for blood or money.

And if his love needs a cage for three days a month, he’ll manage. Oz has already set him free.

~*~

May 2020 – The Artist

Waiting for art class to start, Will has a reflective moment. In his family, he’s not the flashy kid. He can’t create portals, his skill with languages is minimal, he’s not a music prodigy, and he can take or leave computers. He also has no affinity for magic. He knows he can read people, which is nice… but he feels like he’s sinking into the woodwork.

He sighs as he loads paint onto his brush, and lets the strokes fall where they may. He likes the slap-dash method. Still life or portraits are not his thing.

Ms. Fenchurch walks over.

~*~

“That’s lovely, Will,” she says, staring deeply into his painting. “Is it representative of anything in particular?”

“Just how I feel, Ms. Fenchurch,” he replies.

“It makes me feel sad, confused. If this is what you’re feeling, is it something I can help you with?”

“I’m okay, really,” he insists. “I have some stuff to work out.”

She pats his shoulder in support. “It’s very well done, Will. Very emotional. I say you’ve captured the feelings perfectly. Keep up the good work.”

“Thank you,” Will replies to his teacher. “I’ll do my best. Maybe I should paint at home, too.”

~*~

Xander is more than happy to fill his son’s request for an easel and art supplies. They hit a local art store, instead of the mall, and the salesman is more than pleased to spend time with Will, explaining about brush hairs and canvas stretching and types of paint. They go home content with a sampler pack, for Will to choose what he likes and feels more comfortable with.

He sets up the easel in his room, and puts his supplies on a small card table. Dipping his two inch brush into red pigment, he begins to lay down strokes.

~*~

Will does have a few privacy issues, what with sharing the room with Jonathan and Jason, but he knows the boys will respect his property. If he asks for a couple of hours of alone time, they’re usually more than willing to grant it.

He steps back to check out his painting. There are swaths of red, yellow, pink, green and blue that cover the entire canvas. A dot here, a swab just there, and he’s satisfied.

The family is anxious to see his masterpiece, and he promises to show it off when it dries. It’s hidden under a drape.

~*~

The families gather after dinner for Will’s unveiling. He removes the drape with a flourish. “Tah Dah!” he exclaims, pointing to the canvas like a game show model. When he turns around, everyone has a smile on their face.

“Will! It’s beautiful. Such wonderful colors,” says Aunt Dawn.

“I like the brush strokes,” says Jonathan. “They make sense, like there’s a pattern to them.”

Jason declares it to be “Evocative,” causing everyone to check him out. Languages may be his strong suit, but he’s still only seven year old.

“Impressive, bro,” says Treena, patting Will on the back.

A rousing success!

~*~

June 2020 – Back in the Saddle

He’s fought against this tooth and nail for months, but inevitably gives in to Andrew’s matchmaking efforts. “She’s a lovely woman,” Andrew exclaims. “You need to make some time for yourself. Adult time. Not that it has to be X-rated. Just a dinner and a movie.”

“And where did you dig this one up from?” Xander sighs, really not wanting to deal with this at all.

“Petra is a bank teller. I’ve known her for a couple of years,” Andrew replies. “I promise, she’s just looking for an evening out.”

“Okay, okay. Anything to stop this discussion.” Xander gives in.

~*~

Petra Russo is waiting at the diner when Xander arrives. They’ve agreed to separate cars ‘just in case.’
There’s the awkward handshake, and Xander pulls out a chair to seat his date. “I’m… not really good at this,” he stammers. “It’s the first…”

“It’s okay,” says Petra, reaching out to pat his hand. “Andrew told me all about your situation.”

“And you still agreed to this?” Xander says, incredulously.

“Sometimes a gal just wants a little company, not necessarily a lifelong companion,” she says.

Xander winces, but braves onwards. “Well, we both have to eat.”

“That we do,” Petra replies.

~*~

Dinner is a pleasant affair, if strained. Their talk is shallow; the weather, current events… no deep, soul-searching topics. Xander does, of course, bring out pictures of his children. He can’t go anywhere without those making an appearance.

“I’ve never thought much of having children,” Petra says. “I suppose I’m too selfish with my time to be much of a mother.”

Xander shakes his head. “Sorry, I can’t relate to that. My kids are my entire life.”

Dead silence ensues.

“I guess Andrew isn’t as thorough as he thinks,” she sighs.

There really isn’t much more to say after that.

~*~

Back at home, Xander stops in the kitchen for a glass of milk. He wants nothing more than to forget about this evening, but Dawn is there, questioning look on her face.

“Don’t, Dawn,” he says. “Just don’t ask and we’ll both be happier for it.”

Dawn smiles, giving her friend a hug. “But Xan, it’s a milestone. You went out. You did something for yourself. It’s a good thing.”

“She was nice enough,” he agrees. “But when she said she didn’t want to have children, I closed off.”

“It was just dinner, Xander,” Dawn insists. “Not a fertility dance.”

~*~

“I can’t do this,” Xander says, the stubborn set of his jaw rivaling Willow’s resolve face. “I’m better off here, in the bosom of my family.”

“We love you, Xander,” she replies. “We’re always here as a safety net. But you’re going to need to spread your wings and fly again. You have too much love in you to remain alone for the rest of your life. Your children will grow up – have lives of their own, with any luck. You have to show them how to move on.”

Xander sighs. “You’re gonna make me do this again, aren’t you?”

~*~

July 2020 – Summer Loving

Although she makes all the appropriate noises to her parents, Willa Joyce Anne Bennett is nervous. This is her first plane trip on her own. Yes, she’s flown before, but that was with Treena and Aunt Willow and Aunt Becky. By herself turns out to be a whole different affair.

There’s nobody to talk to as a distraction from take-off. Nobody to share her excitement over staying with her boyfriend and his parents for the next month. No best friend to share her hopes and dreams for their relationship.

She hopes she doesn’t vibrate through the wall of the plane.

~*~

Bobby greets her at the airport. They pick up her luggage and head out to his parents, waiting in the car. Sarah and Nathan greet her warmly; hugs and kisses on the cheek. They plan on some serious sightseeing. It’s been years since her last visit, and besides, she’s now grown up, and likely to see things differently.

July is hot in the city, so they head towards attractions with air conditioning as a rule. The Museum of Modern Art, Natural History Museum… FAO Schwartz for fun. Everything looks hot and steamy from the top of the Empire State Building.

~*~

Days on the cooler side find the young couple picnicking in Central Park. One fine day, Bobby treats Willa to a horse-drawn carriage ride. Her curls blow in the gentle breeze as the horse clip-clops along the street. When the ride is over, the carriage driver takes a picture of the couple next to the horse for Willa.

They stop at a Sabrett stand for a snack. Hot dogs with ketchup, and a cold cherry coke fill the bill as they sit on a park bench and people watch. They cuddle into each other, the warm breeze making them drowsy.

~*~

Back home, they sit together in the living room and talk. Bedrooms are off limits, according to the house rules set by Bobby’s parents, and the teens try to live up to it. However, this evening, Sarah and Nathan Murcer are out, and even in the living room, things heat up.

Kisses take on a new intensity, and Bobby’s hands sneak under Willa’s blouse. His hand closes over her bra covered breast, and she sighs, wriggling closer. But, when his hand starts to move the bra aside, Willa pulls away.

“I – I think we need to stop, Bobby,” she pants.

~*~

“Do you really want to?” he asks, before kissing her again.

Willa struggles to answer. “I don’t really know,” she murmurs, adjusting her clothing. “It feels so good, but… but…”

“I just want to be close to you,” Bobby says. “But I won’t push if you’re not ready.”

This time it’s Willa who pulls him close, and kisses him soundly. A light crunching sound makes Bobby pull back with an unmanly squeak.

“What’s wrong?” Willa cries, trying to close the distance between the two of them, and failing, as Bobby moves further away.

“Y-your face!” he stammers, pointing her way.

~*~

Willa’s hands fly to her face, finding her bumpies and fangs have emerged. “Oh god!” she wails, and runs off. She locks herself in the bathroom, batting away the tears. Her breath catches and she has trouble breathing as she looks at her game face in the mirror.

It’s not that she’s ashamed of it, what she is, but she hadn’t planned on Bobby finding out without her consent. She’s never lost control like that before and it scares her. And apparently, it scares Bobby, as well. What if he calls her names again? What if he hates her now?

~*~

A knock on the door breaks her freak out. “Willa,” Bobby calls. “Are you okay?”

“I-I’m fine,” she stammers, hurriedly splashing cold water on her face and drying her eyes, back to her human visage.

“We need to talk,” he says. “C’mon, and open the door. Please, Willa.”

She opens the door, avoiding his eyes. Bobby takes her hand and leads her to the guest room. Willa sits on the bed, and Bobby sits on a nearby chair.

“I’m sorry!”

“I’m sorry!”

“Ladies, first,” says Bobby, sitting back in his chair. He crosses his arms, waiting for Willa to begin.

~*~

“I-I didn’t mean for that to happen,” she murmurs into her chest. “I lost control.”

Bobby got up and knelt at her feet. “The kissing?” he asks, knowing it was more.

Willa shook her head. “No. Yes. Well, that too,” she admits. “I meant my face changing.”

“I didn’t mean to shriek like a girl,” he replies. “I mean, I remember your face changing, but it was many years ago, and we weren’t quite so close. “

They sit in silence, trying to absorb what has just happened, neither knowing exactly what to say.

“Would you change again?” asks Bobby.

~*~

“W-what?”

“I want to see your other face, now that I’m expecting it,” he repeats. “It’ll be okay, Willa,” he promises.

Bones shift and once more Willa wears her game face.

Bobby lifts her chin, wanting to see her eyes. “May I touch,” he asks, motioning towards her face.

Willa nods.

Gently he traces her bumpies, the flattened ridges of her nose, her lips around the fangs. When she squirms, he asks, “Did I hurt you?”

“It tickles,” Willa says, smiling.

“Is there anything else I don’t know about?”

Willa nods. “I’m pretty strong, and very fast,” she says quietly.

~*~

She’s left with a worried expression and clouded blue eyes. “Are you okay with this? With me?” she asks.

“I always knew there was something different about you,” Bobby says. “I didn’t handle it very well when I was a kid. Or this evening, but it took me by surprise.” He gazes at her with earnest violet eyes. “But I love you. I’ve been in love with you for years, and this doesn’t really change anything.”

Willa sobs, releasing the fear she’s held close.

“Honest, Willa,” he insists. “It’s different, and it makes you unique. We can explore it together.”

~*~

Slowly, hesitantly, he inches closer until their lips meet. This kiss is different from their earlier making out. It’s gentle – mapping out the lines of her lips, gently touching her fangs. They both pull back, awestruck.

“That’s… that’s amazing,” says Bobby. “And maybe a little dangerous with the fangs.”

“It feels different for me, too,” Willa agrees. “It’s even more intense than normal. It would be so easy to get carried away with my game face.”

“Game face?”

“It’s what my Papa used to call his vampire face.”

“Wanna play a game?” Bobby asks, a wicked gleam in his eyes.

~*~

When it’s time to go home, Willa feels a tug in her heart. She doesn’t want to leave Bobby, and he doesn’t want her to leave. There are tears at the airport as she says her goodbyes to Bobby and his parents. He promises to call every day. That, and the pictures she’s taken, will have to suffice until they’re together again.

She’s greeted at the home airport by Papa, who hugs her very tightly and kisses her forehead gently.

“Don’t know how much we missed you, petal,” Papa says, “and how very glad we are to have you back.”

~*~

August 2020 – Hot Stuff

The weather is stifling, as the heat wave stretches on for a second week. Not a day under ninety-five degrees, and it’s now the air conditioner chooses to break down.

Spike sits on the porch, sweat beading at his hairline and dripping down his neck. Buffy brings out a pitcher of ice cold lemonade to soothe their parched throats. A repairman has been called, but because of the heat wave, there’s not a single person available for the next week or so. The kids are absolutely miserable.

An emergency call is placed to Angel and they’re off to the Hyperion.

~*~

The trip to Los Angeles takes forever. Everybody else decides to head out at the same time. The only saving grace is the coolness of the car’s air conditioner. Compared to their home, it’s relatively blissful.

They step into the Hyperion’s lobby, fully expecting to get hit with a blast of cool air and find… nothing.

“Oi! Gramps!” calls Spike, swiping the sweat from his forehead. “What’s with the warm reception?”

“Sorry folks.” Nina greets them with an apologetic smile. “After you called, you can guess what broke down.”

“And you never heard of calling to warn us?” Spike groaned.

~*~

Buffy pouts, the kids visibly wilt, and Spike continues to argue, but there’s nothing to be done. There are no more readily available repairmen here in Los Angeles than there are in Santa Barbara. There are, however, some glorious, old-fashioned clawfoot tubs.

Nina gives each one the room numbers they’ve been assigned, and they all head upstairs for a cool dunking.

“Might as well make the trip worthwhile, pet,” Spike says, eying his wife with a knee-buckling leer.

Buffy lets loose an un-ladylike snort. “I thought the idea was to cool off.”

“Eventually,” he purrs, removing his tee shirt. “Eventually.”

~*~

September 2020 – Live and Learn

“Andy, we have to do something,” Dawn insists. “The quads are too insular. We’ve been away from the Council long enough that I think it’s safe to send the kids to public school. They need to be around other children their age.”

“Other children their age are still eating paste, comparatively,” Andrew states. “I don’t mean to be snobby, but our kids are special.”

Dawn nods. “Of course they’re special. They’re ours, aren’t they? But don’t you want them to have a normal life? Or as normal as possible, given who they are.”

“Time to research target schools,” Andrew agrees.

~*~

They finally find a school that they agree on: Elizabeth Barrett Browning School for Gifted Children. The classes are small, and the curriculum designed to give as much personal attention to each child as possible.

The quads are brought in for an interview and testing. They won’t know the results for a few weeks, so if they’re accepted, they’ll start the school year in October.

“I only have one request,” Dawn says. “My boys have been together since birth. If possible, I’d appreciate keeping them all in one class. At least in the beginning.”

“Not a problem,” the principal replies.

~*~

October 2020 – School Daze

The boys are led into Ms. Floyd’s room. “Class – this morning I’d like to introduce four new students: Jonathan, Jason, Jeremy and Jesse Wells. Boys, just take any empty seat right now, and we’ll rearrange them tomorrow.”

Jonathan and Jason find two seats on the left side of the classroom, and Jeremy and Jason are split between the right and center. Everyone settles down and the teacher returns to her lesson – a discussion of the different food groups.

Jesse can’t sit still. He fidgets and squirms. A loud pop, a flash and the class turns to find his seat empty.

~*~

Andrew, Jesse and Ms. Floyd sit in the principal’s office. Jesse’s disappearance from class is not appreciated, and won’t be tolerated in the future. Andrew explains that Jesse is a promising magician, and has been chastised for not being appropriate.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Floyd,” Jesse says, his eyes downcast. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

“You’ll need to develop a little self-control in my classroom, young man,” the teacher replies. “An education is serious business, not fun and games.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he says, contrite.

The rest of the day is uneventful, and Andrew picks up all four sons after school.

~*~

After dinner, the boys gather in the playroom for a private discussion. “How did Dad explain your *poofing* from the classroom?” Jason asked.

“He said it was a magic trick,” Jesse replies. “I can’t believe the principal and Ms. Floyd bought that.”

“Why’d ya do it?” asked Jonathan. “I mean, it was our first day and everything.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Jesse insisted. “I just didn’t really want to be there, and the portal happened.”

“At least you ended up at home,” says Jeremy. “Imagine if you landed in the middle of a highway with cars zooming by.”

~*~

With a knock on the door, Dawn enters the playroom with a tray of cookies and four glasses of milk. “How’s everything going, boys?” she asks, setting her tray down on the table.

“Fine, Mum,” they chorus.

Leaning against the door frame, Dawn looks at her little cherubs. They’re growing up so fast. Still… she has to at least try and make sure they adhere to proper codes of conduct in public, at least.

“How did the rest of the school day go after we returned Jesse to the scene of the crime?”

“Pretty dull,” says Jonathan.

“Boring,” says Jeremy.

~*~

“You really have to give the school a chance, you guys,” Dawn insists. “After all, this was only your first day. The teacher has to get a chance to know you.” Looking at her disappearing son, she continues, “And that means staying in your seat, in the school, young man,” she says, firmly.

“I’ll try, Mum,” Jesse says. “I said I didn’t do it on purpose.”

Dawn nods. “You just have to make a special effort not to wish yourself elsewhere. I know you’re not used to regular school, but you have to try.”

“That goes for everyone,” she adds.

~*~

Jonathan and Jason head for their bedroom, and find Will already there, doing his homework. “We weren’t hiding from you,” says Jonathan, settling down on his bed. “We just wanted to talk without Mum and Dad. You could have joined us.”

Will looks up from his work, marking his place with a scrap of paper. “I knew you guys needed to talk. No problem.”

“You know a lot of things, don’t you, Will?” Jason asks.

He nods, looking at his cousin. “I do, it’s more feelings than thoughts, but I don’t tell secrets – ever.”

“Good to know, man,” says Jonathan.

~*~

November 2020 – Counting Our Blessings

“Please, Aunt Dawn?” begs Treena. “I really want to make Thanksgiving dinner myself this year. I’m sure I can. I always help in the kitchen.”

Dawn smiles. How can she refuse this beautiful girl anything, especially when she wants to do something for the whole family? “On two conditions, Treena,” she agrees. “One, that we go shopping together, and two, that you’re not alone in the house.”

“Absolutely,” Treena cries. “Let’s go shopping!”

The shopping cart quickly fills up as they stroll down the aisles; fresh turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, yams, veggies, cornbread mix… fixings for an absolutely wonderful feast.

~*~

Treena’s preparations start the day before. She makes the cornbread, which comes out perfectly and perfumes the house with a delicious smell. Pumpkin and cherry pies are next, made relatively easy with premade crusts and canned fillings. A careful eye on the oven produces two luscious desserts. The potatoes and yams are washed for tomorrow’s peeling, boiling and baking.

Dawn is very proud of the young woman her niece is growing into. She and Xander stand in the kitchen doorway, watching the way Treena scurries around, getting things done.

“Her mom would be so proud of her,” Xander murmurs.

~*~

The big day arrives and Treena takes the turkey out of the fridge. She has the pan ready and reads the directions before peeling the wrapper from the bird. She knows what comes next, but try as she might, she can’t bring herself to do it.

“Aunt Dawn!” she cries out in distress. “Help, please!”

“What’s the matter?” Dawn asks, trying not to laugh. She’s fairly sure what the problem is.

“I can’t.” Treena insists. “I can’t put my hand into the turkey to pull out the… stuff!”

Dawn quickly washes her hands, then pulls the gizzard and giblets out.

~*~

The rest of the cooking goes smoothly, with Aunt Dawn helping only when another pair of hands is needed. Treena’s first turkey comes out golden brown and moist. Xander carves this year, Andrews’s concession since his daughter is the one who roasted it.

It’s a lovely, intimate dinner for nine. For awhile, the only sounds that can be heard are lips smacking and chewing. Everyone leaves the table well satisfied.

Xander and the children clear the table, and Aunt Dawn and Uncle Andrew insist on loading the dishwasher and tossing the trash.

Treena is pleased with a job well done.

~*~

December 2020 – Why?

“Mommy Willow, why doesn’t Santa Claus ever come to our house?” Kiana’s green eyes open impossibly wide as she asks.

“Because we’re Jewish, sweetpea,” Willow responds. “That’s why we celebrate Hanukkah, and have a menorah and potato latkes at this time of year.

“But we also have a tree,” the little girl says, pointing to the pretty pine in the living room.

“Because we also believe in Wicca, honey,” Becky says, smoothing Kiana’s hair from her face. “So we celebrate Yule.”

“So why does everybody bring over Christmas presents?” Kiana’s brow furrows as she tries to work it all out.

~*~

“They also bring over Hanukkah presents,” says Willow. “I know it’s confusing, but different people believe in different things, Kiki. It’s part of what makes the world a more interesting place.”

Kiana nods her head slowly, this information working its way into her mindset. She sits under the tree, idly picking up the prettily wrapped packages. “I can still say Merry Christmas to Aunt Buffy and Uncle Spike, and Aunt Dawn and Uncle Andrew, and Willa, and Jason, and everybody else?”

“Of course you can, sweetheart,” murmurs Willow. “We always respect other people’s beliefs.”

Momentarily satisfied, Kiana hugs her parents.