Isabel drummed her fingernails against the porch railing as she stared at the three grease monkeys messing around under the hoods of several vehicles. "So, how long does this typically take?"
"Oh, they could be out there all day," Maggie said helpfully as she bypassed her on her way out the door.
"Great, this's just what I had in mind for my last Saturday at home," she muttered under her breath.
"Hey, you'll be glad he knows how to do this later on," Michael hollered from under the car.
She rolled her eyes when he continued his rant, going on and on about the money they'd save on oil changes and other things she didn't really care about down the road. "I'd rather pay someone to change the oil and spend that time with my boyfriend."
"So you'd rather spend your time sitting in the shop with him waiting for the oil to be changed and payin' for somethin' he could easily do himself?" His tone easily relayed just how stupid he thought that was.
"Y'know you're just gonna piss her off." Max's relaxed voice carried on the light breeze and his sister narrowed her eyes.
"No one said she had to hang out on the porch. She can go inside and wag her tongue like the rest of the women."
"Wow, you are really pushin' it," Alex mumbled as he secured the oil pan.
"Hey, if she wants to learn this stuff I'm all about equal rights. Matter of fact, this is car maintenance 101 and she oughta know how to do it."
"Yeah," Max drawled slowly, "I don't see that happening."
Isabel's attention was drawn away from the guys - and the temptation to drop that oil pan on Michael's head, when several vehicles turned onto the street and a moment later the gravel driveway began to fill up. Mostly trucks, she noted as the doors opened and people streamed out onto the front lawn.
There were only a couple of people she didn't recognize. Most of them she'd met over the course of the past few months. She'd never been around all of them at one time though.
"They can be a little overwhelming all at once," Maria said as she joined Isabel on the porch.
"I thought holidays with my family were crowded," the tall blonde muttered.
"Is that all Michael's family?" Liz asked as she leaned against the porch railing next to Maria.
"Oh, they're all family, but that's not even half of them. The rest are on their way." She waved back when Joey noticed her and started to wave frantically. He bounded up the walkway and onto the porch, slowing down dramatically as he approached her. "Hi, Mighty Joe." She accepted the exaggeratedly gentle hug, patting his arm as he backed away. She introduced him to her friends and he responded with a shy smile before focusing on her again.
"I brought Coda with me. Wanna see her?"
"I would love to see her. But first…" she directed his attention to the pair of big feet sticking out from under the car and she grinned when his eyes lit up.
"Mikey G?" he whispered.
"I think he needs a surprise gorilla hug," she whispered back.
"That's what I do!" He shook his head when he saw her finger waving in his direction. "But only with Mikey G."
"That's right, so go give him a big gorilla hug and then you can show Coda to me." She pointed at her boyfriend once more and then pressed a finger to her lips and Joey nodded.
Liz's eyebrows shot up when Michael's cousin carefully and with exaggerated quiet crept over to the car the guys were working on. "What's he gonna do?" she asked, her voice hushed when she realized silence had fallen over the crowd of people now watching him. He was oblivious to the attention, his focus solely on his cousin as he approached him.
"He's gonna give Michael a gorilla hug." She shook her head when she glanced at Liz and saw the confusion in her expression. "Just watch."
Isabel smirked. She'd only heard about the so-called gorilla hugs and she was looking forward to actually seeing one for herself. He deserved it for giving her grief over the oil change.
"Oh, crap," Michael muttered when he felt a pair of large hands wrap around his boots right below his ankles.
"What're - "
He never heard the rest of Max's question as he was suddenly yanked out from under the car. He was grateful the car was up high enough that he didn't have to worry about cracking his forehead on the underside. He was quick to grab onto Joey's forearms when his cousin leaned down and wrapped his fingers in the material of his shirt to pull him to his feet.
"Easy, Jo-" was as far as he got before those big arms wrapped around him in a viselike grip.
The family laughed raucously as they broke apart and starting moving towards the house.
"Wow, that looks painful," Liz murmured when Michael's face started turning red.
"Time for me to rescue him." She greeted her boyfriend's family as she passed them on her way to join the boys. "Mighty Joe, you promised to let me see Coda."
Michael was immediately released when Joey's beloved puppy was mentioned and he drew in a deep gulp of air quickly followed by another as he took several steps backwards in an effort to maintain his balance.
"Man, I'm surprised you don't have any cracked ribs," Alex said as he wiped his greasy hands on a rag.
Max leaned back against one of the trucks and shook his head, laughing when he caught the satisfied look on his sister's face. She was talking to Shyanne, Kai and Shawnee, the four of them laughing about something he was sure he was safer not knowing about. He rolled his eyes when the laughter quieted as their focus turned to two men roughhousing on the lawn.
"More cousins?" Alex asked as he craned his neck to see what was holding the girls so captivated.
"Can't lay claim to those two," Michael answered as he turned and slammed the hood shut. "Nick and Jake, engaged respectively to Shyanne and Shawnee." The guys had met over the Christmas holiday and had immediately clicked. He was glad because it had given Shyanne common ground and since then she'd really started to open up more around the family. She was finally starting to feel like she belonged.
"And the reason they're holdin' the girls' attention would be…?"
"Hell if I know," Michael muttered and shook his head. It didn't really matter to him because his girl was busy with Joey, fawning over Coda like she was the only puppy in the universe. "It's probably the military thing and the accent. Jake's a Marine and Nick's from Australia." He shrugged carelessly. "Apparently there's some attraction thing there for girls."
"Well, we've got that family thing at three so we'd better get goin'," Max said as he placed the tools in the toolbox Michael had brought out that morning.
The other hybrid simply snorted and wiped grease from the socket in his hand before tossing it in the top tray. They had all been roped into family gatherings for the afternoon. He could think of at least a dozen things he'd rather be doing, but it would be the last time the whole family would be together for a while so he knew ducking out wasn't an acceptable option. The good thing was it gave him a solid excuse for not spending his afternoon in Roswell. Max and Isabel's parents were having a barbecue at their house with Alex and Liz's families all joining them. He and Maria had been invited along with their parents but if he had to spend his afternoon being social he'd rather be social in his own circle.
"You think Isabel's actually gonna be ready next Saturday?" he asked with a glance at the porch where every female in a five-mile vicinity had gathered to flap their gums.
"Ready, yes," Alex said with a fond grin in his girlfriend's direction. "On time, highly doubtful."
Michael's eyes narrowed. "I thought we agreed our departure time would give us plenty of cushion for the girls to get all their crap together so we could leave on time?"
Max decided to avoid putting his two cents in because Alex had already warned him that they needed to add a minimum of three hours to their departure time if they intended to leave on schedule.
"You do realize we're not just leavin' for a week or two, right?"
"Yeah, and we'll all be back for Christmas." Michael shrugged. "What's the big deal?"
Alex studied him for a good thirty seconds before shaking his head. He was pretty sure the other guy knew what the big deal was. He was being difficult, which Maria had informed him on multiple occasions was Michael's default setting. "I'll do what I can to keep her on schedule." His head snapped to the side and he glared at Max when he coughed, using the exaggeratedly fake sound to cover his laughter. "I'm leaving before I land in the doghouse along with the two of you." He slammed the hood on his car and went to collect his girlfriend.
"He'll never have her ready on schedule," Michael muttered as he dropped the lid on the toolbox and secured it.
Max shook his head in agreement. "Nope. Well, we'd better get going too. My parents are expecting us to be on time and Mom's been kinda…."
"Yeah, mine too." It'd been getting worse the closer it came to time for them to leave. Really, it was kind of weird. One minute things were fine and the next Mom just burst into tears and ran out of the room until she had herself under control again. She was acting like she'd never see them once they left. He was sure his afternoon was going to be plagued by bawling moms everywhere he looked.
Once the others were gone he ambled over to join his girlfriend, smiling when she stood. "She's growing into a beautiful dog, isn't she?"
"She's pretty!" Joey enthused.
"Yeah, she is," Michael agreed as he crouched down to rub the dog. She was a beautiful dog; friendly, personable and fiercely protective of her master. Uncle Elijah was happy with the addition to their family, especially after witnessing the dog's defense of his son when a group of teenagers tried to hassle him. "C'mon, Joey, let's get inside before the guys wolf down all the hot dogs."
The teenager's eyes widened. "Huh-uh."
"How come you don't got a dog?" Joey asked as they went inside, cutting through the kitchen on their way to the backyard.
"You remember we're leavin' here pretty soon, right?"
Joey paused and turned to look at them. "Do you gotta?"
Michael nodded. "Yeah, Joey, we gotta. But we'll be back for holidays and stuff."
"And you can come visit us," Maria added with a smile. "Your dad said you've always wanted to go out on a boat and see the ocean."
"Really? And we can go to Disneyland too?"
"Is that in California?" Michael asked, his tone absent as he poked around in a few of the dishes set out on the counter. He didn't care for theme parks personally, too many people, but it was something that Joey had wanted to do for a long time.
Joey stared at his cousin, his head tipped to one side as he tried to figure out if he was joking or not. He was sure Michael knew where Disneyland was. Hadn't he told him before?
"I'm kidding, Joey, I know it's in California. And once we can work out schedules and everything we'll take you to see that oversized rat you like. It won't be until next summer," he squeezed out when the admission earned him a rib-crushing hug as the teenager pounced on him. It was only a matter of seconds before he was bouncing out of the house, announcing his impending visit with Mickey Mouse.
Elijah stepped into the house while his son was busy telling everyone about his summer plans, reaching up to take his hat off while pinning his nephew with a look. "Michael, I know you mean well, but next summer's a long way off."
"It's not that far off," Michael said with a frown.
His uncle ran a hand through his hair as he turned to watch his son for a few silent moments. "A lot can change in a year."
"I'd never break a promise to him, Uncle Elijah."
He sighed and shook his head. "You wouldn't mean to and I know that. The thing is, you can't predict where you'll be in a year."
"Can anyone?" He wasn't sure what the problem was. "We talked about this a couple weeks ago and you said it'd be okay." Colt and Rebecca were planning to take their boys to the theme park next summer and since Michael and Maria were going to be living a few hours away from Anaheim they'd asked if they'd be interested in getting together for the trip. Honestly, he hadn't been interested at all but then Maria had asked if Joey had ever been since he enjoyed Disney movies so much. His cousin and wife would pick Joey up and bring him to California and they'd all meet up for a couple of days, then he and Maria would take him and the twins back to San Francisco with them for the weekend while Colt and Rebecca enjoyed a weekend without kids underfoot.
"I did. And it is. I should've asked you to keep it under your hat until it was a sure thing."
Maria had been watching from the sidelines, following Michael's lead as he dealt with his uncle. He'd been surprised when Elijah agreed to the trip and he'd assured her that it wasn't because he didn't trust them to take care of Joey. When her boyfriend seemed to struggle with the reassurance he was trying to get out she moved to stand next to him, smiling inside when his hand reached down to tangle with hers.
"We know how important it is to keep a promise to Joey and for Michael, that's no different than keeping a promise he makes to anyone. He never makes a promise unless he's sure he can keep it."
"It'd be good for you to have a few days to decompress too," Michael added. He knew it was hard for Elijah to let Joey out of his sight for long in spite of the necessity for the breaks that allowed him to regroup. He was his son's fulltime caregiver and even though he loved him and would do anything for him, the constant demands on him took a toll. "The trip is a sure thing. I swear to you we won't let him down."
"It's not you, Michael." His gaze shifted to his nephew's girlfriend for just a moment. "And it's not you either, Maria. I know you'd never do anything to hurt him intentionally. It's just… so much can happen in a year. Things change, people change, situations change… plans change, and he doesn't understand that." He was careful to never promise his son anything too far in the future for that very reason.
"Uncle Elijah, I swear to you, no matter what happens we will take him to see that stupid rat next summer."
"Mickey is actually a mouse, Michael, he's not a rat," Maria tossed out in an effort to lend a bit of normalcy to the moment.
"I beg to differ," he said, running with it. "Have you ever seen a mouse that big?"
Elijah smiled fondly and shook his head at them. He couldn't help worrying about things changing. Joey didn't handle disappointment well and he didn't understand when plans didn't go as scheduled. "Just keep me in the loop as it gets closer, okay? If anything changes I need to know immediately."
"We'll do that," Michael promised, "but come next summer we'll be takin' Joey to - "
"Hey," Maggie interrupted as she burst through the back door, "how come no one invited me to go to Disneyland next summer?" She stopped to hug her uncle and then crossed her arms and focused on her brother. "Well?"
"Well what?" He shrugged. "Since when do you have any interest in that place?"
"Better count on increasing the ticket count."
Michael scowled at her. "We're gonna have a full house so you're not stayin' with us if you go."
She started to make a face at him but suddenly smiled instead. "Yeah, you're gonna have a full house alright."
He glanced at Maria. "Isn't that what I just said?"
It took an effort to maintain a straight face. "That's what you said."
"Joey's gonna have a blast, Uncle Elijah," Maggie said with a grin. "I'll bet a bunch of us could get together and rent a beach house."
"Who's renting a beach house?" Linda asked as she came outside.
"All of us!" She ignored her brother's impressive eye roll. "Summertime, California, the beach and Disneyland. I'll bet if a bunch of us got together and split the cost it wouldn't be that bad. You're in, right?"
The other girl considered, mentally calculating numbers in her head before nodding. "I'm in." She had already started working part-time in Amy's shop, learning the ins and outs of the job, and she was going to be completely supporting herself in a matter of weeks. It was as scary as it was freeing and she couldn't wait to be independent. She loved Amy's friend Nina, the woman who owned and operated the store next door. She hadn't known what she was getting into when she'd accepted the proposition Catherine and Amy had laid out for her, but the opportunity to get off the Rez and on her own two feet had been all she needed to know she had to take the chance.
"We'll have to rope Christina into going too."
Michael shook his head when the girls started chattering, the racket drawing more of his cousins inside to see what was going on. Before long it was going to be a huge family affair. He glanced down when Maria leaned against his side, her arms sliding around him. His arm settled across her shoulders to pull her closer.
"If your cousins all decide to go we're gonna take over the park," she said with a quiet laugh.
Before he could respond the front door opened, permitting another visitor and an unfamiliar bark caused silence to fall over those gathered in the kitchen. Coda ran into the room ahead of Joey, excited to see the new visitor. She slid across the tiled floor just as Eddie came inside, his arms full of fur.
"What the hell is that?" Michael asked with a frown. It had a mottled brown and tan coat, a black face, with paws easily the size of a man's fist and it was… fluffy. It was not a man's dog. "Your girlfriend buy that for you?" He supposed the indignity of being saddled with something like that was understandable to a certain extent if that was the case.
Eddie grinned and shoved the excitable puppy into his friend's arms. "Nope." He took a moment to brush his hands over his clothes in a useless attempt to dislodge the dog hair sticking to him. "I'm just the delivery guy."
"You're just…" He glanced around at his cousins, wondering which one of them was the unlucky recipient of the so-called gift. He ignored the noises Maria was making as she fawned over the raggedy animal and he suddenly realized that everyone was staring at him expectantly. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. No way was Mom saddling him with a dog that was likely gonna be as big as a horse judging by the size of his feet. He shoved his way through the people cluttering the room and barreled out onto the back porch. "MOM!"
Catherine looked up from her conversation with Amy and several other women and a smile spread across her face when she saw the dog held in her son's hands. "Isn't he simply beautiful?" she asked no one in particular.
Amy bit back a smile at the stormy look on Michael's face.
"You knew about this," he accused. His eyes widened comically after a moment of studying her expression. "You were in on it?"
"He's a lovely dog, Michael." She glanced at her daughter and knew by the way she couldn't keep her hands or eyes off of the dog that she was already in love with the bundle of fur. "And he'll be wonderful protection."
"Of course he will," Catherine insisted.
"Mom, the houseboat is not that big."
"You said it had ample room and besides it has two bedrooms," she rationalized.
"He's not getting his own room," he denied.
"Well, of course not, honey. He'll sleep in your room." She smiled. "He's just a baby and he'll be in his new home."
"Mom," he held up one of the puppy's monstrous paws, "do you see the size of his feet? He's gonna be huge!" He looked over at Dad, annoyed when he just held his hands up and shook his head. "Dad, c'mon, tell her we can't have a dog." An idea popped up in his mind and he smiled triumphantly. "We probably can't have a dog. I mean, it'd probably have to be approved and…" he trailed off when Maria's mom just smiled and his brief vision of victory deflated. "You've already talked to Deanna." Next to her Gabriel cleared his throat and excused himself to refill his tea glass. He had a feeling the man was doing his best not to laugh at him where he could see it.
Maria moved in and extricated the energetic puppy from her boyfriend's arms, cuddling the animal close and talking to it. "Aren't you just the sweetest boy?" She stroked his floppy ears, ran her fingers through his fluffy coat and ended by cupping one of his massive paws in her hand. "You're gonna be a big boy too, aren't you? Yes, you are." She laughed and leaned back when he swiped his tongue over her chin.
"Don't get attached," Michael warned her. He looked down when small hands tugged on his tee shirt and he bent over to pick Shysie up. He shook his head in response as her little hands signed a question about the dog. "No, we're not keeping the dog."
"Oh, Michael," Maria turned and reached up to move the puppy's face in his direction, "how can you say no to this face?"
He pointed to himself. "Does this face answer your question?"
She ignored him and focused on the newest member of the family. "What's his name?"
Catherine and Amy shared a triumphant, knowing smile before Michael's mother answered. "They called him Aldo." She laughed when the younger woman made a face. "You can change his name. He'll adapt to it easily enough."
"We don't need to name the dog." Michael knew the battle was already lost but he couldn't let it go. "Maria, if we have a dog we're gonna have to plan around him. He's gonna have to be walked, there'll be vet bills, he'll wanna sleep in the bed," and she'd probably let him, too, "and can you imagine how much he's gonna shed?"
Maria dismissed all of the points Michael was rattling off as she mulled over the puppy's new name. It needed to be something strong, something that would fit his gregarious personality, and something that spoke of his majestic appearance. And she smiled as it came to her. "We'll call him Magnum."
Michael scowled as the crowd in the yard broke out in raucous laughter. Magnum, he huffed silently. He'd never live that down.