Christmas Interludes

This takes place between the events of "Sudden Losses" and "Lost and Found". The four stories are self contained but open-ended to allow future stories to unfold.

An English Christmas
It was a long flight for Ethan and Nichole Smith. The two had to rush home after school to double check their suitcase to ensure that they had everything. Their father Nigel had already done the check for them and added some additional clothes that they forgot particularly underwear and socks. He had had a hard time not shuddering at seeing Nichole’s panties but it was for the greater good that he counted and made sure she had enough.

Karen knew Nigel was feeling odd over doing the count but it was a little bit of fun and kept him from being nervous about the trip. Nigel Jr. in turn kept her on her toes as he was crawling everywhere and trying to walk, failing miserably each time. Someone had to do the checks, Nigel lost the draw.

Over in their own house Paige and Pete checked their fiancés’ bags. Hannah and Bryan were great at a lot of things, but packing wasn’t one of them. Paige teased Pete about it to which he shook his head and admitted solemnly “mom and dad told me if I didn’t pack my own things and ensure that I had everything they would leave me behind. They actually did it once, until my uncle called them and told them to come get me or he was calling DCF on them.”

Paige grew quiet and took over for Pete as Hannah walked in and hugged him deeply. Hannah kissed him on the lips and proudly stated “that’s why you are my fiancé, you went through their crap and came out smelling like fine roses.” Paige groaned and told them “I’d say get a room but we don’t have time for your little bit of fun and I don’t want to have to listen to Lady Smith chastise you for getting knocked up before the weddings.”

Bryan popped in and told her “no need to be jealous, I can easily ensure that you have the same talk with grandmother.” This set Pete off laughing as Paige’s face became flushed with embarrassment. Hannah looked over the list and told them both “everything is all set, we better head out before dad thinks we are actually doing what we are talking about.”

Pete’s face went red as the other two snickered. The four drove to the Smith home and parked, giving Nigel and Karen hugs while carrying Nigel Jr. back inside. Nigel asked if they had everything to which Hannah showed her list to them. Pete complained about having to haul his uniform with him to which Karen bluntly told him “it’s Smith family tradition that Christmas night the family hosts a large formal dinner for friends and family.”

Hannah sharply told her “if that witch shows up I am not responsible for my actions.” Nigel shook his head, telling warmly “she has to go but she won’t like the reception she gets. We have to endure her but she knows to hold her tongue and not say something to cause trouble.” Hannah wasn’t pleased but Pete soothed her while Paige added a warm “if you do do something you will at least know she provoked you and you don’t give a damn what Lord Smith’s friends think.”

Ethan came out with Nichole and announced they were ready to go. Ethan added a solemn “the Christmas dinner is annoying” to which Hannah added “well at least this year you might have a floor show if Camille acts up.” Ethan groaned, telling her “she is on her last legs but won’t hesitate to go down in a blaze of glory.” Hannah grinned, while Nigel told her sharply “don’t provoke her!”

The family got into two taxis and drove on to the airport. After the overnight flight to which they got at best five hours of sleep they were met by the Smith’s ever cheery junior maid Emma. She eagerly embraced Ethan and Nichole while getting quick hugs and pecks from Hannah and Paige.

Hannah offered her apologies for making her work on Christmas Eve which Emma grinned and told her “it’s alright, I’m the only staff member who doesn’t have family so it’s no big deal.” Paige and Hannah both nodded at one another but kept their silent understanding from Emma.

Nigel drove their rental people carrier while Emma drove the estate’s Land Rover. Hannah, Paige, and Nichole went with Emma while Bryan, Pete, and Ethan went with Karen and Nigel. Nigel told them to not take too long during the drive, hinting that he suspected they were up to something.

The girls talked with one another for an hour before Hannah asked the pointed “what happened to your family?” Emma expected this and admitted “my parents dumped me when I turned 18 and wouldn’t go into the family business. Mom owns a clothing store and dad is an accountant. I’m not suited for either, I’m better at helping people and wanted to become a nurse. I had enough money saved up to pay for my own schooling but I didn’t have any money to pay rent so it was either living in a bedsit or take a job that came with accommodations. I got lucky and Lady Smith heard about what my mom did and offered me a job so I could earn enough to pay for my own flat.”

Hannah shook her head in disbelief. Paige asked warmly “did they even try to contact you?” Emma grinned and told them “they sent me a Christmas card that told me how disappointed they were in my foolish pursuit and hoped I would come to my senses. I tossed it in the trash, they don’t really want me there to learn the business they simply want cheap labor.”

Nichole added a solemn “we will miss you when you leave. The other maids don’t have your happy personality.” Paige and Hannah both agreed, with Hannah adding “and Ethan will miss his crush” which set the others off laughing.

The drive was pretty quiet for Nigel and Karen. Ethan was a little on edge about seeing his grandparents again after the adoption, unsure how they really felt about it. Bryan and Pete picked up on his anxiety and tried to keep him from thinking too much, getting him to tell them what he was going to do during the week while trying to keep him focused on other things.

Ethan told them about Miles and Reed running with him which got the two grinning. Pete had him plot out the course then asked if he was going to join in their PT session before the run. Ethan was eager to do both, he liked running and it would be the first time he had a chance to run with his brothers. Karen and Nigel shared the same knowing looks as they listened to the two elder brothers working with Ethan. They didn’t have to say it, they knew that the two were doing a good thing for Ethan both from bonding and helping him focus on something else.

It took them almost four hours to drive north. They had to stop for gas due to the heavy traffic draining the gas tank about halfway there. Bryan filled Hannah in on his plans which she thought was a bit too smart for Bryan’s usual thinking. Paige snickered then told her “are you upset that he is doing a smart thing or that you didn’t think of it first?” Before she could say anything Pete hugged her from behind causing her to swoon and getting Emma to fight a laugh as Paige smirked at her, adding “you can see why he’s her perfect match. He knows her weaknesses.”

The group grabbed some coffee then loaded up again to finish the journey. Emma asked Hannah “is he always that way with you?” Hannah grinned and nodded, while Paige added a swift “he’s the only one to make her become entirely speechless. He loves her deeply but it took a grand act to show that he was the one for her.”

Emma asked what she meant to which Paige recalled the events of their sophomore year and the whole Clarence family fiasco. Hannah added a solemn “Reed, our cousin that you met in August, is his younger brother.” Emma couldn’t believe her, adding “how can someone so caring and smart come from such horrid people?” Paige and Hannah both added “we could ask the same of you.” Hannah added a solemn “you sound like you are from similar stock but thankfully you put your own future first.”

Emma blushed and drove on. Hannah and Paige both knew she was considering what they said and took it to heart. Both realized that she was too good for the job she was hired to do and hoped that she would have a the chance to finally get away on her own without needing help from others or her parents, and come hell or high water they were going to ensure she did. She was their friend, even if she was paid to accompany them.

The drive went uneventful after their pit stop. Mr. and Mrs. Smith greeted the group as they parked on the side of the manor. There were hugs and kisses all around with Ethan getting a big one from them.

Karen told the girls to watch Nigel Jr. while she helped Nigel with the bags. Nigel slipped out of Paige’s hands and started to waddle over to his grandparents getting a shout of “MOM!” from Hannah. Nigel dropped the bags and rushed over as fast has he could, stopping alongside Karen with his mouth wide open as Nigel Jr. giggle as he approached his grandparents.

Both looked at Nigel and Karen and asked what was the matter getting a quick “his first steps!” from both. Nigel Jr. giggled and announced “gamma” to Mrs. Smith getting Karen to gasp in shock again. Nigel told both “the little devil! He saved his first steps and first words for when he saw you.” Hannah burst into laughter as Bryan added “what did you expect, he is related to Nichole, Cat and Hannah.”

The Smiths tried to remain stoic but Nigel Jr. just grinned. They could see he did it on purpose and to them it was the best they had ever gotten, one of their grandkids loved then enough to share their special moment with them. Nigel whispered to Karen “mom and dad aren’t going to get anything better than Nigel’s gift. Nichole and Ethan were already walking when they were summoned to the manor and Harry wasn’t too keen on milestones like that while Nichole was in the crèche at the time.”

Mr. Smith led them inside while Emma sorted the bags with the other maids. Mrs. Smith gathered their gifts and offered them a nice lunch while telling them “we decided that it would be best to enjoy Christmas as a family instead of doing our traditional gala. We instead reworked it to being a formal dinner tonight. You have plenty of time to rest, nap, shower, and change so unwind and relax for a bit.”

Mr. Smith grinned as Nigel blew a sigh of relief. He asked solemnly “who is coming?” Mr. Smith started spouting off names and what their relation to the family was getting a big grin and nod of approval from Nigel. Mrs. Smith then added “Ambassador and Mrs. Gorman will also be attending, they will also be spending the night as it’s a bit far for them to travel on Christmas Eve. Plus being family to you it is only natural that they be here.”

Hannah and Bryan were fine with the arrangement. Hannah asked pointedly “will Lady Camille be here?” Mrs. Smith sighed and dejectedly told her “her husband has assured us she will be on her best behavior. He has warned her that she is on her last legs and if she does something to upset any of you she will be divorced and disinherited.”

Hannah accepted the reality of it, telling her grandmother “I am only concerned that she will use this as an opportunity to exact some revenge for the October shaming.” Mrs. Smith smiled and added “we know what her husband has in the works, she doesn’t know about it yet. When you make you announcement of your upcoming wedding he will announce his gift to you. She will not appreciate it but it will be beyond her control. Just know that it is a gift given with great thought and appreciation.” Hannah didn’t have a clue what she was talking about but figured it would be a direct stab in Camille’s back so she knew it was worth enduring her for a bit.

The nine went upstairs to sleep with Nigel Jr. seeing his small crib and smiling brightly. Nigel whispered to Karen “it’s a family heirloom, Harry and I used to sleep in it when we were babies.” Nigel Jr. went down right away while Karen and Nigel followed close behind. Hannah and Paige took longer while Pete and Bryan barely slept, having grown accustomed to less sleep thanks to their Army basic training regime.

Three hours later the family was rousted by Emma and the maids. Ethan and Nichole were the last to be awoken, given extra time to sleep thanks to the fact that they had the least to wear. Emma quietly told Nichole “your sisters insisted that you wear this” handing her some makeup which Nichole grinned at seeing and to which Emma helped her apply.

Bryan and Pete knocked on Ethan’s door and handed him a box. Ethan reluctantly opened it then stared at the contents. Pete proudly told him “you have been family long enough to know why we are giving you this. You aren’t the only one to get one today, Al is getting hers in a few hours from Jaimie. It wouldn’t be right to let you go any longer without this.” Ethan hugged him deeply, telling him “I’ll wear it with pride.”

Ethan got dressed quickly, putting the pendant around his neck and under his button down shirt. Emma came in to check on his progress and smiled at seeing part of the chain showing under his collar. Ethan showed it to her, explaining “my cousins all have the same; I’m the only one with an ‘E’ though.”

Emma nodded and added “it looks good on you. Be proud of it and don’t hold back in saying it’s family tradition because it is. Your mom’s family is your family now, and they are proud of you.” Ethan hugged her for being so nice to which she added a soft “I really mean it, you are Lord Ethan Smith and you don’t have to take any abuse from anyone anymore.” Ethan grinned and nodded, happy that she understood what he was thinking.

Hannah and Paige finished with their makeup and put on their pendants, telling each other they looked fine and to stop fussing. They moved on to check on Nichole who herself was fussing with her dress. Ethen then came out and was just as fussy but hid his frustration as he headed down with the girls.

The four went downstairs to where the guests had already gathered. All eyes were on them as they inspected the four grandchildren. Hannah felt like saying something but held her tongue, hoping Pete and Bryan would get down faster.

Pete and Bryan were running behind. They spent a lot of time ensuring that their badges were straight and their pins securely fastened. Pete complained that Bryan spent more time primping and preening than dressing to which he muttered “I can’t help it if I dress quicker.”

Hannah and Paige made their way around the room as Ethan and Nichole sought out their parents. There were whispers about Ethan to which Mrs. Smith came up behind the gossipers and kindly informed them “if you are just going to gossip about my grandson you can leave, I won’t have him upset because you feel the need to insult an eight year old boy.”

Ethan smiled at hearing that, his grandmother giving him a nod to continue on. Karen and Nigel brought Nigel Jr. down with them and he promptly smiled and giggled at seeing the guests. Nigel Jr. was seated in a chair at the table between Karen and Nigel causing raised eyebrows to which Mrs. Smith shook her head and added a soft “my youngest grandchild is not going to be pushed away on the holiest of holidays especially as it is a holiday where family is important.” The message was clear, don’t complain about Nigel Jr. being there.

Hannah and Paige made the rounds and greeted some friendly faces particularly those of her great uncle and distant cousin, Ambassador and Mrs. Gorman. Both gave Hannah deep hugs and kisses while Paige held back to let her get all the affection. Walter Gorman grabbed her and embraced her just as tight, whispering “don’t think for a second that you are any less a family member than Hannah. You and Pete are our relatives too.”

Whispers were still going on as Hannah and Paige made their way around the room. The biggest gossiper was Lady Camille, still upset over getting humiliated by Hannah at Harry Smith’s internment. She was spouting off more rumors and falsehoods about Hannah when behind her she heard a booming “it is sad to see that some people refuse to learn. I believe you were warned to be on your best behavior Lady Camille, I would hate for our grandmother to have to have some words with you on Christmas Eve in front of all of these fine people. For you sake, just be glad that we heard your whispers and not my sister. She and my fiancé are a bit annoyed at your presence and may not have the ability to hold their tongues like my future brother-in-law and myself.”

Lady Camille turned to see two tall, muscular young men standing over her with scowls on their faces. Both were dressed in United States military uniforms, with their strong arms crossed in front of their chests. She gulped and excused herself, walking off quickly as Bryan and Pete kept eyes on her.

Lady Camille’s husband Lord Young shook his head in disbelief. She had been there for only 20 minutes and had already broken her word to be on her best behavior. He called Mrs. Smith over and meekly told her “Camille broke her word already. Your grandson scared the daylights out of her, catching her by surprise. I am more than pleased to know that he will be my heir, as will your future grandson-in-law.”

Mr. Smith called for the attention of everyone and announced proudly “though this has been a sad year for us in losing Harry and his wife Sammi, we are blessed to have met our daughter-in-law and our newest grandchildren Bryan, Hannah, and Nigel Jr. Hannah and Bryan are charming and have shown they are Smiths in more than name. Their fiancés Paige and Peter are just as charming and have shown that they are perfect matches for Bryan and Hannah and we are proud to call them family. It is our great pleasure to formally announce that this July Lord Bryan Smith will wed Ms. Paige Connors and Lady Hannah Smith will wed Mr. Peter Orleans. Further Peter has insisted that he take Hannah’s family name as his own so we are pleased that the Smith family name will pass on to our great-grandchildren for all but Nichole’s children.”

A cheer went up as Bryan and Hannah kissed Paige and Pete. Mr. Smith signaled to Lord Young who called for the attention of all in attendance. He turned to Mr. and Mrs. Smith and stated “as my wife has been barren and beyond child raising years I have decided that my family’s legacy should not end due to no fault of my own. Unfortunately due to the nature of inheritance rules Bryan and Peter are unable to inherit the Smith family titles but I have decided that as they are family and the closest relatives to me my titles should go to them. Therefore it is with great honor that I present to them Royal Warrant of Precedents naming Bryan Smith as the next Viscount of Braintree and Peter Smith as the next Baron of Gosfield.”

Gasps went out at hearing the news. Camille returned in time to hear her husband make the announcement and see the look on her face as she realized he was serious. Lord Young sat down with a big smile on his face as his wife turned white from the shock. Mr. Smith whispered to him “the poor woman, she came in at the wrong moment” to which Lord Young grinned, offering a quick “perfect, maybe she will finally learn. The boys are good people and I am proud to leave them my family’s legacy.”

As dinner broke up Bryan and Pete were the center of attention. Both shrugged off being given titles but it was a big thing for the guests. Lord Young had a rousing chat with Karen about the title business and assured her that they didn’t usurp anyone and that they deserved the titles no matter what they may think.

Many guests had questions about their military service to which they had to explain how they weren’t active duty and what their roles were. They explained their patch, that of the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and their regimental insignia, that of the 101st Engineer Battalion and how they were one of the oldest military units in the country dating back to English rule. The two were more than happy to talk but surprised many by reminding them that they were only members of the unit for seven months and only fully trained for a month and a half.

Hannah and Paige just sat back and relaxed knowing Pete and Bryan had the attention of the guests. Walter came over and asked if they were alright with being proper English ladies. Both grinned while Nichole snorted at his question. Hannah honestly told him “it’s just a title, it doesn’t mean anything across the ocean in our hometown. We are no different than anyone else and we are fine being that way.” Paige added a swift “but over here when we visit if it helps us get some better service and keep some of the oglers at bay I am all for it.

The six went up to go to sleep while the guests were still talking. Mrs. Smith gave her blessing, telling anyone inquiring gossipers “they just flew overnight to be here today and have earned a rest. They don’t need to stay until the end, they have done their duty to the family and earned their rest.” Her tone left nothing to the imagination, their leaving was not to be questioned or discussed.

The next morning Ethan woke up early to Nichole nudging him. He saw she was already dressed so he quickly showered and changed, silently cursing being so late. Emma had already set out his clothes , he thanked her as she left to allow him to change in peace.

Breakfast was quiet as the family enjoyed each other’s company more than the conversation. Walter and his wife Lillian were assisting Karen in feeding Nigel Jr. while Ethan and Nichole tried to work out the best time to call their friends. Pete and Bryan were the last down and ate little, telling Ethan after they opened their gifts they were going out for their run.

Hannah and Bryan turned on their iPads and showed Nigel and Karen the pictures of the Finn Christmas Eve gathering. Karen and Nigel both gasped at Al Samuels’ dress, with Nichole and Ethan saying how beautiful she looked in it. Bryan and Pete both chuckled at their fiancés’ reaction to Al, telling them “we told you she was naturally pretty.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smith were perplexed, seeking an explanation from them. Nigel drew a deep breath then solemnly told them “the girl we are looking at is 11 years old and just lost both of her parents. The same accident killed two close friends of ours as well. The big thing about her though is the accident caused her to need surgery like Nichole had.”

Both looked at Nigel in shock. Karen added “she wasn’t like Nichole though, she wasn’t transgender before the accident. She was forced to become a girl instead of enduring life as a boy with no private parts. She has accepted her fate faster than we could have hoped and thankfully she has started to embrace her femininity. The surprise was how beautiful she made herself look, she dressed up for the gathering when she didn’t have to.”

Nigel added “she had to endure a lot of other things as well as losing her gender and her parents. She was in grave danger from corrupt police and a friend of ours, a prosecutor who used his office to manipulate them into constantly getting arrested while he tried to cover his crimes. Al finally told who was the real culprit and led to him going to jail and us finding that his son was Al’s brother.”

Mr. Smith thought it over and asked “you said Samuels, as in Dr. Samuels?” Karen nodded, explaining “my brother-in-law Mark put her in their care on purpose because they had dealt with Nichole and their neighbor Reyna Toro. After Richard and Olivia took her in they fell in love with her and she requested that they adopt her. She and her brother Thomas are both adopted by Richard and Olivia, only they won’t find out until about 2 PM our time.” The Smiths let out a big smile as Karen added “the two are exactly what Olivia needed in her life, which Ethan helped uncover.” Walter added a hearty “they certainly are the best people for her, fate was on her side.”

Nichole finished breakfast first and showed Nigel Jr. the Christmas tree and had to hold him back from crawling over to the pile and ripping everything open. The rest of the family finished and headed over to the tree to watch Nigel Jr. try to swim in the gifts. Nigel Jr. walked back and forth between them carrying presents that weren’t too heavy then went over to his spot on the floor to rip open his gifts.

Everyone was satisfied with what they got. Paige and Hannah got matching jewelry with Hannah getting some heirloom jewelry from Mrs. Smith. Pete and Bryan got signet rings with the Smith family crest on them along with gifts of stocks and bonds that Mr. Smith told them would help build up their own wealth, which Mr. Smith hoped would help out Pete so he didn’t intimidated due to Hannah’s wealth.

Nichole and Ethan got the usual kids gifts of clothes and games with Ethan feeling as if he didn’t need to get any gifts as he had the mother and father he dreamed of. Nichole had everything she could have wanted as well but the fact that her grandparents bought her jewelry and clothing meant more than anything to her. Nigel Jr. got just about any kind of toy he could want and enjoyed twirling the wheels and making noise with them.

Karen and Nigel surprised the Smiths with gifts of pictures of the kids all together. The two were not used to receiving anything but Mrs. Smith embraced them for the thoughtful gifts. Mr. Smith tried to remain stoic and distant but he was impressed that they would ignore convention and give them something despite them having everything.

Once the wrapping paper was cleared Bryan and Pete took Ethan for a run, first ensuring that he was properly prepared. He made sure to pack his jogging pants and t-shirts so it was a quick change for him. The two stretched with him then did their calisthenics routine before setting off for the run. The whole time the three were talking, acting as if it was an ordinary situation.

Mr. Smith tried to say something but noticed that Ethan was acting normal around them. Further Bryan was talking with him as a brother and not as an older sibling. There was no aloofness or putting him in his place as the younger brother, he was just his brother. He grinned at the sight especially as they set off with Ethan leading the way.

Karen caught his stares and informed him “they haven’t bene around each other that much but he loves Ethan like he loves Nichole. He always wanted a younger brother, Nigel is a good baby but he’s still too young so Ethan filled that void nicely. Pete treats him the same, with Pete going the extra mile to ensure that Bryan doesn’t overdo his protectiveness or attention.

Dinner was served at roughly the same time the family normally ate back home, albeit almost a breakfast to them given the time difference. The roast goose was perfect as were the mince pies and cakes. Bryan and Pete were relieved that the food wasn’t too exotic to them, with Hannah reminding him “you still haven’t gotten around to being forced to eat haggis yet”.

Karen shot back “thanks for reminding me, I think your uncle wanted to go up to Scotland during the summer so maybe you two should accompany him.” Nichole snickered telling Ethan about the story which got him shaking his head in disbelief. He added a soft “it’s not that bad, if you have a decent cook.” All five looked him strangely to which he said “what? I actually liked it. It’s not my fault you didn’t like curry or chicken tikka masala.”

Mr. Smith tried hard not to laugh but the fact that Ethan just put the five of them in their place was too impressive. Mrs. Smith shook her head in disbelief but she herself was glad that Ethan had one-upped them. Nigel and Karen both grinned, proud that the family was showing how well they were together.

Mr. Smith asked about their next visit to which Karen told him “we were planning on a joint trip with my sister Lilly.” Mrs. Smith inquired where they were going to which Karen didn’t have an answer. Mr. Smith proudly told her “why not invite them here?” Karen shot a quick “we wouldn’t want to impose.” Mr. Smith shot back a quicker “nonsense, they are family to you so they wouldn’t be imposing. Besides it’s rather dull during the winter so having you come will be no imposition.” Karen nodded while Ethan added “Daisy told me David is supposed to come over here to check up on the software program he developed for the police. It’s the same time as our February vacation.” Karen grinned and told them “then that settles it, he can’t come this way without you calling him to meet him.”

Nigel looked at the time and told them “we better get cleaned up, the Queen’s speech is soon.” Karen agreed and sent the family off to get read. She added “after the speech you have calls to make to your friends and cousins.”

The speech was rousing and powerful. Bryan and Pete were silent as Hannah and Paige kept their attention glued to the screen out of respect. Mr. and Mrs. Smith grinned in delight at the teens being respectful when they didn’t have to endure the speech of someone who wasn’t their monarch but Bryan confessed “it’s your country and your tradition and we have to abide by it in your house.”

Nigel set up a laptop to the main telly in the lounge so the family could greet their cousins, aunts, and uncles. The first to be called were the Yorks then the Joneses. The Bollingers and the Lawrences were with the Samuelses and knowing that it was an emotional day they skipped talking with them to talk with Mark, Leslie, John, and Valerie. The same went with contacting the Penas and Hermans.

The whole Finn clan was together as Mr. and Mrs. Smith got their first looks at Leslie, Mark, Valerie, Melanie, Dan, and Lilly. Karen asked Lilly if she would like their vacation to be taken to England then explained that Mr. and Mrs. Smith invited them to come. She gladly accepted. Once the adults got the small talk out of the way the teens took over talking.

Iris and Rachel did most of the talking as Michael and Miles weren’t sure what to say while Jaimie knew she didn’t have anything to add. The twins took over and caused the Smiths to laugh at them complaining about what they got and what they really wanted. Karen told them sharply “all of your things can easily go back which caused the two to run off apologizing to her for being greedy and making the others laugh out loud.

When they logged off the call they received a surprising call from the Samuels’ account. Rick and Will got on and told Karen about the day and particularly what happened with Al and Thomas. Karen grinned as Al came into view asking what was going on and who they were talking to.

Al saw Nigel, Nichole, Ethan, Pete, and Bryan but didn’t recognize the others. Nigel told her warmly “this is Hannah and Paige, the two Bryan and Pete were constantly joking about.” Al laughed as the two glared at Pete and Bryan who tried to shy away from her. Al wasn’t sure what to say so Nigel told her “we hope you liked the gifts we got you” to which Al smiled and told him “everything was a bit too big but mom said I was going to grow into them.” Karen smirked and told her “that wasn’t exactly why we got them bigger but you are right. It’s better to have your clothes a little looser in the summer especially when around boys.” Al blushed at hearing that but added “I think mom said something like that before but I wasn’t listening.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smith looked at one another as they both kept glimpsing at Al on the screen. They were out of view of her but both could see how amazing she looked. When Al finally ended the call Mr. Smith asked meekly “there is no way she was male. It’s impossible.” Nigel shook his head and told them “she was born a boy and until three weeks ago was living as one, albeit unhappily due to her parents’ neglect. She didn’t have the chance to start puberty and had feminine features already so unless you looked in her underpants you wouldn’t know that she was male. But she is female now and accepted her fate.”

Mrs. Smith prompted told him “she is stunning. She does look a little like Rachel though.” Karen added a quick “they share the same style of clothing, but she has to wear a dress due to another surgery related to the crash. Once she can wear skirts again she is going to look a lot more like Rachel.” Mr. Smith asked “does she act like her too?” getting a quicker “I think she and Rachel are going to be a lot alike, but her heart might be set on something like forensics rather than computer programming and hacking.” Nigel added a swift “she is blessed with a keen mind and a loving heart, I think she may be into law enforcement like David. She will do well in anything she sets her mind to and with Olivia and Richard helping her she can do anything. Plus she has a nice nest egg so she doesn’t have to worry about working, she can live her life as she sees fit.”

The family ended the day on a high note. The next few days were a blur of shopping and family meals. Hannah and Paige forced Emma to join them for a Boxing Day shopping trip, just three young women out for a fun time and to give Emma a chance to enjoy some time with people who considered her family. Emma tried to shy away from it but the two were adamant that she go, with Mrs. Smith seeing right through their ploy and making her enjoy the shopping trip and the day off that she had earned.

Ethan, Bryan, and Pete ran around the estate each day with Ethan keeping pace with them and even beating them in their impromptu races. Nichole kept busy talking with Kylie and the girls. She didn’t want to join her sisters on their shopping trip and refused to go out in the sleet and rain that the English December brought them.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith enjoyed the time with their grandchildren especially Nigel Jr. who seemed to take to them better than anyone else. When the time came to leave they said their tearful goodbyes and promised that the upcoming February would be more interesting for the elder Smiths as Daisy and Claire would ensure their grandchildren had a good time. Nigel had all of the details for Lilly to inspect once she got a chance, the Smiths were going all out for them and wanted them to enjoy their stay in style especially as Lilly had earned the chance to be pampered by others.

Burying the Past
Christmas Eve was a trying day for Daisy Peterson. She had been feeling bad about herself recently as she heard about another kid who grew up with terrible parents while she was growing up with a loving mother and the best brothers and sister you could ever ask for. Al was in good hands now but it still bugged her that she hit the lottery in having such an amazing family while others weren’t lucky.

Her mother talked with her in the past two and a half months about her feelings and her birth mother. That evening, her mother Lilly surprised her by telling her brothers her that they were going to give some closure to Daisy by going to Chicago and bringing their mother back easy for a proper burial. Daisy started crying, thanking her for doing that for her mom even though she wasn’t a nice lady.

Her sister Claire was happy to go along for moral support even though Lilly explained that she didn’t have to do it. David was unable to go due to the holiday crowds at the airport and the extra troopers needed to help patrol Boston Harbor. Patrick was unsure what to feel, mumbling “she doesn’t deserve this” to himself before he caught sight of Daisy’s happy face and quickly realized it was for her sake that Lilly was doing it.

The next morning after Daisy had opened her presents and they had made their way over to the Finn home to finish opening the gifts there. Daisy said hello to her Aunt Karen and Uncle Nigel then got pulled away by the twins as she listened to her mom and aunt make plans. Daisy smiled brightly when they agreed to go to England with the twins telling her “you will like it, it nice there.”

Patrick told her “I can’t go but David is definitely going. I hear there’s a cute maid that Hannah and Paige raved about. Maybe he might finally get a date with someone.” Lilly’s eyebrow raised in surprise while Claire, Michael, Jaimie, Miles, and Valerie all started laughing. John kept a stoic face, but nodded at the thought of Emma and David enjoying some time together.

Over dinner John finalized the plans for the Chicago trip with Lilly. He told her that Uncle Jorge had given him the name of a lawyer in Chicago that would help them if they ran into trouble. Lilly wasn’t sure how he would be of help as they were only going to claim the body and get copies of Daisy’s medical records.

Valerie shook her head and softly told her “it’s different than here. Given Daisy was designated ‘male’ at birth and now presents as female complete with genitalia they may give you the runaround over it as they are in serious trouble for their screw-up if they in fact never presented her with the option of surgery. Given that she was indignant, addicted to drugs, and a prostitute I highly doubt they gave her much more than the heave-ho when both were well enough to leave the hospital.”

Lilly understood what she meant now. Patrick asked if this person was any good, to which Valerie grinned and nodded. She wouldn’t tell them who he was, only that he was a great lawyer and if they had to call him in he was going to work his tail off for them.

The family ate a quiet dinner, or as quiet as you can get with Cat and JD fooling around and DJ Lopez falling asleep earlier than normal due to the morning’s excitement. Once the twins were asleep and Daisy situated herself to listen to the adults talk about her they made plans for the trip. Claire and her five cousins mad themselves scarce, going next door to talk with Mark and Leslie.

John and Patrick plotted out an easy driving route. Melanie suggested they spend the night in Erie, PA while Dan told them to take lunch in Syracuse. Daisy asked why they couldn’t drive straight through to which John told her “you need to rest. All four of you do. Even with three drivers you are still a little girl and are going to need to stop several times for food and bathroom breaks and you won’t get into the hotel until late. Plus it’ll give you a chance to get ready for the next day.”

Daisy had to concede the point, he was right. Melanie suggested they go home and rest, they had to pack and get ready to go. John told them he would have the details hammered out, they weren’t going to the city without a place to stay and he wanted to ensure that they had a great time after. Lilly tried to tell him not to splurge but he just grinned and didn’t say a word.

Daisy was up early the next morning. She packed her bag for four days but Claire told her to make it seven days. Claire herself had everything ready, including her mom’s bag. Lilly tried to tell her she overpacked but Claire insisted telling her sharply “I checked and it’ll be rainy and snowy. I’d rather have too much than not enough especially given we are driving.”

Patrick arrived and Daisy rushed out to the minivan with her bag. Claire told her to get back inside and eat breakfast which Patrick picked her up and forced her inside to eat. Lilly laid out the routing, insisting on taking I90 straight through. Patrick just nodded in agreement, then showed them where he planned on stopping for lunch, adding a quick “it’s not much but at least there’s some decent places to eat in Syracuse.” He showed where he planned to eat dinner in Erie and got the same nod of approval.

The four set out, with Daisy rushing to her usual seat in the van. Claire told her to calm down but once she had her headphones on Daisy was without a care, focused only on the trip. Claire busied herself texting her boyfriend Will and her cousins Jaimie and Stacy hoping they would keep her sane but all three told her she needed to focus on Daisy and her mom not them.

Daisy wasn’t just watching Netflix or YouTube videos during the drive. She was crafty, reading several years above her grade level she was able to find some information about what they were going to need to do to identify and bury her if she wasn’t already buried by the county. She read more and more and understood much of it, zoning out anything that wasn’t relevant.

Clair was no fool and let her do what she needed to do. After an hour she whispered to her “mom read all of this already, you don’t have to. You are too young to be concerned about all of this stuff. Let her handle it. I know you are concerned and want to help but let her and Patrick handle it.”

Daisy nodded silently, shedding a tear as she closed the webpage. Claire tried to keep her busy by playing a game with her on their iPads but that didn’t help much. Eventually she gave in and started to watch Netflix and got lost in the world of ponies and talking pets.

After four hours of driving Patrick stopped for lunch in Syracuse at a McDonalds near Syracuse University. Claire told her mom what Daisy was doing getting a cringe and soft “I’ll talk with her” from Lilly. Daisy looked up and admitted “I shouldn’t have been reading into it but I needed to know.”

Lilly calmly told her “I expected you would do that but there was too much on that site that little kids shouldn’t see. You may be as smart as a 10 year old but you are still a little girl inside and you will have nightmares if you aren’t careful.” Daisy started to cry, telling her between sobs “I had to know, I didn’t want us to go all the way over there for nothing.”

Lilly hugged her tight as Patrick and Claire walked inside to order, giving the two time to settle down. After several minutes Daisy calmed down, allowing them to go inside to eat. Patrick and Claire didn’t say a thing about what happened outside, eating their lunch in silence as Daisy took her time eat while trying to play with her new toy.

After eating Claire took over driving so Patrick sat next to Daisy. She was still quiet, watching her TV shows and movies while they drove on further west on I90. David texted asking for an update and got a quick “nothing worth mentioning” which David shot back “she is too smart for her own good.”

By mid-afternoon they reached Erie, PA. John sorted out a decent hotel room but there wasn’t much to see or do so all four retreated to their rooms after an early dinner. Daisy just watched TV and played some games, trying hard to keep occupied while Claire finally got a hold of Will and spent two hours talking with him.

The next morning after an early breakfast they set out for the final six hour drive to Chicago. They hoped to reach the hotel with enough time to get to the county offices before they closed. By the time they reached the city limits they opted to go to the offices first to do what they needed to do regarding Patrick and Daisy’s mom.

They were told that she had been buried but so long as they paid the expenses she could be exhumed and moved east for a proper burial. Patrick handled the identification as he was the official next of kin. Daisy was given her possessions, just some jewelry and a picture of her as an infant.

The clerk handling the paperwork noticed that she had a son and asked that they speak with social services as they were looking for him. They had little choice, this was unavoidable trouble. Patrick whispered “I think Claire should step out and have Aunt Valerie on standby in case this gets ugly.”

A representative from social services came out and took the four of them into a room to talk privately. Before they started Lilly told the woman “I am going to record this interview for legal reasons and will consult with my sister should any issues arise.” The woman stated she didn’t want to do that to which Lilly told her “either you agree to it or we refuse to speak to you. We are under the impression that this may not actually be an investigation into Dale’s disappearance rather it’s a cover-up of someone screwing up in your department.”

The woman reluctantly agreed then asked about “Dale Peterson.” Patrick asked “why are you looking for him?” The woman was insulted that he asked and told him “he has been missing since Mrs. Peterson died. We are aware that he was living with her at the time but soon after disappeared.”

Patrick asked her sharply “did you ever attempt to contact the police or social services in other states or send out a missing person report on him?” The woman tried to say that they did the best they could to which Patrick asked “so is that a yes or a no?” The woman said bluntly “no, we did not. We did not believe that he had left the City of Chicago.”

Patrick then asked “and do you have any idea about any other relatives to Mrs. Peterson such as other children?” She told him a sharp “no, Mrs. Peterson did not have any other children.” Patrick asked “did you know who Dale’s father was?” The woman started to get angry and told him “not that we are aware of.”

Patrick grinned then told her “Dale Peterson has two older brothers by Mrs. Peterson and an older sister by her father. Dale left the City of Chicago on a bus with a friend of Mrs. Peterson and disembarked in Boston, Massachusetts where Dale was taken by Transit Police to the daughter of Dale’s father.”

The woman asked how he knew all of that. Patrick grinned and told her “I’m Patrick Peterson, this young lady is my sister Claire Peterson, and this is our mother Lilly Peterson. Dale is sitting right in front of you, this young lady was Dale Peterson. SHE is now Daisy Peterson.”

The woman looked her over and demanded an explanation. Lilly sharply told her “Daisy was placed into the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families in the care of a woman who would later be found to be her aunt through her father. Her biological sister is my daughter, and through mutual agreement with her aunts and uncle I adopted her as my own. My son and his younger brother are Daisy’s brothers through her mother, their father married me and I adopted them as my own by mutual agreement with their mother. She has been with her biological family and next of kin for over two years now.”

The woman was angry at what happened and demanded to know why she was living as a girl. Patrick bluntly told her “thanks to a screw-up or incompetence or outright malpractice by doctors at the county hospital they ignored or entirely missed the fact that she was not biologically male as she had a malformed penis that was actually a misshapen vagina. She is not male and never has been and after consulting with a pediatrician she underwent an operation to fully open her vagina and remove excess flesh creating a proper looking mons pubis and labia majora. And before you claim otherwise, an ultrasound showed that she has a uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries so she is in fact female!”

Claire interjected and told her “our aunt Valerie cleared up all legal issues including the awarding of full custody to mom and allowing the adoption of her so whatever you were going to do in retaliation don’t bother, unless you wish to find employment elsewhere. Our uncle works for DCF and my best friend’s mother is the state’s regional director for DCF and should you try to take action they will in turn see to it that your department undergo a review regarding your own lapse in the handling of Daisy’s case.”

Claire was turning red as she said that. Daisy just grinned and told the woman “I remember you now, you came by once and a while and went into mom’s room. I’d hear weird noises and screams coming from there.” Lilly grinned and asked “is this true?” Daisy nodded to which Lilly proclaimed “then in that case we shall be going and inform your supervisor about your activities. Given that the body was removed before any of your people got there I think I can see why you want Daisy, I suspect that you were supposed to pick her up and take her into care but somehow you didn’t make it.”

Claire pretended to turn off the recording and listened as the woman threatened them, telling them she was going to call the deputies to remove Daisy due to their mutilating her. Claire asked her sharply “is that so? You are threatening to remove a legally adopted child from her mother for a medically necessary procedure done in another jurisdiction with the approval of that state’s social services to cover up your own actions?” The woman told her again “you aren’t leaving her with her.”

Lilly and the three left, this time going up to her supervisor and playing the recording. He listened intently then asked for Dale Peterson’s file. Reviewing it he saw inconsistencies and asked Daisy to explain what happened that day so he could do something about the woman’s actions. Daisy told the story and when she was done he expressed his apologies and told them they were in no trouble and as Daisy was now officially adopted and under the loving care of a mother and under indirect supervision by their colleagues there was nothing that they should do. They left, hearing him call in the wayward woman and saw her swearing under her breath and glaring at them.

They checked into the hotel John told them to, the Palmer House hotel. Claire giggled as Lilly shook her head in disbelief. Daisy laughed, telling her “Uncle John would never let you go to anything less than the best mom.”

They checked in and had the minivan valet parked for them. They were in three guest rooms but they were well decorated. Daisy and Claire shared but neither minded. The group had a dinner in the hotel’s dining room, with all four dressing up although Daisy wasn’t happy to have to wear an evening dress like her mom and sister.

The four turned in early, with Claire calling Will and annoying Daisy for an hour as she tried to talk with Faith on her iPad. Lilly talked with Valerie and got the adoption information faxed over along with copies of the legal name change and the doctor’s original diagnosis of her being intersexed with ambiguous genitalia after initially examining her back when Daisy first arrived in Leslie’s care. Valerie hoped she didn’t need it but it was a wise idea to have the adoption and name change just in case the former social worker used connections to harass Lilly.

The next morning the four set out for the hospital that Daisy was born in and was cared for occasionally when she was too sick not to take to the doctor. Daisy showed her the way, knowing by heart the route of the Green Line “L” train that served her neighborhood. She was quiet as they drove through the streets, directing Lilly towards the hospital and telling her where to turn. Looking around at the streets Claire stated the obvious “thank god she found us, this is no place for a 4 year old to be left alone.”

When they arrived at the hospital Daisy started to shudder then let loose tears. Patrick hugged her until she stopped, telling her softly “they can’t hurt you and we have firepower behind us.” Daisy softly told him “they weren’t happy with mom and said some nasty things about her behind her back. I don’t want them to say anything bad about mommy.”

Lilly found a map of the hospital then located the records office and directed them towards it. Daisy steeled herself for the inevitable questions that were going to be asked of her. Lilly didn’t need to do that, she simply said “I need copies of the medical records of my daughter, she was born here and treated here multiple times.”

The clerk asked for her name to which Lilly told her “she was treated her under the name ‘Dale Peterson.” A click of the records screen pulled up the records. The woman asked sharply “we have Dale Peterson listed as male, why did you call him your daughter?”

Lilly refused to answer her, telling her just as sharply “that is not your concern now if you would please give us the records that I requested we would like to make the most of this city while we can. I have all the evidence I need to show that I am the child formerly known as Dale Peterson’s legal mother and am making this request on her behalf so you have no right to refuse this request.” The woman refused stating “I can’t release the records.” Lilly drew a sharp breath then asked “can’t or won’t? You can, you are choosing not to. So the answer is you won’t. Fair enough, we will be back with our lawyer and if you are lucky you will only be disciplined and not fired.”

The woman saw the anger in Lilly’s eyes but reiterated “I can’t release the records.” Lilly grinned and told her “fine. That’s how you are going to play this then it’s your job that is going away.”

The four walked outside as Lilly called the number given to her by Valerie. The man on the other end asked for the information about what happened and why. He listened intently to what she told him then gave her the address of his office. The four stopped for lunch then drove over to the office, feeling more than upset that this was again happening to Daisy.

The man greeted them in the outer office, introducing himself as Juan Perez. Inside his office he sat them down and asked about the situation again being told “the records clerk refused to give us copies of Daisy’s medical records. She wouldn’t look at the documentation to show that I was Daisy’s mother nor would she acknowledge her as being female, instead she asked why I called her my daughter and would not release the records until I told her.”

Juan looked at the documentation and nodded, it was legitimate. The name change and adoption declaration were all that was needed to grant her permission to access the records. She didn’t have a right to know anything without Lilly allowing her to know and since Lilly said no to the request she had not right to deny the release of the records. Juan grinned at the sheer stupidity of the situation.

Juan wrote up a quick legal declaration demanding the release of the medical records as requested and the outcome should it be refused. Juan then asked if there was any reason why they might be cautious to which Lilly declared “they made a mistake at Daisy’s birth, which is why she is female now. She is biologically female and should have had an operation just after she was born but the hospital never did it, instead they sent her home with a birth defect.”

Juan asked if it was life threatening to which Lilly nodded, telling her “a member of our family had to undergo a similar emergency surgery to open her vagina as she started menstruating. Had it not happened she would have died from blood poisoning. Daisy could have had the same problem happen to her had she not undergone her operation.”

Juan looked at the document Lilly had which he grinned at. It was spelled out in black and white, the hospital screwed up big when she was born. Juan added a solemn “she really got hit with a double whammy then.” Lilly nodded, adding “she travelled across the country to Winnisimmet, MA just to be with her sister then found a large family.”

Juan’s face lit up at hearing that. He asked “what’s going on back there? I have heard rumors from cousins that things happened to my uncle’s family. They practically took over the city from what they said.”

Claire asked him “who is your uncle?” Juan grinned and told them “Jorge Castillo.” The four burst into laughter then Claire told him “Uncle John won’t like hearing that we practically took over the city but he will lay claim to changing it.” Lilly grinned, then added “Daisy and Claire’s real father is Jorge’s nephew through Victoria. They are Finns.”

Juan’s eyes grew wide at hearing that. He started to think about where he heard the name then grinned, announcing “that changes things. This is a family issue now. Uncle Jorge would never forgive me if I charged you and didn’t give you the best chance to make things right possible.”

Juan rewrote the notification with stronger language and added that he was filing suit on behalf of Daisy for the ignored emergency medical care at her birth and failure to notify social services of her malnourished state. He added that there was no excuse for their refusal to give copies of the medical records and their refusal was tantamount to covering-up their error. He wasn’t fooling around, he told Lilly “I’m ensuring Daisy gets her money’s worth from them.” Lilly nodded, Daisy said “if you won, give the money to Claire. I already have enough.”

Juan had his clerk file the suit for him then set out with the four for the hospital. He made his way right for the record’s office and asked for Dale’s records, getting the same runaround that Lilly got. He grinned then told her “thank you, I expected you would do the same thing so I’ll be heading to legal to notify them that your hospital has violated Daisy Peterson’s rights in refusing to grant her legal mother copies of what rightfully belongs to her daughter. Under HIPAA you are required to give copies of a patient’s medical records upon request by that patient and as money was never discussed you had no right to refuse.”

Juan walked out and went straight to the legal department, dropping off the notice of intent to sue on behalf of Dale Peterson now known as Daisy Peterson. When asked on what grounds Juan told them sharply “violation of her HIPAA rights, violation of patient confidentiality, civil rights violation, malpractice, and ignoring the health and wellbeing of a child in danger.” He grinned as they tried to backpedal but he told them “I gave your records clerk a chance but she refused on no basis whatsoever. Given that I already know that the hospital was in error on all counts and we have documentation from better hospitals of your negligence there is no backing down. Your people screwed up, it’s time to pay.”

The four went with Juan back to his office as he awaited the return of his clerk from his run to the courthouse. The most important thing he was getting was an order that her records be released signed off by a judge. This was separate from the lawsuit and given that it was a non-negotiable patient right they had to comply.

Juan just grinned the whole time while Lilly sat with baited breath. Juan asked about Jorge, explaining “I haven’t talked to him in a few years.” Daisy told him “he adopted Uncle Willie as his son.” Juan’s eyes again opened wide as he asked for an explanation.

Lilly explained “16 months ago your cousin-in-law Kevin and his sons attacked our cousins Jaimie and Nichole. He wanted to kill Jaimie but Nichole stepped in and took the knife blow. The three were arrested and your cousin Penelope ran off. 13 months ago her sons Reed and Kevin Jr. nearly died in a fire in their house. They were taken in by Willie Pena and his wife then later adopted. Kevin Jr. was found to be a girl inside and lives as Kylie now. During Christmas Uncle Jorge adopted Willie to make him part of the family and giving him a son and two grandkids. Last June Penelope was found and arrested and her newborn son adopted by Willie and his wife as well.”

Juan tried to grasp his head around it all. He asked “what do you mean ‘a girl inside’?” Claire explained “she is transgender. Like our cousins Jaimie and Nichole. Penelope and her husband hated Jaimie for making her the most hated person in the city. Penelope was highly abusive to Reed and Kylie and let her get molested and assaulted by a teacher because she wasn’t masculine enough for her.”

Juan saw what was going on. He grinned and nodded, adding “that’s classic Uncle Jorge. So he finally got kids and now grandkids and they are his own blood as well.” All four nodded, while Daisy added “they favor his side of the family and have some of his feature.” Claire grinned and told him “the rest of your family tried to tell him to get rid of them but he told them they themselves were being dumped.”

Juan laughed now, telling them “the money grubbers were looking for his fortune again. It was always going to his godson but now that he has his own son it’s going to him.” The others added “Uncle John wouldn’t take it anyway.” Juan asked why to which they told him “he’s super rich!”

The clerk returned with a big grin. He produced the declaration then told Juan “the judge was not in the least bit happy to hear that someone would be so flagrant in their violating of a patient’s confidentiality rights like that. He’s going to speak with the county government about this and it might cause a few more people to lose their jobs.”

Juan grinned then led the others out. At the hospital again they produced the court order and grinned as the clerk tried to refuse to which Juan marched upstairs, produced the order, escorted legal downstairs to the records department, and waited until they produced every single piece of paper in the Dale Peterson file. As they were exiting the hospital’s lawyer asked “since we complied with your request you are going to drop the lawsuit.” Juan turned, grinned, then told him proudly “not going to happen. You forced your clerk to do what she had to legally do regardless of what the judge said, the lawsuit was for something else and independent of the records request. See you in court. Oh and I hope your head isn’t one of the first on the chopping block when the judge’s inquiry begins.”

Outside Juan grinned and told them “you are going to be very wealthy young lady.” Daisy shook her head and told him “I already am, that’s why I want Claire to have it.” Juan shook his head and grinned, asking “are you sure you aren’t John’s kids? He’s the one who is humble like that not Roland or the girls.” Both said “we wish we were!”

The four said their goodbyes and told him “if you get back to Winnisimmet you need to meet the family. All 80s of us will be glad to meet you.” He raised an eyebrow then realized it was part of the whole “taking over the city” thing and in some ways they really were doing just that with that many people.

The four went back to the hotel and enjoyed some time in the pool and spa. The next two days they drove around to the various sites of the city and enjoyed acting like tourists. They visited Navy Pier, Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Science and Industry, and Shedd Aquarium. By luck the Blackhawks and Bulls were playing so they bought tickets to watch them play as well. The four enjoyed the sites and Daisy opened up and actually acted happier than she had been in months.

The morning of the third day they watched the morning news and saw that Juan’s court order really did lead to an investigation and that Daisy wasn’t the only person whose records requests were denied. The common theme among the records was that they were transgender children. Juan informed them that they were asked to attend an inquiry which he was going to ensure that they were not hassled or bullied.

Lilly was fully prepared and had Valerie get Richard Samuels and Alison Eliza to give a statements verifying that she was misdiagnosed and that while officially due to the error she was transgender she was not actually transgender at all. The two entered the meeting room and gave the investigator copies of the statements and retold the events and then told them “we cannot say anymore due to ongoing legal action. You have the documentation that we had to show that Lilly is Daisy Peterson’s mother now and that Daisy had previously been Dale. There was no need for any other information to be given and there was no reason to deny the request for records as the judge pointed out in his court order.”

The two walked out satisfied. Seeing that they weren’t the only people who were wronged made Juan see just how bad things were at that hospital and proud that he was taking them to the cleaners for Daisy, or rather for Claire as Daisy insisted. Juan parted ways with her, getting her contact information and hoping that things would finish quickly.

Claire, Daisy, and Patrick spent the day visiting Union Station for pictures for Neil Jones and then going around the “Loop” downtown followed by a trip to the Willis Tower. A last minute change of plans had them visiting Wrigley Field and then eating at a restaurant downtown before heading back to the hotel. Daisy was tired out fast and again she was happy. The tension she had built up from Ethan Smith arriving after losing both his parents was gone for good and Daisy was a whole new kid.

They departed early the next morning. They chose to drive straight through, each driving for five hours with Lilly taking the last leg in Massachusetts. They stopped along the way a few times for meals and bathroom breaks but made great time.

At home they were greeted by an eager David, John, Valerie, Dan, and Melanie. The five wanted to hear everything but Lilly shushed them away as she pointed to a sleeping Claire and Daisy. She proudly told them “Daisy’s doing much better. She’s a whole new kid and hopefully she won’t have any trouble being the happy girl she always should have been.”

Family Ties
Avery Long wasn’t in the best of moods on Christmas Eve. She just wanted to spend her time with her boyfriend Raul Rodriguez but her parents made her go to the family’s annual Christmas Eve party at her grandfather’s home in Endicott, MA. Even though she was only 25 miles away from Winnisimmet it felt like 1,000 to her.

Her funk was short-lived as she saw her cousins come running out as soon as they parked the car. The three embraced her and asked her all sorts of questions about her new boyfriend. Avery blushed and showed them a picture then enjoyed hearing them say how handsome he looked even though he had a black eye and Band-Aids on his cheeks.

The three pulled her aside and asked for the whole story. Avery sighed then told them “you know I liked him for a long time. Well his sister made friends with the new girl in school and when his friends started to talk trash about her and her friend he told them to stop it or they’d get in trouble. When my friends and I came over to talk with him after school they followed us and he took a beating to show how bad they were. He got saved by high schoolers whose sister the boys had insulted. After that the boys beat him up again, this time ripping my clothes and trying to make it look like he tried to rape me.”

The three went quiet. Eventually Avery smiled and told them “they are all in jail now and aren’t getting out until they are 21 and have to register as sex offenders. Raul’s sister is so funny and lovable and her friend is so pretty. He’s such a gentleman too.”

Her cousins asked the question she was hoping they wouldn’t ask “why did they badmouth her?” Avery drew a deep breath then told them “she just became a girl. And I don’t mean she was transgender, I mean she had no choice but to. She was in a bad car accident and nearly died twice because of it. The damage to her privates was so bad the only thing they could do was to make her into a girl or leave her without anything down there. The boys started to make fun of her and at Raul’s sister for standing up to the kids in her class who were making fun of her new friend.”

All three girls looked at one another then at Avery. Zoe, the youngest, asked “is she recovering?” Avery nodded, smiling as she told them “she’s doing great.” Sela, the middle cousin, asked “do you have a picture of her?” Avery showed them a picture of Al Samuels causing all three to gasp in surprise.

Isabel, her eldest cousin, asked “are you kidding us? There’s no way she was a boy!” Avery shook her head and told her “it’s not a joke. She looks natural but she had help from her extended family. She’s in with the Finns, and the girls have helped her out a lot. That’s all her, she only actually changed her hair and only just a bit. She had hair down to her neck before the accident so the girls just styled it to make it look like a normal girl’s cut.”

The three looked at one another and smiled. Isabel told her proudly “I can see why Raul would do that for her. He’s the one for you, and you know it.” Sela added a soft “he’s probably going to be just as smitten with you and missing you even more.” Avery blushed as she told them “he said we are going to go slow as he didn’t want to ruin what we have.” All three girls smiled brightly as they heard “he better not go fast.”

Avery turned and saw her grandfather standing tall and looking tough but only getting a snicker from the four girls. Avery hugged him then ushered him over to have some privacy as she knew he would interrogate her about her new boyfriend as he did with her cousins’ boyfriends. She braced herself for the oncoming questions but he waited for her to calm down a bit.

When he finally spoke he asked her “is it true that he took a beating from his best friends to show you how bad they truly were?” Avery nodded, then told him “the high schoolers saved him from hurting him too badly.” He grinned then told her “I expected nothing less from Richard and Michael. Those two are two of the most upstanding young men around.”

She looked up at him as he said that. He grinned and told her “you don’t think I don’t check in on my grandkids? I may be the governor but I still have time for my family especially when they get involved with members of the Finn Family.” Avery was stunned but then again Christian James had a soft spot for the Finns.

Christian grinned and told her softly “Alice called me when they tried to hurt you. She explained what happened but I wanted to hear it from you.” Avery told him the full story, not saving any details. Christian grinned and told her proudly “that wasn’t a veiled threat, Scott would have broken their hands and left them naked and only after the others talked him down from seriously hurting them. I am just happy that they restrained themselves enough to not hurt them themselves. Reed, Eric, George, and Michael could have left them permanently disabled and Richard and Will could have broken their arms but they held off. Raul did right in letting you see how horrible they truly were.”

Avery told him about Raul and how she felt about him. Christian nodded his head and smiled as he could tell it wasn’t puppy love, it was like what the Finn teens had for one another. Avery saw his grin and nod of approval and knew that she and Raul had his blessing to date, with the only restrictions being their parents’ restrictions.

Christian asked how she liked Al. Avery grinned as she told him about Al being so amazing and her impact on the school in just two appearances. Christian asked her “why are you so accepting of her?” Avery turned to him and told him “she’s a victim of something terrible and she isn’t any different than anyone else. I can’t be mean to her or accept her as anything other than a girl, that’s not what mom and dad taught me.”

Christian shot back “that’s why I am proud of the three of you. It’s why I am proud of your uncle as well. I know you don’t see them too often but you know that you and your cousins are so much alike even if Isobel and Zoe aren’t blood. You were taught well and you use your common sense to show common decency towards people.” Avery hugged him then went inside to seek out her Uncle Paul and Aunt Alexandra.

As she went off her cousins whispered to one another. Zoe told them sharply “Grandpa seems to be beaming with pride. It’s one thing to be friendly with them but it’s another to have a member of the family become involved with the Finns.” Sela shook her head and told them “fate has a funny way of going on. You know they were involved with grandpa already so it was bound to happen. At least they don’t know Avery’s connection yet and even so it wouldn’t matter to them, they only seek out help from Grandpa when it is truly needed.”

Isobel shook her head and told them both “what was done over six years ago still has ripples today. It’s thanks to us that Grandpa sought out Jaimie and her dad and through talking with them Grandpa has changed the lives of hundreds. We should be happy for our cousin as she is going to help one of those people who need help. Al’s real test is coming up when school starts and Avery is going to set the trend for how she is treated.”

Their mother Alexandra walked over and announced softly “Isobel is correct. We did our part and this is all set in motion. You three are only family to Avery, you aren’t involved anymore. Just be happy for her and show support if there is trouble, but you already know that she will have all the help she needs from the Finns. Now come, your grandfather will start to wonder what is keeping the three of you. Your boyfriends are going to be the topic of conversation by him shortly, I sort of let slip that you three had been keeping them a secret from him.” The three groaned as their dad Paul laughed.

Buried Secrets
Christmas morning was typically a boring time for the Rodriguez family. It was always the three of them until Dorothy Vega became close friends with Alice when Dorothy was appointed principal of the Winnisimmet Middle School South. Alice was renamed principal of Winnisimmet Middle School North.

Although they were two schools neither treated it as being separate, they were coworkers, partners, and shared the same ideals and sense of discipline. If one was out for a meeting or out sick the other would know exactly the punishment the other wanted for the student. If there was a disagreement over grades they backed each other up and ended the dispute. They were two people of a like mind and that led to a deep friendship.

Dorothy was like an aunt to Raul and Stephanie, so much so that they called her “Aunt Dorothy.” Dorothy loved being called that, even more so than any of them realized. She had no family that they knew of and she never talked about them if they existed, so being called “Aunt Dorothy” was the closest she got to feeling like family.

Alice knew she had a troubled past and kept herself distant from her friends when she was principal back in Newhall, MO. She talked with Valerie Finn and Greta Nelson about Dorothy’s relationships and both confirmed that she wasn’t just being distant from them due to their children being students. Dorothy had a pain in her that she never fully healed.

Stephanie and Raul opened their gifts from Dorothy and thanked her eagerly. After the gift giving ended the four continued to sit around the living room. Stephanie accidentally asked “do you have any family? You have come over here the last four years but you never mentioned any family.”

Alice tried to change the subject but Dorothy knew she had to tell them. She drew a sharp breath then told them about her past in Los Angeles, her college life, her marriage to Jaimie. She smiled at talking about Jaimie, especially the fun they had in college and her theories about education. Alice grinned and told her “no wonder you and John are so good together, he and Jaimie are one and the same philosophically.”

Dorothy nodded in agreement then told them the bombshell “Jaimie was born James and we had a son together. He was taken away by my family years ago. It broke Jaimie’s heart and she never recovered emotionally. She took her own life rather than live with the pain of losing little James.”

Alice’s brother Ricardo came in at that moment to catch the discussion. He sat with the four and asked her softly “did you ever try to find James? He is of age now and it might ease your mind to find out if he is doing alright.” Dorothy shook her head, telling him “I would rather not do that to him. He doesn’t need to know that his mother is alive and well. Knowing my family they filled his head with hate and forced him to see that his future lay in the neighborhood not elsewhere.”

They ate dinner in silence, all enthusiasm sapped by the revelation about Dorothy’s past. Stephanie couldn’t get her mind at ease and Ricardo sensed she was not going to let it rest. He softly told her “I’ll make some inquiries about him. I know two people who can help. They are good at their job, they helped Reyna Toro take her school and school district to court and won big for her and other students.”

The next day Ricardo made his phone calls to Jo and Phyllis, the LA lawyers who he trusted with his life. Both were eager to help when the heard the travesty of justice that befell Jaimie and Dorothy. Ricardo asked that they be discrete and not alert anyone that they were investigating as he didn’t want the Vegas to know that Dorothy was still alive or where she was.

As Ricardo was putting Jo and Phyllis to work Stephanie prepared for her slumber party with Al Samuels. Raul complained about the two girls making a lot of noise prompting Olivia Samuels to laugh and tell him “fine, you can spend the night here.” Raul gladly accepted the offer, telling Stephanie “you have your girls night, I’m heading out for some peace and quiet.”

Raul entered the Samuels home and went right to the guest room where Olivia helped him make the bed. He helped her prepare dinner and waited with her for Thomas and Rick to return home from their dates. When they came in both said “did you trade Al?” Olivia shot back “no, the offer wasn’t good enough. I did trade the two of you for a magic bean.”

This set the two off laughing which Raul reluctantly joined in on. Rick plopped down next to him and turned on the video game console while Thomas got drinks. Olivia made a discreet exit, grinning at the two just accepting that Raul was there and not questioning where Al was.

The three played video games until past midnight when Olivia finally called it a night. Thomas made mention that Al was always beating them and it was nice to have someone who wasn’t so good at the games. Raul just shrugged, explaining “Al had a lot of time to practice, you had school and a girlfriend.” Rick pointed out “his girlfriend is even better than Al, but you have a point.”

Over at the Rodriguez home Stephanie and Al spent the evening giggling at the TV and the gossip in school. When it was time to get changed for bed Al went to the bathroom but Stephanie stopped her, telling her warmly “we are both girls, there’s nothing you don’t have that I have. You don’t have to dress in the bathroom.”

As she took her t-shirt and pants off got her nightgown on Al could see one big difference between them. Stephanie blushed then told her “I just started getting them, you won’t be far behind.” Al nodded quietly, adding a solemn “you aren’t going to be sport huge ones like I might. Even if mine are smaller than my mom’s I’m going to be huge.”

Stephanie giggled then told her “at least you will have the attention of any boy you want.” Al grinned, liking that idea and knowing that it’s true. Al asked her pointedly “do you hate having a bigger butt and hips?” Stephanie blushed and nodded, to which Al groaned at the realization. She knew what she was going to grow but it was a tough thing to wrap your head around until you see it for yourself.

The next morning Ricardo called Stephanie and told her the news “Jo and Phyllis found him. He graduated a year and a half ago and left home. They talked with neighbors and they told them that he was mistreated and abused by the family. They think there was something not quite right with him, he always acted feminine. He always carried a picture of his mother in his wallet and said that one day he’d find her. Jo and Phyllis know where he went, he’s in the Boston area attending college. I think he’s enrolled at Salem State under a new name. Dorothy may not want to relive this but she needs to know, her son wants her and she needs him. We are going to find him.

The end.



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