The worst thing about your kids growing up was that you were growing up, too. No, not growing up.
Nick had grown up to the time he was almost forty years old. Between fighting two hicks for the love of his life, killing zombies in an apocalypse, having a one-night stand with the woman he hated most and being saddled with a child, he’d done a lot of growing up.
Now he was almost seventy, and he hated that. He hated that he had to be so old. He didn’t hate the domestic life, or his husband, or his growing family—he just hated being old. He certainly didn’t act old, and anyone that didn’t know him couldn’t have guessed his age by how good he looked—his dark hair had lightened to a vibrant gray, with streaks of his former color still apparent in the roots. His face had gracefully wrinkled. Mostly around his eyes and on his forehead from all the glaring he’d done in life (at least that’s how Ellis put it). Ellis… the boy—the man, still loved him as much as he had back then. If Nick’s aging was considered graceful, Ellis had Father Time’s special attentions. At fifty-four years old, the hick had only gotten more attractive over time, having kept up with his job as a mechanic in Keith and Dave’s successful shop, and working out at least three times a week. He still had a boyish face, with big blue eyes that made him look as though he was no older than thirty. The rest of his body was a little older, as he’d obtained a bit of a paunch like Nick had, and he wasn’t as flexible and agile as he’d been in his younger years.
And if Father Time loved Ellis, he adored those damn friends of his. All three hicks had retained a youthful appearance, especially that Dave—it was unfair.
Nick didn’t think often of age, but he was due for a bout of depression—his son and his daughter-in-law, Alexander and Pepper, were visiting for a week. The two had married when Alexander was twenty, and after they’d gotten themselves together, they did some traveling. The couple was now settled in Chicago (go figure, Nick’s hometown), and had two kids. Their oldest was a girl, named Maggie for Pepper’s beloved grandmother—she was so much like a child-Nick that it made the old man cringe. Every time he saw her, she was ordering her younger brother around and acting like a stuck-up princess. He had to admit that he enjoyed it. He and his granddaughter got along famously.
His grandson was more like Dave, surprisingly. He had curly black hair like his mother and grandfather (Dave) before him. The boy was timid, quiet and did his sister’s bidding without question. If Nick got to spend more time with the kids, he would beat that out of him. He’d had to teach Alexander not to be like that, and he hoped his son would follow suit. Their legacy was far too tough-skinned and he didn’t want the little boy—Nicholas, more commonly referred to as Nicky—to be lost in the madness.
On that particular day, Nick was slumped in his chair, flipping through channels and groaning under his breath at the lack of anything good on television. He rolled his eyes and sat up as Ellis walked into the room, letting out a soft hum of approval as his husband kissed him.
“Excited?” Ellis grinned, putting his hands on the older man’s shoulders.
“Try anxious,” Nick snorted, “We haven’t had those kids in this house for two years. They’re going to ransack the place.”
“Oh, stop,” Ellis laughed, “They ain’t even—Alexander said Mag’s become a real lady~ An’ even lil’ Nicky has more confidence than he used to. Can ya believe tha’ they’re nine an’ six already?”
“No, I can’t,” Nick grumbled, “Those kids getting older just means I’m getting older.”
“It don’t seem like it~” Ellis sat beside his husband, despite the chair only being made for one—he squeezed in, part-way on his lap, “Ya seem as young as th’ day I met ya. Remember~? Ya came in to get tha’ awesome car fixed…~”
Nick actually smiled, “Yeah, I remember~”
“I thought yew were real damn good-lookin’.”
“I thought you’d never shut up.”
Ellis let out a laugh and hit Nick playfully in the chest, kissing him again. Nick enjoyed the attention and started to wrap his arms around his lover’s waist, but a loud knock at the door interrupted them. Ellis hopped up with a chuckle as Nick swatted his backside, and went to answer. The other half of the grandparents’ brigade was there—Keith and Dave immediately hugged Ellis and started to chatter happily. The three were still inseparable. Best buddies until the end, even though Nick could really live out the rest of his days with Ellis snuggled beside him and no one to bother them.
“Those kids still ain’t here?” Keith barked, “It’s already two!”
“Maybe their flight got delayed, Keith,” Dave chuckled, having been listening to Keith’s whining for days, now.
If anyone was affected by the kids leaving the nest, it was Keith. He had thrown an absolute fit when Pepper had confessed that they were leaving Savannah all those years ago. He even threatened to force her into staying, but after some encouraging words from his husband, and Alexander’s parents, he’d finally let up. He still hated it to this very day, though, that he couldn’t see his daughter and his grandchildren all the time. Then again, all four of the men did.
Everyone in the room looked up when there was the sound of a car in the driveway, and Keith immediately yanked the door back open to find the family unloading from the rental car.
“Daddy!” Pepper squealed as she saw him, and ran over with her arms open to hug her father tightly.
She had developed into a beautiful young woman, almost thirty-one years old. Child-bearing had made her soft and curvy. Her hair was black as night, and in bouncy curls around her shoulders. Keith had to keep himself from getting emotional as he locked his arms around her, kissing her face.
“I’ve missed ya so much, lil’ girl,” he sighed, and moved aside to let Pepper and Dave have a moment to hug and exchange their greetings.
Ellis brightened as Alexander walked in, dragging two suitcases. The boy was all man, now. He was a spitting image of his father, from the slicked hair to the crisp outfits he always wore (though it was less suits and more fitting jeans and flattering tees, a fashion trait from his adopted father more than his biological).
“Hey, sport,” Nick smiled smally, always a little jealous of the youth.
“Dad!” Alexander smiled, “Pa—“
He hugged Ellis first, the man having bolted over for a snug embrace. Alex laughed and slipped from the man to meet Nick, who had stood up to come and give his son a firm handshake.
“You’re both looking so good,” the young man complimented him, “All of you guys are. Does Savannah have a Fountain of Youth, or what~?”
“Shut up,” Nick snorted, “I fractured my hip two weeks ago if that tells you anything.”
“You’re right, I didn’t.”
“’Cuz if he did, y’all would be hearin’ his complainin’ from half th’ US away!” Ellis chipped in with a deep laugh, and had to dodge to escape Nick’s swinging palm.
The kids finally barreled in, dragging their own luggage behind them.
“There are my lil’ punks!” Keith grabbed Maggie up and then Nicky in his other arm, squeezing both children to himself.
“Granpa—“ Maggie gasped for breath, the girl’s perfectly-placed brunette locks becoming a mess with the over-affectionate squeeze.
Nicky barely squeaked, and just let it happen. Before long, the man let the two go so that they could hug the rest of their grandparents. The four had their own respective names, as not to get confused or to confuse the children. Keith was Granpa, Dave was Gran (most certainly in honor of his own grandmother, Gram), Ellis was Gramps and Nick was simply Grandpa.
Nick looked approvingly at the two, noting that Ellis’ earlier quips were in fact correct. Maggie had worn her very best dress to impress her family, and her straight brown hair was brushed back out of her face. She looked very grown-up, and he appreciated her manners.
Young Nicky was also presentable, and was standing up quite straight instead of shrinking away like he used to. The two seemed to be getting along much better than they had the last time they met.
“I bet y’all are starvin’,” Dave smiled once everyone had said their proper hellos, his arm around his daughter’s waist, “Let’s get some lunch started.”
“Yeah!” Ellis nodded, and the two of them went into the kitchen to get started. Pepper followed to help, and Keith and Alex sat with Nick in the den. The kids were gone to claim floor space in the guest room.
“So how’s it going?” Nick asked his son, and Alexander was all smiles—very uncharacteristic, and it made the older man suspicious.
“It’s going really great, dad,” Alex replied, “I got promoted last week, like I told you—“
“Very good,” Nick chuckled, “I bet Uncle Ray is going to make you CEO before too long.”
“I don’t know about that, but the possibility is there,” Alex grinned proudly, “He just says I’m doing really well, and I know the job better than most people above me.”
Keith snorted, “As long as yer takin’ care a’ my girl an’ she’s comfortable, I don’ give a damn what ya do.”
Nick opened his mouth to tell the other man to shut his trap, but Alexander just laughed.
“Well, thanks to this promotion, we can move into a bigger house like we’ve been wanting to!” the young man chirped.
“Yer gonna move again?” Keith snorted, “Where, this time? To Africa?”
“We’re staying in Chicago, just a nicer neighborhood.”
“Oh… well I guess tha’s a good thing,” Keith sniffed, looking away at being bested by his son-in-law.
“I thought your place was pretty nice,” Nick blinked, “What’s the reason for moving somewhere bigger?”
Alexander just grinned knowingly and shrugged.
Nick narrowed his eyes, still very suspicious.
The family had to pull every spare chair to the dining room table to eat. They made small talk and discussed work, school, family and friends. Once everyone was nearly done with their food, every other parent in the room could tell that Alexander and Pepper were with-holding a very juicy secret. The two kept stealing glances at each other, sneaking kisses and whispering in one another’s ears.
“Alright, what’s goin’ on, yew two~?” Dave grinned , leaning on the table on his folded arms, “Y’all obviously have somethin’ to tell us~”
Pepper giggled, covered her mouth and leaning on her husband.
“Well, we were gonna tell ya on th’ end a’ th’ week, but I jus’ can’t hold it in anymore!” the woman squealed, “We’re gonna have another baby!”
The family exploded, Dave coming around to tightly hug his daughter, and Nick slapping Alexander on the back affectionately.
“Well yew two are jus’ all over each other, ain’t ya?” Keith snorted, but then smiled, quietly ecstatic that his daughter could have a big family like he’d always wanted, “Do ya know if it’s a boy or a girl yet?”
“We’re pretty sure it’s going to be a girl, from the check-ups so far,” Alexander laughed, his cheeks flushed with happiness.
“Another girl,” Nicky pouted, and the older parts of the family laughed.
“Women in th’ Marshall family are damn good at breedin’ girl babies suddenly,” Keith snorted, “Jus’ like yer Uncle Paul—three girls! An’ they all have about a four kids each, Christ.”
“Oh, aren’t Paul an’ Mary comin’ to see us too with th’ girls an’ their families?” Pepper smiled.
“Hell no, you’re going to see them at their own damn house,” Nick cut in, “Our house can’t fit everyone in the damn family.”
“Jus’ wait ‘till we schedule tha’ reunion,” Keith smirked, “We’re gonna hold it in yer backyard.”
“Don’t even joke like that,” Nick groaned.
After the initial excitement, Pepper and the kids were tired and went to the guest room. Keith and Dave headed home with promise to return in the morning, and Ellis had done the dishes with his son so that they could discuss the new baby and the new house and—well, all the new things that had come into the young family’s life.
Now Alexander and Nick sat alone in the den.
“Another baby… how many are you planning to have, kiddo?” Nick teased a bit.
Alexander chuckled, “I don’t know. We love kids, and having kids, so… whenever Pepper thinks we should stop, I guess we will. But we’re both really happy.”
“… I’m glad,” Nick murmured, “You’ve come a long way, Alexander. A smokin’ hot wife and three kids later.”
Alexander laughed loudly, “Tell me something I don’t know, Dad~”
“Really… I’m proud,” he cleared his throat, glancing off. It was weird, talking like this, but he felt like he needed to tell his son these things sooner than later, “I’m proud that you’ve got your shit together. When I was your age… Jesus, I was still with that hag. I was gambling and screwing around… I was a real idiot, sport. But you haven’t strayed from your family or your job in all the years you’ve had it. You’re everything I should’ve been. I hope I haven’t disappointed you.”
Alexander listened carefully to his father’s words, and smiled softly. He put his hand on Nick’s, scooting closer to him.
“Thank you, Dad,” he said quietly, “You know, I’ve never judged you for who you were—who you are. Not once. If I learned anything from you and Pop, it was that everything happens for a reason. Everything you’ve done in your life led up to this moment. So… you did something right. Maybe a lot of somethings.”
Nick was startled by his son’s wise words, and felt his eyes burn with tears. He quickly blinked them back.
“That means a lot, son,” he said, “Truly. You’re a good man.”
“Because you raised me, Dad,” Alexander smiled, “You and Pop… I’m so proud of you.”
Nick pulled his son into a hug, and the young man returned it eagerly. Ellis poked in, but stayed quiet, just watching them fondly. He wasn’t sad about missing the conversation before—it was one that Father and Son had to share, and had needed to be shared for a long time.
Nick grinned to himself, amused at the irony. It seemed like he’d still had a little growing up to do, after all. And his son was the one to teach him from now on.