Frankie arrived at the house just before 7:00 on Saturday. As soon as Benny heard his car pull into the driveway, he went shooting out of the family room, raced out the front door, and gave Frankie a big hug when he met him on the sidewalk.
"Thank you for bringing me here. I like being here a lot."
"And I'm very glad you're happy and doing so much better." Frankie said before entering the house, and then he quickly glanced around the foyer. "I'd like to apologize to the rest of you for not getting home for Christmas, but I had to work."
"We understand and there's no need to apologize," Dad told him.
"Thanks, and who owns the Lexus?" Frankie followed and then waited for an answer.
"That's my car. Do you like it?" Ricky replied.
"Yeah, it's nice, just a bit too flashy for my tastes."
"Well, when you're in sales you have to look the part if you want others to believe you're successful."
"Ok, but now I have a different question for you. With the lamp post on and the Christmas lights lit up, I noticed something else as I walked past your car. Why is there a snowman in the driver's seat?"
Ricky's mouth dropped open and his eyes bulged from their sockets. "What? There better not be! It could melt and not only make a mess, but it might ruin the seat too!"
After saying this, he bolted out the door without even putting on a jacket first, so the rest of us followed him outside to see if it was true. Sure enough, there was a small snowman, about three feet tall, proudly arranged on the seat. I also noticed that whoever had done this had placed a large sheet of plastic over the seat first, to protect it.
Judging from the thickness of the plastic, I determined it came from the same roll that Jake had used in the fall to winterize the draftier windows in the house. Come to think of it, that would have been the same roll that Elliot used earlier to cover the hole where the window used to be after his car was vandalized.
"How the hell did they manage this," Ricky wondered aloud. "I'm positive I locked the car when I first got here so no one would mess with it, and it's still locked, so how the hell did they pull this off?"
"Someone must have used the old tennis ball trick to unlock the door and then locked it again when they were done," Frankie offered, trying hard not to laugh.
"What the hell is the tennis ball trick?" Ricky shot back.
"It's a gimmick thieves use to unlock car doors so they can steal the car or the things inside. There are videos on YouTube that show how it's done."
"Damn! So YouTube has videos instructing thieves how to break into cars?"
"No. The video was originally posted to help people who accidentally locked themselves out of their car, as an alternative to calling a locksmith or breaking the window to get inside, but the crooks picked up on it too."
"Along with the shithead who stuck the snowman in my car," Ricky sneered as he unlocked the door.
While Ricky was hauling the offending passenger and plastic out of his vehicle, the rest of us went inside. It was cold out and no one wanted to stay outside for very long, but while we were walking to the door I noticed Elliot, Noah, Benny, and Joshie all grinning and giving each other fist bumps. I guess that explained who'd pulled the prank, but I was worried Ricky would be looking to pay the offending party back later.
"So how are things going for you, Frankie?" Dad asked as we walked into the living room and sat down.
"I'm doing fine and things have been going fairly well. I love my job, but I just wish I lived closer so I could visit more often."
"Yes, we'd like that too."
"Yeah, we would," Benny added. He was sitting next to Frankie and would have been sharing Frankie's uniform if he could have gotten any closer.
About that time Ricky came flying back in the house. "I don't know who the hell did that, but once I find out they're gonna pay for it!"
"Oh, so you can pull pranks on people, but then you get mad if they do it to you?" Jake challenged.
"Whoever did this was messin' with my ride!"
"Just get over it and consider the situation even," Dad advised him. "I don't want to get caught in a prank war that ruins what little time I have left here at home."
I don't think Ricky wanted to let the culprit or culprits off the hook, but he didn't want to mess things up for Dad either. On top of that, I think he was more than a little intimidated by the fact that Frankie was also here. Although Frankie had never done anything to him directly, Ricky had seen Frankie in action and didn't want to be on the receiving end of what Frankie could dish out. Therefore, things quieted down and we were able to visit in peace.
When Brandon and I took the boys up to bed later we decided to confront Benny about the prank. "Did you have something to do with the snowman in Uncle Ricky's car?"
Benny looked up sheepishly, but when he saw we weren't angry, he answered. "Yep, cuz of what he did to me."
"And I helped too, along with Noah and Elliot, because Benny didn't know what to do to get even," Joshie added.
"So was this Noah or Elliot's idea?" Brandon followed.
"Elliot told us how to do it and unlocked Uncle Ricky's car," Benny admitted. "He put the plastic inside too, but me, Joshie, and Noah made the snowman. The different parts weren't very big or heavy, so Noah was able to put it together for us too."
"Ok, but no more pranks now. You've gotten even with your uncle, so quit while you're ahead," I suggested. "I don't think Ricky will try anything now, at least not during this visit, but you might have to watch out the next time he's here."
"K. We won't do nuttin more," Benny agreed.
The next morning after having breakfast together, all of our guests began to pack up their belongings as they got ready to leave. Most had to return to work on Monday, and even though Sammy, Andrew, and Graham were teachers and on vacation, they decided to go home too. They knew Dad would be leaving for the airport today as well, so they opted to return home and take care of a few other things.
Around 4:00, they said their goodbyes. We'd enjoyed our time together, but all good things must come to an end. Sammy, Andrew, and Graham left first, followed a short time later by Pat and then Frankie. Ricky left last because he'd offered to drop Dad off at the airport and save Jake from making the roundtrip. He lived in Philadelphia and the airport was only slightly out of his way, so it just made sense.
We all hugged Dad before he left, along with telling him we'd miss him and couldn't wait until he returned. He said he'd miss us too before giving each of the boys a hug and a kiss on the forehead. Then, he got in the car with Ricky, and we waved as they backed out of the driveway and drove away.
Once everyone was gone, I turned to Ian and spoke. "I'm sure you didn't expect to get caught up in all of this wackiness when you decided to spend the weekend here."
"No, but it was fun. Nothing like that ever happens at our house, and I had a good time laughing at what went on."
"I'm glad, but at least now you know what you'll be getting into if you become part of this dysfunctional family." He laughed and nodded.
"Are you spending the night or going home?" Brandon followed.
"I thought I'd stay one more night, if you don't mind."
"No, not at all. I was just wondering so I'd know how much to fix for breakfast in the morning. Do you want to get up with us or should I just leave the food for you to heat up in the microwave later?" He looked at Elliot before answering.
"We'll get up and eat with you. That way I can say goodbye at the same time, because I'll be going home before you get out of work. Besides, the food always tastes better after it's first made and doesn't always do well when it's microwaved."
"Yes, I know, and we'd prefer that you join us anyway. It will give us a chance to say goodbye to you as well, in case we don't see you again before you leave for Stanford."
Ian nodded and smiled in response.
Later, when we were getting Benny and Joshie ready for bed, Benny made a comment. "This Christmas has been really fun. I'm gonna have a lot to tell my friends when I go back to school."
"Yes, it can be fun telling others what you did and what you got for Christmas," I agreed.
"And I could never do that before cuz I didn't have many friends, but I didn't want to tell them that I didn't get nuttin for Christmas either. I also didn't want them to know that I was locked in a cage most of the time."
"Yes, I wouldn't have wanted to admit that to anyone as well. It must have been awful, but it will never happen to you again."
After tucking the boys in bed, Brandon and I went to make sure our clothes were laid out for the next day. It had been a fun, long weekend with the family, but now we had to return to work, although Dion, Trey, and the boys were still off from school.
After we got dressed in the morning, I went to wake the boys while Brandon headed downstairs to fix breakfast. Then, we all sat down to eat together before Brandon and I left.
"In case we don't see you again, have a safe trip back to Stanford," I told Ian.
"I'll second that, since we probably won't see you again if you're celebrating New Year's Eve with your family. On the other hand, you could always drop over with Elliot sometime on New Year's Day," Brandon followed.
"Yeah, we can probably do that, seeing Elliot will be with me."
"And he'll have my car," Brandon added.
"Ok, we'll stop by later then. I'll even tell my parents we're going to eat dinner with you too, if that's ok."
"That will be fine. When are you heading back to school?"
"My parents are taking me to the airport next Sunday."
"I guess that means you won't be here to see Elliot's car when it gets fixed," I pointed out.
"No, but he'll send me photos and I'll see it when I get back this summer."
"Ok, that works. Just make sure you two stay out of trouble on New Year's Eve."
"Oh, we will."
When we finished eating, we said goodbye and the younger pair headed to the family room to play video games, while the older three went upstairs. I figured Noah was going to hop back in bed, but I wasn't sure if the other two were going back to sleep or planning on fooling around for awhile. They might be trying to store up for the long sexual drought ahead when they returned to school.
When I got to work, my staff was in a great mood and happily exchanged stories about what they'd done during their time off. Brandon told me at lunch that his staff had basically done the same thing, but both staffs also thanked us for their Christmas bonuses and the holiday luncheon. We told them that not only were they welcome, but we insisted they'd earned those things by working hard all year.
When we got home that evening, Trey greeted us shortly after we walked through the door. "Dad called to let us know that he'd arrived back in Atlanta and told us that he hoped we'd enjoy the little surprise he left with Jake for later."
"Did he give you a hint as to what he was talking about?" I asked.
"No, he just said we'd recognize it when the time came."
"Hmmm, it's just like him to be so cryptic. Did you tell the boys this too?"
"Not exactly, but we'd put Dad on speakerphone when he called so they heard everything he said."
"And how did they react to his pronouncement?"
"They tried to get him to tell them what the surprise was, but he merely told them he was sure they'd enjoy it when they found out. I'm fairly certain that they've been trying to figure out what the surprise might be ever since the call ended."
"Yes, they don't like it when they don't know all of the details. Dad used to do that to us too, especially when we went on trips," Brandon stated.
"Yes, I remember that very well," Trey agreed.
The boys tried to question us at dinner to see if we knew what the surprise was, but they pressured Jake in particular. They were intent on finding out what Grandpa Josh had been referring too, but Grandpa Jake's answer was fairly short and just as cryptic.
"He wants it to be a surprise, so you'll find out when the time comes."
Needless to say, the boys weren't very happy with him, but they let it drop when he said they'd find out what it was before the end of the week.
Tuesday went much the same, with the boys occasionally pestering us to see if we'd discovered what the surprise was, but we could only tell them we didn't know. Brandon and I would have to work the next day too, but then we'd have Thursday off, seeing it was New Year's Day.
On Wednesday, Brandon and I rushed home after work because we had to get ready to go out with the family to celebrate. We had the boys wear their suits, since we'd reserved the smaller private dining room at our favorite restaurant. Just because Dad wasn't here didn't mean we wouldn't make a big deal out of the holiday. Pop was joining us as well, along with Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary, and Aunt Sally. Kevin and Vinnie were going to meet us at the restaurant too, but Cole, Dustin, and their wives had already made plans to go out with friends instead.
Joshie rode in the SUV because he wanted to be with Benny, even though his dads were driving their own vehicle. They understood his reasoning, though, and let him come with us. They merely placed Wyatt in his booster seat and got ready to leave, and Jake decided to ride with them because their vehicle wouldn't be as crowded.
Benny started looking around as soon as we pulled up in front the building and got out of the SUV, because I was allowing the valet to park it for me. Benny's head appeared to be on a swivel as we went inside, as he eagerly checked everything out. He was fascinated by the statues and other decorations, along with the well dressed wait staff as they led us back to the private dining room.
"Wow! This place is really fancy!" Benny stated as soon as we were alone in the room.
"Yes, and we only come here on very special occasions, like tonight. It's also why we had you wear your suit."
"Yeah, I thought so, but I don't mind. It's worth it just to see this place."
"I'm sure you'll find the food is worth it too," Brandon chipped in.
The Shays and Aunt Sally arrived next, followed a few minutes later by Kevin and Vinnie. Now that we were all present, we ordered drinks and chatted for a short time before ordering our meals.
Joshie talked Benny into having the child's prime rib, because that was what he was having, while Dion ordered chicken fingers for Wyatt. Trey cut up Joshie's meat for him, while Brandon did the same for Benny and Dion helped Wyatt. When Benny tasted the prime rib his eyes lit up, before he turned toward us and spoke.
"This is really good! I never had nuttin like this before."
"Yes, we've had it before too and it is really good," I concurred.
"I'm glad you listened to Joshie and gave it a try," Brandon added.
"Me too!" Benny replied.
After we finished eating, we invited everyone to come back to the house for coffee and dessert. They agreed and followed us there. When we got to the house, Brandon played some music softly in the background while I made a fresh pot of coffee and everyone else sat down at the dining room table.
Trey had made a chocolate cake with fudge icing earlier in the day, primarily for the boys. Brandon and I had stopped at the bakery on the way home and picked up a large cheesecake, after stopping at the grocery store to get three different toppings for it, so each person could choose what he wanted. While Brandon and Trey were cutting the various items and giving everyone what they preferred, I poured each adult a cup of coffee and Dion gave each of the boys a glass of milk. Then, we chatted while enjoying our tasty treats.
When we finished, we moved to the family room and turned on the TV so we could watch some of the celebrations going on around the world. I didn't realize that Jake had wandered away in between and didn't notice he was missing until he returned several minutes later. Then, fifteen minutes before midnight he whispered to me.
"Have everyone put on their jackets and move out to the front yard as quickly as you can." He wouldn't tell me anything more as he put on his jacket and went outside as well.
I did as he asked, while explaining that I had no further information to share, other than we needed to hurry. Shortly after we got outside, a variety of bright lights and loud booms filled the air, as Jake set off a series of fireworks.
"Is this Grandpa Josh's surprise?" Noah asked.
"It would seem so," I answered. "I knew fireworks were now legal in Georgia, but I never imagined your grandfather had bought some and then shipped them home."
"So that's what was in those boxes," Dion mused.
"It seems so, although there might have been some other things inside those boxes as well."
For the next fifteen minutes we watched the dazzling display and noticed that many of the neighbors had come outside to see what was going on as well. We heard some loud cheers from them, along with squeals of delight from the boys, as we all enjoyed this little treat Dad had set up for us.
Once the last of the fireworks had faded into the nighttime sky, we headed indoors again. I immediately called everyone to the dining room so we could make a toast. Dion and Trey carried in the appropriate glasses, while Brandon and I got the beverages out of the fridge. We had bought champagne for the adults and sparkling grape juice for the boys. After everyone had a glass, we lifted them and I made a toast.
"Happy New Year to each of you, and may this new year be better than the last!"
Everyone else added his own comment before downing his drink. Shortly after that, our guests thanked us, said goodbye, and returned to their homes. Once they were gone, we hurried the boys up to bed. It had been a fabulous evening and there was little doubt in my mind that everyone had enjoyed himself.
"I had a lot of fun today," Benny told us as we were tucking him in bed. "I got to try food I'd never ate before and had some cake too, but I also got to see the fireworks. I'd only seed them on TV before tonight."
Brandon and I were shocked by his admission, although we probably shouldn't have been. It was just that we often forgot how many of the simple things in life Benny had missed out on before he came to live with us.
"So what did you think of them?" Brandon asked.
"They were really awesome and I could feel it in my chest when they went boom."
"Yes, that would be from the sound waves created by the explosion. You can feel them hit your body almost immediately," I explained.
"It kinda scared me at first, cuz I didn't know what it was, but then it was kind of fun. It made me feel like I was going off with the fireworks too."
"Well, I'm glad you enjoyed it," I added, before kissing Joshie and him goodnight.
In the morning, we had breakfast first and then went to the family room to watch the parade on TV. It was fun noting Benny's reactions to what was happening on the screen, and then after the parade ended some of us stuck around to watch the college football games.
Around 3:00 Ian and Elliot showed up. A few minutes later they came into the family room to say hello. "I knew we'd find the rest of you in here watching football," he whined and rolled his eyes.
"I know Elliot doesn't care for football, but how about you, Ian?" I responded.
"I watch the games with my dad sometimes, but I can live without them too."
"Then you and Elliot should get along quite well with each other," I joked.
They disappeared shortly after that and went to spend time with Dion, Trey, and Brandon, since they weren't interested in the football games either.
Brandon and Trey arranged to have dinner during halftime of one of the games, since they knew they'd have a tough time dragging the rest of us away from the action. As we were eating, Ian and Elliot filled us in about their night with Ian's parents, and the boys told them about what we'd done.
"You should have called and told us about the fireworks, cuz we'd have come here to watch them too," Elliot groaned.
"Grandpa Jake didn't tell us it was going to happen beforehand and merely asked me to get everyone outside just before midnight. I'd have called if I'd known about it."
"That's ok, but I hope Grandpa Josh has Uncle Shannon or Uncle Nick send more fireworks next year."
Dinner worked out well and we got back to the family room just in time for the second half kickoff. I only took one more break before the final game ended, and that was so I could go up to help tuck Benny and Joshie in for the night.
Since Brandon wasn't interested in the games, he turned in before I did, seeing we had to work the following day. I ended up getting a little less sleep than normal, but I knew I'd be fine. I had worked on a lot less sleep than this when I was an intern, so I felt I'd have no problem going without a full eight hours tonight.
Elliot and Ian spent the night too and were still at the house when we got home from work on Friday. "I'm going to stay here tonight too, if it's ok," Ian explained. "Then, I'll return home in the morning and spend the rest of the weekend with my parents. They're taking me to the airport on Sunday, so this will be the last chance me and Elliot will have to be together until summer."
"As we've told you before, you're welcome here anytime and for as long as you want," Brandon assured him.
"Yes, we enjoy your company as well, and you help to keep Elliot off our backs," I teased.
"Hey, I'm never a problem," Elliot objected.
"Unless you're pulling one of your pranks," I countered, which caused him to make a face in response.
Elliot was going to be with us a week longer than Ian had been with his family, so we didn't mind sharing him. Seeing Brandon and I had to work a half-day on Saturday, we said goodbye to Ian before we went to bed Friday night and told him to have a safe trip back. He said he would and that he'd see us again in May.
When we got home from work on Saturday afternoon, we were immediately able to tell that Elliot was slightly depressed and missing Ian already. "Saying goodbye is always difficult," I offered.
"Yeah, and we had such a great time being together again."
"Once you're back at college you'll be so busy that the time will fly by, and then before you know it you'll be returning home to spend the summer with him."
"Yeah, I know, but it doesn't stop me from missing him."
"I understand, but try not to dwell on that, because it will only make the situation worse."
Elliot nodded in agreement, but I understood nothing had really changed for him and he was merely humoring me. I'd just have to find a way to keep him distracted until he left too.