I smiled as I heard a young male voice call out "Unca Cammie, where are you?" from the dining room. I stepped out of the kitchen to find Ray's younger son and was instantly pounced by a pint-sized tiger. "Thankoo thankoo thankoo Unca Cammie," the talking cat kept chanting. Scooping up the boy in the tiger pajamas, I gave him a nice squeeze. "You saveded me, Unca Cammie."
"I did?" I questioned.
"I don't gotsta eat Trey's mac and cheese tonight, I gets good foods," Todd explained as he hugged me tight.
"HEY!" his older brother protested. "I haven't food poisoned anybody, yet."
"I love you, brudder, and you takes really good care of me when Daddy's not around, but you don't cooks so good. Zack does though, but he's not good as Unca Cammie either."
"Well, none of us will have to eat my cooking once Dad and Karen get married," Trey pointed out.
"I wouldn't count on that if I were you, brother," Peter said as he walked into the room with a grin. "Mom says boys and girls should both know how to cook at least enough to not starve on their own, so we each get a turn making dinner one night a month. Don't worry though, she stays in the kitchen to help you if you need it."
"He needs lots of help," Todd announced, then squealed and ran for the door when his brother started chasing him with tickling fingers.
"Oh, Mr. Banks, I didn't expect to see you here tonight," Karen said coldly as she walked up to Ray.
"I am so sorry I haven't told you how busy I am at the office right now," Ray started apologizing immediately. "I can be such a bear to live with when I get stressed out, and I wanted to spare you the worst of my nature."
"I agreed to marry you, Reynold Banks, that means the worst and the best both, we go through it all together," Karen told him.
Ray brought his hand around from behind his back and my jaw almost hit the floor. "Can you forgive me for being afraid of scaring you off because I am such an old grouch after a hard day at work?" He held up a bouquet of very familiar looking flowers.
"Excuse me; are those the only blooms I had on my forty dollar Lisianthus?" I growled.
"No these are the first flowers I have gotten from my future husband," Karen corrected. "They used to be the only blooms on your overpriced bush."
"I know you did not just steal flowers from my garden to suck up to your girlfriend," I fumed.
"No, I stole flowers from your garden to apologize to my beautiful and wonderful fiancée," Ray told me.
"Please don't be mad at him, Uncle Cam," Trey begged. "I really like Karen and I may not even mind too much having Peter for a brother. Since he spends most of his time here anyway, I won't have to give up half my room after all."
"You could has half my room, brudder," Todd told Peter as he hugged him tightly.
"Aww, that's so nice of you, little bro," Peter replied returning the hug happily. "You sure you don't want all that space for your toys?"
"Big brudders are better than toys," Todd told him sincerely. That got him a hug from both of his brothers.
"Come on upstairs with me, little brothers," Peter announced. "Ephraim found this antique game system that plays something called Frogger. I'll bet even Todd can play it."
"Antique?" Karen, Ray, and I all said at once.
"You, my rude young son in law, just lost your cookie privileges for the night," I scolded Peter. "Antique, indeed."
"I was just teasing," Peter whined.
"No cookies for you tonight," I said firmly. "Ephraim will get your share. Of course, if you manage to talk him into sharing, well there's nothing I can do about that."
"Good luck getting anyone to share one of Cam's cookies with you, son," Ray said with a laugh. "They are far too good to not be greedy." He then realized that Peter was staring at him with a strange expression. Fortunately, this time realization of what he had done did not need prompting. He knelt down in front of Peter and took the boy's hand in his own. "I will never try to replace your father, Peter. I couldn't if I tried. I'm sorry if my slip of the tongue made you feel uncomfortable."
"No, it's not.... I just wasn't.... I mean I hadn't thought about it really before," Peter stammered. "I know you don't want to take Dad's place, exactly, but you will be married to Mom. I don't know if I could call you.... I mean I don't want to make you mad at me before it's official, but...."
"I promise I won't get mad at you for not calling me Dad," Ray assured him. "In fact, I just might get mad at you if you did. I don't want you to ever forget your Dad, Peter. I do want to be the best step-father I can be for you, though."
Peter suddenly got a mischievous grin. "How about I just call you Step?" he asked with a giggle.
Ray surprised several people in the room by laughing along with him and replying, "I love it, kiddo. It sounds great to me."
"Having flowers in my garden sounded great to me, but what do I know, I just live here and plant the flowers and water them and fertilize them," I mumbled as I walked back into the kitchen. "People come over and steal my flowers and insult my age, and still expect me to feed them."
"Cut the crap, grouchy," Karen scolded with a laugh. "We all know you are a romantic old softie and you arranged this whole dinner so that the new family could start working out the dynamics of how to function."
"Yeah, and you did plant the flower right beside the steps of the door that I always come in, when you told me to come over and make up to Karen," Ray added then slapped a hand over his mouth.
"It's all right, Ray," Karen said with a kiss to his cheek. "If I didn't want him to butt in and get your brain back on me, I wouldn't have come over today whining about missing you so much."
"I thought you came over because you were worried about being old," Ray questioned then covered his mouth again. "You know you never have to worry about that with me, love. I'm older than you are anyway. The point is I want to grow older and older with you, together."
"Oh, Cam, you coached him better than I thought you would," Karen giggled.
"My coaching stopped at 'don't tell her I called you, you idiot'," I told her as I glared at him.
"Sorry," Ray said sheepishly.
"Never mind, I think you're doing pretty good on your own now," I smiled to let him know he was off the hook. "But I had better at least get a picture of those flowers that I paid so much to have in my garden."
"Yes, sir, taking picture, now sir," Ray replied with a sad imitation of a naval salute. "I wouldn't want to be court-martialed by Commodore Cammie."
"You, sir, spend too much time listening to a certain Bishop," I told him with a stuck out tongue.
"Sorry, occupational hazard," Ray apologized. "I am also the legal representative working with the diocese concerning the congregations that want to leave the Episcopal Church and join the African Anglican church."
"I certainly don't envy you that job," I told him sincerely. "It is my understanding that these churches want to keep their facilities while realigning themselves with foreign intruders that oppose the denomination's decision to consecrate an openly gay man as a bishop, not to mention the rules set in place by the denomination which states the building and lands belong to the diocese and not to the congregation."
"That's the short version of what is going on, yes," Ray sighed as he shrugged his shoulders, rotating them as if trying to remove some of his stress just with that motion.
"Oh, sweetheart, why didn't you tell me that you were so busy and stressed?" Karen cooed as she dragged him into the living room, sat him on the couch and started massaging those shoulders. "You sit down here and let me take care of you while Cam takes care of dinner."
"Thanks, sis," I said without any sarcasm, because I would never be sarcastic with my family. Perish the thought.
Once out of their eyesight in the kitchen, I broke into my romantic, old softie, dreamy smile and sighed happily. My dinner was met with its usual level of appreciation, although I was distracted most of the night wondering where Scooter was. It wasn't like him to miss dinner without a call. To my surprise, and slight annoyance, Ray and Karen refused to let me do any cleanup after the meal. I felt a little better about the fate of my kitchen when I noticed that they grabbed Ephraim, Peter, and Trey to help them. I knew my dishes and kitchen were in good hands if Ephraim was involved. Of course, as soon as they all left, I went in to inspect the aftermath. Thanks to my little sous chef, the room was spotless and all the dishes were put away in the correct places. As I looked around the room, I heard a voice in the laundry room.
"Cam, is that you in the kitchen?"
"Scooter, where have you been?" I gasped in relief. "I have been worried all night."
"Cam, are the boys all upstairs?"
"Yes, and the little ones are with Janice and Kathryn tonight," I told him. I suddenly noticed a glow from the big grill in the backyard. "What are you cooking at this time of night? You know I will always save you some dinner when you have to work late like this."
"I'm not cooking, I'm burning," he replied weakly. He sounded terrible, and when he walked into the kitchen with me, he looked even worse. "That was my favorite suit with my best tie and brand new shoes," he frowned and I realized that he was completely naked.
"Scott Daniel Scumachi, you sit down on this stool and tell me what happened, but first do you want coffee or liquor?"
"You know I don't touch alcohol," he told me as he sat down obediently, and then he looked up at me with tears in his eyes. "Hold me please?" I hadn't seen him this distraught since we were in high school right after I had rescued him and Janice. I rushed to his side and wrapped my arms around him as he broke down and sobbed. "I never dreamed.... I knew something was going on, but I swear Cam, I swear I didn't know and I was NOT a part of it." Suddenly he started gagging, and ran to the kitchen sink, but nothing came out of him.
"CAM!" Brendan was yelling as he ran down the stairs and burst into the kitchen. "WHOA, dude! You're home, thank goodness," he said quickly as he walked up and gently hugged Scooter from behind. "I know you're like naked and all, but I want you to know that NONE of us believe you knew anything about this. We love you, Scooter, and we are all going to be here for you. But I do think I will run and get your robe from you guys' room before Rimmer comes down here." He turned and ran back out of the room, returning moments later not with the fancy silk robe that I had gotten for Scooter recently, but the thick terry cloth robe he usually wore only in the winter. "I thought this would be more comforting. Derek is going to bring the Emetrol down here after he gives a dose to Ephraim."
"Brendan, what is going on?" I demanded.
Just at that moment, I heard a car pull up outside. Seconds later, Kathryn, Janice, and the two little ones came in through the French doors in the dining room. "Cam, Scooter?" Janice was calling out.
"In here," Brendan yelled back as I held Scooter through more sobs.
"You listen to me Scott Daniel Scumachi," Janice ordered. "You did NOT do this. I know you didn't and everyone that knows you knows you did not do this."
Suddenly Karen barged in and hugged Scooter. "You are practically my brother in law, and I know you would never have had anything to do with anything so despicable and disgusting. Just please, please tell me they didn't do this to Dan."
Scooter shook his head and tried to find his voice. It took a few tries and when he did speak, it was obvious that what I had seen was not the first time he had thrown up that night. "I made them check, Karen. I made them check every one that I had handled. It's why I am so late getting home."
"So does the whole family know what is going on except me?" Just then Ray and Reynold came in the front door.
"Where's my boy?" Reynold called out as he walked into the kitchen.
"Pop, I am so, so sorry, I swear I had no idea it was going on. Please believe me," Scooter begged as he fell into the arms of his surrogate father.
"Son, if you think I believe for one minute that you were involved in this, you don't know me half as well as you should by now," Reynold told him as he wrapped his arms around his foster son.
"The funeral home was raided today, Cam," Scooter told me from his father's arms. "It turns out that they were selling caskets, burying people, then digging them back up to take the casket back and resell it." He grimaced and looked as if he very nearly gagged before continuing. "The bodies they stole the caskets from were just.... dumped back into their.... with no...."
"You did not do this," I told him firmly. "Who tipped off the police to investigate in the first place?"
"I knew something was strange when I saw a custom ordered casket back in the showroom a week after the funeral it had been purchased for, so I started digging around in the computers and found some entries in the accounting software that just didn't add up," Scooter told us. "I never ever dreamed it would be something like this. It looks like I'm out of a job now though. The funeral home is closed and I and three of the other guys were the only ones not arrested when the director confessed to everything and cleared the four of us from having any knowledge of what was going on."
The phone rang just then and before any of us could get to it, Ray had grabbed it. "Hello. Yes, this is his home, but I'd like to know how you got this number? I am his legal counsel, and I will be releasing a statement from Mr. Scumachi and his family in the morning at my office." He gave his name and the address of his office and then added, "There will be no further statements until that time." After he hung up, he turned to all of us. "No one is to answer any questions about this. Let me handle it."
"You have so much else going on already though, Ray," I told him.
"Don't you worry about that, but if you want to tell your board of directors that the new building leases will be delayed just a bit because of the family crisis, that would be helpful," he smiled back. "I'm sure they will understand it."
"They had better," Brendan and I growled at the same time.
A few moments later, the family all began heading back to their own homes and I steered Scooter into the kitchen to eat something before we could cuddle in our bed. That night was the first time since I had found Scooter again that he truly reminded me of the frightened and hurt little boy I had first seen in that convenience store so many years ago. The good thing was that this time, I wasn't injured myself, so I would do exactly what I had wanted to do that day at the convenience store. I would take him in my arms and hold him and let him know that everything will work out for him, no matter what I have to do to make it happen.