I was about to load my family into the car but there would be no park today, instead we decided we liked the play dough better. I put a plastic mat on the table and my boys made little stick men, cows and horses. I rang Rob when I had a spare minute and told him about Sam's situation. He was very sympathetic and assured me, if he checks out, then he's hired. He said Adam is having a ball flying with my guys. It's been ages since I saw them so I was thinking Ted needs to go to Sydney to have a sleepover with Luke again, sometime on the holidays I think.
"Ted, Stan, Grant, Phil, Dave, Tan, if he's available, Tom, you and me."
"God Conner, that's going to cost a bomb,"
It's our Christmas present for the boys, ten days in Bali, all expenses paid. I've got Helen onto it. I think maybe a private villa will be better than a hotel."
"Okay but you forgot Rob and Adam."
"Rob is up to his ears in work and Adam probably won't want to go without him, I'll send them later. You can do the flight attendant job baby; it will be like old times." He grinned.
"I bet it will."
"I want to go to Sydney so Ted and Luke can have a sleepover, maybe on the way back or before we go."
"Why don't we fly Luke here, I think he would love a ride on the plane and maybe we can drop him off on our way to Bali? I could ask Jill if we can take him but I doubt Sarah will let him go for ten days, I'll ring Sarah as soon as I get the flight details for Bali."
"Sounds good to me Con, now what do you want for dinner?"
"You ate them all."
Just as I was about to suggest something else, John poked his head in the back door.
"More rolls boys?"
"Yes please John," Con answered then smirked at me.
He handed over a plate stacked with them.
"You know I always make too much."
"Eat up flabby Con." I smirked.
"All the more for you to love baby."
I had some sausage rolls and they were delicious, Teddy's little tummy was full, he ate so much.
"Can we go to the park tomorrow daddy?"
"Sure we can, in the morning or afternoon baby?"
"Don't call me baby dad."
"Okay I won't Teddy."
Maybe he's growing up, what a shame, I like calling him baby.
He turned to Conner.
"Are you coming to the park with us daddy?"
"Yes baby of course, I have to run the rolls off." He chuckled.
"Okay daddy, that's good."
What I can't but Con can? Fuck me.
"Can I ring Uncle Grant to come with us?"
"Sure you can ring Uncle Grant, Edward."
"You are baby."
"Oh, so I am." He giggled.
Got that one in under his radar, love him to bits.
I pulled out of Conner, his eyes were closed and his legs flopped down onto our bed, he just lay there looking absolutely stuffed. Rolling in beside him I snaked my arm under his neck and pulled him over to me, he was exhausted, my right hand stroked his chest and my lips found his very still mouth.
"I love you," I whispered.
"Thank you," he managed to get out before his light breathing turned into a deep sleep.
I went and checked on Ted, he was okay and Ben had his eye on him so I kissed his head then made sure the front door was bolted before I crawled under the covers.
My man moved to his side and I snuggled into his torso, the perfect fit.
During the night a storm blew up and I could hear the rain on the tin roof, it was pure magic but Con stirred and was restless. I stroked his hair and he immediately settled down. Benny came to the door; he didn't bark but just opened his mouth and made noises like he was chewing a bone.
I slipped out of bed and went to see if Ted was okay, he wasn't, he was under the covers crying.
"Come on baby, in with us."I picked him up and carried him into our bedroom and put him close to Con who threw his arm over him, he was asleep by the time I crawled in, and Ben lay by the door.
In the morning it was like nothing had happened, Ted had gotten himself up and was in front of the TV so I made the morning coffee and went and sat with him.
"You know you can come in with us baby, please don't get scared all by yourself."
"I was looking at your pictures but the light went off and I was too scared to get out of bed."
"Well I'll get daddy to get you a new night light and I will put one in the hallway too so you can see but please don't be afraid of the dark, it won't hurt you."
"But I was trying to be growed up and Benny was breathing loud, I got scared."
"Okay, it's all over now so just try and forget it. Daddy wouldn't let anything happen to you, he had already checked on you before he went to bed and you were fast asleep. "
His fists started.
"You came in and saw me?"
"Yes sweetheart, always, I come and make sure you're okay, promise."
"I think daddies are suppose to do that, Sean told me at school the other day his daddy always checks he's asleep."
"Yes they are supposed to do that baby that's why we do it and if I hear you in the night, I will always come to find you, always."
His grin nearly swallowed his face.
By the time we had our little heart to heart, Con was up and moving, he sat with us so Teddy fell sideways and put his head on Con's lap.
He smiled at me then he blushed, maybe he was thinking about our lovemaking last night. But I found out later it was because Ted had hit him squarely on the balls.
"What time do you want to go to the park babe?"
"Around ten Con then I want to take Teddy into the city to see the Myer Christmas windows and the big tree in the city square, maybe do a little extra shopping."
"Sounds cool to me, I got nothing on through Christmas, I wanted to do, 'Carols by Candlelight,' but Marty talked me out of it, a pleasant turnaround from him, he said I should be home with my family."
"And so you should Con." I smiled.
Marty's a dad now so he understands family a little bit better.
The park was great and Grant played footy with the kids. Con and I ran around the track and I couldn't help but stay back, he knew I was looking at his butt and occasionally he would rub his hand over it, I was stiff as a board by the time we got back and had to put a towel on my lap.
"What's the plan for Christmas Brent?" Grant asked.
"Family on Christmas day, you and Stan still coming over?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world; just make sure the presents aren't opened before we get there."
"It starts at eight am; I reckon that's about the limit I can hold him off for."
"Okay well, we will be there before then," he said.
I drove us all into the city getting a park just a short walk from Myers. Ted and Conner were very excited and so was Grant. There was quite a crowd milling around each window. The theme was storybook this year, twelve windows of storybook characters, little bears and fairies, snow, Santa and Christmas music, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty and a host more. Con had Ted on his shoulders so he could see better. He was clapping his hands and making fists and we had to go back to the start three times before he started to look a bit tired. We would give the tree a miss this time; maybe tomorrow we can come and see it.
At home his excitement gave way to an afternoon nap, Benny kept guard.
Con was checking his emails then he sighed, "They want me in Hollywood babe."
"They want me to do the voice of a bear in the new Disney movie, I've been invited to write the main score and Marty thinks it's a big break for me, do you think you can live there for four months baby?"
"One word, Teddy."
"But he will be with us."
"Why are you even entertaining the move Con, can't you do the voices here and the music isn't going to sound any better over there, sure there's no underlying skullduggery going on in Marty's mind?"
"I'll talk to him tomorrow; he's maybe got a small tour in mind."
It didn't feel right to me and there's no way Conner is going to drag Ted over to America. The upheaval will confuse him no end, so I thought I would put it aside until Con talked to Marty.
We visited Marty and Di earlier the next day. Teddy was getting baking lessons from John and those cup cakes were more inviting than seeing a sleeping baby, I guess that first lick of the spoon got him in. Little Hope was all gurgles and eyes and her crib was next to Di's easy chair when we arrived. Marty made the coffee and Di dangled her hand over the side of the basket, she was being protective.
"Nothing is going to happen Di, loosen up," I advised her.
"I know Brent, it's just I feel the need to be there for her all the time."
"I think you better have a good talk to Jen Christmas day, she will set you straight."
Two different people, Jen and Di, one is more country kitchen mum while the other is more new mum, nervous, scared and overprotective.
Con was talking to Marty outside, he really wasn't saying much; Marty was doing most of it.
"What's going on out there Brent?"
"Con has got an invitation to do the voice of a bear in the new Disney movie and write the score, it means three months in the states if he accepts the offer."
"Are you going with him?"
"Absolutely not Di, I won't take Ted out of school and away from his mates."
"I agree, what does Conner think?"
"I don't really know Di, it's a new medium for him to explore but I don't think at the moment he's thinking about his son's welfare so let's hope he can do it here instead. I think Marty has got it into his head that Con can do a few concerts while he's there."
"No! I bloody hope not, he will be worn out by the time he gets back."
"That's if he comes back."
"Well this is huge Di, once Hollywood gets ahold of him they may find other work, it could go on for a year, I can't even comprehend what that would do to Teddy."
"And you," she answered.
"It's Con's work Di, this is how he expresses himself to the world so I can't stand in his way and use a little kid as blackmail but our lives will shift somewhere that we may never recover from."
"Well speaking for me Brent, there's no way I will be going overseas ever again unless it's for a holiday, Hope and her brothers are going to have me around all the time, even if I have to retire." I believed her too. She's going to be a good mum to her kids and Marty's going to be a good father too.
"All done Con?" I asked on the way home
"I think so baby, Marty has a concert or two in mind, he's going to do an itinerary for me then I can get a clearer picture. I told him I would start on the score as soon as I get the rundown of the movie, I've already got loads written down, I have heaps of stuff I can pick from."
"So it won't be three months then?"
"No, maybe a month or six weeks to put the voice tracks down."
"You can't do that here?"
"No, they want me with the other actors in the studio for the taping."
"You will come with me won't you?"
Again I said no.
He gave me a very worrying look, he hasn't got it yet but I'm hoping he will by the time the contract has to be signed.
A very quiet Conner mulled over my answer all afternoon, he had started looking at his books for tunes that were suitable for the movie, something catchy.
Ted was helping John with the icing of the cakes and when he got tired John had put him to bed for his nap.
"You won't come?" Con finally asked.
"No Conner, I won't, Ted has school and he's missed too much this year, he will be behind his mates."
"We can get him into one over there."
"An American school Con, he will get confused no end."
"What if I make it for six weeks away then I can have it in my contract?"
"That would be fine Con; you won't miss much that way."
"Miss your son growing up Con."
"Look I don't want to stand in your way baby, just do the job and come home to us as soon as possible. I know it's a break for you and I agree you should do it but I can't drop everything and follow you overseas at every whim. We have a son to consider and if you do go, I absolutely insist you Skype him every night to say goodnight because he's going to think the same thing has happened to you that happened to his nana."
"Oh okay, now I get it. I'll see how much I can do here first then decide, I have to go see Marty tomorrow at the office so will think on it."
A grumpy little boy arrived with two neighbors, he headed for Conner on the couch and snuggled into his lap and closed his eyes.
"He wouldn't settle down in our bed as we tried to give you a couple of hours to yourselves. Anyway, here's some cupcakes for your afternoon tea. Ben's ears lifted, Con's head turned and Teddy sat up.
"Coffee anyone?" I laughed.
Conner's meeting with Marty took ages so I amused Ted by taking him to the park then we called in to pick up our man.
"It looks better now baby."
"How's that Con?"
"Well I have offered my music for the score and they have agreed I can do the voice over here in Australia," he explained.
"Thought you would get it sorted Con," I kissed his head.
"There's a downside though, they want me over there for the premier."
"Good, hopefully it will be when Ted is on school holidays and we can all go."
Christmas Eve was so special this year. Con and Ted were hyped up, clearly the little boy within was alive and kicking and I must admit this time of the year is so magical especially with Teddy now. He had insisted Conner put some icicles across the front of the house that started a war with the people next door who bought a big blow up Santa that ho, ho, hoed all day and half the night. We ended up with reindeers on the roof with ropes and ropes of fairy lights and it didn't stop there. The tree was lit up like a city office block and the backyard got Ted and Conner's special attention as well, Benny had to have Christmas too.
I put a stack of presents under the tree and there wasn't much room for Santa's special ones but we will cope. Ray and John brought a dozen more colorful boxes in and stacked them in Ted's naughty corner, which by the way was only used that two times and he forgot all about it when his footy season started.
Grant and Stan brought more presents over and Jen and Bob arrived just as the eggnog was made. Conner and Teddy kidnapped little Conner who was excited by all the bright lights and kept trying to escape over to the big stack of presents.
Jen was helping Ray do the coffees when John shooed them away from the kitchen, he would do it better. I don't know why he doesn't open a restaurant, he would do very well.
Mary and Tony came for Christmas drinks; it's been ages since I've seen them. Mary was sporting a rather large diamond ring and I was so fucking happy that happened. Oh yes, they were very much in love. They were followed by Phil and Dave who tried to sandwich me but I was too quick for them. It was so good to see them too, my emotions were on high alert.
It wasn't really a big party but we had a great time, I had already changed Ted's room for Jen and Bob; and Ted will sleep with us.
Conner sang two carols and you could hear a penny drop in the house, then I put on a Christmas cd. Not a late night tonight but it will take all my strength not to let Ted open any presents until the early morning crowd arrives.
I spoke to Bob at length, he was still annoyed Ray had made him take the money but he understood. I told him not to hold back with his suggestions, his opinion was very valuable in the company's eyes and he sort of agreed but said he just wasn't ready to go another round as yet. He was flat out organizing everything; the takeover had been bigger than he thought.
Little Con and Ted were put to bed, Ted with his story and Con with his bottle. It didn't take much to get them to sleep and Conner checked on them every fifteen minutes.
After Jen and Bob had gone to bed, Con and I sat in the backyard talking about our year and Ted, our hopes for him and our dreams for us as a family. Con admitted I was right, he didn't really know what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He certainly didn't need the money; it was his creative side that needed feeding all the time.
"I don't know the answer Con, Ted and I both need you around all the time, not because we are selfish, you complete the, 'us,' in our family. I'm scared if you go off to Hollywood you may never come home to us or when you do come home he will be a lot older and you would have missed all the little things he's going to do in the future. You do know if they get you doing movies there won't be much of us left, it's not a threat Con, that's life. Even if the movies are not that good, they will still have a huge name headlining them."
'I understand baby and I know that's never going to happen. I have decided to do the music and forego the bear's voice because I don't even want to go to the sound stages on the Gold Coast to do it. I just want to be here with my family, it's not only you and Ted, its Hope and little Conner, I want to experience it all.
"Well maybe a stint as a judge on, 'X Factor,' or 'The Voice,' would be appropriate for a year or two?"
"No baby, I won't judge any of those kids trying to get into the industry, its hell, trust me. I know they stitch you up with a terrible contract. The only people who make money are the owners of the show. That's why I had so much trouble the first three years; I was locked into a rotten contract."
"Okay babe, what about an Australian tour, if you do it during school holidays we could come and I would be happy to show Ted a bit of our country at the same time."
"You might have an idea there baby, maybe I have a career just doing movie themes, that's also very satisfying."
He leaned over and kissed me.
"Merry Christmas my baby."
"Merry Christmas my Conner."
We cuddled and kissed some more until it was time to get to bed. We placed Santa's present in the chimney, shared the milk and cookies Ted had left out for Santa then locked up.
Ted was fast asleep and all over the place so we got him straightened out under the covers then gently kissed him, our sleep wasn't far away.
It was Ben that woke me; there was no Ted in the bed with us so I figured he had gone to see if Santa had been.
I found him sitting on the floor waiting for us to get up.
"You have one hour Ted, I'll make some toast for you and when uncles Grant and Stan get here we can start.
Stan and Grant wanted to witness the morning ritual; Christmas is so much better with kids around.
"Daddy, Santa's been, look, he ate the cookies."
"Oh yes he did too and drank the milk, I guess he came when you were asleep."
"He's supposed to come when the little kids are asleep that's how he tells if they have been good or naughty."
His fists were working overtime.
"Is that true, well I never knew that, do you want some toast?"
"Yes please daddy."
He was still looking at the presents, I went over and turned the tree lights on and by the time we have breakfast the guys will be here and he can get stuck into them.
John and Ray appeared and they had a couple of big bacon and egg pies. John started making loads of toast as Con, Jen and Bob came searching for coffee. Little Con was put down on the floor and ran over to Ted and sat with him.
Grant and Stan came through the door and joined in, Phil and Dave were a little late and after loads of kissing and Merry Christmas' we decided to put Ted out of his misery.
"We can start now if you like Con." I motioned him to take the chair next to the tree; he had put a Santa hat on.
"Okay, who's for some presents?"
"Meee," Ted screamed while little Conner danced around in a circle.
"I need a helper to hand these out Brent, can you help me?"
I sat on the floor and started passing presents to Conner who passed them out to our guests, bingo the third one was for little Conner, he took it and ran over to his daddy to open it for him.
Ted was next; his excitement was too much for him that he just sat there and looked at the big present not able to tear the bright paper.
"Come on baby open it, it's from Uncle Dave, go over and let him help you with the ribbon."
He gently picked up the parcel and put it on Dave's lap, he proceeded to undo the ribbon and then he tore the paper a little so Ted could get a grip of it.
Ted ripped it open which revealed a box; there was a model airplane in it. Con can help him glue it together later on. His eyes bulged when Con called his name again. He ran over and this one he did on his own, paper was thrown everywhere, little Conner was laughing and throwing his ball at anyone who tried to catch it. He would have been happy with the one toy but his stack of presents was getting bigger so I pushed it over to Jen and Bob to handle, along with a few for them also.
The boys were given envelopes from Con and I, itineraries for a two-week break in Bali. I got a big square present from Jen, Bob and Conner, I opened the present and found a photo album full of my childhood snaps; school ones, sports ones and ones of me and Jen.
"She threw them out and I retrieved those ages ago, I had forgotten I had tucked them away until Conner spoke to me about them," Jen explained.
I thanked her then she hugged me, Conner took the album off my lap and later on he started looking through it, he ran his fingers over some of them and kissed others, silly bugger.
Everyone was very happy with their presents, especially one very excited son.
"That's it Teddy, there's no more baby."
He looked a little confused.
"Brent what's that red one in the fireplace behind the screen?"
"Oh I didn't notice that one Conner, Teddy can you get that one over there for me?"
"What does the label say baby?" Con asked.
"To Teddy from Santa."
"Yeah, he didn't forgets me, I been a good boy so he leave me one." He was nearly fainting with happiness.
He ripped open the parcel and revealed the red remote control car he had requested.
His fists were going non-stop as Conner helped him get it out of the box.
"Thanks Santa,"Ted called up the chimney.
He noticed something else there and picked up a small parcel, he read the tag and brought it to me.
"It's for you dad, from Santa."
"Oh I didn't think I had been that good this year."
"You been good daddy, I know you have," he gently said to me.
I opened it while winking at Conner.
It was three crystal stars, the type you put on a Christmas tree, they were beautiful.
I read the tag again, 'To Dad from Santa and Us.'
My bottom lip quivered but I managed to pull myself together as John popped the champagne. I leaned over to Con and kissed him. His present from me this year was the promise of a full body massage and a photo album with pictures of us three starting out as a family. I will add the Christmas photos when I get them printed, oh and three big buckets of play dough.
Adam and Rob appeared then Mary and Tony. Ted handed them their presents and in return he received a few more. Little Conner was still playing with his first present, the ball and Benny had gotten in on the celebrations and brought his own tennis ball that amused Con some more. He looked good in his new collar, Benny that is.
John had worked his ass off making lunch and it was a triumph, the kids ate at the coffee table as Conner helped them, he didn't mind in the least.
Tom and Tan arrived just after lunch, we handed them their envelopes and they were so happy, we would leave in a few days. I had run it past the parents and it was all okay. We would spend New Years Eve in Bali as Conner had declined any work over the Christmas period; he wanted to be with his family. I leaned over and reminded Conner not to ask Tom anything, so he shut his mouth but Tom couldn't help himself.
"Ask me Uncle Conner."
"Ask you what?"
"You know, the standard question you always ask."
"Oh that question, have you got clean underwear on Tom?" Con blurted out.
"What?" he shouted as his face went bright red.
I don't think that was the standard question but it got a round of clapping and cheering. Poor Tom, he didn't expect that one, I saw Conner pull him in for a hug and whisper in his ear, Tom's face again was full of smiles.
"I didn't think this would happen so fast Brent, I'm not really in control of my emotions at the moment, he does it for me and apparently I do the same for him." Mary smiled when I got five minutes alone with her, Tony had proposed last night, ring and all and of course she had said yes.
A triumph on my part, I was very pleased with myself, maybe I should go into the dating game.
I thanked John for the wonderful Christmas dinner so he hugged me and said,
"For a long time there were only us four then three and the Christmas before you came along, no one, now this house is filled with love and laughter again. Your friends are all bringing the spirit back; this year has been my greatest pleasure to make sure everything is perfect for you and Conner. This is the best present Ray and I have had for a long time and it's all because of you Brent, no one else, and we do thank God every day you came into our lives. You saved us as well as our boy so it's been an honor to do this meal."
He kissed my cheek and gave me another hug. I was unbelievably moved and couldn't speak for awhile because I had no words I could find to thank him and Ray for keeping Con safe all those years. My other two boys were by my side most of the day, they had missed me but give Adam credit where it's due, he's a good flight attendant, they have so much fun with him but they did miss solving all my problems.
"A little drama is always good on a flight Brent; maybe you can rub Adam up the wrong way again just to let him know who the boss is." They laughed.
"I would love to but I'm not the boss of anything, only Conner." Smiling they both said,
"Sure you're not."
Many jokes and friendly banter later and our guests started leaving, everyone was buggered, some had plans to party on and some needed to be alone. I noticed Tan's hand on Tom's as they sat playing with little Conner.
We got Ted into bed for a nap and Jen put Conner in with him then the six of us sat in the backyard, we were drinking coffee as none of us wanted to party. The dishes were done and the table put back to normal, all the Christmas wrapping was put into a garbage bag and Ted's toys stacked neatly in his corner.
"What a wonderful day Brent, it's been a long time since I have felt the Christmas spirit.'
"You're right Jen, this year has just been the worst and best so let's hope next year will be a whole lot better, I'm planning on making next year all about family." I took Ray's hand.
One whiney little boy crawled onto the sofa; his mummy made him a bottle while Con changed his nappy. Ted watched TV and played with his action toys Ray had given him. John was busy making some sandwiches for dinner out of leftovers. Bob had gotten into a work conversation with Ray, they had a note pad and Bob was writing down things, God knows what was going on but Ray looked more than pleased.
I flicked through my photo album with Jen, I thought these photos were lost forever but as I looked at each one my memories started to come back.
"God he was a hunk but an idiot, whatever happened to him?"
"He's working at a roadhouse on the Calder highway, his looks didn't take him far from home Brent, I don't even think he got married in the end although he had plenty of girlfriends."
"And boyfriends I believe?" I looked slyly at her.
"No you never."
"No I didn't but Bruce Campbell did."
"No! Bruce was my first boyfriend."
"Well he told me he did, how much truth in that, who knows?"
"Oh my, I was a growing boy wasn't I, those speedos were very tight?"
Conner came running.
"Here baby, when I was about three at the local pool."
"Idiot." He smacked my head.
Conner had already looked through my photos but I know he wants to do it again when we are alone, I can talk him through them.
As always I appreciate your emails. firstname.lastname@example.org