Well here we are! The end of Little Kids, Big Moments! As always, I'd like to take this time to thank every last person who has reviewed and responded and added this story to an alerts list or favourites list. Especially, I must thank Ariel119, NCISchick, tayababy, Alex Beckett, and especially NotJana & anomalymona for their constant support even when I'm a right pain the a$$. I love all of you, you are brilliant, gorgeous creatures and I'm blessed to call all six of you my friends. So as always, love and share!
The month of December was always a blur, at least to Dell. Between all the birthdays - RJ, Mallory, and Lindsay all celebrated in December - and then Chanukah, then Christmas Eve and Day with his own family, by the time the annual Boxing Day celebration rolled around at Meredeth and Esposito's house it was almost enough to send him into overload.
Of course, anything involving Tessi couldn't be entirely terrible and Meredeth was the best cook ever so even the most over-partied body would be a fool to pass it up. He and Mallory had even been invited to go early to help Meredeth, Lili, Tessi and RJ finish putting together the meal, although they were doing more watching than participating - Meredeth was slicing peeled potatoes while Tessi and RJ each used their safety peelers to worker on the carrots.
'Meredeth,' Mallory piped up, watching her slice potatoes, 'you're going to need a bigger house soon, I think.'
'Why do you think that?'
'Well, because our family keeps getting bigger,' she decided. 'It's like every year there's another person who's been adopted. And what happens when Lindsay and Adam, and Alexis and Shane start having babies? What if you guys have another puppy soon? What if TJ wants to bring a girlfriend?'
'They they will all be welcome here, and we'll move around some tables,' Meredeth replied with a wink. 'And besides, we've got some great up-and-coming chefs here to help with the food, right guys?'
'Right!' Tessi and RJ chorused, RJ adding, 'But I'm the best baker, Meredeth. I am not so good at other foods but I really like to make cookies and cakes and desserts.'
'And I like the other stuff,' Tessi told her sweetheart. 'It's so much fun to play with things and see how they turn out.'
'Then we are a great cooking match, Tessi.' RJ tapped his peeler against hers. 'And our sweethearts are very good tasters.'
'As long as it's sugar-free or low-sugar,' Dell reminded them, patting the spot on his shoulder where he did his daily injections. 'Otherwise I'm no good to anyone. But I'm willing to try just about anything.'
'So is Leo, he likes everything. He even ate liver at our 'buela's church.' Tessi made a grossed out face. 'That's just nasty.'
'You sound like your daddy, Tessi,' Dell laughed, then looked at Meredeth when the doorbell rang. 'May I answer it?'
Dell scampered off, still feeling a bit melancholy that his Tessi's puppy wasn't there to sound the alarm. Still he chose not to dwell on it today, not when the air smelled of sage and bread and Christmas tree. He opened the door and smiled when he was it was the Parrish-Robbins clan. 'Hello! Welcome to our ever-bigger Christmas house!'
'Hi Dell,' Violet giggled, stepping in and giving him a hug before taking Finn's hand to lead him inside. 'Come on, Finn we'll get your boots off so we don't get water on Tessi and Dell's floor.'
'Wai', Vi'let.' Finn gave Dell a squishy hug, then sat down beside her on the landing of the stairs. 'Why it Tessi an' Dell fuh-loor?'
'Because they are our hosts, and we treat it nicely.'
'Oh. Hi fuh-loor, we nice,' Finn said directly to the hardwood, making Dell laugh.
'Tessi and RJ are in the kitchen?' Carey asked, and Dell nodded; the boys scampered off in search of possible treats while Violet and Finn went into the living room where they looked at the Christmas tree in the corner.
'Look, Finn, these tell a story,' Violet sighed. 'See? First Married Christmas. First Parents-To-Be Christmas. Baby Girl's First Christmas.'
'It a tuh-till, tha' mean Tessi-boo, righ'?'
'Sacky,' Finn echoed, then broke into a grin when he saw Max had come downstairs with the twins and joined them in looking at the tree. 'Hi, Max!'
'Hi Finn. Look, I poh-fiss-ah!'
Max turned back and forth, showing off the glasses his doctor told him he now had to wear all the time instead of just for story time. 'Tessi say poh-fiss-ah have 'lasses. They 'mart.'
'They are very smart,' Leo agreed, coming over to give his princess Violet a hug and a little kiss on the cheek; Violet turned red as the Christmas balls on the tree.
'Ew, Leo, no mooshing, that's gross!' Trini wrinkled up her face and shook her head at Finn. 'Man they are just so weird.'
'Weird,' Finn agreed, making Max pout.
'No nas'y words, Tee-nee,' he admonished his older sister. 'It Kiss-miss, puh-lay nice.'
'We puh-layin' nice, Max, no worry. And look!' Finn pointed to the door being answered by Lili, who welcomed Rosie Duncan and their daddy, along with Jeremy, Sloan Devin and little Nate. 'More fuh-riends!'
Max grabbed Finn's hand and dragged him over, stopping shyly when he saw them. 'Hi-hi, ev-ee-one!'
'Hey Max Power!' Rosie came over and scooped her cousin up for a bone-crushing hug, put him on his feet with a little thump. 'You are getting big!'
'I ah-mos' tuh-ree, Rosie!'
'Stop growing! That's a order, Private,' she teased him and giggled outrageously when Max gave her a little salute.
'Poh-fiss-ah Pi-vate! 'Mon, we washin' tuh-ree.'
Duncan shook his head as their cousin dragged Rosie off to the tree while he stayed with Devon and Nate. They needed a big brother to help them with their winter things. He held out his hand to Devon, gave a little jerk of the head. 'Come on, Devon, let's get you out of your boots.'
'We puh-lay game?' Devon asked as he watched Duncan unlace his winter boots. 'Tanks.'
'You're welcome, and we for-sure can play a game. What do you want to play?'
'I'unno. Fishy car'?'
'Fishy car? You mean Go Fish?' At Devon's excited nod, Duncan nodded back and smiled. 'Sure. We can play Go Fish.'
'Yea! No! Wai'!' Devon looked over to his mother, who was taking off her coat while Jeremy held Nate in his carrier. 'Mama, how Nate?'
'He's just fine, Devon,' Sloan reassured her worrying big bro. 'You go have fun with your friends.'
'Okay.' But he gave his snoozing brother a little peck on the forehead, making Nate wrinkle up his nose. 'Love you, Nate.'
Duncan and Devon had barely crowded around the table with their deck of cards before they were happily interrupted - TJ and Kelley had arrived with their parents, as had Nessa and Heddie with theirs. Duncan didn't miss the look of hero-love on Nessa's face when she looked at TJ; he'd seen it on Rosie's face when she sighed over her movie stars in her girl movies she watched with their mother. He stood up, waved them over.
'Hey guys! Come on over, we're playing Go Fish with Devon!'
'Oh, right on, little bro.' Just as enthusiastic about Go Fish with the under-ten crowd as he would be about poker night with his hockey buddies, TJ sprinted over and gave Devon a tickling hug as the boy climbed into his lap. 'We need some tunes up in here,' he decided and Kelley, who was quickly becoming a small genius with electronics, nodded.
'I've got it covered, big bro.'
'Toos,' Heddie chirped, waddling over with her sister holding her hand and wearing her pretty party dress. 'Wash toos?'
'No, not like cartoons, Heddie, tunes like music,' Nessa explained, then gave TJ a four-year-old version of a flirtatious smile. 'Right TJ?'
'You got it, sweet-pea.'
'Bad word!' Devon gasped, scandalized. 'No pee-pee!'
'It's okay, little bro,' TJ reassured him, then looked around. 'Where's everyone else?'
'Everywhere,' Duncan informed him as Violet, Finn, Leo and Trini joined them at the table. 'You guys ready to play? TJ, you're gonna help out Devon?'
'Me too! Nee' help!' Heddie insisted. 'I liddle!'
'I'll help you, Heddie,' Nessa told her sister, then grinned when the door opened once more. 'Oh, wait, we might have even better help.'
'Hi-hi! Hello! Hello!' Jojo Castle's voice was as bright as her eyes as she came in with her parents, sister and brother-in-law. 'We here!'
'Sho-sho!' Heddie clapped her hands in delight. 'Nissy! Sho-sho here!'
'I see that.'
'Hey, I think we're all here!' TJ looked around. 'Wait, where are Mallory and Tessi and RJ?'
'In the kitchen. They're finishing up helping Mami,' Trini informed him; as if on cue, the trio being spoken of wandered in from the kitchen, perching themselves at various spots around the table. They were their own little family within the larger one content in their own little world.
'Hey, I just thought of something,' Tessi said with a little smile. 'You know how we always take family pictures at the Hamptons and for Christmas? We should make a new tradition and start taking one of all of us together!'
The others lit up with enthusiasm as well, chipping in their own agreement and nods of approval. 'Maybe, maybe we can even have our own special holidays card to send out with it too!' Mallory added, thinking of how her mother always made cards out of their own homemade pictures.
'That's a guh-reat 'dea!' Nessa agreed, and Rosie, ever her father's military child, abandoned the card game.
'We should practice night now, where everyone is going to sit. Oh and we need to get Nate too!'
'I'll do that, Rosie,' TJ offered, giving Devon a loving tap on the rump. 'Come on, big bro, we need to find your little bro.'
Rosie, true to her word, got them all to line up, and remember who they stood beside by looking to their left, just as she'd seen her daddy do with his Marine friends. She folded her hands behind her back and marched back and forth in front of them.
'Now listen up troops,' she declared in her most authoritative voice. 'This is the first time ever we are doing a picture like this, and we need to show the grown-ups we can do it ourselves, right?'
'Right!' All sixteen voices chorused back.
'We are little kids but we can show them we are big kids too, right?'
Rosie paused, waited as TJ came back in with little Nate in his arms and Castle, the resident photographer of their unusual clan following him; TJ knelt beside Devon on the end row while Castle held up his camera to record it all. 'We may not all be related by blood relatives,' she continued regally, in a way that would make Cam's commanding officer impressed, 'but we are a family and we love each other.'
'Yes we do,' the agreed.
'So, on a count of three everyone say cheese, right?'
Rosie darted inline between her brother and Dell Ryan, her hands resting one on Trini's shoulder, the other on Carey's. 'One two three!'
Castle grinned as he snapped three pictures in a row, then raised his voice to get everyone's attention. 'Hey! Come into the living room! You're not going to believe this!'